Trouble in Paradise

Al and I had our first big fight last week. Lasted all day. It was stupid, too. Not insignificant, but I had to look back in my morning pages to remember what happened. The day that should have been happy (I got my first edits! I was excited to dive in!) ) started out wrong. I just wanted to get to work but I got an early text from a friend in dire need of whatever advice or comfort I could muster. It was pretty heavy stuff, not mine to share.

But it was there, inside me, weighing on my heart. I was just going to have to take my heavy heart into the guest room, where I’d set up shop for editing…but first Al needed some information from me. Just a password and user name. We’ve both applied for our retirement paperwork down here in Florida and that might not have been so smart. Everything has to go USPS to our home in Michigan then forwarded down to Florida.

Who knew this would be so difficult and inefficient? Me, that’s who. I’d heard from friends how easy it is to do all this stuff either online or in person. I wanted to do it last November! Al said not to worry, he had it all covered, he’d been to see the benefit rep at the plant. I pretty much put it all out of my mind. Then the paperwork began. Almost immediately, things went wrong. All along the process, we did our usual thing of saving names and notes from phone calls, new passwords from websites, doctor and drugstore names and numbers, we had it all and we filed it.

Except I misfiled one password that Al needed right that minute. He was online and he had to pay a bill. I looked in the files. Nothing. I tried to log in. Nothing. I tried a few other things. Nope. This system had never heard of me although I’d spent the day with them quite recently. After about an hour of searching, I gave Al the bad news. He was tense and his short fuse blew. At me. How could I not save an important password? Etc. I gave him one final sheet of paper with a unique user name and password.

“It might be this,” I said, sure I’d found the correct way into the system. I couldn’t resist reminding him of the benefit rep’s words: “Don’t worry about your wife, it’s you we need to get set up first” (which turned out to be incorrect as I am a couple months older than Al). Before he could retort, I held up my hand like a stop sign. Then I went into the guest room where work awaited. I took those inflammatory words “Don’t worry about your wife” in there with me. I’m not as healthy (mentally or physically) as Al, and my delicate constitution absolutely requires worry, upset and medication.

Would we ever get our retirement life settled? I popped half a Xanax before anxiety and anger spiraled into fear and tears. There in my temporary writing room, with my beloved things around me (books, laptop, phone, notebook, pen, desk with beautiful chair) I piled pillows and propped myself on the handy bed. I checked the time. Not yet noon. Perhaps the day could be saved. I checked email. And Facebook. And Instagram. Also Twitter. Since I don’t tend to spend a lot of time on those sites, I felt like I’d accomplished something. Everybody knows writers need to use social media. Why? Hmmm. Not promotion, exactly. Just to keep in touch. Especially in a pandemic.

Then, all caught up online, I read a little bit from the Regency romance novel I was then enjoying. (I have been on an absolute Mary Balogh binge for months now.) There was no joy. So I tried to take a nap. Couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t even meditate. Naturally, all I could think about was Al not worrying about me. Ever. It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I hadn’t even looked at the document I was supposed to be annotating. And I hadn’t eaten anything.

I sailed through the living room where he was reclining on the sofa, perusing his iPad, and into the kitchen. Dirty pots and pans and plates and bowls and coffee cups lay on every surface. Really? He couldn’t even do his own dishes?! I grabbed a yogurt and went back into the guest/writing room. We didn’t speak. I didn’t even look at him. But I was seething. After yogurt, I decided to get down to work. Then I noticed it was getting on to 4 o’clock when my dear Nicolle Wallace reports the news on Deadline White House.

We have a guest room television, but somehow it was already a little after 4 pm. and her opening monologue is my favorite part of the show. And we only tape shows in the living room. So I went out and happily Al had gone on his daily walk. I sometimes go with him, but no invitation had been forthcoming on this day. He probably thought I was working. Earlier in the week, he’d moved my desk into the one room in the house he had no reason to enter. He knew I’d gotten my edits, he knew I had a plan.

A plan that had been thrown a curve. Plans have been doing that a lot since the onset of the 2020 great lockdown. I watched Nicolle. She was wearing one of her colorful tops. Even in her basement, she is brilliant, pithy, and impeccably detailed. She cracks wise at appropriate moments to ease the tense news of the day, smiling wide. When the world seems like it’s falling apart, Nicolle will make you think things are maybe going to be okay again someday soon. Meanwhile, here are the facts and don’t forget we’re all in this together.

After the news, I went back into the writing/guest room and opened my document. I worked on it for a few hours, and Al peeked his head in the door. “David?” he asked. That’s what he says when he wonders if I’m ready for the national news. David is David Muir. I like to compare how cable news and national news report the stories of the day. It’s amazing how much David leaves out, but he faithfully reports the bullet points.

“Okay,” I said. We walked down the hall toward the living room. “Do you know what I was doing today?”

