Friday, January 29, 2021

Learning to be "Indistractable" and a Found Poem

Happy Poetry Friday! I share a found poem I created at the end of this post.

As Mary Ann mentioned last week, we've kicked off this year with the topic "What did I learn in 2020 that will help me in 2021." As frustrating as 2020 was, I learned some things about myself that are helping me create a happier, healthier, more productive life.   

It all started with one new habit. To cope with the stress brought on by events of 2020, I decided to start meditating regularly. I have meditated off and on for years. In April 2020, I committed to making it a regular habit, initially, for just 8 minutes a day--up from the 5 minutes/day I'd dabbled in earlier in the year. And I decided to motivate myself by using the "Don't break the chain" strategy. The strategy involves using a calendar to cross off each day when you accomplish your goal. After a few days, you have a chain of successes, and the idea is to keep up the habit so you don't break the chain. You can read how this approach helped Jerry Seinfeld's career here

When I meditate, I use the free version of the Insight Timer app to sound a chime at the beginning and end of my meditation time. The math geek in me loves graphs, so I really appreciate the app's graphs and charts representing meditation activity. The app also rewards you with "stars" for accomplishing certain milestones, such as meditating for ten consecutive days. So, instead of using a physical calendar for the "Don't break the chain" strategy, I used the app. Before April 2020, the longest meditation streak I had was ten days. That changed on April 27. I watched the chain grow to 20, 30, 40, 50 straight days, and beyond. I also gradually increased my time to 10, 12, and 15 minutes a day. Early this month, I revised my goal to 20 minutes per day. As of this morning, I've meditated 288 straight days--something I wouldn't have imagined possible a year ago. My goals is to hit 365 days!

Interestingly, this new habit did more than simply ease my stress. It also proved to me that I am capable of real habit change. I began to think about how I can create new habits in other areas of my life, especially my writing. In particular, I wanted to find a way to overcome distractions. Recently, I'd been struggling more and more with the urge to read email or check social media during my designated writing time. Then I read about the book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life (Benbella Books) by Nir Eyal.

Becoming "Indistractable"
I learned of Eyal's book when I came across Gretchen Rubin's 2019 interview with him. In it, he says: 

Truly, distraction starts from within and it is our never ending search for an escape from psychological discomfort that is the root cause of distraction. We check Facebook because we’re lonely, email because we’re stressed, Google because we’re uncertain, and Instagram because we’re bored. We like to blame the technology, but these companies are powerless to change our habits if we don’t give them an emotional trigger to latch onto.  

If you subscribe to my Creativity Newsletter, these words may sound familiar, since I shared them in my December 2020 issue. But the idea that psychological discomfort causes distraction feels important enough to discuss here, too. The emotional triggers that distract me from my writing aren't typically loneliness or boredom. Instead, my discomfort is triggered by anxiety and self-doubt--the internal critic whispering in my ear that I'm not a good-enough writer or my idea isn't marketable enough. 

One strategy Eyal recommends for overcoming distraction is "time-boxing," something I've been doing for years, though I'd never heard of this term for it. I set aside specific time for writing, usually first thing in the morning. But I often found myself "taking a quick break" to check email or social media during that time, only to have that "quick" break stretch to an hour or more. So I decided to combine Eyal's time-boxing idea with the "Don't break the chain" strategy. I created a schedule for checking email and social media and committed to only doing it at those times. 

To track this chain, I'm using a physical calendar, marking off each day I stick with my goal. Below is a picture of my results through yesterday. (The box for Sunday, 1/24, looks odd because the same square also holds Sunday, 1/31.)

I'm again amazed at how motivating such a simple strategy has been for me. I've been able to sit and work for long stretches without distraction. And when I check email or social media during the designated time, I don't feel guilty about it!

The Strategy of Monitoring
I believe this success is tied to an idea I learned from Gretchen Rubin: The Strategy of Monitoring. (I've mentioned here before how I'm a big fan of Gretchen Rubin's podcast and books.) One of my goals for 2021 is to write more poetry. To be more specific: my goal is to draft at least one new poem a week, and I'm keeping a record of my results. (So far, so good.) This week, I've drafted a found poem* from Rubin's blog post summarizing the Strategy of Monitoring:

            You Manage What You Measure
        To get more of something good
                   or less of something bad,
        figure out a concrete way
                   to measure and track it.
        By counting the things that count,
        you make sure
                                they’re part of your life.

