Time to Wield the Mighty Pen

"This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal." ~Toni Morrison

I've been tossing around ideas about what to write for this post for a few days now. It was tempting to bypass the state of the nation and stick to a safer topic, something like motivation or puppies. But Toni Morrison's words summarize what is on my mind, and what I think should be on the mind of every writer.

Yes, I'm about to be opinionated, and I'm not going to apologize for that.

We have been given the gift of words, and with that I believe there comes responsibility.

Yes, a lot of us, maybe even most of us, are in the writing business to entertain, but that entertainment shapes thoughts and emotions. We're not preachers or politicians, but we have beliefs and principles and values.

We have power we don't realize that we have.

I was thinking the other day about all of the books I read as a child and a teenager. The product of a strict religious upbringing, born and raised in a small town, I was very sheltered with little experience of the larger world. The books I read - fortunately - taught me compassion and understanding for people different than me. They taught me that evil can be confronted and overcome. They taught me that hope, beauty, and good can survive in even the darkest of situations. They comforted me. They gave me heroines and mentors I could relate to and look up to.

They also taught me that it's important to step out of the safe zone and take action when lives and liberties are threatened.

This, my friends, is that time. I'm not saying we all need to start writing essays or blogs or opinion pieces, although that wouldn't be a bad thing. But I believe that in the world as it now is, it's more important than ever that we think about how we are using our creative gifts.

Do we have influence on social media that can be used to give bandwidth to important messages? Are there elements we can include in our stories that will help threatened groups feel stronger? Can we write stories that might shine a light on privilege and unconscious bigotry? Can we help to build bridges and create understanding and cooperation?

I believe that privilege and even a lot of bigotry and hate hide out in our subconscious, installed there when we were children incapable of sorting truth from lies. We can do work to find these beliefs in ourselves. We can write things that make people stop and think.

Fiction often shines a light where argument and rhetoric can never reach.

If I'm honest, I'm not sure what that means for me, as a writer. I don't know how this belief is going to change the next book I write. But if I write consciously, from the heart, with the desire to make things better, I dare to hope that my stories, in some small way, can help to make the world a better place.

My challenge to all of you is to make an effort to do the same.

Taming the Worry Monster

Quick - grab a piece of paper and a pen and jot down a list of things you are worrying about. Don't stop to think whether they are rational or irrational. Don't try to prioritize. Just scribble them down. Do it now. I'll wait. While I wait I will contemplate this still life photo of a random penguin.Random PenguinWhat is the penguin worried about, I wonder? Does he know that worrying expends valuable energy without creating any positive result? Does he understand that one of the best ways to deal with worry is to take positive action toward a goal?

Since we can't get a look into the penguin's head, let's all focus on our own. Have a look at your worry list and pick one to work on, preferably something writing related. Got it?

Okay. Now take your pen and paper and do the following.

  1. List all of the people involved in this situation.
  2. Now draw a big, fat, scribble line through all of those names.
  3. Below the crossed out list write your own name, because YOU are the only person you have any control over.
  4. Now brainstorm a list of all of the possible actions YOU can take to resolve this issue. Remember that if the action requires participation by somebody else, it doesn't go here. Try the format Your Name + Verb + Object (optional) If you are worrying about trying to find an agent, for example, your action list may look something like this:
  • I will craft a query letter
  • I will email five friends and ask them for feedback (note that YOU are asking. How they respond is out of your control)
  • I will research agents and make a list of ten who are looking for my genre
  • I will submit my polished query letter to those ten agents and search out ten more
  • I will send out another query letter for every rejection I receive

And so on. If your worry is interpersonal, such as conflict with your agent or a crit partner or a problem with your editor, the action list still takes the same format. You can't change another person. You can't change what they think or feel or what they do. You probably have no control over editorial decisions. But you can let them know how you feel and what you think. Communication is a direct action you can take. So your list might look more like this:

  • Write a letter to my agent explaining my point of view
  • Ask my editor for an extension
  • Message my crit partner and ask if we can talk.

