Doing a quarterly audit

It’s March 30th. That means that we have one more day in the month. We also have just one more day in the quarter.

How in the hell are we that far into the year already?

Okay, I’m done freaking out now. I think.

Actually, I’m doing pretty good with my goals for 2018. And I’m ready to perform my first quarter audit of the year.

If you’ve read a single other blog post of mine, you know what I’m going to say next.

I rely heavily on my Lisa Jacob’s YBY planner to do my quarterly review.

So, as I take you through my practice, please keep in mind that not all of it is mine. A lot of it is right out of the YBY planner.

Step one: I go over my list of goals for the year, and see what I can cross off. Some things I can’t even look at, like my goal of going to Kennywood three times and publishing my short story collection. It’s just not the season for those things yet.

Some things I’m still making progress on, like my goal to publish an e-book of old PBW posts. It’s a long project, and it’s going to take time. But I’m making progress.

Some things I’m totally done with, and I get to check them off my list! One major one I get to check off my list is finishing the second draft of Sandwashed. Super happy to have that done. The second draft is always the longest edit, and I have two-second drafts to do this year. Now I’m working on the second draft of Station Central, which is less than half the length of Sandwashed. That means that easily the longest project of the year is totally done.

Step two: Looking at my remaining goals, see what steps I still need to take. I use the annual objective page of the YBY planner. Here, I take a look at the six big annual goals I made at the start of the year and seeing what still needs to be done.

Step three: Looking at the next three months, assess what I need to do/can realistically do to get closer to my yearly objectives. Sometimes it’s really hard to be realistic because I want to do all of the things all of the time. So, I try to break down everything in the context of what can/needs to be done in each of the three months.

Step four: Complete the next twelve-month annual strategy from Lisa Jacob’s book. This is probably the longest part of the whole process.

As suggested by Lisa, I factor in family and self-care first. I know we’re going to go on vacation in June. That will be a week I’m not progressive. We’ll be going camping a lot this summer, and those days are lost work days too.

I work through the whole next twelve months, and figure out when my books should be done. That allows me to schedule tentative release dates. (Always written in pencil and never announced until the book is actually done.) Based on this, I plan promotion backward. Then add in any promotional stuff I’ll need to be doing into my three-month plans.

So what do you think? Will you be doing a quarterly update?

Are you subscribed to the PBW Update? Here’s why you should be. You’ll get an extra post from me about writing or publishing. You’ll get a round up of the most recent PBW posts. You’ll learn about a new indie writer in every issue. And, you’ll be the first to learn about promotional offers and events for Station 86 and Woven. PBW Update issues come out every other Monday.
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Building a Go Bag for writers

Our house is not a very very very fine house, with two cats in the yard. It’s an old house, with old wiring. Sometimes animals get in my house, like bats and squirrels. Funny story, I once opened my lazy Susan to hear chittering. There was a squirrel in there, chilling with my spices. We had to open the back door, and kind of encourage it to leave with a broom. It literally ran over my foot in its mad dash to leave. Actually, it was really adorable, but terrified.

I told you all of that for two reasons. One, so that you understand why I so dearly wish to move. And two, because I want you to understand just how terrified I am that my house is going to catch fire like a matchbook one day and we’re all gonna die. I have nightmares of the turtle getting boiled in his tank and all my manuscripts going up in flames.

Even if you live in a nice, new house, it could still go up in flames. Or your basement could flood, your power could go out, you could have a tornado or an earthquake. Shit happens, is what I’m saying. And we all think it won’t happen to us.

I’m not saying all of this to panic or depress you. I’m saying it because we need to be prepared in case we need to leave our homes in a hurry. For that reason, I’m working on making a Go Bag. This is also known as a bug out bag, and I think it has a few other names. I like Go Bag because it’s also something used in the journalism community. For them, a Go Bag is for when you have to go out of town right now to chase a story. I know that’s not the same thing, but I like the comparison.

Of course, we are writers. So, we do things a little bit differently. Here’s a list of things I include in my Go Bag.

