Summer of Love

I guess it would be nice to let you know next time before I vanish. Okay, how about this? What if I promise to post once a week? If we set up some expectations, and deadlines, I think I can commit. Wednesdays are a great day. What if I promise to post on Wednesdays? Will that make everything okay between us again?

It’s not an excuse, but I’ve been busy. Travel, breaking up with my toxic landlady, moving, housewarming, teaching, finishing a novel, fundraising, hosting family, trying to enjoy hanging with my kids over the summer. You’ve been busy too. There’s no hard feelings here. In fact, why don’t you tell me what you’ve been up to in the comments?

Meanwhile, here’s my summer thus far, in photos:

 

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May Rambling

The blossoms and bulbs in my garden insist that Spring is here, but the temperature has yet to get on board with this plan. I’m itching to get out there to weed and tidy up, but at the moment I’ve got a giant, gauze-wrapped foot preventing me from doing more things than I care to think about. My days in this idyllic country setting are numbered, and I’m watching Mother Nature weave her magic through a dirty bedroom window. At least she’s kind enough to send rain all week so I don’t feel trapped.

We’re moving in June. Staying here in the Niagara region, heading closer to the school. We’ve traded this huge, rambling old home with it’s eighties country decor and massive yard for a brand new build in a subdivision. The new house is very clean. It has beautiful fixtures and simple, neutral colors. There’s space enough for all of us, and the yard is an easy-to-maintain postage stamp. No pool here, but a community pool a short walk away, with a huge playground and soccer field. Best of all, a distant relationship with the property management company that is leasing the place. If my current landlord/tenant situation wasn’t so toxic, we would have stayed here indefinitely. I’ve never lived in a brand new home. The gleaming kitchen on the open concept first floor has me giddy.

Meanwhile, I’m dipping my toes into the waters of packing and purging. The healthy toes, that is. I’ve just had bunion surgery on my left foot, and let’s face it, I’m a baby when it comes to physical pain. I’m healing well, but I’m slowed by this process at a time when all I want to do is exert control over my environment. We need to get organized, but I’m operating at 3/4 speed. I keep telling myself that it’s for the best. That maybe I’d burn out and feel even more stressed if I could take on everything I want to tackle right now. I feel like an easier, more relaxed version of myself.

None of my pants fit over my bandaged foot, so I’m forced to wear skirts and dresses, which leaves me feeling softer, more maternal, like the magnolia blossoms unfurling in the front yard. Little details make a world of difference sometimes.

My week-long writing retreat happened, thanks to the wonderful support I received from friends and family. I chose Stratford, off season. Initially, I wanted a cottage in the middle of nowhere but I thought that might be too isolated and too lonely. Next time, that’s exactly what I’ll do. I’d never gone somewhere by myself to write. I spent so much time drowning in self-doubt and wading through feelings of futility, that it was all-too-tempting to go for a walk or visit a cafe to try to distract myself. Despite this, I was able to make a mountain of notes and structure the huge rewrites I knew the novel needed to take it to the next level. I came home with a composition book full of directions and dozens of index cards with scene outlines and character sketches. Three days before the trip was over, I sat down to write and this felt like magic. My goal was to have another draft written, but I think that would have required a miracle, even with laser focus. Next time, I’ll do the homework first and save the time away for writing. I’d like to do this every year, possibly twice a year. Beyond the actual writing, the time to myself was a soul balm. I learned a lot about what I want, what I need, and what feels good. What amazed me the most is how I never felt homesick. I was able to miss my family, yet completely enjoy my time alone.

When this round of rewrites is complete, I’m sending the manuscript off to an editor. Then, I’ll start querying agents and see where that goes. I’m realizing that I can’t rush this process, no matter how much I’d like to. Things like foot surgery, moving, making money, and life demand my attention first. Fortunately, I love my work and the things that prevent writing are mostly pleasurable. If you asked me what I do for a living, I’d say ‘strive for balance’.

Is it selfish to devote time and energy to a creative pursuit that may never yield a profit? Is it wrong for a mother to allow that time to come between her and her children? Am I grossly self-indulgent for leaving my family for a week to dally with my novel? Should I look for a conventional job with benefits instead of structuring my work life around my writing?

