Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

        Why do we make New Year's resolutions? Is there any chance that we'll stick to whatever promises we make for the whole rest of the year? Aren't we just setting ourselves up for failure? I mean really, if we were strong enough to keep the promises we make in January, would we need to make them at all? Don't we make those resolutions because we weren't able to do them up until now? Most of them aren't sudden inspirations, they are things we know we should be doing but haven't. Will a simple flip of the calendar make it all different, make us more able to do or be the things we haven't done or been before? And yet, year after year we do it. Even if we don't announce them out loud, somewhere in the deep recesses of our soul, we try to start the year out with a clean slate and make silent promises to do something better.
        I'm no different. I work better with goals. But if there's one thing I've learned it's to make the goals small and achievable. It will never work if my goal is to be a better person. It's not like I strive to be a bad person, or a lazy person. In general I think everyone tries to be a good person, even if their idea of good doesn't match with those around them. So I will try to pick something more real, more attainable. I will try my best to do something kind for a stranger. Something beyond what I already do. I already hold open the door for strangers, I smile at strangers, I offer to carry items for people who look like they are struggling with their arms full. So what is it that I can do that is above and beyond my usual? I'll try my best to be kind to someone who is not being kind to me. I'm faced with this scenario often unfortunately. My day job is in customer service. Need I say more? I'm the person who receives the brunt of every customer's lousy day, frustration, anger, financial difficulty, or traffic ticket. It doesn't matter that I have nothing to do with any of those things. If they are in front of me, when one of those things are in the forefront of their mind, I'll pay regardless. Even if I've done my job well. I already do my best to handle those situations with as much grace as I can, but still, I'll try to do more. I'll try to understand that they're not really mad at me, that they have possibly had a horrible day, and could use a little good cheer. I will smile and wish them a good day and try to mean it.
        How many people vow to be healthier, lose weight, or join a gym? I have done this one myself. It always starts out good. In the beginning it feels good to put on some sweats and go to the gym and ... sweat. But before you know it, I start missing workouts. The weather is bad, I didn't sleep well, I have things to do. It always happens the same way. Once I was successful and dropped 55 lbs. I have kept most of that off, but now find myself backsliding a bit. So I won't try and join a gym, I won't eat carrot sticks and celery. I know those won't stick. Instead I'll try to walk the dog more. It's better for me and better for the dog. I won't beat myself up if I don't go because it's ten below zero. I think the risk of frostbite negates any health benefits, and if I make it completely unpleasant, I will soon hate doing it, again setting myself up to fail. Although if left to my own devices I might slack off from time to time, I have picked a partner who will not let me. There is nothing she loves more than a walk and she will bug me endlessly until I put on my shoes and grab her leash. I'll also strive to not take seconds. It's really not that hard to do. Trying to diet will never work, but portion control makes a huge difference.
        I will try my best to read more. Not just more, but a larger variety. You might laugh and think as a writer, I must be a voracious reader, and I am, or at least have been. I have stacks and stacks of books that I have picked up from used book stores, library sales, yard sales, and flea markets. I love to read but now with work, school, writing, and life in general, I find it hard to find the time. And when I finally do, it tends to be a genre I am very familiar with, an easy read. I need to branch out more. Try genre's I hadn't before. It will only serve to make me a better writer. So, it's something I enjoy that will also improve me. Seems like a win-win.
        I could resolve to be more organized, but I know this one is beyond me. I will however, finish what I started. I had set a goal (an unlikely if not impossible one) to finish a novel by Christmas. I set this goal at the end of October. I did not give up on this goal until the week before Christmas. I don't feel too bad though, because I really did give it my all. I was forced to put it to rest to get ready for the holiday, and I am giving myself this week until New Year's to recover. Next week I will be back to work. I have set a new goal date, but for now will keep it to myself. There is a little part of me that is afraid if I say it, I will jinx it. This is the one that takes precedence above all the rest. This is really my one true resolution. I can think of about a dozen other things I would like to add to my list, but again, I must keep this something I really can achieve, and if the list is too long, it will begin to overwhelm me. And if I become overwhelmed, I will give up on all of it.
        I will add one more thing though. I will make more resolutions next year, but not before revisiting this year's. I will pat myself on the back for the ones I was able to stick to and reevaluate the ones I didn't. I will work to figure out why I didn't and try them again, with maybe some changes to make them more achievable. So as you start thinking about your own New Year's resolutions, try to remember to make them not just possible, but probable. I don't see this as a cheat, I see it as a way to make your life better. If you set goals that are improbable, you will likely fail and then feel bad, which will just set you up to fail at other things. It becomes an ugly circle. If you set goals you have a good chance of being successful at, you will feel good about yourself, and in turn do more good things to better yourself. Give yourself permission (but not an excuse) to fall short sometimes. We are after all, only human. And keep a record. I have two bulletin boards in my office. One is a dream board, one is a memory board. Once I have achieved something from my dream board, I move it to my memory board. It reminds me that even though I haven't succeeded at everything, I'm making progress, which is all we can ever ask of ourselves.
        So in the end I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and that 2011 brings you health and happiness. I wish you the best with whatever New Year's resolutions you make. Even if you are the cranky person on the other side of the desk at work.
       See, that wasn't so hard! And it's not even January 1st yet!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Raising Stories

