6 mindfulness practices to relax into your work

It’s 77 degrees in Alexandria today. (What?!)

Spring is popping up in every corner, and Pepper has had more long walks this past week than she knows what to do with. She loves to chase squirrel trails (which I’m convinced she’s just pretending to pick up on so that she can go berserk), and she runs so fast that she practically drags my lazy butt down the running path.

mindfulness practices for writers

But it feels so good to finally be entering into spring—I love that feeling of both new energy and slow growth. It’s equal parts raring-to-go and stop-and-sniff-the-flowers (or be dragged away from the flowers by your embarrassingly athletic dog).

Isn’t that the same balance we strive to keep in our work? Excited and energetic, yet still calm, composed, and present. Which isn’t easy for writers—I think nearly every writer or blogger would own up to being neurotic or perfectionistic or overachievers or wound a little too tight in one way or another. (I think their agent might be guilty of this, too. Ahem.)

So today I’m sharing 6 mindfulness practices that can help bring a little more zen into your day-to-day work. I think we’re all guilty sometimes of being so results-oriented and efficiency-driven that we completely forget that we actually like doing this work that’s in front of us.

I know that happens to me all the time! Half the time that I’m editing proposals or answering emails my shoulders are so tense and my jaw so clenched that it feels like I’m shouldering through some sort of terrible trial. But in reality, I love editing proposals, and I love chatting on email with my authors. With just a few calming breaths and some of these mindfulness practices, I’m reminded that I love this work I do and that it’s okay to relax and enjoy it.

Maybe the same thing happens to you?

You sit down to write and find yourself so pressured by the ticking clock or the word count or your own expectations that your whole body tenses up?

Or maybe you find yourself knotted into a ball of stress as you’re drafting query letters, or writing social media posts, or responding to email?

If so, head on over and read this article on The Kitchn!

It’s framed around work in the kitchen, but these practices can just as easily be applied to showing up at your computer to write or facing a stack of pages to edit.

I hope it’s a little reminder in the middle of your week that, once we learn to relax into our tasks, anything can become the soothing and meaningful experience we search for in meditation and yoga. So for those of you who show up to a manuscript or a computer or a kitchen every day, remember to breathe, feeling deep gratitude for this moment, right here, right now, with this work.

Mindfulness Practices for writers


What I’m Reading This Week

Ready to Learn How to Write With Purpose? (Kristen Kieffer of Well-Storied): Since we’re chatting about being purposeful today, it was perfect timing that Kristen released this free 46-page workbook! Aren’t we all trying to bridge the gap between what our ideal workday looks like and our actual habits? If you’re nodding “yes” along with me, then this is a great resource to help you take a few more steps toward getting it right.

The Why of Urgent Vs. Important (Seth Godin): “The reason we go for urgent is that it makes us feel competent. We’re good at it. We didn’t used to be, but we are now. Important, on the other hand, is fraught with fear, with uncertainty and with the risk of failure. Now that you know why, you can dance with it.”

Remember Chutes and Ladders? Book Publishing is Just Like the Game (Emily Wenstrom on The Write Life): This is a great inside look at how to speed up (or slow down) your journey toward reaching your publishing goals. And yes! Be bold and chase down any leads, always staying professional along the way.

Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds (Elizabeth Kolbert for The New Yorker): “People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people. In the case of my toilet, someone else designed it so that I can operate it easily. This is something humans are very good at. We’ve been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history. So well do we collaborate, Sloman and Fernbach argue, that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins.”

12 Tips for Pitching Articles to Publications and Websites (Dianne Jacob): Essential tips for pitching to both online and print outlets! Make sure you scan through these before starting in on pitching a piece.


What We’re Eating This Week

Another week without traveling for work means lots of fun things to cook! And would you believe this: we ended up with the pickiest eater of a dog. I’m now the world’s most accomplished chopper-upper of hot dogs. There has to be a culinary award in this.

Monday: Ah, Monday. I always feel better about you if I have a salad on deck for dinner. Otto-inspired Italian chopped salad it is (with extra salami, of course).

Tuesday: Soboro beef with rice and broccoli, using this Bon Appétit recipe. Easy, yummy, and not a hot dog. Checks all the boxes!

Wednesday: Thai chicken and rice noodle soup, from my author Jenn of Once Upon a Chef. Because springtime means soup…? I don’t know, I just wanted soup. Welp.

