Since October 12th, I’ve been down in Florida and during this time, I’ve managed to scratch out a couple thousand words. That’s much less than a week’s worth when I’m at home, but for these 3 weeks, I’ve been helping out family and having the mental energy necessary to write has been a challenge.
I’m mentally, physically, even emotionally exhausted. Being a caregiver, short-term or long-term is not for the faint of heart. It’s definitely not for the selfish or the ‘me’ mentality. It requires patience, kindness, and the ability to scream internally when you can’t scream externally.
Normally, I would have said, ‘I just can’t. I’ll just wait until I get back home and get my head back on straight, catch up on sleep, on de-stressing, on XYZ… And then, I’ll start writing again.’ I haven’t done that. I’ve eked out words here and there, most of which don’t make much sense and most of which will be edited out. I also not upset about it, about the lack of progress on a novella I’d hoped to have finished long before November. I’m barely halfway.
I’ve texted with a couple of friends since I’ve been here. I’ve mostly taken my mom or grandma to the Dr, the store, to run whatever errands need to be taken care of, etc… while my mom is recovering from a fall that left her with multiple fractures in one arm along with a plate and nine screws in her wrist. Her sleep schedule is way off which means that mine is, too. By the time I fall asleep around 2-3am… my brain and body have had enough.
Writing is often an escape, sometimes a joy, a lot of times very hard work. Right now it’s not an escape. I can’t think straight enough for it to be an escape and I don’t have the time to sit and immerse myself in a story. I cobble together a few words, try to figure out a storyline in the moments I may have a second to think. I crave and cherish time to myself, something I haven’t had any of for three weeks. I don’t think I’ll be taking that for granted when I return home.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am grateful I can be here and I can help out when needed because no one else in the family can come. I have the freedom and flexibility in my life and schedule that my sister and cousins don’t. I am grateful for the time I get to spend with my grandma who is 95. I am grateful for the time I get to spend with my mom. I am close with both of these women, but we’re all also cut from the same stubborn piece of cloth and it does pull on the nerves from time to time.
All this, though, is to say… Whatever the circumstance, writing can happen. Even if it’s ten words a day. Five words a day. It’s like the jigsaw puzzles my grandma and I do when I’m here and there’s some down time. It’s one piece at a time. It may be a total of one thousand pieces, but one piece at a time gets you one step closer. It’s the same with writing. One word, five words, ten words in a novella or novel doesn’t seem like much, maybe a drop in a bucket, but it’s one, five, or ten words that weren’t written before and it’s one, five, or ten words closer to the goal.
So, if you find yourself in need of writing but you don’t have much time, you’re exhausted and don’t know which way is up or down and everything seems to be going sideways… Just add one word, five words, ten words… They don’t have to make sense. They just have to be there.
I’m at my desk this morning with a rather large cold brew coffee which is an anomaly. Not the coffee. The coffee is never an anomaly. If I’m without coffee of some sort at my desk, someone needs to call 911 because I’m not me. But I’m not usually sitting at my desk this early. Normally, I’m taking care of some household chores, sitting out on the porch watching the cows, doing a crossword puzzle, wandering the kitchen, running errands, trying not to go back to bed, exercising… Being at my desk typically comes in the afternoons. That’s when I write and have some time to myself, but I’m at a point in a couple of writing projects that while maybe not require me to give a little more time, they certainly compel me to and so, here I am.
I also wanted to touch base with you. It’s been a couple of weeks and I’m sorry for that. I didn’t mean for that much time to go by without connecting and talking.
I lose track of time. Not in the way I used to lose track of time when I was still scrolling social media (though I may have a bit of a YouTube issue…), but in a general I find other ways to occupy my time kind of way.
I’ve become a bit more of a movie person again. I used to have movies on all the time when I’d write or shows like Law and Order, but I got out of that. Now, I’m back to it. It’s kind of strange, too, my choices of late…
While working on a Christmas novella… It’s been The Expendables (all 3), The Equalizer (both movies), and I’ve moved on to Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon, and Mission Impossible (4, 5, and 6).
While working on some erotic shorts… John Wick (2 & 3) and Red (both).
I’ve put on The Lord of the Rings while working on some writing other projects as well.
