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.

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.

Good News

I’m one of those “happy by association” kind of people. Even on days when I feel I’ve been completely dragged through the mud, I can find joy in seeing a friend realize triumph.

It’s not that I don’t continue to experience my own circumstances; rather, I see them accomplishing some form of success, and I’m reminded that there really is a light at the end of the tunnel. Life is just a succession of tunnels. Some of them curve, some of them go on for much longer than we can really stand being in confined spaces, and others we pass through so quickly that we don’t even realize we were ever in a dark place. These happy moments experienced by others are like a brief glimmer, or even a skylight, along whatever tunnel I’m traveling through. Answered prayers are fantastic bursts of light.

I have a friend with a new work opportunity, another with a beautiful baby on the way (who is going to be ridiculously stylish), and most areas of my life are pretty good right now. Things aren’t perfect me, but I don’t think I ever expect perfect — that would just be setting up for failure.

My rollercoaster of a dating life is probably one of the tunnels I’ve been traveling lately. It’s been a really long time since I’ve been in anything significant, and that’s been weighing on me. Four years since my last relationship that got anywhere near the “L” word, and everything since has been so obviously temporary.

Even the latest muse. Fun when he’s around, but for the most part he isn’t anywhere to be found. I know his circumstances, and though I enjoy his company, I’m not expecting much. He’s not ready. Highly unlikely that anything serious will develop, so more than anything, I find myself looking out the window and wondering what’s next for me. That I was in a long-term relationship for the length of my 20’s, am I going to spend the whole of my 30’s alone?

I don’t want to force anything, and I don’t want to rush. I actually enjoy my own company, so I’m not looking for someone to fill my entire calendar. I just get tired of waking up alone every morning, coming home to an empty apartment every night. Everyone who checks on me is at least a few hundred miles away, for the most part. I’m not isolated the way I was in New Orleans, but I do recognize the value I put on real friendships, and those aren’t always easy to forge the more “mature” we get.

Even feeling a bit lonely myself, I’ve been over-the-moon happy for my friends. I’ve been praying for the both of them, and I know they’ve been through so much to get to these incredible moments. Through their experiences, they remind me to be humble, to appreciate what I already have, and to exude the positive energy that I want to come into my life. They give me perspective when it escapes me, though they probably have no idea the impact their experiences have had on me.

I will be just fine, no matter what. Even if I end up an old spinster with a million crocheted blankets or a houseful of cats. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel, but I think being present and having the peace of mind to enjoy someone else finding the end of their tunnel can, in turn, keep us moving forward until we find the end of ours.

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.

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.

Work Sweet Home

I worked a twelve hour day today, but I would have stayed longer. In my quest to prove to myself that I am not a workaholic, and to feel a little more settled at my new job, working a long day doesn’t exactly help me feel like I have an appropriate work/life balance.

I had every intention of leaving at the close of business, but meetings ran long, and then students and colleagues kept popping in to say hello. My boss stopped by on her way out. People just kept coming, but it felt good. I’m slowly working my way into normalcy; I’m no longer just occupying someone else’s chair. Folks seem to be adjusting to me being there, and I’m finding that I’m breathing a little easier.

There are certainly some folks that I can see have their doubts, either given my age or their feelings about my office in general, but I’ve gained a lot of support. I’m still new enough to feel some level of trepidation and a need to prove myself, but I think that’s good for now. I’m not looking for a pat on the head; rather, I want to create a network of colleagues and resources that will help me achieve my goals.

Balancing work and personal life is certainly easier some days more than others, but I am making more time for myself. Getting out to SoulCycle or to take a yoga class, enjoying the local cigar lounge, meeting up with friends for wine and tapas, or even just having a nice glass of bourbon at home with my laptop on and a movie playing in the background. Dating, sure, that happens once in a while. I don’t see it as a high priority, but I think that’s primarily because I don’t want anything that feels forced. It will happen when the time is right.

People are always going to have their opinions and think that they could live your life, or do your job, better than you could. They think this without having your background, circumstances, vulnerabilities, or strengths. And they will come with criticisms, or wanting you to learn from their mistakes, or throw shade at whatever they perceive to be weakness. They meddle because they just can’t help themselves. They have control issues, they can’t handle whatever their own problems are so they project on you, or they see you as a threat.

At the end of the day, so what? No one can live your life but you.