Author Archives: Kerry Schafer

About Kerry Schafer

Kerry Schafer is licensed both as a Mental Health Professional and an RN, and spends most of her daylight hours helping people--usually even with a smile. In books, she gets to blow stuff up, preferably with something more interesting than a bomb. Dragons are good; exploding giant slime toads are even better. She has published two novels with Ace Books: Between and Wakeworld. She is also the author of The Dream Wars novellas. Kerry and her Viking live in Colville, Washington, in a little house surrounded by rocks, trees, and gangs of deer and wild turkeys.

Action Plans for the Scattered and Unmotivated

by Kerry Schafer

Last month I shared some of my thoughts about intentions, suggesting that it’s a good idea to have some and see where they take you. And then I tacked a little afterthought on the end, saying how next time we’d talk about Action Plans.

I still maintain that intentions are lovely and wonderful things, even though well meaning people say the road to hell is paved with them. I suspect that the road to paradise is probably paved with them too, although nobody ever seems to mention that.

Back to my point, which is that we want to give those intentions a little boost so that they are more likely to take us to the good place, and not lead us astray into darkness and possibly fire and brimstone.

Warning: If you’re looking for one of those super organized, highly structured, do-all-of-the-things-on-this-list-and-you-will-surely-conquer-the-world posts, you’re in the wrong spot. This isn’t even Action Plans 101. I’m offering up a few random ideas for those of us who organize by sticky notes on the kitchen table, or in our heads while resting our eyes on the couch.

1. Publicly announce whatever it is you said you were going to do.

Case in point – at the end of my last blog post here, I said I would write this time about action plans. If I hadn’t done this, I might easily have opted for something involving fluffy cats and maybe a random penguin or two, because I’m tired and feeling unfocused and the last thing I want to do right now is remind myself that I need a new Action Plan. But I do, and here we are. This is one of the things that makes Nanowrimo so successful, I think. After you’ve announced to everybody who knows and loves you, along with a bunch of strangers who don’t care at all and even a few people who hate you, that you’re going to do something – write a book, query an agent, self publish, whatever – there is a motivating force to keeping your word.

2. Write it on a calendar.

Don’t have a calendar? Get one. Or use the calendar on your smart phone or your computer. Get the kids to make you one. This, for the scattered and unmotivated, is one of the simplest and best motivational and organizational tools out there. Of course, simply scrawling “write a novel”  or “get published” on the first available date may not be of much use, although I think even that would be of some use. There is something about actually scheduling writing time, or query time, or a word count goal, that bumps it up the ranks of your to do list. It’s like magic. Write it down – Monday – 9 am buy groceries, 10:30 am dentist appointment, 3 pm write 1000 words – and all of a sudden your writing time jumps from something you’d like to do if you have time, to something that you plan to do.

3. Take a small step now that will commit you to further action later.

I’m talking about one of those moments where you open your mouth (or put your fingers on the keys) and commit yourself to something. Usually the commitment part only takes a few minutes, but has far reaching consequences, sort of like getting married in Vegas, only in a good way. Or that minute at a school meeting where you raise your hand and volunteer to organize the potluck. If you’re having trouble getting your butt in the chair to write words, buddy up with a friend. Agree to meet up for writing sprints, at 5 am, or 10 pm, or whatever fits in your schedule. That way, when the alarm goes off and you reach out to push snooze, you’ll be struck by the guilt of knowing that someone you care about is climbing out of a nice warm bed somewhere else so she can meet up with you. Guilt is a wonderful nap ruiner. Join a writing group that expects pages to critique. Create a contest with a friend to see who gets the most (well researched and solidly crafted) queries out into the world by a particular time frame.

As Action Plans go, this is the minimalist version. Search the net and you’ll find all sorts of involved and in depth road maps to success. These make my head hurt, and I suspect I’m not the only one. So this is the extent of my contribution to the subject. Hey, every little bit helps, right?

Now – it’s time for you to step up to the plate. What action plan step are you prepared to commit to today?

