Tag Archives: live a life you love

Finding Better Balance in 2017

The Universe has a way of sending me exactly what I need, when I need it. As I wrapped up 2016, I reflected on the year. While I had stayed on top of all the things I’d said yes to (and then some that I inherited out of familial duty) with most of my sanity intact, I hadn’t accomplished as much as I wanted to or had set out to do. Keeping up isn’t always the same thing as being effective, I found.

Confession time: I had a really rough January.

I spent the last half of 2016 teetering at the edge of losing all the things I was juggling just trying to stay on top of everything. I volunteered enough hours in my several roles within the League of Utah Writers that I won a really prestigious award (when I’ve officially been awarded it, I’ll share details!) but I hadn’t completed the novel I’d been on track to finish when the year started.

I still haven’t.

A lot of this is because I decided (almost on a whim) to return to college to finish my degree. However, that wasn’t the only reason if I was being completely honest with myself. In the darkest moments of January I actually resented my shiny prestigious award. It represented concrete evidence of over 500 hours that I’d given to people besides me and my writing.

I spent 2016 doing things that were amazing. Don’t get me wrong. But much of it was at the expense of my own dreams and goals. I had done it all, except what made me happy and what meant the most.

Here’s where the Universe comes in. I follow a blogger and fellow writer who is a productivity expert. She supplies me with my yearly statistics and writing progress tracker and I’m in an online writing group she started. I don’t know her personally but she changed my life by writing about her own similar struggles last year. When I read her blog post reflecting about it, I realized just how ineffective I’d been last year at the things that really mattered to me.

I got to take a turn with my friends receiving, rather than giving, support and talked through a ton of these things with Hubby. Hard as it is to hear “I told you so”, he HAD been telling me this was where I was headed all year long. I just hadn’t believed him, thinking I had it in the bag and could handle whatever life threw at me. I was wrong.

Yes, me. Wrong.

Mark your calendars. This might not happen again for eighty years, folks!

What I realized from all of this is that my personal productivity was suffering because I was not focusing on the right things. I was doing everything believing I was being successful and effective and in reality I was neither. I started taking stock of things I did and evaluating if they were the right things to be spending my time and energy on based upon whether doing them would bring me happiness or achieve my own goals. When I approached things from this place, it was much easier to say no to things without my FOMO (fear of missing out) rearing up.

I spent February implementing changes and am in a much better place because of it. Here’s a rundown of the subtle changes I made that had the most impact.

FACEBOOK LAST

I moved Facebook (and all the other social media I do) last in order of things I do each day. I thought I was already doing this since I usually set aside specific time every day for that. The small change I made was to stop getting notifications that popped up when I would get a new message or someone would interact with me online. I was getting them so I would know if something pressing came up that I could handle easily. These things I thought kept me on top of things were actually Unscheduled Interruptions. Once I eliminated them, it was easy to see how much. I still can see the total number of notifications as a passive thing if I happen to glance at my phone over the course of the day. But not knowing the details of what I’m missing gives me the freedom to “do” my social media on my own time after the things that matter most are done. I do this even for email – which surprised me. But, the idea of keeping up on email and being reactive to requests doesn’t support the reality of getting the right things done. Let’s face it, email was created as a way to communicate without the need for instant response.

SHORT STORY A MONTH

I knew when I enrolled in school that my writing time would be cut in half at best and I was right. I lost steam on the novel and found it harder to pick up seamlessly when I only had stolen moments to write. But I still have stories in me and I’m much happier when I’m writing. So I committed to what’s left of my writing group to write a story a month with specific deadlines. We’ve only been at it for a month but January was successful. By the end of the year, I’ll have at least twelve drafted stories that I can have at my disposal when that perfect opportunity presents itself without stressing about how I’ll find the time. Making my writing the first thing I do when I have free time has kept the focus on my own creativity.

DELEGATION

This one is a tough one for me. But it’s been a year with my fellow leaders within the League and I’ve discovered others who are just as anal and committed to getting things done as I am. Knowing what each of their strengths (and weaknesses) are and who has what specific skills has allowed me to trust more and more things to others. I also get to be in charge of building a team to split up the work of putting on conferences and it’s going extremely well. Much more so than where I was a month ago when I was ready to quit completely so I could spend all my free time on my own writing. Bottom line, I love the work I get to do to help others achieve their dreams and find opportunities within the writing community to grow. I wouldn’t trade it but I’ve also found a way to make it work better within the boundaries of my life.

Spending time on what is really important to me and focusing my efforts on activities that drive my goals, not just crossing off things on a list, has made a huge difference for me. The key for me is mindfulness about what each thing I’m doing and how it is contributing to those things that matter most to me.

Shout out to Jamie Raintree, without whom this journey out of my dark place would have taken forever! Here’s to a fantastic and productive 2017.