Maybe the thing that's keeping you awake at night is a book launch and your fear that your new release won't sell enough copies. Every writer has been there. Again, make a list of positive actions that you can take, and then do those things.

Sometimes action is the best self care. Relaxation and breathing and meditation are wonderful things, but so is knowing that you have taken positive action to resolve a problem.

 

After the Conference: Dealing with the Sea of Gloom

The Post Conference Sea of Gloom should be on a map, located somewhere off the shores of the State of Despair. It should have  its own psychiatric diagnostic code. It should be included in the manual of All the Things Writers Need to Know. (By the way - why has nobody written this reference book yet?)

But nobody really talks about the post conference slump.

What you hear about writer conferences is all glowing and wonderful. Come hang out with other writers! Learn new skills! Get inspired!

And this happens. Boy howdy, does it happen. For a few days we are swimming in a writing sea where everybody speaks the language of books. By the last day, we are ready to take on the world. Nothing is going to stop us. Nothing can get in the way. We are WRITERS! What do we do? WE WRITE! We are going to go home and take the world by storm!!

And then we get home.

Our families are overjoyed to see us and we are overjoyed to see them. Home is good. It's wonderful to sleep in our own beds and even to eat familiar foods. But there's a downside. Everybody needs something from us. Groceries need to be bought, houses need cleaning, meals need preparing. Kids and pets and loved ones might seem extra demanding. Friends make noises of interest when we spill over with all of the exciting things that happened at the con, but quickly glaze over.

We go back to work and the familiar old boring routine sucks us in.

At this point, some of us get caught in the undertow that pulls us out into the Sea of Gloom. All of the goals that seemed so possible and exciting at the conference now seem distant and unrealistic. That agent you pitched to - the one you're sure is your soulmate and destined to guide your career forever - doesn't respond when you send in the manuscript pages she requested. You log into Facebook to discover that a bunch of your new BFF writer pals are off having fun at yet another conference while you're stuck at work. One of them announces that she just signed with your soulmate agent, who still hasn't commented on the pages you sent. Some other author has a brand new book deal and yet another has hit the bestseller list.

You try to get back to work on your manuscript only to find it impossibly full of flaws and now you're all kinds of embarrassed that you ever dared to show it to anybody. Life stretches out before you, bleak, empty, and dull. All of your dreams wither up and die.

Sound familiar?

Maybe you've only dipped your toes in a Puddle of Gloom. Or maybe the gloom thing doesn't hit you at all.  This is wonderful, and I am happy to know there are such emotionally healthy, well-adjusted writers out there in the world.

For the rest of us, I have some thoughts to offer.

1 This reaction is actually normal.

Any mountaintop experience is likely to be followed by a plunge into the valley of shadow, or at least a return to the level plain. We can't live on the heights forever.

2. Introverts are drained by exposure to people.

Most writers - not all - are introverts. This doesn't mean we don't like people, it means we get our energy from alone time. Hanging out with other people (even awesome, exciting writer people) drains our energy. During a conference we are adrenaline-charged and fired by passion, and often don't notice that we've expended our energy supply and are running on fumes. There is a cost for this, and sooner or later we have to pay the bill.

3. We need time to process

There is no possible way to intellectually process everything that happens at a con. Too much happens too fast. Information, relationships, ideas, and opportunities pepper us at warp speed and we're only able to grasp a small percentage with our conscious brain. The subconscious, though, is hard at work on what we've missed. It will spend weeks processing, cataloguing, filing, and storing, feeding us little bits and pieces at random (and usually inconvenient) moments. This, again, requires some of that energy we don't currently have because it was depleted by all of that peopling we did.

So what do we do? How do we swim out of the Sea of Gloom? 