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Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2012 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on February 14, 2013. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. You can find out more on her website, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books.

What, Precisely, Are Your Intentions?

By Kerry Schafer

Setting Yourself Up For Failure

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. More often than not, I think they set us up for failure rather than success. Some of us start out great with whatever it is we’ve decided to do: write 2000 words a day, go to the gym 5 days a week, lose 20 pounds, whatever. And then we have that day where we don’t write any words. We get busy and miss a couple of days at the gym. We fall to temptation and eat a box of chocolates. Some of us never get started at all. A week goes by, then two or three, and it’s already February and we haven’t even started on our resolution yet, or we’ve failed to follow through.

And then the self talk starts.

Why do I bother? I’m a failure. I’ll never be able to do this, I don’t know why I try… And this gives us the excuse not to try, to fall back to the old ways, which are always more comfortable than change.

For some people resolutions do seem to work. I’m guessing these are people who don’t have a tendency to listen to the negative self talk. They can fall off the exercise/diet/writing wagon, pick themselves up the next day, and carry on. And I’d guess this has everything to do with their focus, which is on the goal and not on the failure.

You Go Where You’re Looking

Remember learning to ride a bicycle? Part of the trick to balancing and driving in a straight line without crashing into the trash cans or parked cars is picking a spot somewhere ahead and keeping your eyes on it. If you turn your head to look at that parked car for very long, chances are good a collision is in your future. Actually, this applies to pretty much anything – skateboarding, driving a car, even walking. You end up where you’re looking.

What Are Your Intentions?

So what is your goal? Often we don’t end up where we think we want to go because really we want to be somewhere else. Our subconscious minds are powerful things. So if you walk around saying that you really want to finally write that novel this year, but really there are ten other goals that are more important to you, chances are the writing is never going to happen. I like the idea of setting intentions because it takes that goal idea one step farther. An intention is, simply, a statement of what you intend to do. This is, incidentally, the best predictor of human behavior. The old standby question asked by fathers of their daughters’ suitors in every comic strip everywhere, “What are your intentions toward my daughter?” is actually a good one. Not that most of those boys will answer honestly, mind you, but if their intention is marriage their behavior will be vastly different than if it’s a one time tumble in the haystack.

Try This

I believe in the power of the written word. Taking a half formed intention that’s simmering in your brain, half conscious, and writing it down (preferably with pen and paper) is a powerful action. It can also help bring you to an understanding of where you really want to go.

1. Fetch a notebook and a pen, clear a half hour somewhere in your busy day, and find some place where you can be undisturbed.

2. Now, imagine that it is December 31st, 2014. You are taking a quiet moment on New Year’s Eve to review the past year and all that you have accomplished. In the present tense, write quickly and without stopping, detailing your successes of the year and how you feel about them.

3. Take that page (or pages) that you have written, and put them in a place that acknowledges the importance of this intention to you. Ideas include: under your pillow so you can dream of what you are going to accomplish, in a special container on the windowsill, in your jewelry box with other treasured items.

4. Let simmer, and see what happens.

Next month: taking it one step further with an action plan

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Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2013 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on January 28, 2014. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. She is a bit of a hypocrite who does not always practice the relaxation she preaches. You can find out more on her website, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books

Four Benefits of Writing Morning Pages

By Kerry Schafer

 

Author Julia Cameron is a beautiful soul. I confess I haven’t yet read The Artist’s Way, but I have read (repeatedly) the life book she wrote for authors: The Right to Write.

In both of these books she talks about what she calls Morning Pages. The concept is simple. Every morning when you climb out of bed, before you do anything else, you sit down with your journal and a pen and free write three pages of whatever comes into your head.

Why morning? Yes, night people, I hear you and understand. If you crawl out of bed at 1 pm, then that is morning to you. And yes, you can write in your journal at the end of your waking period, but that will serve a different purpose. Also, I believe that the physical act of writing with a pen is different than writing on a keyboard. If possible, they are best done in a notebook. (There is actually some research on this.)

