Memoir Monday, July 10th, 2017

What Dreams May Come

This past week that my husband and I spent at my parents’ house was an epic achievement for me in that I did not gain any weight.  This is good news because I’ve been working on keeping the momentum of staying active and eating less junk food that I’ve sustained since the beginning of May.  Ever since I fell off the whole foods, no sugar bandwagon approximately 1.5 years ago (note the coincidental timing with my marriage), it’s been a struggle to release the addictive hold sugar has on me, but I’m here to say I’m still going strong.

The bad news, however, is that I enjoyed other foods that for me, personally, wreak havoc with my health.  Night shades (i.e., white potatoes, peppers of any kind, including spices, tomatoes, and eggplant) all cause my narcolepsy symptoms to be significantly worse.  Specifically, when I eat night shades the amount and intensity of the time I spend in REM sleep increases.

REM is the stage where dreams occur; for people with narcolepsy, we already have overly long, incredibly vivid and emotional dreams, as well as more frequent dreams throughout the night.  During the week that I ate nightshades on a regular basis here are the dreams I had:

  • I was driving someone else’s car (someone I used to work with at my former university) and the brakes wouldn’t work

 

  • I kept missing my flight – where I was going, I couldn’t tell you, but in the dream, no matter what I did I couldn’t get to the airport on time.

 

  • SNAKE! A long vicious snake, kept trying to attack while I had to hold its mouth at bay.  It was all I could do to keep the snake from biting me.

 

  • I was back in college and I had to turn in a paper that I was totally unprepared for.

 

  • I was still teaching and I couldn’t find any of my work to turn in my final grades.

 

  • I was at a high school dance, or perhaps a reunion, and I kept worrying about what I was going to wear (at least I think that’s what this most recent dream was about.  Unlike my previous dreams, this one has faded more).

Any one of these dreams is enough to exhaust anyone, let alone having them six nights in a row.  I’m convinced these dreams are my own personal ayahuasca experience, with nightshades serving in place of the illicit vine that so many seek out in the Amazon.

For the record, I have never used an illicit drug to alter my state of consciousness, as ayahuasca does, but having traveled for three weeks in Peru of course I met people who had.  Their reported experiences were not unlike this video

so I’m not sure why anyone would want to have those experiences anyway, and, frankly, because of my narcolepsy I’m having these experiences of my own accord (though to be clear, not soiling myself).

I also realized that my nightshade consumption has bumped right up into the full moon.  Thanks to my Fitbit (which my Mom gave me as a gift in May), I’m much better at tracking my sleep. Sure enough, during and around the full moon, I have trouble falling asleep, my dreams increase in vividness, emotion, and duration, and I wake up around 4:00am.

As you can imagine, after a week of this kind of sleep (though the 4:00am wake-ups just started this morning and I expect will last two more days according to my Fitbit records until the next full moon), I could really use some rest and recovery.

To that end, I am choosing to say NO, THANK YOU, to all nightshades and processed sugar for the next few weeks, I am striving to meet my daily 8,500 steps goal, and I am staying optimistic.  Although in this moment it’s not as easy to stay optimistic, except that twice in the month of June I had really good sleep.  Sleep where I woke up refreshed and enthusiastic about my day.  The last time I got sleep like that (other than naps) was the last weekend in September 2015.  No, that’s not an exaggeration, and yes, it was a long time ago.

I just wish I could remember these feelings in the moment when I’m about to eat those delicious hamburgers with ketchup, the crunchy and salty french fries that I love so much, or the spicy goodness of Chipotle.  I’m not sure what it would actually take for me to commit to NO NIGHTSHADES EVER AGAIN but at least maybe these dreams are enough to make me commit to NO NIGHTSHADES EVER AGAIN for at least 30 days.  I can do anything for 30 days, right?

Memoir Monday (though it’s really Wednesday), June 28th, 2017

On the Move

It’s packing time…again! My husband and I will be heading out at the end of the week, leaving dear, old Norfolk, CT, behind for two months.  We’ve been making the rounds, saying goodbye, returning library books, and for me, personally, trying to soak up as much time with these three dogs that I can.  I’m going to miss them so much!

