The Biggest Myth

I think that one of the biggest myths we tell ourselves each day is that everyone else has got their shit together.

And after 48, nearly 49 years on this earth, I’m here to tell you, 99.99% of us DON’T.

It’s something I have to remind myself of on a daily basis.

We cultivate that brave, capable look. Go on, tell me you don’t, I’d love to meet someone who is completely 100% comfortable in their own skin. We plaster on a confident smile, remind ourselves to relax and look carefree, and we step into the unknown and try not to lose our shit.

I felt that way going to a doctor’s appointment the other day. I had to deal with a new doctor because my old new doctor is on maternity leave. I got to see her twice and then she’s gone for three months (it should be longer, don’t get me started on maternity leave here in America and how shamefully short it is). And I’m sitting there trying to keep my face from betraying my embarrassment/shame/discomfort as this new new doctor lectures me on my eating habits when he’s known me for all of two full minutes.

By the way, the key to healthy living is eating less. Just in case you were wondering. Don’t bother to ask what I’ve eaten, assume it’s too much and begin your standard lecture.

I felt that way a couple of days later just spending fifteen minutes in a friend’s house before dropping my husband off for Boys Beer Night. I smile, I play with the dog, try to think up scintillating conversation, hell, just smile. Afterwards I was glad I had gone inside, but still, it’s hard. Harder than it looks, harder than I want to admit.

But here’s the thing I have figured out along the way. We don’t have to have our shit together. It doesn’t make us less, it doesn’t make us incapable of making a difference or unworthy of being listened to. It just makes us…human.

A couple of years ago, at a deeply trying time in my life, I had a family member break my heart. It was hard, really hard, and I spent months questioning who I was as a person. Was I a good person? Was I a monster? Lots more questions, and not many answers. Just a lot of grief and betrayal and hurt.

And one of my coping mechanisms was to try to replace this family member. Only, you really can’t replace someone, can you? So about nine months ago, after much trial and tribulation, arguments, uncertainty, and emotion – we found ourselves face to face with a beautiful, frightened, confused, and often recalcitrant toddler. She didn’t know why she was in our home, my husband wasn’t sure he wanted her there, my tween quickly barricaded herself in her room so that said toddler wouldn’t invade and touch her stuff, and I found myself consumed with guilt.

Each time she misbehaved/cried/screamed/wouldn’t sleep, I felt like it was my fault she was there and it was up to me to deal with. I guess the words of my dad over two decades ago still rung true. When, in my early 20s I had said to him, “I’m unhappy in my marriage,” he had responded with a shrug and said, “You made your bed, now you need to lie in it.”

Over the past nine months, I became the enforcer. If I heard my husband getting frustrated with our foster daughter I would run in and try and deal with it. And because I was the one handing out all of the punishments and rules, the balance of power was off-kilter as well. Little Miss wouldn’t come to me for comfort, she’d head for my husband. And she wouldn’t listen to my husband’s rules or boundaries, she would wait for me to come along and enforce them.

Until just the other day when I said it out loud, those words I had been thinking every day for the past nine months.

“When there is a problem, when there is a misbehavior, I step up. Because I feel guilty for bringing her here in the first place, for pushing for this thing that you did not initially want.”

And my husband stared at me. “Oh my God, what? That’s seriously how you feel?”

I nodded and I could see the understanding dawn in his eyes. “And I guess I figured that if she likes you and Em, but not me because I’m the enforcer, well, I kind of deserved it, because I pushed for this.”

Sometimes, the saying of something out loud, the verbal uttering of it, gives it a life of its own. In this case, it brought clarity, and suddenly all of my behaviors over the past nine months made sense to my husband.

“But that’s not your burden to take on,” he said. “Yes, I was against it at first, but I love that little girl, and I want more than anything to adopt her and for her to be part of our family forever.”

And with that, my burden was lifted. Suddenly the onus of responsibility, of enforcing boundaries and having to jump up and swoop in was no longer this clanging imperative inside of my head. He wasn’t just “making me happy” – he was an equal partner in it, and had been all along.

I looked at my husband this morning as he sat across from me in our library, a mug of tea in his hand. I looked at him and I smiled, because I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life with anyone else. I’m one of the lucky ones.

