thankful for...

The world is full of beauty — why do we so often choose to focus on the ugly? I could try to answer that question for you, but I’m not going to, because that would be focusing on the negative. Instead, I choose to focus on the positive.

There are hundreds if not thousands of beautiful things around me from the mug of tea steeping on the table to the memory of the friend who came over to read with me this morning. Some are concrete, some more abstract. All are visible if I choose to see them.

Today I choose to see them.

{today’s exercise}

Make a list of things you’re thankful for. You can stop there, or you can choose one line that stands out to you and write a poem surrounding that single concept. Write words and phrases that are as expressive as the emotions they inspire.

{my process and my poem}

This morning as I write, I reflect not only on the many things I’m thankful for that surround me in the present, but also the memories of the road trip I took this past week and a half. This is the beauty I see:

  • the welcoming arms of a once-stranger turned family
  • being appreciated
  • home-cooked meals after time on the road
  • strong arms holding me up when I’m too weak to stand
  • grace and favor pulling me out of depression and fear
  • a wife helping her husband pull off an epic event
  • two beautiful people leading their six sons into a passion-filled creative life
  • foot massage after too much standing
  • baby smiles and peek-a-boo
  • meeting the people behind the internet profiles
  • life-changing conversations about what drives us to create
  • playing a new game with new friends and old after dinner
  • a beautiful garden of relationships growing and blooming

reading poetry

I love reading

Forgetting the time and space in which I exist and losing myself in another world through the pages of a book is one of my favorite pastimes. I don’t often allow myself the luxury of reading during the work week, so Saturday becomes my day to read for as long as I like.

Without pouring beautiful words into myself, I cannot continue to pour beautiful words out. When I don’t read much, it’s harder to write poetry. Even when I know what I want to write about, I still struggle to find the words. If I’ve been reading, though, the words come much more quickly and easily. Reading feeds me.

{today’s exercise}

Make yourself comfortable, free yourself from distractions, and read some poetry. It’s a rest day, so there’s no pressure to write a poem, but if you are inspired by what you read, feel free to write something.

{my process and my poem}

I wrote this poem to help myself grasp the value of reading stories. It helped to free me from the feeling that I should be doing something more productive than reading now that I’m no longer a child.

Am I the only one who saw myself in every protagonist?
Who wondered how I could feel such solidarity with a fictional character?
She might be a princess, an orphan, or a little girl on the prairie.
What does the average 20th-century girl have in common with these?
And I’m coming to know them I came to know myself.

When was the last time you read a story
and let yourself be in that story?

Why not allow yourself to be the hero
of a story again?

Maybe in experiencing another story
you’ll come to better understand your own.

your poetry journey thus far

When you read someone else’s poem, you don’t see all the work and tears and laughter that may be behind it. You don’t see whether it spilled out all at once without any editing, or whether it was edited, revised and changed slowly over the course of months or even years. You don’t know what inspired it — pain, beauty, strength or weakness. All you can see is the finished poem.

This is how it is when an outsider reads a poem, but to the poet — to the one who actually wrote it — a poem is so much more! When you read your poetry you feel the weight of all that went into it. You remember the process of putting thoughts into words, words into phrases, phrases into stanzas. You remember whether you cried or laughed. You remember the feelings of pride or shame when you read the poem you had created.

What do you feel when you read the poems you’ve written during the past two weeks? Consider the high points of your journey thus far. Re-read the poem that you are most proud of. Think back on the process of writing it, and take that with you into the rest of this month. Be encouraged; even if you aren’t very happy with anything you’ve produced, remind yourself that you have produced something and you have another two weeks to improve on that.

{today’s exercise}

Look over the journey you have taken these past two weeks. What has been your favorite moment so far? What was your favorite exercise? Today is a rest day. If you’d like to write a poem, though, review your favorite exercise and write another poem using that prompt.

