Lessons Learned: The Adult College Life, Overachiever Version

If you’ve been with me on this journey of mine for any amount of time, you know I pride myself in being an overachiever. I’ve always been driven and when I find something I want, I make it happen. I don’t know how, it’s just the way I’m wired.

A current glimpse of the large things I’m juggling include full time job where I daily get handed new processes to develop from nothing, motherhood/parenting/spouse duties otherwise known as adulting, full time college, League of Utah Writers chapter president and state board duties including developing a new position for conference committee chairman, finishing my current novel. This is my baseline as I like to think of it.

I’m halfway through my second term of college – the one big thing that I’ve added and arguably the biggest thing I’ve taken on in a while. Terms are 9 weeks long, with one class at a time considered part time, two classes full time. The first term I eased in with a single class – English Composition I. It took a few weeks to figure out how to adjust my schedule and allow enough study time to complete the assignments on time but the material was easy-peasy. Because it was writing. By midterms I was feeling like a pro and I sailed through the rest of the term.

Arguably this probably gave me a false sense of how “easy” it was going to be to transition to full time the next term.

Second term (the one I’m currently in the middle of) I took the planned leap and committed to full time. Honestly I don’t know if I can maintain this load, but I also don’t want to have to deal with school for longer than I have to so I’m sucking it up and dealing with the insanity in order to get it done as quickly as possible. What did my counselor and I determine would be the best options for me? The only things left in my first year requirements, of course. What were these two classes? English Composition II – how hard could it be given how easy the first one was – and Applied Finite Mathmatics – the one and only required math class I have.

You can see how I was lulled into a false sense of how easy this term was going to be, can’t you? What I have found is that it is NOTHING like I thought it would be. My second English Comp class is a research paper – which doubled how long it takes to do every assignment compared to last term. And math? Math that was touted as the easiest option for me is like having to learn a foreign language. And has lectures that doubled the amount of time I had anticipated I would need for each week.

All this gave me a level of stress the first week that I’m sure you can imagine. I thought I knew but I didn’t know and it took a couple of weeks to adjust – again – to what my expectations were compared to the reality that I had.

Which is when my inability to say no came back to bite me in the ass. Hard.

Ten months ago – long before I ever dreamed I’d be back in college – I said yes to something and then promptly forgot about it since it was a future project. Plenty of time to think about it later. In other words, perfect storm perfectly set up.

Week three of this, my first full-time term, corresponded to the deadline of this project I’d committed to last year. In a week of school insanity, I had to also read 500 pages of writing to judge the submissions most worthy, in my opinion, to be included in an anthology. In fairness, I had two weeks to complete this reading but I burned the first week suffering from my annual fall-allergies-feels-like-a-cold sickness that had me completely unproductive.

I got through it but not without missing many of my deadlines. Two of my assignments were late and I blew the deadline for my selections to the editor by almost a week. But I got it all done. I had many a meltdown and felt completely overwhelmed on too many occasions that week, but I got it done. My children and husband survived, barely, despite the raging stress-ball of crazy that the uber-sleep deprived version of me turned into.

Lesson learned: don’t put off thinking of the future projects that are looming when you’re operating this close to the upper limit of capacity every day. I’m now pouring over my memory banks for other time bombs of “yes, I can do that and I’ll think about the ‘how’ later” that might be waiting for me up ahead.

For now, I’m afloat, and optimistic that I really can do all of this, even though – for the first time ever – I wake up in the morning and wonder if I’ve bitten off more than I am capable of this time. Stay tuned for updates!

 


Ghost Hunting with the Horror Writers

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Photo Credit: Callie Stoker

Last Friday night the Utah chapter of the Horror Writers Association went on a paranormal investigation at the Benson Grist Mill with the Pod Goblins. I caught my first EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) on audio – currently waiting (impatiently of course) for the professionals to clean it up and figure out the entire message but there’s definitely a man’s voice that starts out saying what sounds like ‘Hello’. The thing about EVPs are that you only hear them after you play back the audio, not when its happening real time. I can’t describe hearing that voice the first time. I still get goosebumps!

Once I get the audio back, I’ll post it here with a full write-up.

In the meantime, one of the other Horror Writers, Caryn Larrinaga, who experienced ghost hunting for the first time that night, did a full write-up. Some of her experiences were shared ones with me so I asked her if I could link my readers back to her site for a little taste of what the night entailed. Check it out here: http://carynlarrinaga.com/blog/2016/10/16/ghost-hunting .


Fall Conference 2016 Recap

What a weekend and what a crowning jewel of an event for this incredible year of the League of Utah Writers. As a committee, we faced many challenges. Biggest of which was having to change both dates and venues mid-year when it was announced that Salt Lake Comic Con was happening the same weekend the Fall Conference was also planned for.