These are all movies I know and like and love and I don’t have to pay strict attention to them. They’re just a moment to look up and recite dialogue or watch someone get their ass handed back to them.
Strange for writing romance. Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t know what others do. Maybe they chat with other writers. Maybe they do write-with-me videos. Maybe they listen to music or dictate or…I don’t know. I do listen to music a lot, as well, when I’m writing.
But I’m more than halfway into the Christmas novella. I’ve finished one of the erotic shorts and am almost done with a second one. A third and fourth are started and beginning to take shape.
We’re coming up on football season and I’ll be writing while watching a lot of college football, too.
I’ve been working on some racing romances here and there for next year and with the end of the current racing season coming over the next few months, I’ll be starting to pick up pace on them.
Aside from what I’m working on writing wise, once a week, the Spouse and I go for a drive into the mountains or into a little town we haven’t been in before. Last weekend we found Blue Wall Preserve. It’s twenty minutes from our house and that I have things like that all around me, all within 20-30 minutes of where I Iive now… Just…grateful.
Anyway, it’s called Blue Wall because it’s said that when the Cherokee used to hunt the land here, they called the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Blue Wall. And there are places leading into the mountains where they just loom ahead and you can totally see why they would be called that. And when the blue hue is just right… It steals my breath every single time.
These hours we take to see something, breathe the air, find a new coffee shop (for me), marvel at nature… They renew me and I’m learning to take it all in, to watch it all, to savor it all without thinking that I should post it or what hashtags can I use or… These are moments that are precious and special and I missed too many of them, wasn’t present for many of them the way I should’ve been before.
Which is also to say…
I’m still enjoying this time away from social media. I’ve been thinking I should check messages on Instagram, but honestly y’all… I’m a bit nervous. I don’t want to fall down the scrolling hole again, but I know myself well enough to know that it’s a possibility. I even told the Spouse that if I log in, he’ll probably have to come take the phone from me and delete the app again. This is how much I don’t trust myself and my behaviors. How sad is that?
However, as I’ve stated a few times before, being away from social media has been good for my writing and my mental health. I’m occupying my time in other ways and I’m learning who I am again without all that noise and I’m liking myself more. I’m not sure I’ll go back and I don’t know what that means for me as a writer, as someone who once published books and intends to publish more. I don’t know what not being on social media for connection and marketing will do to sales. Though, honestly, I didn’t have many sales before leaving social media, so… I guess I’ll see when I start publishing again.
So, I’m sitting at my desk… A Balsam & Cedar candle burning, a little 100 year old ceramic Christmas tree lit, and a Hallmark Christmas movie (Two Turtle Doves) on in the background.
And I thought maybe now would be a good time to show y’all the cover for one of the stories I have been chipping away at the last few months.
I don’t know when it’ll be out and I don’t want to speculate. It could be November or December this year, or it could be January. I know I’m supposed to set dates and have goals and to be quite honest, I burned myself out thinking about all of that instead of doing the thing that would really get me anywhere at all and that thing was and is…writing.
The writing doesn’t burn me out.
It’s all the other stuff that comes with the writing as a business that does.
But… That’s not what this post is about. No, this post is about giving us all permission to look at a cute cover, imagine what the story is and who the dapper guy is, and indulge in a little holiday cheer. At least, it’s permission for me to indulge in a little holiday cheer since last year I was moving in December and we didn’t really do any holiday…anything.
I don’t know if I’ll do more than watch a few of my favorite Hallmark Christmas movies and drink some hot cocoa or make a gingerbread latte, but sometimes those few comforts are enough.
The latest news to come from Wall Street is that Billionaire Brett Randolph has bought a small town. Not just any small town, though. Nope. He bought his hometown of Gumdrop Valley.
Now, I know many of you have never heard of Gumdrop Valley before and I hadn’t either, but the story goes that in the Spring, the wildflowers that bloom look just like gumdrops and at Christmas when all the houses are decorated and lit, the town looks like one of those quaint holiday villages people set up on every available surface in their homes. So, when the town was facing bankruptcy and businesses were beginning to close, Mr. Randolph stepped in and purchased all the land in the county along with everything in it.
