3 Tips to Write More Effortlessly

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British author J.K. Rowling declared, “The wonderful thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting. The terrifying thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.” Writers since the beginning of time faced the double-edged sword the joy of creation from words and the fear of writer’s block. Some days it seems that words cannot be typed quick enough as phrases, sentences, and paragraphs already exist in your mind. Other times crafting a mere word or phrase is as painful as getting a tooth pulled at the dentist!

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Whether you currently are in a state of inspiration or at a standstill in your writing here are three tips to enhance the ability to write more naturally and effortlessly.

  1. Read, Read, Read— Feed Your Mind: The great American author William Faulkner advocated for the importance of reading, “Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out.” From my own experience, I have learned that the most fruitful periods of writing, and writing that comes naturally without really any strain, occurs during times where I read a lot! Just like the body requires a balanced meal for good nutrition, so too does the mind need a steady stream of information. Along with frequent writing variety is equally important. Making a habit of non-fiction and fiction will only help to expand your ability to write from multiple points of view and in diverse ways. Currently, I am reading Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men comics (to fill my creative side) and Dialogues of Catherine of Siena and Heresies by G.K. Chesterton (to satisfy my more spiritual and intellectual side).

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2.  Reflection:  Another tip to develop more natural and effortless writing is to make time to reflection on the stuff you read. The Greek philosopher Aristotle purported, ““Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Without proper time to examine yourself and the ideas that you read about it gets difficult to organize them into coherent thoughts. Among the best times for reflecting on a post that I want to write about occurs in the car. Using the minutes between drives to work, the grocery store, or other errands I ponder how I want to organize the essential points of an article that I am working on. Even a few minutes of reflection helps me write at a quicker rate and with less resistance!

3. Passion and Purpose: After feeding your mind with plenty of information and reflecting on the material that you want to write about the third tip I use to make my writing more effortless includes a passion and clear objective. Why are you writing? Is it for an increased amount of exposure and social media fame or is your reason deeper?

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My own particular desire for creating The Simple Catholic blog was (and still is) to discover the joy in life on my pilgrim journey towards Heaven. As the great Catholic write Flannery O’Connor wrote, “I write to discover what I know.” Through my faith I know that truth that freedom from sin and death exist by way of following the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A secondary goal flowing naturally from my first is to help people discover joy in this life (and hopefully the next as well!). Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God with your whole self and that the second greatest commandment— love of neighbor— flows naturally from the first command (Matthew 22:34-40).  Putting God first, others second, and myself last not only helps my writing, but also infused joy into all facets of my life. This kind of joy cannot be contained and I do not want to keep this gift all to myself—it need to be shared with others, you my readers, and in turn I hope you share with your friends and family! 

Filling my mind with a variety of ideas, taking time to analyze that information, and remembering my original mission for becoming a writing has all contributed to helping me write more naturally, more honestly, and more effortlessly. I hope that these tips help you in your writing endeavors as well. Please feel free to share these tips to your family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors.


“All for one and one for all” Alexander Dumas

“No one has ever become poor by giving.” Anne Frank

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”  Mahatma Gandhi

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3 Tips to Fend Off the Winter Woes

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Arctic winds blasted much of the Midwest last week. I saw an article that mentioned many cities faced temperatures lower than even Antarctica this time of year–yes you heard me right Antarctica! Along with the frigid weather, having a newborn in the household limits the amount of places we are able to travel. Cabin fever set in.

Cramped quarters, cold temps, and little to no change in daily routine make the perfect recipe for depression to set in. Every year the months of January, February, and March present this challenge. Sadly, I always seem to be surprised when the winter woes arrive. I yearn for warmer days and hope on the horizon. Below are three simple tips to help you fend off the winter woes.

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1. Nothing Lasts Forever: it is important to recognize that all things in life–good or bad– are temporary. If this winter appears extra long it is helpful to remind yourself that winter will NOT last forever.

2. Reflection: The average American is flooded with technology on a regular basis. It is rare for me to see a person without a smart phone or iPad in tote. Heck, I am actually writing this post on my own iPhone! The constant stream of screens and technology provide only increases during the winter when going outside to enjoy is not feasible.

A habit that I have re-started this winter is to make time for silent reflection. Cardinal Sarah wrote in The Power of Silence,

Without silence, God disappears in the noise. And this noise becomes all the more obsessive because God is absent. Unless the world rediscovers silence, it is lost. The earth then rushes into nothingness” (80).

Reading the Scriptures for a few minutes to begin the day greatly helped shift my mind off the dreariness of the cold toward the hope found in Christ. Silent prayer need not take up half of your day, but perhaps simply start with only five minutes of silent reflection.

