What To Do When Life Happens

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Spring break, a crazy stomach bug, and general forgetfulness have happened over the last couple of weeks putting me behind on happenings here. In addition, it’s almost time for the Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition deadline and I’m behind on that as well. The long and short of the theme this week? To quote the white rabbit – I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!

There is a terrible sense of being overwhelmed when you miss a deadline, or don’t stay on top of the goals you set. On the other hand I find it also fuels a fire deep inside me and drives me forward in a crazy berserker frenzy.

I started a short story quite a while back and have had it sitting on the back burner, not really sure how to end it. It’s been sitting there since prior to my Coppercroft story from back in September, waiting for me to get around to applying some kind of closure for the protagonist. The good news is that even though I haven’t been writing – not here, not on my own creative efforts, not even letter writing, or social media – I have been letting the idea percolate in the back of my brain and I have figured out where the rest of the story is going.

Now the hard part – write it down. Then the editing.

Okay, not so hard, but I am finding that I keep adding extra things to my plate. Things I thought I could balance with ease. And then the unexpected comes along to remind me how very, very wrong I am. And – in my own way, even through all the planning and goal setting and awareness of lists and steps, and you get the idea – I am a natural procrastinator. I will put things off as long as possible to see what else I can squeeze in during the meantime. The biggest issue? I haven’t been burned by this mentality to date. Although, if I’m being honest, it hasn’t exactly paid off either.

I sign off this week with the rest of a short story to write, and a gazillion other things I’ve got looming on the calendar for the day to day family and work life, I’ll have to share how well that goes next week. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your own battles with missing deadlines and how you deal with the stress of procrastination. Feel free to let me know, either in the comments or contact me directly through the contact page or via email: hsellers@heather-sellers.com

From Brain to Keyboard – Choosing a Topic

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Sometimes finding something to write about isn’t easy. Sometimes it is the hardest thing we will do in our week (okay, most likely not, but it is hard). Even when you have a blog that covers a specific topic it can be hard to identify a good topic that doesn’t just regurgitate the same material over, and over, and over.

Case in point. I was talking with my almost 14 year old son about what to write about for his eighth grade final literacy paper. We talked about past papers, and topics he felt strongly about. He didn’t want to write about topics he had already covered, wanted something new, but didn’t know how to go about finding something he felt strongly enough about to discuss, while also finding something that wouldn’t be too sensitive for a school paper.

The one topic he kept coming back to dealt directly with school, the changes due to budgetary constraints, and other rules that he has some pretty strong opinions about. He didn’t want to write about this, though, because he was afraid it would be too sensitive for a school project, and perhaps reflect poorly in his grade. I am a firm believer that if it is important to you then it probably needs to be written about and I asked him how he could take that topic and generalize it so it was less about his exact school and more about the broader issues. We brainstormed for a bit and realized that the recent Teacher’s Strike in Denver as well as other budget cuts that have hit the school systems make a great topic. He can take the time to look into how they impact the teachers and administrative staff as well as the students.

We talked about how you can broaden a topic to help avoid sensitivity concerns, but still making sure that the important notes get covered. That’s important to consider in all of our writing, because we all have important things we want to say but we get worried about who might read it. The end goal is to create a dialogue, to impact communication, to help people bridge the gap. How can any of that happen if we don’t take the time to consider the audience and how the words might be received?

It isn’t just about picking a topic to write about – if it were it would be beyond incredibly easy. Instead, it’s so much more. The impact of the topic, and making sure the words that go along with it say exactly what you want them to say.

What kind of sensitive topics have you considered writing about? Did you? If you did, how did it work out for the readers? Feel free to let me know, either in the comments or contact me directly through the contact page or via email: hsellers@heather-sellers.com

Navigating the Whelms

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Sitting here today, stuck on topics (after having spent the first few days of January planning most of them out) and I have typed, and deleted, and typed, and deleted. It looked something like this (my husband called it a reenactment of a Doogie Howser episode, I realized after the fact he is right):

Knowing when … delete

Standing up … delete

BLAH

And here we are … 65 words in to the second post of 2019, and too many thoughts swirling through my head blocking out all the rest of what I intended to say this week.

With all of that said (and hopefully staying out of the way for the rest of this post) it’s a good point to consider – dealing with how to write a post, or article, or review when everything keeps insisting on taking you off track. Part of me wanted to just say no, this week is not happening, close up the laptop and call it a week. The other part of me, the part that digs in even when things seem bleak had other thoughts.