Morning pages don’t take long, especially once you’ve done them for awhile. In this practice there is no pondering, no stylizing, and most importantly, no criticizing. The critic is locked in the attic amusing himself with the book of your worst enemy, and doesn’t get to contribute to the proceedings. You get the pen moving and keep it moving, and that is that.

I did morning pages for years. The fact that I’m not doing them now has everything to do with time constraints – the time that used to go to morning pages is now my writing time. But I miss my pages and I need them back in my life.

Without going to the book and rehashing what Julia has to say, I’m going to share what I’ve personally experienced – the four main benefits to regularly writing morning pages.

Morning Pages are an Emotional Thermometer

As you spill words directly from head to hand to page, it becomes clear what sort of mood you are in. Now, you might think you already know this when you wake up in the morning, but most of us really don’t. Often enough, I’ve thought I was in a reasonably good place emotionally, but the words and phrases spilling into my journal signaled me that the dark side was doing a flank move. It’s like intel from a scout, alerting you to danger up ahead. And as you probably already know, it’s much easier to avert a bout of depression or rage or even a massive pity party if you tackle it before it’s got you handcuffed and blindfolded and locked in a dungeon somewhere.

Which takes us to number two.

Morning Pages are an Emotional Regulator

It’s true. If you write through those dark emotions you can leave them on the page instead of spewing emotional toxins on the people around you. Think of this as an emotional safety valve, if you will, but I think it’s more than that. There’s an almost magical process that occurs when you allow yourself to write through the difficult emotions. The ugly dark toxic mess begins to transform itself into a cleaner grief, a purer anger, and sometime even into joy. At the very least, you gain understanding about what it is that is triggering the emotion, and then you can take action to make change.

Idea Generator

Morning pages are not only good for your emotional health, they are awesome for the writing process. Because of their free flowing nature, they often serve as a sounding board for ideas. And when the first little tentative ideas realize that they are safe from the Big Bad Critic here, they come flocking onto the page like cats to the sound of a can opener in the kitchen.

Fluidity Booster

The other thing that morning pages will do for your writing is help you make it flow. You know those dry days where every word has to be dragged onto the page kicking and screaming? The ones where maybe it feels like there aren’t even any more words – they have all dried up and withered into dust.

A practice of morning pages is a great cure for that particular problem. When you sit down daily, every morning, and just let the words flow from brain to hand to page, it creates a pattern. Your subconscious feels nurtured and loved and stops holding out on you, afraid that the critic is going to trash every idea, every phrase that makes its way into your consciousness. Trust develops. Your mind is much more willing to give you the good stuff when you sit down to work on a project.

The Challenge

I challenge you to give Morning Pages a try. And by this I mean a real try. Not just for one day, but for a week. For ten days. For a month. See what happens, see how you feel. And while you’re at it, pick up the Right to Write and work through the rest of the exercises.

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Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2013 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on January 28, 2014. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. She is a bit of a hypocrite who does not always practice the relaxation she preaches. You can find out more on her website, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books

Me? A Procrastinator?

 

By Kerry Schafer

Procrastination.

A fascinating topic — one I can spend hours discussing, analyzing, and lamenting as a lovely (and valid) evasion from whatever task I’m procrastinating from.

Now, I know procrastination has a bad rap, and a lot of people think its roots lie in sheer laziness. This is a myth that must be dispelled forthwith. Proper procrastination is a skill, indeed an art, which generally requires much more energy and creativity than would have ever been expended on the original project.

Sometimes procrastination makes perfect sense. If the task to be avoided involves removing green food from the fridge (and by this I mean foods that were never intended by nature to be green), or if the bathroom needs cleaning, or a teenager’s room needs to be mucked out with a shovel and a rake – then procrastination makes perfect sense.

But we also procrastinate when the project on the agenda is something that we love. Take writing for example. Most of us who write are passionate about the process. We talk about how we love writing, how we couldn’t live without it.

