Invest in Yourself

This past month I signed a contract for my third novel. And as anxious as I was to start my forth, because starting a new project is the best way for me to deal with the stress/anxiety/freak-out of submitting a manuscript for review. I make it a point to take some time between novels to study my craft, either by attending a conference, taking an online class, reading books about the craft of writing, and/or reading widely in my genre.

Why? Because on one level, writing is about doing that, siting down and putting words on paper. Nothing can replace that practice. There is no way to “hack” becoming better at writing than by writing and practicing your craft. I’m at the journeyman point in my career, with a collection of short stories, two novels published and a contract signed on a third. I’m not a beginner. But I am not seasoned writer with twenty novels to my credit either. I was not an English or Journalism major and I don’t have a MFA, and I want to make it clear: none of the above degrees are necessary to write a novel.

But it is possible to improve your craft with out signing up for formal education. You can invest your time and money to learn new ways to communicate your ideas and entertain your readers. I’m a health professional and educator by training and am all about making plans to achieve your goals. In order to construct an educational plan for your writing career look at reviews of you work. What do readers complain about? And I’m referring to thoughtful reviews here, not troll-type reviews. What problems do your editors point out? Pacing? Structure? Plotting? Character development?

Here are some thoughts on ways to address recurring problems in your manuscripts. Have a problem with pacing? Study screenplays, or take a screen-writing class. Issues with dialogue? Study stage plays, watch movies from the 30’s and 40’s when special effects were limited, and dialogue had to carry the story. Problems with plotting and structure? Read, read, read in your genre, take time to see how the novelist did what they did by making an outline of the novel. Flat characters, or poorly designed character arcs? Read biographies, ethnographies, and memoirs, connect lived experiences with human behavior and character arcs. Struggling with world building and setting? Study filmmaking and photo journalism to see how setting is as much a part of the story as the characters.

Writers conferences offer opportunities to learn about the craft of writing but not every one  has time, money, mental, and physical health required to attend a writing conference. If a writing conference is not on your list of things to do, take advantage of the many low stress, free, or low cost resources for writers. My number one recommendation for resources is the public library. Most libraries are free, or low cost, and once you are a member you can use interlibrary loans to get just about any book or movie you want. Many libraries have a way to provide digital loans, saving you time, and the hassle of remembering to return your books/films/music. If you live near a university or college, check out their library and their theater productions. Creative Live offers courses on screenwriting, (https://www.creativelive.com and no, not I’m not getting paid to recommend them, they often have sales on their courses, so it pays to sign up for their newsletter.

Indie Film Academy (http://www.indiefilmacademy.com) is free as is Ted Talks (https://www.ted.com/talks) for interviews and lectures about writing, inspiration, and living a creative life.

Take time to invest in yourself and your writing career. You and your career are worth the effort. 

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Filing the Well Summer Edition

Some times I feel like this raccoon,

 

and this hummingbird,

 

 

 

 

and this crazy moth,

 

 

 

 

 

 

and this bee, 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But then I remember nature never hurries and it all gets done. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Recover and Reset

I had planned on taking a break from novel writing over the Summer. I had home projects planned. I had visions of spending lots of time at the pool, hiking, and gardening and hanging out with my kids. I had planned on some promotion and marketing of my novel, Sum of the Whole,  set to release on June 19th

But then my mom had some serious health issues, and then this happened:

 My kiddo tumbled off the pirate ship. Surgery, two pins and one hot pink cast later I needed to change my ideas about summer.  Heartrending? Yes. Stressful? Yes. Overwhelming? Yes. Frustrating? Yes. Anxiety level off the charts? Yes. So I did the thing I always do when I don’t know what thing I should do next, and want some imaginary control over my life. I wrote.

 I wrote an outline while my mom was in the hospital.

The day after my daughter got home from the hospital I started writing my next novel.

I’ve left the deadline the original one that I set when I had planned out my summer and work projects. I don’t expect to finish writing it this summer, but when I sit down in the Fall when the kids go back to school I will be a bit ahead of schedule. It also gives me a sense of accomplishing something on those days I feel stuck.

My advice when life veers off the expected trajectory, take time to recover and reset.  Do the thing that grounds you, the thing that makes the rest of the world fall away even if it is just for an hour. Do that. And remember this:

“Nature never hurries, yet everything is accomplished.” Lao Tzu 

 

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Write when you can: Fighting the tyranny of the you-must-write-every-day edict.

This post is in response to many articles/books/ lectures that suggest that a writer who does not write every day is not serious. You can probably guess from the title what camp I fall into. I notice a glaring consistency among the you-must-write-every-day-or-you-are- not-a- serious writer crowd.

Most are people who do not seem to realize that everyone has to find a method of work that works with your life, your learning style and physical/mental abilities, and your responsibilities. Many are published authors whose day job is writing, and for them I understand that feeding your family is important and words=money. For anyone trying to become published, that kind of all or nothing advice is unhelpful, and discouraging. 