What if I’m doing this wrong?

A Recipe for Tackling Anxiety

Oh Spring, you crazy bitch. We’re barely a week into your tumultuous frenzy and already I feel like I’m losing my mind. Of course it doesn’t help that my book is in the hands of beta readers (mostly strangers!), and the reality of purging, packing and moving a household of six people is looming. Am I unsettled? Yes. Anxious? Oh gods yes. Am I drowning in a sea of unknowns? Uh-huh. So what can I do to make sure the next few months aren’t a living hell for everyone near and dear to me? Here’s my recipe for tackling anxiety.

Structure. Lots and lots of it. Just before the end of my work day, I write up a schedule for the next day, complete with a time slot for each item on the to-do list. This isn’t rigid, but if I don’t do it, I lose myself to the Interwebs as I try to quiet my swirling brain. Then I get eff-all done, and feelings of worthlessness start to creep in. I’m not type A, honestly. I’m a B plus at most.

Vitamins/Nutrition. This crazy-making time of uncertainty and change can lead me down that path to the badlands of my mind. One of the easiest ways to combat that spiral is by taking care of what I put in my body, and remembering my supplements. Eating an LCHF (low carb, high fat) diet, helps me feel better, sleep better and perform better. I fight the urge to just let it slip, and try to be mindful because I know how easy it is to start feeling lousy.

Substance Avoidance. One glass of wine or a small cocktail in the evening, sure, but not every night and no evenings out to party. Right now I’m looking at a worrisome time that spans several months, so it’s likely that I will imbibe a bit. I hope it is anyway, because sometimes it’s fun to go out for a few drinks, listen to music, enjoy good food. In these kinds of times, however, I try to take it easy. Nothing triggers those shitty feelings like making my liver have to work too hard or messing up my brain chemistry.

Self-Care. This one is super important, hence the title. When I feel like I’ve lost control of life (yes, I DO realize I never really had it to begin with, but I sure like to pretend.) my instinct is to clean house, work like a maniac and just do things that make me feel like I’m getting something, anything accomplished. Even now, I have an hour to kill and I’m technically working. At the end of each work day, I’m going to try to relax. I say ‘try’ because I’m frankly not very good at this. But I’ll splash about for an hour or so in the tub and just try to enjoy what it means to piss off from responsibility. I need to make a point to do this a little bit each day. Something that’s just for fun.

Gratitude. You know how your problems feel enormous until you pop over to the BBC site? Then you’re like “Holy shit, who cares if I have to pack up my whole house over the next few months?” The world is full of people moving through hell. Does that change how much our circumstances affect us? Briefly, and for fleeting moments. If I can take time each day to think of all the things that are going right (my book is in the hands of my final round of betas! I get to organize and purge and start fresh in a new home! I can afford to find a new home!) it really truly helps me to keep things in perspective. Especially when I’m taking care in all the other ways I’ve mentioned. I don’t say this to be a self-righteous or preachy twat. I’m just telling you what works for me. I assume you care, because you’ve read this far.

Sleep. The need for adequate sleep is no joke, and science can back me up here. I slept like a boss last night. I even had a dream that I was the newest member of the X-Men team. I woke up feeling like I could take on the universe, and it’s totally worth going to bed at 9:30 to recreate this approach to Monday mornings. I’m even reading real, live books to fall asleep.

What are your go-to methods of dealing with anxiety and uncertainty? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

 

 

Reflections on Risk-Taking and Creativity

March madness is upon us in the form of the best snowstorm I’ve seen in ages. Last night we sent the kids to their nearby grandparents house, and they kept our mini-van complete with snow tires. We’ve got the Honda Civic with nearly bald tires, and so we are marooned. Not a single snow plow in sight, and it’s still coming down. Our home isn’t such a terrible place to be stuck. The fire is crackling. We took a break from work to start Season Two of The Expanse. The kettle is on and homemade, dairy-free strawberry ice cream is waiting for dessert. Then I have to get back to work, but in the meanwhile, I’m thinking about risk-taking and creativity.

