Shan Jeniah Burton

Round 4 Check-in 8

Short post, courtesy of one of our sponsors (and FB group admins), Shan Jeniah Burton.

The stories are for you to discover, and may that journey be a magnificent one.
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Sideways Up The Slope by Shan Jeniah Burton

What do you do when you’re stymied, and it seems like nothing is getting you any closer to achieving your goals?

Sometimes, I find answers in the efficiency of nature.

Take the sidewinder rattlesnake. Here’s a video of her in action. A note for the squeamish – nature doesn’t offer grocery stores. Like all wild predators, Miss Sidewinder has to take other measures if she wants to eat.

You’ve been warned.


The sidewinder makes forward progress…by going sideways.

How does that relate to my trickiest writing issue – revision?

For many years, I had no real idea how to revise. I poked aand tweaked, but I was missing major pieces of the puzzle. They didn’t fall into place until I channeled my inner sidewinder.

Yup – I “went sideways” up the steep sandy slope.

Miss Sidewinder has venom, but she also has a problem: she lives in a climate where she stands out.

When I first tried to revise a novel, anyone who looked could see the tracks I made. Where revision should look seamless, mine was as obvious as a snake sidewinding her way up a sand dune.

Miss Sidewinder has to conceal herself to catch her dinner. She digs herself into the loose sand, where her coloring helps her blend in. The horned scales over her eyes keep sand and glare out.

I needed to learn how to immerse myself in word-sands, and wait for my prey. I hadn to observe carefully, so when the right prey came along, I’d be ready to strike. Instead of horned scales, I have an adaptable human brain. I can learn things that help me capture my quarry – revision that goes somewhere without being obvious about it.

Miss Sidewinder uses her lateral movement to scoop out the sand. Once she’s wiggled a hollow out, she curls into it, letting the sand slide back in to cover her. Then she waits for her moment.

I went sideways, too. I read a book called Rock Your Plot, and learned about key elements like story structure and the need to understand my character’s goals, motivations, and conflicts. That led me to Rock Your Revisions, and I wiggled out a hollow in my mind and settled in.

Eventually, seeing what needed to happen in revisions got a lot clearer – and the drafts I’m creating with my new plotting know-how are faster and cleaner right from the start. My prey is easier than ever to catch.

Miss Sidewinder also has an inborn imperative to perpetuate her scaly species. Once she gives birth, Mama Sidewinder stays at the little burrow, guarding her young.

Mama’s Little Sidewinders are cold-blooded babies. The desert outside the burrow is too hot for them to survive at first. Their underground home is too cold. Mama can’t share her body heat, the way warm-blooded critters can.

Caught between deadly extremes, the baby snakes do something amazing.

They work together, forming a net at the entrance to the burrow with their tiny, writhing bodies, and regulate their collective body heat to a very constant temperature . Each baby takes turns, always moving, and, together, they do what’s needed to survive.

There’s something to be said for banding together, networking to reach the collective good, with every member making contributions and reaping rewards as others do the same.

After NaNoWriMo 2015, three other local writers and I formed a critique group. Our goal is to each submit one piece weekly, and critique the works of the other members. I also do beta readings and reviews for other members of the writing community.

This might seem like a sideways approach. I have several WIPs of my own awaiting revision. Surely I could get through them faster if I weren’t spending hours each week offering input to other writers, right?

Maybe not.

I want a sustainable writing business that brings in a modest income. I need to learn how to revise as efficiently as Mama’s Little Sidewinders maintain their body temperature.

If I only revise my own writing, I’ll always know what I meant to write. I might see that rather than what’s actually there. I would always know the backstories, and the process of creation, and I’d cut myself slack whether I meant to or not.

Joining a group where I give three critiques for each piece I submit quadruples my workload. ButI want to become proficient at the principles that will help with all revisions. The distance and objectivity of critiquing and beta reading for others gives me lots of practice where I don’t know the “inner core” of the story – the vision only its creator can have.

In return, I get critiques from my three partners. Each has a unique way of reading and specific skills that mean that I get three distinct opinions on each piece I submit. I’m learning a lot from the comments and questions I’m getting, and from reading and critiquing their work.

