Crown of Stars

When several stars align tightly in the night sky, astrologers call it a “crown of stars.” You can tell by the name it’s something good, right? A new Crown of Stars will gather in 2021 on February 11. This particular constellation of stars is made up of the sun, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. What happens? Energy opens and pours forth. Energy for new projects. Energy releasing you where you were blocked or stuck. Yeah, it’s a good thing. I don’t know about you, but my creativity has been super low key for awhile now. Everything I thought would happen, and everything I planned on doing…none of it got done in January.

This is how bad it got. I have several cherished habits: yoga, meditation, daily morning diary, weekly blog post, usually on Monday, and of course, writing the next book in my new series Jane in St. Pete. All these activities were not stopped by Covid, like lots of other things I love to do on a regular basis. I still practice yoga and meditate daily. We all know what our fun is and, for almost everybody, at least some of that has been put on hold. I love my friends, and it wasn’t great when the hugs stopped, but we adapted. We survived.

*Moment of silence for those who have passed.*

My creative life started to unwind, bit by bit, and I let it. I figured I’d see what happened when I ran out of rope. So I didn’t write in my morning journal every day. Al’s retired and we like to chat over coffee. Some days I still journal, but not every day. Next to go was my weekly blog post. That was hard to reconcile. At first I just thought I needed a break, but eventually I figured I was beginning a new phase. And today is the introduction to that, at least for blogging. Once a month is better for me than once a week. This from a woman who blogged every single day for ten years! And once a week for nine years. Yes, in 2021 I will have been blogging 19 years.

Why did I stop? It felt right. What filled the void? Old fashioned email. We came to Florida in mid-December so we got lots of forwarded Christmas cards in January. I’m taking my time, but if you sent me a Christmas card and it made it’s way to Florida, I’ll be emailing you, if I haven’t already. I miss my friends and the holidays were hard in that respect. Al and I invited my dad over and we had a feast. My son called and Dad got to see his new house (new to Dad anyway) and his great-grandchildren. My other son called December 26, but with their Christmas card, they’d enclosed several “real” beautiful Christmas photos, and I let Dad choose one of those.

And for a long time, email and working on the next book, plus Zooming and conference calls with my writing friends to share helpful thoughts on manuscripts in process (I call this “critique” — a hangover from my teaching days) was more than enough. I didn’t worry about the journal or the blog. I didn’t even fret about not opening Facebook all that often. My thought was “something will happen.” I hoped it’d be sooner rather than later, but I just didn’t know when. I let ideas bubble up and pop into oblivion. I didn’t lecture myself about getting back on track. I considered that perhaps just writing the novel was enough.

Then I read my forecast for February on Astrology Zone by the amazing Susan Miller, all about the crown of stars this month, (and in Aries a stellium: three or more transiting planets in tight mathematical degree) I realized what was next for me. I already mentioned it once, but I’ll say it again, because it is stunning in its simplicity: I’ll be blogging once a month now instead of weekly. Oh, and yes, I’m still practicing Canva.

So that’s my news and I hope this month’s Crown of Stars brings lovely new energy your way, too.

More Covid Marketing

It took all weekend, but I managed to make a Twitter post on Canva! Then I uploaded it to Twitter via Canva’s direct “post to Twitter now.” That was a mistake as I could not add my buy link to my tweet post. A problem with Canva is you can’t put the buy link into a Canva design. Just pop it beneath the tweet. Or use the Word Press link or caption option if you’re blogging.

I hope you can see that I am not very far at all in my quest to master Canva. I would take a class if I could find one. I already looked for Canva for Dummies but there is no such book. I was only able to make the above tweet because I used a stock template and changed the words in the text boxes. So, really, I’m not Canva ready. I’m just bungling along.

Also, all last week, when my book released, guess what everyone was tweeting about? The election. Which, okay, that was way more important than my new book release. So I decided to use the time to learn Canva. It is clear I need more time. Much more time. Or a class. Probably both.

One tip I do have is to talk to your writer friends now, especially those with book releases about the same time as yours. What are they doing? My writing friend Linda told me to use Canva for tweets and Facebook. She also said we should do an online “two writers talking about writing” thing. I liked that idea, but I told her I know nothing about Zoom except how to click on the link the leader sends.

But darn if she didn’t only find out how to do it, she found a writer who wanted to host us on her online program: Pink Panther Presents Author Talk. Our talk will be streamed live November 20 at 4 pm and anybody can watch it for free. So, we are still dealing with Covid, but there are ways to market your new release even if you are a tech disaster like me.

