How Do YOU Find “Me” Time?

In early February, I began waking up at 5am to head to the gym for a workout. I had my doubts that I would be able to maintain that schedule, having been a night owl my entire life, but I’m happy to say, it’s now my routine. In fact, I am getting up at 4:30 so I can be out the door by 5:00. This way I have plenty of time to prepare for the crazy day I know is on the horizon.

It took a while to get used to the routine. I started with just two days a week, then three. Now I’m consistently doing four days a week and have been for the past month. I am amazed that I have been able to stick to this schedule. That I, someone who detests routine, someone who usually “wings it” and deals with things as they come, can stick to getting up at the same time every day and get to the gym four weekdays out of five. Wow!

But I soon realized it wasn’t just me who had to adjust to this new schedule. My dog – a big, furry, German Shepard mix named Pancha – was used to me staying up late. I would let her outside around midnight to take care of business one last time before going to bed. The first couple of weeks of my earlier bedtime had some major drawbacks. Around midnight every night I would hear Pancha whining outside my bedroom door or she would somehow open my door and stand near my bed and stare at me until I woke up.

Not good!

So now I make sure I let her out around 9:30 or 10:00 so I don’t get a wake-up whine (or stare) in the middle of the night. At first, she didn’t like being forced to go outside, but she has reluctantly relented to the new routine.

Problem solved. All is good.

Almost.

I’m still struggling with finding the best time to do my writing. I know most writers say to just fit it in where you can – ten minutes here, fifteen minutes there. Writers with busy lives need to work it in whenever possible.

I get that. And, for the most part, this advice makes sense. But I need more. I need to have at least an hour (preferably two) of uninterrupted writing time to feel like I have accomplished something. Anything less, and I feel like I’ve failed.

The solution to this problem is to figure out where to fit it in. I have the “few minutes here, a few minutes there” down pat. I have notepads in my purse, my car, on the nightstand, in the kitchen – in all the places where I sometimes find a glimmer of inspiration. I have this covered.

It’s the glorious hour or two-hour block of time that I’m missing. I used to find it late at night after everyone else had gone to bed. But now that my bedtime is two hours earlier, that time frame is no longer available.

If I have learned anything from my workout resolution, it’s that I just need to select a time that works for me and then train everyone (including the dog) to not interrupt me during this time.

Easier said than done but not impossible.

The hardest one to train is the woman who hates strict schedules and routines but needs a strict schedule and routine. Otherwise, she may never finish her next book. (Heavy sigh!)

If anyone out there has some tips and tricks for finding “me” time, please share them. I would love to hear about the creative techniques you use to get things done. Leave a comment and let’s discuss.

Until next time…keep creating!

Stephen Hawking And Not Giving Up

Yesterday, on Pi Day and Albert Einstein’s birthday, the world lost a brilliant mind. Stephen Hawking died in the early hours at the age of 76.

Can anyone imagine what it would be like if he had succumbed to ALS just two years after being diagnosed as doctors had predicted? We were fortunate to have him on this plant for an additional fifty-five years. Fifty-five years in which he contributed so much to science.

Just a month ago I picked up a copy of Hawking’s book, A Brief History of Time, at a used book sale. I didn’t go there to purchase that specific book nor was a looking for it. It just seemed to leap out at me from a table after I wandered, on purpose, into the astronomy section.

I had read the book many years ago and I’m not sure why I felt compelled to buy it on that day, but I did, along with two other books from the astronomy section, a couple of novels, and a collection of short stories by Mark Twain.

It was Hawking’s book I placed on top of the stack, planning to get to it when I had a few minutes to read.

It wasn’t until I heard about Hawking’s passing that I picked it up. I tried to read the first chapter, but I had trouble concentrating. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things he had accomplished in his life, even with all the obstacles put in his way. (Or perhaps because of those obstacles.)

And then I thought about my life. There are so many things I haven’t accomplished, and the only obstacles in my way right now are the ones I have put there. So many questions came to my mind. Am I living up to my full potential? Is my life everything I want it to be? Am I letting fear get in my way of doing the things I want to do?

Each day I hear someone tell me how hard I work and how much I have accomplished. I do work hard, but I know I can do so much more.

