The Importance of Dreaming

For most of my life, and for as long as I can remember, I have been a dreamer. That word conjures up a lot of stereotypes, which aren’t really me (although I have aspirations). If you met me in person, the idea that you would probably walk away with is not the dreamer-type but one of intensity (so I’ve been told). It would take a little while to know that the intensity is a quality of everything about me. I listen with intensity. I act with intensity. I dream with intensity.

The dreaming has come in the form of night dreams and day dreams and stories told to myself while waiting in line, on airplanes, and as I go to sleep. My conscious dreams are stories that maybe I’ll write down one day, or that play with a moment over and over and over again, until some part of my brain figures something out about it, letting me move on to the next one. My favorite way to go to sleep is to insert myself into movies or shows as a new character, and see how I (or whatever version of “I” I’m playing) changes the story. Dreaming, imagining, storytelling: these are the things that I consider essential to the who of me.

About a year or so into my current job, I started to struggle with dreaming. My night dreams largely went away. I had no more time for day dreams. And I couldn’t muster the strength to find my way into a story to send me off to sleep. I was struggling. I know now that I was in the first stages of a burnout. I was being and feeling drained by the money work I was doing. Slowly, everything else became difficult. Including, in the end, the job. This was nothing I have ever experienced. It was all encompassing, a burnout so bad that even though I knew I had to change things, I couldn’t see a way out. Not a real way out. I was trapped.

Continue reading “The Importance of Dreaming”

The Idea That Changes Everything

Oh, the work in progress. The struggle, the self-doubt, the flow, the joy: all the myriad feelings that go into taking a seed of an idea and creating a garden of story. My current one is a novel that I’ve been at for nearly two years. I’ve drafted other novel length stories, but this one is the one I promised myself to get all the way through the editing process and make it something of which I am proud (even if proud of actually finishing). So, in the spaces between my work and my life and now also the ones between dealing with the pandemic and searching for my place in this much-needed racial justice reckoning, I’ve been writing. And writing. And writing.

I’ve been scared of finishing this one, because it is requiring levels of vulnerability and self-evaluation and risk that I haven’t yet asked of myself in my writing. That’s a whole other blogpost. But I sub-promised myself earlier this year that I would draft this plot through to the end, let it be whatever it was right now, and go from there. I was doing great, about halfway through, with a good plan for the next quarter and enough trust in myself and the story to take me all the way to the end.

And then I had an idea. Not just any idea, but THE IDEA THAT PROMISES TO FIX IT ALL! (aka the TITPOFIA!)

I was finally in a place for the story to tell me what it needed: I had done the work to get to know these characters and I had reached the point where story could start making demands, sending up ideas from my subconscious that had been marinating for my writer-brain to deal with. The TITPOFIA! is a good one, but it will ripple across the story in such a way that most (all) of what I’ve written will need to change, at minimum, but a lot is probably going to get tossed out.

And that left with me with a dilemma. Do I keep that promise and finish this draft, making the change in the next round, or do I abandon it and implement the idea now? How do I know that the idea isn’t just my brain trying to keep me from the scary work of getting to the end? What, exactly, should I do?!

I needed a method. Something that engaged with both this gut feeling that I needed to write this new idea into the story right now, and the part of me that knows that finishing this draft is a very important practice to my development as a writer overall. So I came up with this: Evaluate, Mind-Map, Draft.


Evaluate the idea. This probably seems pretty obvious. But when I am in the throws of a TITPOFIA!, it can be really difficult to see it for what it’s actually worth. I need to find a way to step back and look at the idea with a modicum of distance. I started asking it questions and demanding good answers.

Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about the thousand and one ideas that come up when you are writing, like potential costume changes (which, in my WIP, can be changed without causing too many or too large ripples). I’m talking about the ones that feel like, when you are done with them, they will have put your story into a close, but parallel universe: similar but not the same.

My question can be boiled down to three:

  1. Does it increase the stakes?
  2. Will it vastly improve the story overall?
  3. Is it in line with the characters I’ve created?

