Look Up

This morning dawned gray and chilly, giving us a taste of the fall weather that’s just around the corner. The house filled with the fresh scent of the rain that fell for most of the night, I pulled on soft, warm clothes and lit a candle when I came into the office. It’s glow made its way into my heart, drawing words into my mind. You see, last winter I wrote with a candle burning almost every day. The warm light giving me hope for brighter days in the coming months, the dancing flame reminded me to look up and take in my surroundings, reminding me there’s a world outside my own.

Once I settled down at my desk with a bowl of rice pudding and a Diet Coke–breakfast of champions–I opened a blog post from Tammy Strobel from Rowdy Kittens. She and her husband, Logan, were featured in Enjoy magazine recently. They talked about their simplified life in their tiny house and how it has given them the freedom to be there for others in their time of need. Logan went on to say, “It made me realize that we get really depressed when we focus inward.” I couldn’t agree more. This isn’t clinical depression. It’s just the dumpy, grumpy, oh woe is me blues that have a tendency to creep into all of our minds at some point.

I want to keep this post simple. Just a note to provoke some thought. Take a moment to look up. What do you see? How can you reach out to someone today?

Where’s My Discipline?

“All freedom comes from discipline.” Anne Lamott 

Usually I’m a very disciplined person. That’s how I was able to get through college, train and complete a sprint triathlon, write a book, and work with Brett to free our household from all debt except our mortgage. Each one of these challenges has brought me freedom and allowed me to make many of my dreams come true.

So, what the hell happened this last month?

I’ve completely fallen off the writing wagon since my book singing in late July. Tired, burned out, just want to spend time with Codi, I’ll just do it tomorrow, it’s too hot to write. These are a sampling of my excuses. I bumped back the publishing of Narrow Miss, which was necessary, but I didn’t name a new date. That was a mistake. It just gave me the opportunity to screw around.

What am I going to do about this?

  • Set a short range deadline: Narrow Miss will be in the hands of beta readers by Saturday, August 16. Codi will be at camp for the first couple days of the week, and I plan to put that kid free time to good use.
  • Write every single day: I’ve gotten lazy about this. Writing begets writing. There’s no way around it. Instead of my old twenty minutes, I’m bumping it to thirty.
  • Enlist an accountability partner: Lillith Black and I have discovered we are very similar when it comes to our work and the challenges we face as indie writers. We’ve set up a plan to report to each other via email at the end of each day. We will debrief on the day’s writing and name our goals for the next.
  •  Read more fiction: This sounds crazy as I already read a lot, right? Well, usually. Over the last several months, I’ve gotten caught up listening to podcasts and reading nonfiction books about success, entrepreneurship, mastering social media, yadda, yadda, yadda. It’s all been fascinating and information I need to some extent, but at the end of the day I am a fiction writer. I’m inspired by great stories. The more I read fiction, the more excited I am to write it. By the time I get through what I’ve unconsciously assigned myself as have-to-reads in order to succeed as a self-published author, I don’t have any energy left for novels. As a result, I’ve been reading less and less and playing more Hearthstone (which really is an awesome game, but’s not helping me get my work done). I’ve never been that into nonfiction, so why I am I crushing my creative self with it?
  • Reward myself: While I was writing Swept Up, I would set a daily word count or time goal. When I hit that goal, I got to take a twenty minute reading break before launching myself into housework or whatever else needed doing that day. I really looked forward to those little breaks.

So that’s it. I feel my mojo coming back just writing this post. I’ll report back soon to let you all know if my plan worked. What do you do to stay disciplined for the goals you set?

Power Planning

As a business owner, it’s a good idea to know where you want your business to go over a period of time. Last spring Courtney Carver encouraged the Spark and Tinder group to write out our plans and goals for the next eighteen months. I wasn’t able to see that far into the future. As a new writer, I don’t have my system down well enough to know how long each project will take. So, I went with an eight month plan. It went something like this:

  • Publish Narrow Miss August 1, 2014
  • Publish Tackling Summer January 1, 2015
  • Publish the next episode of Jenna Ray February 2, 2015

Of course, I had things broken down between each release date as to when the manuscript would go to beta readers and my editor. According to the assignment, I did everything right using clear, actionable goals. As I’ve mentioned recently, that all went up in flames. My plan didn’t take into account that I had two book signings this summer, Codi would be home requiring more of my time and energy, and we had a huge travel itinerary. I knew all of that was on the calendar, but I thought I could just plow through and do it all. By the end of July I was feeling exhausted overwhelmed, and frustrated. Sometimes I wonder why I even make plans. They rarely turn out they way they were intended.