Tobey

Smudge

Faith

Here’s where we’re headed:

  • Harrisburg, PA, to visit my Mom, Dad, and brother.  For those of you who read my blog, you know the biggest challenge here will be to NOT eat all the cookies, cakes, and peanut M&Ms my family keeps on hand.  I’ve shaped up quite a bit in the last month and a half and I don’t want to lose momentum.

 

  • Cornelius, NC, to pet and housesit while my cousin and his wife (who is far and away one of my favorite people EVER), along with their two kids, head to their annual extended family beach week in the Outer Banks.  They have a boat and a dog that looks like Rick James reincarnated, so I have plenty to be excited about there.

Rick James

 

  • Smyrna, TN, to visit with my husband’s parents, brother, two dogs, and three cats.   My husband’s mom is recovering from surgery, so we’ll help out where needed, and on my agenda during that time is to get my car registered in TN.  After hiding my car title in a SUPER SECRET PLACE, then moving three times in four years, I appear to have lost it.  I finally got the replacement title.  I would have simply re-registered it in IL until we figure out what we’re going to do with my car (it’s currently hanging out in my in-laws’ driveway), but the car needs an emissions test in IL first.  As we’ve been in CT, well, not going to happen.

 

  • Joliet, Manhattan, and Elmhurst, IL, for various pet/housesitting jobs.   We sat for one of these houses last year, which inspired my picture book story The Best Darn Dog Ever, and when they asked us to come back and take care of their dogs, we immediately said yes.  I was able to find other sitting jobs which fit neatly into our timeline for being there, so we’re happy at how it’s all working at.  Plus, one of the houses is dome-shaped with 87 (or maybe 84) windows and the other has two geriatric wiener dogs (wiener dogs are AWESOME), so we’re going to have some great new experiences.

I’m really looking forward to these new housesits, even though I lived in IL for 8 years.  My writing has been going exceptionally well lately, but I still think my absolute best creativity comes when we shake things up and have new experiences.  Like at the end of March when I met Theo, the therapy llama, at the Norfolk Public library.

Llama

I’ve now started writing a nonfiction picture book based on this gentle and loving pack animal (FYI – they only spit when threatened; watch their ears for signs).  Nonfiction picture book writing is something I had on my to-do list, but now I find myself actually doing it.  My agent also thinks the story is a great idea (did I mention I now have an agent?!?!?!  HUGE STEP FORWARD! YAY!).

So, there will be lots to see and do over the next two months.  It makes saying our temporary goodbye to Norfolk bittersweet.  But for now, I bid this wonderful town of Norfolk and its wonderful people a fond farewell.  See you soon!

Memoir Monday, June 12th, 2017

Oddly Refreshing

This past Saturday I was delighted to attend the Children’s Writers of the Hudson Valley June conference.  This is the third writing conference I’ve attended which focuses exclusively on children’s writing.  It was also the smallest writing conference I’ve yet to attend (my count is now at six; I forgot I attended Fall Philly Fest from the Eastern PA Chapter of the SCBWI in a previous conference count that I mentioned on my blog) and I have to say I learned A LOT.

One of the best parts of a small conference is that you don’t have too many options to choose from.  This has been a problem for me not just in writing conferences, but when I attended academic conferences in my past life as a professor.  I would always scour the conference schedule, circling the sessions that looked most intriguing to me, having to weigh options and presenters and then make some tough choices.

For this conference, there were only two options for the morning session: focus on middle grade novels or focus on picture books.  Then, everyone came together for an afternoon session on revising work masterfully presented in a way that blew my mind.  I suppose there is nothing truly earth shattering in learning that the picture book and the novel can both be revised using the same methods, but in my mind I had the two genres as incompatible in how story is presented and thus, would require different processes for the all-important revisions.

