A Writing Life

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Lost Reader

There is a fantastic bookstore across the street from the hotel where I stay when I visit my daughter at college. I go every time I’m here. I stroll the aisles, read book jackets, let time be something I ignore along with my phone and the rest of life.
I did that today. It was wonderful. And yet I found myself stopping in the center of the classics session to embrace a sad feeling and fight back tears as I came face to face with a realization…

I'm afraid I've lost my love of reading.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a reader, but I fear I have lost my love of it. It's like a job. I read now like a writer. I’m critical. I’m quick to judge a sentence and how it is structured instead of soaking in what it’s saying, what the words are portraying.
And I have read so long in the genre I write, I fear I don’t even know HOW to read anything else. And I used to read EVERYTHING. 
It’s good for a writer to read in their genre. I truly believe that. But I also believe it’s good for a writer to read everything.

I fear I've also let a competitive spirit override my love of reading. Yes, Goodreads and places where I can track what I'm reading are great. No issue with them. But for me personally, I get caught up in some sort of reading rat race that only brings me angst instead of joy.
There is an app/community I love and it's called Litsy.

It's as if Instagram and Goodreads had a love child. You get the cool, fun photos of Instagram along with great reviews and book suggestions from readers. And these people are REAL readers, folks. Die hard fans of books. And everyone is nice. No mean spirited reviews, just honest feedback on books. It's awesome.
Anyway, I get a lot of book recommendations from Litsy and I love it. Because these people read everything. Not just one genre. And they LOVE to read.

After my moment in the bookstore, I got to thinking of why I feel I don't love reading anymore. And I was relieved to realize that maybe it's not that I don't love to read. I do. But I've boxed myself in. Told myself I have to always look at books like a writer instead of a reader. Got wrapped up in the reading race when really, there isn't one. 

And if I'm honest with myself, I have allowed my fear of feeling outside the box to keep me from reading outside the box.

Let me explain: I write romance novels. So yes, I like to read romance novels. But with continuous happy endings, I haven't been letting in ALL the feels when it comes to stories. And I miss that. I want to feel sad or mad or frustrated as I read. I believe that if I do, that's a well written book.

I want out of the box.

I want to read YA books and feel like a young adult again, the angst and the insecurities along with the victories and belief that anything can happen if I put my mind to it. I want to read classics and get swept back in time, see history via a well-written story. I want to read mysteries and try to figure out whodunit before I actually read it in the end. I want to read memoirs and see the world through someone else's experience.

I want to love reading again...

What about you? Have you ever lost your love of reading or found yourself reading in a different way that before? 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Sorry, I'm Not Available

We live in a world where we can be available to anyone at any time, all the time. Don't get me wrong. I’m a total technology junkie. I love me my iPad, phone, laptop, etc. I do. But I've recognized recently that I don't ever shut off.

As a mom of three kids, I've felt for 19 years that I am on call 24/7. The chant of "Mom. Mom. Mom," is a part of my daily life, night and day. My kid are self-sufficient, highly independent people, but let's face it. A kid's knee jerk reaction when there's a question is to ask mom. I get it.

Add on top of that my phone dinging with an email, an Instagram alert, a text message and...

I've got 24/7 availability madness happening. It's exhausting. And I’m over it.

We just spent a week in Colorado visiting my side of the family. It was awesome. We went tubing down a river in Golden, we spent all day at Waterworld in Denver, and we went White Water Rafting. On that particular trip, we were advised to leave everything behind to not risk having anything fall out of the boat and into the Arkansas River. So, I left my phone behind.

I know. I know. It's pathetic to admit that I had a teeny, tiny, moment of panic over it. What if I wanted to take that most perfect picture for Instagram? What if my mom needed us and I couldn't get to a message or text? What if? What if? What if?

The what ifs in life are brutal.

I'm happy to say I not only left my phone behind but I turned it off, tucked it into my bag in the trunk of the car and went on my merry way. We floated down the river and I basked in the beauty all around me, I focused when rapids got intense, and I laughed myself silly as my kids splashed me and my husband with freezing cold river water.

