Thursday, February 28, 2013

Find the Time to Find your Identity

Last week was the official mark of my first year on the new job.  Even with all the ups and downs involved with such a big change in my life, I will admit it went by pretty fast.  Of course, I’ve been busy with so many other things this past year as well, it’s no wonder time is slipping by at warp speed. 
When you think about it, the idea of time passing by so quickly is both terrifying and also a bit thrilling.  It can be terrifying for the obvious reasons.  Only kids wish for time to go by quickly so they can be at whatever age gives them the legal right to do what they believe they are missing out on.  Adults view the passage of time much differently and only look forward to phases in their lives…marriage, kids, buying a home, when the kids graduate college, when grandchildren are born, when retirement is right around the corner.  I think we’d all agree we could enjoy birthdays just as well without having to actually keep track of what our true age might be.  After all, age is only a number…
The passage of time at a quick rate can be thrilling when you believe it is moving you towards a goal you know will take time to achieve anyway.  On the other end of the spectrum, time can move at a slower pace when you are excited about an upcoming event.  I’d vote for a happy medium but that never seems to be in the cards; time is either moving too slow or too fast.  When it seems as if it will take forever to reach that final goal, it does help to stay focused and busy with all that is involved in the planning phase.  Before you know it, you’re moving that much closer to reaching your goal.
That is the case for me, if this past year is any indication. 
I took on the challenge of following my passion to write.  I took on the very large idea of writing a book and the tasks involved with what it takes to publish and market that book.  It is not an easy task and cannot be completed in just days or weeks.  Instead, it takes months, even years.  This type of undertaking has many unknown factors to it and because there is no easy or quick path to success, there are those who probably just give up.  Time would most likely be the reason.  Maybe they’ll come back to it later, after the kids grow up, after life is not so busy, after retirement, after, after, after...and then it could possibly be too late.
I’m happy I did not decide to wait.  I do have a busy life, with a full time job, with a son in high school and another in college.  My time is further split between spending time with my husband, taking care of my house and spending time with my dogs (yes, they get their time in too).  It helps that I have a very supportive husband and family.  I do sympathize with anyone who can actually find the time to follow their passion but ends up failing due to lack of support.  However, if there is one thing I’ve learned the past few years, too often women put off what they need to do for themselves while they continuously care for others and save the bulk of their time for obligations they feel are more important at the time. 
But where does it say in the Handbook of What Makes Women Wonderful that they have to put their dreams and desires to the side until everyone else no longer needs them?  Well, the handbook might not exist but if it did, the answer would be “Nowhere.”  There is no reason any woman, at any phase in their life, should use time as an excuse to put off finding their own identity. 
It took me what amounts to just about half my life to figure this out.  I’ve always been a strong, independent woman but the idea that I had not followed my passion or found my identity was not a factor I had considered until I finally put aside the time and began to realize my passion to write.  As I stand on the teeter totter of life, I will attempt to keep the board from tottering too much one way or the other, and I will continue to learn how to divide my time between what identifies me as a person and what makes me happy as a wife and mother.   Maybe my legs will get stronger in the process but in the meantime, I am happier with the knowledge that I am taking the time to fulfill the goals I have set for myself as I work towards making my dreams come true.
What about you?  Are you a busy wife, mother, working mother, business owner or all the above?  How do you set aside time for yourself to carve out your own identity? 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

When Creative Chaos becomes Clutter

It’s that time of year…the need to remove clutter.  Actually, the need to declutter probably hits me a few times a year but more so this season than any other.

For one, in my attempt to prepare for tax season, I am cleaning out files, tracking down all the paperwork I need to complete my taxes and putting away last year’s paperwork to make room for the accumulation of this year’s documents. 
That chore just snowballs into a huge need to remove clutter in other areas as well.

I tend to focus next on my desk…which has actually been buried for quite awhile lately.  When I assess the piles of paperwork on my desk, I realize they are broken up into groups of tasks:  writing/editing in progress, books I’m using for research, articles or posts I’ve printed out to review, blogging materials and ideas, marketing materials I’m working on and other book-related, personal, financial or volunteer tasks I’m trying to keep up with.
I’m sure it sounds like my desk might not be large enough for the multitude of piles I must be looking at on any given day.  The piles aren’t always present but these tasks are ongoing so before I know it, they tend to multiply, especially if I’m spending more time on one particular task or not enough time consistently on each to reduce the clutter.  After awhile, the clutter gets to me and my need to get organized kicks in.  Creative chaos is something I can handle but when it becomes cluttered and crushing to my creative spirit, change must happen.

