Retreating From the World

In keeping with this month’s inadvertent theme (how’d that happen?), my sister and I went on a mini-writers’ retreat to have some space and quiet to focus with our writing. For me, to reconnect with my creativity in general. Things have been crazy lately (translation: chaos) and I don’t know about normal people, but for me that usually translates into SLOW writing—like pouring molasses slow. We both needed to get away, and a state park within reasonable driving distance was a quiet and economical solution. [caption id="attachment_164" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Our Cabin[/caption]

The nature, quiet, and lack of pressure worked wonders! I used to feel very selfish taking time away like that (ok, so I still do sometimes), but I’ve learned that I just work better with quiet and solitude. Of course, that doesn’t actually mean no people at all—I often write in restaurants and coffee shops—but the general public isn’t stopping me every 15 minutes to ask for a snack or can they play on the Xbox. [caption id="attachment_163" align="aligncenter" width="300"] L-Dani Wade, R-Ella Sheridan[/caption]

But I digress. Even though I can work with munchkin interruptions, it often stalls momentum. On our retreat, I could chug a little faster with each writing session. We also went on a walk on the trail near our cabin while we brainstormed on Saturday morning (great ideas!). The drive was good for that too. I came home refreshed and energized about my stories, ready to tackle revisions on my contracted book. Retreats can be used for all kinds of things—scrapbooking, quilting, crafting, sleeping. My local RWA chapter goes on an annual retreat that involves lots of plotting, talking, singing, booze, but not as much actual writing as you’d think. But its still rejuvenating, emotionally and creatively. [caption id="attachment_165" align="aligncenter" width="225"] Nearby Waterfall[/caption] So go forth and rejuvenate! Seriously, if you could retreat anywhere, where would it be?   Dani

Refill & Recharge

Have you ever driven all week in your car, rushing through all the To Dos on your schedule, only to have your car stop on Friday, right in the middle of the road? Out of gas. Sometimes our bodies and minds are like that. We go and do, because our family needs us, friends need us, employers demand us, and the muse is running on high. Before we know it, our tank is on empty and we want to do nothing more than collapse. Because the car can’t keep going if we don’t fuel it up. Commonly called “refilling the well”, the idea is to replenish your energy and Can Do spirit by giving back to yourself in a way that energizes your mind and body.   Add One Drop at a Time Unfortunately, I don’t read my energy meter very well, so I often find myself on E. I’m trying to be more mindful of this. As a mother… as a writer… as a wife… I need to reward my body and mind for all the hard work it does for me. And be gentle with myself. So how do we refill the well? Some ideas: 1. Artist’s Date -- Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way recommends Artists Dates. This is the chance to go somewhere new and different – a museum, antique store, model home – anything that you’ve wanted to do but put off because its silly, unnecessary, or no one else wants to go. It is supposed to be done alone, and I can see why. If I take someone else with me, then I worry about whether they are having a good time, ready to leave, etc. Instead, immerse yourself in YOUR enjoyment of the experience. 2. Reward Day – My sister and I came up with this concept. Before I get so overwhelmed that I crash, I schedule a day to do only what I want to do. I read all day if I want. Eat (or order out) what I want to eat. Claim the big screen TV for myself. What defines your Ideal Day? Do it! No excuses! (and I don't want to hear how you don't have time. I REALLY don't have time. If I can do this once a month, so can you!)   Drops Become Trickles 3. Go to the movies – There’s nothing like vegging out with a great movie and popcorn. Check the local theaters and make seeing something YOU want to see a priority. Low on cash? See if you have a Dollar Theater in your area. I can go see a movie I missed in the regular theater at our local discount theater for about $5, including snacks. 4. Girls Night Out – Actually, it doesn’t have to be at night. Try lunch, coffee, shopping. You could even meet at Walmart – you have to get groceries sometime. I have a friend that I have “tea” with occasionally. Any girl time is refreshing and rewarding. 5. Share a movie or game night with  your family or some friends once every couple of weeks. This helps you reconnect with those around you and remember what living is all about – laughter, companionship, and fun! Not just work, work, work. 6. I know we don’t all have large chunks of time to rejuvenate our spirits, so here are a few Minute Saviors – ideas that can take as little as 1 minute, or as much as 60.
  • Put on headphones and listen to a few songs with your eyes closed.
  • Utilize a personalized meditation app on your smart phone or iPod. I use a Simply Being meditation app that allows me to personalize the time and background music. It works great for me, and even my teenage daughter will use it sometimes.
  • Lock the door and watch “your” show, even if you have to turn out the lights and pretend you aren’t home when your family knocks.
  • Take a 30 minute reading break to help transition between “work” time and “home” time (if you can limit yourself – I can’t).
  • Let yourself nap, even if its only laying in a dark room with your eyes closed for a mere 20 minutes.
But none of these things will ever become more than ideas if you don't make them a priority and actually DO them. Don't just think about refilling your well, make it a regular part of your life. Trickle Becomes a Stream So tell me, what do you do (or want to do) to refill your well? Dani   **Next week we’ll talk about the ultimate way to refill your well:  Retreat!  

