progress at last!

And we’re back after a week-long hiatus. (Sometimes what’s going on in real life is more important than documenting it, you know?) But since I last shared an update two weeks ago, a couple of exciting things have happened in regards to my Defining 30 quest, but the biggest one is:

I finished writing my second holiday novella!

I didn’t just finish writing it, but I’ve sent the story to my publisher, and we’re in the waiting game to see what happens next with it. This feels extra exciting, because after mulling over the idea for about seven months, I finally sat down and created character sketches and an outline during my staycation. Then I spent the next two weeks writing the 25,000 words.

I made some adjustments as I went–eliminating a couple of scenes that weren’t so necessary–but I basically stuck to the script I created.

This story actually takes place from two first-person points of view, which was kind of a fun challenge for me as a writer. I wanted to make sure each person’s voice sounded true to who they are, while also fitting into my voice as a writer. This is something I’ve been more aware of in the past couple of years–how every word your character says has to sound like something he or she would say. They can’t all speak and think exactly the same or they aren’t unique. Maybe that’s an obvious thing to most writers, but for me, it’s something I’ve been working on developing more as I develop new characters and stories.

But back to the POVs. Writing in Scrivener made this process easy to do and track (I wanted to make sure each person had the same or similar amount of screen time). I used the color-coding system, and it not only kept me organized, but looked kind of pretty.

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So now I get to go to our official list page and check one item off and add it to the done-zo list. That’s super exciting.

I mentioned that there were other exciting developments in my quest for 30th birthday perfection, so I’ll just list them and develop the answers more thoroughly in future posts.

  1. I have officially stuck to my healthy eating plan for more than a month as of yesterday. After trying lots of things to jump-start a reasonable weight-loss program during the first few months of the year, it feels good to stick to the plan, which in term means…
  2. I’m being more active, which also means…
  3. I’m starting to see results in the mirror and on the scale.
  4. My latest statements from the credit union (car loan) and loan agency (student loan) show that I really might be able to do the whole “get out of debt” thing.

These are all good things, and I hope to have lots more to share on this front soon. Good stuff.

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staying connected

Lately I’ve been sharing a lot of posts about how I’m not quite living up to my expectations as far as setting my goals. While I seem to have hit a turning point with several of those issues lately (in the right direction) rather than talk about something half-complete or barely begun, today I want to talk about something I have been doing a good job of this year.

My personal goal of having coffee/lunch/dinner with a friend once a week has been one that I have managed to uphold. Throughout the past several months, I’ve reconnected with friends I’ve missed. I’ve strengthened other friendships I value. And I’ve been able to visit some regular haunts and try new restaurants.

One of my favorite instances of this has been meeting for dinner about once every four to six weeks with a few of my former co-workers. We’ve all moved on in different directions with our lives both personally and professionally since we shared office space, but that friendship is still there. Each time we’ve gone out, we’ve tried a new restaurant. Not only do we get to catch up the latest trials and joys in each of our lives, but we’re sampling some of our town’s best new restaurants. I always leave these meetings feeling rejuvenated and excited and proud to know that three women I enjoy so much are going on to make their marks in the world in different ways. It’s empowering, inspiring, and just thrilling.

I also continue to meet my sister and Whitney regularly for meals. As a single woman who lives alone, for me these breakfasts, lunches, and dinners feel like my chance to have a family dinner. I can say anything and be myself with both of these women, and they are some of my biggest supporters. It’s just family time, and it means the world to me.

I’m feeling a little scattered today articulating my thoughts, because I’m almost ready to type “the end” on my second holiday novella (which means I’ll be adding that to the done-zo category this week). AND I also am announcing the release and revealing the cover of my third novel, which will be out this fall. You can check it out on Goodreads and add it to your “to-read” list.

back to reality

One week always sounds like a lot of time until you get to the end of it. That’s kind of how my whole staycation felt. And while I knew that I would not be able to accomplish all of the wonderful things that I wanted during that week away from work, I am proud of my accomplishments.