  1. Be kind to yourself.  Simple acceptance of the fact that you are an introverted human being who has been immersed in an intense sea of emotion and human contact carries you a long way toward shore. Tell yourself this is a normal reaction and that it won't last forever.
  2. Rest. Take a little time to recharge your physical batteries. Take care of your exhausted body by feeding it good food, getting some extra rest, drinking lots of water and indulging in gentle exercise. If you can manage time in nature, do this. If you're a city person, find some trees, the more the better. (I dare you to hug a tree, while you're at it. You're a writer. Everybody already knows you're weird.)
  3. Refill. Nurture your emotional self. Take a couple of days off writing and read a fantastic book. Resist the urge to compare your writing; just read for pleasure. Consider a brief Social Media break. Breathe. Do Yoga. Pet the cats or the dogs or the llamas, whatever type of friendly animal happens to be available. Hug a child. Listen to music. Do a non-writing craft. Draw pictures. Color in an adult coloring book, or a child's coloring book for that matter.
  4. Catalogue. Get out a journal and start making sense of your experience. If you're a logical sort, make lists of what you learned, what you plan to do, and how you plan to do it. If you're more freewheeling, do some daily free writing to help clear some of the backlog.
  5. Visualize. After you've taken a couple of days (or a week) to rest and recover, it's time to dive back in. Find five minutes of quiet and solitude where you won't be interrupted. Close your eyes. Take three deep breaths. Now, think back to the moment at the conference when you felt most inspired and motivated and excited. Recall how that felt. Draw on the physical sensations you experienced. Remember the thoughts that skipped through your head. Tap that motivation, that sense of possibility and hope and let it fill you to the brim.
  6. Go forth and do all the things. Pick a goal, break it into concrete tasks over which you have control, and run for the gold.

In Love with Colorado Gold

I just realized that the Colorado Gold conference is less than a month away, and I did a little happy dance right in the middle of my kitchen.

This is, unreservedly, my favorite conference, the only no brainer when I sit down to plan my conference going schedule for the year. Okay, who am I kidding? I never really sit down and plan a year worth of everything. But it's true that I don't have to even think about whether I'll be heading to Colorado in September.

What makes this conference so special?

I'm glad you asked.

Part of the awesome is the great workshops, the pitch appointments, the pitch coaching, the fabulous keynote speakers, and the always top notch organization and programming. And these are all wonderful reasons to attend. But what really sets Colorado Gold apart is the group of writers who come here.

This is the warmest, friendliest, most accessible conference I have ever been to. From the very first day of my very first time, I felt welcome, comfortable, and like I belonged. If you, like me, always feel a bit out of sync with the rest of the world, then you know how incredibly wonderful it is to find somebody you click with. And when you find a whole group of people who get you?

Priceless.

It seems I'm not the only one who feels this way. I asked my writer friends on Facebook who are Colorado Gold regulars what they love about this conference, and here's what some of them had to say:

What Colorado Gold Writers Have to Say
What Colorado Gold Writers Have to Say

Colorado Gold is the perfect size: big enough to invite quality teachers and speakers, and small enough to prevent first timers from getting lost. There are hosted tables at the group dinners, which facilitate making connections and new friends. Usually there's a hospitality room set aside where we can hang out and have a few drinks in the evening. And yes, there is always the bar.

So if you've never been, consider making this your con this year. It's not too late to register. When you get there, be sure to find me and say hi.

Starting at Word One…

Every writer has to begin at the beginning.

I know this sounds like a cliche, but it's not. Think about it. Every. Writer. Dickens, Tolkien, Charlotte Bronte, Stephen King, Nora Roberts - even Mr. Shakespeare himself. All of them were at one point unskilled, unknown, and unpublished. I'm willing to bet that at some point in their lives, each one of these well known authors felt like what they were writing was going nowhere.

Sometimes, the beginning feels like the void before creation, or the Big Bang, or however the universe came into being. The prospect of creating something in the middle of that vast emptiness is mind boggling. Add in the extra dimension of trying to publish whatever we manage to create and knowing we'll need to fight to bring it to the attention of readers and it's a wonder every single one of us isn't rocking in a corner somewhere, clad in a straightjacket and gibbering at the moon.

