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.

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.

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.

Revisiting Storms

As I get to know my new colleagues — my counterparts– I find that we connect well, we team together often, and we agree on management styles, productivity, and creating policy. We fight the drama together, and we keep each other supported. I like this team.

Due to past experiences, I’ve taken my time getting to know them, having heard various accounts of their personalities and supposed tactics from my predecessor. I chose to form my own opinions under the belief that one person’s experiences don’t dictate the experiences of another. This decision certainly opened opportunities for us to bond and form new understandings based on our interactions.

Over lunch this week, the team began to share about family and grief, blogging and forms of therapy and detox. Another colleague mentioned journaling using the 750 Words app, so I shared that I’ve been blogging for 13 years now. That what started off as a purely organic mind dump each day, to lighten the burden on my shoulders, became my refuge for taking down the weight in exchange for a couple hundred words.

I shared my grief gingerly, unsure how it would be received by my colleagues, but they’ve been incredibly supportive and kind; they have been open and generous. The story has so many levels, intricately woven together to recount what happened when my sister died, how my parents were affected, and what I kept to myself.

After sharing, I was proud of myself,  mostly because I didn’t cry as I recounted what happened in the accident and during trial. I didn’t cry as I explained the effect of such a loss on my family. My colleagues were the epitome of support. Asking questions where they felt comfortable, offering short-term resolutions that could prove helpful.

I’m just grateful that we could connect, that they were respectful and kind, and honestly, that they have a greater understanding of how I operate and why I do what I do for my students. This was accomplished without a breakdown, or even a tear, in a solemn conversation that felt safe and delicately handled.

I can’t complain. Missing her is always heavy, but being able to tell others about her lovely personality and all her goals brings me a great deal of comfort.

Good talk.

Write. Good, Bad or Ugly.

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Even if you can’t write on the level you’d hoped today, you still can write. Get something on the page, edit it later if you need, but get ink on the page.

Just press play!

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.

Embracing the Present

Ever have those days that just feel good? Not everything went perfect, but you leave feeling like you were effective, productive… competent even.

I’ve been dealing with some health challenges, asking a lot of questions without receiving any answers. Having a day like today made me forget about all of these nagging questions and worries. I’ve been praying, affirming, breathing deeply, and just reminding myself that I can handle whatever comes. I did ask a couple of friends to pray for me, but I’m determined not to be phased.

I don’t like to ask for much more than a prayer, and I don’t intend to now. Perhaps this is pride, or some other character flaw, but it’s how I am. I don’t want people worrying about me. Honestly, I don’t want to worry about me. Worry is stressful, and we don’t need that.

But you know what? It’s Friday. I’ve got osso bucco and gnocchi braising on the stove, I’ve got some good books to start this weekend, some writing exercises to get through, a nail spa pampering session scheduled, and there’s good wine ready for pouring (which will be followed by great bourbon). Let’s savor and really be present in this energy and this moment.

Let time slow down just for a couple days… One can hope, anyway.