I was only available to the people in my boat and it was awesome.

The other day, I went to get a much needed massage. After all of our activity, my body was beat. I went to turn my phone to Do Not Disturb so my kids could call me if they needed me but then thought, "They'll be fine. I'm turning off my phone." So I did. And funny thing. I turned my phone back on afterwards and I didn't have any new emails, no new texts or calls. No major emergencies happened in the hour I was unavailable. The world kept turning even though I wasn't 100% available to the entire planet.

My sister has four boys ranging from age 23 to 16. The woman is a machine. I was beyond impressed with all she gets done in a day. But I noticed something. She's not a slave to her phone.

She focuses on one task at a time, does it well, then moves to the next one.

Hmmmm. Interesting concept. Don't get me wrong. She's a mom. She can multi-task. But her focus was inspiring. And her pace wasn't crazy frantic and busy. It was steady. She controlled how she did things and the time she did them in.

I came home with a new outlook on my day. I get up, I read my Bible and write in my prayer journal. I walk the dog. I have breakfast, get dressed and get going. I like that. It's my "me" time and starts my day off right. I used to roll over and grab my phone and stare at that before my feet even hit the floor. But not anymore. My phone is plugged in overnight in my office, not my room. I don't even go to it until the above list of things is done.

Because it's too distracting. It makes me 100% available to the world right away, and I don't want that anymore.

I'm sure many authors out there will disagree with me and that's okay, but I don't believe tons of social media time sells books. It just doesn't. It's a great tool to let people know about your books and to communicate with readers (the only reason I like being on it), but it's not a means to an end for me. It's just a distraction.

In the mere few days I've changed my mindset, I've seen unreal differences.
  • I get more done in a day and I do it well because I'm focused on my one task. 
  • I have little to no desire to sit and stare at my phone. I spend maybe 30 minutes, max, scrolling through media and then I move on.
  • My mind is much clearer in the morning not bogging it down with all that's on media or apps on my phone.
  • I'm more organized about my day. I don't have "extra" stuff in my head I don't need.

This may not be a way for everyone to function. I get that. But try to be unavailable for a little while. See what happens. I dare ya. :)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

I'm Afraid To Write

I recently finished writing a book in six weeks. And in my genre, that seems to be something to brag about. I know many have written books even faster. And yet, I don't like sharing that with people. I don't necessarily see it as a positive.

It was necessary. I had a deadline and also wanted to be done before I left for an amazing trip to Italy with my daughter. But I've been taught to believe as a writer that good is better than fast.

I can write fast, but I'm not so sure I should.

Do I think the book is good? Honestly, I do. I think one of the reasons I was able to write it fast was because I liked these characters so much and their story literally just came to me. It made it easier for me to put it on paper.

However, since returning home from my trip and having a month or so off until I need to start my next book, I have found I'm afraid to write. I'm afraid even to read. And I love to read, almost as much as I love iced tea. Or breathing.

And yet, I'm afraid.

What am I afraid of? I'm afraid I'll be inspired to write again. An odd thing for a writer to say, I know. But I fear I'm burned-out.  If I start writing now and I'm exhausted and at my end, what possible decent writing could result?  I know, I know… I've heard all the writing quotes and comments about how you have to write crap to get to the good stuff. But that's not what I mean. Well, it's partly what I mean.

I'm afraid I've lost the reason I write in the first place - because I love it.

Because it's how I see and process the world. With putting my work out there in the world so quickly, I fear I've become too focused on the response, the end result rather than the journey.

And the journey has always mattered to me most.

But does it still? It might sound goofy to say this, but I don't follow authors on social media. I used to. But I miss the mystery. I used to read the back of a book cover and maybe - maybe - get a few sentences about the author and that was it. I could sit and daydream about their life in New York or Vermont or Florida. That was usually about all we used to know about someone from a book jacket. I felt I knew them through how they told stories. As soon as I was able to see their daily life, the fantasy was gone and the reality overwhelming. And I can honestly say I'm totally fine if a reader doesn't want to follow me. Truly. I LOVE talking to readers. I'm a raging extrovert. I'll chat all day if you want. But I'm fine if you want to read my books and not know where I went on vacation.

