Graduation Reflection—School’s Out Forever

 

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My child is graduating, and she’s my baby.

I sit and remember all the millions of tiny moments that led up to this big change. How every second of my life has been ruled by a public school schedule for the last twenty-three years and from next week on, it won’t be.

In my adult life, I have never not had kids (I know a double negative-but it’s accurate). My first child came along when I was still in college and living at home with my parents. So all those twenty-something years of finding myself never happened. I became an adult, to quote Lorelai Gilmore, “the moment the stick turned pink.”

I don’t regret any of the time I spent on my bundles of joy.

But from the age of 21, I have been fully responsible for at least one other human, to bathe, feed, clothe, shelter and entertain. I’ve being tethered by the morning rituals of preparing breakfast, making sure everyone has lunch, transportation, and of planning vacations around summer, spring, and Christmas breaks.

Within days I will be free.

I have one word for the whole thing: WEIRD.

I recall all those trips to Potter’s Park Zoo, the Hands On Museum, going to the all-night party when Harry Potter books would come out, camping, sleep overs, sickness and a trillion other tiny precious events. It all feels very over and very final.  And that is sad.

I knew it was coming. I have been preparing for some time, getting senior pictures and buying prom dresses, but the reality of her last day of school is a shock to my system.
As when my oldest moved out and I welcomed two new fur babies, I know there will be a period of adjustment. A time to find a new pace to my day. A new comfort zone. A new rhythm.

Taking the time to examine this, I guess overall I wonder how I did it. How did I raise two daughters to adulthood without screwing it up? I know I had a lot of help along the way from friends, family, and even my employers. But I can’t help but feeling a little proud that I made it. It’s like crossing the finish line to a twenty year marathon.

And what do I do with myself now?

I need to find out how I actually want to send my time rather than how I have to spend it. I know it will involve more writing, more working, perhaps even more soul searching. Who am I besides a mom of school-aged children? Do I like to listen to loud music in the morning? Do I want to do a run at 8p.m. without worrying about getting ready for the school day?

I feel like there are a thousand things I can now do and it’s terrifying, but also invigorating. As I look at my now  year old kitties, I recall–not all change is bad.babies

I look forward to the next few months of adjustment and hope I can explore what it is to just simply be me.

Have you had a huge moment sneak up on you? Big life change that shook your world? Post below.

Please comment even just to say hi!

Be Kind

A few months ago I attended a Romance Writers of America chapter meeting where Renee Bernard gave a talk on women, writing, and romance. Being in a pissy, judgy mood, I thought it would be boring. Yeah, yeah, we’re women and we write romance. Doesn’t that describe all of us? How is this going to be an interesting talk?

This is usually my first sign I need to go. Desperately.

I have this funny thing about myself. I like to be challenged in my thoughts. When I find myself convinced of something I can’t help but to seek out the other side of the argument. Maybe it’s leftover from being a counselor. Maybe it’s because I can’t help but to be empathetic. Maybe I just like to know all sides to every point. In any case, I have this habit and I kinda like it.

So, as you can intelligently deduct, I did go, and I LOVED it. I’m a sucker for humor and Renee is hands-down one of the funniest people I’ve met. She’s got an engaging personality and if she was reading the dictionary with her opinions inter-spliced—I’d have sat there happily for hours.

One of the stories she told was about our chapter. She had gone to a RWA (Romance Writers of America) meeting when she was a new writer. She attended our chapter at a time when none of the members who run it now were there (important point!) Anyway, she had gone right after her first novel sale and proudly announced the sale at the meeting, hoping to get praise for her accomplishment.

Our chapter gives out chocolate for good news of all kinds, even chocolate for bad news. In fact, if you don’t want random chocolate you just don’t raise your hand. Back then, you only got chocolate if you sold. And so the lady handed Renee her earned chocolate. Then each person went around and gave the details of their sale. Renee told them who had bought her novel.

The chapter president repeated the information and then looked at her sadly…then TOOK HER CHOCOLATE AWAY. Apparently the sale didn’t count because it was not to an RWA approved publishing house. It was to a small press.

Something like that wouldn’t happen in our chapter today. The room erupted in collective gasps. In today’s world of indie and self-pub and every flavor of publishing—having an elitist mindset is sort of shocking. For clarification, it isn’t elitist to want to publish to a big five traditional publisher, but maybe it is a bit elitist to think that is the *best* way or the most respectable way. It’s just the best way for some people, but not everyone.