We picked a new venue – with a price tag far higher than originally anticipated – and got to work. It was my first experience on a planning committee for an event this size and it amazes me the things we got done in the three months from our first meeting until the event itself. I was officially the vendor coordinator and kudos must be given to the incredible people who volunteered their time during the weekend to make sure things ran smoothly. They all helped me make it look effortless.

I took only random photos which speaks volumes to how busy I was the entire weekend. It was not my first time as a panelist but it was my first time doing solo presentations and I had a blast. It was humbling when both the room was full and people came up afterwards to either ask questions or tell me they were sorry they’d missed one because they’d heard it was great.

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Commemorating the event with badges for my collection

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Observing the Diversity Panel – which included three friends who did amazing jobs

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We may or may not have gotten a little lit after a very long day. I blame the wine guy at the restaurant who really knew his stuff!

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Best wine I’ve ever had!

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We were so hungry we devoured dinner before I could get a photo of how pretty it was. This is the devastation

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Sitting next to a fellow Infinite Monkey during a powerful presentation on the mindset of money. Had to snap a pic!2016-09-23-14-23-43

The very first panel I was ever on was at a League event and this guy was there. Now he’s a trusted colleague and a great friend. This is us right before the panel on Horror – our favorite subject!

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The “after party” playing makeshift version of Avalon – my new favorite game.

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Passing of the gavel at the end of the banquet. Capping off a great year and looking ahead to more greatness to come.

I’m so proud to be part of the League of Utah Writers – it is an amazing organization.


Author Interview at “Idea Creations” today

I did an interview with Kathryn Elizabeth Jones. Check it out HERE. It was a fun interview and I thank Kathryn for having me!


League of Utah Writers Fall Conference 2016

I’m excitedly preparing for yet another event that has taken a bunch of my time and which I should have said no to. But I couldn’t say no and I don’t regret any part of my involvement in the planning of this upcoming event. The League of Utah Writers has been around for over 80 years and this is the premiere event of the annual calendar. This year’s conference is being held in Provo, Utah September 23-24. It’s going to be a fabulous weekend and I’m scheduled as a presenter on both days of the conference.fallconfluwfinal

Because I’m a tad on the obsessive side when it comes to details (and I have mad skills with a spreadsheet) I got to put together the programming lineup after the committee picked the presentation proposals that would make up the conference. As a result, there is only one offering of the major class tracks during each hour. Which means if you’re there to learn about publishing, genre fiction, marketing, non-fiction or poetry you won’t have to miss anything. Craft classes are offered a couple of times an hour with lost of variety and we’ve got a sprinkling of self-development and other treats. Of course if you want a smorgasbord of everything I can’t really help you there other than to offer condolences since all the classes look fantastic.

The theme this year is “Write Here. Right now”. To support this we have a lounge planned where writers can rest, connect with each other, participate in word sprints, jot down their inspiration from a recent workshop or panel, or work on submissions for the flash fiction contest. In so many ways I wish I wasn’t part of the committee who will be responsible for running the event so I could sit back and enjoy as a full participant. I’m honored to be part of such a community that is going through a revitalization period focused on inclusion and community. Writing is a solitary activity but it doesn’t have to be.

Here’s my schedule (subject to change of course…)

How to Scare Your Audience Panel – Friday 2:30PM

Short Stories: How and Why Presentation – Saturday 10:00AM

Maximizing Your Writing Time Panel – Saturday 11:00AM

Writing Groups 101 Presentation – Saturday 4:30PM

 

If you’re a local writer who is interested in attending, you can get details and register HERE.


Bittersweet Priorities

It was exactly a year ago I was making official appearances at events like Steamfest and gearing up for Comic Con – approaching now in three weeks. Instead of being at Steamfest this weekend with many of my writing friends, I was fulfilling commitments to family and friends. It’s tempting to look at a small snapshot – this time last year vs. this year – and be sad that I’m missing out.

In the past year, I had another story published, became highly involved in the League of Utah Writers, and continued writing. I was promoted at my day job, returned to college and now have two competitive dancing daughters instead of one. But I’m not at Steamfest and I’m not scheduled as a special guest at Comic Con.

It is tempting to wallow in all the fun that I’m missing. Fear that my absence at these events this year will look to the public like I was some kind of flash in the pan that has already faded away. All very human nature reactions.

I’d be lying if I didn’t have moments of these kinds of fears.

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However, I’m also a realist who is very good at pulling myself up by the boot strings (or putting on my big girl panties if you prefer that cliche over the other) whenever those moments creep up on me.