  • A flashlight that no one is ever allowed to use unless we have grabbed the Go Bag and are leaving!
  • Extra batteries for the said flashlight because no one will ever listen to the above statement.
  • A change of clothes for everyone in the house. This is why we all have individual bags because this alone would take up all of the room.
  • A large water bottle, filled.
  • Granola bars.
  • Rain Ponchos.
  • Light jackets.
  • Playing cards, for something to do.
  • Emergency blankets.
  • Some hard candy.
  • A small medical kit.
  • A notebook.
  • Pens, pencils, and some sort of drawing tool. I suggest crayons because they don’t have to be sharpened and they can’t leak. Hard charcoal is another option if you don’t like to color.
  • An extra leash for the dog in case we can’t find his.
  • A harness for the cat.
  • Small packets of food for the dog, cat, turtle, and rat.

If you’ve ever seen a list of items to include on other sites or Pinterest, you’ll know that there are some things that are on other people’s lists that aren’t on mine. Things like your marriage certificate, pet vaccinations, social security and ID cards and any other vital paperwork you have in your house. I didn’t include any of this because I don’t keep anything like that in my house. I have scanned these, except for our birth certificates. Those I have in my Go Bag if only to know where the damn things are. If we have to leave in a hurry, I’m going to grab my tablet without fail. So, I’ll have my vital information.

Here is a list of crucial things that I keep on Evernote. These are both for my family and my writing life.

  • A list of medications that my husband and kids are on.
  • Our social security cards and driver’s license/ state id. (Yes, I do lock my tablet. Thank you in advance for your concern.)
  • Outlines of my current works in progress.
  • Outlines of my whole series.
  • All financial receipts for writing stuff.

Sadly, I’ve come to realize that if my house goes down, I’m losing my old manuscripts and my computer. I have two kids, a husband and four pets to get out of my house. I will grab my Go Bag, purse, and whatever animals I can. Even if that means tossing a bitey turtle into my hoodie pocket. I will never get my manuscripts back, but I will not care as much about losing those as I would my pets.

I didn’t collect all of this at once, of course. I built my Go Bags over the span of a few months, and a few paychecks. I also didn’t use anything fancy. I just put all of it in a book bag and sat it near the door of my bedroom. I do advise packing the clothes at the bottom, water on top of that, and jacket on top. Flashlight went in the side pocket, in case I need it fast.

I do want to extend a few other pieces of advice, in case a disaster strikes your home.

  • Have a plan of exit for you and every member of your family.
  • Make sure your kids know to leave, just leave, and not worry about anything else but leaving.
  • Have a plan for your pets. The better you plan, the more likely your pets are to survive.
  • Back up everything to do with your writing. I back up everything weekly, without fail. So at any time, I will only lose up to a week’s worth of work. That still sucks, but I can live with it.
  • Fire drills aren’t just for school! Make sure everyone knows what to do in case of an emergency. Make sure your whole family knows how to use a fire extinguisher and when it’s appropriate to use it. If you have little ones, know who’s responsible for getting them out.

I pray that you never have to use any of this. I pray that you go through your life, occasionally switching out the granola bars when they go bad, and never have to use your Go Bag.

But realistically, it’s very likely that at least one of you reading this will have an emergency that causes you to flee your home. I want you to be prepared, just like I want my family to be prepared when a squirrel eventually chews through a wire and sets my house on fire.

Because that’s almost definitely going to happen.

Are you subscribed to the PBW Update? Here’s why you should be. You’ll get an extra post from me about writing or publishing. You’ll get a round up of the most recent PBW posts. You’ll learn about a new indie writer in every issue. And, you’ll be the first to learn about promotional offers and events for Station 86 and Woven. PBW Update issues come out every other Monday.
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Picking apart Dirk Gently, Holisic Detective Agency

Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t seen the first season of Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective Agency, please be aware that there might be spoilers. I will endeavor to not give away everything but I may have to reveal some things in order to pick the season apart! You’ve been warned, unlike when I had the ending of the fourth season of Dexter ruined for me. Yes, I’m still mad.

I really love how we watch tv these days. I can marathon a whole season in a matter of a few days. Or, I can throw on a show and let it play in the background while I’m editing. I’m really spoiled now, not having to wait for the next episode of a show.