After all the years of my first job as mother, I should be perfectly suited for my new role as writer. You may be thinking, huh? But I've come to discover that writing a story is exactly like raising a child. 
This epiphany came to me as I awoke in the wee hours of the morning. For some reason, that's when the best ideas come to me. I tried to roll over and go back to sleep but it poked at me, and poked at me until out of sheer frustration I got up and wrote it down. I knew it wouldn't leave me alone. I would get no sleep until I tended it. My story is like that. During the day I feed it, I nurture it, I give it everything I can, and yet it never lets me get any rest.
It seems to call out to me at the most inconvenient times. When I'm trying to drive, or shop, or do the bills. It pesters me in the shower. I can't even go to the bathroom without it screaming for my attention. When I actually have the time set aside for it, it never wants to do what I want it to do. And so I go on. Trying my best not to collapse from exhaustion as I try to balance my paying job, the household duties and my child; my story.
As my story grows I try to do the best for it. Sometimes I know my best falls short and I vow to do better. Sometimes what I do works and my story grows stronger. When my story is young it amazes me how fast it grows. As it gets bigger it's growth seems to slow, and it seems more resistant to my efforts to shape it. It starts to have a mind of it's own.
Sometimes it resists me to the point of frustration. To the point when I wonder why I decided to do this at all. But I soldier on, because I couldn't possibly turn my back on it. There's nothing else in the world I'd rather do. In the end, after all my hard work, I have to let it go. It's not easy. I'm constantly trying to guide it, to fix it, to make it better. Eventually I have to ignore that urge and send it out into the world to be judged.
It may not be exactly what I imagined when I started. It never turns out the way I thought it would. It never ceases to surprise me, and it certainly isn't perfect. There will be moments when it makes me cringe. There will always be times where I wished I'd done a better job shaping it. But then there are times when it makes me beam with pride. Moments when it brings a smile to my face, or a tear to my eye. Not everyone will agree with my methods. I can't make everyone like it. But I will protect it because it came from me. From my sweat and blood. I will bristle with anger at anyone who disparages it. And when somebody else says they think it is strong, or beautiful, I will forget, for just a moment, all my shortcomings as a parent. It will always be, after all, my child.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Words won't stop me!

Words are supposed to be my friend.  As a writer, they are supposed to be my life. But as all writers know, sometimes words can fail us.

I set a goal for myself. To get a novel, a real novel, finished by Christmas. It's an ambitious goal. When I started I had nine weeks to meet my deadline. Working full time I knew this would be challenging, so in an effort to improve my chances I took all my vacation time in November. Now I didn't just have a self-imposed deadline to guide me. I made an investment. I had plans for that vacation time that I will now have to postpone. 

The challenge excited me. I have a great concept, a long list of characters, and a plot with twists and turns. I wrote during my days off, during my lunch hour at work, at four in the morning when there was no one to interrupt me. I'd get ideas while driving to work, taking a shower, or brushing my teeth.  I thought this was going to be, not easy, but certainly doable.  I only had to write 1,200 words a day.  I've written as many as 10,000 in one day, so how hard could it be to come up with 1,200?  When I started this project I was writing on average 3,000 a day, so I thought I was ahead of the game.

Ha! The first day life got busy and I didn't get a chance to write anything I thought no big deal. I had enough done already, so it shouldn't be an issue, right?  I had important things to do like the Build-a-Book project, classwork, etc. Then there was Thanksgiving. I had my extended family over to my house for dinner.  We had a great time and I wouldn't give it up for anything, but that took three days out for shopping, cooking and cleaning. Add in the occasional, I don't feel well day, let's go out to see a movie day, let's go visit friends days, and I now find myself behind.  The farther behind I get, the harder it is to write. It must be the pressure, because where at first the words were flowing so fast I could barely type quickly enough to keep up, now I sit staring at that darn flashing cursor.  Now I know why it's called a cursor, it's cursing at me!

So today, the last vacation day I have left, I am going to lock myself in a room.  Just me and my laptop. Today is the day I vow I will get back on track. I have some catching up to do. I don't know if I can make my deadline, but I plan on trying my best. I refuse to give up. If, come the end of month, I'm not finished, I will not let it get me down. I will keep going until it's done. But I will not readjust that deadline date until then. It's not over until it's over! I know the words are in there, they can't hide forever. I will not let words, or the lack of them stop me! 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book Signing

I've been lucky enough to be involved in a project for charity.  Thirty two writers came together to write a novel titled "Where Do I Begin - One Woman's Story"

The proceeds go to the Christmas Clearing House of Waukesha.

Sunday Nov. 21st from noon until 4pm, several authors including myself will be at Martha Merrill's Bookstore 231 W. Main St. Waukesha, WI. for the unveiling and a book signing during Author Mania.

See link below for newspaper article about the project!