In order to get Narrow Miss out by my self-induced deadline, I would have had to rush and skip the steps I tell no one to skip as it sacrifices quality. Thankfully, I reined myself in (with the help of Brett) and scratched the plan. As I was going through all this, Natalie Sisson came out with this video about handling your business and time like a boss while on the road. She talks about knowing your calendar well enough to take into consideration things like travel, or in my case, extra mothering duties.

I mulled over this information for a bit and realized at this point in my life I have to plan my work around the school year. When Codi is at school all day, I have hours of uninterrupted time to dig in and write, edit, or make publishing preparations. I can take my time and do things right. During the summer, I can focus more on things like marketing, events, and travel. It’s not a good idea for me to schedule release dates during, or at the end of summer. My best time for those is after the holidays, so late winter or early spring. That sets me up perfectly for summertime promo work. It also gives my brain some space during the summer months to brainstorm new story ideas and projects.

I haven’t set new release dates for Narrow Miss and Tackling Summer, but I anticipate them coming soon, so stay tuned! How do you plan out and organize your work? Does your schedule fluctuate, or is it pretty steady year round?

Shifting Gears

This summer has been wild and crazy, but without a doubt one of the best summers of my life. We’ve traveled much more than usual, and I’ve been working hard to promote Swept Up while working on drafting Narrow Miss. Somehow I’ve managed to hold it all together, but by the end of last week, I found myself looking for some time off. I had some decisions to make, and felt too tired and overwhelmed to make them.

My Swept Up checklist was complete, but Narrow Miss was just getting started. I was two weeks behind on finishing my draft. My intention had been to skip the beta reader step and go straight to my editor. I decided to let Brett read the piece first since it was his idea for me to develop Jenna Ray into something more than a Quick Fix story here on the blog. His review was very positive, but after a long talk we decided I shouldn’t deviate from my publishing formula: draft, first round edits by me, beta readers, second round edits, send to editor, final edits, publish.

One of the points I stressed during my presentation last week at the Neill Public Library event was there are no shortcuts in self-publishing if you want to create work that stands up to the books coming from traditional publishers. The line has blurred between indie and traditional, and the only way to keep building the self-publishing reputation is to continue producing quality books. Plus, I’m building my brand and I don’t want shoddy writing to be attached to it. My readers deserve the best I can give them. I’m committed to never compromise quality just to be prolific.

“Your goals don’t determine your success. It’s your commitment to the process, work ethic, attitude, purpose, faith and habits that decide what you achieve.” ~Jon Gordon

Thankfully, being an indie author allows me to work on my own timetable. So, if I publish something a week or a month later than planned, it’s okay. This benefit helps me relax back into the creative process. I know my creativity would suffer if I had a publisher breathing down my neck. Once I decided to slow down with Narrow Miss, I felt my energy and creative juices return. Turns out when I need a day off, it usually isn’t a day off from writing. It’s a day or so away from the rat race of the business. My true purpose is to write, and I must remember to keep that my priority. The business stuff will fall into place as long as stay I focused on the main thing: writing books. There’s a season for everything, and I understand there will be times when I have to spend more time on promotion and the business itself. However, now I need to learn how to shift gears before I wear myself out.

How do you manage to get your writing done and manage the business end of being an author?

 

Mind Blown

A few days ago, I had my book signing at the Neill Public Library. They’d asked me to do a 45 minute presentation about writing Swept Up and the self-publishing process. For weeks, I slaved over Power Point and Word trying to make it just right, and prayed I wouldn’t have to talk to an empty room. Well, that room was anything but empty! Friends, family, and community members packed that place to standing room only!

