Looking Back and Forward

The end of 2019 is upon us, and as usual, I’ve been looking at the year’s accomplishments so I can set goals for 2020. Of course, I looked at the goals I’d set for 2019, and unfortunately, not many got checked off. It seems life got in the way a little too much. Either that or I had completely ignored the wise advice of “set high but achievable goals” when I wrote them a year ago.

In fact, I only hit a 10% success rate. At the time, the goals had seemed achievable. Either that or I’d grossly overestimated my time and my abilities. What had possessed me to put down so many things? Ten shouldn’t be too many goals for a year, right? What had I done with my year? I did ride my bike a lot. Which meant lots of recovery time in front of the TV. Why can’t I be more disciplined after a ride? I should have used my laptop while recovering. Any other decent writer would have used that dead time to get ideas out of their head. Maybe I’m not cut out for this writing thing. Apparently so if I let a simple bike ride ruin a whole day’s worth of productivity.

And there you have it…the all too familiar slide into self-doubt. In a matter of minutes, I’d gone from eagerly anticipating the next year to seriously questioning every time management decision I’d made in 2019, and even my writing. I’d fallen into the trap of focusing on the negative.

Never mind that the one goal I’d checked off was a doozy…I finished my degree and got a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. When I looked deeper into 2019, I hadn’t indiscriminately blown off all my other goals, but instead, made deliberate choices. I hadn’t failed to publish both a novel and novella but put all my efforts into writing a one hundred and one thousand-word, literary novel for my thesis project.

But that project path had changed from a straight interstate highway to a winding road when I got a note from my instructor that perhaps I needed to go back six-years in the thesis novel’s setting as the beginning of the story. Then the other things I’d planned for 2019 got set aside for a few months of serious revision. I hadn’t failed to accomplish my goals. I’d kept sight of the most important one.

I want to pass this lesson on to others: give yourself a break. The minute a plan gets set, outside forces compete to keep you from finishing what you started. Life does get in the way, but its those experiences that make us richer and sometimes add to our story repertoire. Press on, make adjustments, and set new goals—keep moving forward.

For me, I’ll just look at it this way…at least I don’t need to spend a few hours on my 2020 goals. I just need to erase one. It gives me more time today to write.

Happy 2020 to all. Set your goals and carry on!

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I Want to Believe

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The holidays have been just a little more special since my daughter and her son moved in with us. My grandson is seven this year and ignites all of us with the excitement and wonder of the holidays. My daughter started the “Elf on the Shelf” tradition a few years ago. My grandson named his elf “Olaf” (he’s a big Frozen fan).

On Christmas Eve this year, I was witness to an absolute belief in magic it seems only a child has privy to.

He had misplaced his iPad. In all of the flurry of activity and preparations for the upcoming day, both his mother and I had run a little low on patience. As he scurried around the house frantically searching, I heard her call from upstairs, “You had better find it right now!”

I turned from my seat in the kitchen to see him creep up to the Christmas tree, where Olaf was sitting on a branch in anticipation of Santa’s arrival. On his tiptoes, my grandson leaned in toward the elf and cupped his hands around his mouth. I heard him whisper, “Olaf, can you please use your magic to help me find my iPad?”

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I want to believe in magic like that again.

I want to believe things lost can be found and all will be well. Ever since fracturing my right shoulder in July, my life as I knew it has vanished. It was a career ending injury. But even more heartbreaking is that the magic of my creativity—the  wonder of creating stories—seems to have been lost as well.

At times I’m not sure if the magic–or my ability to type with both hands–will ever return.

2019 was a rough year, not only for me, but for multiple members of my family. Usually not one to stay up to ring in the New Year, you want to bet I’ll be awake this year. Champagne in hand (my left one–I’ve broken so many glasses my daughter bought me metal ones!), I will be happy to bid 2019 adieu and welcome in a new year. A new start. Maybe a rediscovery of things lost.

The iPad, by the way, was found minutes after my grandson’s heartfelt plea. Here’s hoping my losses can be found as well.

I’m wishing all of my fellow Soul Mates a safe, blessed, and joyous New Year. Cheers!

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Collect precious stories–while you can…

Lance and my little buddy, Iris.

Two weeks ago I returned from a trip to visit a dear friend, Iris, on her 96th birthday. I treasure the moments we spent together reliving snippets of her incredible life, as she asked me to pen her story. Her childhood began as a wealthy Dutch girl living on an estate in Java, Indonesia. She loved riding her horse, Maggie. The Japanese invaded Java during WWII and her address changed to a concentration camp. She’d begun a nursing program and spoke five languages, so was sent to administer a daily shot to the Japanese Commander; a bit daunting for an eighteen year old.