Lately, my days have been spent helping others with their projects, tasks, or goals. Not that this is bad. I enjoy helping others. It makes me feel good knowing the work I do helps others with their careers or helps them solve a problem. At the end of the day, I feel satisfied.

But helping others often means my own projects are put on the back burner. I should be able to find the time to work on my latest novel or take the next steps to get my new business off the ground. But I hesitate. I know what needs to be done but I worry that I’m wrong or that I will fail.

But is failure really a bad thing? Failing means I at least tried.

As I was preparing to write this article, I came across this quote from Stephen Hawking:

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

He was an incredibly smart man. I would be crazy not to take his advice.

 

More on Fear…

In my last blog post, I wrote about fear and how we tend to put things off for fear of looking inept or foolish. When it comes to writing, we are often afraid people will hate what we have spent months, possibly years, creating. We worry that what we have written won’t make any sense. We’re afraid of someone pointing out a misspelled word or a missing comma.

But just as there will be people who won’t like what we have created, there will be people who will love it. This is what we need to keep in mind. We need to forge ahead and create our works of art for those who will enjoy them. More importantly, we need to create for ourselves.

Joanna Penn, of TheCreativePenn.com, put it more eloquently in her recent YouTube video, Fear of Judgement. She pointed out that even our own families may not like, or even understand, the things we create. And that’s okay. They aren’t judging us, they just simply have different interests, different tastes, different likes and dislikes. It’s natural. It’s normal.

Joanna goes on to say that most of her friends and family have not read her books and she probably wouldn’t want them to. Her books show a different side of her, a darker side, that friends and family may not relate to or fully understand.

I get that.

I also have friends and family members who have not read my books. Some don’t like reading mystery novels (my preferred genre). Some just don’t like to read. (Something I really don’t understand!) Some may be afraid they won’t like my books, so they avoid reading them. And then there are those who simply don’t have the time. All valid reasons and all reasons why I shouldn’t take it personally.

And I try not to.

But even though I know I can’t please everyone with my writing, I sometimes leave things out just because I worry about what people will think. Will what I write offend someone? Will the meaning be lost or misinterpreted?

The truth is, if I leave things out, the meaning I had set out to convey has already been lost. My holding back will not do anyone any good – me or the reader.

In her video, Joanna states how writing is “powerful and healthy” and has many psychological benefits. If you are having doubts about your writing, or any other creative project, I highly recommend watching Joanna’s video. It may be just what you need to get over the hurdle.

Until next time…keep creating!

 

Writing Is Like Going to the Gym

Woman on treadmillI have always wanted to go to a gym and work out, but I could never find the time to do it. Just like writing, I want to do more but can’t seem to find the time.

I have always maintained there aren’t enough hours in the day for a full-time job, a family, friends, AND going to the gym. Most experts assert it is best to exercise first thing in the morning because the chances of getting in a workout later in the day are slim. After putting in a long day of work, the last thing most people want to do is head to the gym.

I was one of those people. By the end of the work day, I was too exhausted to think about anything except dinner and relaxing in front of the TV.

It doesn’t help that I’m not a morning person. I’m a night owl. I enjoy being up after everyone else in the house has gone to bed and the house is quiet. The problem with this is I would get out of bed the next day with just enough time to get to work. No time for exercise. No siree!

But a funny thing happened a few weeks ago. I discovered it’s not impossible for a self-proclaimed night owl to get up before sunrise and head to the gym. I’m now into week four and I’m proud to say I’m enjoying it. I even look forward to heading out while it’s still dark – and quiet. The best part is, I feel great!

Another benefit of working out is I have time to think. Time to come up with ideas to write about. Time to think creatively.

Time for epiphanies.

While on the treadmill one morning, it dawned on me that finding time to exercise was never the problem. The problem was getting over the fear.

I finally admitted to myself that I was afraid. I was afraid of looking like I didn’t know what I was doing (which I didn’t). I was afraid of falling off the treadmill (yes, I’m a klutz!) in front of other people. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get up before dawn day after day. To put it simply, I was afraid of failing.

I’m past the fear now. I feel comfortable with my new exercise routine and I’m no longer afraid I can’t do it.