These questions target what is important so that I can know if I should move forward with the idea now, or write it down somewhere and revisit it later.

Does it increase the stakes? If the idea is simply a different way to tell the same story, to me this indicates that I’m using the idea to avoid telling this story. I’m probably afraid of something, and getting to the bottom of that will be a far better approach to moving forward than changing my whole story for something that doesn’t, in the end, add anything to what I’ve done.

On the other hand, if it increases the stakes, then continuing to evaluate the idea makes sense. The stakes your characters face are the sustenance of the story, so an idea that will increase this is probably worth the effort to make all of the changes it requires.

Will it vastly improve the story overall? I’ll leave to you what “vastly” means in the context of your story, but for me, I want to know that this idea isn’t going to improve only a scene or two. If that’s the case, I can save it for later and implement in the next round of edits if it still makes sense to make the change. But if it’s going to require story-wide changes that also make the story better, then I’d be willing to break my promise to myself and rework the story now.

Is it in line with the characters I’ve created? This question is my gut check that this idea isn’t for another story. If my idea is going to radically change the “who” of my story, then I’m pretty sure that I’m trying to start a new story in the middle of the one I’m actually working on. New ideas are great! I get so many while I’m writing. They go on a list, and I might play with them for a little every night before I go to bed, but they are not my work in progress. This is another way that my fear can hide in plain sight and pretend to be in service of the story when it’s actually distracting me from it. Like with the stakes question, it will be better for me to address that fear head on now.

For my current work in progress, the answer was yes, to all three. Emphatically yes to the stakes and the characters, and yes but in a gut feeling sort of way for improvement to my story. So I’m probably going to make this change, but first, let’s mind-map!


Okay, so I’ve evaluated and come to the conclusion that the story probably needs to change. But what does that mean? Susan Dennard offers us three potential avenues: write forward as if you’ve already changed it, go back and change everything, or toss out the draft and start again. For me, deciding which way to go was leading to me to a dead end. I needed an anchor. I decided to use a mind-map.

I started using mind-mapping as an adult when I got my first Passion Planner. [Side note: I don’t make any money on links. These are things I use (or have used), and I like sharing resources. If that ever changes, I’ll make that clear.] Mind-maps are a way to capture and connect ideas while letting your mind run wild. You write the idea or the topic or whatever and put it in the center and then write out the ideas that come from that: implications, scene ideas, blurts of thoughts, whatever. They are useful no matter what writer style you have: planner, pantster, plantster, or those of us with stories that want to stay feral as long as possible.

The one thing about mind-mapping by hand, though, is the limitations of the size of your page. You could definitely just add pages and tape them all together and that could be a shit-ton of fun. I would definitely do that, if that felt like the best way to work through the TITPOFIA! But for this, I needed something more flexible (read: editable), so I am using Scapple. If you use Scrivener, you probably know about Scapple. It’s super easy mind-mapping software that, so far, hasn’t limited me on how far from the “center” I can go.

So, I dropped the TITPOFIA! into a mind-map file and started spinning out the implications. I started with characters, connecting notes about how the TITPOFIA! would affect them. From there, plot and subplot changes started to become clear and new scenes have appeared as well as old scenes that still work with some smaller adjustments. The TITPOFIA! has raised a number of questions as well as a number of options of how to answer them, and all of these have all been dropped into the map. I’ve been able to map things that will definitely change as well as things that might change, and I was able to do this over days and weeks, rather than feeling like I had to capture everything right now! It’s a living document that I color code to help me manage the things that I have already decided, things I am considering, and questions that are open. With the mind-map, you don’t have to answer every question now, but it will help you see how the idea could ripple through your story and that will put you in a better place to know how to move forward.

A mindmap with tens of entries with connections made in all kinds of directions across the map. Some of the blocks are color coded. The text is too small to read (and that was on purpose, FYI).
This is a fairly organized representation of how my brain thinks.

Going in to the mind-map process, I really thought I was going to decide to change some of the recent scenes I had just finished and then write forward to end as if I had already changed everything, but I realized a lot has to change. Not everything, but one plot thread and one of my main characters are so much clearer from doing this, so I’m actually excited to make these changes, even though it means losing or changing a lot of what I’ve already done.