A 3,000 Word Day?!

Some Days I ROCK At This Writing Gig

Hooray!

This morning as I relaxed in the bathtub for a few minutes before starting my day, I felt my anxiety begin to increase.

Yesterday was a rather anxious day. I didn’t enjoy having a social worker in my face telling me that the SIX BLANKETS ON MY FATHER’S BED were not enough.

Seriously, how does it turn from “I want to make sure that you are allocating the SSI funds in appropriate manner” to accusatory looks and claims that he’s freezing to death when he hasn’t said anything about being cold?

It set me all off-kilter yesterday and I got zero writing done.

My dad now has eleven, yes, eleven blankets on his bed. I asked him this morning if they had helped and he said that they had.

In any case, today, as I lay there in the bathtub and felt my anxiety over my frustrations of the day before begin to affect today I told myself quite firmly…

I cannot control what the social worker thinks. I cannot control whether my dad stays with me or if he goes to live (and die) on his own. So what can I control? What can I do, right now, today, that is completely and totally within my power? I can write. I can write like I was supposed to write yesterday. I can move closer to finishing this book.

And with that, my anxiety went away. After I fixed my dad breakfast and saw him off on the shuttle to the senior center, I sat down at my desk and got to work. By the time I needed to leave to go to a doctor’s visit, I had written 1,200 words. And after I returned and had some lunch, I jumped back in until I was surprised to realize I not only had written over 3,000 words but also written a full chapter from beginning to end.

3,097 words in total. An excellent day’s work when you consider the daily goal of 500 words. It felt awesome to realize I had written the equivalent of six days worth in just a few hours.

Consolidating/Reducing My Blogs?

Recently I’ve been looking at my blogs and wondering if it is time to reduce and consolidate.

I started The Learning Advocate (originally the Homeschool Advocate) when my now 12-year-old was just four. I added and backdated several entries from when I had homeschooled my eldest, now 30, and I’ve been pretty regular with the updates over the past eight years.

My reasoning for starting the blog was the hope that I would re-kindle the parenting classes I had taught/facilitated through the YWCA in San Jose back in the early 90s. I loved those classes. They weren’t parenting classes as much as they were communication classes – giving amazing tips and tricks on how to interact positively with all ages, including kids. I remember telling folks that they could use these approaches on their spouses, their bosses and even their parents.

I had hoped to see these classes spread here, in Kansas City, but they never did and my homeschool blog remained just that, a journal of my (and my young daughter’s) adventures in homeschooling. No life-changing lessons, just an account of what/how we set about accomplishing our learning goals.

Around the same time, maybe a year before that, maybe a year later, I don’t really remember, I started The Deadly Nightshade blog. A place where I could write about frugality, green living, DIY, gardening, and post recipes – it has garnered the most views and responses over the years.

Out of it, grew over fifty different classes on everything from gardening, to diy, crafts, and cooking. I taught these classes at the Mid-Continent Public Libraries, Powell Gardens, NKC School District, UMKC’s Communiversity, and North Kansas City library.

I had an amazing garden, even after moving from Belton to Historic Northeast Kansas City. I was teaching classes, participating in farm and home tours, and more. And then in late 2016, my life changed and I found myself outside of the United States for the first time in my life, only not on a leisure trip. Instead, I was bringing my dad home to live with us.

Two years later, he’s still here and I no longer teach classes.

Life changes. And we adapt.

I’ve had so many interests – art, gardening, DIY, crafts, teaching, homeschooling – so many different pulls at my time and attention.

But for now, I’m focused on a small handful of things:

  • Writing every day
  • Getting the two houses on either side of us renovated and earning money as Airbnb’s or rentals
  • Homeschooling my daughter
  • Taking care of house and home and family

And I’m finding that, as much as I would like to do these other things, these are enough. More than enough.

And so, over the past month or two, I’ve been looking at my blogs and wondering, What should I cut?

In the end, it will probably be that I keep blogging here and in The Cottages and stop adding to The Learning Advocate or The Deadly Nightshade . I’ll probably keep the domain names for a while, at least a year or two, until I’m really, really super sure I want to no longer have them.