No, I was not a guest at Steamfest this weekend. No, I am not a scheduled guest at Comic Con this year.

BUT…

I AM almost done writing one kick ass novel – if I don’t say so myself. One that at least one acquisitions editor already wants to see when it’s finished. It isn’t my first novel, but it is the first I’m proud enough of to find an agent and a publisher for. This alone is epic.

I just successfully facilitated one of the premier events of the summer for the League of Utah Writers – an advanced workshop on querying that brought together professional agents and editors to give inside secrets to others like me ready to find homes for their work.

I am on the planning committee for the League of Utah Writers Fall Conference coming up next month. It will be a two-day conference unlike any the organization has put on before. Two full days of presentations from industry professionals with new and exciting content that no one has seen before in the Utah writing community.

My chapter of speculative fiction writers is still growing and folks who come to check us out seem to stick around. It’s a sign that we are offering all the things that I was looking for in a local community group several years ago, back when I was at the cusp of being published and needing to leave my solitary writer existence. This writer gig is a lonely life but it doesn’t have to be. I’m thrilled that, for some, our group is a beacon in the dark while on their own journey.

I’m going to attend Comic Con, helping represent both the League and our local chapter of the Horror Writers Association, but I have to pay my way in the door. So what. I’m also not obligated to dress up in cosplay which was never my thing to begin with.

My husband, who is not only supportive but exceedingly indulgent when it comes to all the time I take away from our family to make my dreams of being an author a reality, is also my voice of reason. Recently, while I was lamenting that I wasn’t going to be at all the events this year, he reminded me that I’ve been doing more important work that none of the rest of it would matter without: I’ve been writing. And I need to keep doing that more than I need to go to events.

The life of a writer is a mental exercise of self-motivation, full of more rejection than success. The drive to keep going when the odds are stacked as highly as they are against every one of us is enviable. If you have it, even a tiny inkling of it, it must be nurtured.

Instead of worrying or obsessing about all the differences that this weekend has over last year, I’m focusing on what my main goal is: novels with my name on the cover. As long as what I do every day, every week, puts me further down the path that leads there, then I’m doing the right things.

As bittersweet as it is, I know that not being at Steamfest or Comic Con doesn’t mean I’m not still doing the things that matter. Without having written books that people want to read, there’s no reason for me to be there anyway. So I’ll keep plugging along. My fear of missing out be damned!


Messing with my brainwaves… literally

Some may call me melodramatic. I’ve been known to earn the title on occasion, it’s true. But this is not one of those times. I recently lost my way because of a silly app with enough real science behind it to be at least slightly dangerous.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning…

Hubby is the world’s lightest sleeper and has a white noise machine. When he was working night shift, it was an essential part of his sleep routine including piping it in through headphones while he slept in order to drown out the daytime noises. Now that he and I sleep at the same time again, at NIGHT, when the rest of the world is also quiet, he hasn’t been using it.

Months ago a friend gushed about this app she uses to train her brain for all sorts of things, raving about how effective she found it. At the time, I filed it away thinking I don’t need such things since my brain is a healthy one.

A few weeks ago, Hubby was complaining that he wasn’t getting great sleep, constantly waking up at the slightest sound, then having a hard time getting back to sleep. A synapse fired, remembering my friend and her miracle app. I went searching for it in true troubleshooting/problem solver style.

A day later, app successfully identified and downloaded, I shared it with Hubby and we came up with a compromise in white noises we could both sleep with. What I didn’t tell him about was the feature of adding a “brainwave” frequency underlying the white noise. I was kind of skeptical about it but thought what the hell. I picked the deep sleep brainwave thinking it couldn’t hurt and would certainly help Hubby if it worked.

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I slept like shit that night. My sleep tracker confirmed it.

Which I thought was weird since I usually sleep like the dead.  It couldn’t be the white noise since that had never bothered me before when Hubby had used it. Which meant it was the brainwave frequency nonsense which was supposed to make me sleep better.

Hubby, of course, reported a much better night sleep-also pointing to the same conclusion that there was something to the brainwaves. So, I picked a different frequency – this one for lucid dreaming – and tried again the next night, hoping that frequency would benefit us both.

I slept better but it wasn’t my intense void of recharging where I lay my head down, close my eyes, go to sleep and never wake up until the alarm goes off. No, that night was full of crazy dreams that left me feeling like I’d run around all night either avoiding people trying to kill me or searching out those avoiding me. More evidence that there was some truth to the frequency effects.

Luckily, Hubby didn’t like that one either.