Will her story be a romance? You bet. Iris met her hero and the love of her life before the war broke out, when she was fifteen. Quarantined with the mumps in her upstairs bedroom, she gazed through a window at a tall, handsome man dressed in military whites crossing their yard. She told herself she’d marry him one day and…you’ll have to read her story.

During holiday gatherings with your relatives, record stories about childhoods, lost or found love, and dreams. You’ll be surprised and uplifted.

Here’s a poem I penned last year about writing memories:

The Gift of A Story

The gift of a story begins in the heart, from deep in the soul, the memories start- climbing and tugging, till fears are set free.

The words begin flowing, you can’t let them be.

The ache in you lessens, while warmth grows inside, more people, more places, you won’t let them hide.

Many will marvel, but few truly chart, how the gift of a story begins in your heart.

May your spirits soar, and may your memories be bright. Best wishes for a peaceful 2020. Sally

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Here’s to the Light’s Victory

IMG-3333The days grow dark, we sink into the long winter nights, and something in our heart calls out for light. Is it any wonder civilization after religion after civilization celebrates the return of light just after nights reach their longest and daylight begins to claw its way back? The season is fraught with primordial and, yes, pagan overtones even for the most Christian among us. But we love it.

I would be one of those: Christian I mean. I am well aware we don’t all celebrate the same things but celebrate we do. My own family celebrates both Christmas and Hanukah.

Here are the things that matter to me:

  • Midnight Mass, even though these days it is way earlier than that. Candles in the darkness!
  • Family—the light of my life. Some are near and some are far. Some we travel to. Some we miss. But we love them all.
  • Lighting Advent candles—Beloved and I do it nightly in December.
  • Filling the house with light and music, lighting on the tree, candles in the windows, candlelit dinners.
  • Lighting the Hanukah candles with my grandson

IMG-3337My own quirky decorating practices include bias in favor of birds on the tree (Birds-tree-get it??) and filling the house with little nativity scenes. Some folks call it the crèche, the Christmas crib, or presepe. They come in all shapes, sizes, and cultural expressions from around the world. They remind me of God’s love for the whole crazy diverse mass of humanity, and the hope for universal peace. Light indeed!

A small sample:

My most recent release is called Christmas Hope. It describes a man’s struggle to reach toward hope in the midst of terrible darkness, the trenches of Northern France in 1916-18.  Sometimes love has to be enough.

To each of you, I wish joy this season however you find it. Let’s raise a glass to the light! May it fill our lives.

 

 

 

 

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Dealing with Burnout by Rebecca Heflin

True confession time: I crashed and burned.

For the first time in my almost ten year writing career, I blew past my self-imposed deadline and delayed my book release. I could chalk it up to life events, and there were plenty of those, including a seriously ill family member, but the truth is I hit a wall. I burned out. Even Copy of Untitled (2).pngas I resented everything that kept me from writing, when I found a little time to write, I just . . . couldn’t. The well was dry.

The worst part is the guilt over not writing when I should be, the feeling that I have let down my readers, and the worry over my future as a writer. Now, I am dealing with a manuscript that is about 75% complete in terms of word count, but otherwise a bloody mess. And the longer I am away from it, the harder it is to get back into it and fix it.

I’ve tried everything, short of drowning my sorrows in wine. That might be next.

I’ve turned to self-help books like Becca Syme’s Dear Writer, You Need to Quit (excellent, by the way) and Jennifer Probst’s wonderful Write Naked, as well as Stephen King’s On Writing, hoping to recharge my batteries. There’s a sputter, but not enough to spark my inspiration 

I have even tried self-care. I gave myself permission to take a break, but the guilt is still there, hanging over me like a cloud of volcanic ash. Typically, the holiday season would be my break between books. The recently finished book would be out of the nest, soaring on the currents, and the next book would be incubating in the nest, while I relaxed, enjoyed the fruits of my labor, and indulged in the holiday festivities with friends and family.

Not the case this year. While I decorate the tree, shop Cyber Monday, wrap gifts, and gather with friends at holiday parties, the unfinished book is like a five hundred pound monkey on my back, weighing me down and casting a pall over everything I do.

There is no question—I will (must) finish this book. One, I’ve dedicated too much time to it to toss it. Two, it’s the second book in a four-book series that I’ve been promoting. And third, it’s a matter of pride. I have finished every book I ever started. There are no half-finished or unpublished manuscripts stashed under my bed.