Take 2 Thursday: Saving Myself by Heather McCollum

I've had the privilege of being a part of the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood since my Golden Heart (R) final in 2009. These wonderful ladies shared that same excitement and honor with me that year, and have created an outstanding blog that encourages, teaches, and empathizes with fellow writers and women. Today's post is an incredible account of how 1 Ruby Sister helped heal herself emotionally and physically during her battle with Ovarian Cancer through writing. September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month and her story is 1 of the most inspiring I've read in a long time. This is a must read for all woman and writers! [caption id="attachment_159" align="aligncenter" width="223"] Author Heather McCollum[/caption] http://www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com/saving-myself/

It’s Party Time!

  My blogmates at The Writing Playground are hostessing a cyber-party for me today to celebrate my sale. I'd love for y'all to join us! Cyber-massages, Krispy Kreme donuts, and chocolate martinis for everyone! Not to mention my Call Story from amazing editor Shana Smith of Harlequin Desire!

Reflections on Destiny & Achievements

Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for;

it is a thing to be achieved.

William JenningsBryan

  I’ve tried to think about what I would say or how I would address my big news this week on my blog. I’ve sat down several times to write this post and not a single word would come easily. How do I explain what a momentous event selling my first book is to me? Without sounding sappy or naïve or over the top… but then, anyone who knows me knows I’m emotional and sentimental and, yeah, hmmm. This is even more challenging than I thought. The facts: I sold my first book to Shana Smith, Associate Editor for Harlequin Desire. She called last Monday and I’ve been over the moon ever since. I’ve celebrated on Facebook, Twitter, with family and friends, and I’ll be posting my call story on The Writing Playground on Wednesday for a big online party over there! Very exciting! But I think what I want to talk about here, today, is what I’ve learned this week from receiving what we writers refer to as The Call. I’ve been writing for a long time, submitting, selling short stories, getting rejections, finalling in contests, and still no sells. Sometimes the struggle was so hard that I’ll admit, I took a couple of breaks. But I never really stopped. The voices in my head kept talking; the hope in my heart kept bobbing back to the surface. So I couldn’t stop writing, and I couldn’t stop submitting for long. As the quote above says, destiny is grounded in the choices we make, the achievements we strive for. I chose to hone my craft, actively write, edit my work, and surround myself with encouraging friends. My dream has always been to be a published author of romance novels, and through a lot of hard work, perseverance, and the direction of a great editor, that dream came true this week.   Bottom line: Perseverance isn’t fun, isn’t pretty, and doesn’t always feel good – but it can create the most beautiful results. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating Wednesday on the Playground! I’ll be sharing more details from this exciting first step in my publishing career as they become available.   Thank you for sharing this journey with me!

I Can’t OR I Can?