The most recent show my family and I marathoned was Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective Agency. It’s based on a book series by Douglas Adams. Of course, if you’ve read the book Hitchhikers Guide, then seen the movie, then listened to the old radio program, then read the graphic novels, you’ll realize that Mr. Adams wasn’t a fan of what we call canon. The same story, told a whole lotta different ways. With that in mind, may I just say that I am picking apart the first season of the show, Dirk Gently? I haven’t read the book yet and haven’t seen the second season of the show. So if you’ve read the book, or you’ve seen the second season and I’m dead wrong about something here, please keep in mind the material I’m picking apart.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s proceed.

I loved this show. I mean I freaking loved this show. So let’s pick it apart and see why.

One thing that Douglas Adams has in common with Neil Gaiman (my favorite author) is his ability to insert extraordinary situations within the ordinary. Dirk Gently is a great example of this. It’s set in the real world, our world. It’s just that everything’s a little bit strange. And not superheroes hidden in plain sight strange. This cat turns into an actual shark strange. But it makes sense, in the end. That’s the thing that writers who write strange things often get wrong. You can make your book a strange and unusual as you want. But you should then make it make sense. It’s a simple, but an imperative rule of fiction, it has to make sense. That’s the real difference between fiction and real life.

Of course, you know I’m inspired by a character-driven plot. And Dirk Gently is character driven. We have Dirk, of course, a happy universal mistake for whom everything works out perfectly for at all times. Until they don’t. Then there’s Todd, who is just in a really freaking bad place in his life. He’s got a shit job, a sick sister and a crappy apartment. Then he meets Dirk, and kind of wishes he could go back to his shit job. He’s still got the crappy apartment, at least for the most part. It’s got some holes in it now.

He’s also got his sick sister, Amanda, who is probably my favorite character of the show. She suffers from a mental illness called pararibulitis that plagues her with vivid and agonizing hallucinations of things like drowning or catching on fire. (It’s not a real thing, by the way.)

Then there’s a holistic assassin named Bart, for whom everything also always works out. She always kills exactly who she’s supposed to.

How can you not love these characters? I would genuinely enjoy a story about these people going to the grocery store.

There is actually a scene with Amanda going to the grocery store that brings me to my next point about why this show works. Amanda’s illness is fake, but it’s similar to several mental illnesses. Like anxiety. I have mild anxiety, and it makes it kind of hard for me to go to the grocery store sometimes. (Shout out to Walmart pickup!) So when Amanda braves the store by herself to buy her own groceries, despite being terrified that her hands might suddenly believe themselves to be on fire, I can kind of relate.

The show also managed to juggle two fairly different starting points in a clever way. They index1managed to start at the beginning, with a frustrated Todd going through a shitty day. Then, he clearly sees himself, wearing a fur coat and patriotic shirt with a black eye, shouting at someone he can’t see. As the show progresses and he ends up with a black eye, then wearing a patriotic shirt, then wearing a fur coat, it all comes full circle. But you’re aware, right from the start, that he is going to end up in a bad place where bad things are happening.

The season answered a lot of the questions you have going into it. What happened to the lottery ticket? Why is Bart trying to kill Dirk? Why do Dirk, Bart and the Rowdy 3 have these weird powers? Why are the Rowdy 3 always showing up around Amanda? Who kidnapped the little girl? Why were three bodies that looked like they’d been ripped apart by a shark found in a hotel room? Those are just the questions I can remember off the top of my head.

There were a lot more left unanswered, though, which I hope they get in season two. Because there wasn’t a season 3, and as I said the books are totally different. But that’s what a season or a book in a series should do. Answer enough that a reader or viewer feels satisfied, but leave enough there to make you read or watch the next book or season.

Altogether, Dirk Gently ran the risk of being a wholly unsatisfying story. Something left unexplained, characters left at odd ends, the whole mystery of it still a mystery! But it didn’t do that at all! All of the jagged little puzzle pieces fit right into place with each other to form a solid, coherent story.

In closing, here’s what we can take away from Dirk Gently.

