Acting My Age – Take 2

time

While it may be cliché, it is nonetheless true: the older you get, the faster time passes. As I was walking to work this morning, I became keenly aware of this very concept on a number of levels. The first happened as I was thinking about writing this blog. I realized I hadn’t blogged in a little while. As it turns out – it’s been six months! Those common and all-too-real words popped into my head: “Where did the time go?”  Like everyone else I know, my life is filled with an endless variety of things which take my time and run away with it. Some of these are wonderful – my time with my grandson, my oldest daughter’s wedding, working on my yard. But some of them are not as enjoyable – my hour-long commute twice a day, a job that is financially rewarding and emotionally draining, and my seemingly endless struggle to balance the things I need to do against the things I want to do.

As I was making my brisk walk from the parking lot to my office (about two city blocks), I became very aware of both time and age. There had been an accident on the freeway which had slowed me down considerably, and I was feeling frustrated at being late when I had every intention of arriving early.

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It felt as if some unseen monster was taking a bite out of my valuable time pie, and I grew tense and angry. When I finally reached the parking lot, the temperamental machine required three attempts for me to make my payment. More time wasted, more frustration. By the time I parked and gathered my things to start walking, I could feel the tightness of anxiety in my chest and across my shoulders. My jaw tensed, teeth clenched, I started my walk toward work.

A few paces ahead of me was a young woman making her way to her office as well. She wore the requisite uniform of a young executive: a grey skirt, pale yellow blouse, grey sweater, and tennis shoes so she could walk faster on the uneven sidewalks. A leather bag hung from her shoulder, the heels of her beige pumps sticking out from one side. She stared straight ahead with fierce determination as she prepared to storm across the intersection when the light changed. Her hair was pulled back in a tight twist and I tried not to laugh as I wondered if her brain felt as tight as her hairdo.

blurred shot of business executives in a hurry

blurred shot of business executives in a hurry

As I watched her launch into the cross walk and move with quick, steady strides, I developed a kind of sadness for her. She was speeding up her world and rushing through time in a way she would one day come to regret. I instantly felt myself slowing down. I lost the urge to rush to the office building and instead took a moment to enjoy the shade of the trees that line Main Street. I listened to the clacking and squeaking of the light rail train that rounded the corner to head to the university. I watched a robin hoping along the steps to the great grey building that is now a courthouse, but that I remember as a kid as being the huge post office we came and visited in fourth grade.

I found a good pace and realized that the young woman who’d been hard-charging ahead of me had disappeared into a building. I thought about her uniform as became aware of my own choice of clothing for the day: white, knee-length shorts; a reddish shirt with an imprint of the Hindu deity Ganesha on it; a beige sweater (it gets cold at my desk), and gold sandals to match my gold jewelry.

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There was a time I would have dressed exactly like that young woman. It would have seemed appropriate. Uncomfortable, but appropriate. All the time that has passed by me has brought with it the opportunity to dress how I want. I’m happy to have landed in a place where suits and skirts aren’t expected – but even if they were, I’d put my own spin on the uniform.

I realized another thing as I reached my office this morning: I’ve survived enough work environments to know that being true to who I am is far more important to me than trying to conform to what I think others expect of me. It’s far easier to relax (usually) and to allow the world to just be what it is than to allow myself to get upset about things over which I have no control. I didn’t cause the accident that slowed traffic, and I surely couldn’t speed that up. I didn’t cause the silly parking payment machine to be persnickety and uncooperative. Allowing myself to become frustrated by it was a waste of energy and time that I could better use somewhere else.

This is truly one of the benefits of learning to act my age. And the Ganesha tee-shirt doesn’t hurt either.

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Because I Cannot Be Disuaded

At the end of each year, it has become my tradition to review the goals I set and see how I did, and then to create new goals for the new year. I’ve been doing this for 8 years now, and I find it helpful for keeping my focus throughout the year – usually. Life happens when you’re making plans for something else, right? So, let’s see how I did:

1. I will get an agent this year. Period.

Well, I tried. I did begin to submit to agents again, and while I had favorable comments, I haven’t landed one just yet. So, we’ll be seeing this one again, I’m certain.

2. I will finish at least three novels this year, including rewriting The Afterward, finishing Namesake, and a third novel (yet to be determined).