The other night, I had a conversation with Book Worm that went something like this: “I can’t go to sleep. I’m not tired,” she said. This is a familiar refrain at bedtime because it does take her a long time to fall asleep. Although, if she will just get herself quiet and still, it happens much quicker than she likes to think. “Of course you can’t,” I said. That prompted a perplexed look on dear daughter’s face. “Well, if you believe you can’t, then you won’t be able to, right?” And that’s when it hit me… Ah, mothers! We spout Do’s, Don’t’s, and How To’s at our children, but would be ashamed if we sometimes listened to ourselves. I know I am. How many times have I thought: “I can’t write like that.” “I’ll never be that good.” “I can’t find an audience for my work.” “I can’t understand why this scene isn’t working.” Yikes! My vocabulary is often peppered with the word “can’t”, and how can tell her not to perceive things that way when I’m the one setting the bad example? Not good. My mother told me once that the things she was afraid to do often failed, but the things she forced herself to do while pretending a confidence she may not have, most often succeeded. Being shy like me, I knew she’d stumbled onto something very profound. When I think back there are many things I’ve thought I couldn’t do that I actually did. Have children (which is why I call them my miracle babies). Finish my first book. Sell my first short story. Final in RWA’s Golden Heart contest (c). A handful of times I’ve even said, “I can’t do this anymore,” but a week later I’m back at the computer because the characters won’t shut up. I recently received an important revision for one of my submissions – one with a quick turnaround and very specific instructions. I was shaking in my boots when I called my mama! The minute I said, “What if I can’t do this?” she stopped me. “None of that,” she said. And she’s right (as mamas usually are!). So every time I wondered, “Can I do this?”, I stopped and told myself, “You can do this. You’ve been training for years. Just take the direction and run with it!” I could tell you something profound, like “I vow to change my ways from here to eternity” but that’s simply not going to happen. I know myself. I’m pessimistic by nature and struggle with these kinds of things. But I do think I’ll be much more aware of my use of the word “can’t” from here on out and try to use it as a trigger for something positive. What things have you told yourself you can’t do, but in reality, you simply needed to find a way to get there?

WWDD*

*What Would Dani Do? I've been thinking a lot about what I'm going to do when the kids go back to school next week. You see, I'm a scheduler (just like I'm a plotter when I write). I like schedules and routines. From the time the kids were born we've had routines in our house; I think kids thrive on them, as long as they aren't “break your knuckles” strict. And I have just enough "absent minded professor" in me to go off the routine every couple of days or get distracted by something out of the ordinary like a school event. But having some kind of schedule or routine gives me a goal, at least. So I'm looking at our afternoons (once everyone gets home from school and I’m home from work) to brainstorm how I can be the most productive while overseeing homework and music practice and dinner, etc. There are things I need to get out of the way when I first get home, but I don't need to put writing off until last thing in the evening because by then my brain is fried. It is way too easy to procrastinate when I'm tired. Some possibilities I've come up with: 1. Take laptop to the table and do social networking and email return while overseeing Little Man's homework (Book Worm is mostly self-sufficient now, except for some math issues, so as long as I point her in the right direction and check when she's done, she’s good). 2. Start prep for dinner as soon as we walk in the door, i.e. knowing what we'll have, setting out supplies, and knowing when I need to start thawing meat, etc. 3. Take some time in the early evening (possibly before dinner prep) to pre-write. I usually do this before I do my actual writing by sketching out (long hand) the scene I'll be working on, characters, setting, motivations, etc. It lets me get it clear in my mind and starts the creative juices flowing. Maybe if I do this early in the evening, I'll be ready when I do sit down to write. 4. Have a few minutes of snack time when we first come in the door, sitting at the table together and talking about our days before we move into the rush of homework. 5. Keep watch for those spare minutes when the kids are occupied with something else to get words on the page. Luckily, after being cooped up in school all day, my kids love to spend some time outside, especially as fall sets in. I need to be prepared to jump on those times to get writing done, even if it’s only a page at a time. Do y'all have any suggestions for making those busy evenings go more smoothly, while still being productive?  

