Earlier this year I read a book called Deep Work by Cal Newport. I loved it so much that I decided to read another of his books, Digital Minimalism. I’m still in the process of that one, but so far, I’m loving it, too.
I know productivity gets a bad rap, but I love learning how to improve, how to be better at, more efficient at, and yes, more productive at because I haven’t been in such a fucking long time that everything and everyone has shot right on by me in this world of being a romance writer. And though comparison is a bad thing… I know this first hand and I know what it can do to creativity and mental health, it’s not hard not to see that my writing career stuttered to less than a crawl in the last…too many years.
I am not satisfied with this.
I am no where done with telling stories.
So, for me to apply deep work (focus) to my writing, I needed to go on a digital minimalistic journey (eliminate some or all of the distractions that had me reaching for my phone or the tablet or the remote control…social media on my phone, in my case). Has it helped? Some, yes.
Without spending time scrolling Instagram, I’ve recovered some hours in my day. I’ve started exercising with a little bit more focus, caught up on household chores that I’d let slide, relaxed more (physically and mentally), and have had an increase in book ideas, story fixes, and overall the creative thoughts have begun to return.
I haven’t written as much as I hoped by this time of the month, but honestly, I’m still happy with the small progress because I’m enjoying writing again. I’m not influenced, nor am I concerned with what anyone else is writing or reading. I’m not listening to any you should or shouldn’t advice unless I’m specifically seeking out information on certain things. I’m just concerning myself with…me in this writing space.
When I started out way back when, I wrote the stories I wanted to write without thinking about marketability, or reader interest. Is this the smart way to do it? Most would say no, especially if publishing is the goal. But here’s the thing I’ve learned… If there’s no love in it, if there’s no joy in it, if I’m not interested in reading it, then there’s not going to be any writing. And the reader I used to write for was me, which means, the reader I need to write for now is me.
I’m listening to music, using a timer for sprints, and just writing where my heart and head lead me. I’m more focused on just telling the story I want to tell and deleting Instagram has helped me do this. My brain and spirit needed a bit of a break.
So… We’re basically halfway through July and I’ve read a few more books than previously, and I have something like…13 active stories that I’m writing on with each in various stages of completion. A couple of them are around the 2/3 – 3/4 mark, some are nearing the 1/2 way mark, and a number of them are in the early chapters. There are novels, novellas, and short 5K word stories (I have plans for these short pieces that I’ll share soon). All of this… I was so distracted from it all and now that I’m not, I’m in a happy place, mentally and creatively.
Not being on social media… Facebook has a lot of author and publishing and collaboration information and I know I’ve missed out on a lot, but I couldn’t trust myself to just stick to boundaries I set for myself. Will that always be the case? I hope not because I’d love to be part of a community of writers who learn and encourage and support and share with each other, but the drama shit was too mentally draining. Book Twitter became a place for judgment and gatekeeping and it was no longer enjoyable for me. Instagram just made me feel like I wasn’t pretty enough, skinny enough, extroverted enough, productive enough, or anything else enough.
I was hella distracted by all of these and with each one I deleted, I gained more of myself back.
I’m digitally minimal right now with regards to social media. I don’t know when or how that’ll change going forward, but for the time being, it’s what I need.
I’m learning to apply deep work to the things I want to get done with regards to my writing career, focusing on the things that will get me where I want to go, and learning to enjoy the journey again without the distraction of shiny things or the creativity killer, comparison.
I’ll talk to y’all soon.
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.
I’ll talk to y’all soon.
Have you missed me?
I’ve missed me.
However, I’ve sorta found me. Back in December we moved from Charlotte, North Carolina about 100 miles southwest to a small area between Greenville and Spartanburg, South Carolina called Greer. I have a view of mountains outside the back of the house and it takes me less than 30 minutes to get into the heart of the Blue Ridge. I love this area and it fits me more than Charlotte. Maybe that’s why I write small towns so much. I’m a small town girl at heart…
As most of you know, I’m not an active participant on Twitter much anymore, nor on Facebook at all. I’m not participating on TikTok because well… Yeah. I was somewhat of an active participant on Instagram, but found myself more and more in a negative headspace, deep in comparison, and lacking any sort of inspiration. so, I decided to take at the very least July off from Instagram. I’ve decided instead to use this blog for any sort of communication, comments, thoughts, images, etc… I don’t have anyone here to compare myself to except myself and I don’t have endless things to scroll through wasting time, procrastinating, and generally avoiding ALL THE THINGS.