We are all sidewinders in ROW80! By setting our own goals, being accountable, and by visiting one another to offer kudos, encouragement, or commiseration, we’re banding together like Mama’s Little Sidewinders, in a network aimed at collective success, but which relies upon each individual doing their part.

Let’s slither sideways up the slopes of our writing challenges, and band together for the common good as we move into the final weeks of Round Three, and beyond.

Am I Doing This On Purpose? by Shan Jeniah Burton

Do you have any odd little quirks to the way you do routine tasks – things that make perfect sense to you, but maybe not to anyone else?

When I take laundry out of the washer, I shake out each piece before dropping it in the basket. Once, while watching me do this, my Accomplice said, “You could just put it all in the basket at once. The dryer doesn’t need it to be separated.”

He was right – if my goal had just been getting the laundry into the dryer. But, while I shake out our clothing, piece by piece, I think about who owns it, and how thankful I am to have them in my life. I remember special memories and everyday moments that article of clothing was a part of. I get amazed, again and again, at how quickly the children have gone from tiny socks and onesies to people with clothes almost as large as my own – or, in my teen son’s case, larger!

For me, the laundry is a chance to be mindful of our right now. It connects me to the story of our family – almost two decades now of washing laundry as a married woman, and almost fifteen of doing it as a parent. Sometimes, now, those once-babies do the laundry, and I’m removed from this stage of the process. In what might seem the blink of an eye, I could be back to washing for two.

Clean laundry is more of a happy side effect, for me. My deeper purpose is to savor and relish the moments and the fact that we are all here, together, right now, when we haven’t always been, and may not always be. Dirty laundry is more than just a chore to me – it’s the story of us.

So what does this have to do with writing?

Sometimes I forget that my purpose is to be mindful. I get frustrated a the endless round of things I feel I should be tending to. I do them with a spirit of “gotta get this done” that saps the joy, and makes the doing more like a punishment than a blessing. I forget that some people don’t have a home to tend, a family, or passions that beckon and fulfills them. I’m fortunate enough to have all of these, and more.

When I’m in a funk about the goals I’m not meeting, I forget the deeper reason for setting themwhether that’s hometending that makes this a more pleasant place for all of us to live, or embracing my passion for writing, or supporting my childrens’ learning.

It can be easy to get swallowed up in the pursuit of goals, to the point where we forget that we have a higher purpose.

That to-do list mentality gets in the way of finding something much less tangible, and much more valuable. If we’re lucky, we get a reminder, and a chance to reset, like I did a few weeks ago, when I had one of the most intense migraines of my life.

I also had a long list of writing goals I wanted to attend to.

Writing was absolutely out of the question. That added to the tension of being incapacitated – until I had a revelation. I was making myself even more miserable because I couldn’t meet the arbitrary time frames I’d set. I was getting hung up on concrete goals, and that kept me focused on what I couldn’t do.

I decided to set time limit goals aside in favor of the purpose they were intended to serve: creating and preparing my Kifo Island novel series for self-publication.

In Smart Change, Dr. Art Markham cites management philosopher Peter Drucker’s distinction between achievements (or goals met) and contributions.

  • Goals are the path to contributions. Completing a goal is an achievement in the service of the overarching purpose it supports.

  • Contributions are larger scale, and make an impact. For instance, writing a rough draft of a novel is a goal; bringing the book to publication is a contribution, with many more steps (achievements) between the two.

In my laundry story, the goal is clean clothes. The contribution is mindfulness in my service to my family – a much bigger deal, for all of us.

This is an important distinction, because I sometimes get into a mindset of wanting to complete my goals without considering if they still support my desired contributions.

Here are some signals that clue me in that I’m in a “goal” rather than a “contribution” frame of mind:

  • A home that slides too far into unlovely chaos;

  • Feeling like I’m cheating on my writing if I don’t get to the computer right away, and stay there;

  • Frustration with other activities of daily life (like needing to sleep and eat!) and the inevitable hiccups along the way, because they’re “taking me” from my goals and my work.

What if I find myself slipping back into that “to-do list” mentality:”

I’m giving myself permission, here and now, to take time off. I will set my list and schedules aside for a day or three, and allow myself the space to just be – without guilt.

  • to putter,

  • or play,

  • or to do something absolutely not writing-related in any sense,

  • or to dive back into writing for the sheer passion of it.