The story hit home for me. When I first took writing seriously, I joined a number of online groups. Wanting badly to improve my writing, I sought out other writers to exchange stories with and get critiques. I’d get a feel for the person, usually admiring them in some way and then send a note to feel out the interest. People either had time or they didn’t and that’s fine. Some people already had a large number of people they exchanged with and adding one more person would be too much. Critiquing is time consuming. I always appreciated the kindness most writers expressed. The majority of writers I’ve come across are caring people, who want to see their fellow writers succeed (and then help them succeed, right 😉

But I did once (maybe twice) get a strange reaction to my request for critique. People I’d admired were unkind in their way of saying no. Now, it’s okay to say no, or no thanks, or not right now. Those are all acceptable responses. But sometimes people felt the need to point out that I had no credentials as a writer (at the time I’d only sold to Chicken Soup for the Soul and I wasn’t very vocal about it, maybe that was my own fault for painting myself as a complete newbie). They went further to assume it would be a waste of time (using not those exact words) to exchange with me, as they were more interested in exchanging with people “more on their level.”

I brushed off those comments and moved along. It’s not at all helpful to dwell on those kinds of observations by other writers. People find success sometimes at surprising times. Someone who looks like a total newb could be a break out writer in just a few months, a year later that same writer could be making millions on Amazon. Writing for ten years, but suddenly finding their groove—they could maintain that speed or in another year be down on their luck again.

That is a writing career. Take it or leave it. It’s unpredictable who will be successful at any stage of the game.

As it turns out I did find success within the year. I one day found myself in the strange position of having one of those unkind writers write me (probably having forgotten that they’d had an email exchange with me a year before) and ask to exchange stories.

I had several choices. One, I could simply say no. Two, I could say no and attach the email they’d once sent me and rub my success in their face. Or three, I could show compassion.

I did exchange stories with this person. And later after several email exchanges I realized I really liked this person (maybe because they complimented me on my writing and liked my critique style…I can be bought, I guess). I did bring up our encounter a year before. They didn’t remember completely, but they said they were a bit of a snob when they first came into the writing forum. But, by doing it this way, this person was shown what it was to show a new writer kindness. And I hoped I saved one less ego-driven writer from the world.

Show kindness.

One caveat. If I show compassion and they are jerks, then throw them to the wolves. I’m nice, but not a pushover.

I love comments! If you leave a comment, you ride the compassion rainbow of love and glitter will stream from your eyes and ears as you spread amazing writerly kindness. Too much? I don’t think so.

The Writer’s Journey

colliseumI sometimes wonder if my life is following the hero’s journey. For those of you unfamiliar see here.  The method is commonly used as a template for plotting fiction.

I look back over my trails and inciting incidents and black moments. I am forced to make a decision to hear the call to adventure and go through the doorway of no return.

I see these patterns again and again.

And now, I feel the cycle repeating.

A bit of background, I left my full time job to write and live on a part time salary. Leaving a well-paying, secure job was a leap into the great beyond, an act of faith, a symbolic burning of the boats.  I thought I could swing it for a year, maybe two.

Seven years later, I hang on. My writing has grown through all the battles of daily survival. I learned new skills. Met allies (hi Tina!!) and found my true path to happiness was living a life as an author.

Ahh,  but in every good story the conflict must escalate or there is no growth and advancement. I feel the squeeze of my employment situation on the verge of changing. I know my status and finances will alter drastically once my last child graduates high school (which is soon). I also know that I’ve depleted my resources.

And one more nugget of info, after seven years out of the job market, I’m not qualified for much of anything, but being a writer. Or perhaps a waitress.

I face having to finally put my writing out there in an indie gambit.

Huge parts of me say no. Scream no. But I understand that I’m a perfectionist, and if I wait until I’m ready I will never put something out.

I have a backlog of stories. Good stories that I love. But I worry.

I feel the Black Moment approaching. The all-is-lost feeling creeps up my spine and I dread venturing into new untested waters. I hesitate to enter the lion’s den of the Amazon and wait for an audience’s judgment. The thought makes my stomach feel like a saltwater taffy machine at a carnival.

But if I want to be the hero of this story I have to face the lions (and tigers and bears, if necessary). Step-by-step, I prepare for my final battle. I search for good editors, cover artist, and pray that I’m not just throwing the last of my money into a swirling vortex of nada.

I sometimes wish my story didn’t have so many conflicts, but struggle is at the heart of any grand adventure. The trials make the hero strong enough to face the lions.

The gate opens, and the crowd cheers.

I put on my armor. I do the work. I step into the den.

What about you?  Is there a dragon or a lion you’ve had to face? The loss of a job? The loss of a relationship?  The fear of starting a new chapter in your life? Comment below! I love comments.

Internet Gen

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I was born in a time before instant everything. When you couldn’t just Google which movies were at the theater. When you had to make sure you caught the weather in the morning or be caught without your umbrella. When doing your history homework required your schoolbooks or a trip to the library. When movies or TV shows were events that must be planned for and consumed immediately or missed forever, not something to be DVRed.

I can’t even express how much I adore, love, and depend on the constant flow of relevant information that is literally at my fingertips.