The way things are now, the world can come along with me for the journey. And like I said, I love people so I’m good with a crowd. But I'll be honest. I miss the days where I woke up, had my coffee, read my Bible and then went to my desk or notepad to daydream and scribble away something I hope not only made sense but was well done.

Maybe that's what I fear the most. I want my work to be well done. Written from a place of wonder and curiosity, imagination and creativity. I fear I'm a tad low on those things right now. I hope to fill up again these next few weeks with lots of reading and journaling, time with my family and friends who encourage me and inspire me.

And maybe the fears will wash away, once more to be replaced with love of putting words on the page.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Value of Rest

We've spent the weekend away as a family and more and more, I'm learning the value of rest. We in a world that moves fast. Sometime the pace makes my head spin. It takes work to slow down.

A few months go, I read the book Rhythms of Rest by Shelly Miller. It's been a game changer for me. In making Sabbath a priority, I've seen the importance of slowing down, as well as how I'm more productive during the week as I prepare for Sabbath.

However, you can't do something that draws you closer to God and not have it change your life. 

Sabbath is about taking time to slow down, to disconnect from the busyness that can overpower our days. But it's also about drawing close to God and being reminded of His love for us and that He designed us to "Be still and know He is God." (Psalm 46:10)

I'm no pro at Sabbath. I still have much to learn. Yesterday, I woke up with terrible food poisoning. The kind of sick where I only had the energy to lay there and stare. Even reading took too much energy. But I found myself looking at the huge trees out back, watching the woodpeckers bounce from branch to branch. I soaked in the sun as it warmed me from the chills that ran through me.

I got so relaxed, I fell asleep right there in my chair. My sweet dog, Ramses, never left my side. I snuggled him all day, thankful for his companionship. The Hubby took care of me, as well as my kids.

I woke up this morning feeling much better, both physically and spiritually. It sounds funny to say, but it was the most restful Sabbath I've had in a while. And it took my body fighting something for me to do it. But in spending my day focused solely on talking to God, seeing His world around me, and letting go of the "stuff" in my head that tells me an afternoon nap is lazy, I rested.

Truly rested, and that is a valuable thing. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

My Guilty Pleasure Apps

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't know how any writer can't be a rabid reader. Not to place judgment, I simply can't wrap my head around always putting words on a page without soaking in words written by others via reading. 

The following are my favorite guilty pleasure apps that feed the reader in me, as well as the student. I LOVE to learn new things, as well as learn more about something I already know (such as writing). 

As much as I love writing novels, writing blogs gives my non-fiction brain something to do. However, I love to read blogs almost more than I love writing them. This app organizes all my favorites. About once a week or so I'll sit down and scroll through, not unlike I would flip through a magazine and read the articles. 
Shelly Miller
Kristen Lamb's Blog 
Emily P. Freeman
A Write Smart

I know this isn't about reading, but podcasts are my new obsession. Sometimes my eyes get tired and it's nice to sit and relax while listening. I'm also in my car a lot and have found that podcasts help pass the time while I glean great information, whether on writing or life or sports. I love it. My boys and I are addicted to Mike Rowe's podcast, soaking it in like a sponge every time we do the 45 minute drive to Trap Shooting practice. 
Mike Rowe
The EntreLeadership Podcast
Quiet: The Power of Introverts with Susan Cain
Happier with Gretchen Rubin

I saved the best for last. Truly. I'm addicted to this app. It's Goodreads meets Instagram. With posts that have pictures of books along with reviews and ways to create a book stack based on recommendations, it's every reader's nirvana. 
And it's a lovely community of readers as well. I chat with people about books, books, and more books. It's wonderful. 
As a writer, I believe there are places to try and sell my wares. And I can definitely talk about my books there. But mostly, it's a place for readers, (which I appreciate) not an author chat room (which absolutely have their place in the world).