“Writing?”

“Yep.” I said. “What did you do about the payment?”

“Oh that. I mailed it.”

!!!

I went into the kitchen for a glass of wine. Which I felt I had earned. The kitchen was spotlessly clean. I pulled together some cheese and crackers and fruit, too. Of course I made enough for both of us. First fight as a retired couple in-a-pandemic-with-edits-due over.

PS I finished my edits the next day and got them to my editor. She said they look fine. Our next round will be in a few weeks, when we’re back in Michigan. And I have a real writing room.

Writing Motivation

Trouble comes to every writer. Even writers with lots of published books. Before I sat down to write this, I looked up my old posts on the topic. None of them fit my current situation, but it was fun to read them because they reminded me of how far I’ve come and that I’ve successfully solved this problem before. Here’s the thing, what used to work doesn’t anymore. I thought for a long time about not writing novels anymore. I can get my writing fix here on the blog and in my morning pages. But I’m in the middle of a book and I hate to leave things unfinished, so I put time and thought into the decision.

It took awhile for me to decide not to trash the WIP. That process of thinking through if I wanted to keep doing this at least until I finish the current project is what led to my current motivation for continuing. I figured out that my old goals weren’t working any more. For so long my goal was “get published” then “publish a book” then “publish a novel” then “switch genres” then…nothing. I’d done it all. Every single one of my writing dreams had been achieved. I’d met all my writing goals. I could die happy. (Really. This becomes an actual thing at my age.)

Eventually, with a lot of help from morning pages and a pointed question from a friend, I figured out that in order to motivate myself I needed a new goal. None of my old goals would suffice. I had reached the top of my personal book mountain. But come to find out at the top of my writing mountain, I saw the bottom of another mountain. I could continue the climb if I was willing to do the work to reach a new goal. Right away I decided that of course I was going to try. Having a goal in life (about anything, not just writing) helps me keep moving, remain upbeat, and continue striving. I don’t think about goals that much, but I need them.

I’m 64. I started writing when I was 14. That’s 50 years of always writing, always finding another mountain to climb. My supply of enthusiasm and energy for the book biz has diminished. It was bound to happen on such a long road with so many obstacles to overcome, so many wrong turns and happy detours. Diminished doesn’t mean extinguished, though. I’m not finished quite yet.

What I know now that I didn’t know before was that as long as you’re alive, you can reach higher than your biggest dreams. My new goal in finishing this novel and making it great is modest. My husband is retiring soon and we want to travel and spend more time with our grandchildren. That is the golden goal. My motivation to finish this novel and make it my best effort is to send the book to an agent a friend says is perfect for me. After that, it’s out of my hands.

When I was younger, I had many goals and dreams. What I learned then is that goals are different than dreams. Goals only work 100% when you have control over the outcome. (Dreams are another post.) I don’t have control over what the agent will say about my book. And that’s fine. I already had an agent who couldn’t sell my book and I ended up with a perfectly fine publisher anyway. That was many books ago. I’m thinking submitting to another agent is worth a shot. And it does something else: it gives me a good reason to finish this novel and make it fabulous.

Changing Your Life

Sitting here writing about changing my life with advice from a self-help book when I feel as if that’s an impossible task. It’s almost as if someone snatched away the me I used to be, and frankly, all I want to do is get her back. Where did the Cindy who loved yoga and writing go? When did my resolve to eat healthfully disappear? I’m reading STICK WITH IT as a last-ditch effort. The book bases its premise on an acronym SCIENCE and does claim that all the advice is science-based. Since last report I’ve read two more chapters and actually made some progress. Did some backsliding, too.

I’ve already written about stepladders and community in previous posts. This past week I felt I needed a super dose of help so I tackled “Important” and “Easy.” I can sum up those two chapters swiftly. “Important” is all about priorities. If you think the change you want to make is important, you’ll try harder to make it and keep it. Sean Young, the author, sites a study about the three most important things in many people’s lives.

Money, health, and relationships are the top three. Turns out, as long as you’re not destitute, money isn’t important to health or happiness. People with money can still get death sentence diseases or be clinically depressed. People with lots of money are often miserable in their relationships.

It’s easy to think “if I just had X amount of dollars, all would be well.” I’ve thought that myself many times. One of the changes I’d like to make is in my health. “If I hired a chef, I’d be able to eat better with less effort. I’d also be able to hire a private yoga teacher.” All true but I can see that money wouldn’t take away temptation as far as cake goes and if I didn’t feel like working out, a coach wouldn’t motivate me to do it.  I’d just cancel. Health has to be important enough to me to change my eating and exercise habits for the better.