I asked my writer friends on Facebook a simple question: Why do you write? Here are some of the answers:

“I write because I have stories in my head that need to get out.” ~ B.e. Sanderson

“I’m not right if I don’t write…there’s some piece of happiness in the process for me. If there’s no work in progress, momma ain’t happy and if momma ain’t happy ain’t nobody gonna be happy ~Linda Robertson

“1) I love telling stories and weaving tales. 2) I’ll read a book or watch a show and think, ‘Not bad, but it could have been better if they’d done this.’ 3) There is a story in my head and it will drive me nuts if I don’t get it out of me.” ~ Todd Leatherman

“The voices! The voices in my head!!!” ~Trudy Morgan Cole

“It’s what I was put on this earth to do.” ~Aurelia Blue

“I love to paint with words.” ~Judy Phillips

“Because there are still books I want to read that only I can write.” ~James Ray Tuck Jr

You’d think with this level of drive and enthusiasm (and possibly mental instability, given the number of people who mentioned the need to silence voices) we’d all be typing away at every possible moment, getting those stories down on the page with vim and vigor and great enthusiasm.

Alas, this is not so. Writer procrastination would be a national sport if writers were a nation. Come on, admit it. As much as you’re driven to write your story, to get the voices out of your head or the words down on the page, how often do you find yourself doing something – anything – else?

Honest answers now:

Which is your preference :

a) Facebook b) Twitter c) Pinterest d) Other

Which is your default procrastination game: 

A) Spider Solitaire  B) Farmville  C) Candy Crush  D) Other  E) I don’t waste my time on stupid games, I get real with WOW and the equivalent

True or False: I’ve been known to do housework to avoid writing, possibly even cleaning green things out of the fridge.

Bonus Questions: sneaky procrastination activities that look a lot like writing, but aren’t.

Do You:

  1. Engage in IM chats that are supposedly about writing but delve deeply into other inanity?
  2. Engage in plotting that goes on and on and prevents you from writing?
  3. Engage in writing preparation activities like making coffee or other beverages/snacks to consume while writing, setting up music playlists, cleaning off your desk, until your writing time is over?

If you are not a procrastinator, go away. We don’t need your overcharged, driven, annoying type here. If you are a procrastinator and you actually took the quiz: good for you! You have earned a cookie.

There are a lot of reasons we might procrastinate on writing, but I think the biggest bugaboo is perfectionism. We care deeply about the story, about the words. We feel a responsibility to the characters we create and want to portray them accurately. We also want readers to love or hate them as much as we do. We want readers to love our work. The whole project sometimes looks too big, too scary, too much. If only a novel could spring fully formed from head to page, as beautiful and complete as we envision it, then all would be well.

But the words come out rough and bumpy, characters fall flat, plots lack in pacing and suspense. It’s damn hard work to fix and polish and bring the story anywhere near the shining thing we want it to be.

And so we delay. After all, if the story is still perfect and lovely in our heads, then we haven’t yet failed to bring it into being.

What is a procrastinating writer to do?

Well, you can suck it up and power through. Install internet blocking software on your computer and lock yourself in a barren room without distractions. Chain yourself to a chair. But where’s the fun in that?

Ann Lamott pretty much nailed it with her book Bird by Bird. If you’re a writer and haven’t read this book yet, click the link, buy the book. Read. Read again. Do it NOW. Yes, I know you plan to do it later. I also know how that will likely turn out.

Some of the best resources for overcoming procrastination and perfectionism come from SARK. She has written a couple of wonderful books for creative people: Make your Creative Dreams Real: A Plan for Procrastinators, Perfectionists, Busy People, and People Who Would Really Rather Sleep All Day; and Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper.

If you’re anything like me you probably don’t have time to read a book to help you with procrastination right now. You’re busy. (Checking your Twitter feed, cleaning the fridge, etc. These things take time.) So here is a link to what I’ve come to believe is the best cure ever for most varieties of procrastination: SARK’s Micro Movements.