I’m in the process of planning out a new podcast series, researching a number of in depth article topics, setting up my reading list for book reviews for the year, and still working to plot out a story or two in my free time. While I am doing all of this on the side along with maintaining a full-time job, three kiddos, and being married it starts to feel a little overwhelming. When we get overwhelmed it’s easy to want to fold the cards, throw in the towel, just walk away and not look back – but that’s not who we want to be. I know that I have worked way too hard over the last year (this post marks post number 40) and we’re coming up on the one year anniversary of this blog. So instead, I want to consider how to minimize the overwhelmed, avoid the underwhelmed, and just be whelmed.

We don’t always get a say in how much ends up on our plate.  We can’t control how much, or how little, someone else might impact the load. These are a majority of what leads to that overwhelmed feeling, and knowing this ahead of time makes a huge difference. Let yourself panic – just keep it down to earth. Shake your fists, let out a groan of stress filled aggravation. Then take a deep breath and start to make sense of what has to be done.

Sometimes we have visions of projects that are going to be multi-faceted, contain many layers and that might lead to more than we can handle. Consider what actually has to be done. The bare minimum that will lead to success. Don’t stop there … just consider it for a moment.

Now, consider how to take that bare minimum and make the best impact possible while avoiding the opposite end of the spectrum … underwhelmed. You know what is needed to make what you have promised (yourself, a client, a friend, etc. …). Now raise that bar a little higher and make a list of things that you can add in that will make the statement really pop.

If you’re working out your blog posts for the year, keep them realistic. Consider how much time it takes you to write the post – is it an hour for 500 words? Make sure you know you have an hour every week available. If it’s a 2000 word article that will require intense research – make sure you give yourself a realistic deadline if you know you will have other projects on your plate.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed if we don’t plan. That’s when all the extra-shiny thoughts start to get in the way, and then it’s hard to focus on the point at hand. Bash the keyboard for a few minutes, type random words and delete, walk away and breathe – whatever you need to do to bring yourself back to the present and plan out a way to bring things back to a realistic and achievable point.

If you’re willing, I’d love to hear about how you have done with the whelms – over, under, and just plain whelmed. Let me know, either in the comments or feel free to contact me directly through the contact page or via email: hsellers@heather-sellers.com

 

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year…

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In preparation of the craziness that can sometimes go hand in hand with the holidays I took advantage of an offer to head up to the mountains last weekend, and took a couple of days off from the world. The kids loved the snow, and the outdoor heated pool in the snow, and the adults were overjoyed at a clean house that didn’t require extra effort on their part.

Now we’re back to the regular world, getting in the extra hours to pad time off for the holiday season, shopping for last minute gifts (welcome to my boat if by last minute it also means all of them), struggling through the uphill battle of housework, and realizing that I feel a little bit like a failure because not a single decoration has been put up. Sometimes it is important to accept that not being able to keep all the balls in the air does not equal failure. Asking for help does not render you incapable. Sometimes things are going to slide off the plate, it’s how we choose to handle these situations that define us.

We spend so much time measuring our success by how much we do, measuring our value by how much we make, and when those things do not align we convince ourselves we have to pile more and more on to the plate to achieve something that seems out of our reach. Take a deep breath. Let it out. Now look around you.

Did you write something this year? Not this month, or this week, or even today. This year. Success!

Are you putting one foot in front of the other and keeping the bills paid (even if just barely)? Success!

Be aware that sometimes little successes are just as important, and just as celebrate-worthy as the big ones. Sometimes even more so because they are the foundation for the bigger successes.

Failure is giving up. Letting obstacles set you back. Success is overcoming. See possibility instead of problems.

I submitted a short story to a Writer’s Digest contest a couple months ago (back in September, read about it in the post Now That You Know You Can), and I got my notification email on Thursday. At first it felt like I had failed. They thanked me for my submission, but I didn’t end up on the list of winners or those that would receive honorable mentions in the article.

I let myself throw a pity party. I drowned in my sorrow for a minute (two if I’m being entirely honest). Then I picked myself up, shook myself off and decided two things.

One. I had succeeded. I submitted something for the first time ever. Success! Two. I was going to keep pushing forward and realizing more successes. I didn’t accept this as a sign of defeat – instead I chose to see it as an opportunity to lead me to new successes. Bigger ones.

Don’t let one moment of setback put failure in your mind – not a writing rejection, not a house that could be cleaner, and not the lack of holiday decorations at home. Keep taking the moment to look around and see the little successes. Let them push you forward to the next one. Maybe next time it makes the cut. And if not, let it guide you forward even more.

If you’re willing, I’d love to hear about your own obstacles, how you overcome failure, or even some of your successes. Let me know, either in the comments or feel free to contact me directly through the contact page or via email: hsellers@heather-sellers.com

NaNoWriMo Week Two – Recap

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Welcome to NaNoWriMo week 3!