Where Dreams and Reality Collide

There's nothing more rewarding than being a mother—at least, that's what they told me. [they didn't mention dirty diapers, pre-teen attitudes, and sleepless nights, but  parenting is still rewarding despite those things] I grew up in a religious community that highly valued motherhood, and most of the women I was exposed to didn't work outside the home. Actually they didn't have many interests that pointed outside their homes either, focusing mostly on sewing, decorating, and crafty stuff for their families. Which is a perfectly acceptable lifestyle, if that’s what you and your family want. When I decided I wanted to write romance, my daughter was two. Just like I found time around her naps and meals to clean house, I scrounged out time to pursue my dreams: brainstormed, plotted, and wrote while she played next to me, watched a cartoon, or slept. As my family grew, along with my dream, incorporating them together became much harder. Time is finite, as is energy, and quite honestly I'm not Super Woman (except when the hubby demands I wear the cape). So I've had to get, well, creative. As I say in my bio, my journey often takes me through the valley of dirty dishes, school assignments, and what the heck are we having for dinner moments. But I've found a few coping strategies to get me through the insanity without going 'round the bend. 1. Lower your standards (along with everyone else's). I never felt so validated as when I read an interview with a best selling author, where she admitted that one reason she could keep up the pace of her writing was because her house wasn’t always clean. Thank you, Lord! While we aren’t in danger of being reported to the local authorities, my house is nowhere near spotless. The yard—maybe we shouldn’t even go there! In order to spend time on my writing and quality time with my family (not to mention the necessary day job), cleaning isn’t high on my priority list. Luckily, I have a family that doesn’t really care, and I ignore any extended family  that would be bold enough to voice their opinions. (if they don’t like it, they are welcome to come clean themselves!) When the carpet starts to get dirty and dirty dishes start overflowing onto the counter, its time for me to clean. And to force myself to do deep cleaning a couple times a year, I’ll have a big party or family to visit. I also insist that the family do their fair share. My kids are old enough to do their own laundry (even my son at 8) and they all have certain chores that are their responsibility. I think it’s a necessary evil for them to see what all goes into keeping a house up, and I remind myself that when they eventually move out (in the distant future) they will not be clueless about reality. Image 2. Steal every small bit of time you can – well, not every small bit. I’ve been juggling writing, work, and family for a long time. Ten years, in fact. In the beginning (that sounds ominous, doesn’t it?), I used every single second I could find to write. Whatever wasn’t taken by children and family. Now I realize that if I schedule every second, then I burn out – fast and furious. I do spend a lot of time multi-tasking: I never just watch television without writing/editing/reading as well and most computer surfing has to do with writing or the business of writing. But too much drive will have my well dry pretty quick. I make judicious use of my time, but I also allow myself to “chill” every so often. Reading just for pleasure. (Just) watching a movie. Hanging out with the fam. Or window shopping with no pressure to be anywhere. If I find myself with a day off from work, you won’t find me cleaning or running errands unless I absolutely have no choice. I have always maintained that refilling your well is important, but I could write an entire post just on that.  :) 3. Create time for special moments. In the same way that I put aside time for writing, I have to consciously schedule time for my family. We authors often get caught up in the process and business of writing, which never ends. I remind myself of that and set it aside for a time to just be with the hubby and kids. Movie night with hubby and/or daughter. Shopping. Special school events. But mostly I try to do something “they” want to do. Let them have that sleepover I’ve been putting off. Meander down a road my teenage daughter (Book Worm) finds intriguing. Listen (and pay attention) when Little Man tells me about his video games. Hang out at the book store. Make a Starbucks run. Little things they enjoy that I often put off in the face of a looming deadline. 4. Let go of the guilt (an ongoing process). Yep, this one never has and never will come easy. Like most women, I experience an overabundance of guilt. I often feel like I’m not giving enough attention to either my family or my writing. I have to step back, look at my time realistically, and realize I can’t do it all. Then breathe deep, and blow the guilt away. I figure simply being conscious of it and continuing to juggle priorities means everyone will eventually get their turn. 5. When all else fails, b*tch to your friends. I wouldn’t survive without my sister, mother, and the Playfriends. When life gets overwhelming, they’re just a phone call away and always willing to listen. Sometimes they simply lend an open ear, sometimes they offer advice, and sometimes they call me on my own behavior. But the simply act of talking it out always makes things seem better, and not so lonely. As you can see, this writer has a (tenuous) grasp on making her dreams come true, even in the face of pesky reality. It can be tough, and I learn more with every year (boy, that makes me feel old). But my family and I work it out, and I hope that my children see how very hard I pursue something that I love. One day, I hope they too have something that they want enough to chase the dream! How do you balance your dreams, family, work, and down time? I’d love any coping strategies you’d like to share!