It’s also July which means Camp NaNoWriMo. I participated back in April and it really helped me get back into writing a little bit after months and months and months away from it. I’ve written in May, and June. Not a lot, but enough to get the ideas flowing again and find my way back into storytelling. I have an ambitious goal, for me, for July, but that’s one of the reasons for my self-imposed Instagram ban. More writing. More reading. Just more…
Anyway, that’s about all for now. I’m going to get to some writing and I’ll talk to y’all again soon.
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.
And coming from a romance author, that’s kinda…well, not a good thing, is it?
My story endings tend to be more Happy For Now rather than Happily Ever After. I’ve tried writing HEA’s but they don’t feel genuine to me. That, too, coming from a romance author isn’t a good thing, is it?
There’s a strict definition of romance and it’s centered around the idea of a Happily Ever After. I even have a couple signs in my office that say Happily Ever After. That’s the aspiration for me at time, I think. But as all writing does, mine shifts and changes and gets closer to HEA’s and gets farther away from them, too.
I don’t like endings. Not in books, not in movies, not in television shows, not in my favorite band’s careers, not in life. Ending scare me. Endings mean change. Endings mean finality. Endings, happy or sad, leave me with a sense of…loss.
My first memory of an ending came when I was a kid, kindergarten, and my father sitting on the side of the bed in my parent’s bedroom. He was upset and that’s my last memory of him as my father. After that, he became someone else’s father and someone else’s husband. I saw him a couple times after that, but it was never the same. I was never the same.
When I would leave my grandparent’s home at the end of every summer growing up, I would cry because what if it was the end? What if something happened and I never saw them again? I’d cry at the beginning of summer, too, when my mom would drop me off with my grandparents because what if it was the end? What if I never saw her again?
Friendships. Relationships. I either stay longer than is healthy because I can’t handle the thought of ending something. Maybe I should try harder. Maybe I haven’t done enough, given enough. But there’s another side of it, too. There’s the side that says I’m going to do the leaving. I’m going to do the hurting. I’m going to do the ending because it won’t destroy me as much if I’m the one who controls it. None of it is healthy or easy. It’s all fucking hard as shit. It’s all growth and acknowledgement. It’s all confrontation of myself and my fears that I’m not worth, that I’m not enough, that I’m not lovable, that even as a child I wasn’t lovable. It’s a thing internalized that it wasn’t a thing between my parents, but that it was a thing with me. After all, he married someone else and had a son with her and they stayed married, are still married.
This fear of endings followed me all through childhood and teen years and young adult and new adult and now I’m 49… And guess what? I still hate endings. I still cry with big change, little change. When one thing is ending. When transitions are happening. And there are things happening in my personal life right now that are ending and changing and transitioning and shifting forward and back and I’m an emotional mess over all of it. Even knowing these days would come, these changes, these transitions. Even knowing… I’m still just…
Expecting an ending isn’t the same as being prepared for it and how this translates to my writing is… Hell, if I know. I don’t write good endings. I write them well, either. I kind of just…end them. Like there’s something more coming after, like the middle or beginning of another scene. Like it’s not really over. And I know that’s because I suck at endings, I hate endings, I’m fucking scared of endings, whether someone else ends a thing or I end a thing. You can never go back once it’s done. You can never get it back once it’s over. At least that’s how it is in my head. It’s final. It’s unchangeable. And I do realize that my view of endings is skewed based on my earliest memory of one. I’ve always been fascinated with Happily Ever After. My favorite story was Cinderella and the Prince who search high and low for her. Of love being the triumph. The Hallmark Happily Ever After is one, too, that fascinates me. But the one that always gets me, that resonates with me, as far as a Hollywood everyone has seen it thing… My Best Friend’s Wedding. The friendship that always was is changing, forever. The friendship that was this way would never be that way again. The unresolved issues will always remain because he’s moving on, his life changed and she’s left with a broken heart and trying to piece a new part of herself together from the emptiness that is now there. Now, I’m the one who sees it that way, but most see it a different way, that’s just how my brain works.
We all process and handle rejection differently. We all handle the way things end or don’t end or change or morph or transition and it’s something that I work on, that I journal on. Sometimes distance helps. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it haunts me and I think for years of what I could have said or done or what I did say or did do… I am a second guesser and that follows me through pretty much everything I do (and I’ll discuss this in another blog).
I think in some ways, this is why we experience book hangovers. Sometimes it’s just the content is just that good, and sometimes it’s the fact that something just that good has come to an epic end. And for me personally, this is sometimes why I avoid reading the last or last few books in a series. I love it so much and I don’t want it to end so I leave it undone. I can go back to it any time at all because I haven’t experienced it yet.
How weird am I?
If you’ve got any thoughts or helpful hints or anything at all, leave a comment. (See, I don’t even know how to end a blog post.)