Postulating Purpose

Hello friends. Today is the start of the Writing Heights Writers Conference here in Fort Collins, so I’ll be away from my website and blog for a few days while I help out.

I’ve been a part of the writing community for quite a few years (15?) and have attended several conferences, classes and events as both a member and now part of the team. Far from being an expert, I feel like I’m still learning things every time I step out into these forays with other writers. About writing, yes, but also about trends, and people, and methods, and humanity. And myself. Lately, I haven’t been very impressed with myself as a writer. In fact, my startling lack of creativity and drive has been kind of frightening. Even an 800 word blog post feels like a struggle. Nevermind that I have an anthology I’m supposed to be putting together in a month.

So what the actual fuck is my problem? Well…I mean I have a lot of them. But you don’t have time and nobody wants to hear the sad-sack history, but I think this particular existential crisis is coming from a hard round of lessons and the decisions I had to make because of them.

For a long time I was driven by a duel sense of purpose. But lately I’ve felt as though I’m faltering in that. Not because I don’t still love writing, or teaching, or any of the things I’m currently doing, but because I think I’ve put an unbalanced load of it all on my plate.

You see, I used to have martial arts as a balance. Something very physical, extroverted, technical to fill up the other side of my life, so that writing in its quiet, introverted, creative expanse was an equal partner. In this way my brain and body were fed, my need for social interaction balanced with my need for solitude. But now–without it in my life due to unfortunately but necessary circumstances, I’m very wobbly.

I think for too long I defined myself as both. And therein lies the problem. I have been feeling, these past months, half full. Half alive. Half of what I know I can be. I have filled the empty space with more writing obligations but it’s drained the creative parts of me. It’s made me no look forward to butt-in-the-chair time, and I am…edgy.

So the next two weeks are both filled with conferences, and book sales, and networking, and hopefully a reawakening of my creativity will be found sometime between the cocktail hours and the moderating classes. But I worry, that I will only feel more drained afterwards. And what then?

I guess it will be time to find a new balance. A new pursuit. A new purpose, to fill that other half of my soul. Breaks my heart to even consider it. This blog really doesn’t have a purpose itself. Just to let you know, I’m struggling. And as much as I love writing, I recognize that it is one piece of my soul that can’t drive my entire life, nonstop forever.

If you see me at the conference, stop and say hi. I’ll be the one juggling my existential crisis in the back of the room.


Cats, Responsibility, and Writing

What in the hell is she talking about now?

Well, I was going to go through more information on conferences and educational opportunities, and how to network, with the impending conference season upon us all…but right now, my semi-blind, seizure prone cat is sitting at my feet, having unstartled from when I came up in different pants an hour ago.

This blog is about writing. In so much as it’s about compassion. In so much as it is about responsibility.

In so much as it is about living, every day, as fully and as lovingly as we can.

Periwinkle started going blind about a year ago, as a year-old rescue kitten. We adjusted, pivoted, and managed the house to meet her needs. Because I recognize that when you agree to make an animal part of your family, then you take them in total, and you care for them as best you can until it’s their time to move on to the next adventure at a nice farm in upstate New York. Then about a month ago her seizures started. Scary ones, big ones, with hissing and violence and running in circles while she urinated all over herself. Trying to hold her steady enough that she didn’t knock her head into a wall again and bloody her nose. And then came the clean up, and calm down, and gentle hands to wash it all away. I was convinced, after the third, that she would need to have help, ending her suffering.

After relaying my plan to my children, to prepare them for this difficult decision, my daughter…my loving, quiet, introverted daughter, the oldest and my first, who never asks for much and is sensitive to wavelengths most people in the world never even feel, looked me dead in the eye and said. “You’re just giving up on her.”

And at first I was mad. I’m the only one who takes care of the pets. I was exhausted. I was doing all I could and our vet didn’t have answers. There was medicine that might not help. There were surgeries she might not live through. All we had were mights and maybes.

Then I let her words sink lower into my heart.