Waukesha Freeman Article

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My Story

Today is my first day as a blogger. It's all a part of my adventure. My journey. So I thought I'd start by telling you how I got here. Better settle in, I still struggle with being a bit too verbose. Besides, I can't possibly tell you my life story in under 500 words! I promise not all my blog entries will be this long. I am, after all, trying to cover forty some years of my life.

I've always loved the written word. I was an enthusiastic and advanced reader as a child, my best grades were in English. Every summer I was the first one in the neighborhood to get all my stamps on my Billy the Bookworm sheet at the library. It was a good thing I lived only one block away. Even as a five year old I was allowed to walk there on my own. I was a nerd, and proud of it!

I also had, and still have, a great imagination. A way with words combined with a vivid imagination, no brainer, right? Even though I was decent at math, somehow I never put one and one together to get to two. Instead I followed my love for animals and went to school to become a veterinarian, after a brief and spectacularly bad stint in acting. Can't say I'm not well rounded!

I never did finish the eight years of college required. Instead I fell in love, got married, and had three wonderful children. I'd always wanted to be a mom, and was happy to stay at home. One of my sons was born with severe health problems and I was forced to become just as much a nurse as I was a mother. I didn't mind that I would never be a veterinarian, my job was very important.

I still turned to the written word as a means of escape. Children are hard work and I needed to get away once in a while, even if it was just to a fictional place in a fictional story. I'm sure this is not unusual in any way. I know plenty of stay at home mom's who love to read. After hours of poopy, screaming, albeit adored children, it's nice to just go someplace quiet and lose yourself in a good book. Occasionally, when I didn't have a book handy and I was having a hard time unwinding from the stressful day, I would lie in bed and make up a story. I'd let it run through my head like a movie until I fell asleep.

Once our children were older, I went back to work part-time. Our youngest son passed away just one week after his 16th birthday. We always knew it would happen, but nothing, no amount of time or counseling, can prepare a parent for the loss of a child.

At this point my other two boys were old enough to take care of themselves and I suddenly found myself with hours of down time. Due to the slowing economy, I was getting fewer and fewer hours at my part-time job. I needed to do something different. This was about the time Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released.

As a family we were avid Harry Potter fans. They were books we could share with our kids through the years. There has been much talk about how J.K. Rowling encouraged children to read. I wonder if anyone's thought about how many people she's encouraged to write. And I don't mean in a look-how rich-she-is-I-want-to-be-like-her kind of way. Face it, her story is quite inspirational.

One night, after reading one of the books, I had a dream. It was just a piece of a story based around Harry and his friends. I woke up before the sun was up and the story kept playing itself in my head. It was driving me crazy and I couldn't fall back to sleep. Finally in some kind of exorcism, I got up and started writing it down. I wrote for two days and eventually had a complete story. In the end, it wasn't half bad. It was only for my enjoyment, but I liked it, and it gave me an idea. After twenty some years, I finally did the math and came up with an answer.

I started by reading books on how to write, it had been a long time since my last English class after all. I subscribed to a writer's magazine. I researched on line. I started writing. I made the decision that I would go back to school and try to see where this writing thing would take me.

Just as I was getting truly excited about starting my second life, the slowing economy came to a screeching halt for my husband who is a builder and architect. I needed to find a job, a full-time job. So much for dreaming.

I found a job working as a receptionist at a vet clinic (talk about coming full circle). I love my job (most days) and I absolutely enjoy the people I work with, but the long hours left me with little time for anything else. I still hadn't given up though. I kept “playing” at writing and finally found a course titled “Writing for Publication” at the local technical college that was being offered on my one regularly scheduled day off.

I was excited, I was terrified, but in the end I was inspired. I'm just finishing my fifth semester of that same class. I have a file full of completed short stories, poems and essays. One of my stories, a personal essay, was accepted and published in The Sun magazine. I started working on a novel, or two, or three. I loved writing them, but somehow lost enthusiasm before the end. Not because I didn't know where the story was going. I think it was the thought that I could put all that work in, lay my soul out on those pages, and getting it published was something akin to winning the lottery. The business end of writing was daunting, and it stopped me in my tracks.

There are several things that have changed that for me. First, I have a friend, who decided she too could write a book. Not only did she write it, it was published. She just celebrated the publication of her second book, a sequel to the first. Secondly, I attended several talks by a local author, who was a stay-at-home mom like myself. She also struggled with the industry. But the industry is changing now and she found her chance and took it. She has five books being published.

It was one thing to be inspired by someone larger than life like J.K. Rowling, or Stephen King (his book “On Writing” is my all-time favorite on the craft), but to see everyday people like me see success, that was invaluable. So now I have found the determination I was lacking before. I've picked up one of the novels I started, I've taken time off work, bought frozen dinners for the family, and put my nose to the grindstone as it were. Every spare moment is dedicated to getting my first novel finished and out there. Opportunities are all around me, and I plan on taking full advantage. I don't know how successful I will be, but I will never know if I don't just do it.

I've already reached a huge goal by becoming a published author. Now I'm aiming higher. J.K. Rowling said in her speech to the graduates of Harvard, "Some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default."

If I fail, I don't plan on doing it because I never tried in the first place.

So here I am, ready to take the leap. I hope I have the wings to fly.