Somewhere along the line, every writer you've ever heard of caught a lucky break. But here's the thing--in order to catch that lucky break, they had to be ready. Which means they wrote things without knowing whether those things would ever be read. They practiced. They persevered. In a sense, they made their own luck.

Perhaps you have heard of a little book called The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? The author, Douglas Adams, didn't actually set out to write a book. He wrote a screen play. And this is what he had to say about the night it first aired:

"The first episode went out on BBC Radio 4 at 10:30 P.M. on Wednesday, March 8, 1978, in a huge blaze of no publicity at all. Bats heard it. The odd dog barked.

After a couple of weeks a letter or two trickled in." ~Douglas Adams

Douglas freaking Adams, you guys. Words he wrote, characters he created, are now catch phrases that are part of casual conversation. There is even a Towel Day every year. And yet, he too experienced that terrible silence so many of us fear when we're launching a book.

Stephen King threw Carrie into the trash can. His wife pulled it out and talked him into submitting it.

You get the picture. If you feel like you're spinning your wheels with your writing and going nowhere, write anyway. If you're in the desert of bleakness at the middle of a novel and have lost all hope of ever writing anything good, write anyway.

Writers are not good judges of their own work. You never know when your lucky break will come, or which book you've written might suddenly strike a chord with readers and take you to the top of a list.

Write even if none of these things happen, if you never catch a lucky break.

Write because you're a writer, damn it, and that's what you were put into this world to do.

 

Things That Keep You From Writing: The Fear Factor

 

FEAR"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain." ~Frank Herbert, Dune

Today's motivational writing post is brought to you by the emotion fear.

Fear is a tricky emotion. It doesn't always manifest with a pounding pulse, shaking hands, and chills up and down your spine. Sometimes, when it comes to writing, it can masquerade as boring, ordinary, avoidance.

You sit down to write. You open up your manuscript. You stare at it. It stares at you. You feel a sudden need for another cup of coffee. Or maybe a snack. Brownies would be good. You don't have any brownies in the house, but there's a box of mix in the pantry. Or, better yet, you have a made-from-scratch recipe which will allow you to feel creative and virtuous for eschewing chemicals and the make-it-quick mentality of our modern society.

While the brownies are baking you have a good thirty minutes of writing time, but it occurs to you that the dishes need to be done and the floor should be swept. The cat rubs around your ankles. When was the last time she saw the vet? You can't remember. Maybe she needs shots. Rabies would be a terrible thing. That horrible scene from Old Yeller is permanently etched in your memory and the thought of a rabid cat shredding you with her claws is terrifying. You don't own a gun, unlike the Old Yeller kid. Maybe you should think about that. What would it take to own a gun?

By the time the oven alarm goes off to let you know your brownies are ready, you've researched vet appointments and guns.

Now you have brownies, though, and it's time to go back to writing.

That manuscript is still staring at you. There's a small uneasiness in your belly. A sudden desire to go outside. Or vacuum. Forget vacuuming, the carpets haven't been cleaned in forever. This really is the day to go rent a carpet cleaner and get that done.

Of course you really want to write and you're very sad that life keeps getting in the way, but that's just how things are...

Next time you sit down to write and feel this huge resistance thing going on, consider staying right there in your chair and checking out your emotional state. What is your body telling you? Can you feel the tension of resistance in your shoulders and your thighs? Is there a weight in your belly? Or butterflies?

Take out a sheet of lined paper or a notebook, if you have one. Get a pen. Now write, at the top of the page, these words:

I am afraid that...

Now free write for five minutes, keeping that pen moving and not stopping to think about what is going on the page.