Gumdrop Valley was saved and with the influx of money and the hiring of advertising and marketing firms by Mr. Randolph to help turn things around, his investment looks like it will pay off by the holiday season.
This isn’t the blurb, this is just a little something I wrote at the beginning of the story…
Anyway, I’m going back to my movie and I’m going to find some breakfast.
In the midst of this pandemic so many lives have been turned upside down. People have been thrust into new ways of living, existing, coping. I haven’t. My life hasn’t changed much because being home, working from home, homeschooling was my life and to a point, still is. The most I’ve struggled with is finding toilet paper and finding focus. The degree of change has varied with each person, with each family.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I know there are people struggling with getting anything done at all when the house is full of people, when normal routines have been disrupted, when there’s no certainty when things might go back to some semblance of the way they were. I wish I had some tips and tricks to help others figure out how to navigate this, but the way I did it was to just do it. I didn’t have any other choice. I didn’t have the privacy of a home office the way I do now. I didn’t have the dedicated time to do what I wanted to do. I had to make it or I just had to do it in little swatches of time.
And one thing I learned by doing it the way I did is that I’m a high stress person. I’ll stress about the smallest things and I’ll stress about big things and I’ll stress when something impacts my family and I’ll stress when something may impact my ability to get coffee the way I like it… But I’ve found, in general, that I can actually thrive and make progress when there’s a lot of stress, outward stress, at least. Inward stress and I’m done for. But the outward stress… That’s what I thrive in.
I didn’t always believe that and here is what this post is actually about. I thought having a nearly empty nest, and all sorts of time in a day, and a dedicated home office, and a chore schedule, and pretty much zero interruptions that I would be productive as shit, cranking out books left and right and upside down and right-side up… And well, I was wrong.
I can’t speak for anyone else. There are writers who need that, who need to not be on the verge of pulling their hair out. They need dedicated space and quiet and to be left alone. I get that. For instance, when my books are in editing and when I’m formatting them, I am that writer. But otherwise, I am not. I get distracted and unfocused and even…bored. God, I hate that word. So fucking much. And I’ve tried the schedules. The morning routines. The plan everything. The set my intentions.
Maybe the quiet gets to me. Maybe the walls get to me. I don’t know. But I do miss the chaos of all the things happening and going on.
And there’s definitely a piece of this that is mourning the near empty nest. I am in mourning that my kids are grown and don’t need me as much. I am in mourning that those magical years are over. I am in mourning that a new stage of life is here and I wasn’t emotionally or mentally prepared for it. Sometimes I’m not sure what to do with it all and maybe that’s what most of my struggle is. What do I do with it all? The mourning and the new? I spent so many years working and writing and living one way that I’m not sure how not to work and write and live another way. This is the inner stress. This is upheaval of life as it once was but isn’t anymore and I know a lot of people are going through it, just on the other end.
I worked a job. I homeschooled. I did the cooking and cleaning. I wrote in the wee hours.
Then… I homeschooled. I cooked and cleaned. I wrote in the between times and in the wee hours.
Then… I dropped off and picked up. I cooked and cleaned. I wrote less and less and not in the wee hours.
Then… I wandered aimlessly and the concept of time got skewed in my head.
I miss the chaos. I miss the way things were. I miss being pushed against the walls of all the things that needed to be done.
Now, none of that is to say that chaos is the only thing that helped me or that peace and quiet and time are the only things that I’ve struggled with. I’ve struggled jealousy. Envy. Compairisonitis. Too many things. Not enough things. Inconsistency. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Humiliation. Embarrassment. Lack of confidence in myself. Lack of belief in my writing and the stories I’m trying to tell. These are all pretty serious things in and of themselves, but put them together and it’s one big fucked up show.
But when there was chaos in my house, when there was normal life in my house, I didn’t have time to think about all those other things that throw wrenches. I could only throw myself into the writing in the windows of time I had at my disposal. I wrote at the kitchen table. On the couch. In bed. At baseball games. At band rehearsals. In the pick-up line at school. In coffee shops. At restaurants. In bookstores. In the middle of the hotel lobby at a conference. Those things worked for me, worked like a fucking charm for me. I can set goals until I’m blue in the face and with the best of intentions and for a couple of days, I’ll get all over them. Then, I’ll fall off. I have time. I can start again later. I can do that tomorrow or next week or whenever. No one is waiting. No one cares. And those things are just fucking lies. People are waiting. People do care. I am waiting. I care.