I consider it to be a valuable use of my time to learn not just one new process of writing, but several, and so I am itching to review my notes and see what I can do to some of my manuscripts in terms of improving them.

The day ended with another joint session; this time the day’s presenters came together on a panel and reviewed the first 100 words of manuscripts submitted by conference participants.  I feel a tad guilty that I included four different manuscripts of mine (two picture-book and two middle-grade) because I am so eager for feedback, but not guilty enough not to have only submitted one manuscript.

I did rationalize to myself that because I didn’t find out about the conference until a few weeks before and I missed the deadline to schedule one-on-one critiques, I should be allowed to submit more than one first 100 words.  I also didn’t keep it a secret from the conference hosts that I turned in four, so I guess in the end it was okay.

Well, the action was okay; the process brutal.  Two of my first 100 words got selected and holy cow, it is hard to sit there with a straight face while four strangers perform what one of them called a “parlor game” in highlighting the weaknesses of your work.

To be fair, one of the other panelists gently explained that this process was not to focus on what people were doing well because that wouldn’t necessarily improve the weaker parts of their writing.  The panelist also went on to say they probably wouldn’t be so harsh if they were to spend more time with more words of the manuscript.

The first 100 words of my picture book got torn to shreds. The first 100 words of my middle grade book first got accolades for an intriguing first paragraph, then fell completely flat upon reading of the second paragraph.  It was a truly a humbling experience and I’m pretty sure no one could actually hear the pounding of my heart as they read and critiqued my writing.

The strange thing, though, is that after getting over the initial emotional response, I am nothing but grateful for the opportunity to hear from four different industry professionals on what can be objectively improved with my work.  There was a time in my not so distant past that I might have been thoroughly demoralized, perhaps maybe even have cried, and probably would have said to myself that these people don’t know what they’re talking about and my work is brilliant.

I find it oddly refreshing to discover I have reached this point where I do believe industry professionals are experts in their field and not all my work is brilliant.  This revelation has been in progress for a while as a few weeks ago, I opted not to submit two of my manuscripts to a contest because I truly didn’t believe they were my best work.  In re-reading and revising them, I still felt like some spark was missing and I feel rather validated that my own professional judgement is becoming less biased as I become more familiar with the revision process.

That’s not to say I didn’t feel any sort of emotional wound or negative gut reaction to hearing the comments from the panelists.  Hearing criticism/rejection is one of the hardest things we ever have to do in life and I can’t imagine it ever gets easier over time.  But it is now easier for me to move on and I feel quite liberated by this knowledge.  We’ll see how it goes once I receive feedback from the editor I’m in the process of hiring for one of my manuscripts.  At the very least, it will be a good measure to see how far I’ve really come.

Memoir Monday, June 5th, 2017

Fear Factor

It’s now been a full-on month that I’ve cleaned up my diet, kept up my six-day-a-week 20-minute daily exercise routine, and practiced meditation twice a day on most days. It’s probably not a coincidence that I’ve also had an upsurge of productivity with my writing.

One of my greatest accomplishments in the last week is getting the revision of my middle-grade manuscript, Top Dog of K-9 Academy, in tip top shape.  I’ve managed to edit an additional 19 chapters and I still have 6 to go, but I fully expect to have a working third draft by June 10th, the deadline I gave myself.

I’ve been debating about whether to get the manuscript professionally edited once it’s in its third draft form.  All my research suggests that having outside, qualified eyes look at your manuscript can only improve it.  My only hesitation?  Edits can cost $3 to $4 (or more) dollars a page, so it is an investment.

Having been raised in a frugal family, I sometimes have a hard time spending money on things I should.  However, as my Mom likes to say, “If money solves your problem, then it’s not really a problem.”  So the question becomes why don’t I really want to get the manuscript edited?

I think like most aspects of our lives that are beneficial in the long term (e.g., good diet, exercise, stress reduction techniques), there’s not an immediate return on investment with an editing process.  But I honestly don’t think it’s a time issue.