Swept Up is in the new book section at Neill Public Library. It's a first edition, so it doesn't have page numbers. Rookie mistake!

Swept Up is in the new book section at Neill Public Library. It’s a first edition, so it doesn’t have page numbers. Rookie mistake!

As I took my place behind the podium, I scanned the sea of smiling faces and saw my entire seventeen year history in Pullman looking back at me. Those faces represented the very first people I met on the WSU campus, church friends, former colleagues, my great aunt, and of course my crew of besties. My heart swelled in that moment, and I had to fight back tears in order to get started with my first slide.

My mind has been blown by all the support I’ve received with Swept Up. I’m grateful for every bit of it as my confidence as a writer has grown immeasurably over the summer. I’m not a fraud. I’m a writer! God has graciously led me to what he created me to do and provided me with people to give me the encouragement I need to keep going.

To all my readers, thank you so much for your support! I appreciate each and every one of you! If you’re interested in seeing more pictures from this event, go check out my Facebook page.

Sorting it Out

Over the last year and a half writing has become a way for me to work through stuff. Yes, my job is writing, but it’s so much more than that. When my anxiety gets to be overwhelming or I experience an upsetting situation, I can often write my way out of it. Sometimes it’s a simple journal entry where I allow myself a complete mind dump. On other days I lose myself in a story, allowing my mind to rest while I fiddle with my characters’ lives. And almost always, I come out on the other side with clarity and peace. I may or may not have answers, but somehow my brain has found a way to sort through all the feelings and crap and deal.

During our trip to Bear last weekend, I had the opportunity to reconnect with some precious people from my past. While I’ve been growing into an adult in her mid thirties, these folks were aging as well. One man in particular took me by surprise. He was my cowboy hero and all around good guy. I’ve never met anyone like him, and when I saw his fragile, eighty something body folded onto a cowhide fainting couch, I lost my breath. How could this be? I cherished that evening with him. We talked about the days when my sisters and I were kids. Turns out he got as much of a kick out of us as we did him. Though his body and mind wandered into old age, the twinkle in his blue eyes hadn’t changed a bit.

A few days ago this gentleman was in a severe car accident. The news was another kick in the stomach. I wondered if last week’s encounter was our last. During a restless night of prayer and hoping he’d make it into the next day, words swirled around in my mind. As daylight approached, they sorted themselves into a poem. Poetry is not my thing. I haven’t written a poem since I was in high school, but this piece was so clear, it begged to be recorded. So, here it is. My tribute to a timeless friend.

The Old Man in the Chair

 Who’s that old man in the chair?

The one who can hardly stand

I think I may have known him once…

When his chest was barreled and his legs were strong

When his skin was brown from days in the sun and his hugs could crush bones

Muscled arms scratched from riding into thorn bushes for stubborn bulls

He had a laugh that rang out for miles, and a knack for renaming things

A Bible beside his chair, tobacco in his lip, he was the surprise Easter bunny for kids miles from anywhere

So, do you the man in the—

Those eyes,

There’s a light, a spark.

That man in the chair,

I still know him.

Bear, Idaho Photo Essay

horse reflectionThis weekend my family was blessed to have the opportunity to go to Bear, Idaho. My sisters and I grew up on the OX Ranch, and our parents are still there. Bear is one of the most beautiful and magical places I’ve ever been, and I love turning Codi loose there to experience it through her child’s eyes. We’re home now, and I’m feeling refreshed and inspired. I’m ready to dive back into my work!

Most of these photos were taken by my sister, Kendra Marvin, during our Independence Day photo walk.

Evening trail ride with Papa.

Evening trail ride with Papa.

barbed daisiessummer cattlehoney bee

 

 

Freedom to Choose

As we enter into this Fourth of July week, I’ve been reflecting on what all it means to live in a free country, and I’m so grateful that I do. This post is a bit of a rabbit hole for me. Generally my blog is used to talk about writing, reading, and being an indie author. However, over the last while I’ve been reading about and listening to people who are unhappy with their lives, may it be from the personal or professional end. This topic has been weighing on my heart. Granted, I’m an optimist to a fault, but I know from experience that if you’re willing to push up your sleeves and get to work, we all have options.