I. Will. Finish. The. Damn. Book.

But first, I’ll wallow a little longer in the guilt and self-doubt. After all, a shiny new year approaches with all its promises of a fresh start. 2020 will be a better year. Right? Right? Please tell me I’m right, otherwise, where’s the corkscrew?

Have you faced burnout? How have you dealt with it?

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Closing in on the Holidays

Christmas readingOne week! The older I get, the faster the year passes and the faster the winter holidays arrive. No matter which winter holiday you celebrate, there are certain expectations for the festivities.

Whether your expectations are built on gift giving, decorating, or large family meals, there are a multitude of tasks that are required for a succcessful celebration.

I’m one of those ultra-organized people who has her shopping done, decorations up, and gifts wrapped before the end of November. The month of December is then devoted to my two favorite holiday pasttimes … baking and people watching.

Holiday_Cup_2016-resizedYes, I’m that crazy lady sitting in the mall massage chair, sipping a white chocolate mocha from Starbucks, and watching frantic shoppers scurrying from store to store! Yes, I’m smiling (okay, snickering). I’m also conjuring up the most entertaining holiday romances in my head and loving every minute of it.

Don’t get me wrong … I feel for the poor mom dragging her screaming toddler from store-to-store. I have sympathy for the harried-looking middle-aged man who hasn’t got a clue what size his wife wears.

Still, I watch, grateful that I’m done … other than possibly a second white chocolate mocha.

So much for the people watching. Let’s get on to the more important December task. Baking.

The family expects certain traditional treats. Part of the season revolves around not only creating those treats but sharing the process with my youngest grandchildren. William, the six-year-old, is especially excited about pressing and decorating cookies. My cookie press is over 60 years old. Despite a lot of wear and tear, it still makes great cookies! I like to think life is like that cookie press … we may all have some signs of wear and tear but we still have to participate to get what we need out of our lives.

With just a week left before our holiday, I have most of my baking done. However, there are some last minute additions to the gift baskets. This coming weekend, I’ll likely make a half-dozen batches of traditional shortbread … probably the easiest recipe and yet one of the richest cookies you’ll ever eat. Here’s my easy-peasy recipe:

Grannys Shortbread

Enjoy!

I’m signing off now … the oven timer just went off. Wishing everyone a happy holiday … no matter which one you celebrate.

See you in the New Year!

Nancy

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END OF THE YEAR FIRE SALE!

At this

time of year where all I want to do is pause and reflect on all my blessings and achievements of the past twelve months, I instead find myself running around like a proverbial chicken with her head chopped off. (If you’ve ever had the opportunity in your life to see that, you know how horrifying it is!) Between Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and now Green Monday, I truly don’t know for sure if I’m coming or going. The days of December have become a bit of a blur.

Then to add even more chaos to my life, my sweet little PHOTO-2019-12-14-13-15-27grandson Erik, who was due to arrive on February 7th, decided instead to show up Wednesday, December 4th—11 weeks early. All is well thus far, but what a crazy time it has become for my family. Did I mention he and his lady live in Berlin, German?!

My intention in October was to finish my third Salmon Run novel, Waiting for You, by the end of the year. Thus far, I’ve only written 35K words out of the 95K projected. I think it’s fairly obvious I’m not going to make my January 1st goal, which is not an easy thing for me to admit.

First of all, I’m already late with this book for a hundred legitimate reasons, all of which seem rather pointless now. Second, usually when I’m in this kind of situation, I tell myself that I can indeed write 60K words in two weeks. And why not? I have nothing else to do but eat, sleep, celebrate the holidays with my friends and family, and just plain live like a normal person. You get the idea.

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Finally, I come to a place where I recognize that my original goal needs to be modified, which logically seems like the best solution. But then I often find I beat myself up for not meeting the promises I make to me as well as to others. Do I sound like I need therapy yet?

I actually don’t, because I am familiar with my crazy brain and know how to quiet it down when push comes to shove. Positive self-talk is helpful, but even more so is merely the simple act of writing. Not out of obligation or guilt, but just for the sheer pleasure of doing so. When I can rediscover my happy place in writing, my passion soon returns, and before I know it, my goal is met.

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The Holiday message here is that above all our work as writers should be joyful, even when under the pressures of life, those of editors and publishers, and most importantly, the ones we self-create. I hope all of us have a peaceful holiday and joyous new year in spite of our preoccupation with word count.

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