When You’re Not Writing…

I imagine writers have other responsibilities outside of perfecting their craft.

It’s a constant tug-and-war game—writing and…life. I try not to feel guilty about being one person, lacking the ability to multiply like gremlins so that I can get more accomplished; though my virtual planner these days looks like some wacky kind of road map. I’ve been busy—all over the place. Will summer break ever come? Oh right, that phenomenon ended after undergrad. To add to this, I’ve just bought a car and a house. And for anyone who’s been through the home buying process, you understand my exhaustion.

As artists, it’s so easy to get lost in our craft. Actually, most of us prefer that space—I know I do. I feel most myself when I’m creating something. I know this comes from my father. He’s a rapper. Growing up, we had a studio in the basement and he spent most of his time there. A little checked-out from the world, but when he returned he’d bring a new song with him.

Now, I completely get that obsessive passion about art. But I’m learning the importance of being present—in the moment. It’s hard to do when I’d prefer to be alone with my characters or plotting a new story. With the help of those I love, I’m learning to do both — achieve my writing goals and enjoy the special moments life offers.

When I’m not writing or reading, these are some of the things that can fill my days.

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1) I’m spending time with students—lots of them.

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2) Being a mom and volunteering at school.

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3) I like taking friends out for yummy desserts. This is Hotcakes Restaurant in

Charlottesville, Virginia and they have wonderful sweets.

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4) I take time to feel nostalgic. This is my high school. In 10th grade I had my Napoleon

Dynamite moment and danced in a talent show.

The audience cheered because they were so surprised this shy girl could break dance.

Now, I’d probably break something if I tried to spin on my head.

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5) I try to witness as many sunsets as possible. I love the sky. This is from my backyard.

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6)And lastly, in light of Fathers’ Day, my hubby got Father Of The Year. We attended a

special banquet where he was honored. So proud of him!

When you’re not writing, what are you up to? 🙂

 

The Pursuit

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I get the impression that my students think happiness is a divine right. That if they are not happy, it’s someone else’s fault . It sure seems like happiness is a right, seeing how it’s listed in the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; ..

Although happiness in the form of the American Dream isn’t attainable for all, it’s important to believe that true happiness extends past our possession, our reputation, our talents and our looks. For me, happiness extends past anything I can actually do.

My earliest memory of feeling ‘happy’ involves a parachute. During playtime in daycare, we’d have this activity. It was a simple game of throwing the parachute in the air and running underneath while it fell to the earth. All the silky, bright colors floating towards me, wind getting caught in my sun-dress and friends racing around, left me elated. The level of fun almost too overwhelming for a four-year-old, I’d laugh until my stomach hurt.

Nowadays, people ask me all the time why I smile, especially since I’ve seen a lot of death and hardship. Sometimes I’m just nervous and smiling calms me. However, we know real happiness is much deeper than smiling. There’s much more to it, indeed!

deandanceDo a happy-dance I’m about to reveal the secrets to being….HAPPY!

Be happy for others: Celebrating with others is a sure way to feel better about life. A new baby, engagements, dreams coming true—sharing these events with others will recharge you.

Embrace vulnerability: We feel a lot—not just women—men too. Honesty about those feelings with the right people releases bad stuff that we store in our hearts. A few days ago I had to tell a friend that something they did hurt me. Sure, I could have vented to my husband about my issues, but it was much better discussing the matter with the person.

Focus on “I can”: The talent and competition these days is high. Feeling inadequate becomes a state of being if we allow it to control our thoughts. Everything around us is a constant reminder of what we don’t have, what we need, what we can’t do—it is discouraging.

A friend of mine said, “There will always be someone more talented, prettier, and smarter than me. And I will always be more talented, prettier, and smarter than someone else. That’s ok, because we’re both just as valuable.” When I started believing this it was extremely freeing. Now I focus on what I can do and don’t allow myself to feel insecure or threatened by others more talented.

Find a Reason to laugh: Even in the saddest situations, laughing strengthens the heart. I’ve attended funerals in which laughter seeps into a conversation. My husband had a brain tumor and on the way to appointments and such, we found reasons to laugh. Laughter is healing. We all should do more. Oh and by the way my husband is fine. Don’t want to freak anyone out with a cliffhanger.

Meet a need: I volunteer at an elementary school. My reward always feels greater than the service I offer. Helping people helps our spirit. It gets us to leave our world for a while to engage in someone else’s. Sometimes we spend too much time trying to solve our own problems when the answer is found as we help others.

Make sure to be awkward you: I took one of the silly quizzes to see which character I’d be in the movie Frozen. I got Olaf and couldn’t be prouder. I’m a complete goof at heart and make sure to have those Napoleon Dynamite moments often. If I’m shopping in the store and a groovy song comes on, I have no problem dancing in public. Or when I auditioned for drum major in high school, I practiced my conducting moves as I walked home. Sure, my neighbors probably thought I crazy, but I felt happy being awkward me.