Die Empty

I’m listening to the speakers from the 2018 Tribe Conference – apparently it is a perk for having signed up for the 2019 Tribe Conference that I’ll be attending in September.

One speaker, Todd Henry, retold a story that really inspired him. He was asked, “What is the most valuable land in the world?”

The oil fields in the Middle East?

The diamond mines in South Africa?

“No,” the other man said, “a graveyard. Because that is where all of the unrealized potential is buried.”

Imagine all of the inventions that have never been invented, the stories that have never been written, the art that has never been created…all because someone said, “I’ll do that someday, I’ll do that tomorrow, I’ll do that next year.”

And instead, their ticket got punched before they got around to it. And all of that potential was taken with them to the grave.

He said that he went back to his office and wrote down two words: “Die Empty.”

That really resonated with me. I repeated the story to my husband and my 12-year-old. The 12-year-old has had a song she is trying to compose and record, and the husband is 3,000-4,000 words into a story on nanites that is consuming his thoughts.

My daughter said, “I just can’t get the words right.”

I nodded, completely understanding, nudged her shoulder and said, “Die empty.”

She grinned and skipped off to work on it further.

Die empty, folks. It’s a hell of a sight better than dying full of ideas, dreams, and creations that never see the light of day.

Step By Step

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Step One

It only took me ten years of self-publishing to figure Step One out, but it is a doozy.

Step One – Making Writing a Minimum of 500 Words Per Day Every Day a Habit

Sure, I’ve told myself to write every day. But somehow, figuring out that I could have written 18+ books in ten years instead of the six books I actually wrote and published, that really slammed it home with me.

And 500 words per day takes me as little as twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes.

That’s it!

Day 20 – Still Going Strong?

I started logging my progress on Christmas Day. At that point, I still had some rather high expectations, so high that I quickly tossed them out of the window and embraced the “500 words per day” edict I should have had all along.

When I’m in the swing of things, 500 words is just the start of what I can do. Many days I have written far more than the minimum, so much so that to date I’ve written 15,723 words, an average of over 827 words per day.

No Regular Schedule…Yet

I am a wife, a mother of two (my 12 year old daughter and my 3 year old foster daughter) still at home, I homeschool the 12 year old, my elderly father has dementia and lives with us, I run a cleaning business, and we are working on getting the two cottages on each side of our house renovated and open for Airbnb clients.

My schedule is different every doggone day!

So sometimes I am writing at 5:30 in the morning, other times it’s sandwiched in between fixing breakfast for my elderly father before he goes off to grandpa daycare and a day filled with cleaning other people’s houses. Occasionally, I come limping in with my 500 words in the early evening after the sun has sunk behind the horizon.

It matters not. What matters is that I put the words out there. Every day.

Rules and Regulations

It can’t be writing 500 words in just anything. It has to be on the chosen project of the moment. At this point it is Hired Gun, my first (but most assuredly not last) erotic thriller.

If I want to write more, great, but it doesn’t count towards the next day. Each day starts over at zero.

Step Two – Learn How to Dictate

I have Dragon Naturally Speaking but I have felt self-conscious trying to use it. I recently heard yet another podcast guest who has had great success with it and it made me realize that I could take that 500 words and, with a small learning curve, I could turn that into 2,000 words a day. For literally the same time that I spend writing 500 words, I could quintuple my output!

Cross-Genre and Completely Unapologetic

As I write in Hired Gun, I take notes in my sci-fi sequel to Gliese 581: The Departure and also write the occasional note in So I Wrote a Book, Now What?! and I continue to think about revisiting Quit Your Job, Change Your Life: 40 Life Changing Strategies for the Disaffected and of course, the Chronicles of Liv Rowan (a 12-book young adult fantasy series). Winter’s Child, a suspense/possible horror novel is also banging about in my head.

Yes, I’m all over the place.

I will never be a one-trick pony.

At some point, I might need to separate author names to avoid confusion. Joanna Penn does this. She writes under Joanna Penn for her non-fiction and JF Penn for her paranormal thrillers. I will certainly do this when writing the Chronicles of Liv Rowan because the last thing I need is to have erotic thrillers and young adult fiction in the same place!