So many people around the world are oppressed and have no say in what happens to them, but here in the U.S. we can choose our destiny. We can stay in an uninspired, bad job situation, or we can find something new. We can keep telling ourselves someday I’ll start that business or write that book, but then someday never comes. That’s because we didn’t make that dream a priority.

Have you ever taken a moment to think about why people left the old world for the unsettled wilderness of North America? They were sick and tired of their lives there. They yearned for something new, a place where they could live their dreams and have a say in their destiny. These people chose to change their situation, not continue to sit there and complain about it.

Excuses

Lately it seems to be the trend for people to blame others for their discontent. Their boss, big corporate, their friends, their spouse, their finances. You name it, they blame it. In their minds their situation is hopeless, and the people who are winning must be doing something illegal, unethical, or evil.

It’s time to stop and reassess. Look in the mirror, that person right there is the only person standing in your way. There is a way to change just about every situation.

“Change only happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.” ~Tony Robbins

Get Inspired

Over the last several years I started following and connecting with the people listed below. Each one brings their own individual flavor to this one message: YOU can go in any direction you want. No one is stopping you.

Make a Plan

Below are some steps I took when I found myself unsatisfied professionally.

1. Become debt free. Brett and I started following Dave Ramsey’s baby steps nine years ago. When we became debt free except for our house, options opened up. I didn’t have to work outside the home any longer and was free to come home and care for our daughter. At that time she was five and entering kindergarten. I feel so blessed that I had the freedom to volunteer at her school and be here waiting for her when her day ended. This also created time for me to begin my writing career. Not being slaves to lenders, changed our financial landscape.

2. Find a mentor. When I decided I wanted to become a professional writer, I reached out to Courtney Carver. She’s a wonderful teacher, blogger, and has become a friend. I highly recommend her zero to 100 blogging microcourse if a blog is something you’ve always dreamed of starting. Her Spark and Tinder group has been a great place for me to connect with other entrepreneurs. Though our businesses are all different, we all have that entrepreneurial spirit and can encourage and help each other.

3. Be prepared to work. Creating the life you want requires effort. More than likely you will work harder than you ever have, but you won’t mind because you’ll be fulfilling your purpose and doing things on your terms. You may have to take on an extra job temporarily to pay off your debt or raise the cash to start your business (I strongly caution people against using credit cards and loans to cover business expenses).

Some of you may not ever want to work for yourselves, and that’s okay! This post is just to get you thinking about what you really want from life. The change you need may not even be leaving your job. It could be deciding to get healthy by eating better and exercising. Whatever the dream is, it will require effort. It’s been said by many, “Nothing worth having comes easy.”

4. Don’t be in a hurry. I’ve discovered as I’ve launched my writing career almost no one is an overnight success. It make look like it from the outside, but when you get into their story, you often find years of sacrifice and hard work. Patience. Change can often be about patience. Trust me, I’m still working on this one. Granted, if you are in a dangerous situation, you must pack up and leave immediately! Regroup, then go after your dream again.

We Have Choices

At the end of the day, every one of us is free to choose where to work, who to love, where to live. It’s easy to get bogged down in life and think we’re eternally stuck and it’s _________ (insert favorite scapegoat here) fault. When you find your mind drifting in that direction think back to the men and woman who fought for our initial independence and the ones who continue to protect our freedom. Are we honoring their sacrifice if we aren’t enjoying that freedom to the fullest?

Have a safe and fun Independence Day!!!

Introducing: Jenna Ray

Last fall while I was finishing up writing Swept Up, I found myself needing a break. About that time Jason Cantrell posted about a message he found on a slip of paper tucked inside a library book. I used that note as a writing prompt and wrote the short story Narrow Miss about a woman named Jenna Ray who wrangles wayward husbands and returns them to their wives. After some urging from Brett to continue the story, I’ve decided to turn it into a serial series. I’ll be releasing Jenna’s adventures one at a time over the course of the next year or so on Amazon. Once they’re all out, I will combine them into an omnibus edition. The first section, Narrow Miss, will be out sometime in August 2014, so stay tuned.