That was very ambitious of me! And I did pretty well. The Afterward has been revised, I finished a novel called “The Year I Went Invisible” (though it needs a great deal of work still). I wrote (and sold!) two new short stories, and I’ve started a new novel that is moving along nicely (it doesn’t have a name yet, though). While I didn’t actually write three two new novels, I still feel pretty good about my accomplishments.

3. I will continue to look for opportunities to promote my work and to participate in at least one writing-related event each month. 

I came so close on this! I did find new places to market my work! And I took full advantage of every opportunity! I managed to be involved in 10 events this year! And for some of them, I was even paid! This one might be tougher with only one new book coming out this year, but hopefully, I’ll find some new resources as well.

4. I will attend two writing conferences or workshops to benefit my own writing.

I have to cheat a bit on this one, but to me, it still counts. In April, I was one of the presenters at the Writing for Charity event in Provo, Utah. However, I took full advantage of the times I wasn’t presenting and attended as many workshops as I could fit in during the day. Then in September, I joined the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers organization and attended their three-day conference in Denver. It was amazing, uplifting, and something I very much needed to do for myself and my heart.

5. I will offer four writing workshops  during the year.

And here, I exceeded my goal significantly. I began teaching for the University of Utah’s Lifelong Learning program again after not having taught for them in over 12 years. It is a wonderful, rewarding experience, and I look forward to the classes and my students each week. This coming spring, I will be teaching a class on Flash Fiction, and I have gained so much insight by reading in this area, so I’m very excited to share this with my students.

And so for next year? Well, I’m continuing to try to stretch a bit, but I’m also trying not to set myself up for failure or disappoint. Let’s be realistic: I have a full-time job; I’m a wife, mother, grandmother, and the giant furless mommy cat in my family. I have responsibilities and demands – but I also have a need to write, so I’m trying to find that balance between the real world and my writing ambitions. My family is supportive and willing to compromise (which is easier now that my baby is 19 and only lives here on school breaks), but I need time with them, too. In that realm of balance and ambition, here are the 2015 edition of my goals:

1. I will submit to no less than 5 agents each month.

2. I will write a minimum of 7,500 words each week.

3. I will participate in a minimum of 10 events which allow me to promote my books.

4. I will attend at least one writing event where I am NOT speaking or presenting.

5. I will continue teaching creative writing courses through Lifelong Learning.

Now, I’m adding a new twist: I have printed off my goals and stuck them to the wall next to my desk so that I can see them each day. I am inviting you to ask me at any time to provide a public update on these goals, which I will do. I’m inviting any encouragement, support, chastising, or harassment that you may feel is appropriate throughout the year. And I will thank you now, in advance, for doing so.

Here’s to the new year: may we all follow our dreams and continue to flourish and grow!

dream

Never Give Up, Never Surrender

Galaxy Quest

I teach a workshop called “When Bad Things Happen to Good Writers” and it is based on a collection of stories – my own and other writers’ – of the things that can and do go wrong in the publishing world. There are so many elements involved in seeing a book move from idea, to manuscript, to submission, to revisions, to finished product. Because of all these complicated pieces, the opportunity for problems is as abundant as the steps are. Sometimes there are multiple challenges all with the same book. Sometimes these issues are just minor headaches, and sometimes they are enough to make you wonder why you ever thought being a writer was a good idea.

In my own little corner of the writing universe, I’ve had plenty of encounters with publishing speed bumps. I’ve had contracts cancelled due to one publisher buying out another. I’ve had a publisher accidentally send me a bill for what should have been my author’s copies. And I’ve had editors get ill, have family problems, and delay my revisions by months.  Most recently, I’ve had a book scheduled for release three times only to be delayed again because the original publisher is being bought out. It’s tough to go from preparing to celebrate the release of your book to being told, “We don’t really know when it will be released.”

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In a conversation with an acquaintance, I was explaining the most recent development with my book when he asked, “So why do you keep doing this?”

I didn’t even hesitate. “Because I can’t NOT write. I can’t stop.” And it’s the truth. I have stopped writing before for almost two years, and it nearly made me crazy. I tell people regularly that, even if I never made another dime from my stories, I would still keep writing and submitting. It’s my addiction. It’s what keeps me breathing and keeps my heart pounding. It is, very honestly, who I am. So in spite of all those speed bumps, I will never give up. I will never surrender.