Thursday: Arroz cubano, just like my Yaya makes! Start by packing some white rice into a cup, turn it over, and shake it out to form a little mountain. Then top with whatever kind of tomato sauce you like and a crispy-edged, olive-oil-fried egg. Kids love it; adults love it; dogs better not decide they love it.

Friday: ??? I have no idea. Can we have gin and tonics for dinner?

Cheers!

A self-guided study to overcome rejection

How did you survive Thanksgiving? I ate way, way too much and loved every minute of it. Then I cooked an enormous pot of turkey soup based off of this recipe and over-ate for another two days. I love the holidays.

But now that we’re in the slight reprieve between Thanksgiving and Christmas, let’s tackle a big subject: rejection.

books-about-rejection

Rejection is an inevitable part of the creative life (and of regular old life, too), but most of the time we focus our energy on trying to avoid rejection, rather than expecting it and building resilience to it.

Let’s turn that around. Because if I’ve seen one thing in my years in the publishing industry, both as an editor and a literary agent, it’s that rejection is part of the job.

So then, our work as people who are engaged in the business of art, is to make peace with rejection. It’s not a bonus skill that will help you get ahead; it is the way ahead.

We’ve talked before about how every single person in the publishing industry gets rejected by one person or another–authors get rejected by agents and publishers; agents get rejected by editors; editors get rejected by acquisitions committees; publicists get rejected by producers.

And we’ve also talked about what to do in those moments and days right after a particularly tough rejection rolls in. But what can we do to steel ourselves against these blows to our souls? How can we dig and then fill a deep well of resilience that allows us to withstand rejection?

Well, the answer, as always, lies in BOOKS. Books are the repository of all human wisdom and knowledge, and you can bet you’re not the first or the last person in history to get kicked about in this particular way. Books also allow us to design our own self-guided studies of any topic known to mankind, and then to spend a good many afternoons on the couch, having our minds blown right open.

That is and will always be the most deeply important thing to me about books. The wisest and most expert minds in the world wring every last drop of their knowledge into a book and sell it for $19.99. If that’s not the best thing about our society (and a really nice deal to boot), then ship me off to the moon because I know nothing.

(Oh, and if you went a little too hard on Cyber Monday and don’t want to drop a few $20s on a few books, may I remind you about libraries? Libraries are the world’s collective knowledge and experiences, assembled over millennia, available to every last person for the price of $0.00. Show me a better deal anywhere this season.)

So this December, let’s hunker down with a self-guided study on rejection, so that we can be fierce and stubborn and relentless rejection warriors in 2017.

I truly believe a rejection study is an essential part of any writer’s self-education.

Only by being in a civil working relationship with rejection will we be able to look it in the eye around the water cooler, roll our eyes at its same old complaints and lies, and huff a little despondently as we walk back to our desk and get to work. Sorry, rejection, we have work to do, and we’re not going to sit around all day whining about how things could have been. Try someone else.

Now let’s get to work and buy or borrow our way to a stack of books that will show us how to build resilience in the face of rejection.

These are the books I would recommend as a start, but as with any self-guided study, only you know how you learn best. If you prefer a more kick-in-the-pants approach, find some authors who will shake you up a little. If you like to supplement with audio and visual learning, search out a few podcasts or video courses on the topic. But I do recommend getting one or two books—books have the incomparable advantage of living in your home, patiently waiting to be pulled down when you need a moment of counsel with them. (They make great home decor, too!)

(By the way, I only recommend books I’ve read or that I’m genuinely excited about reading myself. Life’s too short to read mediocre books. But if you do feel like picking up one of these, it’d be great if you bought them through one of the Amazon Associate links below. It supports the many hours of work this team of two [me and Jarrett] put into this little corner of the web!)

Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection by Jia Jiang

jia jiang rejection proof book cover

Think you’re down and out? Jiang put himself (voluntarily!) through an experiment to seek out rejection for 100 days. This boot-camp approach helped him deflate the dread of putting himself out there, conquer his feelings of self-doubt, and build him back up so he could dare to live more boldly.

From the back cover:

“Jia Jiang came to the United States with the dream of being the next Bill Gates. But despite early success in the corporate world, his first attempt to pursue his entrepreneurial dream ended in rejection. Jia was crushed, and spiraled into a period of deep self doubt. But he realized that his fear of rejection was a bigger obstacle than any single rejection would ever be, and he needed to find a way to cope with being told no without letting it destroy him. Thus was born his ‘100 days of rejection’ experiment, during which he willfully sought rejection on a daily basis–from requesting a lesson in sales from a car salesman (no) to asking a flight attendant if he could make an announcement on the loud speaker (yes) to his famous request to get Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the shape of Olympic rings (yes, with a viral video to prove it).