So now I’m ready to draft. I know I’m probably starting mostly over, but instead of starting from the beginning from nearly scratch, I am drafting or editing the scenes that will be most impacted by the TITPOFIA! first. I need to wrestle with these changes to these scenes before I change anything else. This is another check to make sure I’m not using this idea to avoid the really hard shit that I’m afraid of, and by doing those scenes first, I’ll be able to see how the TITPOFIA! pans out for real and make sure it is worth it before I change everything else.

Art is not efficient, but our process can be smart. This process is helping me to know the difference between avoidance ideas and quality ones.

How about you? What do you do when you think of a TITPOFIA!?

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Cross-posted from

Fallow Days

A corner of a potted plant. At the base of the stalk of the plant are two new growths of the plant, a succulent.
New growth emerging from the soil of a potted plant.

I’ve talked about this before, but I have a strange relationship with time. I would guess that a lot of people in recovery do. We have spent so much time in the thrall of our addictions and self-abuses, and those early moments of a new sobriety, while the shame clings to us, we tell ourselves stories of all the things we could have done if we hadn’t been drunk or high or working or obsessed with whatever holds us hostage. And we suddlenly see our world, our lives, with what seems like clarity. Something we have not had in a long time.

Maybe I’m making assumptions. There are high functioning addicts and self-abusers who hold down careers and families and lives. But I think there are enough of us out there that let them stop us from the things we wanted to do (and blocked ourselves from doing, for whatever reasons we were unable able to admit).

For me, coming out of a drinking habit, I felt invincible and capable and like I might be someone who had worth. Someone who could live up to all that potential other people laid on my shoulders while I was growing up. And I felt that I was no longer permitted to waste any time. Time became my new obsession, new addiction, new self-abuse tactic. Respect for my time translated into respect for me (or lack thereof). And I filled every moment with something to do. It quickly go to the point that taking a vacation and traveling in places that at the time lacked ubiquitous wifi was the only way I could allow myself rest.* Our increasingly connected world has all but ended that form of respite. Which is good, for the places that are now connected, but also for me personally. I need to learn to allow myself rest.

In the last few years – funnily, while in law school and as a practicing attorney – I have reengaged with my creative soul and allowed myself to dream again of a creative life. My creative process – whether writing or performing – requires time. Lots of it, if I can have it. As a develop my craft, I can shrink this time somewhat, but I am my best creative self over a long timeline. And part of that long timeline is the need for rest.

I need to set aside my projects and let them develop out of view of my consciousness. They need space to grow and evolve and become.

And it’s fucking hard to give them that time.

I worry I’ll lose interest and never complete anything. I worry that by giving up some creative time, my job will take over and that rest will not be what it needs to be. I worry that the rest means I’m not good enough, not really an artists, not cut out for the things that bring me joy, fulfill and sustain me. Storytelling, whether writing or performing or otherwise, is the one thing I do where I don’t feel like I should be doing something else.

And sometimes, I simply need to stop doing them. Because the “doing” is something other than actively writing or rehearsing. My creative field needs fallow time in order to flourish.

So I’m reminding that negative voice in my head that thinks I should be doing in a different way, that rest is important. To me. To my art. To my life.

But fuck, it’s hard.

How about you? How does rest factor in to your creative life? How do you engage in rest?

*Travel for me is far more than about rest. I am a wanderer by heart. I wander my neighborhoods, cities, country, and the world. I do my best to be respectful as a guest in other people’s lands, including the stolen ones on which I live.

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The Fuck It Bucket

Managing the fears that get in your way.

The scene opens. Our heroine sits at her computer, typing out an email. She is focused, concentrated. She finishes the first draft and then reads it and reads it again. She edits it. She removes her personal writing ticks (“I think that we We should do X”) and adds her personal approach to Emailing While Female to keep the recipient at ease while (hopefully) maintaining her authority (a single “Thanks!” before her name). It’s as good as it’s going to get without obsessing over it (which is what her brain always wants to do but she’s working on managing that impulse). All she has to do is press send. That’s it. Just a quick click. Go ahead.