  • You can be as random as you want, but it has to make sense by the end.
  • Your characters can be as weird and unique as you want, but you at least kind of need to be able to relate to them.
  • You have to give a satisfying ending, but don’t wrap up everything unless it’s a standalone or the last book in a series.
  • You have to wrap up all your plotlines unless you’re intentionally leaving them for the next book.

If you haven’t seen Dirk Gently, I highly advise you give it a shot. I’ve added the book to my Goodreads list, personally. And if you have seen season two or read the books, feel free to not leave spoilers in the comment section.

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Addicted to results

If you’re getting the PBW Update, you know I recently talked about progress weeks. (If you’re not getting the PBW Update, here’s a link so you can fix that.) If you missed it, a progress week is one in which you make progress on a long-term project but don’t finish it. If you’re prone to having multiple projects, like me, it’s a week where you make progress on all or some of your projects but don’t wrap up anything.

A lot of weeks are progress weeks. In fact, a vast majority of weeks are progress weeks. That’s the way of things.

Now, I spend some time every Sunday trying to figure out what I can do/should do in the next three weeks to progress on my current projects. This is a suggestion made by Lisa Jacobs. If you’re not following her, you should be. But recently, every week when I do this I’m coming up with the same thing.

I have a lot of progress weeks ahead of me. None of my projects are even close to being done. And I have a real problem handling that.

Progress weeks do all sorts of nasty things to me. Things that I’m still fighting against. Because completing a project feels great! So great, in fact, that’s in an addiction. Completing things is addictive. Producing things is addictive. And here are some of my symptoms when I need a fix.

I rush projects

I want to be done with something, anything! So I start rushing through projects. Cutting corners and skipping important things. This just leads to screw-ups and having to backtrack to do the damn thing right. Or, it means I put out a crappy story that deserved better.

I ignore other things I need to do

I tend to be a little bit of a workaholic. I preach self-care, mostly to remind myself to do it. When I’m coming to the end of a project, I don’t want to do anything but work on it. I ignore my family, ignore my own physical and mental limitations because I want to get it done. This doesn’t just go for my writing. If I decide the basement needs cleaned, it will all be cleaned and I will do not a damn thing else until it is. This is obsessive behavior!

I abandon projects for new shiny things

Sometimes self-care means taking a break. Sometimes self-care even means putting projects away for awhile or giving up on a project altogether.

And sometimes, an intellectually smart person who’s sometimes stupid who hasn’t had a win in awhile abandons a project so that she can start on a new one. Because while there’s nothing like finishing a project, starting a project is a close second. That’s how we end up with a pile of half done short stories, books, essays, angry letters to politicians and email courses.

I second guess my projects

Following up on the last comment, my idiot brain will tell myself that it’s okay to abandon a project because it’s not really that good anyway.

It’s probably actually just fine. Or it has flaws, as all projects do, but it needs a little more work. Or a lot more work.

It takes away the joy of creating.

I am a writer because I love to write. I love writing stories, creating words and even editing a piece until it shines. It’s literally what I want to spend almost all of my time doing. Sometimes I want to crochet and watch The Awesomes. But mostly I just want to write. And when I’m focusing entirely on completing a writing project, I’m not loving the creative process.

And if all I care about is the final result, I might as well just focus on my day job. So I’m working on getting control of my addiction. I’ll feel better once I start knocking some of these projects off my to-do list, which should be this month.

Stay tuned.

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Picking apart Mistborn

So, it feels strange picking this book apart, because it’s written by someone I consider a mentor. This is all one-sided. I’ve literally never met the man, and probably never will. (But if I do, you’ll know. Boy will you know!) But I see so much of myself in him. We were both raised Mormon, both write fantasy with modern dialog. We both write series that are slightly interconnected with previous ones but aren’t directly related. We both have fantasy idols. (Though he got to finish his idol’s series. I would say that I’d die for that chance, but if anything ever happens to Tamora Pierce I will break into a hundred little tiny pieces.

Brandon is one of the hosts of a podcast called Writing Excuses. I’ve mentioned it a lot, and if you’re a writer you should be listening to it.

