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.

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?

Let it Snow

I’ve been looking out of the windows in search of snow. Is it wrong to say that I’ve been hoping for a snow day?

 

There’s something restorative about a cold day that you get to spend relaxing indoors, enjoying the quiet and a good book, or watching a movie with a cup of hot chocolate. Maybe it’s because I’m a winter baby myself, and I love cold weather, or maybe it’s just the magic of snow. This time of year is my favorite; bundling up in scarves and coats, the spice of egg nog, the carols and lights.

 

Friends tease me, saying that I haven’t experienced enough “real” winter yet, and perhaps they’re right. To me, snow is still magical. It’s clean, it’s  cold, and it’s so beautiful. A mesmerizing effort toward the renewal that is spring.

 

Maybe the key here is renewal. I’m always in search of that. Ever the tumbleweed, I can’t even count how many times I’ve started over. Always on the lookout for change.

 

Change will come either way.

Don’t Speak 

I ran into that same man again at the cigar lounge, the one that calls me “Sweetie.” Mind you, it’s been weeks since I first encountered him. I’ve seen him since that first meeting, but this is the first time that he talked to me.
I still have a negative feeling when I see him, so I stay away from him. I focus on my friends, my drink, my cigar. I have zero interest in making this man an ally. So what is the first word out of his mouth as he addresses me? “Sweetie.” Who’s surprised? He says, “Sweetie, where did my friend go? Are you two leaving?”

This time, he had a friend standing with him. I looked him in the eye and I made sure to enunciate as I spoke. “My name is…” 

He rolled his eyes, grabs my hand to shake it, and says, “I’m sorry for calling you sweetie, you’re not sweetie at all, nothing about you is sweetie.” And he is right. Nothing about me is sweetie. For him. 

I don’t give him a reaction, because he isn’t worth it. I think I actually walked away while he was mid-sentence. The other guys tell me he is drunk, but that really isn’t my problem or concern. That isn’t a free pass to act any way you want, or to talk to anyone any way you want. 

I literally cannot stand him. I vented, left (which I was already in the process of doing), and I sincerely hope this man learns to keep his distance from me. 

Ugh. 

How Not to Approach a Woman

I had a strange encounter last week, and I was surprised at how irritated I became.

I frequent local cigar lounges, and I’m most often a visitor at one within my own neighborhood. Can’t beat the proximity. As a woman who enjoys an occasional cigar and a glass of good scotch or bourbon, I have no problem visiting these establishments on my own – I don’t need an entourage to feel comfortable in my own skin. Especially when visiting the bar in my neighborhood, I enjoy being alone, because I’ve created a sense of respite there.

Though I enjoy my alone time, I am a social being, and I can enjoy conversation with almost anyone. Almost. I do find, at times, that being a woman in a cigar lounge is viewed by some as crossing into the inner-sanctum of Man Time. The women present acknowledge each other without issue, most likely because we see strength in numbers. The men turn their heads and observe every instance of femininity in the room. We’re watched, often judged, and then incessantly questioned about our choices. Surely we’ve come to the wrong place, or so they think.

During my encounter, I sat alone at the end of the bar watching Copa America. I was smoking a good cigar and was nursing a glass of scotch. I was texting a couple friends (and possibly posting a picture on Snapchat). The bartenders know me by name, and I’ve settled into a comfortable routine at this establishment.

A man arrived and sat a few seats away, at the corner where he could face my left side, addressing me as “Sweetie” and “Sweetheart.” Clearly, it never occurred to him to actually introduce himself or ascertain what I might like to be called. He asked me if he could borrow my lighter, as he’d forgotten his own. After I slid my torch lighter (freshly full of butane) down the bar to him, he asked me if my lighter even worked. His question caught me off guard, and I simply turned to look at him as I puffed my well-lit cigar.

He scrutinized the lighter and watched me for reactions. He lit his cigar and slid the lighter back to me. “Thank you, Sweetie.” By this time, I was having a visceral reaction to this man. I winced at “Sweetie” and “Sweetheart.” The more he watched me — judged me — the more I felt my eye wanting to twitch. I turned my attention back to my phone.

“So I notice you’re smoking a cigar. And what is that, bourbon or Scotch?”