Magical Moments: why it’s important to share a first draft

I’ve spent ten years writing. First as a hobby and now as a second job. I have a dream of someday hitting it big and being able to replace my corporate paycheck with a writing career. (A girl can dream!) In all that time, I have come to know one universal truth about writing: the first draft always sucks!

FirstDraftQuote

I also have an editor and a writing group who has seen me at my very lowest of roughness. The draft where there were those two words “The End” written but, plot holes and inconsistencies aside, was still the biggest pile of unpolished dirt that ever existed. If there were diamonds in there somewhere it was a hopeless endeavor to find them.

I’ve published two short stories. These are fantastic accomplishments, but they are still not a novel with only my name on the cover. Something that, if I dwell on it, makes me a little discouraged given how long I’ve been working at it. I quickly remind myself that I’ve written three novels, and re-wrote two of them. It’s still something I struggle with.

Part of the purpose of my chapter of The League of Utah Writers is to inspire and educate fellow authors. There’s always someone who has more experience  – even when you’re a published author. Last month I took the first chapter of my current work in progress (WIP) for critique. If the fearless leader isn’t comfortable sharing work, who else will? My editor happened to end up in my critique group that night. I was so nervous knowing I hadn’t done a single thing to polish this piece of work. PEOPLE WERE GOING TO SEE HOW MUCH IT SUCKS! When I got great feedback from everyone, with only a few things that didn’t work, I wondered if I was on candid camera – or Punk’d.

On the way home, my editor (who also is one of my closest friends) went on and on about how strong my writing has become that I can write that well in a first draft. There might have been some reprimanding about how rarely I share my work at the early stages but we’ll skip that part. She reminded me of how rough I used to write and how many times I’d have to revise to get as many layers as what I instinctively can put down the first draft now.

While I still felt like I was being lied to, since positive feedback is often hard to believe when I’ve only got myself to listen to, I realized what a gift it is that I have others who see where my writing came from and where it has evolved to. Without having put myself out there and shared my work – as terrifying and nerve-wracking  as it was and still is – I wouldn’t be able to have this kind of feedback.

This feedback will keep me writing and by continuing to write, I will continue to improve. That’s another universal truth about writing. If you are a writer and aren’t sharing your work with other writers as part of your process, you’re doing yourself a disservice.


The new Madam President, and why I couldn’t say no

You may recall that I was recently relishing my efforts at saying No. Celebrating them even. What I have learned about myself with that exercise is that busy is a choice. Just like stress and joy are equally choices. The lesson I really needed to learn was not to always say no but rather to prioritize the things that I choose to say yes to, so my busy life is still a fulfilling one.

I’m getting ahead of myself…

I’ve been in a bit of a writing funk for the last month. It isn’t anything new for writers, including me. We all suffer from crippling self-doubt. I thought I only needed to worry about it rearing its head when I was submitting completed works for possible acceptance by editors and publishers. This time it happened at the beginning of a new project. This novel is more complex than anything I’ve ever attempted and it’s also flowing out of me easier than any of the novels I’ve written before. The logical part of me says that’s because I’ve done the hard work of learning how to write novels. Duh. But my heart, where my self-doubt lives, whispers that I’m not ready to have the hopes that I have for this one. That it won’t be any good when it’s done.

Enter a new opportunity born from the efforts of my idol and mentor.

Remember last year when the writing organization I’d been serving on the board of was dissolved? It left a void in my life. A void I looked at as a positive one where I had exponentially more time to write. Looking back, though, it also left a void of collaboration and support from associating with others who understand the life of being a writer that I’d come to cherish.

So, when a new chapter of a well-established writing organization was born, I couldn’t say no to being the President. I led my first meeting this week where we hoped there would be the requisite five members to form a chapter. There were twenty people in attendance. Twenty! From a couple of weeks of word of mouth and social media efforts. It felt like I’d been born to stand there and lead a collaborative discussion to organize the workings of the group. The online membership has almost doubled after everyone shared how excited they are for the new group, which humbles me beyond words. (We all know I’m not that humble to begin with!)

I felt replenished from spending time with fellow writers, discussing the craft and learning from one another the intricacies of the craft. As a result, my writing has also flourished in the days since, and my self-doubt has retreated back to the nether reaches of my heart, until it’s time to submit this project and find it a home so readers can have it.

My life will be busy on an epic scale once again. But this time I chose it wisely and know the benefits will be worth it.


2015 In the Rear View

I am not one who makes resolutions with the changing of the calendar. Instead, I’m continually analyzing, taking stock of where I am and where I want to be, making course corrections as I go. As the year rolls over to a new one, I do like to look back at the last year and note the lessons learned.

2015 was monumental in many ways.

In terms of my writing career, this was a banner and extremely noteworthy twelve months.  My first publication Secrets & Doors released in February. In May, I sold my first short story to an online magazine. All while I revised my second novel. In August, I submitted to my first writing contest, where the old adage of “you cannot please every reader” was proven, and got valuable feedback from professionals. In September, I submitted to my first open call for submission and edged out thirty other writers for a spot in a new collection releasing next month.

