Sunday, March 30, 2014

As others have done for me, I hope to do for others

I’ve always had a desire to learn, a willingness to grow from the knowledge that there’s so much more to discover and the expectation that there is a never-ending wealth of resources to gain wisdom from others who are already paving the path before me.

Some people will run headfirst into a project, tackle the challenges as they arise and learn from their mistakes before finally reaching their goals or possibly even failing completely.  Others will painstakingly conduct research, patiently watch the masses and eventually learn what they can from the mistakes of others before finally jumping feet first into the unknown waters they’ve decided to test out for themselves.

Which one are you? 

Which one am I?

I guess I’d have to say I’m a mix of the two.  I’ve never been good with change so before I finally decide to do something that will change my routine or my mindset with regard to my goals, I like to take time to think about what I’m really getting myself in to.  But I also love to learn so when I decide to try something new or I have a new vision with regard to my goals, I do whatever I can to learn what I need to know. 

That may seem obvious, considering what I’ve done so far to write and publish two novels and one short story in two years.  As I write the third novel in my mystery series, I continue to accept the fact that I still have a lot to learn.  I will hope to remain humble in my thoughts as a writer so that even after the tenth or the twentieth book, I will never lose the desire to research and learn more about the craft or to take into consideration what others have so kindly offered to share with regard to their own experiences. 

And while I continue to learn as I experience this wonderful life of being a writer, I will continue to share my thoughts and experiences for anyone else who may possibly use what I’ve learned to make their own path toward their own goals just a little bit smoother. 

As others have done for me, I hope to do for others.

But what if you’re not a writer? 

I don’t believe that matters one bit.  I aim to motivate.  Whether you’re into the arts or not, everyone has goals, dreams and a belief in themselves that maybe, just maybe, they’ll get to finally do what brings out the true passion in them.  Everyone is entitled to that and I hope my experiences as I continue to move towards my goals as a writer give you whatever permission you need to tell yourself you deserve to reach your personal goals as well. 

As I look back over the past two years, I see I’ve written a number of posts in hopes of motivating others so I’d like to share a few of my favorites with you now:

Here’s one last quote and for those who have an interest in something other than writing, you can just replace the word “writing” with whatever speaks to your heart:

“If we had to say what writing is, we would define it essentially as an act of courage.”

~Cynthia Ozick~

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Taking advantage of some natural Vitamin D

We had a beautiful weekend complete with blue skies and sunshine and it’s rumored the rain will soon be here again, most likely all the way through next weekend.  Because of that, we took advantage of the weather and got some much needed yard work done.  While I was able to work on my book this morning for a couple of hours before heading outside, it has left little time to post on my blog.

It’s late in the day now and I’ve decided I need some well-deserved rest.  So, I hope you enjoyed your weekend and if the sun came out to play where you live, I hope you also took advantage of getting some natural Vitamin D.

Piper, enjoying some rest while we work on the yard
Have a terrific week!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Time Management Test Results

It’s been almost a whole week since I posted last and I’m happy to say I stuck with the idea of re-evaluating how I’ve been managing my time.  I also did what I said I’d try to do…I tracked my time for a week.  It wasn’t too difficult, really, but that was mainly because I was able to track my blocks of time in hours rather than minutes.  

So what have I learned from tracking my time?

I’ve learned that there’s a reason why I don’t get much done during the week.  There really aren’t enough hours in the day!

For most, the bulk of each week day includes around 8 hours for sleep and 12 hours for the work day (to include the drive time, work hours and lunch time).  Not that I actually get 8 hours of sleep.  Does anyone?  But lately I’ve been doing my best to keep a 10p bedtime and I’m reluctantly rolling out of bed at 6a the next morning.  Then from 6a until 6p each evening, the week days involve getting ready for work, the drive to work, putting in those work hours and finally driving home.  Maybe some of you have a short distance to work…that’s fortunate in some respect.  For those who have a half hour or longer to drive to or from work, it’s actually a great time to prepare for the day or to spend time shedding the day from your mind before getting back home.