When exactly–in the course of my ever-jading timeline–did I decide that nothing was better than mights and maybes? That the certainty of quitting overruled the hope of trying? When did I start putting my comfort over the pain of effort that may not be rewarded? Was I just justifying her ‘quality of life’ over my own life-weary need to not bother?

And didn’t I have a responsibility to do better for her?

So we took her to the neurologist (a three hour appointment that my husband took on as I had to work that day) and was given an order to administer 2ml of shitty tasting medicine, by mouth, twice a day.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever owned a blind animal, or one who’s breed and temperament predisposes them to vocal and violent physical outbursts but if not, understand that Periwinkle’s NORMAL vet appointments require no less than four vet techs/veterinarians to come in with welding gloves and a kitty straight-jacket to administer a two second shot to her hind quarters. Nonetheless, twice a day, we (two untrained and un-welding-level-protected adults) have to hold her down, open her mouth, and force her to take this sticky, foul tasting medicine.



That’s 60 times. 60 times I have to hold her down, against her will, pry her mouth open, let her nails tear into my inner thighs and hands and hope she doesn’t sneeze or vomit it all out again. I hold. My husband gives it to her. We placate her with treats and pets, and clean her face after. And it doesn’t get easier, and it never feels good.

But I’m not giving up on her. Because we don’t give up on the things we love. Not our pets, not our writing, not ourselves. And I try to recognize and respect that present discomfort is short term, survival and hope in thriving are the end goal.

We find a way, we exhaust all possibilities, we trudge through the painful tearing of our work and the forced sittings of writing in the parts and pieces of the story we’re trying to heal and bring to the surface. We go to therapy and we journal and we cut out toxic people who we’ve tried to appease for too long, even when it feels lonely and unsupported. We start saying no. We start aiming for yeses that matter. We sit in the pain and ply ourselves with gentleness in the aftermath. We speak kindly to ourselves. We cherish every moment, even the painful hard ones and we don’t take the easy way out.

Because the truth is, there’s not really an easy way out. Nothing in life is easy all the time. And I suppose you could quit whenever it got hard, but you’d never really get anywhere and all you’d end up with is a huge steaming pile of regret. And that’s a pretty shitty consolation prize for life.

I wasn’t built to give up. I wasn’t built to let heavy weight wear me down. Or have false friends, and gossiping narcissists and egotistical jerks make roadblocks of my own insecurities or need for love. I will do the hard work. Despite the odds, despite the voices that whisper behind my back and inside my head “wouldn’t it be easier if…”

I have a responsibility to my characters, to my stories, to my own love of writing. I have a responsibility to my peace of mind, to my health and well-being, to my balance and serving my future. Anything that gets in the way of those things, whether its claw marks, or vicious gossip, or plot holes…I’m no longer willing to accept or let them stop me anymore.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go pet my cat, and enjoy the sunshine calm where I can catch it.

Don’t give up while I’m gone.

Reflections on Goal Setting

When I first took a class on goal planning for writers last year, the intention was to create an environment and a year where I carved out space for my writing as I would a career. Now, as we reach the end of another year (yeah, I hate to tell you, but its only a few hours away) I wanted to take the time to look back and let you know what worked, what didn’t, and what I could do better next time. Not so much a bragging post, this is more to offer you ideas of your own on how to pursue your writing career without feeling too overwhelmed.

Every great endeavor seems impossible while you’re standing at the base of it, wondering how best to begin. But journeys are not made in great leaps and bounds, they are made by singular footfalls, one in front of another. Maybe your goal is to finish your novel, memoir, poetry book, cookbook and have it ready for publication by December next year. That’s a huge leap when you’re staring at an empty page.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a planner when it comes to the creative process of my writing. I don’t outline in detail, I don’t diagram, and I sure as hell don’t employ computer programs to chart the course of my books…but–being the little virgo-seque, organizational lovin’ nerd I am, I do like a set plan for how I get from blank page to finished book.

So rather than try to eat this whole goal at once, try taking little bites. I realize it seems over simplified, but what what worked best for me was breaking down my goals by first naming the end result I wanted, then thinking about the benchmarks I needed to meet every three months to make it happen. Then I broke it down further, to what I needed to do every month to meet those benchmarks, and finally what I needed to do every week so that it was manageable within my life.