Of course, reading his book was an educational experience. There were so many lessons from Mistborn, and I can’t encourage you enough to read it. As such, I will try not to spoil the ending for you.

Here’s what I learned worked really well in Mistborn.

The magic structure seems plausible

Magic in Mistborn relies on metal. Allomancers burn metal to interact with the world. This makes total sense to my scientific brain. It’s similar to Tamora Pierce’s magical structure in the Circle of Magic series, where magic is tied to physical things like thread, stones or plants. Obviously, this was inspirational to me when writing Woven.

The characters were engaging, right from the start

When you read the first chapter of Mistborn, you instantly love the main character, Kelsier. You love him because he’s a brave man among so many broken down slaves. You love him because you can tell that he’s smiling through his pain. You can tell that he’s smart and arrogant. But in a lovable way. You also love Vin, right from the start. She’s broken, but clever. She’s quick and smart, but quiet. She’s in a bad situation, but she’s fighting. So right away, the characters are competent and likable.

The enemy was hateful, right from the start

As I mentioned, Kelsier was a brave man among many broken down slaves. The slaves are a people known as skaa. The skaa are enslaved in their country, treated as disposable creatures. Noblemen will rape the skaa women, then have them killed so that they can’t bare half-noble half skaa children. They do this because the skaa cannot become allomancers. And the Lord Ruler will never let them have power. Of course, the book is full of half noble bastard allomancers.

The cruelty of how the skaa are treated makes you hate the Lord Ruler right off. You really want him to die.

The ending had enough twists to satisfy me

Now, you know if you’ve been around awhile that I am cursed. I was cursed by an old English teacher, who said that I would eventually know the ending of all books, tv shows, and movies. He was right, and his curse has haunted me ever since.

The ending of Mistborn had many twists. So many, that while I was still feeling smug from calling one twist, I was blindsided with another. Then, there were a few more. One I ruined for myself by listening to Writing Excuses. But the actual ending.

Man, I did not see that coming.

Here’s the takeaway from Mistborn. If you want to see fantasy done right, read it.


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Poverty and cruelty in America

Let’s talk about poverty today. Let’s talk about want, hunger, need, and hatred.

Because in America, we hate our poor.

Recently, a suggestion was made by President Trump that instead of giving food stamps to families who are in need of aid, we should send government issued food packs. I wonder what those will look like.

I can’t set too much blame on his shoulders, though. He’s not the first person to suggest it. And he’s certainly not the first person to behave as though those who receive food stamp or cash assistance benefits are screwing the rest of us over. I’m sure you’ve heard comments about people on food stamps being lazy, drug addicts. The rumors of people using food stamps to buy steak and lobster abound. People buying expensive jewelry, having nice cars or nice bags, having smartphones or nice computers while still qualifying for food stamps.

It’s almost as though we expect poor people to adhere to a certain level of poverty and lack to make us feel better. It’s almost like we’re angry that someone we perceive as less deserving than we are has something that we want. And it’s almost like people forget that an American Eagle pair of jeans can be had at a second-hand store if one looks hard enough and gets lucky.

Really, it’s as though we need someone to be sufficiently pitiful so that we can think ourselves above them. Only then do they deserve our help.

Here’s some information you might not be aware of about food stamps. The majority of people (58%) who receive food stamps, or SNAP benefits, have a job when they sign up for them. The vast majority of people (87%) who receive SNAP have a job within the first year of qualifying for them. 70% of the people who benefit from SNAP are disabled, elderly, or families with small children. Here’s a link to my source. You can also read how little money you need to make before you qualify, how they enforce a work requirement, and who is not eligible no matter how poor a person is. So please, go on and tell me again how the people on SNAP are lazy and not working.

Okay, so the majority of people on food stamps are either working, disabled, elderly, or have small children which makes it freaking hard to have a job. But there has to be a reason they are that way, right? I mean, single moms didn’t make those kids themselves, right? (wink wink, nudge nudge. People who say this are calling single moms whores if you didn’t get it.) So they didn’t go to college, or they got themselves knocked up. Maybe they had a drinking problem, right?