There are only a few things I feel this much passion for. My family, obviously, is at the top of the list. Knowledge is another item on the list because I love learning. My pets, and really animals in general are also  high on my list. But writing is what fills my heart. It’s where everything comes together for me.  It’s why I search for detail in the mundane, why I listen for noises or voices that no one else pays attention to, and why even as I’m sitting in traffic, I’m creating a scene or writing descriptions in my head. It just is who I am.

When someone asks, “Why don’t you quit?” When I go through the occasional bout of self-doubt. When yet another speed bump surprises me and jolts me like I’ve been moving too fast, I might have a quick slip into that dark thought of giving up writing, but ultimately, my brain surges, my heart beats faster, and the passion takes over again. Never give up, never surrender.

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Beginner’s Mind

Writing is a very humbling thing at times. It’s not just the rejections, the bad reviews, or the minuscule royalty checks, but the process itself can often crack you in the knees and cause you to genuflect.

In meditation practices associated with Buddhism, Hinduism, and others as well, there is a concept called “Beginner’s Mind” that applies beautifully to writing as well. Anyone who has begun a meditation practice knows what Beginner’s Mind is: it’s that awkward experience of sitting in silence, seeking a spiritual experience, and feeling as if your mind is in a blender that is set to puree. You have to remind yourself repeatedly to center your thoughts, tune out the outside world, and allow your brain to connect to more important things than the dog barking outside, or the odd creak and groan of the house, or the sudden urge to create your grocery list. For some, this struggle to calm their thoughts and create that connection becomes so frustrating that they give up the practice quickly.

That’s where I am with this new story. I’ve got a pretty decent plot concept, and most of the main characters are fleshed out, but my brain keeps generating ideas for things unrelated to this new story, and I find myself distracted by an urge to write poetry, or a compelling need to clean out files from my computer, or to skate off into Facebook land and lose track of my precious writing time.

Another aspect of Beginner’s Mind is that you don’t know what you don’t know. I don’t do well with the unknown. When I create a story, I need to have the story pretty much written in my head before I sit down to write it. This approach has served me well, but I tend to forget that when I start a new one, not everything is in place. Then, when I sit down to write, I get hung up by the things I don’t know that I don’t know! I forget that sometimes I just need to get BIC (butt in chair) and start writing so I can figure out what I need to know.

Before you think that Beginner’s Mind is a negative thing, let me explain the value of this situation. Beginner’s minds are wide open to all the possibilities. Everything is so new, so different, that there are no expectations or limitations to hold the beginner back. If I were to start a new book and already have in mind that it would fit into a specific box, I might miss some wonderful opportunities. For example: in Death’s Kiss,deathkiss final-front

the paranormal YA that is coming out in a few months, I thought I had the ending completely figured out as I began writing. I started crafting the story to move in the direction I had chosen, and I felt pretty good about it. But I didn’t have all the details in place for certain scenes, and it felt as if I were starting all over again. Instead of giving up, or worse, trying to force the story in an unnatural direction, I left my options open. I found a new, more powerful ending that made better sense with the scenes I had already written, and I’m much happier with the story now than I would have been.

For many writers, it’s hard to admit that they don’t know everything about the craft or the business. When I start a new project, I return to that Beginner’s Mind, and I find that by acknowledging that I can’t possibly know everything about this, I am better able to explore all the options and to look in new and different directions. Sometimes that feeling of not knowing, or having so many things on my mind all at once, can be a bit overwhelming, but as with meditation, in time things settle and I find that comfortable place that works. I know it’s coming. I just have to have a little patience.

patience

Resolutions – The 2013 Edition

It has been a VERY successful year for me, and I am grateful for the support of friends, family, teachers, librarians, and most of all readers! In June of this year, Angelic Knight Press made an offer for Death’s Kiss. In August, I sold a horror short story under my pen name Mimi A. Williams. That story, entitled Rita, will be part of the Axes of Evil: Heavy Metal Horror Anthology that will be released on February 1, 2014.  The Deepest Blue was released from Tanglewood Press in September of this year. This book has a long, winding history behind it, and it’s one that I am incredibly proud to see in print. All of this exceeded my goals for the year, although there were a few places I fell short

This is the seventh year in a row that I’ve done this exercise. It is a tradition now, and something I look forward in some sick and twisted way. It actually started further back even than the posts on this blog! All credit is due to Carol Lynch Williams who started the whole thing at least a dozen years ago and maybe even more. We are members of several list serves together, and every year about this time, we would publicly post our writing goals, and at the end of the year, Carol would hold us all accountable by posting our objectives on the list.

