Tag Archives: Failure

How to Write

I have often wondered how to write. Ever since I was a little girl, ever since I knew how to read and could consume stories, I wanted to be a writer, an author. But how to do that? There were no instruction manuals, were there? No steps to follow like how to become a vet or an accountant or a gym teacher. Or was there? Authors knew how to write. Why not ask them? They’ve written books about how to write! So I’ve been reading them ever since.

I actually probably haven’t read that many, compared to some aspiring authors. Mostly, I read stories. I couldn’t stay away from stories. Adventuresome stories, funny stories, educational stories. I wanted to be taken to worlds away. I wanted to go there myself. I wanted to bring others with me.

Right now I’m reading Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury because it has found its way into my life from several different angles lately. I was so excited to be inspired by this thin little volume, for it to give me what I needed to be the writer I wanted to be.

So far, I’m disappointed. I haven’t finished it yet, but it is, so far, not what I expected. It seems to be more memoir than writing manual. But! Alas! Maybe that’s what writing IS! It isn’t a skill to be learned through the study of a manual, but a lifestyle to be discovered through living! Zen in the Art of Writing can be a bit repetitive, as it is a collection of essays from over decades, but something that Bradbury mentioned again and again is how he wrote 1,000 words every day.

Monday, he wrote. Tuesday, he wrote. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, he wrote. He mailed off his stories every Saturday to be published in magazines. Sunday he let all of the ideas bubble up and excite him before the next week of writing.

And look at me. Here I am, sitting at my computer (using a typewriter app because no distractions), writing. This is what I need to do. My stories will never be like his. My process won’t be the same as his, either. But the pure passion he writes with… That is inspiring. It doesn’t really matter what he’s saying, I guess, but just the fact that he is saying it with gusto.

My whole life I have wondered how to be a writer, but I’ve done it. I’ve been writing my whole life. Not perfectly consistently, not exactly what I wish I had been writing, but I’ve written. I have this hang-up that to be considered a writer, I have to publish something. Like, professionally, officially publish something. I’ve tried to convince myself that no, that is authorship, not being a writer, but really my head refuses to separate the two.

I am a writer because I write. Have I not “published” things on my own website? Have I not won prizes and recognition with my poetry and short stories? Have I not kept a diary or journal for over 18 years of my life? Have I not entertained and enthralled my mother, husband, and children with my stories? I write so I am a writer.

So, how to write, then? It is akin to asking one how to live. No one answer is the correct answer for everyone. Contrarily, no two answers will probably ever be the same for any two people. We must live each day to live our lives, even if we’re not sure what we are doing as we do it. The same with writing. Write every day. Share it if we want. (Do we find it beneficial to share our lives with friends and family, for example?) As we write, as we live, we discover, we experience, and we figure out how. A new adventure, every day.

Edited later to add:

“Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, writing, painting, or living itself, which is the greatest art of all.” – Ray Bradbury, 1965

Changing the Way I Track My Spending

I first started really keeping track of my daily spending in December 2015. Since then, I’ve tried a few different ways to track, and honestly I’m still not sure if I found the way that’s right for me. But I am learning all along the way, so that’s something. And I’ve decided to share some of my experiences here so maybe you can avoid some of the things that didn’t work for me.

First, I created a budget listing expenses by category. Then, throughout the month, I would list every purchase amount made and also color-code them by category. I would input those amounts into a formula to be balanced within the budget. It looked something like this:

Note: all amounts are made-up.

It was very colorful and the color-codes allowed me to see where my money went, but it was also very labor-intensive and didn’t really help me at all when I was at the check-out counter. I would spend first, think later. So it was a lot of work and didn’t help me stick to my budget. I needed to try something else.

Next, I tried to simplify things a bit. Instead of keeping a running list of every purchase I made, I just added the amount spent into the “spent” section of a slightly different budget set-up I created.

The design was a lot simpler and thus easier to use. I did need to make sure I was keeping track of purchases as they happened because they weren’t detailed in the spreadsheet so it was harder to figure out what amount corresponded to what purchase receipt. It helped a little bit more with deterring spending — I’m not sure why. Maybe because I had to keep track more often? Maybe because after a year I was just naturally being a bit more mindful? Still, keeping track of what purchase was affecting which category was hard to do at the check-out counter.