No, not right. Anyone might end up in a situation where they have to rely on food stamps, cash assistance, public housing or even soup kitchens. Yes, even you.

You might get sick, or get into an accident and not be able to work anymore.

Your home might burn down.

Your company might go under.

You might have an elderly relative get sick and have to take on the cost of caring for them.

Your spouse might die.

You might be in an abusive relationship and have to leave to protect yourself and your children.

Or maybe things are just too expensive. Maybe you’re just working really hard, but your bills keep going up and up. Food is more and more expensive. Your heating bill is just killing you and sometimes you just can’t keep up with everything.

This is a fundamental truth. Everyone is just one bad day from the breadline. You’re not immune. And that scares the shit out of some people! We’re afraid, and our fear makes us cruel.

We don’t want to believe that it’s true. We want to believe that we’re immune. We work hard, we take care of ourselves. The people who are getting food stamps have to be at fault because if they aren’t we have to come to grips with the fact that we can be there next week.

Now, I have something to say to anyone who would complain about immigrants getting food stamps. Actually, I have a lot of things I want to say to them, but they’re mostly four letters. So how about I just leave this here.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

So, you know, go argue with the Statue of Liberty if you don’t want poor immigrants moving here.

Now I’m going to get really honest with you. I’ve been honest with all of you that my daughter was born when I was seventeen. I moved out of my mother’s house and into an apartment with my ex. He was working, and I was keeping home like a good Mormon girl is supposed to be.

Then, my ex lost his job. We ended up living in public housing, depending on food stamps and cash assistance to survive. I’d been taught by my family to have faith in God and my husband, or boyfriend in this case. So I kept home, I took care of the baby and had faith in God and my boyfriend.

Fortunately, it only took me three years to have faith in God and myself instead. I had a shitty job where I sorted garbage at a waste management plant. I worked hard, long hours. I received food stamps and paid my mother to watch my daughter.

I worked at a health food store, then in retail, then in retail management. Through all of this, my family and I have struggled to keep food in the house and the bills paid. We have benefited from food stamps, and without them, we would not have had money to both eat and pay our bills.

I could be called a lot of things. Bleeding heart hippy liberal feminist, if you like. But I doubt anyone would call me lazy or stupid. I was stuck in a bad situation and needed help to get out of it.

Just like anyone could be. Please keep that in mind when you hear people talk badly about people who receive food stamps or cash assistance.

Get a hobby

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I recently got a fountain pen. I’ve been practicing calligraphy as a new and exciting hobby. Well, a new hobby, at least. I got this nice ink in a bunch of fancy colors and I’ve been writing out poetry.

I also crochet, knit, make fancy coffees and do makeup. For someone who’s as busy as I am, I have a lot of hobbies.

As we’ve discussed before, writing is not my hobby. It’s my passion, my purpose and my reason for living. But I am realistic. I understand that some people see writing as a hobby. They’re not good people, but they are around.

To make an argument for their side, though, one reason people have a hobby is to have a creative outlet. I already have a creative outlet. So, why then do I need one hobby, much less four? Because I don’t want to lose my damn mind, that’s why.

Here are four good reasons why I still have hobbies as a writer.

It’s relaxing

Writing is not relaxing, man. It’s work. It’s the best work, the most fulfilling work. But to sit down and craft a plot, give voice to characters and create a world is not relaxing. My hobbies, on the other hand, are super relaxing. When my brain is fried from writing, I can relax and write some calligraphy. If my day is over and I would like to unwind, I can crochet while I watch tv. If I need a day away from the writing, I can amuse myself making a macchiato at home.

No pressure

Because I’m trying to make a living from my writing there’s pressure to be, you know, good at it. People look at my writing (theoretically) and judge it. I want my writing to be good, I need my writing to be good.

There’s pressure there, is what I’m saying.

When I’m doing calligraphy, there’s no pressure. Which is good, because I kind of suck at it. That doesn’t matter, I’m having fun! I’m not worried about whether critics will like it, or if my mother will read it and think it’s about her (it’s not). Or whether it will sell well. I can just enjoy the process from start to finish.