I like to do it this way: First, I review my resolutions from the beginning of the year to see how I did. That usually provides the motivation for my new resolutions. So here is what I aspired to a year ago and how I did:

1) I will revise my book The Afterward and continue to send it out.

The Afterward did not get the work I had hoped it would. It was shoved aside in favor of other projects. That’s not entirely bad. The other projects were both getting revised for publication. The Deepest Blue was the one that required the most time, followed closely by Death’s Kiss, which will be released early in 2014.

2) I will revise my book Death Kiss and continue submitting it and looking for its home.

Death Kiss was revised, and it was bought by Angelic Knight Press. It did find a home, and as I mentioned, it will be released soon under the revised title of “Death’s Kiss”

deathkiss final-front

3) I will participate in as many promotional and marketing events as possible (like Authorpalooza, Writing for Charity, and others) to promote my books and my availability for speaking.

I did quite well with this! I attended 10 different events, including a workshop at Whitmore Library, Writing for Charity, Davis School District Literacy Night, SCBWI’s The Inside Story, and others. I have also upgraded my website, and learned new ways to use social media to help promote my books. The results have been very positive, and as I anticipate my upcoming royalty payments, I should have a more concrete idea of how effective these efforts have been.

4) I will begin offering writing workshops 3 or 4 times a year through different sources as a means of income and to promote my books.

I didn’t quite follow through with this, though I did teach two workshops with good results. This year, though, I will follow through with the workshops, and I have recruited my talented writer friend C. Michelle Jefferies to be part of the fun! We have already laid the plans for the first workshop the first week of February.

And now it’s time to commit to the page (such as it is) my goals for the coming year. They came pretty easily this year, and I feel like I am stretching a bit and giving myself a challenge, but I don’t sense I’m setting myself up for failure. So here they are:

1. I will get an agent this year. Period.

2. I will finish at least three novels this year, including rewriting The Afterward, finishing Namesake, and a third novel (yet to be determined).

3. I will continue to look for opportunities to promote my work and to participate in at least one writing-related event each month.

4. I will attend two writing conferences or workshops to benefit my own writing.

5. I will offer four writing workshops  during the year.

That’s a lot to do in the next year, but I’m feeling confident and enthusiastic. It’s as much giving as it is taking. I’m focusing on quality and quantity. Overall, I think 2014 holds more promise than even this past year held, and that just makes me even more eager to get started!

Here’s to the coming year! My propellers are spinning and I’m ready to fly!

airplane

What’s the Definition of Insanity?

There’s a wise saying that reads: The definition of insanity is trying to do the same thing over and over but expecting a different result!

I’ve also heard it said this way: If you always do what you’ve always done then you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.

The message to me, my own interpretation, is that becoming stagnate is like digging a hole for yourself and then wondering why you can’t get out! I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating this recently for a variety of reasons. First, it’s getting to the end of the year and I tend to get a little reflective during this time as I look back on the past year and look forward to formulating my goals for the coming year. Second, the last year has been one that has forced changes on me. Some of these I have embraced and welcomed, while others I’ve gone into kicking and screaming and digging my heels into the dirt. Finally, I’ve made it a goal of mine to look for ways to improve as a writer, as a mentor, as a partner, as a friend, and as a person.  Change can’t happen when one is stagnant.

As I’ve looked back on the preceding 12 months, I’ve come to understand that the times I’ve struggled most are the times when I’ve resisted the obvious changes I needed to make. There have been so many good things that happened.  In many ways, this year has been one for the record books! My writing world has been filled with exciting events that continue to evolve even here in the final weeks. There was the sale of Death’s Kiss, the sale of a short story entitled Rita, the release of The Deepest Blue, and soon the release of Death’s Kiss. I participated in numerous signings, workshops, and conferences in 2013 – more than I ever have in years past. It seemed like almost every month I had something involving writing (other than my writing group) to participate in. Then came the opportunity to edit a book for one of my publishers, something I absolutely enjoyed and hope to do again! So many changes took place so quickly that sometimes I didn’t even realize they had happened. All of it required flexibility, organization, and the willingness to step outside my comfort zone – something most of us don’t like doing. But not all of the changes I faced were as easy to accommodate.