I’ve written before about how slow the publishing industry can be and if I take the time to get a professional edit, then, yes, that’s several more weeks before I can start submitting the manuscript to agents and editors.  But what difference would a few weeks make, especially if my manuscript is all that much stronger for it.

Other questions that pop up in my mind when I consider getting an editor are: what if I spend the money and I don’t get anything useful out of the edit?; what if the editor says my work sucks?; what if I invest all this time, effort, and money, and the manuscript doesn’t result in a book contract?

But when I really think about it, these are all just fear-based excuses that are getting in the way of achieving my dream of being a published author.  If I don’t get an editor, then I can always make an excuse that my manuscript wasn’t ready and I submitted too soon and that’s why it didn’t get published.

Good thing I’m done letting fear get in my way.  I spent over a decade and a half stuck in a career that my heart wasn’t really in because I was afraid to try something different.  That’s long enough.

I reminded a person I’m very close with the other day that, “Most of what we worry is about is imaginary.”  That’s one of the more useful pieces of advice from the intro to psych textbook I used the last time I taught that course, and quite frankly, was the best part of teaching it.

This little piece of advice came up when this person expressed concerns that no one would like them or their chronic illness would get in the way of them having a good experience when they start a new chapter of their lives in the coming months.  I then followed up my advice by providing a list of other things that could also happen to them in the coming months, including:

Being liked so much by everyone, that they want you to quit school and work for them full-time;

Meeting Leonardo DiCarpio, who falls in love you at first sight so then you have a relationship dilemma with Leonardo and your current boyfriend; and

Finding escaped pandas from the zoo and hiding them in your bathtub because they’re too precious to return.

My point with all these was that anything could happen in the coming months, so you might as well focus on the wacky and wonderful.

Advice I really need to take to heart, then, because if I allow myself to think rationally about my fears, I already know the answers to them:

1)      Of course having my manuscript edited wouldn’t be a waste of time; I know what to look for in an editor and I understand what to expect in the editing process.

2)      If I really thought my worked suck (and in retrospect I can now say that, yes, some of my past work has sucked), then I would edit and revise it myself until I felt it was good enough to send to an editor.

3)      I have no time limit in achieving my goal of being a published author.  Yes, I want this sooner rather than later, but I was also once told that, “It’s not my job to manage God’s plan for me.” Meaning, I don’t have to worry about the “how’s;” I just need to keep taking steps in the right direction and believe that everything else will work itself out.  Which, it will.  Because my mom also likes to say, “Everything always works out in the end.  And if it doesn’t, that means it’s not the end.”

So as I wait for the details to work themselves out, I will keep on with what I’ve been doing – prioritizing my health and well-being to keep my productivity flowing, writing and editing my own stories, reading and studying other stories to help improve my craft, playing with dogs because that makes me really happy, and getting my manuscript professionally revised.  I look forward to sharing more about this process in the coming weeks.

Silly Faith

Smudge Tennis Ball 2

Tobes swimming 2

Memoir Monday, May 29th, 2017

TItle

Tomorrow is an exciting day for me. The only items on my agenda are 1) take my trash and recyclables to the transfer station (Norfolk’s fancy name for the town dump); and 2) write.

Not only do I have copious amounts of free time, but my only company for the day will be canine companionship. Considering the three dogs I’ll be with are the inspiration for my middle-grade book Top Dog of K-9 Academy, I think I’ll be in good company.

Kelly with dogs

Tobey with bowl

I have a lot of different writing projects I could work on, including my aforementioned middle-grade book, as well as another middle-grade book I finished the first draft of this past December, and several picture books that need revision. I also have a nonfiction picture book I’m doing research on regarding therapy llamas (who know they could be such a wonderful companion and therapy animal – which is why I want to tell the world about them) and I have a children’s story that someone in publishing told me could make a good magazine article, so I need to investigate publication possibilities for that.

Llama

Since I am always optimistic with my time, I’m going to focus on the revision of Top Dog and believe that I will finish the entire revision in one day. We’ll see. But on a positive note, I already have the first six chapters revised, so only 25 more to go.