In my world, it's going to be something like this:

I am afraid that I can't write this book, that it's going to suck, that I'll lose all of my contracts and my former readers will hate me. Maybe I have Alzheimers or something and have forgotten how to line up words on the page. I'm afraid that everything I've ever written is horrible. I'm afraid this book is too big for me. I'm afraid I won't get done in time, that this deadline is too tight, that I've bitten off more than I can chew...

Whatever your version of the fear may be, this emotion is a strong deterrent to writing.

Anything.

Ever.

And the only real solution I know is to push past the fear. To write through it. I find that this is easier if I write every day. It's like that old "get right back in the saddle after you fall off the horse" cliche. The longer you wait, the longer you let the fear keep you from the page, the harder it will be to overcome it.

Here are a few methods that have helped me get past my fear.

  1. Write something. Anything. If the manuscript proves too formidable, write something else. A blog post, say. Or some free writing in a journal. Anything that gets the words flowing and begins to dissolve that big, cold, lump of fear labeled I Can't Write.
  2. Actively give yourself permission to write crap. Yep. Sometimes I sit down at my computer and consciously tell myself, maybe even out loud, "Go ahead. Write something that sucks."
  3. Make friends with the fear. Talk to it. Bribe it with treats. Name it, even. Because it's probably not ever going to actually go away. Ten books down the line it will still be sitting on your shoulder, much like Poe's raven. So you might as well get used to it.

And that's about it. I've made a little permission slip for you, to help you get started. Print it off, put your name on it, sign and date it, and keep it where you write.

Permission Slip
Permission Slip

The Writing Habit

If you want to be a productive writer, then you need a habit.

Not this kind of habit:

singingnun

THIS kind of  habit:

Butt in Chair

Yeah, I know, we writers are creative people. We like to have muses and write when we're inspired. We want all of the rainbows and unicorns and leprechaun gold while we're at it. Habits are boring and stifling and structured, for God's sake. We get enough structure from our day jobs and our family responsibilities. Writing should be spontaneous and fun and happen when we're really feeling the love.

This is all true UNLESS you want to write professionally. Because here's the fly in the ointment, my friends. If you want to be published - and continue to be published - then writing becomes a J-O-B.

Yep. I said it. Writing professionally is a full on responsibility.

Sure, it's still fun - some of the time.

Magic still happens - some of the time.

The Muse still sings songs of enchantment and wonder that get you lost in Storyland - some of the time.

But that isn't going to cut it if you're trying to build a career. Your capricious Muse won't help you meet deadlines, and neither will fitful inspiration. There will be days when writing feels like the last thing on  the face of the planet that you want to be doing. There will be days when it feels hopeless, pointless, and maybe even stupid. This happens to every writer, even, I dare say, to those who are highly successful and appear to have "made it."

You have to find a way to write anyway.

I am going to offer a caveat here. Yes, there are days when "writing" means thinking. There are days when the best thing you can do is step away from a manuscript and take a walk, do some brainstorming, or talk to a friend. Some writers take regular, planned days off from writing, in order to rest and refresh. This advice is for writers who are struggling with getting the writing done.

I've talked in previous posts about setting priorities and finding your focus. These things are hard.  I'm not sure what Life has against writing, but I can tell you that Life does not want you to write. It will throw things at you overhand, underhand, and sideways. It will screw you over six ways from Sunday. If you wait for those wonderful, golden moments of sheer writing bliss to be handed to you on a silver platter, you're going to be waiting until you're in the ground and fodder for the worms.

Ever notice how you don't have to carve out time for your habits? If you're a morning coffee drinker, you don't have to think about that in the morning. Imagine if, when the alarm went off and you managed to drag yourself into the kitchen, you spent fifteen minutes debating about whether or not to make coffee.

God forbid. That would be one question too many in your decaffeinated state. Nope. Before your eyes are open, you're fumbling through your morning coffee ritual. Maybe you were really smart and loaded the coffee pot the night before.