In example, I wanted to submit at least 55 pieces of work this year. That meant that every month I needed 4 to 5 submissions, or one + a week. It’s hard to think of 55 poems out for submission all at once. I don’t think I would have been able to feel capable. But one submission, every week was something I couldn’t find an excuse not to do.

I wanted to finish editng three novels and have them ready for publication. I didn’t try to cram them all into a month. I broke it down to 3-6 chapters a week, which gave me about four rounds of in-depth editing for each, including a Beta reading round.

Having defined goals in mind is essential, allowing yourself room to wiggle when life gets complicated (because life always does) is just as important. That’s why at every quarter, in my planner, I would write down a day to reassess. What was working? What wasn’t? What could I let go of? What was I ahead on? It helped me understand my work habits and held me accountable to myself more than just a post-it of ideas on the first of January.

When life got complicated, overwhelming, and sometimes down right depressing, I gave myself room to let go of what I no longer deemed as important (I didn’t read 100 books this year, but made it through about 15–plus 12 read-throughs of my own novels). I reprioritized the schedule so that the things most important to me (family) would have first dibs on my time and used what I had left to do my best.

Even while giving yourself grace, don’t give yourself the excuse to quit. I find, no matter what the task, if I’ve set a deadline on a particular project, I will almost always finish it on time or before. Having a date to work with helps boost the sense of urgency and makes you delete social media from your phone so you aren’t wasting even one minute that you could be writing/practicing/editing/researching/submitting.

So that’s pretty much it. Because I love you (of course I do!) here’s an easy bullet list reference:

  • Set defined, obtainable goals. Pick anywhere from 1-5, but don’t go crazy. You’re only human.
  • Break them down by quarter, month, week, even day if need be.
  • Schedule rewards for meeting your goals on these timelines.
  • Allow yourself room to drop/add/readjust if something isn’t working. The journey won’t go anywhere if you’re passed out on the side of the trail with exhaustion.
  • Set defined dates for benchmarks and completion of the steps toward your goal. In other words: Give yourself ‘Due Dates’.
  • Make sure you understand your “WHY”. Why are you doing this? What are you seeking? Is it fame? Closure? Justification? The “Why” is never wrong, and you will need to return to it when things get tough.
  • Set your goals and break down the schedule you’ll need a week to two before the start of the New Year. Nobody wants to wake up New Year’s Day and try to muddle through big plans. Start thinking about it now and give yourself time to figure out what’s obtainable and most desired.

Well, I’m done talking. I appreciate you giving this blog a look over and hopefully getting the gears turning about your goals for this new year ahead. Drop me a line and let me know what you’re planning to do (this is a good exercise in accountability–if you’ve told someone you’re gonna, its an extra source of drive when you don’t feel up to it.)

Happy Writing.

Challenges, Fears, and What it Means to Tackle NANOWRIMO

Can you feel it in the air? The tingle of excitement in the tips of every writer’s fingers? The antici—–

–pation of the challenge and the reward? The insane gauntlet thrown down to write the better part of a novel in the short span of 30 days? I feel it in a new way. A frightening way.

For the first time since I started participating, I’m wondering if this might be the year that I fail.

It’s probably no surprise for those of you who follow the blog that I’ve been a little…down… lately. And with that comes a starkly lowered self-esteem. Add in a dash of mental block and creative fizzle and I’m having a hard time believing I will have enough clout to make it through 1700 words per day and finish a victor.

So what do I do? Not try at all? Shelve it for this year and treat myself with gentleness? I’m all for self-care, but I gotta be honest, lately I’ve been giving myself a little too much grace. I’ve been allowing myself an out from writing in every basket of laundry, sudoku puzzle, floor mopping, and random ten minute cat nap (that’s a nap with my cat on the couch) I can find. I’ve been so ‘busy’. But the truth is, it’s because I’m afraid to face the blank page that sits inside my head lately. I’m so certain it will end up a blank page on my screen that I’ve let the fear and disappointment of that possibility keep me from writing at all.