The basic idea is akin to Lamott’s advice to take things “bird by bird.” You set yourself a micro task that will require no longer than five minutes of your time. For example, open a new document and give it a title. Write one paragraph. Or even one sentence. That’s it. You’re done. You can carry on if you feel like it, but you don’t have to. You get to feel the satisfaction of crossing something off your list, rather than looking way down the road to a long year of thankless writing…… ahem. Sorry about that. But you do see my point – it’s easy to get so mired in the epic scope of what you’ve undertaken that you can’t ever get anything done.

I used to do hour long writing sprints to get my word count in. This was highly productive IF I managed to make myself sit down and do it. Not so long ago my critique partner got me started on 15 minute sprints. You know, I can concentrate for that span of time even on a bad day. And if I do about four 15 minute sprints, it often works out to about a thousand words. 

Here’s an opportunity for you to try micro movements on your own. Come on, give it a shot. All you have to do is click this link to have a look at SARK’s micro movements. Who knows – maybe you’ll be inspired to give the method a try.

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Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2013 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on January 28, 2014. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. She is a bit of a hypocrite who does not always practice the relaxation she preaches. You can find out more on her website, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books

The Worry List

The Worry List – by Kerry Schafer

It’s hard to write when your head feels like the kitchen junk drawer. You know the one. It’s the place for random elastic bands and those little plastic things from bread bags. Coupons you’re going to use some day. The screw that inexplicably dropped out of the bottom of the kitchen table that you will definitely put back in. Soon.

Mine also holds three kinds of tape, scissors, flea medicine for the dog, and a roll of stick-on Christmas present labels.

Don’t judge.

If you don’t own a drawer like this you are probably still a good person, and you are welcome to borrow the image of mine for the duration of this analogy.

Anyway, let’s agree that your head is stuffed to the point of spilling over. So when you sit down at the computer to write about a galaxy far, far away, instead you find yourself thinking about the drooping plant, the car that needs a brake repair, finances, not spending enough time with your family, laundry, what are you going to make for dinner and OMG – that blog you should have written for RMFW days ago but somehow forgot.

Panic ensues. Now you really can’t write anything at all because you’re much too upset and you need to dip into a container of ice cream first. Or have a drink. After which bed is the logical choice because things will look so much clearer in the morning.

And you manage to fall asleep because you truly are exhausted, only to be awakened by a crushing list of things to do or worry about. Sometimes the LIST takes on the qualities of Terry Pratchett’s Luggage (if you haven’t read the Discworld books and don’t know what The Luggage is, you should definitely add reading these books to The List right now).

One of the best cures for worrying that I know of is to actually give The List full focus for a space of time. It really doesn’t make it bigger, believe it or not, and it can actually make it more manageable and let you get back to getting things done.

Allot whatever time you can to this. I recommend clearing the decks for an hour in order to fully concentrate your attention on worrying, but I recognize this may  not be possible. If so, you can complete the tasks in stages.

  1. Collect your supplies. You’ll need blank paper (a notebook is good), pen, different colored hi-liters, and a beverage of your choice. If at all possible, clear your space of children and spouses and maybe even cats. (I hear you calling me delusional. This is unkind, but possibly very true)
  2.  Start jotting down the worry items, one to a line, in no particular order. This is a free writing activity. No item is too “trivial” to be included. Even if you know this is not a rational worry, write it down. If the problem of Goldfish Doesn’t Wear Socks came into your head, then it deserves a spot on your worry list. Keep that pen moving and keep on jotting down all the things, either until you run out of worries or your time is up. (New items may pop up later – just add them onto the end if they do.)
  3. Now here’s the fun part. Take a pen and cross out every item on that list that is not worth your worry time. That goldfish who doesn’t need socks, for example. Eliminate them.
  4. Next, read through and cross out all of the things over which you have absolutely no control. They may be very important personal or world problems, but if it’s something you know you either can’t or won’t take any action to fix, cross it out. BE RUTHLESS.
  5. Still with me? Now it’s time to begin categorizing the items that are left. Pick a hi-liter color for items that must be dealt with TODAY and mark them.
  6. Choose another color for the things that need to be dealt with this WEEK.
  7. Choose another color for the things that need to be dealt with this MONTH.
  8. If you’re an organized or compulsive sort of person you may feel the need to go on marking things for every month of the year. This is the point where I just choose a color and designate everything else on the list as “to take care of sometime.” I just can’t focus out more than a month at a time.
  9. Create an action plan for the things of today, promising yourself you’ll do the same again tomorrow for the next day’s needs.