Here are some of the highlights from my staycation, and how they are helping me achieve my goals now that we’re in the one-year stretch…

I turned down the offer of ice cream cake twice and ate only half a cupcake at a birthday party. This doesn’t probably sound huge to most people, but for me–a food addict–it is a big deal. I also managed my portions better and loaded up on foods like salads while eating smaller portions of the rest of the meals. This was a particularly good lesson when I went out for lunch, because I made a point of bringing home leftovers rather than overdoing it on the calories.

I am back to eating a mostly clean, well-planned menu that offers a good mixture of the nutrients I need to be healthy. I tried a couple of new recipes including a homemade veggie burger and tofu stir fry (made with quinoa instead of rice). As a result of this, and the previous bullet, I came out of my staycation having lost a few pounds. This bit of success has motivated me to keep going. Fingers crossed.

I also went for some walks and tried to be more active. I already noticed a difference when I went back to work yesterday and was able to climb the three flights of stairs to my office without getting winded.

I finished my Camp NaNoWriMo goal a week early. As reported last week, I realized my fifth novel–the one that I spent half of the month writing–needs more development, and so I started a Christmas novella. Though I wish I would have written more, I came out of the week with a full and thorough outline, well-developed characters, and more than 5,000 words. That’s one-fifth of the way to my target word count for the project, so I’ll take it.

I finished another round of edits for Book 3, which will be out in September, and developed a marketing plan and materials. There’s still some work to go on this project, but I’m feeling pretty good about it.

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I cleaned my apartment, reorganized my bookshelves, and sorted through my wardrobe. While I would have liked to do a deep clean and a big purge of materials, this is another one of those areas where I’ll say a little is better than nothing.

I also spent a lot of time with friends and family, which was wonderful. I joked to friends that I was looking forward to my time home as a chance to be a full-time cat mama, and I’ll admit, that was maybe my favorite part of staycation. It was nice to just be in the moment and have cat cuddles while I worked and plotted.

While going back to work is always tough after time away, I was pretty happy with my results from staycation and I hope the lingering effects continue to carryover throughout the coming weeks.

greetings from staycation

I’m officially in vacation (i.e. staycation) mode, which means my thoughts are all kinds of scattered. While I had a little bit of panic last night realizing I was already on day four of ten days away from the office, I have still managed to make headway on the goals I outlined last week.

Here’s an update:

1. Enjoy the moment, enjoy life.
This is the area I’m probably most succeeding at fulfilling. On my first day of vacation, I met a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time for lunch, and then I grabbed an afternoon drink with Whitney. It was 102 degrees out, so there wasn’t a lot of energy left to do anything else. I have also spent some quality time with all of my family members since leaving the office on Thursday. Spending time with them reminds me of how much I like my family and how lucky I am to have them. There will also be more fun tonight when I go watch a couple of my friends perform a show at a local bar. I might have hesitated to go to this evening show if I was at work, so I feel pretty lucky to have the time to do it.

2. Do some serious damage on the first draft of Book 5.
So about this… On Saturday I reached my writing goal for July. If you’ll recall, I set a goal of writing 40,000 words as part of Camp NaNoWriMo. That would help me finish the first draft of my fourth novel (which I did) and start the first draft of my fifth novel. But… here’s the thing about that fifth novel. It’s not great, and it needs more development. This was an issue I was concerned about when I started it, but I wanted to write it for Camp. For the time being, I think it’s best to shelve it while I work on another project. (That’s something else that happened. Since I made my Camp and Staycation goals, my upcoming publishing schedule changed, and I have other projects that need to take precedence over it.) My new plan for the rest of the week is to finish this round of edits on Book 3 (fingers crossed I have the draft back to my publisher by tomorrow at the latest) and work on my second holiday novella. There are a couple of reasons this project is most appealing to me. One, it’s about one-third to one-fourth of the size of a full-length novel, which means I can do more damage on it. Two, it’s a smaller project, which means it won’t be too much of a distraction from the series I’m writing (Book 3 and Book 4 are the first two of four books planned for a series). So, yeah. Simplicity is going to be my friend.