So…I’ve talked a lot about me. Now, it’s your turn:

  • Are your goals working to move you closer to your contributions?

  • Do you know what your intended contributions are?

  • Are there steps you can take to relax and make sure you’re putting your energy, time, and focus to the best use to support those contributions, while not making yourself crazy with “have-tos”?

If you answered no to the first two points, I hope you’ll join me in taking some time this round to consider how to get a better handle on your goals and contribution planning, so that you get the most out of the time you’re writing – and the time you’re doing those Other Things life is full of, without stressing yourself out!

~*~

Shan Jeniah Burton

Where’s Your Proving Ground by Shan Jeniah Burton

When I announced my goals for this round, I titled it “Proving Ground”, because Round Two always means high-intensity for me. It’s the end of our winter hibernation. The kids and I tend to move from more introspective occupations to more active, extroverted ones.
 
April also kicks off my annual season of creative intensity:
 
Like I said, it’s the Season of Creation, and it tests and stretches me.

With all that happening, why would I decide to take on something big? Something that’s been lurking there in the dark shadowy places of my mind for decades? Something that feels like taking a flying leap off the crumbling edge of an infinite abyss?

 
Sometimes we need that proving ground – to learn what we’re made of, where our limitations are, and what we can accomplish. There are times when tiptoeing into growth and change isn’t as effective as flinging ourselves over that edge, spreading our feather and wax wings and hoping like Hades the brightness doesn’t bring on a deadly plunge back to terra firma.
 
This round is my time. I’ve discovered my personal proving ground.

I’ve been writing fan fiction since I was 13 and fellow ROWer (and friend since we were 4) Eden Mabee dragged me kicking and screaming into my first love affair with a Vulcan. We wrote as a way to liven up some of the creativity-sapping numbness of public high school, passing several notebooks full of mostly spectacularly bad stories back and forth, mucking up one another’s storylines, evolving as writers. We were passionate about what we created.

We cut our writing teeth on those stories, which expanded to include other fandomsand aspects of our own lives. During those years, we also created original characters and story worlds that are the origins of what we both write today. Neither of us would be as strong without those early collaborative efforts, and the things we learned in the course of them.

 
How does that relate to my proving ground?

Through April, I’m expanding each of my Boldly Go Star Trek: Enterprise A-Z stories, and sharing them publicly at fanfiction.net. While I’ve been sharing myEnterprise stories on my own blog since 2014, there’s a certain security in that. Folks who come to read there generally know me from somewhere, and there’s lots of other material there, as well. That means that the fan fiction wasn’t the first or only way someone was likely to encounter my writing. I wouldn’t be judged, as a writer or a person, solely on that.

 
Why is that such a Big Deal?
For decades, I was ashamed of my passion for this type of writing. My parents considered all writing something of a pipe dream – I was a teen in the 1980’s, and self-publishing and Kindle were words with very different connotations back then. Star Trek was, in their opinion, a “stupid show” and I was “wasting my time” being interested in it at all. That I was also more inclined to write those stories than to apply myself to tedious, unimaginative homework assignments made it something to be reviled, a piece of foolishness that just showed that I was unrealistic, lazy, and other things – not a one of them positive.
 
I carried those parental messages in my head and my heart well into adulthood. I wrote in spiral bound notebooks, and, when I finished one, I dutifully shelved it, or stuck it in a cabinet. I might show them to Eden, and sometimes read saucier bits to my Accomplice. But I didn’t share them beyond that; they weren’t “serious” writing, and I never intended to make any money from them. I wrote them because I couldn’t not write them.
 
The problem with hiding away our passions, or treating them as though we should feel shame for daring to indulge them, is that this attitude can also suffuse the rest of life. Denying or labeling them “not good enough” to be out in the light condemns something of our selves to the shadowy places, too. We’re passionate about certain things because it’s part of our nature, an intrinsic part of who we are.
 
When we deny passionate parts of ourselves, we lose something – not just in those denied passions, but in everything we write.

So, this month, I’m taking lots of deep breaths and flinging myself out over the edge. I’m sharing these stories, and I plan to keep on doing it. I’m offering them up in a place where they can stand in the light, then lift swiftly or leisurely from the ledge, to soar and dance and laugh and sob and be free, right there for all comers to see them, read them, and know a bit of my passion, and my self.