Everything in your morning routine - from taking a shower and brushing your teeth to getting dressed - happens pretty much on auto pilot. These things are habits (at least for most of us.) We do them every day, whether we feel like it or not.

A writing habit serves the same purpose. If you have made it a habit, when your allotted writing time comes up, you write.

You write whether you feel the writing love or not.

You write whether you're brimming with inspiration or feeling jaded and tired and beset by doubt.

Writers write. Regularly.

Some of you are going to tell me that your days are too unpredictable or that you don't have time. If this is true, chances are it's time to rethink your priorities. If you REALLY WANT TO WRITE then you will find a time to fit writing regularly into your life. But I will also tell you that something else that you love may need to go, because we don't get anything for free.

Even when you've developed the habit, there will be days where writing doesn't happen. There are probably days when you don't get dressed or brush your teeth, and maybe - gods forfend - days when you don't drink coffee. Life is like that. But the thing about habits is that once they're established, they are hard to break. So if you have a Writing Habit and you miss a day, you'll find your way back to it the next day, or the next.

When you don't write, you'll feel that something is missing, just like when you forget to brush your teeth. Words will get written.

Chances are, once you establish it, this is one habit you'll never want to break.

I'll be teaching a class on getting writing done at Colorado Gold 2016 called Write Now: Making Space for Writing in a Busy World. It's scheduled for 8 am on Sunday, which is either appropriate or ironic, or maybe both. 

Focusing Your Energy Where it Counts

I'm probably the last person in the world who should be talking about focus.

You know that person with her head so high in the clouds that she put her car keys in the freezer? Or  pulls into the neighbor's garage, gets out of her car, walks into the house, and wonders who changed the linoleum and why the cat is the wrong color?

Yep, that's me. I'm the woman who starts off taking out the kitchen garbage, stops along the way to pet the cat, notices the litter box needs attention and scoops, leaving the trash bag in the house by the cat box and taking the litter to the outside trash can. I'm the woman who then notices it's a beautiful day and wanders off to see if the lilacs are going to bloom this year, coming inside an hour later to wonder who left the trash bag sitting in the bathroom.

But maybe this makes me the right person to talk about focus, after all, because I've developed some coping methods over the years that help me get important things done. (See my last post on setting priorities for some ideas on how to sort out which are your most important things.)

Following are a few of the things I've found to be helpful in finding enough focus to get my words written.

Schedule it. If writing time is important to you, signal that to yourself and everybody else in the same way you would other important events. Make it an appointment and treat it like a parent-teacher conference, a work meeting at your day job, a visit to your doctor or your hair stylist. Put it on your calendar. Don't stand yourself up.Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 4.46.47 AM

Minimize distractions. Figure out whether you do better in a quiet or noisy environment. Experiment with music - can you focus better with it on, or off. What location works best for you - the kitchen table, a writing room desk, a corner in the coffee shop? Whatever works best, do that. Note that this might change depending on the book you're writing, and whether you're brainstorming, drafting, revising, or editing.

Turn off the social media. How many times have you sat down to write, only to find yourself an hour later deep down some rabbit hole on Facebook? Besides the time suck component, how can you get deeply involved in your character's emotions and lives if you are constantly receiving signals from outside influences? If you're like me and lack will power, consider a program like Freedom that blacks the internet for you for a set period of time. Or, shut off the internet altogether during writing time. I recently went through a spell where I didn't turn the internet on in the morning before my words were written. I was a little bit shocked at how much more writing I got done.

Sprint. Sometimes, if you're struggling with focus, settling in for a short stretch of 15 minutes can work very well for getting things done. I love to do this with a friend through a chat window. Set the time, go, and report back in. It's easier to settle down to work when you know it's not going to be a long haul. Plus, it's highly motivating to know you'll need to fess up to your partner if you've wandered off to Twitter. (It's also amusing when you both wander off to Twitter and call each other out for bad behavior. This may just have happened to me a time or two.)