Realistically, I’d like to have the complete manuscript revised and ready for submission by June 10th, which is the date of the next writers’ conference I’m attending.  This will be my fifth writers’ conference since I started taking my life dream of being an author seriously.  The first one I attended was in November 2014 and it was one year later that I told myself I was not going to attend another writing conference until I had a book finished.

At the time, a friend of mine recommended that I meet up with her at the North Carolina Writers’ Network fall conference and I flat out refused.  I had decided that I needed to put all that I had learned thus far about fiction writing and children’s writing, in particular, to good use and it was time for me to actually finish a novel.  I made a promise to myself that I was not going to attend any more conferences until I had something to pitch to agents or editors in the event I randomly struck up a conversation with one of them somewhere.

It only took me a year and half to make good on my promise. Pretty good, I think, considering it took me eight years to finish my PhD program (although I did have undiagnosed narcolepsy the ENTIRE time). I also like to remind myself of this accomplishment whenever I feel I need a boost with my writing life.  I have to remind myself I haven’t been at this for too long in the grand scheme of things and I’ve come a long way.

I also like to remind myself that I went from being single to married in only three weeks.  Just like that, my whole life changed for the infinite better and my dream of finding the perfect partner came true.

Wedding!

When I think about how this can happen with my writing – maybe it will be today, maybe it will be tomorrow – an agent or publisher will say the magic words of book contract, I get giddy with the possibilities of the situation.  Because, honestly, I cannot imagine a better husband than the one I sat down next to that fateful night when we randomly met at a restaurant bar I had never been to before, so I can only imagine what’s going to happen when this publishing dream of mine comes true.

I’m already looking forward to telling you about it….

Memoir Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Friend

On Saturday, my niece and I said hasta pronto to my husband who we dropped off at the Stewart International Airport for his birthday trip to Guatemala.  One of his goals this year is to become fluent in Spanish and when a local Norfolkian recommended a Spanish immersion program in Antigua, I couldn’t resist surprising him for his 34th birthday.

Heath and Jori Fixed

My husband will be gone a total of 10 days, but on the plus side I get to spend this time with my niece.  She’ll be visiting for the next week and I’m super happy to spend this time with her. She just wrapped up her sophomore year at UT Austin and I am 100% confident that she has now surpassed me in some educational ways seeing as she is a double major in chemistry and economics.

One of the aspects I’m most enjoying about her experience is listening to the sounds she makes while reading books. She just finished Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons yesterday and she cracked me up with her gasps and shouts of shock, surprise, and frustration.

Angels and Demons Cropped

We’ve also been watching season 1 of Gilmore Girls because she is a huge fan and on our agenda this week is to go on a Gilmore Girls driving tour.  The show takes place in a fictional CT town called Star Hollows, but it is based on Washington Depot, CT, and Kent, CT.

I’m not sure how much I’m enjoying the show because I find one of the main characters to have a rather obnoxious and grating personality. She always has a wise crack for every situation and her relationship with her mother is rather tempestuous but it appears to be a lot of her own making.

However, despite the show being on television I feel like I am learning some useful writing techniques for crafting characters. One of the comments I received from two individuals about one of the dogs in my Top Dog book is that he’s bordering on obnoxious.  The other four people who read my pages found him hilarious. So the majority wins, but the former comment still gives me something to consider.

Ultimately, I think it’s a good comment because the main character in the book also thinks this dog is obnoxious, but others think of him as a lovable bloke. It’s good to know I’m reaching different perspectives with the writing of him.

Also, in a pivotal scene in the book, this character then does something thoughtful and gracious and I like how I provided insight into the true heart of the character. The main character also recognizes this and it’s why she can forgive him for his many past deeds.

Yet, I don’t want children turned off by the character so much that they put the book down.  I have yet to say to my niece, “No more Gilmore Girls,” and part of that is because I want to keep watching this character to see if I ever reach a tipping point where I’ve had enough of her and never want to watch the show again. I think that would highly instructive in my own writing and I’m feeling good about the fact that I can “multitask” while spending some quality time with my niece.