Found poem by Carmela Martino taken from Gretchen Rubin blog post of April 22, 2013. 

In an interesting coincidence, just a few days ago, Rubin shared on Instagram the same picture she included in that blog post, which I've copied above. 

*To create the found poem, I applied these three rules to the text of the original blog post: Words could be subtracted, but not added. Words must be kept in their original order. Tenses, plurals, punctuation and capitalization could be changed as needed.

For more poetry, don't forget to check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup hosted by Jan at Book Seed Studio.

Posted by Carmela

Friday, January 22, 2021

Lessons from 2020

Our new topic is "What did I learn in 2020 that will help me in 2021?"

My first thought was  "Absolutely nothing! I'm drowning here!"

And then, in one of those serendipitous moments, my answer simply appeared...on my Kindle.(This happened last week, so this is a lesson from 2021 for...2021!)  I was checking for a new title I'd pre-ordered. Instead I found a book I bought last spring in the depths of my quarantined depression. No doubt I'd discovered it on a list of "Books to Get You Through Lockdown." Lists that included books like Yoga for Dummies, Breathe in the Moment and Sourdough Bread is the Answer! 

This one was called The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger.   I don't know how I missed it when it was first published in 2017.  Maybe because I'm suspicious of books with two word titles when one of the words is "The" in The Secret or The Answer, as if this book and only this book contains priceless information. Still..."embrace the possible"? 

I popped open Dr. Eger's book and scanned the table of contents. Now I remembered why I bought it. It was part self-help, part Holocaust memoir. How did these two things mesh in one book? The introduction mentions that Dr. Eger had been a protege of Dr. Viktor Frankl. I'd read Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, his account of Auschwitz, years ago. Was there more to say on the subject of controlling your own mind in the worst of situations? Is that what The Choice was about?

Of course it's ridiculous to compare life in Auschwitz or surviving postwar Hungary to anything we might be experiencing. To quote Dr. Eger "...there is no hierarchy of suffering. There's nothing that makes my pain worse or better than yours...This kind of comparison can lead us to minimize or diminish our own suffering." The mindset of anyone who is in a situation they perceive as hopeless is the same, no matter the circumstances. 

What? It's OK to feel terrible?  Even if my family was healthy and employed? I didn't have to feel guilty for feeling bad for missing family and friends and day-to-day life? OK! I read on.

Edith Eger had been a 16-year-old dancer/gymnast on the 1944 Hungarian national team, when she and her family were sent to Auschwitz. How she survived by refusing to think like a victim is an incredible story, similar to Frankl's. However, Eger's book spoke to me in a way that Frankl's did not. The voice of the teenaged Edie was easier to identify with than Frankl's, who was a practicing doctor in his thirties during his imprisonment.

While this book has given me a different perspective on Life in the Land of COVID, it has also given me a new weapon in my never-ending battle with writer's block. All the negative inner chatter that broadcasts from the brain night and day can be silenced by...refusing to think like a victim. Dr. Eger went through many of the same self-defeating monologues herself in her post-war life. (You'd think if you survived Auschwitz, you'd feel invincible...but that was not always Dr. Eger's experience.) She had to re-discover that 16-year-old who never feared the Nazis. 

Edith Eger became a clinical psychologist in her fifties, and many of her fear-busting techniques are those she developed in her practice. Some I've encountered in therapy, some are new. They all have Dr. Eger's take-no-prisoner's philosophy. I feel as if she has actually has my back when I fall into hopeless thinking, or a panic attack.  

I leave you with one last image of Dr. Eger. As a teenage dancer/gymnast, she prided herself on the ability to kick higher than anyone in her class. Today, as a ninety-something psychologist, she can still do that high kick! In fact, that's how she ends her speeches. I couldn't do a high kick when I was sixteen, let alone now. But just picturing her doing that high kick (which by the way, you can see her perform, online) sets my spirit free, to embrace the possible.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, January 15, 2021

Dragons Are My Patronus


I’ve written about classes and seminars that I’ve taken this past year. Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson’s Revision Workshops are some of the best. Other workshops I’ve taken include Emma D. Dryden’s excellent workshops in finding an agent. Other seminars, hosted by Lorin Oberweger and Free Expressions, include the wonderfully inspirational Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey and Character Masterclass as well as Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel.