Learning new things is good.

When I pick up a new hobby, there are new things to learn. And if you’ll remember, my word of the year is learn. I’m learning about different pen nibs and the different ways they write. I’m learning about the care of pens, and how I should properly clean them. I’m learning to take my time and write nicely. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how important learning new things is to your brain. Especially if you’re in your thirties, like me.

Everything feeds your art anyway

I’m writing out poems to practice my calligraphy. That means that I’m not just reading the poetry, I’m kind of absorbing it. I’m focusing on every single word, as I write them down slowly. I can see how all the words fit together to make the poem work. I’m studying poetry from Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, Bill Waterson, Langston Hughes, Emily Dickenson and Rudyard Kipling. These are the masters of their field, and I’m just soaking in the mechanics of their poetry. If you’ve been around for a while, you know that I consider myself a poor poet. I give it a good shot every April and post some of my shitty poetry. This year, I feel like I might have some decent poetry to share with you, after studying at the feet of these masters.

It’s just fun.

I have fun with all of my hobbies. I love playing with makeup, making coffee, crocheting a blanket and writing out calligraphy. I really enjoy doing these things. When I do them, I’m happy. Writing also makes me happy, of course, it does. But when I cannot write anymore, or if I need a break from the writing, then I have other things to do with my time that also make me happy.

Here’s an actionable item for you today. Get a hobby. Find something that you enjoy doing that puts no pressure on you. Now do it for a little bit of time every day. See how much better you feel, after doing something fun that’s just for you.

My non lent lent goals.

As you’re reading this, it’s March 5th. So, we’re about two and a half weeks into Lent. I imagine that some of you are quite sick of going without whatever you gave up for Lent. And we’ve got almost a whole month to go.

Now, I’m not Catholic. I’m not a member of any faith that observes Lent. I’m Unitarian actually and was raised Mormon. Both of my great grandmothers were Catholic. Both went to church on Ash Wednesday and walked around with the ash on their foreheads. But I’ll repeat, I am not Catholic and do not actively practice Lent.

So, I didn’t really make a sacrifice for Lent. Here’s what I’m doing, to be clear.

I’m not eating any sugary snacks between now and Easter. I may have something sweet for breakfast, like a granola bar or a doughnut. I may have a cup of coffee in the morning. I may have a soda or a mixed drink (aka rum and coke) with dinner. I may not have candy, cookies, extra sodas, extra coffees, ice cream, baked goods or things like that.

I’m not doing this for any religious reasons. I’m not doing it because I don’t like how I look. I’m not doing it because I’m obsessed with my weight.

I’m doing it because I’ve been overindulging in sweets recently and I need to reign that shit in. And, because I have zero energy right now. Both of these things are probably due to the amount of stress I’ve been under and the work I’ve been doing. That’s no excuse, though, and I need to get this under control. (Seriously, in one day I ate two chocolate bars and a cupcake.)

I’m not telling you this because I think you should give up sweets. I’m telling you this because I think this goal has all of the trademarks of an attainable goal, so I’m using it as an example for you today. It’s a Smart goal. You remember what a Smart goal is, right? Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Limited.

Specific- I know exactly what I’m not eating.

Measurable- I can easily tell if I’ve eaten something I shouldn’t.

Achievable- I’m not cutting out sweets altogether. Just cutting out the mindless sugar snacking all day long.

Relevant- I want to make this change for healthy reasons. I want to have more energy and not consume so much sugar.

Time Limited- It’s just until Easter.

I’m also telling you this because there’s never a bad time of the year to set a new goal. If you’ve fallen off the writing wagon, now’s a good time to get back on it. Take some time today, set a SMART goal, and get to it. See what you can do in between now and Easter.

How we (and our characters) talk

So, I finally got around to reading Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg. And I do mean, finally. I’ve been intending to read this damn book for years. It’s considered required reading for writers for a reason! It taught me a ton about writing, as I expected it would. But it also taught me about other things, as a good book always will.

Writing should never detract from your life, it should always only add to it. And a good writing book, written by a well-rounded author that walks and breaths in the real world will always tell you about living as much as about writing.

