Writing Challenges

The month of September is more than three quarters of the way done, and I've written over 30,000 words so far. This is the best writing month that I've ever had. I can't even imagine where I would be if I hadn't found these writing challenges.

I am trying to balance my books with my blog, but I find that somehow one helps the other now. I'm on a schedule now. It's so different from before, but it's incredibly cathartic. I'm calmer now, because I'm actually doing what I love to do. I'm making time for me, and not just focusing on a job that I don't see as my final career.

As a writer, I need the time and headspace to commit to my craft, and I'm slowly finding my way, and building that myself. That habit. It's incredible.

One day, I WILL get to full-time writer status. One day.

Turning a Corner

Are you saying you're going to do something, or are you already achieving what you said you would?

Actions will always speak louder than words, and I am finally finding a way to balance work life with all that self-care entails. To me, self-care includes all of those things we put off to accomplish our work day. This may be diet, physical activity, personal goals (writing is my biggest one), quality time with friends, sleep is a big one. And I have been suffering — feeling further and further away from accomplishing my own personal goals with writing. Ultimately, I would love to write full-time, but for now the day job is a necessity. I've been treating it like it's the only necessity instead of prioritizing this with everything else.

Somehow, I have been able to turn a corner, and it all started with a holiday staycation. I am so incredibly happy in this moment, because I I felt like I was moving further away from achieving what has been my ultimate goal: publishing a novel. I keep working on all of these projects, even starting new ones, but I haven't finished one, and I think more than anything that this is out of fear. Fear of failure. Fear of disappointment. Fear of calling out into a void and receiving no response.

Over the Labor Day holiday, I took a couple of extra vacation days from work to really jump start my writing with a staycation and solo writing retreat. I didn't have a structured plan as to what I wanted to accomplish each day, but I knew I wanted to make a significant dent in a project that I've been describing for a really long time without having actually put anything to paper.

This particular project is not really the nearest and dearest to my heart, but I have been receiving a lot of positive response from friends and fellow writers that this particular project may be a great debut project. It's funny and raw in ways that are sometimes less chick lit and more women's fiction, but it's so apropos to the plight of a single woman. Friends seem to think that this piece will attract more initial attention so that I can gain a good amount of followers before I release the novel that is closest to my heart. I'm not completely sure that I agree just yet, because I think that this dating book is a little bit more in your face than the project I'm most invested in, and I worry that I might scare some people off with the bluntness with which I need to tell that story. But I suppose there is still time to make a decision on what goes out first (and it would help if I could finish both of these projects, leaving me the ability to choose).

Each day of my staycation/writing retreat, I wrote. I even took my iPad and a portable keyboard to my local cigar bar on the weekend. I joined a writing challenge, which provides you with a daily word count goal and a lot of support. I finished my retreat having written more than 70 pages. More importantly, my stress level was so much lower, because I wasn't feeling conflicted about leaving my big dream on the back burner.

After my first solo writing retreat, my advice would be the following:

  • Give yourself some structure by giving yourself concrete goals to achieve each day
  • Create a reasonable schedule for writing (I think that 1-2 hour sprints work well for me, and these can be two or three times per day)
  • If you will have too many distractions at home, consider AirBnB (I stayed home, but I cleaned my house and did laundry in advance)
  • Give yourself separate time to think through how you will arrange your scene, what you need to research, or for character development (I like to do this while walking)
  • Get in some physical activity
  • Don't let your breaks overrun your goals (sometimes you need that mental break, but there's a slippery slope, and you can end up feeling guilty about time wasted)
  • Track daily progress
  • Share your progress with your social media followers
  • Consider joining a writing challenge on Twitter and/or joining FB groups for writers to connect with other likeminded people
  • Rinse and repeat (my plan is to do this at least every other month moving forward)

So much stress was lifted from my shoulders by giving myself this time to rejuvenate! More importantly, returning to my day job was easier, because I created a way for me to continue consistency with daily word counts, and I maintain contact with fellow writers who are similarly situated. The light at the end of the tunnel is much brighter now.

Even if you find that none of this advice really works for you, the time you've gifted yourself will be invaluable. Give yourself the opportunity to get it done.

Tomorrow’s Promises

Are we always living for future? When do we decide to live for the present?

One of the things that I’ve noticed lately is that I am forever planning. Planning to write, planning to travel, planning to figure out my career path. Planning to figure out who my future will include. I’m starting to wonder if this is all I’m ever going to do. When do you start feeling like you’re just living to enjoy life? Are there people who spend their whole lives squirreling away for the future only to have it cut short? Am I one of those people?

I find that there are a lot of things that I want for myself that I can’t currently work out, so I plan. I want security. I want to write full time. I want a partner to share life with. I want to live healthfully and fully. Hell, I want a dog. But I can’t achieve most of this right now, due to various circumstances. Lack of capital being a big one. So I try to plan pathways to get me there. They’re not always successful paths, but they are attempts. 