Jia learned … techniques for steeling himself against rejection and ways to develop his own confidence–a plan that can’t be derailed by a single setback. Filled with great stories and valuable insight, Rejection Proof is a fun and thoughtful examination of how to overcome fear and dare to live more boldly.”

Get the book!

Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution by Brene Brown

brene brown rising strong book cover

Already a classic—if you read only one book on this list, make it this one.

From the back cover:

“It is the rise from falling that Brown takes as her subject in Rising Strong. As a grounded theory researcher, Brown has listened as a range of people—from leaders in Fortune 500 companies and the military to artists, couples in long-term relationships, teachers, and parents—shared their stories of being brave, falling, and getting back up. She asked herself, What do these people with strong and loving relationships, leaders nurturing creativity, artists pushing innovation, and clergy walking with people through faith and mystery have in common? The answer was clear: They recognize the power of emotion and they’re not afraid to lean in to discomfort.

Walking into our stories of hurt can feel dangerous. But the process of regaining our footing in the midst of struggle is where our courage is tested and our values are forged. Our stories of struggle can be big ones, like the loss of a job or the end of a relationship, or smaller ones, like a conflict with a friend or colleague. Regardless of magnitude or circumstance, the rising strong process is the same: We reckon with our emotions and get curious about what we’re feeling; we rumble with our stories until we get to a place of truth; and we live this process, every day, until it becomes a practice and creates nothing short of a revolution in our lives. Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness. It’s the process, Brown writes, that teaches us the most about who we are.”

Get the book!

The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday

the obstacle is the way ryan holiday book cover

Want to tackle rejection from the angle of the ancient Greek philosophy of stoicism? Try this one.

From the back cover:

“The book draws its inspiration from stoicism, the ancient Greek philosophy of enduring pain or adversity with perseverance and resilience. Stoics focus on the things they can control, let go of everything else, and turn every new obstacle into an opportunity to get better, stronger, tougher. As Marcus Aurelius put it nearly 2000 years ago: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Ryan Holiday shows us how some of the most successful people in history—from John D. Rockefeller to Amelia Earhart to Ulysses S. Grant to Steve Jobs—have applied stoicism to overcome difficult or even impossible situations. Their embrace of these principles ultimately mattered more than their natural intelligence, talents, or luck.”

Get the book!

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

angela duckworth grit book cover

If you’re going to get kicked around by life (and we all will), you’ll need a bit of grit to get back up. This instant New York Times bestseller has gotten so much attention and praise because of its research-backed look at this new concept of “grit”—the combination of passion and perseverance. It shares dozens of stories of rock-bottom moments in the lives of high-achievers and how they pulled themselves out of the mire of disappointment.

From the back cover:

“Drawing on her own powerful story as the daughter of a scientist who frequently noted her lack of “genius,” Duckworth, now a celebrated researcher and professor, describes her early eye-opening stints in teaching, business consulting, and neuroscience, which led to the hypothesis that what really drives success is not “genius” but a unique combination of passion and long-term perseverance.

Winningly personal, insightful, and even life-changing, Grit is a book about what goes through your head when you fall down, and how that—not talent or luck—makes all the difference.”

Get the book!

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

big magic elizabeth gilbert book cover

This book will give you the kick-in-the-pants you need to move on from the tortured artist stereotype and bring some serious delight back into your creative life. If lately your work is feeling like a slog rather than a source of energy, get plugged in to this book STAT!

From the back cover:

“Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives.

Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the ‘strange jewels’ that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work, embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.”

Get the book!


What I’m Reading This Week

Maya Angelou on How a Library Saved Her Life (Maria Popova of Brain Pickings): This beautiful piece on the magic of libraries is right on point for this week! I especially loved the quotes Popova started the article off with: “’You never know what troubled little girl needs a book,’” Nikki Giovanni wrote in one of her poems celebrating libraries and librarians. “’Knowledge sets us free, art sets us free. A great library is freedom,’” Ursula K. Le Guin asserted in her beautiful essay on the sacredness of public libraries.”

The FLASH Drives (Seth Godin): “Fear, loneliness, anger, shame & hunger. They drive us. They divide us. They take us away from our work, our mission, our ability to make a difference. And yet, sometimes, they fuel our motion, leading to growth and connection.” (This backs up my long-standing belief that we can’t get anything good done when we’re hungry. So get something to eat!)