Sleep for 8 hours…gone from the house due to work for 12 hours…. that’s a consumption of 20 out of the 24 hours allotted to us every week day.  Those remaining 4 hours might include spending time with the family, preparing dinner, cleaning the kitchen after dinner, helping the kids with homework, taking care of any necessary chores that can’t wait until the weekend, and unwinding in front of the television, with a book or on the computer catching up with friends and family on Facebook.  For parents with kids in sports, many of those remaining 4 hours are already spoken for a couple of days a week due to practices and games and the driving time to and from those events.  I remember those days…actual dinners were a thing of the past and quick meals or dinner on the road became the norm.

Weekends are when we have more free time for fun and family as we also spend time catching up on what we could not complete during the week, or what we need to do to prepare for the upcoming week.  Better weather will be here soon and many of those weekend hours will be spent working in the garden or mowing the lawn in addition to family outings just to get away from the house to enjoy the summer weather.

Based on the average work week, we have around 4 free hours every day and on the weekends, if you factor in an 8a to 10p schedule (give or take), we have 14 free hours on Saturday and on Sunday.  That’s a total of 48 hours each week beyond what the day job takes from us.  It’s actually more than a whole work week and gives us plenty of hours to work with.

So why have I felt more busy than productive lately?  I think it’s because of the times I had chosen to get things done in my attempt to be more productive.

Only recently did I realize I should get to bed earlier, to allow myself a better night’s rest so that I could be more focused during the day.  Sounds like a no-brainer, huh?  I’m a slow learner after being a night owl for so long.  Before I began forcing myself to bed early, I would come home from work, spend time with the family, eat dinner, clean up the kitchen and take care of any other necessary chores, maybe watch some television and then finally head upstairs to write until my eyes got blurry, at which time I’d head to bed around 11p or even 11:30p.  But late in the evening wasn’t always a productive time for me to write, especially on those days when I was exhausted from the work day and my mind just wanted to shut down for the night.  And only recently did I realize that when it comes to my weekly task list, there’s no reason why I have to do everything on that list, every…single…day.  If I can do a little bit every day to make the rest of the week easier, great.  But there’ no reason I have to fit in 10 different tasks during those 4 free hours in the evening just because I feel I need to show some productivity and don’t want to put it off for the weekend.  Doing so just made me feel constantly busy from always doing too much during such a short span of time after an already busy work day. 

With the changes I’ve made recently and keeping the fact that I’m not perfect always in the back of my mind, I’m happy with the results after keeping track of my time for a week.  I find I’m actually not squandering my time away as I had feared and the time I find to write is when I can actually make the most of the time spent writing.  Even more important while I continue to work on my time management skills is what I have taken to heart while trying to figure out what works:  taking advantage of when I have the time and energy to write, and forgiving myself for the times when I don’t, are what will count as I move forward as an author. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Are you busy or are you productive?

It’s that dreaded weekend every year when we have to set the clocks forward and lose an hour.  An hour’s not much but if you manage your time wisely enough, that extra hour is time lost when you may have been able to check some overdue tasks off your to-do list.

But is losing an hour really that big a deal?  We probably make it more of an issue than it really is but what the loss of an hour gives me is the opportunity to re-evaluate how I’ve been managing my time.  Lately, I’ve felt so “busy” and yet there are days when I might have a hard time describing exactly what I’ve done to actually label my day as “productive.” 

I’ve read multiple articles about time management and how to make better use of my time, but it’s not always easy to follow the advice offered by others.  As a working mom and writer, I’m not only working a full time job as I continue on with my writing in a part-time capacity, I’ve got a family and a house to tend to as well.  All working moms out there know how difficult it can be to keep a balance between work and home life and it’s even more difficult when you add a side business to the mix. 

So how can we do it all without eventually crashing and burning?  The trick is to find a way to manage our time, by taking the advice of others while not holding ourselves strictly to that advice when it might not be the right fit for us.  It’s called tweaking, until we find the right fit.

One piece of advice I’ve seen over and over again is to spend a few days, or better yet a full week, tracking every hour of your day in blocks of, say, 15 minute increments.  It may seem difficult and tedious at first to keep up with this task, but it’s worth a shot to hold yourself accountable in order to find the black holes in the day that suck up your time.  At the end of your tracking period, you’ll have a better idea of where large blocks of your time are spent, whether that time is spent productively or not and you’ll uncover the black holes in your day where available time lay hidden. 