For example, my entire world changed one night in 1998 or so when I used my dial up internet and researched writing. I found the incomparable Holly Lisle. Her article Mugging the Muse changed my life.

I understood at last that writers weren’t the chosen few but everyday nurse-single-mom people. Non-deity, average Janes who didn’t necessarily have an English or Creative Writing degree. They were doing it and making a living. I had always known I loved writing. That I wanted to be published, but had never thought that I could do it right where I was. That was a solid gold gift from the interwebs.

This launched my pursuit of a writing career. Which 17 years later, I’m still chasing. I’ve been distracted by family and jobs and responsibilities, but I survived and learned. I found a community of writers and groups mostly online. Read and studied blogs and took classes. Did research and wrote books.

But the thing with the net and the at-the-click-of-a-mouse everything is that all movement is not progress. I often fall down a rabbit hole of linked web pages that could circle the world. If one resource is good, two or three would be better.

And isn’t it nifty that there was a riot in Birmingham England in 1790, and if I only knew more about that I could flesh out my story. Then I realize all my writing time is gone. I have been working the entire time, but I’ve made no actual headway. (To be honest there are millions of really cute cat and dog videos just waiting to be discovered on YouTube.)

The internet connects, but it also distracts, sucks time, and gives a false sense of progression.

Even though I love the communication and classes, I have to temper my curiosity. I must sit down and review my outcomes. How many words today? How many pages edited? Did I connect with a future agent with a query?

To help with focus, I’ve found a couple of online tools: Strict Workflow and Momentum. Both are Google Chrome extensions that help get you back on task.

Strict Workflow lets you set a timer that will block a list of sites you include on a list. Most commonly these are email, Facebook, and Twitter. The app gives you sessions of work and free time, which I totally dig, and it’s flexible with sites to block, session duration, and even gives you a short break period.
Momentum takes over your new tab feature, provides a beautiful picture, and gives you a place to list your goals for the day. So when you click on a new tab (which I do almost by habit) it smacks you with a goals list that reminds you to get back to work.

The internet gives and the internet takes. My goal is to take advantage of the most wondrous tool that has ever been created by mankind, while avoiding its greatest diversion.

What distracts you from your work? What advances hold both gifts and challenges?

Why I’m Happy to be 3rd

finish I’m number 3! I’m number 3! *Jumps around room, whooping and cheering.*

What? No one chants that? Why would I care to celebrate NOT placing first or even second?

Third is an also ran. Little prize money. Little acclaim. No one remembers third. Still technically a loser.

But therein lies the beauty.

When I began writing (not counting my plays or short stories I wrote in elementary school). I was in junior high. In my bedroom, I knocked out which in today’s standards would be considered a 300-page, Star Wars fan fiction. I did it with a friend and the writing was fun. I didn’t want or need outside validation.

Fast forward a few years and I get on the writer’s career super highway. But instead of taking me quickly to my destination of Publish Land. It’s more like a stretch of endless, highway with nothing but cornfields .

I move along counting miles, I look for signs that I’m getting closer. Any landmark, that tells me that I’m moving.

I enter contest and submit to agents and apply for scholarships. At the beginning of my contest run, I merely got general comments mentioning my grammar or awkward sentences.

Good concept, back execution.

I took classes and polished and tightened and tweaked and submitted to the Rebecca in 2013.

I remember the day I got the email. I expected to see a general: so many great entries this year but you didn’t place note. The congratulation hit me like a right hook to my jaw from a prize fighter. After a few hours, the truth seeped into my bones. I was elated. Third place! In a hotly competitive category in a very prestigious contest. Not first, not second, but respectable.

I felt like I’d finally seen the sign. I may not be in Published Land, but by God I was making progress.

Placing second would have been good, but so close to first, I would have constantly tortured myself. Was it that one comma? A forgotten verb case? Was my story not tight enough?

But third. Third was almost freeing. Oodles better, but no pressure.

Even first, at the time, would have been more hurtful than helpful. With a first place victory, the request would have started, from an agent or editor. At the time, I don’t think my writing could have stood up to the scrutiny. And I would have scrambled and panicked and felt like a fraud.

I believed that somehow my feelings were weird or wrong, but stumbled upon this little article about Olympic bronze medal winners and how they are happier than silver medal winners. http://www.businessinsider.com/why-counterfactual-thinking-may-make-you-more-relieved-to-get-third-place-rather-than-second-2012-8. I felt better, and kept submitting.

Recently, I received third place in a scholarship contest. A pretty big deal contest as well. They liked the concept and the writing, and the scoring was within fractions of points. I’m a bit less satisfied with this win. Which tells me that my time being comfortable with third place is coming to an end.

I want more. I will deal with the jealously of second and the pressure of being first, because I have done the work. I have done the time. I am ready to progress.

And it’s long past time for me to see that beautiful sign: Now entering Published Land.

Have you come in third? Won? How did it make you feel? Comment below.