I am definitely feeling frustrated with my progress this week. Every time I have sat down to write I have felt like I’ve done far more staring at a blank computer screen than actual writing. So much so that my protagonist who is also a writer has also been staring at a blank screen, frustrated with her own writing struggles.

I’ve continued entering my word count daily, and so far my week’s stats looked like this:

  • Monday, November 5th – 125 words (Studiously working on Chapter 5)
  • Tuesday, November 6th- 230 words (Studiously working on Chapter 5)
  • Wednesday, November 7th- 444 words (Studiously working on Chapter 5)
  • Thursday, November 8th- 70 words (Studiously working on Chapter 5)
  • Friday, November 9th- 131 words (Finished Chapter 5)
  • Saturday, November 10th- 351 words (Working on Chapter 6)
  • Sunday, November 11th- 123 words (Initial Count – Working on Chapter 6 – skipped ahead to work some on Chapter 9)

I have shared some of my frustrations with friends that are also participating this year, and while I have not found a magical way to get my focus in place I did get some great perspective. One person pointed out that even if she doesn’t complete the 50,000 words in November she is going to continue to write every day through December. She is determined to build a good habit with her writing and this has inspired me. It’s not when we finish, but knowing that we will finish!

I may not be super happy with the last week’s progress but I’m already gearing myself up for next week. If you’re participating how are things going for you? I’d love to hear about your experience with NaNoWriMo. Let me know, either in the comments or feel free to contact me directly through the contact page or via email: hsellers@heather-sellers.com

NaNoWriMo Week One – Recap

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I survived NaNoWriMo week one, and while I didn’t hit the daily goal, I did come close. Of course today isn’t over yet and I might just get back to it, but if not that’s okay too.

I feel like I can be proud of the work I did this week, between working long hours and taking care of sick kiddos ending the week with 6,040 words is a pretty good start. I’ve been entering my updated word count daily, and so far my week’s stats looked like this:

  • Thursday, November 1st – 1,521 words (Completed Chapter One).
  • Friday, November 2nd – 847 words (Completed half of Chapter Two).
  • Saturday, November 3rd – 1,191 words (Completed Chapter Two, Completed half of Chapter Three).
  • Sunday, November 4th – 2,479 words (Completed Chapters Three and Four, and almost Completed Chapter Five).

Friday was my lowest word count day, but I feel like Saturday was my weakest writing. I am looking forward to finishing and editing already! Sunday has been my best day so far, both in word count and work level – I have been pretty proud of the work I’ve done today.

Tracking word counts is helpful for seeing my progress throughout November, but I think it will also be helpful for identifying when and where I do my best work. For example, Sunday I participated in a write in away from the house and with the motivation of other writers with me. I will be intrigued to see if that pattern keeps up or if I find any other patterns in my writing times.

I’m pretty happy with my beginning of the month, if you’re participating how are things going for you? I’d love to hear about your experience with NaNoWriMo. Let me know, either in the comments or feel free to contact me directly through the contact page or via email: hsellers@heather-sellers.com

 

When Life Gets in the Way

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Some weeks are easy, we have all the time in the world and things line up perfectly. We don’t struggle with goals, and there are no obstacles that keep us from moving forward. But what about the weeks that things don’t go quite as smoothly? What do we do when life gets in the way?

Life doesn’t wait for us to be ready, and sometimes it is easy to let things get set on the back burner while we deal with the world around us. Sometimes the priority has to be the greater world that we belong to. When that happens you have to know that it’s okay. The back burner will still be there when you come back, whenever that may be.

Sometimes we worry that we will be gone too long dealing with important things that maybe the time has passed. That maybe we missed that opportunity. That isn’t the case – you can always go back to your work. It may have changed a bit while you were away. Maybe you were working on a lighthearted comedy, but now you find that your characters can’t quite laugh like they used to. Don’t be afraid to let things change, keep going with it. That’s the story your brain needs to tell now.

When life gets in the way go with it, let it take you on its winding path, breathe in the moment, and don’t worry about what waits for you when you come back.

I am speaking from experience a bit, this week I’m riding the life train – next week I hope to have some podcast news updates. We’ll play this by ear, because I don’t know if life will be quite done with me by then.

In the meantime I’d love to hear about projects that took a different turn after your own journey with life – did it get better with a new perspective, or do you feel like it changed so much you didn’t recognize the original work? Let me know, either in the comments or feel free to contact me directly through the contact page or via email: hsellers@heather-sellers.com

The Old Adage Knowledge is Power – Unfortunately Still Can’t Beat the Power of the Dollar…

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There has been a lot of buzz about the Forbes article with regards to the idea that Amazon bookstores should replace local libraries. If you haven’t already read the article, the link to it is here. To me, this would be a sad thing to see as a large amount of my childhood is heavily wrapped up in memories of my local library.