I went back and forth on this for a while. “What if I confuse my readers?  What if I lose readers?”

In the end, I write what interests me. And once I am done writing what interests me, it is my job to cover it and blurb it in a way that will interest readers who will want to read a story in that particular genre as well. That’s it. I’m not going to make everyone happy. I’m not going to appeal to everyone in every situation. And that is perfectly okay.

The Purpose/Focus of This Blog

I’ve been thinking about it a lot. What is the purpose of this blog? Is it to gain readers? To educate/inspire others? To just provide regular updates on my writing?

I find myself going back and forth. I want to share knowledge, I want to share inspiration, updates and more. In the end, like my writing, it doesn’t seem to be genre-specific. Perhaps, like me, it is far too idiosyncratic to be set in any particular label.

C’est la vie!

Lessons Learned From 2018 and Ten Years of Writing & Self-Publishing

4th Quarter Income Report

Whoo doggies, it has been a year of ups and downs!

I’m learning a lot, mainly about how to market my books, and I fully expect that trend to continue. Here is a review of the last quarter of 2018, however:

  • December 2018 Earnings – $270.92 from Amazon, $0.00 from other sources, less $134.56 in advertising = $136.36 net profit
  • November 2018 Earnings – $393.36 from Amazon, $0.00 from other sources, less $505.80 in advertising = -$112.44 net loss
  • October 2018 Earnings – $231.61 from Amazon, $3.57 from other sources, less $93.50 in advertising = $139.62 net profit

When it all shakes out, I sold $2,441.29 in books in 2018. Of that, I netted $741.10 after advertising costs.

This amount does not take into account what I spent on education (Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing Formula as well as several books), book blurbs and ads (through Best Page Forward on four different books), or on book covers (both ones I designed and needed to purchase images for, or the cover for Hired Gun).

If I did figure those in, I’d probably be around $1,200 in the hole.

In other words? I have a ways to go.

Keep Writing, Don’t Stop

Looking back and realizing that I’ve written six books in ten years has really given me a kick in the ass. I need to stop second-guessing myself and get these stories done.

Life is too short and I have so much to say, share and entertain others with. It’s all in there, hidden in those folds of gray, waiting for me to put them out there.

If you think you have an idea of a good book – write it down, and begin writing your book. Don’t wait. Don’t marry poorly (it took three tries before I got this one right) or tell yourself you don’t have time because there are other more important things to do – get those words out. Every day. Get them out there and spread them on the ground for people to trip over and find.

My only regrets over the past ten years have been:

  • Questioning my own worth
  • Not getting serious about making money as a writer sooner
  • Coming up with excuses to not write more

Ads Are Necessary, Make Them Count

The first step in the journey was understanding that ads would make the difference between sales and no sales. That was a tough one. I really objected to having to pay money to get my words in front of people.

But I see the difference it has made and, when done right, it can be quite profitable.

Now I need to progress through the second part of it, making ads work for me. How do I:

  • write effective ad copy
  • put it in front of the right people (i.e. those who will press the Buy button)
  • keep my ad costs as low as possible?

That’s the learning curve I’ll be on in 2019.

500 Words or Bust

I mentioned it in previous posts, but I’m really embracing the idea of writing a minimum of 500 words per day, every day.

There is more to it, however. Isn’t there always?

Call them ground rules.

  1. 500 words per day, every day (except when I am sick, which is thankfully, rare)
  2. The 500 words must be in the assigned project (one project at at time, right now that is Hired Gun)
  3. Additional words are welcome (blogging, other projects, etc). The 500 words per day is simply a base amount.
  4. Additional words do not carry forward (so in other words, if I write 1,000 words, I can’t use them as an excuse to skip a day of writing) or backward. Each day is a new blank slate.

Stop Waiting for the Writing Ship to Sail In

If you want it, you had better stand up and take it. Grab that bitch by the anchor and start pulling.

I’ll admit it, I joke about making my writing pay. I play the world’s tiniest violin and occasionally dip into self-pitying indulgences or don’t write for days or weeks on end.

Steven Pressfield would say that is probably Resistance rearing its ugly head. I’m determined to beat down Resistance in any way I can.