I have family/work/business obligations. I don’t write every day. In fact sometimes I plan on not writing. Why? Because LIFE is messy, unpredictable, fantastic, and wondrous. I also believe that for me filling the well is what lets me come back to the page ready to write. Am I serious about my writing? You tell me. I have had a collection of short stories and two novels contracted in the last year. I plan on submitting two more novels this year. I am serious and consider myself a professional.  I understand what my productivity level/ability is for producing a manuscript that I am comfortable submitting to my publisher. Could I produce more? Maybe, but this is what is right for me, right now. I don’t believe that taking time off is unproductive. Many great writers did not write every day unless they were working on a project, so don’t let anyone tell you that writing every day is the only way to become a published writer.

I’m taking the summer off to enjoy time with my kids, travel, blog a bit, and think. That is how I work, I need space between creative projects to think and plan my work. I get annoyed when authors discourage people from writing by making arbitrary rules. Find what works for you and do it. Trust your process and try as many different ways of work as you can until you find what works for you. If you need someone to give you permission to not write everyday this is it. Do it your way and trust yourself to find what works for you.

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Hold on for the Ride

I’ve written about my mom before, about how she trusted her instincts to get me through my young life, before ADHD was a diagnosis, and way before anyone had any idea what to do with the wild-ass young me. I was rough, busy, always starting new projects, could not sit still kind of kid. Most people who know me now would say I have not changed.

This Mother’s Day is a Mother’s Day that sees my mom facing some health issues. Not the first Mother’s day I have wondered if I would have my mom next year. When I was in high school my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is a thirty plus year survivor. She showed me then what it is to be tough and survive, and I always think of her as bullet-proof. The number one thing my mom taught me is to never give up. Thanks Mom for all the lessons, and for continuing to be tough. 

For those of you without your mom this Mother’s Day, know that I’m thinking of you. For those of you without children know that I’m thinking of you too. Here’s to all the bullet-proof, kick-ass mom’s out there, wishing you a very happy Mother’s Day. 

Courage and Radical Self-care

I’ve written before about how overwhelm can derail the best of plans. This past year I had a collection of short stories published (you can get them here) and I  signed a contract for a novel in January. In addition to writing I also teach cooking classes, work as a consultant, volunteer at my kids school once a week, work a day job, write this blog and another one, and I have kids and a partner, pets, etc.

Are you tired reading this? Or overwhelmed? I know I am. If you add in the current political climate I am beyond stressed. Like many people with ADHD I struggle on a daily basis with control and focus without outside pressures and demands. I have written before about self-care, here and here and I think that all of the ideas in those posts still work.

This post is about having the courage to stop doing things, in order to do the things that nourish your body and soul. For me that means letting go of my cooking blog for now, and more than likely letting go of this blog in the future. 

When I started this blog I did so because I needed a creative outlet, even if it seemed like I was shouting down a well most days. It was excellent writing practice. It gave me some positive feedback, and I made some amazing friends as a result of it. But with one contract signed, and wanting to publish more I’d much rather be working on my next book. I’m cutting back on my posts and holding on to this blog for now, because if life has taught me anything it has taught me that things change.

I’ve seen some snarky comments about bloggers staying on brand in the midst of the crazy, unsettling political and social upheaval going on right now. I have two things to say about that:

  1. Just because I don’t write about politics does not mean I don’t care. I am not unaware. Please do not suggest I am not sincere about my beliefs because I am not shouting them from this blog.  I am not a political blogger. I don’t plan on being one anytime soon. There are many many others more qualified than I am to do that. Go read their blogs. 
  2. In the midst of chaos a safe space that offers a peaceful place to rest your brain is necessary for survival. Stressing your adrenal glands long term without a break is a recipe for collapse. Life is a marathon not a sprint. I intend to survive this BS with my body and soul intact. 

Taking care of yourself enables you to cope with all the changes and stresses that come along and this is my message to you:

HAVE THE COURAGE TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.

 Make a list of things you are no longer going to do. Then find ways to stop doing those things. Let go of what is not working, make space for what is. Post it where you can see it as a reminder in your calendar, or journal, or the refrigerator.  I’ll go first. 

I’m no longer going to stress over getting everything done because I’m putting myself, my family, and my creative projects at the top of the list.

I’m no longer going to work on any creative projects that I don’t enjoy. This may seem radical but it’s not. If you need permission I’m going to give it to you. If a project no longer makes you happy/satisfied/fulfilled, just stop. That novel you’ve been working on so long, you don’t even remember why you started it? Let it go. Write something that makes you excited to sit down and work. Write something that feeds you.

I’m no longer going to do exercise that makes me dread putting on exercise clothes. That gym membership you signed up for and don’t use? Let it go. Find an exercise program that makes you happy, walking, hiking, yoga, swimming, city- league hockey, slow pitch soft ball, whatever gets you moving and makes you happy do that instead. 