I’m in a weird space this week. Everything feels like a dream I’m floating through, like a vacation. Free of the long to-do lists (because I didn’t make any) and without the feeling that there isn’t enough time in the day. We aren’t going anywhere special, but March Break and the total lack of morning crazy to get the school bus seems like just enough of a holiday.

On Monday I started sending out the almost-final draft of my manuscript for beta reading. This is a crazy time in my writerly life. I have some pretty awesome betas, a good representation of the type of reader I hope to attract. There’s something both exciting and terrifying about knowing that people, especially strangers, are reading your words and giving feedback. It’s the risk you have to take as a creator; you make something for the world to consume, and then you sit back and see how well they digest it.

I took another risk when I launched my crowdfunding campaign. It was a wise move, deciding to ignore that voice that told me I was self-indulgent. My campaign goal was met, thanks to many lovely contributors. I’ve booked a little getaway for the second week of April to complete the last draft of my novel and research publishing options. Do I self-publish and invest in a proper marketing campaign? Do I query agents and see if the traditional publishing world wants me? Are there indie publishers who might take a chance on my book and help me with marketing? The questions are endless.

The scariest part of creative work is letting other people see what you’ve sunk your soul into. My first book was immensely fun to write. It was non-fiction, and in many ways, easier. This one, this novel was different. It was scary, and thrilling and I went to that deep place in my imagination where I used to live as a little girl. There’s way more of me in this book than the other. I’ve experienced more self-doubt and self-loathing with this project than with any creative experience thus far. What if it’s no good? What if I’m too old? What if nobody ever reads it? I have to wade through that self-deprecating static almost every day, because I know once I’ve cut my teeth on this novel business, I can move on to write the thousands of other stories in my head. And most importantly, I can say that I did it.

Don’t be so precious about it. I keep telling myself this. It’s only the first one, and it’s bound to teach you so many things. If you don’t do it, you’ll regret it.

I think of all the writers I’ve beta-read for. Writers who feel the exact same way I do about their books, and some who are beyond this newbie writer anxiety. Sometimes these books are wonderful. Sometimes I’m not even sure how to wrap my feedback in a positive spin. If the thing you created was rubbish, would you want to know? I would. I’d like to think my skin is tough enough that I could just move on to the next story.

So for the next couple of weeks I’ll wait. I’ll work on other things, like my businesses that I’ve neglected trying to prepare this next draft. There’s plenty to keep busy with while the betas work on their feedback. I’ll probably never hear from some of them at all, because that’s another risk you have to take.

It’s torture, but I love it.

 

The Value of My Work

I took a big leap this week, and it feels weird. For months now, I’ve been meeting regularly with my writing group, an amazing bunch of women writers who are all exceptionally talented. Though they aren’t all published, they all have the chops to be, and we support each other by giving critical feedback on each other’s work, sharing resources, and encouragement. They have helped me feel more committed to my writing and they’ve helped me understand the value of my work.

Not one, but two of my writing colleagues recently took a week to themselves to head to their cottages and spend the time writing. They were able to accomplish so much without the distractions of every day life. I’ve been fantasizing about this for a long while now, and my writing friends nudged me to take action.

Yesterday I launched an IndieGoGo campaign to help fund a self-directed writing retreat. My hope is to take a week in April and work through the end of my novel revisions, so that the manuscript is ready for an editor. It’s a great plan, so why does it feel strange? It feels strange because there’s so much going on in the world right now. I look at Facebook and my news feed is filled with real struggles and sorrows all over the world. It feels a bit shallow asking people to donate to help me publish a novel when so many other people need help.

Yet my work, my writing, is the way I make the world better. It has been since I started blogging over a decade ago about my life, about my struggles. I write to give people hope, to help them feel like they aren’t so alone in a difficult and confusing world. With my novel, my first foray into fiction, I write to help them escape for a little while, to imagine other possibilities. I write to make people feel joy and laughter, and when I’m writing, I feel like I’m helping the world in the best way I can.

And so, humbly and vulnerably I’m asking you to have a look at this video, and the campaign below (you can also click right here) and consider making a contribution to help me publish this novel. If my writing has ever touched you, made you smile, helped you feel connected, or lifted your spirits, I know you’ll enjoy my novel. Even $5 will help me reach my goals.