“Yep. Scotch.” I said. I find that when I don’t like something, I either shut down or get extremely vocal. My preference is to shut down; I don’t want to make a scene. What I wanted to say was, “Why is any of this your concern?”

“How long have you smoked cigars?” He asked suspiciously.

“A few years now.” I didn’t want to engage in conversation, so I responded to a few text messages from friends.

“I see. So a cigar smoker and scotch drinker. What is it you like about cigars anyway?” His eyes narrowed at me, and my irritation grew.

“I just like them, hard to explain. Why do you smoke cigars?” I looked at him, I’m sure exasperation was all over my face, but he ignored my question because he wanted to continue evaluating me. I didn’t bother trying to give him a real answer; I wasn’t actually interested in continuing the conversation.

“Are you texting all of your friends? You sure do seem to like to be on your phone.” He puffed his cigar and watched me.

“I’m texting a few friends, not all. I call it being responsive.” I didn’t bother trying to hide my annoyance.

“So you would rather talk to your friends than talk to me?” What I couldn’t quite recognize is that this man actually thought he was flirting with me, that I should be impressed and grateful for his attention.

I maintained eye contact with my phone, responding to messages as they came in. I sent a text to one of my friends asking them to continue texting me, because I was being harassed by an older man.

I think “harassed” is the right word. I’ve been reduced to pet names, had my equipment insulted, and had my very presence questioned. Surely, I couldn’t be a regular, a real cigar smoker, or have a real appreciation for brown liquor. Surely, I didn’t belong in a cigar lounge.

Before he could ask another question, a couple walked up to greet him. They sat to my left, leaving one seat between us, and provided a slight barrier between myself and this man. The couple greeted me, and I exchanged pleasantries and a smile before returning my attention to my cigar and my phone. They seemed fine.

The man wasn’t finished though. He ranted to his friends about millennials, how they couldn’t hold a decent conversation and all they cared about was their technology. His friends looked at me, understanding the complaints were made about me, and then I had three people watching for my reaction. I gave none, which apparently confused them more, only fueling the man. His male friend asked me if I was okay, and I said yes. His female friend asked me if they were bothering me, and I said no. I’d just had a long day.

Friendly servers and managers walked by, and I greeted them, laughed, and talked freely with them. I could see the man redden, because it was clear I just didn’t have interest in talking to him. Two more of his friends joined him, sitting around the corner of the bar, though these two had some relationship issues going on. The man continued to watch me; I could feel his eyes on me as I enjoyed my cigar and ordered a second drink.

Another friend joined their group, a man I’d seen before. Before my scrutinizer could say anything, the man introduced himself to me, asked my name, said he remembered my face from a few different times in the lounge. We shook hands and smiled, I remembered his name, and he asked me if I minded whether he sat next to me. I told him I didn’t mind, and the man at the corner of the bar fumed while my new friend and I made easy small talk. There was even a bit of light flirting.

The new addition to the bar tried to include me in conversations that his friends were having, so I spoke up when asked (they were talking about O.J.), and he and I continued our own conversation. I didn’t want to invite his friend to begin asking me another barrage of questions.

Perhaps I was being petty, but I made sure to hug my neighbor as I called it a night. I left earlier than I’d planned, but I didn’t like the change in energy when the man came in, and I’d had enough. I spoke to everyone at my end of the bar but the man, and I really didn’t care how rude that made me look.

On my way out, I told a host and a manager (two of my friends) what transpired. Though I certainly could have said something or moved further down the bar, and they both knew the guy to be a jerk, I decided to laugh off an awkward encounter and make a mental note to keep my eye out for him in the future. Thankfully, I haven’t seen him since.

There is a way that you can talk to a woman without demeaning her, questioning her, or making her feel like she shouldn’t have knowledge or experience simply because she is female. Just because you are a man and you ask a question, you are not entitled to a response, regardless of your age or stature. We aren’t here to be your entertainment, to be studied, or to be presumed ignorant because we choose to do something that isn’t innately feminine. You aren’t owed an explanation and we don’t need your approval.

It’s none of your business, I’m not your sweetie, and if we cross paths again, I’ll tell you so. Please don’t kill my vibe.

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.