It’s my proving ground. I won’t earn a penny doing it, but there are things to be gained that money can’t buy. Self-expression. Honesty. Wholeness. Acceptance of myself as I am.

 
You can find the stories, if you’re interested, at my fanfiction.net page.
Is there a proving ground in your life? Something you’ve denied or tucked away in secret shame? Can you think of a way to challenge yourself to stretch and grow this year? Will you fling yourself over the edge with me?
~*~

The Chimera of Perfection by Shan Jeniah Burton

There’s a myth that Amish quilters create an intentional imperfection in their quilts, because only God can create perfection. It’s known as the “humility block”. Although the myth turns out to have been created in 1948 (by a quilter who frequently erred, but wanted to keep moving on to other projects, perhaps?), there’s something to be said for simply accepting imperfection – in quilting, and in life…
And, yes, in our writing and blogging, too. Recently, fellow blogger Linda G. Hill shared this post.  She talks about her struggles with how much to edit her blog posts, which publicly represent her writing ability. While commenting on that post, I discovered the seeds of this one, and a focus to carry me through this round.

Here’s how I blog:

I revise each post at least twice in my word processor.

I use templates for all my regular features. Once I know permanent elements are OK, I don’t have to go over them.

I review at least once more while pulling together links, videos, and images, then preview and tweak when I think I’m done (I’m almost never as done as I think I am).

And I still miss things…typos, repeated words, incomplete sentences, clumsy phrasing, broken links…

So what do we do, when we goof up despite our best intentions to create perfection?

What do I do?

I pay due diligence, publish, and move on with my life.

If I catch something, and I’ve got the time and focus available, I’ll pop in and fix it – but I’m human, and humans err sometimes…

So, if I’m in the middle of Other Things, and the error isn’t egregious – I leave it there. Yup, I make it into my very own version of a humility block. I let the mistake stand there, a visual testament to the incontrovertible fact that I’m far from perfect, that I make mistakes, and that sometimes I just have to live with them and get on with my life.
This video has some gems about perfection and the prison it can be. If you’re pressed for time, go to 16:40, and listen from there.

I give a lot to my blogging – and more to my writing, and my family. I hope that anyone reading my blog will overlook a few mistakes, especially given the volume of posts I publish, and the content density of those posts. After all, I’ve never claimed to be an editor, and I named my blog Lovely Chaos, so I don’t think I’m promising perfection I can’t measure up to without taking from other important areas of my life.
Maybe someday, I’ll get the time and focus to go back and make nearly 2,000 posts perfect. But I doubt I will -or that I even want to. I blog, and write, to connect, communicate, and create. I can do that without being unfailingly brilliant, witty, and technically perfect. For my eventually-to-be-published books, I will be hiring an editor (rumor has it you can find great editing at an affordable price here).

For blogging, though…I do the best I can, and then move on. I do what’s reasonable, and doesn’t make me nuts. Then, I take a deep breath, and let it go out into the world, even if it’s got a missed stitch, or tangled threads….

I have this fantasy that the person who invented the ‘humility block’ myth did it so that they could pretend that their mistakes weren’t really mistakes – they could pass them off as intentional errors, and stroke their own egos.

I’d rather claim my mistakes, and learn from them as they go. I’m not interested in blogging or writing less to make time for more editing, and I’m even less interested in taking that time from my family or hometending. I’m a writer, and a wife, and a mother, and I have other obligations. I’m sure that even if yours don’t match mine, you do too. Very few of us life in a vacuum, after all, and, even if we did – what would we have to write about?

This round, my personal challenge is to allow my imperfections to simply be. Maybe it’s paradoxical, because this is also the year I intend to become faster and more thorough at revisions…but I’m maybe just naive or optimistic enough to believe that these two goals can co-exist. I think it’s possible to give ourselves to the revision process, the way I go over my blogposts, and then, when we know we’ve done the best we can, given our due diligence – to release our words. Maybe first to a critique group, beta readers, and/or an editor, but then, once those things have been done and another pass made, to the world…

By the end of the year, I will have self-published my first short story. I’ll know it’s not perfect, and that it never will be exactly what I’m imagining it could be. But I’ll still press ‘send’, and, in so doing, become an indie publisher, as imperfect at that as I am at being a human.