She sits there.

She checks the To and CC and BCC field three or four thousand times each. She goes to the bathroom to get some space. She rereads the email again. Her brain is starting to do that thing where she’s not very nice to herself while trying to get something done. That voice grows louder and Louder and LOUDER until it’s screaming at her to JUST CLICK THE FUCKING SEND BUTTON! She reads the email one more time. Just once more, she promises the voice. Then she rereads it again.

It’s not going to happen. Not on her own. Everything in it is perfectly reasonable and harmless and she still cannot hit that fucking send button. She calls in reinforcements. She texts her best friend to tell her to send the fucking email. Mouse hovering over the button as the order comes through: “Send it! You can do it!” She clicks before she can question it and whoosh, it goes out into the world.

Aaaaaaand scene.

I wish that wasn’t real. I wish it was just once that it happened. But emails are a place where it becomes so clear how much of an obstacle I can be to myself, even for the smallest things. And while the best friend method is awesome and generally available, I want to be able to do this on my own and have been looking for a method for years.

Then one day, I was scrolling around Tumblr and saw a post pondering why saying “Fuck it” often is the most helpful way to get yourself to do something. Another person responded that it was because “Fuck it” allows for the possibility of failure but encourages you to do it anyway. Gears started turning. (Side note: serendipitous Internet posts are a good 65% of how I find new ways to solve age old problems. #VivaLaSerendipty)

I started using it. Fuck this, fuck that, fuck it all! It was working better than trying to convince myself to do something. But I wanted to up it somehow. Make it more of a method than a saying; some way I could see how much risk I had been taking to overcome those obstacles. Then one day, it came to me (probably in the shitter or the shower): The Fuck It Bucket!

The Original Fuck it Bucket Pictured: A (badly) drawn bucket with about a quarter filled with hashmarks. Surrounding the bucket are the words: Fuck Its; Risks Taken, Leaps Made, Lessons Pursued. There is sticker of a blue three eyed monster on rollerskates in the bottom left corner, star stickers in red, yellow, and blue in the upper left corner, and a piece of washi tape in the lower right corner.

Before I get into this, I want to make clear that what I’m seeking to address here my own fear related to doing certain tasks and getting those “wrong”. What I am not addressing is anxiety or ADHD or depression or any other mental health category that may cause similar obstacles. If this method is helpful for those, hooray! But I reject any notion that people with these diagnoses need to “try harder” or some other bullshit aimed at shaming people for their medical conditions. Okay, now that that’s said, let’s fuck it up.

Whenever I notice resistance in myself to something that I know I can do or am facing my own issues with perfectionism and a fear of failure, I open up The Fuck It Bucket, decide how many Fuck It Points the task is worth, and upon completing the task, I give myself those points. My system is completely subjective. An email one day can be two Fuck It Points and the next ten. Asking for help from someone could be 50 points when I’m having a really perfectionist day and 5 points when I feel very supported by my community. It all depends on how hard it feels to overcome whichever obstacle I’m facing in order to accomplish the task.

And it has been life changing.

By confronting the smaller fears, I have found myself in less and less need of the Fuck It Bucket, though I keep a new one (currently, Under the Fuck It Sea) for whenever I need it.

Under the Fuck It Sea Pictured: The top quarter of the page is blue shaded sky with some seagulls suggested by lines. Then is the hand-written title “Under the Fuck It Sea”. Beneath that are numerous fish, each containing a various number of hash marks and bubbles coming out of their mouths.

The fears that once plagued the smallest of tasks, almost never cause me to account for them in my Fuck It Bucket. By facing them, and rewarding myself for doing so no matter the outcome, I have diminished their power. That’s it. That’s the method. Face a fear, fuck it, and grow. And when I find some of these fears creeping back in, the Fuck It Bucket is there to help me remember: I can do this.