I’ve been meaning to keep track of my time in that way but I just haven’t gotten around to it.  Kind of funny when I think about it – I’m just too busy to keep track of my time.  What a ridiculous notion!  But, sadly, it’s a true statement.  So, I’d like to turn that fact around and rather than continuously feeling “busy,” I’m going to make every effort to take a step back, reconsider what I need to do to take control of the hours of every day (as much as possible, anyway), and begin feeling “productive.”   

To begin, I’m going to do my best to track my time for a week.  Wish me luck.  Beyond that, there are a few pieces of advice I’ve gleaned from others that I’ll also add to my agenda when it comes to staying productive:

  • Make a daily or weekly to-do list but keep it focused to what’s most important for that time frame.  Try to complete the top priority tasks first (or the dreaded ones you wish to get over with) so that the rest of the day, or week, feels less demanding.
  • For tasks that require more energy or creativity, such as exercising or writing, choose the time of day if possible when you actually do have the energy level or heightened creativity.  It can be difficult when the bulk of your day is spent at the day job, but eventually you can accomplish more if you figure out what time of the day you can be the most productive.  This idea also works well for tasks you need to complete at work; if mornings are your best, try to tackle the big projects during that time and leave the afternoons free for smaller, less demanding projects.
  • Don’t let yourself get distracted, unless it’s really important, from the task at hand.  Spend the required time you anticipated the task would take to complete before moving on to something else.  If something can wait, let it wait.
  • Say no if you need to and don’t stress about what others think.  Of course, this doesn’t count if your boss is asking but then again, if you feel overwhelmed at work, you really should learn to express yourself or figure out how to delegate tasks so you aren’t taking on too much.
  • Speaking of work, don’t bring it home with you.  Home is where you should be able to shed the day from your mind and off your shoulders, relax for the evening and spend well-deserved time with your family.  Lately, this task has been difficult for me so I’m going to do my best to work on this, for my sake and for the sake of my family.
  • Find the time to cater to yourself – it’s not a selfish notion, but a very important need every person should fulfill so that they don’t feel as if every part of them belongs to someone else.  We are daughters, wives, mothers, granddaughters, nieces, friends, employees, etc.  We mean something to so many people, we risk losing the identity of what we mean to ourselves.  “Me time” is necessary to revitalize and center our well-being in order to prevent the overwhelming feeling we invite after giving so much of ourselves to others. 
  • And, finally, let go of the guilt…whatever may bring it on.  We tend to be hardest on ourselves and if those who matter can forgive us our faults, then we should be able to, as well. 

Here’s to making a positive change when it comes to managing my time.  Here’s to being able to respond to the question of ‘how are you?’ with ‘I’ve been so productive,’ rather than, ‘I’ve been so busy!’

How about you?  Are you busy or are you productive?  Have you been able to find a strategy that works for you?  If so, please share; I’d enjoy hearing more time management tips from anyone who feels they’ve mastered the task. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Busy week of writing events…and my head’s still swimming

If any Sunday needs to be a day of rest, today would be it.  On top of all the normal everyday stuff I deal with week on and week off, this week has also been packed full of writing events.

And it’s been a fantastic week in that regard.  This post might run long as I update you on my week so this is your fair warning…

First, I took part in the on-line conference at Indie Recon from Tuesday through Thursday.  Fortunately, it was an on-line conference and one that I could attend whenever my schedule allowed, which was only in the evenings after a full day of work and a little bit of time spent with the family.  The conference involved all subject matters surrounding writing, editing, marketing, publishing and time management.  With a selection of posts to read at my leisure, there were also Facebook and Twitter chats, as well as some video posts from some of the presenters.  Overall, it was another great conference put on by the Indie Recon team.