Bookish Gifts Under $20 (Kelly Jensen): Once you’ve stacked a pile of books under the tree, you’ll need some accessories for stocking stuffers right? 😉

The Kitchn Holiday Gift Guide (The Kitchn): Not sure what to buy your favorite cook? Start with this very-cute, very-practical flowchart (which also leads to some extremely fantastic cookbook recommendations!).

How to Write a Great Story: A Roundup of Best Advice (Jane Friedman): All the storytelling goodness you need in one place. Bookmark this one and come back to it whenever you have a little pocket of time in your day!


What We’re Eating This Week

Finally, a normal week again! I spent our 8-hour Sunday drive from Ann Arbor to Alexandria thinking about what we’d eat this week. Here’s what I came up with with an iPhone, a lot of time, and a desperate need for more vegetables.

Monday: A giant chopped salad based off the chopped salad I always order at Mario Batali’s Otto in NYC. Because if I’m going to be good and eat salad, there better be salami in it.

Tuesday: Penne with prosciutto, asparagus, and kale, adapted from my favorite Italian cookbook (which is written in Italian and now out of print, or I’d share it with you all!).

Wednesday: This recipe for cauliflower steaks, but with leftover pesto instead of the lemon herb sauce. And a side of Rich Lemon Rice from Viana La Place’s classic cookbook Unplugged. (Yes, I’ll share this recipe with you all soon–it’s so, so good!)

Thursday: This Serious Eats recipe for One-Pan Chicken, Sausage, and Brussels Sprouts. Plus adding cabbage to the pan. I’m telling you, I went into a deep vegetable deficit over the holiday.

Friday: Derek Brown’s Miracle on Seventh Street Christmas bar with friends. Cannot wait.

Cheers!

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7 Tips for Getting More Use Out of Your Cookbooks

Here it is, one month later, and I’ve been itching with excitement to get back to you all! Like I talked about here, if you’re feeling creatively burned out (or, you know, just worn out from life) then taking a mini-sabbatical may be just what you need.

Even Penguin Random House, the largest U.S. publisher, gets that creative minds need to recharge a little now and then. Their sabbatical program is legendary for offering paid time off to pursue personal interests, and I know the editors there, especially, love hitting that 10 year mark and taking a month off to travel, volunteer, or even just staycation in blissful peace.

And just because writers, bloggers, and other creative kinds work for themselves doesn’t mean they shouldn’t give themselves the same benefits an employer would offer. As Ayn Rand would say:

 

ayn rand quote art print

 

Meanwhile, the wonderful folks over at The Kitchn were kind enough to have me on their site this month, sharing some of my ideas for getting more use out of cookbooks. And the conversations that sparked from that article were incredible! I was so touched to see dozens of readers leaving memories and tips about their favorite cookbooks and how they like to use them. There are so many touching personal reflections in that comment thread, and it honestly made me a little teary to think about how important and heartening our cookbooks can be to us.

As one commenter wrote:

“My mother passed away in April and I can’t seem to move on from her passing. Opening her cookbooks and seeing her notes, especially her hilarious reviews of recipes that weren’t so successful, brings her back to me. Cooking these recipes helps me keep her close to me even though she is gone. So, write in your cookbooks! Your daughters will thank you one day.”

If you also want to turn your cookbooks into well-used, well-loved family heirlooms, here’s the rest of the article!

7 Insider Tips For Getting More Out of Your Cookbooks

how to use cookbooks more to cook

Confession time: I make cookbooks for a living, but I don’t treat them nicely.

I treat my authors nicely — I love being their literary agent; it’s an honor — and I love the cookbooks we’ve made together (I hold them tight and sing them to sleep and feel all sorts of joy-sparks when I look at them). But let’s not be precious about it:

Cookbooks exist to help us cook.

They work for us, not the other way around. Cookbooks want more than anything to help you cook, and to cook damn amazing food — and sometimes better food than you could cook if left to your own panic-fueled decision-making. Cookbooks want to lure you away from that moment when you’re staring blankly into the fridge, fathoming the meaninglessness of dinner, and wondering why on earth you didn’t just plan something, like you swore you would.

Cookbooks will find you in that moment, wipe away your tears, and gently whisper, “It’s okay … I have an idea.”

So if you’re drowning in cookbooks but still parched for practical ways to get dinner done, you might need to reassess your relationship. Here are seven ways to make your cookbooks work for you like they mean it. They helped reform me from a hapless daydreamer to that stubborn soul that cooks a brand new recipe even though it’s 8 p.m. on a Wednesday, the fridge is empty, and the dog is on fire.