I’m no longer going to attend family gatherings/parties/social events that are stressful. That annual family thing that makes you want to scream and run from the room? Let it go. Politely decline. No explanation is necessary. “I’m sorry I will not be able to attend,” is a complete sentence.

The amazing Audre Lord wrote these wise words, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Caring for myself means staying on brand, staying positive and fighting in my own way for the things I believe in. 

Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to care for yourself. 

On Facebook Fasts and No-Screen Sabbaths

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If you have read my blog for a bit you know that I am a big proponent of setting goals and making plans, and being flexible enough to change those plans when other opportunities occur/life happens. This year in response to some self-observation and research I am planning Facebook Fasts and Screen Sabbaths as part of my self-care for this year.

Like many people with ADHD/ADD I do not sleep well and never have, but since the advent of portable screens my sleep has been severely disrupted. I could blame it all on the blue light of the screen but if I’m honest it is not only the effects of the screen that disturbs my sleep. It is the anxiety/stress/mental stimulation that accompanies the screens.

Earlier this year I started taking a break from all screens on Sundays.  It was revolutionary. I remembered what it was like to not feel like I had to engage with anyone but my family. What I noticed most was the lack of urgency. My sense of time was more relaxed. I accomplished my tasks. Without a constant digital reminder of time, I was much more calm. This is not to say that I was less busy only that I was much less pressed and the accompanying relaxation left me happy and rested to start the week. Inspired by a friend’s month long Facebook hiatus I did a three day Facebook Fast over the Thanksgiving holiday and experienced the same feelings.img_5609This year, scheduled Facebook Fasts and continuing No-Screen Sabbaths will be part of taking care of myself and my family and living with intention. I hope you will find the time to disconnect and reset too.

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Finding A Way

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So earlier this week a friend shared an article on Facebook that I’m not going to link to here because I don’t want to send any traffic to the article. I generally try to keep my blog posts positive and the article in question was one of the most pathetic excuse filled articles about writing I have ever read. The author was whining because she thought publishing one book that people raved about would mean she could quit her day job and just be a WRITER.  Yep the “W” word in all caps. In other words she believed her own press. She stopped writing when the offers did not come pouring in and she managed to give herself a big old case of writers’s block and in case you are unclear about my opinion, this is my post on writer’s block.

I have a book that will be released on Monday and you know what I’ve been doing while I was waiting for the book to be published? Writing. While I was doing all the things you need to do when you have a book coming out, i.e. revisions, edits, plans for publicity, etc., I have been writing.

Why? Because I know that writer’s write. Even on days when I can not sit down at my computer because of day job/ kids/ other obligations I write in my notebook. I make story notes on scraps of paper, or collect photos of places that inspire stories, or write blog posts like this one. And that is my point. You can’t stop writing and wait for things to happen, you have to keep going.

When you coach T-Ball one of the things you have to work on is getting kids to run after they hit the ball instead of standing there watching to see where the ball is going. Writing one book and not having plans for the next project is like standing at home plate waiting to see what happened to the ball you hit.

So in case you are struggling with my sports analogy or if  you publish a book to critical acclaim and you think that is enough, here is the advice the woman should have gotten.

KEEP WRITING

because you are a writer and writers write. We write when we are sad, overwhelmed, overworked, anxious, happy, frisky, exhausted, hungry, frustrated, angry, sick, or convinced that no one but our Aunt Edna will ever read our work. We write because we are writers and writers write. Don’t quit. Find a way to write and do it.

 

Making Space

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It has been a busy Summer for me with family, travel, edits for a short story collection to be published in September, research for more stories, book reviews, correspondence, lining up interviews for my blog, recipe testing, blog photography, you get the idea.

When people ask how do I get so much done, I always say that I am blessed with the H (hyperactivity) in the ADHD diagnosis and that it is my super power. I find it difficult to sit still. I have to move, to do, to be active. It is not always a blessing. I can be exhausting to be around. I take on too much at times. I have to regroup and rethink when facing deadlines. I have to make space and pare down by make room for all the things that are important.

It is not uncommon for folks with ADD/ADHD to find themselves swamped with projects, overwhelmed and frustrated. Right now I’m working on my plans for my blogs and my writing projects for the year, and it occurred to me that the real answer to getting things done is not just the blessing of being a high energy person, it is also the ability to discern what to let go of and what to hold on to. I like to garden and a big part of gardening is weeding. Weeding to make space for what you want to grow. I had to let of blogging for a bit to focus on other writing projects. I’ve had to let go of my gardening projects to make time for my family. I’ve had to let go of social media a bit to have time for me.

It doesn’t mean that I won’t go back to these things, but it does mean that the process of picking and choosing what to spend time on is key in accomplishing anything. The one question to ask when deciding how to cut back in order focus on a specific project or goal is: “What can I let go of to make room for what I want to happen?”

Let go of things that are crowding out the things you want to grow.

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