That last one was the writing highlight of the year for me. As much as I love focusing on the successes along the way, I am also secretly worried that I don’t really have what it takes to make it as an author. That no one but my friends and family will enjoy what I read. I shrivel and give in to self-doubt often and have to remind myself that just putting my work out there is a step many artists and dreamers won’t ever take. While my first publication was traditionally published, I didn’t have to submit as part of an open call once I joined the collection of authors that eventually became the Secret Door Society. My self-doubt always whispered in my ear that if I had to go up against an open call of other professionals I may not be worthy. By taking that step and proving myself wrong, I have been able to quiet some of those internal fears that seem always lurking.

On the other side of the coin, this was a very eye-opening year for the more disappointing side of writing. While I sold a short story to a magazine, it was not published. What was to be a print magazine with a broad readership potential turned out to be a fledgling idea prone to delays. The format changed to an online magazine instead and then put on hold until further notice. I got the rights back to my story, but it was a sad disappointment all the same.

The most difficult lesson I took away from 2015 was the value of time. Time as a commodity has been a consideration for years. Each time I decide to do something new, like pursuing being an author, means I have to give up other things, like television. This year I got caught up in activities that took a lot of time, too much time, time I didn’t have, to be part of a writing organization. At the end of the year, the organization had ultimately failed and all I had to show for the time I’d devoted were months where I’d spent all my writing time NOT writing. Because of this, I’ve decided to devote 2016 to producing rather than associating. I can aspire to be on writing panels and making appearances at writing conferences when I have more publications under my belt. If I’m a writer who doesn’t spend the majority of my time writing, I’ll never get to where I want to be as an author. Bottom line, it makes no sense to promote yourself to potential fans until you have something for them to read. I lost sight of that for a few months this past year. Months I won’t get back, which makes me a tad bitter when I let myself dwell on it. Which I don’t very often.

The other areas of my life were overall positive this past year.

The flip side of the time coin came with the improved family dynamics as a result of Hubby’s new job. Having him on a day shift schedule and home with us all the time has made a huge difference in the quality of our family. I can’t wait to spend as much time together in 2016 as we didn’t in the preceding eight years of dreaded night shift. Every day that we get home from work together and spend the evening taking turns running the kids around and cooking dinner together is a gift.

Financially, 2015 was also noteworthy. We achieved our ten-year goal of being debt free except for our mortgage. Which was also why Hubby had the luxury of quitting to find a day job. Of course, it didn’t last long since the cars are all old and paid for (aka time to die!). I leased my first brand new car and I love being part of the Volkswagen family. 2016 will see a massive remodel to our house, which will be fantastic – when it’s OVER. During will be another story…

My health this year has still been a bit of a roller coaster but more like the kiddie coaster with baby hills and far easier to manage than years past. I still struggle with things like how much is too much fluid to drink every day – enough to stave off a flare-up of gout but not too much so I retain water and have to take diuretics that give me massive charlie horses and require yet another drug to counteract the effects. I’m still in remission and according to my doctor that means I have an indefinite number of years ahead of me. I’m far luckier than a lot of people and, considering all the insanity I’ve been through in past years to get here, I can deal with monthly blood draws and relatively few medications. Even being a vegetarian has become somewhat routine after two years.

I’ve struggled the past year where it came to fitness. Two years of focusing on survival and treatment of my disease relegated fitness to the back burner. I consider it a win that I’ve been able to maintain my weight overall, minus the water retention fluctuations of course, for the last couple of years. However, I’m ready to get beyond the mere survival and 2016 is the year I get back to being strong and fit, which has suffered since I had to give up running. The last half of 2015 has been off and on for yoga with my new, more demanding day job schedule and I’m feeling the effects. I’ve recommitted to my twice a week yoga practice and have started incorporating more cardio in the other days of the week. I may never run a Ragnar again but I can be strong and fit again.

This year brought three weddings within our immediate families – my sister, Hubby’s sister and Hubby’s brother – and the birth of a new niece who I adore. So much joy to counteract another year I had to spend without my Mom who I still miss every day. Life is a balance like that and what we’re left with overall is up to each of us as individuals.

I didn’t read as many books as I wanted to last year – but I still read a lot of great ones. I didn’t write as much as I wanted to – but I still wrote 84,966 words over the course of the year. (Yes, I track it to the individual word. Don’t judge, you know I’m a data geek!) I didn’t travel as much as I wanted to – but I got to go to Hawaii with my entire immediate family. Overall it was a fantastic year simply because I got to live it. And because I am the master of my fate and the captain of my journey, I can make 2016 an even better representation of my hopes and dreams.

May 2016 treat you well. Live in the moment, surround yourself with positive people who contribute to the achievement of your dreams rather than pulling you down, and take risks to live the life you love. That’s what I’ll be doing! Thanks for joining me on my journey and thanks always for reading.