Put the cat in the garage. I know, this is a drastic measure. The GDC, currently in my lap and judging everything I write, takes offense. We love our fur babies and they are wonderful and often comforting. They can also be a huge distraction. If you are struggling with focus and getting your words written, you might consider finding something else for the fur babies to do while you write.

I have a few other ideas, but I'm scheduled for my writing time in about two minutes and I'm choosing to honor that commitment and am signing off now.  I'm excited to tell you that I will be presenting a session on getting your writing done at the Colorado Gold Conference this year, so if this topic is of interest to you I'd love to see you there!

I'd also love to hear the strategies you've developed for managing focus during writing time.

 

Getting Your Priorities Straight

"We all have the same number of hours in the day."

I don't know about you, but when somebody says this, I generally want to kick them in the shins or slap them with a large, dead fish.

It always seems to get said with a self righteous air, as if the person uttering the words has everything in their life perfectly under control. They are never late for work. Never miss a deadline. Never find themselves scrambling to fulfill an obligation at the very last second.

The fact that the words are true just makes them more irritating.

Unless somebody has invented a time machine and is doing an incredible job of keeping it hidden in their garage, we all get the same allotment of twenty-four hours in a day. Except this week, of course, when those of us living in misguided countries have an hour stolen from us, but that's another story.

Some of us have a lot more living to cram into our time allowance than other people do. Some are contented with a slow and steady space. They go to work, come home, pet the cats, eat a tidy, low fuss dinner, watch TV and go to bed. I don't personally know anybody like this, although I'm told they exist. I don't think I've ever met anybody who felt they had more than enough hours in the day. People only trot out the "we all have the same number of hours in the day" statement when they're talking to somebody else.

My point is that until Science and Magic get their acts together and create a time turner, we're going to have to muddle along with not enough time to do All The Things. We can try, and sometimes even pull it off for awhile, but sooner or later we have to sleep. And the body, mind, and spirit will all rebel at some point if we push too hard, and find a way to force us to slow down. A rest enforced by physical illness, depression, anxiety, or some other system breakdown will slow us down more in the long run than a more reasonable pace.

So what's the answer, then, for those of us overwhelmed by the drive to do everything?

I think it starts with setting priorities.

I ran into a Facebook meme the other day about this which was pretty simple and brilliant. Every time you catch yourself saying, "I don't have time," change those words to "That's not a priority." And then listen closely to yourself.

"I'd love to write but I just don't have time," becomes, "Writing is not a priority."

"I know I should read but I don't have time," becomes, "Reading is not a priority."

And - harsh reality time – maybe these things are not priorities for you. Maybe your priorities right now are raising kids, building a career, and binge watching The Walking Dead. No problem. If those are the priorities, then do those things.

Or, maybe, The Walking Dead can wait, and writing could fill that time slot.

It's all about awareness and choices. You can find writing time and reading time, you can find time to play with your kids. You can find time to clean your house from top to bottom and do Pinterest crafts and bake chocolate chip cookies. But you might not be able to choose all of those things, all at the same time.

CHALLENGE

Take a few minutes, five at the most, to jot down a list of priorities, things like career and family and writing. Don't get deep into the weeds on this – just jot them down as they come to you, in no particular order.

Got your list?

Great. Now pick the top five. This part is harder. Be honest and ignore the niggling guilt if your true priorities aren't what you think they should be. Also be aware that priorities shift. Maybe family was the top priority when your kids were little, but now they're in college and you're focused on another goal. It doesn't mean you don't love your family if another priority rises to the top. It just means you are choosing to focus your energy elsewhere. Arrange your top five in order of current importance, with number one being the thing you would keep if you were forced to relinquish the others, and so on. Hold onto your finished list. Pin it on your bulletin board, or stash it wherever you keep such things. Whatever works for you.

Now, for the next week, observe how you spend your time. How many hours spent sleeping? How many hours on the internet? How many hours with the family? Watching TV? Writing? Reading? At the day job? Cleaning house? Jot down notes at the end of every day and make sure you account for all 24 hours.