3. De-clutter my apartment.
I still have some room to go on this, but I did sort through my clothes, cleared out my fridge, and finally emptied the landfill I had brewing in my car. Yesterday I did laundry, and I did some light cleaning over the weekend, which means I can focus on some bigger projects–like sorting through the rest of my closet and books–throughout the rest of the week.

4. Prepare for the launch of Book 3.
I had a bit of a leg-up on this last week after a couple of virtually sleepless nights, but I have a tentative marketing plan in place, and I’ve started to create some graphics, blog posts, etc. for when we launch the book this Fall. There’s still work to go on this front, but I feel pretty good about where I am at with it.

5. Reboot my healthy lifestyle.
I’m pretty proud of how this is going so far. In addition to declining desserts on multiple occasions throughout the weekend, I’ve made healthy decisions, used portion control, and tracked all of my calories since Friday morning. I’ve tried a few new healthy recipes and researched a bunch more to add to my rotation once I’m back at work. I have also gone for a couple of walks and even done some Pilates. I’d forgotten how nice it actually feels to have your abs and legs hurt because you were working them–not because you’ve been lazy.

I feel really fortunate to be able to take this time off from work. I’m sure it will fly by, so I’m off to go enjoy some more of it.

five lessons after book four

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I finished the first draft of my fourth novel on Saturday night (right before midnight, so by the hair on my chinny chin chin). I’m still new enough at this whole being an author business that each time I finish (or start) a project it feels exciting. That’s a feeling I hope never goes away. But… I’ll admit, it wasn’t quite as emotional as when I finished the first draft of my first novel (I cried, because I’d proven to myself I could do it) or the first draft of my third novel (I cried again, because it had been a couple of years since I’d proven I could do it).

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t proud of myself, because I was. I’d created a schedule, set a goal, and fulfilled it (albeit a modified one, but isn’t life about creating goals and modifying them?). But it wasn’t an “OMG, I can’t believe it!” Because I could believe it. I did it.

Whitney and I are still in the midst of Camp NaNoWriMo, so after giving myself a day off, I started another project yesterday. My brain is admittedly a little fried still, so instead of waxing poetic or coming up with something brilliant or at least pithy, I thought for today I’d end by sharing a few of the tips I’ve found helpful through the years as I hone my skills as an author.

1. The only way you will ever write a novel is if you write one. That Yogi Berra-like factoid is true–every book starts the same way, with someone committing to writing it and stringing a series of words together until it’s done.

2. You have to hold yourself accountable. I like having writing buddies, because it’s fun to share the adventure with someone, but ultimately you are the only person who can tell your story, which means you have to keep working on it.

3. It’s okay to suck. Sometimes the fear of “What if this is bad?” keeps us from ever typing a single word. The best way to get over that hurdle, I’ve found, is to give yourself permission to write whatever comes out, even if it sucks. You can always go back and edit it later, but you’ll have spared yourself the hours (days, weeks, months, or years) of agony. But…

4. Fear is okay too. There is something wonderfully exciting yet equally terrifying about putting your thoughts and ideas down for others to read. And it’s fine to be a little scared. It can be a great motivator. Just don’t let it paralyze you. And remember…

5. You can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself. Ricky Nelson sang about it, but this is definitely true with writing. I can’t think of a single book that is universally loved by everyone. While it’s nice to think about your readers and what they might like to read, the biggest critic you have to satisfy is yourself. Writing a book is a challenging and often all-consuming process. You should be proud of your story and happy about it.

contemplating a face-lift

Though we have a long list of goals to accomplish by our 30th birthdays, one that has been on my mind more often than the others lately is from our mutual list: Refinish a piece of furniture. I already know this one is going to be challenging to complete. For one, I live in an apartment. I’m not really set up for sanding, staining/painting, and finishing. Two, I have a Honda Fit, which means my car isn’t really ideal for hauling furniture off to another location for the duration of the project. And three (and this one is the common thread all along) I’m really indecisive and am struggling to do anything but meet my writing goals.