I also like that I can get my niece’s perspective on the show and hear about what plot and characters she loves or hates. It’s so useful to have this kind of feedback to then inform my writing process and she’s obviously a brilliant and insightful person. For the record, so is my husband, but the insight of a 34-year-old man is quite different from a 20-year-old woman.

All in all, I think this is going to be a wonderful visit. Lots of pups to love, lots of books to read, one show to watch, and visiting attractions all over the state of CT. So who else wants to come visit? Think of how much you can help my writing!

Smudge and Faith

Memoir Monday, May 16th, 2017

Sugar

I felt rather dismayed when I saw almost a full month has gone by since I lasted posted here. I’m disappointed in myself because when I started this blog in August 2016 the goal was to write multiple times a week, every week.

Right around the New Year, I began to let posts slide. I rationalized that because of the holidays, I could take a break. Then wouldn’t you know it – I let posts slide again. And again.

I’m sure I have “valid” reasons for not blogging and as I’m typing away right now, my brain is telling me, YES! Yes, you do. The writers’ conference that I participated in in late March required me to spend extra time on getting my second book in shape for editor and agent critiques. Then came the revisions, which I’m still working on.

I also just felt so dang tired these past few months. Winter is hard on those of us with sleep disorders. The lack of sunlight made me feel lethargic and the moment it turned dark outside all I wanted to do was read in bed. Then, there was my crap diet that lasted from March 25th, when my husband and I completely lost control at a conference where we had multiple all-you-can-eat meals, all the way to May 2nd.  I can pretty much sum up my diet during that time span as: SUGAR, SUGAR, SUGAR, SUGAR, SUGAR, zucchini noodle stir fry, SUGAR, SUGAR, SUGAR.

not-only-did-i-fall-off-the-diet-wagon-dragged-19642228

No wonder I’ve been so exhausted and I’m pretty sure I have a sugar addiction. It’s funny how poor choices in one area snowball into the rest of your life. Poor diet led to increasingly poor sleep, which made me feel tired and was exacerbated by lack of sunlight, so I made even poorer diet choices because of feeling so tired, which then made me feel even more tired and because I’m so tired, I’m then not meeting my writing goals, making me get down on myself, and then I want a DQ Blizzard to make me feel better, and then, oh, what’s that? I’m feeling even more tired and the sugar makes me have poor sleep. Again. And the cycle repeats. And repeats. And repeats.

At the very least I have awareness of this pattern. And (once again) I am consciously choosing to break the cycle. The good news is I have excellent support from my husband, who also has a sugar addiction, and was feeling just as sick and tired of feeling sick and tired as I was.

We are currently on Day 15 of a 26-day diet detox, which banned sugar (including fruit) the first week, and is 90% raw, 100% vegan. Completing this detox will be a truly great achievement for me and, not surprisingly, I’m already sleeping better and I have more energy. That’s how I find myself writing this blog post at 8:00pm on a Tuesday evening instead of mindlessly scrolling through Facebook to trick my brain into thinking I’m accomplishing something.

So I’m making progress — YAY!

While I finish the remaining 11 days of the diet detox, I’m also going to spend some time contemplating my goals. Specifically, I want a better awareness of the balance between my ambition and productivity. As evidenced by some of my older blog posts, this is one area in the past where I have set myself up for failure by being too optimistic about what I can realistically accomplish. But it’s also something I am keenly aware of and trying to improve and frankly, I’m tired of making excuses for not meeting my own goals.

In the meantime, I am going to give myself a small writing goal. Post this blog tonight and then post another one on May 22nd.  As always, I thank you for reading my blog and for your love and support.

Memoir Monday, April 17th, 2017

Title

After a very long winter with several snow storms and many, cold, dark, cloudy days, I’m feeling more confident that spring has finally sprung in Connecticut. I say this because we’ve had several days in a row of abundant sunshine,

Tobey in Sun 2

the snow has melted,

Faith in the dirt

SMudge Fishing

and I’ve started seeing spring bulbs pop up here and there around town.