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3. Exercise Your Muscles (and Patience): Along with taking perspective that winter will not last forever and taking a small amount of time for prayer, exercise is another key strategy to fight off depression in during the cold and dark months of the year. If your 2019 resolution was to get healthier, today is no better time to remind yourself of that goal! The great American founder and third president of the United States Thomas Jefferson spoke of exercise in this way, “Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far.”  If the cold keep you from walking outside, think of ways you could walk around your home or apartment. Create a circuit between the rooms of your living space. Perhaps, travel to the grocery store and walk up and down the aisles–even the aisles of items not on your list.

In addition to winter being a time to remind yourself to exercise physically, it is equally important to strengthen yourself spiritually. Use the ‘annoyances’ of the season as chances to grow in patience. Allow yourself to pray for patience when bad driving pervades the streets or when your children drive you crazy because of being cramped up indoors. According to the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” Ask for the gift of patience from the Holy Spirit. See how the winter doldrums might be transformed into something beautiful!

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Red Wagon Ruminations

The great Irish poet Oscar Wilde once penned, “With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?” While I definitely would not dispute any of those items on his list, I recently came across an ordinary item that provoked a spirit of joy and gratitude that I would most certainly add to Wilde’s list! Before I do that I have a riddle for you, “What has four wheels, colored in red, and brings happiness?? Answer: While, technically a crimson corvette, may still be correct—the answer I was looking for was a red wagon! 

 

Over the past week we celebrated Christmas with my wife’s side of the family. One of the gifts that my father-in-law gave to my kids was a red wagon. I assembled the crimson coach while watching Sunday football. When my two year old woke from his nap his eyes lit up and shouted, “Wheels, wheels!” So far this week, I have taken the kids for a ride at least 5 times.  The following exchange between my 5 year-old daughter and I demonstrates how a simple children’s toy brings happiness.


 Daughter: “Wagon freedom!”

Me: “What does that mean?”

Daughter: “Freedom means I am happy.”


J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, Little by little, one travels far. His words perfectly summarized our wagon experiences. Through merely traveling a few blocks, either around our neighborhood, or to and from the elementary school, the short trip brought an immense amount of knowledge. From the click-clacking of the cotter pins as the wheels turned to the giggles of my children as I lugged them behind me, I traveled down Memory Lane to the nostalgia of my childhood and simpler times. 

Experiencing Christmastime with the attitude of gratitude, not only brings out the best in the season, but also the unexpected. Although at face value, a red wagon is not the most alluring, expensive, or glitzy gift, the joy it brought me and my childrencertainly exceeded expectations and brought joy!

Shifting Sands Versus the Rock of Truth

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Oftentimes parents look at their children and find the exact same characteristics, mannerisms, and idiosyncrasies. I am not exception to this rule. While I have frequently written about how my sons acquired the gifts and struggles of mine, I have not given similar treatment on how my daughter received my interests. Growing up I enjoyed learning about rocks. Perhaps it began when my aunt gifted me with a rock-set for my birthday or maybe it was do to playing The Magic School Bus Explores Inside the Earth—my siblings and I played this 1996 PC game for hours and hours!—but regardless of the reason, I see an early penchant for pebbles from my daughter and maybe early roots to a geology career.  No less than a dozen rocks appear throughout our house on a given day.

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Fascination with geology, I believe starts with the fact that rocks usually are associated with strength and stability.  Another alluring facet about rocks involve the process by which they are formed. Looking at a diagram of the rock cycle below, it reminds of myself being transformed under the pressures of a stressful situation. Depending upon whether I take suffering as a learning opportunity or not, I am changed, transformed and meet the future challenges differently. Founding Father of the United States and 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

 

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Tested through trials the character of a person is galvanized and strengthened. Taking shortcuts is easy in the short-term, but without moral consistency—it is easy to fall apart during the storms of life. According to Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus preached on the importance of building a solid foundation:

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.r 25The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house.s But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. 26And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. 27The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.

One year ago, my wife and I lost our unborn child to a miscarriage—despite not being our first loss it nevertheless struck our hearts the same as the others. Spiraling into depression seemed almost second nature, however, previous suffering schooled me and my stable foundation started by my parents teaching me the Catholic faith as a child helped to keep me even-keeled—as much as possible. While building my moral foundations like a sandcastle would be much more “fun and easier” than clinging to the rock of truth, I am grateful for being tested by the pressures of suffering and toil.

