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Dumpster Fires and Whiteboards

Dumpster Fires and Whiteboards

Happy Independence Day! We’re well and truly entrenched in July now, and I find myself in the middle of my fifth year of living in Switzerland. And even though it seems that America might be a dumpster fire behind a seedy downtown hotel that never changes it sheets, that hasn’t diminished the pride and gratitude I feel as an American. And it’s with the classic American spirit of hope depsite the odds, that I’m making rather exciting plans for the second half of this year.

June saw us visiting the UK for a quick weekend with family, and then on to the Red Sea in Egypt for a week. Spring held a lot of stress and frustration for us, with many late work nights and not a few emotional breakdowns. As I mentioned in a previous post, I deal with some anxiety issues, and the last three months have been rough. With a view like this, though, all that stress melted off lickety split!

 

Jungle Aqua Park, Hurghada

 

While we were gone, I took a moment to examine my productivity and habits from the last few months. Being away gave me no further opportunity to distract myself with my own busy work; so all this self-reflection while poolside made me come to an unhappy conclusion:

I have not been juggling life very well, guys.  Dumpster fires aren’t only reserved for post-capitalist countries.

I don’t know if its stress and anxiety, or the combination of those two with good old-fashioned distraction, but my writing productivity has suffered and halted. I’ve been unable to work on anything for a few months, and it shows.

As I wrote in my post back in March, I began a period of rest and self-care, in the hopes that my creativity would rejuvenate and come back all the stronger, but unfortunately that period turned out to be more stressful than I anticipated. I couldn’t even read, and that was almost a greater shame. Thankfully, while packing for my trip, I had the presence of mind to pack a few books I picked up from the W.H. Smith in Gatwick airport, and – holy cow, guys – I devoured them like they were warm, fragrant bread and I was a starving peasant. Seriously, you should read them. I’ve included their covers and links to where you can buy them. 

Circe, by Madeline Miller
The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black

 

Overall, I’ve been holding true to my own advice:

My work would wait for me to be ready. And it was ok to not be ready for as long as it took.”  

These words have helped to silence my recriminations. So, in that spirit, this week has seen me put a few wheels into motion. If there’s anything I’m terrible at, it is organization, and that deficiency is largely the reason why productivity in all spheres of my life is down. So the logical step forward for me was to buy a whiteboard, of course.

 

“All of humanity’s problems are fixed now, guys! We have a whiteboard. *Cue the rejoicing*

Maybe if I can see my schedule in front of my face everyday, I’ll actually be inspired to create a realistic routine and therefore reduce my stress! Win-win!

But in all seriousness, these next six months will hold a lot of change for me, and the goals I have are realistic and not difficult to achieve. My son will attend Kindergarten in the mornings, beginning in August. I hope to use those mornings to plot out the first draft of my second novel and to plan for more frequent posts here.

There are a few other exciting changes in the works, and I’ll be posting about them soon. Keep an eye out for an excerpt from Wergild, my first novel, to be posted next week!

Until then,

May your fireworks be colourful and your barbecues hot. May your dumpster fires be extinguished and your whiteboards full of productivity. Happy Independence Day!

March 2018 Update

March 2018 Update

 

You know the quote that says “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.”

It’s a Robert Burns quote, and even though the Scots language can be difficult to piece through, the meaning is clear. We all plan, but sometimes those plans don’t work out. Right now, I feel like my plans got set on fire, stomped on, and then left in a pungent pile of steaming refuse.

In August, I shared a little bit about the process of writing my UF novel and how to push through when the inspiration isn’t there. It’s a lesson I seem to have forgotten. I just had to count on my fingers to see how many months it’s been since I finished my novel, and how many months since I’ve even opened the document. The result was 7. That seems like a while, doesn’t it?

Not all of these 7 months were fruitless. The most important task I needed to accomplish turned out to be both the easiest and most challenging.  The easy part came first. In September, I cast my net for feedback from my beta readers, and received so many incredible responses. From that feedback, I was able to compile a list of editing tasks. But guys…as much as I was all gung-ho back in August, by October I was burnt out. Six years to work on the same project, bleeding the words onto the paper and then concluding that you have to bleed some more?

The feedback I received was fabulous, and constructive, but some of it was hard to swallow, if I’m being honest. We’re always our own worst critics, until we aren’t. When faced with some of my weak spots, I felt just a teensy bit defeated and uninspired. My creativity dried up. I began to doubt my ability, my choice of genre, and even my desire to be a writer. That self-doubt paralyzed me. Every time I opened my master document of my novel, I hated every word. I wanted to burn it, delete it entirely, and start again.

Thankfully, I had a few amazing friends (shout out to Taryn, especially!) remind me that it was ok not to write. I didn’t have to edit my novel right then. I didn’t have to write anything. I didn’t even have to open the document if I didn’t want to. It would still be there. My work would wait for me to be ready. And it was ok to not be ready for as long as it took.

My brain had a little trouble wrapping itself around this concept. I am such a perfectionist, and such a do-er (my sisters would call me an overachiever) that I forget to let myself and my work just be. I convince myself I am not doing enough, or I am not doing well enough. The merry-go-round in my brain just can’t let it rest. I’m either a terrible writer or I’m not giving my best. That kind of self-condemnation is destructive. And paralyzing. 

And since I’m being rather transparent, that thinking pattern extends to my parenting, my housekeeping, and pretty much every sphere of my life. Perfectionism backs me into a corner and beats me over the head with my perceived failures, making me simultaneously hate my writing and myself.

It’s a daily battle to remind myself that I am enough, I am doing enough, and that it is ok to rest.

A lot of writing advice recommends letting a manuscript rest for a while before you pick it up to start editing. So in the spirit of making healthy choices for myself and my writing, I decided to just stop altogether. Self-care takes on many faces these days.

So, with the decision to put writing on the backburner, I turned my attention back toward more important issues within my family.

We spent the entire month of December in England, enjoying Christmas and the New Year with family. January saw us back home, under the weather with strep throat, and then February seemed eternal, with never-ending colds. March has dawned with an invigorated sense of optimism. We’ve begun choosing paint to redecorate our living room, and I’m buzzing with ideas.

We also just finished up a period of sub-zero temperatures here in Zurich. The sun is finally starting to peek out of the oppressive cloud-cover, and Spring feels just around the corner. With that shift in energy, I feel a shift within myself.

Just like the peeking sun, and the fragile snowdrops pushing their blooms through the ice, my creativity seems to feel the thaw. I’ve posted poems recently  – here and here – in an effort to flex those lax muscles. I even won a small award for a poem, which you can read here.

It feels good to work, even if it’s not my big projects. Motivation and inspiration are still a wee bit sleepy, but I’m confident. With this new lesson of extending grace to myself, I hope to have made the first steps in editing by next month.

 

 

Until my next update,

Take care, and remember to have grace for yourselves.

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