How do you confront the smaller fears that get in your way? Drop a note in the comments. If you share your Fuck It Bucket, tag me (@creatingcarrie on Instagram and Twitter).

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I’ve been walking through portals, looking for the one(s) that can rescue us all from this timeline, hoping that this land still holds some kind of magic, that we haven’t destroyed it all.

Two tall trees standing next to each other, with a space between that looks like a gateway or a tunnel.

But looking for a magic solution that will solve all of our problems is bullshit. To do so is evidence of my white privilege. White people want an easy step to take to solve our racist system. We want an easy answer that says as long as we don’t use slurs then we are absolved from any part in the ongoing, unending, deadly white supremacist system that is killing so many people.

I am very specifically saying that we want an easy answer or an easy step. Because the steps we must take and the good work we must do, isn’t easy, but it is simple. It is simple to train your mind and change your mind so that your pre-conscious reaction to Black people and marginalized communities is positive. It is not easy. It requires commitment and time and discipline and dedication and work. It is simple to quit a job that oppresses Black people and marginalized communities. It is simple to demand that our elected officials make bold changes that lift up Black people and marginalized communities as a step in the long line of steps we must take to rectify all the harms we have caused, inherited, or permitted. It is simple to follow the lead of Black people and marginalized communities in transforming our shared world.

Today, I will recommit myself to the work. And for every portal I pass through, looking for that magic, I will ask myself: what is one thing I can do today to make that magic a reality here and do that one thing. Simple.

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Patience in Grief

My papaw passed away last week. (Not from Covid-19, and it is an emotional equivalent of one of those finger-stab-machine blood tests to feel like I have to explain that every single time I give someone the news.) We knew this was coming. We knew likely it would be this year. Once this all got started, we all hoped he could hold out until we could all be together (as long as it was right for him).

Pictured: A plastic turtle glued to some petrified wood. My papaw was crafty.

Grief is a strange thing. It has its own timing, its own methods. It rollercoasters and laughs and cries and screams and tells stories and reaches out and digs deep within and wounds and aches and ultimately, hopefully, heals. It is a manifestation of love. Not that bullshit that you don’t know how much you love someone until they are gone, but more of a way to a closure of that love as it existed when my papaw was alive.

I don’t know what to say next. I have teared up and lost my breath and smiled in writing these few paragraphs. Grief is here with me, and I am in its hands. I cannot rush this journey, this process. I can only let it take me to the end and discover what is there.

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Patience in Worry (or Adventures in Giving a Cat Her Meds)

My cat has been sick. She’s got medications for it and has been doing so much better lately. In the midst of all these tragedies and all this pain, these little miracles help me hope.

My cat, the queen of the laundry mountain
[Pictured: A brown and white cat with blue eyes lays on top of a pile of clean laundry on a bed.

But I am worrier. It will take a lot of personal work to tame that part of me. And amongst the medications, the vet wanted me to add a supplement to help her heal. So I got it. I got a liquid form because that has been easier than the wrestling match of trying to get a creature with opinions and claws to take a pill.

I looked up for the 100th or 1000th time about giving cats meds and found a few places rgat recommended putting it in food on their front paws for them to clean off. Sure. I’ll see what her thoughts are about that.

I get the stuff and let her smell it. She takes a lick and promptly runs away, tongue flapping to get that shit out of her mouth (side note: not only do they have opinions, cats can produce an impressive amount of drool in response to their meds). I pursued and persevered, getting the supplement on her paws and leaving her too it.

I expected immediate paw licking. But she had other ideas. Such as walking around the room and laying down on my pillow and doing that otherwise adorable paw tuck right where I sleep.

I didn’t care. Sick kitty > pillow I have to clean. What I did care about was that she wasn’t taking her meds. I watched her, in definitely casual way and not at all weird and helicopter parent-y. She continued laying. I gave up defeated. I had fucked it up again and now I had to figure out how the fuck I was going to use the dropper to dose her.

I heard a noise and looked back, expecting some new float in my life’s current parade of horribles. But it was just my kitty, licking her paws, taking her meds.