One thing that was discussed in Writing Down The Bones was something that I’ve noticed before, but never really gotten around to thinking about. I have so many other things I think about on a daily basis. This one gets pushed to the back.

It’s about how women talk to other people.

I’m not going to get into how we talk to ourselves. That’s a whole other issue that I, quite frankly, don’t have the energy to pursue right now. So we’ll put that aside for another day.

No, I just want to talk about two things that women do in their speech that I’ve noticed. And while this is something that both Ms. Goldberg and I both noticed I do have to add the disclaimer that this is purely anecdotal. I have no idea if this is something that all women and no men do. It might be that you’re a woman who doesn’t do these things or a man who does. I am a woman, and I do these things. I have almost always heard women do these things and not men. So that’s what I know.

We say ‘I’m sorry’ when we should say ‘thank you’.

We say I’m sorry too much, and often not for the things we should really say sorry for. We really cheapen the word, apologizing for everything.

“I’m sorry you had to wait for me.”

“I’m sorry, I look like such a mess!”

“I’m sorry the house is a disaster.”

“I’m sorry my kid just did that unspeakable thing.”

Stop, just stop. First off, if you’re apologizing for how you or your house looks, let that go right now. You don’t owe beauty to anyone, and you don’t owe a neat house to anyone but yourself.

Okay, maybe if you’re habitually late you should apologize. Or maybe you should just correct that behavior. It’s just inconsiderate.

And you don’t owe an apology for the actions of another, even your child unless you were being negligent. As an example, if your little kid knocks over my coffee in public, you owe me an apology. (And a new coffee.) If your kid is sick and behaving like a sick kid, that’s all good. My older daughter once threw up all over me, my coat, two seats and the carpet of the bus station. This is the joy of parenting.

I don’t remember the first place I heard this great suggestion but I’m not in any way taking credit for it. The next time you feel the need to say ‘sorry,’ change it to ‘thank you’.

“Thank you for waiting for me. I was getting a bird out of my basement. No, it didn’t peck me.” (This is an actual discussion I had with my doctor one time when I was late for an appointment.)

“Thank you for loving me for who I am, and understanding that I won’t always look beautiful.”

“Thank you for coming into my home, and I hope you’re comfortable even though it’s cluttered.”

“Thank you for accepting my child as they are, and understanding that sometimes horrible things come out of little bodies.”

Now, I do encourage you to genuinely apologize for things that are actually your fault. But, as they say, the best apology is always corrected behavior.

Asking others to agree with our opinions.

We all do this, don’t we?

Yeah, that. We don’t just say what we mean to say. We say it, then make it a question. I am so bad about this, and I’m sure a lot of you are too. Now that I’ve become more aware of what I’m doing, I hear it for what it really is.

“I feel this way, but I’m afraid. I’m afraid that I’m wrong, or that you’ll think I’m wrong and hate me because of it. And really, your opinion of me is worth more than my opinion about this matter, no matter what we’re talking about.”

Stop doing this!

Using this to show us about your character.

Okay, so we know that we should strike these two things from our daily vocabulary. But that doesn’t mean we should take these telling little language cues from a character.

Language is a huge tool in showing us a character’s, well, character. Let me show you with these two passages of dialog.

“I’m so sorry I’m late. I was waiting in line at the coffee shop, and it was so long! I can’t stand waiting, can you? And I forgot my tablet, so I had nothing to do. Don’t you hate that?”

“Thanks for waiting for me. The like at the coffee shop was insane! I hate waiting forever for my coffee but the barista was so nice. Have you tried that place?”

Now, let’s see what we can infer from these two bits of dialog. What do you think of the first person? Does she seem like she’s all together? Does it seem like she’s very confident? Does she seem a little selfish, even? Do you want to follow her to a haunted house? Maybe so they get her first and you can haul ass out of there.

What about the second woman? Does she seem frazzled or confident? Does she seem like a nice person? Does it seem like you’re going to have a good time talking to her?

How you talk will tell someone so much more than just what you’re saying. Learn to speak with confidence. But learn to let your character show everyone exactly who they are with the way they talk.

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