How to reduce the piles was the question of the day, especially if my time is limited on completing whatever tasks I hope to cross off my list for any given category. 
My day planner is a huge part of my daily life and with it I am usually able to stay organized with my to-do lists.  I am a list maker, task manager and constant note taker so this book is critical for me.  However, my daily planner just cannot adequately control or contain everything when it comes to my writing and the business side related to marketing and sales.  I finally organized a binder for my book-related tasks and it has helped me tremendously.  I believe it should also help reduce the amount of piles that tend to form on my desk.  The binder is someplace where I can easily keep track of expenses related to writing, income received from book sales, inventory, invoices and other information relating to stores who are selling my book, marketing plans and ideas, blog ideas and future events.  I also have a monthly calendar where I can easily keep track of writing activities and events. 

I don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner!  
When it comes to very large projects, this is usually my way of organizing and it has been very helpful.  In fact, I used a binder like this when we built our house and it was one of the reasons I was even able to pretend to stay focused when there were so many areas we had to keep track of during the building process.  Maybe I hadn’t thought about using a binder before because writing is more than a project for me…it is a new way of living coupled with my everyday life.  To take writing seriously is a huge undertaking, involving many different aspects from creativity to sales and I guess I was too sidetracked by all the piles to realize that one classic day planner just can’t be required to keep track of it all. 

I’m glad I finally came to my senses.  Now I can get back to my creative chaos where I can remain organized and free from clutter.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Proud to be an Indie Author

I am a writer.  I am an author.  I am a published author.
Would it sound any less glamorous if I continued with the fact that I am an indie author who remained true to that independence by becoming a self-published author as well?

A little over a year ago when I completed the first draft of my first book, I did not even know what the term ‘indie author’ meant.  But I had completed a novel and I decided I was going to become published.  Not knowing exactly how I was going to publish my work, I became determined to learn as much as I could about how to succeed with publishing and marketing and I’ve been waist deep in research ever since. 
The whole concept behind becoming an indie author and then promoting my own work after self-publishing was at first intimidating but I have learned enough now to understand that even with an agent and even a publisher, there isn’t much in the way of marketing unless you do it yourself.  The publishing houses just don’t spend their money on small fries anymore.

But that’s okay.  I fell into becoming an indie author when I decided I did not wish to spend hours upon hours drafting query letters in an attempt to sell my book to an agent.  Instead, I’ve spent that time writing as I continued to research the subject of publishing and marketing.  The time I’ve saved from drafting query letters also gave me the time to publish and market my first book while I continued to work on my second book.    
Although it is probably every author’s dream to have an agent and a publishing house knocking down their front door with an offer of a big fat royalty check, it is what it is…pretty much a dream.  Eventually, some do get lucky (and you certainly hear about them) but these days, an author has so many more choices available to them.  I am thrilled to be a part of the indie author era. 

So why do I enjoy being a self-published indie author? 
There are many reason:  I get to keep control over the content, the cover design, the book title and the price of the books.  I earn more in royalties against the purchase price.  I get to retain control of the copyright.  I have control over the release date and I choose how the book is distributed.  The only downfall is that I may not see my books at my favorite big chain bookstore anytime soon.  Even so, the book industry has changed very much in recent years so you just never know what might happen.

While I might not see my book for sale at all available outlets, the point I will stress is that it is available for sale and it is being sold.  I did not sit back and wait for an agent to pull my query letter from the slush pile or a publishing house to give me the nod of approval.  Instead, I took control by becoming an independent author and a self-published one at that.  My book is available as an eBook and in paperback with Amazon, it is available as an eBook with Barnes & Noble and I’m happy to say my book is being sold in various local stores as well.    
Again I will say I am very proud to be an indie author. 

It is with the possibilities available to indie authors that have made my dream of becoming a published author come true.  Not only did I write a story I wished to share with others…by becoming an indie author I was given the tools to make the novel available for others to enjoy.  And as a writer, knowing others do enjoy your writing and your story is a final outcome that can’t be beat.    



Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Contest Pitch Results

If you read my post from last month, you know I entered my book, No Mother of Mine, in a yearly contest held by Amazon.  The contest goes through several tiers in the elimination process and your work is judged on several levels, starting with a pitch, then moving on to the first 5,000 words of your book and finally, your book as a whole if you make it that far.
The pitch was the first level of judging and it was very difficult to come up with something I hoped would please the judges so that they would advance my work into the second round.  You can only rework and reword something so much before your eyes begin to cross and you constantly question any changes you make.  Eventually, you just have to enter what you feel is the best and then all you can do is hope for the best. 

Actually deciding on which draft is the best out of each rewrite is easier said than done.  Especially since it is the selected pitches which will land you in the top 400 chosen out of 10,000 in your genre category. 
So how did I do?

I finally received an e-mail the other day informing me that the second round selections had been announced.  I was instructed to visit the website, download the list from my genre category and then look for my author name and title.
I hopped right on the website, found the mystery/thriller category and clicked on the link to download the list. 

I first scrolled down to the H’s, believing the author names would be categorized by last name but I soon discovered authors were instead in alphabetical order by their first names.
So I scrolled further down to the P’s…

I looked for my author name, P.J. Howell…
And discovered I wasn’t on the list.

Oh, I won’t deny it.  I was crushed.  I was so hoping to get much further than the first round.
Just then, my husband walked into my office and he immediately saw the expression on my face.  He asked me what was up.  At first, I didn’t want to say anything.  I thought I’d wallow in my own self pity for a bit but I knew I had to tell him eventually. 

I told him I hadn’t made the cut.
As I was showing him the list to prove my name and book were not on the list, I was scrolling down through the P’s…

Suddenly another name caught my eye…


And yes, under author name was Paula Howell with the book title, No Mother of Mine.
I made the cut!  

So you might be wondering…does it take a judge or two in a contest to make me believe my work is worthwhile? 

But as a writer, you have to be brave and get your work out there.  You have to make it available to others.  You also need to experience feedback from others in the big bad book world of publishing.  And hopefully, there comes a day when you make your work available to the right people so that eventually, you hit the rewarding domino effect the right distribution can get you.
I won’t deny it.  I am very delighted I made the first cut and am now in the second round of judging.  I’m proud of the fact that all the work I put into my pitch landed me into the top 400 out of 10,000 in my genre category.  But this is a tough contest and I’m certain I’m up against very stiff competition.  Whatever happens, happens, but I’m thrilled to enjoy the ride a bit longer. 

The next round of selected entries will be announced next month so I will share the news when I receive it, good or bad.  I will try my best not to expect too much…but it won’t be easy.



Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Who needs Valentine’s Day?

It’s that time of year when my husband wishes the holiday could be just another day.  Instead, we’re celebrating yet another Valentine’s Day.  This will be our 25th celebration of the sweetheart holiday and you would think it would get easier for him.  Really, I’m not that difficult to please.  I don’t expect very much.  In fact, I really don’t need to celebrate Valentine’s Day at all.
What?  No Valentine’s Day? 

I know…it’s an awful thing to say.
I say this only because I’m one lucky lady to have found a wonderful man who tells me every single day of the year how much he loves and adores me.  I know, I’m getting mushy, but it’s the truth.  I am very thankful for the fact that it doesn’t take a particular holiday to guarantee my receipt of the affectionate words and hugs every partner should hear and receive daily.  He gives them to me freely, constantly and without end. 

In my book, he is one of a kind.
But I’m sure many of you have also found your one true love so you know exactly what I’m talking about.  Even so, you might also enjoy this holiday because it’s just one more reason to receive flowers and chocolates.  I absolutely love dark chocolate myself (if he’s reading this…he’ll get the hint).

Sorry, honey, just kidding. 
(I enjoy giving him a hard time.)

Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy flowers and I do love dark chocolate but what I really enjoy about Valentine’s Day is not the flowers that will eventually wilt, or the chocolate that might add inches to my hips, but the mark of another year together as we celebrate another holiday, no matter which holiday it is.  I feel fortunate to have been able to celebrate however many holidays there are in a year with my soul mate for the past 25, almost 26, years. 
Wow.  Now it’s hitting me…we’ve been together a long time and we’re really not that old!