Breathe. She’s got her own timing for this, and I got to learn to give myself some space.

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There’s a scream in me that wants to growl up my throat and burst out my window and make all the birds leave their hidden places in the trees and fly the edges of the sky. If it weren’t for the neighbors, I’d let it out.

Me, open mouthed in a silent scream.

My skin itches to want to do something but has no idea what. I’m at a loss. Would a(nother) walk calm me? A call to another friend? A nap?

I don’t want to dull myself. I don’t want to tame these feelings. Let them pace the cage. I clench my jaw in time with their steps.

When will it be over? In ignoring the news to soothe my anxiety, will I miss the signposts that make this bearable?


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The Meaning of Patience

Since I’m doing this whole exploration of patience, I figured I should know the definition. So I looked it up (as you would expect). Frankly, I don’t know that it captures what I am seeking when I seek patience.

A path in the woods, surrounded by trees, ivy, and other lush green plants.

pa·tience /ˈpāSHəns/noun

  1. the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.
  2. any of various forms of card game for one player, the object of which is to use up all one’s cards by forming particular arrangements and sequences; solitaire. (chiefly used in Britain) [I definitely mean only this when I seek patience.]

I don’t think that definition is wrong; I just think it is too limited. It seems to assume that this capacity applies to all delays, troubles, and sufferings. But there are delays, troubles, and sufferings that should piss you off or upset you. I’m not going to trot out a parade of horribles here, but I’m sure we all can think of something (big or small) that deserves those responses. Getting angry at delay, trouble, and suffering helped (and helps) me identify the personal relationships I have that are unbalanced or even abusive. Anger is information. Anger can get shit done that needs to be done (h/t Mr. Nancy).

The patience I want is some of this definition. I don’t want to get frustrated waiting in line or one the phone with customer service. And I’ve had a decent amount of success teaching myself this kind of patience. But what I really want is something deeper. A flow in life. A lack of rush. A trust that there is time for the things I crave to do. Patience with myself.

How do you do that? How do you build an internal patience? If I could do that, oh what a life this could be!

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Patience in Time

I am not hating this somewhat break from our usual lives. I’m sure that won’t last, but this past weekend I had an experience that I haven’t felt in over a decade.

A very cute kitty laying on a bed with her head against the pillow and the comforter tucked in over her body. She knows how to do life right.

In my twenties, I had a substance abuse problem. I don’t call it an addiction, because I didn’t have that physical dependency that people who use that word describe. Drugs and alcohol were how I got in my own way to avoid all the things and feelings I was so scared of. What those fears were (and are) are for therapy, not blogposts, and this blogpost isn’t about the substance abuse, but what happened when I got sober.

I’m not going to describe this right. I’ve written and rewritten and thrown so many words away trying to capture the feeling of possibility after I got sober. But it’s not possibility like the sky opening up and the heavens singing down glory, lighting the way to your new, sober life. It’s possibility because an obstacle is clear. Time is clear. Time I used to spend drunk or high and then hungover. But there’s a cutting edge to it. It’s not just about the time I now have, but the clarity of all the time I lost and this persistent, aching feeling of being always behind. Behind on career, goals, life. Irretrievably behind if I don’t fucking rush to catch up.

And that’s what I’ve been doing for a decade plus. Trying to catch up. Trying to undo the damage I did to my life, my possibility. And for me, that means rushing. From one thing to the next. From activity to activity. Every minute stuffed beyond what it can handle. Guilt and shame riding shotgun down a dusty road I’m drag racing against no one.

I’m working on it. I take days off. I go for hikes. I travel. (See also supra re: therapy.)

But it wasn’t until this past weekend, when there was no place to go, nothing to do, and I had reached my limit with Twitter and the news and basically the whole of the internet, that I made my way through what I wanted to do and found myself with day leftover. And not just an hour or so. Like four entire hours before I would even think about going to bed.

And it sucked. And it was fucking wonderful. And I want more of it.

Because I felt like I had my life back. Time had finally decided not to rush me through these years. And I don’t want to let that go.

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