What can you do, if you release the chimera of perfection, and let your best be enough? Because, as Hawkeye Pierce once told Father Mulcahy on M*A*S*H, “Best is best.”

Let’s all do our best, and then let go!

~*~

Shan Jeniah Burton

Shrodinger’s Glass by Shan Jeniah Burton

There is nothing either good or
bad, but thinking makes it so. Hamlet Act 2, scene 2
ROW80 is the writing challenge that knows we all have lives. That’s pretty handy, because sometimes the challenges that crop up expand beyond the goals, we set for ourselves, and complicate life in general. Having the freedom to adjust goals or take a break as often as we need to gives us the flexibility to continue on the path to our goals, to the best of our ability, even amidst chaos.
ROW80 accepts and embraces the realities of life, but it’s still up to us to figure out howto deal with adversity when life throws up obstacles between us and our goals, writing or otherwise.

Sometimes, it’s those same obstacle-inclusive lives that offer a path toward dealing with the non-planned challenges they present.

My life just happens to include an eleven year old live-in guru. In helping her navigate the vagaries of her own life, I often find tools I can use in my own – one of the job perks of being a mom.

My daughter generally has an upbeat personality, but eleven is a tricky age. Her body is changing dramatically, just as her understanding of the world is getting more sophisticated. She still believes in magic, but she also realizes that waving a wand at a problem won’t simply untangle or erase it.
That’s a hard realization, and she’s had some ‘glass half empty’ moments, these last months.
I try to help her look for the positive in her situation. If she’s sad that a sleepover has ended, I remind her that she can hold to the fun,she had , if she focuses on that more than the sadness at the inevitable ending.
The glass, we’ve decided, is like Schrodinger’s Cat. Half full and half empty mean the same thing – the glass, of course, is both, at the same time. There’s not one drop of difference – and , at the same instant, there’s a universe between the two.
It’s all a matter of perspective. Dwelling in the difficulties of a challenge, the things that just aren’t going to go the way we wanted them, planned them, hoped for, keeps us chained down and burdened. The challenges are walls and restraints that won’t let us move or even see past them.
We get stuck. Maybe we see no way out, and we quit.
But that’s only one perspective. If we tip our heads and shift our focus, we might just see things a little differently. Not in a la-la-la, let’s- just- pretend -this -isn’t -a -problem way, but in a proactive manner….kind of more like MacGyver than MacGruber. =)
We can see the challenges as possibilities for change, learning, growth, new opportunities. For the chance to chart a new course, set new goals, find new ways to achieve them that accept the challenges without being victimized or paralyzed by them.
Schrodinger’s Glass is, at once, half full and half-empty. It’s an optical illusion of a glass that can be looked at two ways, but not at the same time.
It’s all in how we see it.
For me, the difference is gratitude. I’m dealing with a few unforeseen challenges at the moment, and it might be easy to see budget restrictions and family of origin frictions as negative developments. Instead, I’m trying to find ways to deal with our slightly more finite than I’d like resources, and be grateful that we have as much as we do – we aren’t hungry, we own our home (even if it’s far from fancy, and in need of repairs we can’t quite manage easily). And I’m grateful that I’ve learned that I don’t have to become enmeshed in the dysfunctions and manipulations that are such a part of the family into which I was born. I can keep a little personal distance, or a lot, as needed – it’s up to me how involved I wish to be. I can stand for myself and my own family – with strength, and without anger.

This round, I’m challenging myself to seek gratitude when the inevitable adversities present themselves. Can I look beyond what’s lacking, and see the potential gifts and benefits that are offered in evident setback? Can I shift goals and priorities, or learn new ways of doing things that will continue to move me toward my goals? Can I appreciate what I have, while I move toward resolution to difficult circumstances? Can I continue to strive toward my dreams, even through adversity?

I’m going to try, and I invite you to join me. Let’s lift Schrodinger’s glass together, and drink a toast to the challenges we set for ourselves, and the ones that life offers up as surprise packages.

My young live-in guru lifts a glass – you get to decide whether it’s half-full or half-empty!
~*~