Purple flowers

I have, however, been cautioned not to put the snow shovel away because that will jinx the weather and then we’ll most assuredly have snow one more time.

The timing of our spring resurgence here is coincidental with the celebration of Easter this year. My husband and I had a lovely Easter celebration yesterday with attending church, eating a delicious lunch of lamb with mint jelly and spice cake for dessert, and visiting a local farm where I got to bottle feed baby goats (best Easter activity EVER!).

Goats Copyright

But now that Easter has come and gone, that means Lent is over and I can go back to Facebook (which I gave up for Lent). Yay! I think.

One of the things I’ve missed the most about being on Facebook is knowing what’s going on with a lot of friends, particularly the ones that I don’t see on a regular basis. I miss reading about what’s happening in their lives and the adventures they’re taking.

I also miss the birthday reminders and without being on Facebook these past few weeks, I completely forgot to send out some birthday greetings.

Here’s what I don’t miss about Facebook at all: how much of my time it sucks up. Since I posted last week about my obsessive email checking, I have gotten somewhat better with it and several hours will go by where I consciously chose not to check my email because I don’t want to distract myself from the work I’m doing.

One of my worries with going back to Facebook is that this will be my go-to time waster when I’m feeling tired and don’t want to work on one of the activities that align with my goals of being a published writer.  These goals currently include reading middle grade fiction, reading Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Want to Write Them, listening to The Great Courses – Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques by Professor James Hynes (I’m up to chapter 5 and thoroughly enjoying), plotting the sequel to the middle grade book I finished writing several weeks ago, and working on a book of writing prompts that I plan to offer for free in the near future as a way to build my email list for when I eventually get published (apparently having an email list is a good way to build an audience).

My professional goals are important to me and then there are my personal goals, of equal, if not more importance: eating healthy (epic fails as of late due to Dairy Queen Blizzards, burgers and fries from Wood Creek Bar and Grill, and Dee’s One Smart Cookie sandwich cookies), meditating (doing good with this one thanks to my Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey meditation app), exercising for 20 minutes a day (also doing good with this one and I only missed a few days in the past 2 months), and being a good partner to my husband (although I think I’m doing quite well here, my husband has yet to give me a serious answer).

You’d think it’d be easy, then, to limit the activities that take me away from my goals such as procrastinating on social media and/or checking my email. The thing is,

goals require hard work and dedication, and that’s, well, hard,

especially when a lot of my goal-related activities don’t result in immediate rewards.

It’s so much easier to like my friends’ posts, add a comment or two, and feel like I’ve accomplished a lot. And maybe it is worthwhile to socially engage with my friends this way to let them know I’m interested in their lives and care about them. Some of them I haven’t seen for months and I be seeing them again for equally long times.

I suppose what it all comes down to is balance. Balance is something I struggle with day in and day out, although staying on track has gotten a little easier as I refine what’s most important to me in my life. I know where and how I want to spend my time and at the very least I am becoming more mindful of my choices.

I think this awareness is why I’m so eager for spring this year. Spring (and Easter for that matter) is a time of renewal and rebirth. This season makes me excited that no matter how unbalanced I let my life get this past winter (or in previous seasons), there is now a new opportunity to start over. I can reaffirm my choices to stay balanced and stay focused on my goals as much as possible.

With every new flower I see blooming or bird chirping I can be reminded to do my best. Even better, I can be inspired by the beauty around me to inform my writing and make conscious choices of how I spend my time. Nature is, after all, the ultimate testament to the success of balance. Now it’s just up to me. As always, I remain ever optimistic. Thanks for your support 🙂

Memoir Monday, April 10th, 2017

Time to Wait Title

One of the biggest problems I have with writing is the waiting. Time moves so much more slowly in the publishing world than elsewhere. Examples – agents may take 6 weeks to one year to respond to a query letter; from signed contract to publication can take three years (this is especially true for picture books with illustrations).