At the end of your week of time observation, sit down with your priority list and your observation notes and compare them. How much time are you spending on your priorities? How much time are you spending on things that didn't even make the priority cut? If your priorities and how you spend your time match up, chances are you're feeling reasonably good about what you accomplish in your life. If they don't, my guess is that you're feeling frustrated and unfulfilled.

The next step is to figure out how to focus your energy on the things that matter most to you. This comes at a cost, by the way. We don't get anything for free, and no matter what we'd like to believe, we can't have it all.

I'll be talking more about this next month.

 

An Experiment in Decreasing Book Launch Stress

Whether you're Indie, Traditional, or somewhere in between, launching a book can be crazy making.

You've invested hours of your life creating characters that are more real to you than your next door neighbor and most of your co-workers at the day job. You've developed extra brow wrinkles from frowning at the computer monitor. Your wrists hurt and you have calluses on your fingertips from typing and retyping all of those words. There are gaping wounds in your soul from the darlings you've cut. The pages of your precious book are drenched in your heart's blood.

And then, one day, you get a publishing contract. Or you decide the book is polished and ready and set it up to go Indie. This is exciting! This is fun! Everything is going to be marvelous, and you're filled with all the superlative emotions of elation and joy and excitement--

Until the reality hits.

People are going to read it. Not just friendly people who love you.

You've hoped all along that the reading masses will love and adore your book. Universal praise! Money! Fans! Helicopters!

Nope. Even the most successful of books have their share of haters. Trolls will read your book. Critics. Reviewers. Readers who don't understand what you were trying to do and totally miss the point.

Or, worse, maybe nobody will read it. Maybe you'll send your little book out into the world and it will drift, lonely and unloved, in a tiny little backwater somewhere far away from civilization.

But wait - this isn't even the bad part, yet.

The nightmare side of launching a book is really this: its fate is now out of your hands.

Oh, sure, there are some things you can do. First and foremost, you can write a really good book. And then there's the blog tour, a little advertising, maybe a book signing tour, if you can swing the time and money. Maybe you'll offer up some great giveaways. If you're Indie, you can change up pricing or rewrite the cover copy or maybe get a Book Bub. Your efforts will find you a few more readers.

But whatever that magic something is that makes a book go viral may or may not happen, no matter how much you engage in smart marketing practices.

There's a point where you have to relinquish control and move on to other things.

My Viking came up with an excellent analogy for me as we were battening down the hatches in preparation for the launch of Dead Before Dying.

"You're the Queen of Spain," he said. "You've just launched the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, off to find a new route to Asia. You don't have cell phones or email or radio or any means of communication. Those ships sail out of harbor, and you're not going to hear anything for months, if ever. Maybe the voyage will be successful, and sooner or later they'll sail home laden with all sorts of foreign treasures. Or maybe they'll sink in the middle of a storm and never be heard of again. So you get on with your life and do other things, because there's absolutely nothing you can do to help the ships or the crews once they're out to sea."

I had to acknowledge that he had a point, and that it fits with my life philosophy of focusing my efforts on the things I do have control of and letting go of the rest. So, adopting the ship metaphor, I agreed to forego my usual launch week behaviors. No haunting of Amazon sales rankings, no looking at reviews, no angsting over the number of Goodreads shelf ads.

I've managed, so far, to abide by the terms of this agreement, and I have to say that this has been, so far, the least stressful launch I've had for any of my books. If I have a PR task lined up, I do it. If an opportunity to promote or buzz something comes to my attention, I do that.

I've done everything I could by writing the best book I knew how to write, and then lining up the best promotional avenues I could think of and/or afford prior to the launch day. The book is out there and off to make its way in the world. Maybe it will come back to me laden with new and wonderful things. Maybe it will founder and sink.

While I'm waiting to find out, I need to be preparing for the next voyage, and the one after that.