In the past few weeks, I’ve decided to try yet another strategy. This one incorporates the budget spreadsheet with the calendar in my bullet journal. I use yet another reincarnation of my budget to determine a weekly spending amount (ideally in cash), then write that amount on the Sunday block of a new week. Then, throughout the week, I subtract the dollar amount I spend each day, hopefully not straying past $0 by the end of the week. If I do stray past $0 during the week, I subtract that deficit from the next week on Sunday.

The new budget:

And the calendar… it’s quite messy, but it looks like this:

Maybe you can tell that I am already really far beyond this month. I did buy a new computer, though. My hope, however, is that I will be able to amass many more highlighter-green days, a.k.a. no-spend days, to make up the deficit by the end of the month. Seeing that negative number everyday is a motivator, but I’ve still yet to find out if it is motivating enough. The highlighter-green days are inspiring — they are my goal.

So if you are looking for ways to track your spending, maybe some of this will help. I’m sure there are tons of options to look at online. And don’t be afraid to play around with different strategies to find out what works best for you. And remember, what worked best for you last year, might not be the best anymore — don’t be afraid to change it up and keep it fresh. As long as you’re trying to keep track of spending (i.e. keeping what’s going out less than what’s coming in), I believe you are on the right path to some financial comfort.

Debt Feelings

I hate debt. Our family experienced a hardship a few months ago in the form of a car crash last October. We are all healthy and well, which I am super thankful for, but our finances took a hit and it’s been a hard battle getting back on top again.

My husband and I usually never carry credit card balances, but we have $3,000 worth of credit card debt right now and it is really weighing down on us. Not only are we stressed out, but we feel a bit hopeless. I feel stuck on a hamster wheel of work, work, working toward paying it off and yet we’re not getting anywhere.

There are a few unfortunate circumstances and mistakes that have put us in this position.

First, of course, was the car crash. We lost the value of the car we crashed, we had to pay towing and other varying reparations, and we had to buy a new car. That totaled at about $9,600. (Ugh, it’s painful to see it written out here.) That wiped out our meager savings and then some.

Then, it was Christmas and the whole holiday season in general. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get comfortable financially during that time of year and I just can’t seem to manage it. We don’t spend a lot on gifts, but we do get some things. Like, I bought the clothes Wingnut and Pigpen needed for Christmas because I still feel this obligation to have something under the tree for them (I want to get rid of that nagging feeling of duty). We get a tree, we go to parties, we go out with friends. It’s a season of celebration and it cost us money. Money we didn’t have.

Next, Andrew and I needed some clothes, too. He really needed new sneakers. The soles on his old ones were smooth with wear and his socks got wet in the rain. So we went shopping. I also bought some clothes I “needed”. That is in quotations because I did kind of need the stuff I bought. I am wearing them all now and getting tons of use out of them. I am very happy and satisfied with the purchases. The only problem was: we bought them on credit. I bought these wonderful pieces of clothing without the cash to do so. And if I am really truly honest with myself, although my old clothes were uncomfortable and deteriorating, I really could’ve gotten by without buying new. The old stuff was falling apart, but it was still keeping me warm.

The anxiety I’m feeling now, makes me wish I was more discerning then. But then that’s the problem with credit — it’s easy to justify purchases because it’s so easy to swipe the card. We can afford this swipe and this swipe and this swipe, but not all these swipes together. Because even if the purchases are perfectly legitimate, we still didn’t have the money to buy them. And I don’t know, that makes me feel poor.

And now I get into the controversial bit. I really don’t think I’m poor because we have a house and eat pretty well and have an annual income pretty dead-center in the average range for middle-class households of 3 in New Jersey (although we are a household of 4). But when you calculate in our debt, it starts to look a lot more dire.

We already paid off about 50% of our student loan debt, which is awesome. But the remaining balances are 71% of our annual income, which is definitely not awesome. They come out to be 26% of our monthly budget. Our mortgage is another 25% of our monthly budget, leaving less than half for all other living expenses, like food, heat, and transportation. Which brings our annual income clearly below what is considered middle-class, but still not technically under the federal poverty line.