Problem solved.

Now onto the next one. When do I find time to write?

I haven’t been doing enough writing lately. It seems there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. I’ve been reading about how other authors find time to fit writing into their busy schedules. Just like with exercising, it’s all about finding the right time to do it.

Or is it? (Here comes another epiphany.)

Could it be fear that is keeping me from writing? Just as it kept me from going to the gym?

No, it can’t be fear. I’ve already published two books and I’m almost done writing the third. How can it be fear?

The key word is almost. I’m ALMOST done with the third book. I’m at that stage where my writing needs some polishing and there are gaps in the story that need to be filled. This is the part that causes me the most grief. Sometimes, I just don’t know what is needed to complete the story and I worry I’ll never be able to figure it out.

Fear.

I have the fear of getting it wrong. Fear of not choosing the right words to get my meaning across. Fear of my characters behaving inconsistently.

Fear of readers hating it.

But just as I didn’t let fear continue to get in the way of my workouts, I can’t let fear stand in the way of my writing. I have to write. It’s a big part of who I am. I realize the fear may never go away completely, but it should diminish over time. It should at least get easier to ignore.

I just need to keep in mind all the positives of writing, just as there are positives of exercising. There is a strong sense of accomplishment with both activities. Finishing my third book will lead to the thrill of having another book published. Another book I can call my own. One more thing I can say I have accomplished

I just need to get past the fear.

Is Your Phone Keeping You from Writing? Here are 2 Ways to Solve the Problem.

I love writing. I really do. But, I find my writing time is often interrupted by my need to do unnecessary research and check my email multiple times a day. Not to mention the large number of phone calls, messages, and app notifications I receive during my scheduled writing time.

I know checking my email every twenty to thirty minutes isn’t healthy. Neither is Googling every question that pops into my head.

“What is the capital of Rhode Island?”

“When is the best time to schedule a book launch?”

“What is another word for obsessive?”

I know spending too much time doing research and checking email is an issue for me and each day I promise myself I won’t allow my fact-finding expeditions and my desire to see if someone wants to make a movie out of my last novel (I wish) to slow down the progress I am making on my current project.

And each day I let myself down.

Even if the questions that pop into my head are relevant to my novel, putting an end to the writing flow to go find the answer is insane! I know I should just make a note of the pesky interruptions and move on.

But I don’t.

I dive into the research. I open a web browser and Google whatever is on my mind.

That search leads to another. And another. Which then leads to checking email, Twitter, and Facebook. Until I’m no longer writing. I’m no longer a writer. I’m a researcher, a procrastinator, a digital junkie! Just yesterday, I opened Netflix so I could play an episode of Arrow and prove to my son that Laurel Lance had dark hair in season one, as opposed to the blond hair she has in season four.

Why? Because I could.

So, what do I do? How do I get rid of all these distractions and concentrate on my writing?

Ironically, with a little help from my smartphone. Here are two things I do to stay focused:

  1. I activate the Do Not Disturb feature so all phone calls, messages, and notifications are silenced. I don’t have to worry about missing calls or messages from important people, like my family and a few close friends, since I can add them as exceptions.
  2. I use an app called AppDetox (a very appropriate name) to place limits on the apps I just can’t seem to stay away from – email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. All I have to do is decide what kind of limit I want to place on each app. Among the options are: setting times of the day when I’m not allowed to access the app; limiting the number of times I can launch the app each day; or setting a time limit for using the app.

If I try to access an app when I should be working, I will get a cute message like, “No dose of LinkedIn for you!” or “You shall not pass to Email.”

Because I will have to do some research during the day, I have limited the number of times I can open Google Chrome to five. This has effectively cut down the amount of time I spend on frivolous web surfing.

So far, these two little tricks are helping me stay focused on my writing. If I can stick with it, I should have my third book completed by the end of the year.

Which raises a question – Is there an app that will do the writing for me? Excuse me while I go Google that.

Using Pinterest for Character Development

I admit, I have been slow to jump on the Pinterest wagon. With all the social media sites out there, this one just didn’t resonate with me.

Until now.

Until just a few days ago, to get a feel for what my characters looked like, where they lived, and what kind of vehicle they drove, I would either picture it in my mind or I would create a rough sketch on paper.