I must mention that I have had a website and a blog since 2002 and I use them as my platform base. My son suggested I start a blog way back and he taught me everything I know about having an online presence. If you don’t have a good website (I like Word Press and I pay $100 a year so there are no ads.) that’s my #1 tip. Get a website and start blogging! When I need help with technical aspects of my site, I use Bakerview Consulting; they are wonderful and also Word Press experts.

Another writing friend, Barb, has a book coming out December 9 and we share the same publisher, the lovely Wild Rose Press, who tweeted out my new release last week. Barb offered to interview me on her blog and I said wouldn’t it be fun to switch blogs for a day? I’d write a blog for her site and she’d write one for mine. About our new releases, of course. So really the basics of marketing online are having a platform like a website, use it to blog, then link posts on social media. Also, you gotta have writer friends. Those are my top two suggestions.

Suggestion three is for people who are good at online design. Make all those great Twitter and Facebook posts and pin them. Just don’t overdo promotion on Twitter and Facebook. Pinning a marketing post is fine, but scheduling your lovely designed posts to pop up every hour is not cool. Social sites require social engagement in a meaningful way. That means don’t just tweet fancy ways to say buy my book. But, hey, if you want to, here’s my link: https://amzn.to/34MK3FY.

Renewing Writing Practices

Reading and journaling these past weeks with Colleen Story’s game changing Writer Get Noticed, so many of my writing plans have come into sharper focus, including how best to adjust my writing practices. Specifically, I’m looking at changing writing routines when my husband retires at the end of the year.

When I finish Jane in St Pete in December, I have no plans for a next novel. Al’s retirement is not the only reason it feels right to take a break from writing novels. Since I’ve been publishing books, I’ve steadily released at least one a year. I noticed a slow down with Lily White in Detroit, my tenth novel.

At first I attributed my decreased output to the added research that comes with writing crime novels, but after studying Colleen’s writer’s self-help guide, I realized I’ve come to a natural stopping point, at least for now, at least as far as writing novels.

As I worked through the illuminating exercises Colleen lays out in a genius step process, I learned that while adjusting to a new life passage that involves fun, travel and moving out of my home state, I still want to keep some portable writing practices. Writing a novel takes a big chunk of time, a room of my own and steady commitment, day after day, month after month.

My life is not going to have those long stretches of time in a writing room, at least not for a year or maybe even longer. Although…I start every day with morning pages, and have done for many years. I won’t give up my journal and gel pen. And I don’t want to give up my fiction writing groups and friends, either.

Short stories helped me fill the gap after Lily White and gave me something to bring to my critique groups. Stories kept my craft skills sharp. And eventually, they led to Jane in St. Pete. Like many writers, I started writing fiction with short stories. I published a few of them, but mostly they were a way to begin to figure out my voice and how to write a narrative.

Things can get stale for me if I keep doing them over and over without hitting refresh, and that happened recently with morning pages. I’d write a half page and sit there with nothing to say. Julia Cameron, who introduced me to morning pages, recommends three pages every morning. That’s still what I shoot for. Answering the questions Colleen poses became a way for me to write not just three pages every morning, but four, five, even six pages. All while discovering what to do next.

I was on fire as I got deeper into the heart of what I really want out of my writing life now. More flexibility. Less sustained attention. Writing I can finish in a couple of hours or days. Long before I began the daily discipline needed for writing novels, I was a blogger. I also published book reviews, personal essays, poetry and short stories. All things I enjoyed and could do around my teaching job.

With the help of Colleen’s therapeutic method of writerly inquiry, I was able to figure out how to keep the writing I love close while figuring out how this new adventurous phase of married life will look in retirement. I have so many new goals. I’m looking forward to finishing Jane and going through the editing process with my publisher’s guidance. I can’t wait to gear up for the marketing aspect of a new release–Colleen also helped me clarify how to do publicity my way.

I’ve learned what does and does not work for me as a writer. I love morning pages, social media, my blog. I especially enjoy giving my website a fresh design, which will happen in 2020 along with that novel I’ve been working on for a while now. 🙂 I’ve still got a ways to go with the novel, but the revision is coming together even as I decide what to pack and what to leave behind on this next great adventure.

Feeling Published

Remember flame wars? In 2002, this same week, I got torched on a Yahoo Fan Page. Which led me to leave a group I’d really loved. It was so hard, and so much on my mind, I told my son about it. I shocked myself when cried a little bit before wiping my tears away and laughing at myself.

My son Mike asked me what I’d liked so much about the group. I thought about it. I finally said I liked talking about writing. Which was something we did a lot in that group. I’d miss having that outlet. Mike said “Mom, you should start a blog.”