And now…for the cover! My awesome sister, Kendra Marvin, from Boots and Bling Photography has decided to step into the book cover design ring. This is her debut cover, and I’m honored to have my name on it. Kendra also designed the masthead on my blog and my new logo. If you’re looking for a designer, or just want to see more of her creative work, you can contact her via her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Narrow Miss book cover small

 

Narrow Miss book cover

Ker-plunk!

Ker-plunk! That’s the sound my iPhone made when it hit the toilet water last Saturday night. I’ve had a long standing rule of not carrying it in my back pocket. I knew that’s all it took for a phone to meet its watery grave. But, still floating on a book signing high, good wine, and campfire smoke I slipped it back there so I could help schlepp chairs back to the house. The plan was to stick it in my purse as soon as I set down the chairs. Whoops!

Not just a phone went down the toilet, so did a lot of writing notes. But, a couple of funny things happened over the next couple of days. The next morning, C and I were scheduled to make the five hour drive back to Pullman. I’d resigned myself to doing it sans phone, I mean I’d done it that way for over a decade and managed just fine. We loaded the car Sunday morning, gave Grandma a hug, and pulled out. A half block from my mother-in-law’s house, I noticed none of my dashboard gauges were working, so we turned around. I wasn’t willing to make the trip with a faulty electrical system AND no phone. We spent an extra day in Weiser. My mom’s mechanic gave the Civic a once over. Thankfully it only took a cleaning of the battery connections and some wire tightening to get us back in business. During that twenty-four hours I tried my damnedest to get a new phone so I could see if those notes survived. No dice. I ended up waiting until Tuesday morning after we were settled back at home.

I was due for an upgrade. YAY! When my new device powered on, the first thing I downloaded from the cloud was my Index Card app with fervent prayers that my months of notes were still there. I held my breath as the program opened. My chest constricted when I saw there was nothing there. Not one single note. Everything. Gone. Ker-plunk!

Since Swept Up was released in April, I’ve been in business mode. Marketing, promoting, spending every spare minute helping my baby fly, and succeeding. Ideas for my next projects bubbled over in my head, but I couldn’t clear enough space on my calendar for developing them, so I quickly stuck them in my phone for later. I’ve also struggled to really connect with my new characters. Dropping that phone was clearly a sign that I needed to revisit the basics, which I’d forgotten was my plan for 2014 anyway.

The last few days, I’ve reconnected with pen and paper. One morning I outlined the presentation for my signing at Neill Public Library July 22 in bed. Pages of wild scrawl and arrows created a map that I’m guessing only I can follow. My brain was in a place it hadn’t been for a while. This. I hadn’t been doing this.  Still though, I told myself, it’s not practical or efficient. So, I downloaded Evernote onto my computer and phone. I can sync things so if something dies, it’s somewhere else. Evernote is a great program, but I still felt disconnected from my writing.

Last night I went to my first hot yoga class in weeks, and caught a glimpse of the uptight weirdo I’ve become. Sitting with my journal in bed afterward, I realized that I’d discovered Web and Kara in the pages of my notebook. I can be raw there. All people have an element of grittiness to them (even fictional characters). One of the wonderful things about Web and Kara was how real they were to me. They weren’t just flat personalities I whipped out. I got to know them, warts and all. That doesn’t happen for me on a screen. I need the tactile experience of pen and paper and bright sticky notes to mark my place. It may not be efficient, but it’s necessary, and my writing will suffer without it.

“Writing this way is a little like milk a cow: the milk is so rich and delicious, and the cow is so glad you did it.” Anne Lamott

A dear friend gave me Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird this week. I started reading it last night, and a calm washed over me, just like it does when I step onto the bamboo floor of the hot room at the yoga studio. Writing is messy, and I’d tried to tidy it up and turn it into a machine. I told myself I wouldn’t do this. I got on this path for the freedom. Freedom to be myself and live my dream, which is to write great books one word at a time. Yes, there is necessary busywork that goes along with being an indie writer, but at the end of the day, I’m an indie writer. That means my priority is writing–every damn day. To do anything less, would be cheating myself, and I’m worth more than that.