For a long time now, by this point in the year, I’d have given up already. The goals long forgotten. The planner collecting dust. And I’d be in the… Well, I’ll try again next year frame of mind and beating myself up. I had time. What’s wrong with me? But this year… through the writing of blog posts and journaling and not giving up and plugging along and trying to learn about myself as I am now, as life is now, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t do well with a planner (that post is HERE), and I don’t do well with word count goals (that post is HERE). I need pressure and a little chaos, even if it’s manufactured. And when it comes to my writing, a deadline does that. It gives me an end. It gives me an ultimatum. And I will thrive in that. Telling myself that I need to get to 50,000 words by the end of the month does absolute shit for me. I’ll let the end come and go, and I’ll wave as it passes. Set up a pre-order and have a deadline… Dude, I’ll get that done. I’ve let one lapse over the years, but my mindset game wasn’t strong at all. It’s stronger now. It’s better now. It’s not to be fucked with now.
It’s kind of like when my mom is coming for a visit and my house is a wreck the way it always is… I’ll start off doing little things here and there a few days before she’s due to arrive. Then, the day she is supposed to get here, I’ll talk to her throughout the day to find out where she is and how much longer it’ll be until she pulls into the driveway… When she’s an hour to an hour and a half out, my ass is in high gear and this place is spotless and things are put away and the toilets are cleaned and the floors are mopped and the clothes are hung and the surfaces dusted and the kitchen is gleaming.
The writing for me, with a deadline, is like that. The writing for me, in small pockets of time with all the things going on around me, is like that.
The writing with all the time in the world to get it done, is not like that for me.
The writing with peace and quiet and time, is not like that for me.
It’s probably why I also like and need and have conditioned myself to use a timer when I write. Not blog posts, obviously, but my books, definitely.
Life is a bit of a struggle for me. I’m not ready for all the changes that are here now or that have been coming. I can’t control any of it and I can’t stop it. I can’t make my life go back 10-20 years even though I wish I could. I’m jealous of all the people who are homeschooling now and who have all their kids around because I miss mine. Because I miss those years. And I know some people are jealous of the situation I find myself in…kids pretty much gone and time is now my own. The only things I can control right now is my writing and my output and I’ve not done well with it. I’ve lost a lot of time trying to find what box I fit into now.
How do you cope with changes in life and stress? Does your writing soar or suffer? Let me know. I’m curious. Always.
…but I’ve learned that planners don’t work for me.
I read a book recently, Dear Writer, You Need To Quit by Becca Syme. It was great and it gave me a lot to think about. One of the things was a process the author calls QTP or Question The Premise. This is a tool to use when you need to question something, perhaps when something isn’t working the way you think it should or when you start to adopt a thought process because it works for everyone else and you believe it should work for you, too. For instance:
Planners make people more productive. But…do they?
Everyone should write every day. But…should they?
Procrastination is bad. But…is it?
Becca suggests questioning the premise of the thought, idea, statement, belief, etc… And it can work with anything. She has a whole series of QTP videos on various things regarding writing and I haven’t watched them all yet, but I will because I’m learning a lot. She has one about planning the year out and I did plan my year out because everyone says you should and I fell off that wagon before January was finished and now I’m curious about her QTP video about the subject.
Anyway, so yesterday I found Becca’s video about planners on YouTube and I’ll link it at the end for you to watch if you’re interested. Basically, I fit what she describes.
I buy the planner. I use it for a bit. Then I don’t.
And then I see all the writers who use planners, who swear they’re more productive because of the planners, who spend hours and small fortunes on decorations and stickers for the planners…
Inevitably, I think that I just haven’t found the right planner yet. I haven’t found the right system or method or layout or collection yet. So, I’ll waste time searching online, going to the stores (when they were open for us to do that), spend money I don’t need to spend on yet another planner that should work because it worked for this or that writer.