On Friday, I went to my very first book signing of Pacific Northwest local author J.A. Jance, who is also a New York Times’ bestseller.  I have to admit, I’ve been an avid reader for a very long time but I’m surprised at myself that I’ve never attended a book signing before.  It’s possibly because none of my favorite authors have actually held a book signing near where I live or if they did, I just never knew about it.  And I’m not one to travel across multiple state lines for this type of event so when I discovered a big time author was holding a book signing only five minutes from my office…well, I just had to attend.  Being a new author myself, this is part of the research I need to take part in as I move along in my life as a writer.  How do others do it?  How do readers react to them?  What would I do the same way and what would I do differently? 

The author event was held at a local community college and Jance held her audience captive in a large auditorium at the Arts Center.  She has an infectious laugh, the type of laugh that can make others laugh as well even if the subject matter itself isn’t all that funny.  Jance was good about putting her audience at ease by sharing more than what her characters were about, but also what she’s all about…how she deals with these types of tours, why her dog Bella couldn’t take part in this tour, how and when she fits writing into her busy schedule, how she communicates with readers whether they are offering her praise or protest about her work and where some of her ideas come from.  

Some of her subject matter was light and funny while some is dark and gives me a better understanding of why she has become the writer she was probably always meant to be.  She spoke for a little over an hour and actually ended the event by singing a song – can’t say you could ever expect this from me at one of my book signings.  In fact, I can say for certain you can never expect this from me.  Fortunately for Jance, she actually has a good singing voice and most of the audience seemed to enjoy it.  

Afterwards, Jance moved to another location in the building where she quickly had about thirty fans in line waiting for her to sign their newly purchased books.  I wasn’t able to remain at the event since I was running a half hour late getting back to work and while Jance did say those with mobility issues or those who were late for something else could cut in line, I could not bring myself to actually cut in front of elderly fans whether mobile or not.  Since I had to leave I didn’t get a chance to personally speak with Jance, which is too bad, but during the event she did say she responds to every single e-mail she receives so maybe I’ll just send her a note. 

As if the conference and an author event with a bestseller weren’t enough, I was still anxiously looking forward to Saturday…which involved the long-awaited AWP Bookfair in Seattle.  There is only one word I can use to sum up that event:


That’s it.  Wow. 

Ok, I’m a writer, I know, and I should be more descriptive…

How about, wow, wow, wow?

Really, it was all just so overwhelming, it was hard to wrap my brain around all the booths, all the vendors, all the attendees, all the swag, all the…walking.  I can’t imagine how people felt who actually took part in the conference and bookfair all week long because I was overwhelmed just by the one day.  Granted, I had to fit the whole book fair into one day versus a whole week, which is difficult, but there was just no other way.  I’m glad I went, only to see for myself what it was like.  I’m also glad I went so I could confirm whether the event was a useful tool for me as a writer.  I’ve read various blogs and there are multiple views about what the event is good for.  While it was fun to take part in, I’ve now seen for myself it isn’t necessarily an event that I have to partake in as a writer.  The bookfair involved mostly book presses, journals, reviews and colleges offering MFA courses and writing classes.  I saw very few authors who were signing/selling their books and there were only a few tables relating to upcoming writer’s conference on this side of the coast.  Even fewer still were vendors selling books for writers or merchandise relating to writing.  I finally found one vendor who was selling writing books I had actually planned on buying anyway and with the two books I purchased, I also got some very cute typewriter note cards.  For only $25, that was my biggest and best score of the day.  There was one vendor I saw who had a bunch of funny t-shirts, coffee cups and postcards for writers but that was about it.  Regardless, I did come home with tons of swag and the pain in my shoulder is evidence of how heavy those bags can get. 

Swag from the AWP Bookfair

Now I can say I’ve been there, done that.  I would like to eventually attend a writer’s conference but rather than attempt something like the AWP conference where the multiple class choices might make it even harder to make a decision, I’ll focus on attending something smaller like the Whidbey Island Writer’s Conference I missed last year but would love to attend this year.  I love their motto…for writers, about writers, by writers. 

So there you have it…it was a packed week and now I’m mentally recharging so I can get back to my own writing.  While I do enjoy  events like those I took part in this week, I do miss having large chucks of time to write so I look forward to getting back to it this next week.  There’s just too much going on with Jorja Matthews and the other characters to leave them alone for very long.