That reminds me of a funny introduction.  At my book signing last month, an older man and his wife entered the store who I had never met before but it turned out the man had worked with my husband about 23 years ago.  The man and my husband instantly recognized each other and when my husband introduced me, he also mentioned that we had been together for almost 26 years.  Know what the man’s response was? 
He asked, “When did you get together?  When you were five?”

I immediately liked him very much.
Even if I have a leave-it-or-take-it attitude about this holiday, I will celebrate Valentine’s Day because it is a day to celebrate and express the love you have for others.  As with any special holiday, it doesn’t hurt to make sure those you love know how special they are to you.  If for no other reason, making others feel special is a very good reason to celebrate any holiday.

Whether you enjoy Valentine’s Day, ignore it, dread it or just don’t care, I do wish you a wonderful day.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

What is your Purpose?

Is this a heavy question?  It may be to some.  But do you go through life wondering what your purpose is?  What it is you were meant to do?  Wondering when you will feel in harmony with the life you have chosen or that has been chosen for you?
I’m not talking about what your purpose might be for others.  The purpose of being a kind and loving spouse, a good parent who raises responsible and caring children, and an honest and hard-working employee or business owner are results we all expect to achieve at some point in our lives.

I’m talking about your inner purpose.  What your specific purpose might be when it comes to what it is you are meant to be, or to do, to be happy with yourself and feel at peace within yourself. 
Do you know the answer?

If someone had asked me that question two years ago, I would have come back with the basic answers:  to be a good person, a good wife, a good mother, have a nice home, a good job and so on. 
While those accomplishments might make me happy overall, I really hadn’t thought about how important it is that we also have our own inner purpose.  A purpose which in turn brings us joy, inspires us and fuels the fire within us.  Whether you call them hopes, personal goals or dreams, reaching them can mean the difference between feeling complete and feeling unfulfilled.

I decided to write about this topic after watching a movie my youngest son saved on the DVR for me.  He told me it was a pretty good movie and he thought I might like it too.  The movie is called Hugo and is the story about an orphan boy who tries to finish what he and his father were working on before his father’s death.  It is kind of a sad movie but it was very heartwarming as well.  What struck me the most was a statement young Hugo made to his friend as he spoke about fixing machines.  He said he always felt sad for machines that no longer worked because they can’t do what they were meant to do.  They no longer had a purpose.  When the subject turned to people, Hugo said, “If you lose your purpose, it’s like you’re broken.”
If you already had a purpose and you lose it, I guess you might very well feel broken.  You have lost what had originally brought you joy, meaning and peace with yourself and your life.  You lost what brought out the passion in you.  If for some reason I was no longer allowed or able to write, I believe I would feel broken in some sense.

But what if you have not yet found your purpose?  Would you still feel broken?  Probably not, as you might not yet know what you are missing.  You might only feel a void but have no idea how to fill it.  Many try to fill that void.  It is the fortunate who eventually discover their inner purpose and what truly makes them happy, gives them harmony in their life, and brings out the passion as they connect with something larger than themselves.   
I had no idea I had not yet realized my inner purpose until I began to write.  I have always been creative but I focused more on other crafts, such as cross stitching, scrapbooking or drawing.  While I did write some, I was not able to spend a lot of time with a complete story, only bits and pieces and then, of course, there were my journals.  I’m thankful I finally listened to that inner voice nudging me towards my true inner purpose. 

Now that I have focused on the craft of writing, I have found what delights me and inspires me from the inside.  This particular craft stimulates my creativity and brings out a passion and an outlook in life I have not had before.  Writing is my inner purpose and it has made me feel whole.
Whether you have found your inner purpose or are still searching for it, I wish anyone who reads this the best as they follow or search for what makes them feel truly whole.




Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Back to the Editing Board

It’s that time again…time to edit a first draft.  But do you know what this means?  I’ve completed the first draft of my second book! 
It is an exciting time but I’ll likely be pulling my hair out again as I wander through some of the least likable aspects of editing.  I love to write and I love to create and I really enjoy myself as I bury myself in the story.  But once the story is written, it must be reviewed, edited and made whole with revisions we can only hope will make it complete and that much better.