After all, if I don’t try I can’t fail, right? Ergo, if I don’t sign up for NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) I can’t fail at it. Plus…what will it do to me in my delicate mental state? To face such frustration and probable defeat?

The dark voice says it will break me. It says it will keep me from ever writing again, it will unhinge me. It will rob me of time better spent napping and such.

But there’s this other me that’s been trapped inside with the dark and she’s having a real teeth-grinding, fist-clenching, stand-up moment.

She says we can. She says she’s not afraid of a blank page, and she’s not worried that there aren’t any more ideas left in me. She says she knows people and characters, she knows struggle and strife, and the harsh realities of human frailty. She says there’s another novel in there, locked away behind the dark and she wants to flip the switch and shed some light on the subject.

You see, self-care is not just about bubble baths and indulging in your psychotic cat’s demand for a nap at ten in the morning. Sometimes, self-care is about knowing what you love and not letting yourself give it up when things get tough. Sometimes the deadline and the challenge is a sense of purpose in disguise that we gift to ourselves. The pursuit of your happiness is, quite possibly, one of the most important things you can do and not just for yourself, but for everyone who loves you.

So here it is, writers. If I can drag my ass to the computer and invest in my work (and myself) every day for a paltry 1667 words, then you don’t have an excuse not to. We’re all busy. We’re all tired. We’re all at a loss for ideas. The world around us doesn’t make it easy to dream. It’s loud and impatient. It’s riddled with worries and doubts, and problems bigger than any of us can solve on our own. But if we all start by investing in our art, in rising to the challenge, in reclaiming our power and self-belief, then we will become better people. And better people make a better world.

So go do something amazing. If you’ve never NANOWRIMO-ed before, check out their website to learn the rules here:

National Novel Writing Month

Most cities and states have local chapters for the event that will organize meetings, writing sprints, coffee, happy-hours and all sorts of other social stuff to keep you encouraged and give you a clan to check in and commiserate with.

Or if you’re more of a solitary beast, like myself, you can get tips and inspiration emailed to you, or join on-line forums in your underoos. Once you sign up you get a nifty author page where you can log your words per day and check on your progress (this is HONESTLY one of the best motivators for me. Nothing like a swanky bar graph to get a girl all excited about blowing the curve, you know what I mean? Wow, that sounded pretty naughty…not sorry.)

The beauty of this event is that it teaches you to establish a writing habit, and shows you that even when you only have a few minutes here and there in your day, if you dedicate them to writing you CAN complete a novel in a month. And that makes all of those excuses for not finishing your work in progress kind of null.

Maybe you’re ready, maybe you’re not. Either way…do it. You don’t have to tell anyone if you don’t want to. Of if that’s what motivates you, give the world a daily tally to keep you honest. You don’t have to write the next best seller and you don’t have to finish the story. The only thing you need is to do is dedicate the time to your magnificent imagination.

I originally thought I’d be putting The Beautiful Stuff blog on hold during this month since I’ll be otherwise ocupada…but after thinking it through, I will continue to write to you. I’ll let you know my progress, I’ll ask you questions about yours. I’ll offer advice as we get started, how to continue the momentum, how to get through the doldrums (shit yeah, that’s totally a real thing and it happens around week three) and how to finish strong, catching every last minute to cruise into the 50,000 word goal.

Then we’ll celebrate. With cat naps, or champagne, or a good cry in the shower, you know…whatever it is you need to unwind.

To inspire you further I offer this:

One lucky reader who takes a minute to let me how the process is going either via email or comment on the blog, will receive a congratulatory package after your awesome accomplishment with all kinds of goodies, including a signed copy of “Rise: An Anthology of Change” a beautiful little book of stories and poems about the power and folly of change and the human condition. Look at the pretty cover:

Rise Anthology


Take a deep breath writer, start brainstorming some ideas or dust off ones you’ve shelved for too long. Saturday we begin a new chapter, a new book, a new start.