Are my wants just unrealistic? Am I just not dedicated enough to making these wants my reality? Sometimes I wonder. 

I will say that I’ve turned a corner on living healthfully. A few weeks ago, I made some lifestyle changes that I’m hoping that I can really commit to, and I’ve seen some change in a short period of time. I just need to keep moving forward with intention. 

I am going to start with today. Making a concerted effort to work on my path more often. Tracking my progress. Not let myself fall off and impede my own dreams. Not let fear keep me from things that I believe will make me really happy. 

Goals: be more present, more mindful. Be more dedicated. Get more sleep. Enjoy right now. 

Tomorrow isn’t promised, so it’s time to start acting like it. 

Trapped 

One of the things I love about my friends is their ability to bring the realness and also share their personal experiences and insights. I am thankful for the conversations that we have and the connections that we share. 

I am currently situated in the land of excuses. I make a lot of them. I’m tired. I’m working too much. I’m busy. I’m stressed. I have a social life. But I stray from the thing that I wish I did full-time on a daily basis. I wish that I was a full-time writer. I wish that I could devote my time and energy to the craft that I love. And yet I don’t. 

I find that I make every excuse in the book, and I think these excuses stem from fear. Fear of failure. Fear that I’ll never finish. Fear that whatever I complete will be completely inadequate. And this is all self-imposed. This is all as a result of my own choices. 

I ultimately choose not to carve out enough time to devote to my craft. I choose not to put myself and the things that I value first. I choose to make my obligations a priority over my dreams. And what does that say about my life? Am I choosing a job-turned career over the career that I really want? Are the successes I currently realize less important because they aren’t really what I want to be achieving? 

I’m conflicted. I’m torn between what I see as survival and what I see as happiness. And I don’t know how to pave the way toward what I want. Instead, I allow fear and doubt to hold me hostage somewhere where I am good, but not great. I’m settling. 

I don’t have answers to my questions outside of the obvious. I need to make more time. I just don’t know how to absolve the guilt of not giving “100%” to my current commitments. I haven’t figured out how to re-prioritize. 

I feel stuck, and I need to pull myself out of this place. 

Rum and Holly

This year, I’m spending the holidays with my family in the Caribbean.

Thus far, we’ve gotten lost on the island maybe three times, we’ve gone grocery shopping twice, we’ve cooked three meals, we had some amazing seafood, and we’ve gotten settled into our rental house. We’ve got a good amount of space, everyone can go to their respective areas when we need to get away from others, and the weather has been pretty perfect: just a little humid, breezy, and mostly sunny.

We’ve got small gifts for each other, with most of the goodies designated for my teenage niece. At least 5 alpha personalities are present, with one trying to lead the charge in determining what our daily plans will be. I find that highly annoying. I am on vacation; I don’t want anyone telling me how to relax.

I just want to sleep, and tan, and write, and laugh, and drink, and unplug. I don’t want to answer to anyone, and I don’t want to have a schedule. My first rule of vacation: no obligations. I skirt obligations so often already, why not try to curb them during my vacation time?

That being said, my ice is melting. Where’s the rum gone?

Flu-Ville

As we begin to prepare for the Polar Vortex, I started feeling under the weather over the weekend, but by Monday night, I was in a “man down” situation. Fever, chills, sore throat, aches, sinus pressure, and a building cough. Remedies: water, tea with honey, orange juice, soup, crackers, blankets and pillows, cold compresses, yoga sweats, throat lozenges, Advil. Eventually potato, pork, zucchini, and onion stew. Two fingers of whiskey. Tepid shower. I should note up front that this read may make absolutely no sense – I’m not near 100% yet. 
I’d gone into work on Monday, but by the time I made it home, I knew that I wasn’t going to feel better in the morning. Thankfully, I had stopped at the grocery store to pick up some soup and food items for The next couple of days. I originally wanted to just go straight home, but a coworker and I convinced each other to go to the market to get some things that we knew we needed. I’m glad that we had that talk, because I would have been completely ill-prepared for the next few days otherwise.

Waking up on Tuesday morning, I knew there was absolutely no way that I would be able to make it into the office, so I emailed my staff and colleagues to let them know. Then, I made some hot tea and poured a glass of orange juice. I wasn’t really in the mood for food, but I know that you have to nourish yourself when you’re sick. I ate a little bit of breakfast food, but my main objective was to try and bundle up enough to sweat out the fever. I bundled and got back into bed, hoping that I could break my fever with Advil  and water alone. I would fall asleep and wake up sweating and feverish, but it felt like something was working. Most of the day was spent in bed, but when I felt up to it I could got up to make a bowl of soup. Soup and another cup of hot tea, and some orange juice. Really, the last of the orange juice. There was no way I was leaving my cozy apartment though I really wanted more juice. 