And, I do mean a rough sketch.

Sketches helped, especially with the layout of homes and other settings in my books. But, with a growing desire to add more detail and depth to my stories and characters, I realized my usual practice of conjuring up the images in my head and sketching those that seemed useful would be too time consuming. I needed to take a different approach.

So, to get a feel for the homes my new characters will live in, I decided to take a shortcut and went online and searched for home blueprints.

Jackpot!

It took a little searching but I found layouts that seemed to fit the personalities of my main characters.

Then, it happened.

While hovering over a blueprint image, the Pinterest icon appeared.

Lightbulb on! I can save all the images that inspire not only my characters’ habitats, but their hobbies, shape of their eyes, and the vehicles they drive – all on one Pinterest board! Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

We can so easily get stuck doing things the way we have always done them that it’s difficult to see another and possibly better way of performing everyday tasks. Not that my old system was bad. I’m organized and can quickly find items I have researched or created for my books. Plus, I try not to use too many tools to make it easier to locate and update items, as needed. But, when you have a tool available that requires only a simple click or two of the mouse, why not use it?

But, it doesn’t end there.

Pinterest boards and pins are for ideas, discovery, and inspiration. So, just because I am now saving character traits and home blueprints to a Pinterest board, that doesn’t mean my work is done. I will continue to create sketches – using either Photoshop or Illustrator, or doing them by hand – taking the ideas and images I have saved and working them into the details and personal aspects of my new characters. Pinterest is just a new tool to help me get to the desired result in less time and with fewer frustrations.

Right now, the board for my next novel is private. But, I may create another board – a public board – to share little snippets about my characters and where they live and work.

Follow me on Pinterest to see how this project unfolds. Just don’t forget I’m new at this. If you have any ideas or suggestions, please leave a comment on my blog. I would love to hear from you.

I’m Excited! And a Bit Scared.

Within the next day or two, I will be releasing my second novel on Amazon. I’m excited. And a bit scared.

I’m excited to have finished a project I started about twenty years ago. Yes, it took me that long to get through this one. Not that it’s a novel of epic proportions, it’s just a novel I started back when I first thought about writing. Then, life happened and the story was shoved in a drawer, forgotten for many years.

After I completed my first novel, I found the partial manuscript and thought I would give it another try. It was a project I had started and I couldn’t leave it unfinished, although there were many times when I thought I should abandon it and move on to something else.

Then…finally…it hit me what was wrong with the story and what I could do to make it better. Or, at the very least, reignite my interest in it so I could finish the writing, revising, and editing stages and move on to the self-publishing piece. The realization caused a complete overhaul of the story but I think it was worth it.

Now, it’s ready to be published and I’m scared about sending my book out into the world. Is it ready? Did I do all I could do to make it an interesting story? While I don’t know the answers to these questions, I realize I need to have faith that I have done my best and the logical next step is to send my creation on its way to meet its fate…and hope for the best.

Which leads to the most exciting part. It’s done! I can now move on to my third novel. A story that is fresh and new and allows me to do what I love. Writing. No revising (yet). No editing (yet). Just writing. Just putting words to paper and seeing where the characters will take me. They never fail to amaze me.

While I’m excited and scared at the same time, there is nothing about this journey that I would change. Well…maybe just a few revisions here and there.

Bad Reviews? Smile and Move On.

Don’t let anyone tell you your creation is bad.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to someone’s advice or constructive criticism. What it does mean is you shouldn’t let bad reviews get you down.

When I was in graphic design school and working on my final portfolio, one of my instructors was assigned to approve the pieces I had chosen. I had put a great deal of thought into which projects would be included, choosing only those items I felt showcased my best work, the ones I would be proud to say I created. I remember my instructor looking at one item for just a few seconds before saying, “I don’t like this one,” and tossing it aside.

Since I was still in school, and wanted to learn all I could about the creative process, I asked him why. What was it about the piece he didn’t like? How could I make it better?

He picked it up, looked at it for less than a minute, and said, “I guess it’s okay,” and put it back with the other portfolio pieces. I let that response derail me for a bit. I languished over what might be wrong with that one piece of artwork.