Probably the most inspiring seminar was hosted by the award-winning science fiction and screenwriter David Gerrold* . Not because of what I learned about the writing process, but rather what I learned about myself.

David began by asking, why do you write? I suspect the intent – to reflect some degree of self-awareness—is to echo some level of Truth itself. That is to say, if story is the oldest invitation to the human experience, than the heart of that story – and why we (or I) write – is because we want a glimpse of some larger Truth, on what it means to be human. On what it means to be ourselves. So, what is that truth?

But the truth is, I have no idea. Not anymore. I don’t know if I have The Write Stuff.

I can tell you how I started. As a (very!) young child, I was ill with osteomyelitis. Recovery took a long while. While in the hospital, someone read to me. These stories freed me from confines of a hospital bed. It was more than just escaping a painful reality. These stories created a new reality in which I could do what otherwise I could not. Didn’t take long for me to make the jump into reading. I learned to read, even as I learned how to walk again. I was well ahead of everyone by the time I entered elementary school.

By fourth grade, I was reading Charles Dickens, and developed quite a crush on the Artful Dodger. I wrote my first story, in which he and I became friends. I also discovered Anne McCaffrey’s Pern. I read that her brother also suffered from osteomyelitis, and it inspired her to create a character (I forget which character. But, I tend to like dragons more than people anyway). 

 And suddenly dragons became by patronus. 

Certainly the act of writing is a construct of putting feelings into words, and I created a reality and a community in which I finally found belonging. I went to school, earned my MFA (among other degrees), and wrote. I have had short stories, articles and seven books published.

Then something happened. It wasn’t sudden, like a great big bang bazinga. It was more like a slow burn, years in the making. I had prepared, and fully devoted, for a career in writing. I was unprepared for the business of writing.

The business of writing is harsh, dispiriting in its rejection, and – good great glory – it comes complete with all the reigning -isms. For every Gandalf and Dumbledore, there is a Sauron and Lord Voldemort. We have heard of prominent agents – and a few writers – who have conducted themselves inappropriately as the MeToo movement swept through the publishing field. A few writers – including a hero of mine – twittered one too many times to reveal their own humany limitations. Then there’s the major literary agency rocked by – and eventually dissolved by --intimations of racist behavior. Turns out a few significant agents were nothing more than scammers. Writers Beware is full of warnings of publishers and agents acting in bad faith.

In other words, publishing is not some magic place over the rainbow. Rather it’s like every other business, complete with its own dark side and deatheaters.

I’ve had three agents during my ‘career’, all of whom promised to be the champion that would help me build a writing career. Long story short, none worked out. And, in many ways, the impact on my career has been negative. Each time I’ve had to start over.

I’ve had seven books published, a million (or so it seems) articles, and have won a fair share of awards, and still it seems I have spend more time trying to prove (to myself as much as anyone else) that I am relevant. In this quest to start anew, I worked with an agent on three rounds of revisions, with the assumption (never a promise) for representation. And the end of the year-long process, she loved (loved!) the manuscript, but historical fiction would be a hard sale (translation: she wants a quick sale). I had another agent schedule The Call three times, and each time she had to reschedule. And then she ghosted me, despite my nudges. Another agent asked to see more manuscripts, and then she ghosted me, despite my nudges. I even sent another historical fiction to my old editor, who once said she’s a big fan and to send her historical fiction. And then she ghosted me.

We know it’s not personal, but it certainly feels it. And now, even my dragon patronus has fizzled. I had taken classes. I have done research for potential stories and revised old stories, but I have not written anything new for over a year. My hope is this ebb and flow is normal, and what ebbs soon flows. My fear, however, is that I’ve lost my dragon. And what’s worse, I’m not sure she wants to be found. As I recall, her last words were, ‘### this ###.’

But, before you think its all woe and gloom, something else happened. Something unexpected. It occurred to me, while pondering this question, that my affiliation with story has always been to find a place of belonging. We are all stories in the end, says The Doctor. I have had a career – as a teacher, a bookseller, an editor, a reporter. It wasn’t the one I expected, but perhaps it was the one I needed. 

For so long, I thought that to belong meant I had to be published, but that’s not true, is it?