My other goal is to finish my book. I actually did complete a writing project that was on my to-do list. To get my books on audio, I had to fill out five spec sheets, choosing a section of each story to be narrated. After weeks of procrastinating, I got it done this past week. So that’s what I mean…this self-help method is working to a point. But all the money in the world can’t conjure that spark of hot desire that compels me to tell a story and get it in great shape for my editor’s eyes. But, since it’s important to me, partly because of the writing communities I’ve been a part of for so long, I am determined to get it done this summer.

So much for “important.” Next is “Easy” and I do know that “easy” helped me start a yoga practice again. I simply loaded Gaia onto my computer and with a couple of clicks and a move from chair to floor, I’m ready to go. No special equipment or clothing needed. No trip in the car to the yoga studio. “Easy” works for me as far as exercise goes.

Eating the right food is a bit more complicated. Fast food is easy. The stocking, preparing and cooking of whole nutritious food takes way more energy. Stepladders (that first helpful hint in SCIENCE) breaks down difficult or complex tasks, which does make them easier. I’m still working with my goal of eating right. And I’m trying not to bask too long in the glory of finishing the tasks for the audio books.

I have a set of steps for completing the book project, too. Meanwhile I’m still reading. I’ve done S, C, I, and E. I can’t wait to see what the heck N is all about. Neurohacks. Hmmm. Something with the brain, I suspect. SCIE/NCE. Maybe I can get this book finished by next weeks so I’ll have all the tools necessary to implement my goals.

 

 

Full Circle

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Last time I “won” the famous November writing challenge to write 50.000 words in a month was 2005. I had previously published one book, a creative writing text I used in the classroom. I was also teaching college full time and writing reviews for Romantic Times magazine. Ten years later, I have published ten books. Eight of them novels or novellas. But the first novel I published was Sister Issues, the one I wrote during NaNoWriMo, the one recently released in print.

Feels like full circle as I write book #11 this month with the help of the greatest motivator ever. Words are flowing again after a two week writing break and then a week of organizing my thoughts and getting a solid conflict and a couple of characters to start my story. I’ll be working on a Christmas novel, something I have always wanted to write. A Blue Lake Christmas is #4 of six books contracted for the Blue Lake series with The Wild Rose Press.

I’m a believer in NaNo but November has not typically been a good month for me to start and finish a novel. This year, it just worked out. It’s been a while since I pounded out 50K in one month. Feeling a bit like really, can I actually do this? But then I remember I already did. So yes, I’m ready to NaNo and I highly recommend the process for anyone who wants (or like me, needs) external motivation.

Guns & Opera: Blasting Through Stubborn Starts

I’m talking about a novel but this could be advice for starting anything, from a diet to an exercise program to a new career. I’ve been working on a book for awhile now. Various things got in the way, mostly myself. I was ill, I was tired, the room wasn’t the right color.

Maybe not the worst excuses but nevertheless there comes a time when you have to say “today I begin.” And then you do. And if you’re like me maybe you dither and take days off and lose the plot and just don’t get that groove. The book, the diet, the whatever has not had a chance to dig in and become a habit.

That takes a month or two. Of every day (or every week or whatever your commitment is) to happen. It’s those first 60 days–at least for me, for you it could be 30 or even less–that I need under my belt to cement the habit and begin to crave it. There is one way that this stubborn woman (me) who never does anything on a schedule has been able to get a schedule and here it is. Ready?

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Write it down. On a calendar. Make a special chart if you’re doing a diet with certain foods or an exercise program with several components. Nothing feels better than checking a line on a list. Nothing. I didn’t think this would work for me, but it did. Another thing that works is DO IT FIRST. Or at least first thing after coffee.

I do not know why I only know it works. The third part, for me, for the book, is a page limit. Mine is three. Write three pages. It is easy. It is doable. It doesn’t have to be good. I just have to fill those pages. So there you go. Write it down. Do it first. Limit yourself to something easily accomplished.

That might sound counter-intuitive but if you write three pages consistently, pretty soon you’ll write more. If you walk 20 minutes, soon it will be 30. If you eat one bowl of kale, well, never mind, if you eat one bowl of kale you are a rock star, okay?

It’s just starting. And these three things are the easy on ramp to start. For me, personally, I like to think of life as art. Always refining, revising, reinventing. I find housework a drag unless I also rearrange the furniture, you know? And for all the mundane, I use the breath and the now. I take in the space around me in present moment time and I breath, I follow my breath and what is happening. It is endlessly changing and fascinating. No, honest!

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My talent (everyone has a talent, find yours!) is writing and I like to always have a novel going. And it has to be totally different than the one before. I’ve been called a romance writer, but I’ve written really only one pure  romance novel out of the ten books I’ve published. The new one is a thriller, I think. For the thrill of the new, of course. I’m researching not just this new genre and structure but also things like guns and opera. It is so fun. And that’s the real ticket to starting anything new and keeping it going: make it fun.