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.

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.

Insatiable Reading

Read.

Sometimes I find myself more ready to read other works than write my own. But I love it. Smut, murder mysteries, memoirs, autobiographies, historical pieces… I’ve always been a book worm.

I hope that some day someone looks forward to my pieces as much as I do those of other writers.

Protect Writing Days

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Err on the side of writing. Meetings will always be there.

Balancing Work and Goals

Had an interesting conversation yesterday about ambitions and goals, about balancing work/career with those goals, and about prioritizing self. Seems like I often have these conversations, but I enjoy the fresh perspective.

Funny how we can think about all of the possibilities for future, but when we are present, we’re not necessarily focused on taking the steps to make possibilities reality. At least I don’t always do that. Is it avoidance? Is it wavering confidence? Is it laziness?

So what if you’re tired or haven’t had a weekend off for over a month? Won’t the long days/nights be worth if it you realize your dreams? How do we accomplish goals that we’re not working to achieve? Can’t keep putting them off for another day.

I ask myself questions sometimes, not to get down on myself or to punish, but instead because I need to hear answers. Those answers become mantra. Positive affirmations that help me stay motivated and energized.

Maybe there isn’t the need for a muse or any exterior nudge, but those things inspire me in a way that I have a hard time finding otherwise. But that really shouldn’t matter. Just make it work.

Small Victories

Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.” —Enid Bagnold

I’ve blogged more this month than I have in years, since my Xanga days, and I already have a few more posts planned. Feeling pretty accomplished right now, and feeling even better that I have this outlet back. Steps closer to meeting my goals, and feeling more motivated to get this book finished and off to be published.

As I continue to do my research, I continue to learn the right and wrong ways to move forward. I set up a disclosure page to make sure that I’m in compliance as an affiliate, and I’m reading up on all things writing. ALL things. It’s overwhelming, but I’m enjoying the process.

Flu Season and Reference Blogs

I’m feverish and achy, and I barely moved at all today. I’ve gotten tons of sleep, and I have been drinking fluids, but I just want the dull aches across my back and flushed face/neck to cease. Now is not the time to get sick.

Since I stayed home today, I’ve been reading tons of reference blogs through Pinterest between naps. Blogs on writing novels, on monetizing blogs, on word counts, on motivation, and on burnout. Many thanks to shesnovel.com, thewritepractice.com, and nownovel.com for their insights. I feel encouraged, though I know that I’m going to have to push myself and be more disciplined with my craft.

I suppose this discipline isn’t far off from the discipline needed to lose weight. Starting a new practice, eating right, making time for exercise, and being patient with self. For writing, making time to write, making time to read, scheduling out the time to make writing a daily practice, and being patient with self. Not all days can go as planned, but without any plan, what will we successfully achieve?

Frankly, I could use more discipline in each of these areas, so I decided to create a schedule for the week that incorporates activity, writing, and  a chance at a good night’s rest. I’ve started really utilizing my WP editorial calendar, and I’ve created two writing calendars through Google Calendar (one for book, one for blog). I’m going to see if I can impress upon myself some good habits.

Keep calm and keep writing, friends.

Valentine’s Day

This post has been sponsored by Amazon and SiteGround, but all opinions expressed here are my own.

Such an interesting day. I get that Valentine’s Day is a manufactured holiday — one that benefits the card, candy, and floral companies — but I am enamored with any day specifically purposed for love.

I’ve never understood the folks who hate Valentine’s Day or the ones who celebrate “Singles Awareness Day.” Even if you don’t have a significant other to celebrate the day with, you have a special someone: you. Self-love is a real thing — a necessary thing — and I’ve never understood the amount of self-loathing that takes place on this day in particular.

Being single on Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean you’re a failure or that you should hide under a rock for the next 24 hours. A little self-love goes a long way. Pamper yourself. Go get a massage, buy yourself your own flowers or chocolate (just don’t eat the whole box). I used to send myself my favorite chocolates on Valentine’s Day as a reminder that it’s not really a big deal. Don’t allow the only way for you to feel special about yourself to be controlled by someone else. You can (and should) do that for yourself.