I want the writing to pay. I want it to be my “go to” for income, but I know that I have a ways to go. I need to understand the business side of it better and to that end, I am determined to learn a little every day. And not just learn, but implement what I have learned.

2019 Aspirations and Dreams

In 2019, I hope to do the following:

  • Finish at least two manuscripts – Hired Gun and one other (which one I’m not sure of yet)
  • Put into place a triad of daily activity: (write in one book, edit a second book, and plan a 3rd book)
  • Attend a conference (and do this once a year from now on)
  • Grow my readership and multiply my subscriber list to 1,000

I was so excited to book tickets and lodging at the TRIBE conference for this September. I’m really looking forward to the trip!

And Remember, KEEP WRITING!

I have wanted this dream for so long. And I’m beginning to truly understand that I am the one who holds myself back from it. Every time I take on a new cleaning client, schedule another event to go to, avoid writing my 500 words per day, or come up with an excuse on why I need to reconcile a credit card statement right now instead of writing.

Whether you call it Resistance, or procrastination, or LIFE – the end result is the same. The words remain unwritten, the dream unrealized.

As I approach my 50th year on this planet, that is no longer an acceptable situation. I have so much to say, so many tales to tell.

Keep writing.

Keep writing.

KEEP WRITING.

A New Year’s Tradition

As I sit here, ridiculously sick and miserable with a cold – one that began to show itself on Sunday and ramped up on New Year’s Eve, I’m chomping at the bit to do something, anything.

But my nose is plugged, and when it isn’t thumping, my head is fuzzy with pain from the enormous sinus headache. Worse, I’m one-eyed. The virus has invaded my left eyeball, which gives me some moments of sight, intermingled with burning, itching and even weeping large tears in protest when I try to use it.

I cannot read, I cannot focus much on writing, and my Type A personality is screaming for something to do besides sit here and be miserable.

Enter Neil Gaiman.

Each year, he posts a lovely New Year’s post and more importantly, a New Year’s wish.

They are beautiful, magic-making, thought-burbling pieces of love and compassion that he sends out into the universe and they always make me smile, cry, and be inspired.

I don’t read his blog on a regular basis, which is good because he is far too busy to maintain it and write in it more than a few times a year. I don’t worry about missing too many drops of wisdom as a result.

Inevitably though, on New Year’s Day or soon after, I remember to check out his blog and see what he says for New Year’s. And this year, while threatening to NOT write one, he did actually have one for the world:


Be kind to yourself in the year ahead. 

Remember to forgive yourself, and to forgive others. It’s too easy to be outraged these days, so much harder to change things, to reach out, to understand.

Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin.

Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them. 

Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love.

Thank you, Neil. These words especially ring so true:

Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin.

After I read his New Year’s post, I read the previous one, which he wrote about Harlan Ellison, his friend for 33 years, dying. I remember hearing about his passing and being quite sad. While I have not read his work, I enjoyed the documentary about him – Dreams With Sharp Teeth – very much.

Neil also wrote that Harlan taught him that:

anything more than twelve minutes of personal pain was self-indulgence

Which, if you take cues from the universe as I often do, was something I needed to hear right then.

Time rolls on. And you can tear yourself apart wishing you were loved in the way you have always wanted to be loved, or you can take what you have and make it work.

There are times when I sit here and feel pretty damned sorry for myself – I wonder why my parents or my eldest daughter don’t love or accept me in a way I have always hoped that they would. I fear the future, growing old, losing the husband that I love and who makes my life better each and every day. I fear the intransigence of life that promises no happy endings, only an end in death, which will come to us all.

The reality is, and this is true for all of us, that we can’t go backwards and change the past. That past has helped to shape the people that we are today. It is also up to us to change the future, one moment at a time.

I can wish all day that those people who I love could understand me better, ask questions instead of make assumptions, or accept that I am only in control of this moment on forward – but that isn’t going to change reality.

I’m not in control of them. I’m in control of ME.

Neil’s words are better than any New Year’s wish I could visualize much less write. So I will take these words to heart:


Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them. 

Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love.

And I hope you will as well.

Happy New Year’s, everyone. May this year be everything (and more) that you have dreamed it would be.