Of course, there are always a few outliers – the rare agent or publisher who responds within 24 hours to kindly reject my work – and then there are those who never respond (also a typical practice in publishing) and you’re left in limbo wondering if you should follow-up or let it go.

To add to the tension of this waiting game I’m now playing, I recently attended a conference where I had six 1-1 sessions with different agents and editors. One editor requested the entire manuscript of my Top Dog of K-9 Academy middle grade book (did I mention I finished my second book – only took three months to write the 37,000 words of which I attribute a large part of my success to the outlining method from Libbie Hawker’s wonderful book Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing) and another editor was so enthusiastic, she gave me a list of agents to contact and she said I could use her name (too bad this editor works at a press that doesn’t acquire middle-grade fiction).

As a result, I’ve been checking my inbox at a more than neurotic rate. I haven’t formally documented what that amounts to on a daily basis, but between when I woke up at 5:30am (the first time, that is, then I fell back asleep only to have an incredibly vivid dream about a jaguar breaking into the house and fighting it off to protect the dogs), got out of bed at 6:30am, and began writing this at 11:30am, I have now checked my email nine times in six hours (and for 1.5 of those hours I attended my creative writing group where I did not want to be rude and look at my phone).

THIS. MUST. STOP.

Checking so much is not an efficient use of my time. Mounds of research suggests checking email like this severely impacts productivity. I already know this, yet I do it anyway.

So the question I’m now asking myself is why do I feel such a strong compulsion that I can’t seem to stop it?

Coincidentally, a possible answer came to me just a little bit ago when I took a break from writing this post to exercise (my latest goal is just 20 minutes a day of strength-training exercises; I’ll add in cardio when the weather gets warmer) and I started listening to The Great Courses – Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques by Professor James Hynes.

I’m a big fan of The Great Courses and for those of you interested in learning about the publishing industry, I can’t recommend Jane Friedman’s How to Publish Your Book enough, which I have fully listened to twice now. I’ll let you know about Writing Great Fiction when I finish all twenty-four chapters.

Anyway, here’s what Professor Hynes said in chapter 1 – Starting the Writing Process:

Few things make a writer more anxious than facing a blank page. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner starting your first story ever or if you’re a battle-scarred professional with many publications behind you. Having to fill that blank space with words is almost always a very intimidating prospect. Like any worker faced with a difficult task, a writer can find all sorts of ways to allay that anxiety. These include petty rituals of procrastination, like, say, alphabetizing your bookshelf, experimenting with different fonts on your computer, or sharpening all your pencils to just the right length. Some writers go further, indulging in such self-destructive practices as using alcohol or drugs to numb their anxiety. And ever since the advent of the internet, there’s been a vast middle-ground between these two extremes now that a writer is able to kill almost all his writing time by checking his email, making wise cracks on twitter, or watching adorable kittens on YouTube and calling it research.

Well, duh. I can’t believe I didn’t see this. Now that I’ve finished my book, it’s time to start another one. And what better way to put that off then suddenly being offered a representation/publishing contract where I can then turn my attention and energy to something I’ve already done? Wouldn’t that be the easy way out! I wouldn’t have to think of an entirely new plot, then write it, then edit it and re-write again. I don’t have to contemplate disappointment and failure in my writing process and I can remain blissfully a person who successfully started and finished two books.

Except I don’t want to be a person who just wrote two books. I want to be a prolific writer, writing across different genres and getting successfully published in a variety of different ways.

So I guess it’s time curb my anxiety the best I can and come up with different, more productive ways (other than checking my email) to alleviate it. There’s the obvious of actually starting my next book and yesterday I did start the outline. I’ve also come up with creating new content for my blog, visualizing how I want to brand myself as an author, and always keeping a book with me, so if I start to feel compelled to check my email again I can read a few paragraphs (one of the single best ways to improve your own writing is to read others).

I’m optimistic these strategies can work and I’m open to suggestions for other ways I can re-direct my anxiety in a more productive way. Any ideas?