If the point of story is to find community, it turns out I have built up quite the community. A very special, extraordinary community, complete with Gandolf and Dumbledore, and Clara and The Wandering Monk, Authors Who Teach, Smacking Dabbers, and Master Guru. It includes The Librarians, and Poodle Lady, and Freckles, Lady Squabbit of the North, and Ella Bella’s Nana. And there’s Nyxie, Queen of the Universe (and her Royal Regent Grandpa). Mrs. and Mr. Shiny Serenity (complete with their pretty floral bonnet). The Professor, and Wordswimmer, the Geek, and the Nerd, and The Dog Whisperer, Pearl’s Mum and so many more unexpected friends. Steadfast and firm in their stance, reminding me to never give up. 

Why do I write? The answer was always at once simple and complex: To belong, of course.

Perhaps my patronus, my dragon, just needed a rest. You'll be glad (or at least, I was!) I started a new project. I have seven sloppy, somewhat begrimed chapters. But the characters are certainly dancing about.

Who wills, Can. Who tries, Does. Who loves, Lives. – Anne McCaffrey

Photo: Princess and Dragon by Nikita Volobuev, 2020.

David Gerrold  wrote the script for my favorite original Star Trek, The Trouble with Tribbles. He’s currently on Patreon, conducting weekly seminars and fireside chats about life and grandchildren. Do check it out!

Thank you for spending time with me!

--Bobbi Miller

Friday, January 8, 2021

Happy ANEW Year! – Courtesy of the Prefix “re”

YAY! and finally: our New Year is here!

2020 no longer banners our calendars.

This year’s start, though, is different from all others.

Since my one-year-ago post sharing my Rx for 20/20 vision, 

my eyesight required emergency refraction.

I count my blessings daily, if not hourly, that COVID-19 

literally infected neither me nor my family, at least up until 

this moment, and that friends and colleagues who experienced 

otherwise survived without serious after-effects.

I remain forever grateful my losses to date remain few.

My heart holds a place for those unable to say the same.

Still, figuratively? If I was to KEEP keepin’ on, in body, 

in spirit, and especially in my life’s work – teaching, coaching

and writing, the corona virus forced me to see my world – 

everything and everyone - anew. 

When it came to looking, back no longer did the job.



      Definition of re

      1: again: anew retell

      2: back: backward recall

This past year,

whenever Stuff demanded figuring out, so some part of my life – 

i.e. the story I was living, would work as needed, my M.O. became:

re-examine who and what was important, adjusting my camera lens 

 to better focus,

re-assess obstacles and available resources,

re-consider options, NO MATTER HOW SCARY, 

re-imagine desired outcomes,

•then begin anew with mustered courage.

Were some days better than others, some efforts unsuccessful? 

You bet!

Was I able to get every single aspect of my life working? NO!

But there was always tomorrow, a new day waiting.

The prefix “re” ensured I kept keepin’ on.

                                                      (Used with permission from Karen Ritz)

Recently, Karen Ritz’s beautiful illustration above of Mary McCarthy’s

oh, so true words prompted me to revisit 2020’s happenings.

And, lo and behold! As I saw the year anew, I saw me anew, too!

Like any Heroine who proves different for her Journey, I, too, proved 

different for the story I’d been living.

For one thing, I realized my ability to endure, despite whatever.

“I’m still here,” as Elaine Stritch famously sung.  

For another, I now know I’m able to face down my fears, especially 

those technological in nature.

And like any Heroine, I, too, returned home with something better than 

first sought. I began 2021 with buckets of proven courage.

                                                (Used with permission from Karen Ritz)

The Good and the Bad, the Ups and the Downs, the CrazyCrazy 

challenges – all contributed to a newer, braver me.

Now, whenever Stuff needs figuring out, so some aspect of the story 

I’m writing works as needs be, I’m rarin’ to go.

And that includes the 8th iteration of my current picture book 


I just rinse and repeat my 2020 Covid-19 M.O. 

I found the perfect prefix to adjust my vision, 

to adjust my verbs from focus to imagine.

I found daring and boldness, no matter the unknown, so my Reader, 

too, can be different for her Journey.

Thanks to Sylvia at Poetry for Children for hosting today’s Poetry 


Here’s to your stories - both those you are living and those you are 

writing – and finding, however challenging, at least one Silver Lining!

Happy ANEW Year!

Esther Hershenhorn


Welcome, welcome to our ANEWEST Teaching Author – Zeena Pliska!

You can read more about her here.