Surround yourself with good energy: Everything has energy. You know that feeling when that co-worker comes around, and the energy drains out of you the closer they get or the more they talk. That’s real–it’s not a delusion. There are people who are true, seasoned energy-zappers. Take them in small doses but surround yourself around others that fill your tank. I have a friend that anytime I’m around her, I feel like I can win an Olympic event.

Let it go: Forgiveness is more for you than the other person. Carrying around hurt and resentment or hate, will kill any inkling of happiness.

Love without expectation: Ok, this is hard, but give to others without expecting anything in return. I’m not saying we should be doormats or sounding boards for those who want to hurt us, but I’m saying extending  kindness to those  around us, even those who don’t deserve it. Because the truth is, I receive wonderful things and opportunities all the time but I can’t say I deserved them. I use to get really upset with a family member of mine, thinking they should do X, Y, Z for me, you know, I wanted them to act like someone else. Once I let go of my ridiculous expectations I was able to just love and accept them.

Live for something greater than your happiness: Purpose. As you start living out your purpose, happiness will come. This is the greatest pursuit and the search takes patience.

Choose ‘Happy’: I may not always have the power to change my circumstances or control my life, but I can choose how I will respond. Many days, despite my momentary troubles, I choose happiness.

Good food: Eating quality foods will change your mental state. There are certain foods that can put you in a better mood too–one being blueberries. Who knew? Anyway, eating foods that are healthy for the body helps the mind.

So, there we have it! And don’t get me wrong, I’m not running around on a mountain top each day singing how happy I am. Like any thing that’s worth our time, pursing happiness takes work. But true happiness is there for us all!

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And yes, my friend, this is the best news EVER!

 

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Get In The Club–No, This Kind Of Club

I lived in Dallas—shout-out to all my Texas writers! I miss Texas.

My writing life flourished there because my support team kept me focused and motivated. I even attended a weekly critique group. I’m still building that writerly support where I live now. It takes time. I’ve only been in DC for a little over a year.

But I’ve found a group, one that helps my writing more than they know.

How I joined was a bit of a coincidence, a friend of a friend sort of invitation. Honestly I didn’t know what to expect. Sure, I read books like most people watch TV, keeping up with several novels at a time, but sitting around talking about them in a casual sense…um, well… I was the blank slate when it came to this sort of thing.

I’m talking about joining a book club. A writer in a book club—how perfect?!

Each time we meet and dissect discuss a book, I get an education. Mostly on how the novel failed miserably or why it’s loved. I mean unable-to-put-novel-down kind of love.

For a writer it’s all pretty enlightening. Especially since their perspective is fresh, unbiased, simple-honest. None of them are writers—just readers. Hungry readers.

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And I love hungry readers.

Their advice is so helpful as I apply it to my writing. So here it is: Book Club Happiness and Helpful Tips for Writers.

  1. Question. Readers like books that keep them turning the pages. Sounds like a no-brainer, but this is the true art. How does one write to keep them reading? I noted all the books that we finished quickly. Each book had a big, intriguing question. The author would write around this topic, not really answering the question until way later. And the question has to be compelling enough that you cannot leave the story alone until it’s answered.
  1. Friends. Books are enjoyed best with friends. Obviously books have become just, if not, more social than the authors that wrote them. I can’t count the number of books I’ve read because they had a following. I only read the Hunger Games because all of my campus students were going completely nuts about it. I just wanted to see what had them so excited.Often times it’s the reader’s curiosity and wanting to belong, that makes them pick up a book. In this book club, word-of-mouth is the number one way we select books. Usually it’s a visit to Goodreads, selecting what’s popular (I’m the exception, I always select books by indie authors that none of them have heard of). So, new authors have to find the right group to build their audience. There’s an audience for every book, but finding them–that’s the real work.
  1. Escapism. I’m not sure if it’s the constant drama in the (bad) news, but we are constantly looking for an escape. Something to keep our mind off the world. Our world at times. So it’s not a surprise that we get excited about summer blockbusters, television shows, and book releases. All present opportunities to escape. Even if it’s just for a few hours, from our to-do-list, homework, or life’s problems, these breaks are so necessary. Readers want to get lost in your novel, to completely forget that they were cooking dinner or waiting for the bus. This goes along with knowing your audience and what’s an ‘escape’ for them. Personally, I’ve known too many friends crushed by cancer that reading, The Fault In Our Stars, is a no-go. I have no doubt it’s amazing but it wouldn’t be much of an escape for me. Thank you—but no thanks, John Green. 😉

If you’re working on a novel or enjoying writing, I highly recommend joining a book club. Remember, everything we do as writers is useful research–yep, even a Book Club. Happy Friday!! 🙂

 

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