How do I spend the day? This weekend, I’ve been curling up with some good books, watching movies, I’ve been cooking and organizing the apartment, hosted a dinner, went to the salon, and I’ve enjoyed the peace and quiet. I love long weekends, and I am enjoying making my apartment a home. This doesn’t sound like some adventure-filled weekend, but it has been everything I’ve needed it to be. I’m relaxed, in good spirits, and I’ve removed some of the chaos at home (by cleaning and organizing my storage room). This may not be romantic love, but self-love is abundant.

Recently, I finished a book by Adriana Trigiani, entitled Brava Valentine: A Novel. Though the title is appropriate for this weekend, it’s not actually about Valentine’s Day. Rather, the heroine (Valentine) navigates a trilogy in pursuit of professional success, family business stability, love, and (in my opinion) self-realization. Through her missteps, she learns about what she wants for herself. Though she’s taken great pride in her work, she has an ah-ha moment and discovers that she really does want to be loved. She didn’t trust that honest love or passion were really possible, primarily as a result of familial infidelities.

Through the novel, the beauty of Italian country, good food, and funny quips come through. Brava Valentine is the second book in the trilogy, so I’m excited to read the third installment, The Supreme Macaroni Company: A Novel. As a writer, nothing gets me more amped up to write than reading a good book.

I’ve also spent a lot of time this weekend trying to optimize this site; to make this site really work for me. I’m so glad that I decided to self-host my domain, and that Siteground has been the absolute best choice for me. Though WordPress recommended Bluehost, I thought their service was awful, the attempt at transferring my domain was rough, and that maybe the company doesn’t have enough staff to truly support such a huge WP constituency.

Moving over to Siteground came with more than really responsive service. It also opens up the world of plugins, which you cannot use if you’re hosted on WordPress.com. Opening up the worlds of Adsense, affiliate programs, the editorial calendar, and a ton of options makes this process a little overwhelming but a lot gratifying. Taking 100% onus of the site means that it can be done my way, can make me money, can have whatever content I need. This part of my writing journey is coming together, which frees up more time and focus for my books. Finally.

Web Hosting

Rededication

It feels like all of my time and energy goes to work, and hardly any time is put back into my writing.  If I were to hit the lottery some day, I would choose to write full time, but I feel like I could be doing more now to do what I love.  I’ve always been like my parents; I work hard, trying to earn my keep, and I put in more time than is probably necessary.  But it’s a part of how I was raised, and it’s a tough habit to break.  How do I reprogram my inner workaholic to prioritize my writing?

I need to get back to what I love.  Writing — in all forms — is what I want to do.  Guess I’d better make time for it then.

Days of Xanga

I first started blogging 11 years ago on Xanga.  I needed an outlet to handle my grief from my sister passing away, and the best way for me to deal with my feelings is to write about it.

One friend in particular has been with me the entire way — she was my first follower, understood what I was going through, and we’ve never lost contact.  Over brunch yesterday, we reminisced to our Xanga days, when we blogged daily and had a consistent following.  How much easier it was then, how blogging made so much sense.  Since then, we’ve both created new blogs, on multiple interfaces, but we’ve continued to follow each other, though our blogging is far less consistent.

The followers that we had weren’t in huge droves, but they were consistent.  They commented, they kept up with our daily lives, and we kept up with theirs.  We had true connections, rather than a bunch of strangers reading random lines and losing interest because there weren’t regular updates.

I want to get back to the Xanga days.  One thing that I can say is that daily blogging, even about random events or feelings, is that I had a sense of clarity.  I slept better.  Even if I didn’t go shouting from the rooftops all of my feelings and frustrations, they were on the page.  I had expressed myself, talked through it.  Maybe someone commented, maybe they didn’t.  Maybe someone could relate.  At the end of the day, it didn’t matter, because I’d dealt with whatever was going on and moved forward.  I slept better because I wasn’t going over the details repeatedly in my head.

I work hard at my job, but I’ve been neglecting my first love: writing.  I put so much time and effort into my work that I am too tired to write.  I use the excuse that I was brought up that way; trained and groomed to work hard and put my best foot forward.  But I think about what I would love to have time to do every day for the rest of my life, and it’s not work – it’s write.  If I want to do what I love to do, I guess I need to make more of an effort.  I can’t publish a book that’s never finished.

Time to renew the motivation, the commitment.  In doing so, my hope is that I’ll restore the connection with my readers (though not huge numbers) that I valued so much.  Time to return to writing.