Hopefully now you feel a little lighter, a little less cluttered, and can get on with the very important business of writing. Or sleeping.

Thanks for stopping by the blog today. Next month we’ll tackle a bit of the psychology involved in Writer Procrastination.

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Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2013 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on January 28, 2014. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. She is a bit of a hypocrite who does not always practice the relaxation she preaches. You can find out more on her website, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books

Managing Writer Stress: Body Scan for Deeper Relaxation

By Kerry Schafer

It’s 5 am and I’m settling into the hour of morning writing time I’ve carved out of my day. In the back of my head I’m wondering where I’m going to find time for all of the other things on the list. Here’s the Coles Notes version:

1. A day job that eats about 50 hours of my week.

2. A house to maintain, complete with a dog, two cats, and a couple of fish. This week, add in a Viking on home vacation.

3. My second novel, WAKEWORLD, releasing at the very end of January. I need to be scheduling blog tours and ordering new book marks. Page proofs will be showing up any day.

4. Three e-novellas in edits, with talk of getting them produced and into the wild by the end of October.

5. Preparation for the RMFW Colorado Gold conference this weekend.

I spin a lot of plates. I like it that way.

But it can get overwhelming.

In my last post I touched on some of the many moments in a writer’s life that can be stress inducing, and using breathing techniques as one way to relax. As promised, today we are going to talk about taking relaxation one step further: the body scan.

Let me be clear that by body scan I do not mean that uncomfortable experience inflicted by sadistic people at the airport. Nope. This is a simple relaxation exercise that will take about fifteen minutes of your day.

I know fifteen minutes can seem like a lot when your life is crammed full of All The Things. But the truth is, when your mind is less cluttered and your anxiety level is lower, you’re able to be more efficient with the time you do have.

Preparation: Find a 15 minute stretch of time in which you can at least hope not to be disturbed. I dare you to silence your phone and all other electronic devices. If it’s important, they’ll call back or leave a message or instant message you later. The text messages will hold.

Process: Sit or lie in a comfortable position. Either close your eyes or use a soft gaze that is not really focused on anything. And then walk yourself through the following steps.

1. Breathe. Take those three deep breaths I talked about last time, and then settle into a regular, comfortable breathing pattern.

2. While continuing to breathe, focus your attention on your head and face. You are an explorer, not a critic. At this point you are not here to make changes. Just notice what you feel. Are your muscles tight or relaxed? Is there pain or discomfort?

3. Remember to breathe, slow and steady, in and out.

4. Now shift your attention to your neck. Again, you are just here to observe, not to change anything. Keep breathing, and just let yourself be aware of what your body is doing.

5. Taking your time and remembering to breathe, move down to your shoulders. And then your arms and hands. Upper back, lower back.

6. Attend to your chest. Be aware of the rise and fall as your breath goes in and out. Notice whether you can feel your heart beating.

7. Move down to your abdomen. Remember to keep breathing, slowly in and out.

8. Continue down your body – hips, thighs, lower legs, feet.

9. Once you have scanned your whole body, go back to your breath. Pay attention to a few breaths – in and out, slow and easy – and then imagine that you can send your breath wherever you want it to go. Think about a part of your body that felt tense or uncomfortable. When you breathe in, send the warm energy of your breath to that place. When you breathe out, let your breath carry away the tension or the pain.

10. When you are done, take another deep breath, and let your eyes come open, soft and easy. Take a minute just to be quiet and at peace.

And there you have it. An easy meditation exercise that really does help to ease muscle tension and calm your mind.

Next time: The Worry List

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Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2013 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on January 28, 2014. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. She is a bit of a hypocrite who does not always practice the relaxation she preaches. You can find out more on her website, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books.