Click here to keep reading this article on The Kitchn!


And because I wasn’t lying when I said I’d been giddily squirreling treats away for you all, here’s a free download of that pretty watercolor kitchen pattern you see in my main graphic!

watercolor kitchen pattern utensils

Go ahead and use it wherever you’d like—on your blog, on Instagram, as a desktop background, or just print it out, fold it in half, and scribble a grocery list on it. I hope it’ll make some little corner of your life a bit cuter!

Click here to download this watercolor kitchen pattern.


What I’ve Been Reading

Big Magic (Elizabeth Gilbert): My goodness am I glad that I gave in to the hype and read this. I was worried it wouldn’t live up to expectations after all I’ve heard about it, but it really was much different than I expected and the perfect read for anyone taking a creative sabbatical (or feeling like they need to). The main gist of the book? Lighten up and play with your work. Never forget that you do this because you love it, and it’s okay to delight yourself, rather than torture yourself, with your creative work.

This Time Lapse Of 52,000 Books Being Shelved Is A Bibliophile’s Dream (Maddie Crum for The Huffington Post): This video hit me right in my weak spot. I could watch it for days and sigh happily at all the beautiful books and the beautiful home for books that the New York Public Library is. Sigh. (See?)

John Green on Failure (John Green via GalleyCat): In this video, John Green talks candidly about struggling with writing after The Fault in Our Stars became a massive success. This is a great tie-in to Big Magic, where Elizabeth Gilbert also reveals what’s on the other side of mega bestsellerdom. (Hint: It doesn’t get easier, but you can choose whether you’ll let the weight of expectations crush you or not.)

The Economics of Dining as a Couple (Megan McArdle for Bloomberg View): We’re big fans of McArdle’s book The Upside of Down, and this hilarious piece is worth reading with your other half before you head out on your next dinner date. As McArdle says, “A communist economy is a terrible idea. A communist dinner table, on the other hand, truly is a bounteous paradise.” (Hail to the fork and sickle!)

Publishing a Cookbook: How Do You Develop Recipes? (aka: How Destroyed Is Your Kitchen?) (Thriving Home): My lovely authors, Polly and Rachel, continue their behind-the-scenes series as they work on their first cookbook. We’re planning their recipe and lifestyle shoots for this fall, and the design inspiration they’ve been collecting is gorgeous. I can’t wait to share this book with you all!

7 Must-Haves to Make Your Home Cozy for Fall Reading (A.J. O’Connell for Book Riot): Blankets! Socks! Stretchy pants! I hope you’re as excited as I am to get extremely cozy with a book this fall.

Why Do Books Publish on Tuesdays? (Laurie Hertzel for Star Tribune): In case you’ve been wondering. 🙂

What have you been reading to kick off the fall? I’m in search of my next book, so I’d love to hear what you’ve been enjoying!

Why and How to Take a Writing Sabbatical

Happy Monday! I know that’s not a thing, but I so rarely pop in to say hi to you all on Mondays that I couldn’t resist. I hope everyone had a great weekend (we went camping!) and is feeling great about what’s on deck for the week ahead.

you can't rush something you want to last forever quote printable

Personally, I’m feeling fantastic about this week. And that’s because I’m changing up the routine.

I will be taking a blogging sabbatical for several weeks to do some much-needed refocusing and rebalancing.

This September I came back from our wedding and mini-moon blurry-eyed, blinking, wondering what’s next, yet still digging out from the to-dos that were pushed off for a year until after the wedding. We started a lot of sentences this year with “after the wedding,” and now that “after the wedding” has arrived, I feel like I need to shake off the head-down, just-get-it-done fog that’s been over me for much of this year. It’s time to resurface, look around, and get clear-eyed again.

It’s only September, but I’m already wondering where this year went. Maybe you are, too? Maybe you see the colors outside starting to change, but your eyes are pulled back to the computer screen before you can fully register them? Maybe you’re certain you don’t have time to stop and take a walk outside to enjoy the fall air? There’s so much to do, and walking isn’t very productive, right?

I hear you. I’ve spent most of the past year trying to maximize my output, and now that I’m finally over the hump and coasting down the hill, I want to hold on to that feeling a bit longer. I want a little more wind in my hair and a little less hunching over a screen.

a sabbatical break for writers

If you’re feeling that way, too, you might want to consider taking a sabbatical from writing, blogging, or other creative work. A sabbatical can teach you just as much as a work-packed month, and it will allow you to:

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