According to Helen Keller, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” This road of success and truth is narrow, but not impossible to travel. Keeping your eyes toward the horizon of your goal will help keep you on the right path. When times get tough, be sure to cling to the Rock of Truth—found in the Person of Jesus Christ and whose teaching are most fully safeguarded in the Catholic Church. Only build sandcastles when you are at the beach, on the other hand, rock-wall climbing sounds more adventurous!


“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”

Back to Basics

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According to American author Anthony J. D’Angelo, “Don’t reinvent the wheel, just realign it.” The continual focus on progress, change, movement, and improvement dominates 21st century humanity. Continued desire to improve on limiting stress, furthering personal and career goals may be inherently good; however, a person reaches a point when the trajectory of progress cannot ascend any higher. Ernest Hemingway wryly wrote, “Never confuse movement with action.”

Throughout history and literature, quick and unbridled progress poses the danger for a quick fall back to mediocrity and a starting at square one. The Great Depression in the 1930s happened on the heels of an epic economic boom, Greek literature warned of Icarus soaring too close to the sun—and eventually his wax wings melted and he fell to his doom. Personally, I too notice that whenever I experience a successful season in my life I have to be wary of being puffed up too much with pride. I start think too boldly—leading to the error of becoming a braggadocio!

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As a Catholic, my faith plays a strong shaping force in my world outlook and daily life. According to Lumen Gentium the primary goal of all faithful is to grow in holiness, the Council Fathers declared, “Therefore, all the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state. Indeed they have an obligation to so strive (no. 42). I never truly pondered it before, but I recently realized that Jesus’ parables and teaching examples often included planting, gardening, and farming references because plant growth takes time—it is slow, but steady. Likewise, our growth in virtue and moral excellence needs to be watered with essential elements. The growth need to be natural, steady and sure for the progress to be permanent. Ascendency towards one’s goals whether that be moral, work, or exercise related poses a threat of a great fall. To avoid any backpedaling, it wise to return to the fundamentals of success. Below are three basic activities that helped me limit stress, decrease my negativity, and improve my relationship with others.

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  1. Prayer: Saints wiser and infinitely holier than myself, always proclaim the importance of prayer. Perhaps no one else discussed the importance of prayer more plainly than St. John Chrysostom, “It is simply impossible to lead, without the aid of prayer, a virtuous life!”

 

Over the past couple of months, my wife and I committed ourselves to a regular, steady prayer routine. Before putting the kids to bed, we pray a decade of the Rosary. According to St. John Paul the Great, “The Rosary is the storehouse of countless blessings.”  His words ring true with crystal clarity—the graces I received have been immeasurable. My manager noticing the changes in my demeanor at work told me, “Matt, you have had a tremendous month. I notice a great calmness within you over the past few months.” I almost was tempted to pull out my scapular—strong Marian devotion—to show my manager that what has changed did not occur on my own power. To cite John Paul II again, “Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.”

  1. Exercise: Along with daily prayer, renewing my focus on regular exercise greatly helped sustain the progress I made. Because of the changing of the weather, I have get creative with my workouts. Actually, not truly that creative, I just call upon Shawn-T with his T-25 fitness program that I watch through the Beach Body channel on my Roku. Jabbing, hopping, and twisting my arms, legs, and core in my living room I feel replenished with energy after the under half-hour workout session. Not only does exercise help with the body, it reinvigorates my mental capacity and energy for the rest of the day.

 

  1. Reading Renaissance: Those of you that have followed The Simple Catholic will be aware that one of my strongest passions and loves in this life consists of the written word in the form of books. The only hindrance for me from purchasing and amassing more and more books is because I would either have to buy more bookshelves or take time away from reading to make a bookshelf myself. It is quite the predicament!

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In all seriousness though, reading, and specifically reading good books from good authors, reignites my desire to become a better person. Late American essayist E.P. Whipple wrote this beautiful description for books, “Books are lighthouses erected in the great sea of time.” Reading books, especially the classics, allows the reader access to the thoughts, intellects, curiosities, and inquiries of history’s greatest minds. The foundation for all success is being humble to realize someone else is always smarter and wiser than yourself. After reading Fulton Sheen’s Remade for Happiness and C.S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy, this fact was reaffirmed.  Surrounding yourself with the wisdom and insights of those men and women before you will only enhance your ability to become the best version of yourself.

Progress is not bad, in fact, it is necessary in an ever changing world. In order to survive and flourish, you need to learn to adapt to changes. If you have found strategies or things that have already proven to help you develop into a healthier, stronger, and more virtuous version of yourself keep doing those things! Go back to the basics as often as needed. My revisiting of my basics—prayer, exercise, and reading— continues to provide me stability for a successful [and hopefully sanctifying] life!