It took a while, but I was finally able to look at it differently. I liked the piece. I had chosen it. My instructor’s evaluation of my work was based on his personal preference. He couldn’t tell me what I could do to make it better because, from a technical perspective, there was nothing wrong with it. I had met all the requirements for the project. He just didn’t like it. And, that’s okay. Not everyone is going to like what we create.

I recently read an excellent article posted on The Write Life (Real Writers Get Bad Book Reviews. Here’s Why That’s OK.). My favorite part of the article, written by Michael Alvear, reminds us that not everyone likes chocolate. It’s crazy, I know! And, if there are people who don’t like chocolate, there will be people who won’t like what we have created. It’s that simple. We do not live in a one-size-fits-all society. What one person hates, another will love. We, as creatives, must be okay with that.

So, ask for the advice. Ask for feedback. But, if it doesn’t feel right to make changes to your work, whether it’s a book or a painting, don’t do it. In the end, you are the creator. You need to create what feels right to you. You need to create what you will be proud to call your own. Bad (and good) reviews will be there no matter what you do.

 

Do You Need an Outline?

Should you create an outline for your story?

This is not a post telling you to outline your story. It’s also not a post telling you not to outline your story. My thought on this subject is everyone should do what works best for them. My suggestion is to try both. Write a story using an outline. Write one without using an outline. Then determine which one works best for you.

While I won’t tell you to use, or not use, an outline, I will tell you whichever option you choose, it may not work for you on every project. Sometimes, it will make sense to use an outline. There may be times where an entire story manifests itself and the best way to capture all its components is to do a rough sketch – an outline.

Then, there are times when you’re staring at a blank page with a story nowhere to be found. In this case, I would pick a character, a point of view, and just start writing. Write anything. Let the character take you wherever he or she wants to take you. It could lead to a wonderful story, if you let it.

One more thought on using an outline. If you decide this is the best option for you and your story, don’t hold onto it so tight that you are unwilling to let your characters take you down a different path.

I’ve done this before and ended up with characters that were flat. They weren’t interesting and they behaved in ways that were unnatural, doing things they would never do based on what they had done earlier in the story. There have been times when I had to go back to the beginning of the story and make changes so it would flow into the new direction a character has taken me. But, in the long run, it was worth the extra effort. It made for a better story. Sometimes, your characters will know better than you where the story should take your readers. Don’t fight it. After all, you created the characters. Trust them to do your bidding, even if it is unintentional. They are inside your head. They can read your mind. Let them.

Just make sure you can keep track of where the characters are heading. Too much freedom and the path will wind and twist until you have a story even you as the writer will have trouble untangling. Give your characters some room to roam but pull them back in when it feels like they are starting to tell a different story. This would be a good time to do that rough sketch – an outline – for your next book.

So, should you create an outline? The answer is yes, if you find it to be a useful tool and it will help you finish your project. But, the answer is no, if it will be a hindrance to the creative process.

Trust yourself. Trust your characters. Trust whichever process you choose.

Ignoring My Own Advice

There is a writing tip on my website about the necessity of writing every day. My exact words were “Write daily – even when you don’t feel like it.”

Unfortunately, I broke my own rule. I didn’t write daily. I didn’t feel like it. Most days were spent writing or rewriting my second novel, but not all. The rest were spent proofreading the book and preparing it for publication – an all-consuming, exhausting, and sometimes frustrating process. Taking time away to write something new, something different, probably would have done wonders for my state of mind. Too bad I didn’t listen to my own advice.

I was driven to complete the book at all costs. At times, I was getting nowhere, unable to fix problems with the book and unable to tear myself away. Most days my sanity was hanging by a thread. I told myself I could work on other projects once the book was finished. That it would only take a couple more days. Those couple of days turned into a couple of weeks. Weeks turned into months.

Writing about what I was going through would have helped, I’m sure. Getting my mind off the work that still needed to be done on the book would have given me a much needed break. I’m my own worst enemy.

The good news is, my book (Murder by Fire) will be released next month. We’ll see if I learned anything from writing my second novel when I get bogged down in writing the third.

Any bets? What are your challenges? Write a comment and let’s discuss.