I sniffed and said I wouldn’t know how to do that, and anyway, weren’t blogs over? He replied that he’d set up the site for me and also, no, blogs were not over. They were only going to get bigger. He was in IT, so I figured he knew more about the internet than I did. I said yes, thank you, that sounds like fun.

I hadn’t published a book yet, just some poems, short stories and book reviews in magazines, but the minute I posted my first blog entry, I felt published. It was an incredible validation. All these years later, I still feel so good about my blog, which my son continued to help me with for more than ten years, until his first son was born.

I have such happy memories of this adventure. Choosing wallpaper for a custom template, learning to write a key lines of code, blogging every single day about the novel I was working on. In 2002 there wasn’t any software that did tech things for you, so Mike did them for me. He was so patient when I wanted to change my blue stars wallpaper to pink flowers. The blog was a joint project and my son was my teacher. What a gift.

Mike said he could still do the work on my blog after the baby came. By this time we had been through Blogger and Moveable Type and were firmly into Word Press. I’d met Barb of Bakerview Consulting online and was sure she could do the housekeeping chores. I was also sure Mike was about to be way busier than he could begin to imagine. Both of these things turned out to be true.

What started out as a way to talk about writing became my author platform and I didn’t even know it until I read Colleen Story’s “Writer Get Noticed!” I’m learning more about my writing self from Colleen’s book…like what specific things I want from this writing life I’m living. The answers will be different for everyone, but the discovery process is the same.

It starts with the question Mike asked me all those years ago: What do I like about doing this? Why do I like it? These days I’m revisiting those questions and so many more that Colleen poses. Doing the exercises in Colleen’s book is an illuminating way to fill my morning pages. Which is the way I always start my day. Why? Because I like it.

Why do I like it? Any of it? Morning pages, blogging, writing novels, participating in a Twitter hashtag? It’s all one reason, really. It’s the best way, the perfect way for me, to communicate with the world. And I didn’t really put it all together quite like this until I read Colleen’s book, so thanks Colleen. And thanks to Mike, who set me off on this adventure. And most of all to you, whoever you are, wherever you are, reading this. ❤

Flow in Writing & Life

I’ve been reading Ursula LaGuin’s blog posts No Time to Spare in book form on my Kindle. I’m interested just now in reading about aging…I’d like to write about it, too, and I’m trying. It’s a challenge, but I love when writing presents a new challenge. We’ll see how it works out for me, although LaGuin does a beautiful job. She has a way of making the profound seem like common sense.

The other thing I’m doing is writing with my Florida group. There are ten of us this year. Our leader gives us prompts and we write a page or so. Everyone reads aloud. This week’s prompt “A Memorable Teacher” was particularly difficult for me. I’ve been thinking about it since Friday, so five days. When you get to my age, especially if you love learning and seek it out like I do, you’ve had a lot of teachers, good ones and bad ones, horror stories and terrible bores.

What seemed obvious to me was that life is the best teacher. Marriage and children are profound teachers, too. I actually learned how to stay married (after two failed attempts) because of my sons. I didn’t want to put them through another divorce, so in spite of sometimes wanting to give up on my third marriage, I stuck with it. Because I loved my boys more than I’d ever loved any other human, I learned to compromise, forgive, and stand up for myself with a husband. I also learned how becoming a grandmother expands the capacity to love beyond limits.

Finally, I thought of who or what helped me and taught me how to maintain sanity and happiness through rough times. The best lesson I ever learned. My favorite teacher. The runner up taught me how to teach and how to love Shakespeare. That was a lot! The winning teacher was Brian, my yoga teacher. He wasn’t my first and he won’t be my last, but he was absolutely the best because he taught me how to truly inhabit my body.

Brian’s best lesson went something like this: “Close your eyes during practice. Don’t look at the people around you to see how they are doing the poses. Don’t compare your body to anybody else’s. Make this time about you and your relationship to your body, mind and spirit. Flow your own way through the poses. Find your own edge. Remember to breathe. Be grateful for your body and your breath.”

I was, by far, the oldest person in Brian’s class. I had the biggest belly. My hair frizzed and I didn’t wear make up because it would just melt off. I had to get over all that, and it was easy to do once I really understood what Brian was saying. It clicked in pretty quickly and I was good there with all the young and lithe yoginis. I was in my 40s when I went to Brian’s studio. Now I’m in my 60s. I still take his advice every day. Not comparing myself to any other is such a relief. Accepting my own limits is humbling and freeing at the same time.

Brian’s advice goes beyond yoga. It has helped me in other ways. Like with writing ~ I don’t compare my books to other authors’, I don’t compare sales, or calculate at what age others achieved success. I pay no attention to what level they’re at or how I do or do not measure up. I’m in my flow of writing and life and you’re in yours. It’s all good. Namaste.