During the editing process, we come to the intersection of Creation and Control…which is what it takes to make sure the story is complete, the words make sense, the characters aren’t flat and the plot twists and turns enough to give readers true delight.    
Editing is a different form of the craft and wasn’t my favorite to begin with but as I continue to write books, I’m sure it will get easier with time.

However, there is one part of the editing process I thoroughly enjoy.  What I enjoy is finally being able to read the first draft of my book.  Imagine pouring your heart and soul onto paper for a few months straight.  You just write and write and you stop yourself every time you want to go back and read what has been written.  You stop yourself because you know if you begin to edit your work too soon, you’ll be pulled away from creativity as you are drawn into tending to the construction. 
Some authors may enjoy editing as they write but I discovered what fun it is not to do so.  When you’ve written a book over a period of months, you have the story in your head, you know your characters and your scenes and you feel you know the book from beginning to end.  But you only know it in your head.  You haven’t actually read the written version of what your imagination has produced.

Reading the first draft of a book I’ve written is a very unique and rewarding experience.  I had this same experience the first time and I figured it was just because it was my first book.  But now that I’ve finished my second book, I can say without a doubt that the experience is still very fulfilling.  It is very enjoyable to read a book I’ve written as if I were someone who is reading it for the first time.
While you know your story very well, you tend to forget the little things you’ve added to the story to bring warmth, humor, tension, fear or surprise.  As I read through my first draft, I love it when I laugh at something I’ve written or I can’t help myself from feeling sorry for a character, worrying for them or becoming upset at something they say or do.  If I’m striking a chord with myself (and I should know what’s coming), I can only believe that my story will strike a similar chord in those who read it as well.

I must get back to reading, and to editing, so that this book can soon be made available to those of you who are…what was it one of my readers said?  Oh, yes.  She said she was going to go through withdrawals as she waited for my second book.  If only I could write books as quickly as some people read…then we’d all be happy!


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Quotes to help you Scatter Joy

A few years ago, I received a gift from a friend.  I believe it was a birthday gift and she included a few items just to make me smile.  One of those gifts happened to be a small box labeled plainly as “Bloom” with the promise that what was inside would shine a ray of sun into anyone’s day.
It was a simple little gift but once I opened the box, I discovered 30 small cards with flaps.  You know the types of flaps you find in children’s books so the child can glimpse another item underneath?  This was a grown-up version of the same.

A very simple idea but with a nice concept behind it. 
For the fun of it, one small card could be opened every day to offer a bit of advice, a smile or just plain kind words.  Nice words to live by, really, if we all woke up one day and collectively decided how well the world would work if we’d all play nice together.

While that sort of collective reasoning might not happen, sometimes we just need a bit of prompting about how we can easily affect others.  This little box was such a reminder and I wanted to share a few of my favorites...
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” 

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” 
~Mother Teresa~
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” 
“How far that little candle throws his beams!  So shines a good deed in a weary world.”
  ~William Shakespeare~
“A bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gives roses.” 
~Chinese Proverb~
"Some people are too tired to give you a smile.  Give them one of yours.  No one needs a smile so much as the one who has no more to give."  Author Unknown

“Have a heart that never hardens, a love that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.”
 ~Charles Dickens~
“You have the power to make someone’s day.” 
~Dan Zadra~
“Scatter joy.” 
~Ralph Waldo Emerson~

Simple words.  Simple phrases.  Simple ideas to lighten somone's day.
My friend may have forgotten this little gift she gave me but I still keep it at my desk and every once in awhile, I take out the little cards, pick one and see which quote I choose.  Today happened to be one of those days when I decided to pick a card, which is why I decided to write about it. 
Which quote did I end up picking from the pack?  It was “Scatter joy” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

I love that phrase. 
Imagine if we could all just scatter a little joy everywhere we went.  Like pixie dust from Tinkerbelle’s wand…just a little magic to give those around us a reason to believe they can fly.  It wouldn’t really take much; a smile, a kind word, a small gift, the offer to help another in a bind or just giving someone else a few precious moments of our time.  In our own way, we all have the ability to spread our own sort of magic as we scatter joy to those around us.
I hope you enjoyed the quotes and I hope by sharing them with you, I’ve done my part to scatter even a touch of joy to start your week.