Then I found the magical frequency labeled stress relief. No crazy dreams, no restless sleep, just a nice night waking refreshed. For both of us. Bonus.

That was about a month ago.

Fast forward to last weekend when I became fully self aware of a disturbing development. I didn’t feel like myself and hadn’t for at least a week, probably longer if I was being truthful. Nights of mindless television – ME, watching television! – instead of writing. No drive for anything beyond the bare minimum every day and none of my signature zeal, joy or living out loud. I could barely muster enough “give a shit” to shower on the weekends. I had stopped looking forward to exciting events.

I was not myself.

I’d been quietly chewing on these developments for about a week, deep down worrying I’d developed some kind of depression. (It would serve me right if I had since I quietly gloat that I’m immune to such things whenever my close friends who suffer with such challenges are going through their rough patches.)

I was shopping with my daughters and randomly stated to my oldest that I hadn’t been feeling like myself. She instantly had a theory on why. (Immediate troubleshooting! I’m so proud.) It was her who zeroed in rather quickly that it could be the brainwave app messing with me. Why did she suspect this and why was she so adamant? Because she’d had similar issues where she didn’t feel the same after listening to the brainwave frequencies-something she did while awake rather than asleep.

The answer I came up with was astounding: I had eliminated all of my stress and there was nothing left to drive me toward achieving anything or pushing myself. We were sitting in a restaurant. I immediately pulled out my app and tried to solve the problem.

What other frequency could I use to get back some of my drive (aka stress of all things!)? I found one labeled Intense Focus and dialed it up. I kid you not, five minutes later I was already feeling better and was not in the funk I’d been wallowing in for weeks.

That night we listened to the Intense Focus wavelength all night.

Miracle of miracles, I woke up the next day and all of the funk and weirdness was gone. I woke right up, no lethargy. I was jumping from one thing to the next, juggling all the things I usually do with my signature gusto. My brain was sharp, no longer under a dark cloud.

Which means that now I’m paranoid of every one of these brainwave frequencies and what it means for us as a society. What if every single person was being altered with a mere frequency pulse of sound? If it could derail me-the overachiever extraordinaire-no one is immune! Okay, melodrama aside, it is a tad worrisome that the science behind this technology is observable and that the effects are not always beneficial.

We’ve stopped using the brainwaves part of the app at night.

I’ll leave the worrying to others and look at this on a positive note. I have discovered the real secret ingredient that makes my life work and I’ll never try to eliminate it again! I love you, my stress, for without you I am nothing!


Testing the Overachiever to the Max

For years I’ve prided myself in being an overachiever. Made it part of my life’s motto. Labeled myself as “Writer, Runner, Overachiever” when I first started writing as a professional. Many things have changed in the past years. Running has been replaced with yoga for a time while I healed. My corporate day job takes fifty hours a week instead of forty now. But I’m still an overachiever. It’s always been hard for me to say no to things if I think I can commit the time required. I could always give up something frivolous, like television and eight hours of sleep every night, to add something I wanted to do. Now, with my responsibilities to the League of Utah Writers I’ve been pushed to the maximum. There is nothing else to give up.

Which is why returning to college this fall to finish my degree is probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I’m doing it anyway. I’m now a sophomore at Southern New Hampshire University thanks to my transfer credits from my first two years of college back in the nineties.

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Why the hell would I do something this insane?

Because after twenty five years as a working professional I’ve finally hit the ceiling of promotion potential without a college degree. Some may say, ‘who cares, you’ve got a great job now, why worry?’ Except I have a development plan that includes promotion into management. Something I can’t do without a degree. So, here I go – back to college at age forty four.

The best part, and what makes any of this feasible in my mind, I’m getting an English degree in Creative Writing.  I’m old enough to know exactly what I want to do when I grow up this time around. While my degree will benefit me in my corporate job (a piece of paper is a piece of paper), it benefits me just as much as a writer. I get to work on writing projects as part of my coursework, which means the next two to three years will be enjoyable on top of all the added stress. Tackling school without having to completely give up my writing is a righteous bonus in my book.

Classes start mid-August. Which is now my deadline to finish drafting my novel so I can get it out to editors and querying it before I have to figure out how to be a college student. Luckily for me, I found a program I can do online while everyone else is sleeping so it won’t take too much adjustment. Wish me luck. Here’s hoping my years of overachieving has prepared me for this ultimate test of my skills.

If any of you reading this are still in school, let this be a lesson to finish your college education when you’re young. Trying to go back later is a mighty pain in the ass and it never gets any cheaper!


The Truth In the Details

I wanted to title this “Learning to kill” but refrained from tempting the search engines and NSA quite so much. I’ve finally got time to recap the best things about recent appearances – namely World Horror 2016 and Spring Into Books.