When I get home, I’ll lay it all out and fill it in and check the boxes when I’ve done the things, all proud of myself for about 3 days or 10 days or a month, sometimes I can stretch the feeling for 2 months, and then… I don’t use it again for weeks and weeks.
Then… Because I’m hella behind, I’ll feel a surge of ‘boy, I was more productive when I used the planner’ and I’ll open it up, skipping ahead to the current date and start again only to fall off even faster. Pretty soon, I’ll start beating myself up because I’m not productive at all, planner or no. I’ll go right for the I’m just too damn lazy spin and I’ll stay here for a while, then dust myself off and just go about life without a planner. But the cycle will start all over again. It always does. Because there’s something wrong with me. I have a defect. It’s me. Not the planner. Not the system or method or anything else. It’s me.
And truthfully, it is me, to a point.
I’m not a planner person.
I’m not a planner. Not like that.
I’m what Becca describes as a Data Responsive person… And I fit her definition of If I see it, I’ll do it.
She uses another term… Data Controlling. If I plan it, I’ll do it. That’s not me. Planning three months, six months… Hell, planning one month in advance or even a week in advance doesn’t work for me.
I do like getting all the shit out of my head because it will help me focus to brain dump. And I do like seeing the list. I do like crossing things off the list. But I’ve tried three different planning methods this year so far and it’s only the middle of April.
So, what does this mean for me? Well, it means, I need to resist the temptation to buy planners. I need to unsubscribe to all the planner newsletters I receive. It also means I need to stick to that which does make me more productive and what does keep me on top of all the things. I need to be able to see things. I tend to look up more than I tend to look down and when I look up, I see the whiteboard and the calendars on the wall. Everything is written out in bright colors and catches my eye and triggers something in my brain. I know these things work for me, but damn, I wanted the planners to work because the planners work for everyone else! Or…do they? (See what I did there? LOL)
Another thing that works for me is not getting up from my desk. Once I get up from my desk, I don’t want to come back to it, so my list of get-to-do’s needs to be short and sweet and only comprised of the top things I want to get done that day. I plan to try the index card or post-it note method to see if either of those will work for me along with writing things up on the calendars.
I have three calendars on the wall…
One is yearly. I put releases up on that one.
Another is monthly. I add my daily word count on that one.
The last one is weekly. I haven’t used it much, but the idea is to take what’s on my index card/post-it note and add it to the calendar each day so by the end of the week, I can see progress being made. I’m one of those people who needs something enforced multiple times and in multiple places so it gets into my head.
I also have a large, plain whiteboard where I keep plot points or other books ideas so I don’t forget them, or things I might need to work out, or the direction I want to take a book in. I have a OneNote account where I keep this information, too, but if it’s not IN FRONT OF MY FACE like the whiteboard, I won’t open it up, I won’t look at it. I will, in fact, forget that it exists most of the time even though the folder is on the desktop.
I need to see it in order to do it. It doesn’t need to have an extra step like open or find under a stack or clear the desk so I can use it.
I’ll miss looking for the pretty planners and seeing all the cool things that people do with them, but planners don’t make me more productive and therefore are a waste of time for me.
Another thing about me…
I’m an all in person. If I see one part of thing needs to be done, I’ll do all of it. For instance, laundry… If I see one group of things needs to be washed, I’ll decide there and then that it all needs to be done and I’ll just do it. I was trying the house cleaning method of this room this day and that room another day and nope. I would rather do it all and get it finished. That kind of lends itself to the If I see it, I’ll do it mindset as well. I don’t want to have to drag cleaning supplies out multiple times a week or fold laundry every day of the week. I’d rather just do it and get it done.
Same with reading a new book. I want to read it all. Either the whole book or the whole series. I want to spend every waking moment reading until finished.
And the same with television shows. I’d rather binge and finish, than to start and stop and start and stop. I’ll lose interest, even if it’s something I love.
If I see it, I’ll do it. If not, I won’t do it at all, or I’ll forget about it for a while until something triggers my brain about it.
So, I’m going to link the video from Becca here about planners and let me know which type of person you are… Does a planner work for you and help you be more productive or are you more like me in that you need to see it and then you’ll do it?