Going to bed Tuesday night, I wasn’t clear on how much progress had been made, or whether I had for sure broken the fever, which would mean I am truly on the mend and not contagious. Waking up Wednesday morning, it was clear to me that the fever had not yet broken and that I was losing my voice from coughing. All of the coughing had my throat feeling like it was on fire, and I just wanted something cold that could soothe the pain and something warm that could ease the cough. When the fever finally broke, fits of coughing grew stronger. I am still achy and still coughing, but my fever is gone and I’m not coughing so badly. Much of my voice is gone, and I could use some more throat lozenges, but my throat doesn’t hurt as badly. 

Tomorrow I will be able to go into the office without worrying that I’m going to infect someone, I honestly believe that the worst of this flu has passed. But I think about the fact that I took care of myself without asking anybody for help, to come over or to bring anything, and I wonder if I didn’t ask anybody because I wanted to prove self-sufficiency or if I just didn’t want to be a burden. I could have asked for help, but it didn’t really cross my mind unless I thought about the juice shortage lol. 

Tomorrow morning, into the office I go with a raspy voice, a slight cough, and a few aches. But I will be there working in a much better situation, with much better circumstances, then I’ve had over the last couple of days. So now, if you sleep would kindly come join me, I hope we can make this night restful.

I am glad that this flu came on a week before I travel for Christmas with my family, and I am glad that I should be fine by the time I take my flight. I am grateful that the flu forced me to slow down and take a seat (or bed) to really rest. I don’t like getting sick, but sometimes, maybe our defenses get low so that we are forced to relax and recharge.

All things considered, I cannot wait for my little island holiday. My recommendations for anyone traveling would be to take lots of vitamin c, travel with sanitizing wipes, and stay hydrated. 

Tomorrow our lows are expected to drop to 15 degrees. My road to recovery is a hot ginger green tea with raw honey, lots of layers, and a bottle of Smartwater. 

Building Better Habits

I’ve been allowing too much time to pass me by, not only when it comes to writing, but with life in general. I have too many goals to hide behind the guise of being too busy, too tired, over-committed, or unable to focus. 

I keep waiting for someone to come along and allow me the opportunity to cook, teach, write, be active, love, volunteer, save, and practice self-care. Waiting, as if I can’t take a step forward and open these doors myself. Waiting, perhaps more out of a fear of failure than anything else. I keep waiting, but it’s time. 

If you want to create a positive habit, you have to make a routine and set out to complete it every day. No excuses. No waiting. No one is coming to do it for you or for me. Open the doors, and move forward. Even if the routine is built and completed on faith every day, each completion is a successful piece of the positive habit routine structure being built and solidified. As the routine becomes habit, confidence and contentment build. 

Anything is possible. Now tackle the blank book. 

Big Magic

I think about writing all the time, but I’m not getting to it. I need to improve the amount of time I allow myself for things pertaining to myself: health, sanity, and need to write.

A fellow writer is going into creative coaching. She said if you read one of three books on her list, and you still hadn’t found the motivation to practice your craft, you need her services. Ironically, one of those three books has been sitting on my dining table for about three weeks.

Guess I’d better pick it up and get to work. For me.

Sunday Rest

There is something about a truly restorative weekend – one where you get everything done that you need to accomplish, you enjoy quality time with good people, you have something decadent, you rest, and you feel prepared for the week ahead. Your living space feels de-cluttered and free of chaos. You expressed yourself in some creative way.

I don’t typically have this experience, but this is always the goal. More often than not, the only way I could accomplish all of this would be with an extended weekend. Even a three-day weekend feels short. Definitely works if we institute a four-day weekend.

A three-day workweek may not be very long, but I can tell you this: if I was looking forward to a four-day weekend, I’d be incredibly productive.

Though much of my time this weekend was eaten up by travel, I got to spend quality time with some good friends, have a good cigar and some cocktails, enjoy the sunshine on a beautiful Sunday, run some errands, and relax while watching my team in the playoffs. Maybe I didn’t get as much accomplished as I would have liked, and I didn’t necessarily prep for the week the way I’d like to, but I got in many of the good things. I didn’t check my work email too often, I laughed and had some really thought-provoking conversation, and I got to see some friendly faces.

One particular conversation touched on important aspects of life that matter most: finances, personal health, and friends/family. Though these things may seem narrow, they’re really umbrellas for career, personal goals, happiness, autonomy, etc. The other stuff is just ancillary. It was nice to feel like someone else related to that. Those three are enough to juggle, without worrying about outside factors that can certainly be complementary but aren’t necessities.

There are a lot of things you can’t control, but within these three categories, there is more than enough to focus on. Let the other stuff fall into place.

A Case of the Smondays

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This Smonday feeling is a phenomenon, truly. My worst sleep is on a Sunday night, because I can’t stop adding to my mental to-do list.

There’s so many things to get done in the next week, so I try to think through them and prioritize. Fitting calls in between meetings. Students stopping by. Anticipating random distractions and interruptions.

Whomever finds a cure for a case of the Smondays will be very rich indeed.