World Horror was a convention rich in guests and very lean in attendance. It was a shame for the organizers but those of us who were there got unprecedented access to authors and other guests that normally would never happen. I’m not complaining that I’m now on hugging terms with greats like Kevin J Anderson after spending a convention weekend in Provo – we even talked politics and religion for an hour over drinks.

Best part of World Horror was the ballistics gel presentation by D.K. Goddard, a local author and publisher. He brought a lifelike slab of ballistics gel and let us all pretend to stab and maim it with weapons. All in the name of authenticity when we are writing action scenes. I learned that if you’re going to stab someone, it is much easier to push the knife into flesh than I anticipated and far more difficult to pull the blade out. Fully-engage-your-muscles difficult. Also, slicing someone’s throat – something that looks as easy as cutting through room temperature butter in the movies – takes great effort. It’s more like dragging the blade through six inches of crusty bread. If your weapon of choice is a hammer, you can do far more damage using the pointed side designed to extract nails than the blunt side. Here I am in the throws of intense research…

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Best take-away from this intense experience was realizing that the truth is in the details. It’s sufficient in my writing to say a character was killed by blunt force trauma to the head. But it’s much more intense to describe the sensations of what it feels like to wield the weapon. The lesson was invaluable and will be called upon in the future for certain.

A month later, at Spring Into Books, I got to meet an adorable eight year old who loves horror. (Shown here with permission from his mom.)

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I had the pleasure of teaching a presentation on writing for beginners, the last half of which we spent plotting an action scene where a mutant zombie destroyed a tank. We took that one sentence and showed how it happened rather than telling that it happened. It was both interactive and fun and I thrilled to see several attendees pause to take notes during the workshop. I love giving back and mentoring young writers. This annual event put on by the League of Utah Writers is a great place for young and old to find free workshops and meet local authors and I enjoyed being a part of it.


Staying Focused Through Temptation

Sticking with the long vision – and hard work – of completing my current novel (the one I hope to be my debut novel) has become more challenging than I anticipated. Especially with the lure of a writing contest.

I knew the minute I heard about this contest that I would be extremely tempted to pause and crank out a short story. After all, I’m really good at them now! That little voice in my head started whispering, beckoning, tempting me with the potential of another publishing credential. That voice is good at getting into my psyche, but I resisted. I vowed not to stop work on this novel until the first draft was finished.

Yes, vowed, I did. (Insert Yoda voice of course!)

This oh-so-tempting writing contest is put on annually by The League of Utah Writers. As a chapter president in the League, it’s my job to promote it among my chapter members. Turns out, I’m so good at motivation, I sucked myself right into distraction.

I told myself that I had two pieces I’d already written which I could enter without having to change anything about my current work plan. I committed to the chapter coordinator that I had a short story (the horror story that I had under contract with a publisher last year who flaked out without ever publishing it, and a personal essay I’d been trying to find a home for but know nothing about that particular market). That’s easy, right? Two things, already done, ready to go.

Back to the very efficiently run chapter that I lead… the one focused on supporting our members in getting critique and feedback to help polish and perfect the entries before the deadline. Yes, because we are that magnanimous and truly care about the success of each other. But also because we threw down the proverbial gauntlet with the chapter who consistently wins most of the prizes and we wanted to make sure we had the best possible outcomes.

Next thing I know, four people had read my non-fiction piece and given me feedback. I’ve never written creative non-fiction before and it turns out that piece was nowhere near ready. So I rewrote it using the valuable critique I had gotten from my chapter group.

It was that easy… to get sucked into distraction.

So easy, in fact, that an entire week went by without having written a single word on my novel. Something I can’t afford during the first draft. If I lose momentum, take myself out of the story, the world I’m capturing on the page starts to fade at the edges. Starts to come apart at the seams so it’s no longer coherent in my mind.

I found myself staring at my project not quite knowing where it was heading or where my mind had been going the last time I’d written. Luckily I’ve trained myself to think like a business person and not a creative person who, left to my own devices, would continue to flit through projects with no solid plan.

I took action…

When asked where I was with my second re-write of my contest entry, I said it was on hold. I know it might only take me a couple of weeks to get it done. I know it would be worth every minute and that I would grow as a writer. (Because everything I write grows me as a writer.) But the truth is, I need to be focused on the plans that I’ve made – like a business plan. I said as much and the response was swiftly accepted with no judgement. It was anticlimactic and I felt great after.

Difficult as it sometimes is, I am the boss when it comes to my writing and I’ve said that priority number one is getting this novel drafted. Stick with it I must – no matter how difficult that is.