{my process & my poem}

To be honest, when I look back at what I’ve written in the past I am sorely tempted to pick it apart and focus on where I’ve fallen short. But I choose to keep writing, even when it results in poems like this one…

words are usually my medium of choice
I’m told I’m skilled at using words to create art
but often, words fail me

when emotion runs deep
words feel so shallow

when reality is rich
words seem so dry

I write to try to ascribe meaning to emotions
to understand experiences
but often, words fail me

the prose falls flat
when describing fascinating feelings

the poetry seems stale
when attempting to show sentiment

still, words continue to flow out
because without an outlet, they stagnate inside
yet often, words fail me

ready for a rest?

One week of of the #31poems challenge is behind us. Are you ready for a rest?

Last week I wrote about how rest is vital to the creative process. Embracing the rhythm of regular rest will increase your stamina and protect you from burnout. So embrace it, even if you don’t feel like you need it.

Taking a rest is not the same as taking a break. A break disengages you from whatever you are taking a break from, but a rest gives you refreshment in the midst of it. If you’re hiking, a rest could look like sitting down on a rock and enjoying the view, while a break might be sitting down and pulling out your phone.

My weekly Sabbath rest is not so much a break from routine as a special part of routine. Rather than running away from my normal commitments, I make a commitment to be in a restful state of mind one day each week. Rather than abandoning work, I take the opportunity to step away from it, maintaining an awareness of it, so that I can know how best to approach it when I return to it. Rather than breaking away from normal life, I make rest part of my normal life.

{today’s exercise}

Now that you understand the difference between a rest and a break, how will you rest today?

What can you do to maintain momentum without exerting more energy? For some suggestions, read last week’s post, rest is vital to the creative process.

Choose one way you can take a rest without taking a break from your writing, and do it today. If that includes writing a poem, by all means do so! But don’t pressure yourself to produce a poem today.

{my process & my poem}

One night last summer, as I was nearing the launch of my first book, I couldn’t sleep.

The creative juices were flowing, sparked by the looming deadline. Still, I didn’t want to get up and turn on my computer — I needed a rest after a full day of writing and formatting the book! Instead of forcing myself to take a break, stopping the flow of creativity, I took a rest. I turned on a dim light, tore a blank page out of my journal, and picked up a pencil. I hadn’t drawn much for months, but I let my pencil wander, the lines creating a little sketch and a sort of poem, pictured here. There’s a story behind the Wizard and the Phantom …maybe I’ll share that some other time.

rest is vital to the creative process

Everyone needs a rest from their creativity now and again.

Even God rested after creating the world! I’ve followed his example and set aside every seventh day (Saturday) to rest.

Rest is necessary if you don’t want to burn out. I’ve found that if I wait until I feel I need rest, then it’s already too late. Plus, if I haven’t scheduled it in, when rest becomes necessary I’m too busy to actually allow myself to slow down!

Set aside time to rest during this month of writing poetry.

It may seem odd to think about resting from something you've hardly begun, especially when it’s something creative and fun, but now is the perfect time to consider the importance of rest and decide how you want to integrate routine rest into your creative process.

Every seven days of the 31-day series I will share an exercise that I consider restful. You will need to decide what rest means for you, though.

Often, I still write on my day of rest, but I keep the process relaxed by not writing for my blog, not working on my books, and not tracking my word count. Not doing those things gives me the freedom to write things I don’t usually allow time for, like writing letters, rambling on for pages in my journal, or writing personal poetry that's too intimate to share beyond a few close friends (if that).

{today’s exercise}

What does rest mean to you? Take some time today to slow down and consider the question. Maybe you journal about it. Maybe you write a poem on the topic of rest. Maybe you pick up a poetry book and get lost in reading for a while.

Do something today that gives you some breathing room, and consider what you will do in the future to build a habit of rest.

{my process & my poem}

I wrote this poem in the middle of my work week as I considered how I would spend my next day of rest.

I need a break,
some time to be
without the push of social life
and pull of responsibility.

I need a break,
some space to breathe
between the suffocating moments
of work and play.

I can’t find time —
it’s all taken up by something or someone.
Space doesn’t appear —
for nature abhors a vacuum and fills it.

So I’ll make
the time
to be
here and now.

And I’ll take
the space
to breathe
in and out.