Truthfully, I grew up comfortably middle-class, maybe even upper middle-class, and I’m just not used to saying no to a new coat when my current one is falling apart. But this winter, that’s how it’s been for us. It’s a personal experience and it hasn’t been pleasant for us. We’re stressed and despairing. I believe that we will get out of debt, but the wait is excruciating. I’m hoping to at least get these credit cards paid off within the next month or two and I hope that’s realistic because I really, really want it gone. Then it’s back to work building up our emergency savings before we can even think about tackling any more student loans.

Having debt sucks. I want to feel free and content and comfortable buying things we need. I want to feel secure in our finances, especially our savings, in case we experience another hardship. Regardless of whether we are or not, I don’t want to feel poor. I don’t want thousands and thousands of dollars of debt hanging over my head. I don’t want to be overdrawn or in perpetual service to indebtedness.

And to do that honestly, I think I’ll need to reevaluate my standard of living.

Sweet Talk: My Battle With Sugar

I love(d) sugar. Too much. I was dependent on it. If my children didn’t nap, I went crazy, and a big reason for that was that I couldn’t have my sugary snack. I would only eat sweets while they were napping because I didn’t want to give them any. I know the effect sugar can have on a child. It’s something I’m battling 20 years later. I want to spare my children if I can.

First, I read I Quite Sugar by Sarah Wilson. I also flipped through her The I Quit Sugar Cookbook, but it is not great for anyone who wants to be mostly vegan. For vegan sugar avoiders, I would recommend Crazy Sexy Kitchen by Kris Carr.

If you don’t want to read an entire book, there is this extensive, yet un-definitive, article by Gary Taubes for The Guardian.

As for my own story… it is disappointingly incomplete and failure-ridden. But it is a pursuit that I am still very interested in. Avoiding sugar is a very, very tough battle to fight on the American food-front, but I want to get strong enough to win it. Or at least survive through it.

I first became interested in quitting sugar when I realized I was addicted. I craved it and ate as much as I could, even though it left me feeling like crap. I needed it every day, usually at certain times, or else I would be irritable. I didn’t like being dependent on it to stay out of cranky moods. I wanted to be free of the addiction and I also knew it would be healthier for me.

I kept a journal, as suggested by Sarah Wilson, for 6 weeks — from last September to October — to track my sugar intake and how I felt. I will post a summary of those 6 weeks in another post.

Right now, I can’t say that I’ve quit sugar. I am much more aware of how much sugar is in foods, though, so I am better prepared to lower my intake at meals. It’s a lifestyle change, for sure, so I think it may be something that I can never complete. But I count being more mindful as a step in the right direction.

“If you are fighting to overcome an unhealthy addiction in your life — you are doing a noble thing.” – Joshua Becker

Failure – It’s a Thing

The Vlogbrothers (by the Brothers Green, Hank and John) have recently been talking about failure. I also think it’s a good thing to talk about. Everybody fails and experiences the negative emotions that come along with it. Of course, that doesn’t mean we need to be ashamed. Failure is a universal experience. It’s a thing that happens. So let’s talk about it.

Usually, when I write about failure, whether it be publicly or privately (in a diary or journal), I always follow it up with a “but…” But without that failure I never would have had this opportunity. I failed at that, but I learned this. But (ha) we ALWAYS learn from EVERYTHING. There will always be more opportunities, regardless of whether your past is littered with failures or successes.

So I’m going to list some of my failures, sans excuses. I’ll just list them as they are because they are just things.

  • publish a book
  • several attempts to quit sugar
  • first attempt at the written test for my motorcycle license
  • to finish several stories
  • Bullet Journaling
  • shopping ban
  • my attempts at vlogging
  • keeping several houseplants alive
  • many, many craft projects
  • learning the guitar
  • learning the piano
  • being perfect

Thus are just some of my recent failures. …so far. 😉

And I’m sure there are lots and lots that I missed.

Huh. I even failed at completing this list.