Managing Writer Stress – Breathing

Author, Kerry Schafer

By Kerry Schafer

The writing life is hard.

Don’t get me wrong – I love to write, and I’m full of gratitude every day that I’m lucky enough to be a writer. Well, okay most days I’m grateful. There are times when I want to shout “what did I ever do to you??” at all the powers that be. Because as you’ve probably already noticed, sprinkled liberally throughout the wonderful life of a writer are moments of angst and sometimes outright terror.

Give yourself one stress point for each item below that has ever happened to you:

  • Lost at least one page of a manuscript due to computer malfunction
  • Lost at least one page of a manuscript due to human malfunction
  • Lost at least one page of a manuscript due to a feline with evil intent
  • Faced a completely unreasonable deadline (bonus points if author procrastination created the problem in the first place)
  • Realized pages of your manuscript needed to be trashed
  • Realized your entire manuscript was too horrible for even a mother to love
  • Realized you really have no affinity for words and should have been a bee keeper or an accountant or maybe a mastodon hunter in a pre-book time period
  • Submitted a query to an agent
  • Clicked send on an email query to an agent before it was ready to go (as in – wrong agent name, horrible and possibly obscene typo, forgot to paste in sample)
  • Had an agent submit a proposal to a publisher
  • Sent in revisions or edits to your editor (or your agent, your critique group, or former best friend)
  • Realized your book was about to be published and people were actually going to read it
  • Endured a bad review

How did you do? If you’ve been writing long, chances are you’ll recognize at least a few of the moments on the list.

So how does one cope with all of this stress, other than drinking constantly or going on some sort of insane rampage?

There are a lot of different ways to calm a case of the nerves, the easiest of which is readily available and easily carried with you whenever you leave the house. It’s something you already do (yes, if you are alive and reading, you perform this action many times a day.)

If you guessed breathing, you’re right. Wait! Don’t pooh pooh this and click away to a different article just yet. The whole “just breathe” cliche is not a cliche at all. The breath is intimately connected to the nervous system, and how you breathe has a direct effect on the level of tension in your body.

For starters, let’s stop to notice how you are breathing at this moment.

Challenge Number One: Take one minute to explore your own breathing patterns. Close your eyes and just focus on your breath. Don’t try to change your breathing right now – this is an observation task only. Note the rise and fall of your chest with every breath. Pay attention to rhythm and depth. While you’re at it, notice how much tension you carry in your shoulders, your chest wall, and your belly. Ready? Go. We’ll be here when you get back.

What did you notice? If you’re feeling relaxed, chances are your breaths are deeper and slower. If you’re feeling stressed, they tend to be more shallow. They might be rapid or you might notice that you’re actually holding your breath. People do this a lot when they’re anxious and guess what – the brain really needs oxygen to help you sort things out.

Challenge Number TwoClose your eyes again and return your focus to your breath. This time, see if you can deepen each inhalation, as though you’re breathing into your belly. Breathe in slowly through your nose, filling yourself up like a balloon, and then breath out with your lips slightly pursed. (If you’ve ever been a singer or played a wind instrument, you probably already know how to do this) If you find it difficult, place one hand on your belly so that the palm is centered over your belly button  – see if you can make your hand move when you inhale. 

How did you do? Is this easy for you, or difficult? It can be surprisingly helpful to stop at intervals throughout the day and take three slow, deep breaths. I’ve known people who set chimes on their phone to remind them to do this simple thing, and I’m told there’s even an app for that, although I couldn’t find it.

Bonus Tip: If you find it difficult to draw that deep breath, or just need a little extra relaxation, try this. Think of a smell that you love: fresh bread baking, the scent of the ocean, a pine forest, whatever works for you. Now imagine you are breathing in that fragrance. Did your breath automatically deepen?

Next Time: Managing Writer Stress: Body Scan for Deeper Relaxation

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Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2012  and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on February 14, 2013. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. You can find out more on her website, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books.