What are some of your favorite places to hang out and talk books or soak in book recommendations?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Get Your Move On

Writing is a solitary business. Or it can be, most of the time. As well as sedentary. All those hours in front of a screen, butt in the chair, are good for the word count and added pages, but not for the body. Or the mind.

I started going to CrossFit four years ago. A dear friend of mine dragged me in saying I could totally do it. (She's a trainer and awesome and I'm...well, not.) But I did it anyway.

And it's been one of the best decisions I've ever made.

Not only does it get me out of my chair and get me moving - really moving - but it's an hour of concentrated time that I'm not thinking about anything but the WOD (Workout of the Day). It's tough and each class is a challenge, but every single time I walk away feeling better physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Here's what I get out of it:

1) Health and Strength - Obvious, but true. What I have found at CrossFit is that it's not about the scale. In fact, I hate the scale. I don't go by it anymore. I go by how my clothes fit or if I need a more definitive gage, I use measurements. But I know for a fact I am healthier and stronger than I was four years ago. And I'm 44 years-old here, people. It's not just a place for the youngin's.

2) Friendship - At CrossFit, I have found my people. I've never been called tiny. As my good friend says, "I'm not built for speed, but I can lift shit." That's all me. I played volleyball and basketball in high school and I was always put in positions where power was important. No one at my gym is trying to get skinny. We all share the same goal - health and strength. Longevity. The best we can be as individuals. There is healthy competition, but always, always encouragement. Always.

3) Spiritual - Yes. I said spiritual. Many times I have found myself mid-WOD praying for my family, my friends, whatever is stressing me, and ultimately that Jesus would allow me to finish the WOD without dying. Or puking. I guess for me, it's a form of meditation. Not a quiet or mellow form of meditation, but I am not quiet or mellow so it works.

I will say this - a disclaimer of sorts. CrossFit isn't for everyone and not all CrossFit gyms are good. That's just the sad truth. If you decide to try it, check out a few different ones and MAKE SURE the coaches there are certified and have your best health and interest at heart. Injury isn't necessary to be strong and healthy.

Find what works for YOU and then do it. Walking, Yoga, Pilates, Boot Camp, Running, Biking...there are countless choices. Just get your move on. I guarantee your writing life will thank you for it. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Ignoring the Noise

I'm an extrovert. A pretty strong one. I like people. I like to talk. I thrive on many things happening at once.

Any yet I'm recognizing these days that life has gotten a bit too noisy.

Let me explain. In a world where information is available all day, every day, constantly, along with updates from friends, family, acquaintances, and neighbors, we could truly go every second without a break.

And as outgoing as I am, that's no good. I don't think it's good for anyone, but I can only speak for myself here. I'm in the middle or writing my next book. And then I have another to write after that and another after that. No big shocker. I'm a writer. I write.

But I've struggled to write lately because I've allowed too many people in my head.

And I can't write with so many noises going on in my head. So I decided to clear things out. I've re-worked my phone to have distracting apps tougher to get to, or I deleted them completely. I've made the first page of my phone anything truly important to my daily life. Everything else I have to swipe once or twice to get to. It may sound silly, but that few extra seconds gives me time to think if I really want to get distracted or not. Most of the time, I choose not to.

I'm working on using a Bullet Journal instead of different To Do lists or calendars. (And I'm loving it, by the way.) If you're unfamiliar with the concept, you can check the website Bullet Journal. There are also some great Instagram sites that show different ways to Bullet Journal. It's pretty cool.

And I'm recognizing what drains my writing emotional armies and I'm tossing those out as well. 

For me, this is obsessing over criticism, thinking about what others may or may not think of my writing, and anything that has to do with numbers or followers. I can have a gazillion followers, but if I write crappy books, what's the point.

I have a quote stuck to my computer:
"Keep your focus on your books. All the marketing in the world won't matter if the books don't hook readers and keep them wanting more." - Marie Force

I'd rather write great books for a small amount of people then write ho-hum books for the masses. 

What about you? What kinds of noise crowds up your mind and distracts you from writing?