I had to let go of a lot this year: hopes that I held for myself and others for a number of issues. I know that sounds terribly cryptic, but the truth is, I can’t go into a lot of detail because it’s very personal, and it’s not just about me. Here is one example, though, that truly pushed my limits. I’ve had to let go of a friendship with someone whom I’d been close to for several years. I hate letting go of people I care about, whether through choice or through loss. I don’t give love easily, so when I commit, it’s with my entire heart and soul. Unfortunately, continuing to allow this person in my life was literally asking for continued pain and destruction. For reasons I will never understand, someone who claimed to love me and be my friend was working behind my back to undermine me and hurt me. I’m pretty much a nice person most of the time. I’m not a saint and I have my moments to be sure, but I don’t go out and deliberately try to hurt someone while simultaneously professing to be a friend to him or her. It required some drastic measures to accomplish, but I think I’ve successfully eliminated this individual from my life. It hurt  to do it, but it was a change that needed to be made.

And there are other changes as well. After holding firm to the idea of independence for so long, I’ve finally determined that I need to get an agent, and I am pursuing that even as I write this. After eight years in print, my first three books (the “Hey, Ranger” series) was taken out of print. I will always love those books and I hope one day to be able to do more with that series than the publisher was willing to do. After years of letting it languish, I update my website and I am proud to show it off now!

So what’s the point to all this? Anyone who is close to me will tell you that if you look up the definition of crazy, you’ll see my picture next to it. I move at a fast pace; I’m constantly busy; I’m writing more, editing more, helping other writers, and generally running around like a headless chicken. Things are in a constant state of change in my life: personally, writing-wise, and professionally as well. I don’t think I ever do anything the same way twice, and if that means I’m protected against crazy, well, I’m not sure I agree. But my definition of crazy is what’s keeping me happy, and as the new year approaches, I look forward to more of the same that won’t be the same!

crazy

A Different Definition of “Writing Success”

It happens far too often: after a presentation, inevitably someone asks the visiting writer, “How much do you make?”

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Now, would you ask your doctor or your dentist, the guy at the bank, or the woman who checks your groceries how much he or she makes? Of course not. That’s just rude!

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But I can assure you that many writers are asked this question on a regular basis. Some people ask because they think we all make the same salary as Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. Some people ask because they have a great idea for a book and they want to know how much money this awesome story is going to make for them.  Still others (like moms, worried siblings, or aunts and uncles) will ask because they are afraid you are starving to death pursuing this dream of yours.

The first time I was asked, it was by a small kid from a pretty impoverished area. I think I could have told this kid that I made $40 and he would have been impressed. But as time has gone on, I’ve realized that basically anyone feels it’s his or her right to stick his or her nose into your financial business. I understand the curiosity, and I can see how that curiosity manifests, but I don’t understand what compels those people to actually open their mouths and have the brass to ask the question. At this point, all I can really do is laugh!

My most recent experience with this happened when I did a presentation at a local library. I did my best to avoid the answer, but the individual continued to push the issue.  Finally I did the only thing I could do, and I told the truth. The person who asked the question sort of looked astonished. However, the experience for me turned out incredibly positive. It’s not the financial gain that keeps me writing, in fact I’ve often said I would write for free because – well – I just can’t NOT write.  But even beyond that, any writer who is honest will say that he or she writes in order to touch someone else.  I’ve been blessed to have six books earn feedback from readers, and now books seven and eight are prepared to do the same. When I do presentations, I’m heartened by the comments that I get from participants.  For example:

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No matter how many times I read Abby’s letter, I am still thrilled that I touched this young girl’s heart and that she felt inspired enough to tell me about it.  I’ve had wonderful reviews of my work, and I’ve talked with many readers, and this is the best reward I could ask for. I don’t measure success in terms of money, I measure it in terms of books I’ve had published, in terms of people who respond to those books. I look at success not in how others measure it, but in how I feel everyday, doing this job and pursuing this dream. And the truth is – I feel pretty darned successful.