Still, this project is appealing to me. I’ve done a bit of refinishing work in my day. I did a small end table that met an untimely demise under the weight of a less than sober past roommate. But my biggest accomplishment came in the form of a love seat I received from Whitney a couple of years ago.

It looked like this before my ministrations:

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And this after:

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I love how it turned out. The new paint, cushion covers and throw pillows are so bright and cheerful. Right now I keep it inside, where my cats can enjoy it, but I used outdoor safe materials in case I ever have a porch or patio of my own.

But now it’s time to consider my options for what project to tackle next and how to treat them. Let’s meet the candidates.

Option 1: Dresser*

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I inherited this dresser and while it’s well-made, the drawers are warped, and the hardware doesn’t work, which doesn’t make it the most user friendly piece of furniture in the world. I’m also not wild about the color of the finish, which is a bit scuffed up already from years of wear and tear. I like the idea of going with a darker stain, adding some new hardware and figuring out a way to fix its function. This would also be the most challenging of the projects for that reason.

* Yes I’m a slob. I moved half of the clothing from the top of my dresser and tossed it onto my unmade bed to take the photo.

Option 2: Hope Chest**

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Again, I’m not crazy about the color of this wood, which (again) has been roughed up a bit with frequent moods. I’d want to do the dresser and this with matching stains to make them a complete set (along with a rocking chair I have, but that’s another project).

** Not only am I messy, but it’s pretty obvious who rules my house–my cats get prime real estate in our home.

 

Option 3: Desk***

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The easiest and most unnecessary potential project is this desk from IKEA. I picked it out a few years ago when I wanted to have all black office furniture. Now I dream of having white built-in shelves and a desk to match it. While not so necessary, this might not be a bad little project to tackle.

*** OK, I’m not this far behind in my housekeeping. I don’t still have Christmas decor up, but I did take this photo during the holidays and was too lazy to snap another one today.

So as you can see, I have options. What do you think?

back to camp

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I am a big fan of National Novel Writing Month. I’ve participated–and won–five years now by completing 50,000 words on different projects throughout subsequent Novembers.  The first drafts of my first three completed novels were all started during November. (The first draft of the novella I tossed out then rewrote this past April was another NaNoWriMo project.) And right now I’m completing the first draft of my fourth novel, which, as you guessed it, was started during NaNoWriMo 2014.

I love the competitive and supportive spirit of NaNoWriMo. I enjoy the challenge. I like getting to pretend for one month of the year that being a writer is the most important part of my life.

That’s why I’m heading back to Camp NaNoWriMo. Like it’s big sister NaNoWriMo, camp is an opportunity for writers to be part of a community of writers all working together for the common pursuit of generating word count. It has some differences, though. For one, you get to set you word count goal. For another, you are able to participate in cabins, which are like little online writing support groups. I had a great time–and great success–with my April Camp NaNoWriMo experience. Despite having a lot of craziness going on at work, I was able to use Camp as the catalyst to complete the first draft of my novella, which was due to the publisher in June. (It was also 1/2 of one item to be checked off of my Defining 30 to-do list.)

This time around, I plan to use Camp as a way to finish the first draft of my fourth novel (unfortunately, this won’t count toward my to-do list goal, because I’d started the novel before the challenge, but it will still help me achieve my overall goal) and I will start the first draft of my fifth novel.

I am taking a week of vacation at the end of the month, and I hope to use that–and the upcoming long holiday weekend–to really boost my numbers and help me fulfill my goals of writing and publishing two new books every year. Wish me luck!