I have watched over the last several years as funding for library services has been reduced and reduced and then, finally, cut altogether. Beloved library branches have been closed permanently, and the ones able to remain open have been reduced to limited hours open to the public. For some people this makes sense, they have never had much need for the library, and certainly the world of books is readily accessible online. What could the outdated institution possibly have to offer the digital generation?

Memories. Hope. The awareness that an idea is enough to stir a generation to the love of knowledge.

As a child my grandmother introduced me to my love of reading and the ability to use my imagination to travel the worlds in the books I read. As a result, I found I had a voracious appetite for books, earning as many certificates a month as Pizza Hut allowed with their Book It program – which I am glad to see is still alive and well. The library enabled me to find new books, to always push myself into new worlds that I didn’t have access to otherwise. Running my hands over hard copy books made the worlds I was travelling seem more real somehow.

Through all of this, I think about the giant brick historical building that had been re-purposed to house our local library and the winding staircase I would wander as I picked my weekly stack of books, cutting my teeth on Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. My heroes included Nancy Drew and Harriet Welsch (AKA Harriet the Spy) because they showed me the power books held for anyone, but especially for a shy girl who had trouble making friends. Finding these heroes was so incredibly important to me as a child because I was unsure of how to interact with people and finding worlds in the written word showed me that I could use the same power of words to express myself.

The article calls out the idea of reducing costs to taxpayers, but ultimately what this does is not reduce costs but increases them and removes the accessibility of worlds of knowledge from those that don’t have the money to visit the book store. It also calls out services like movie rentals that have been replaced by streaming services, and free internet access (being replaced by Starbucks?). Think and consider why users might need to utilize resources like the library instead of Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, Redbox, or Starbucks. While more people today have access to computers in their home, this does not account for everyone and the libraries help close that gap.

People who support this idea need to be aware that libraries do not just house books for knowledge, but also access to the community. Local libraries put on a variety of programs that include those for both adults and children to meet with others that share their interests in a safe, monitored space. Libraries offer a place for teens to complete volunteer work towards honor society and college applications. There are even programs hosted at some libraries to teach people to paint, play an instrument, or, in some cases, learn to read.

While I do not fear the idea of technology destroying the written word, I am afraid that we are losing sight of what a place like the library means to those that visit it. The worries that these walls might be replaced by corporate giants like Amazon and what this could mean to the next generations.

Find Yourself, Be Amazing

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Have you ever looked at someone and been amazed at how focused or driven they are and wondered why you aren’t? Maybe it’s less about being like that person and more understanding yourself, how you work, and knowing what brings everything into focus for you.

Some people are like the Bishop piece in chess, moving diagonally with single-minded focus across the board as far as it needs to go. Other people perhaps more like the Knight, only able to move in L-shaped motions, or the pawn that can only take one step at a time. These pieces are no less important in the game, each piece has a purpose and supports the end goal. Telling yourself to be more like someone else, to have someone else’s determination and drive or focus doesn’t make it easier to accomplish things. In fact, it makes it more difficult because your mind doesn’t work like theirs. You have to find your own way in order to be truly successful.

Finding your way isn’t always easy – some people wake up in the morning and know how the day will play out, while other’s stumble through the morning routine unsure of what each moment will bring. Both of these people have the potential to be incredibly successful, but they have to believe that they can be successful. An organized person thrives on stability, organization, knowing what each moment brings – they would not do well in an unknown situation and would definitely not be the person I would want to send in to deal with the unknown. Someone who is driven by change and the need to be in less structured environments would succeed in the unknown but might be held back with plans and outlines.

Know yourself and know how far you are willing to compromise to meet someone else’s needs. Use this knowledge to help find your way to the right work styles. Once you understand this about yourself it can impact not only your work methods, but how you look at all interactions with other people. Knowing the priorities helps to adjust the focus to important things at work and in your personal life.

Understanding different people helps us to realize that we can’t follow the same path as someone successful – their path to success is not necessarily ours. We have to find our own way. That path might mean laying outlines for something you are working on, to clearly see what the story might hold, or letting each scene come to you on a whim. Neither person is less successful. Neither person’s way is better or worse. You have to know yourself. Understand what works for you. And then follow through.

At the end of the day it’s the follow through that holds us back or pushes us forward. If you understand how you work best, and you can see what path you should be on, then you have to take that first step. You will never know how far you can get if you don’t take the first step, no one else’s path can show that to you. Only your path can.

No one can show you this path. Only you can find it. And only if you know what you are looking for.

Find your path, know yourself, be amazing.

Knowing Your Reality and What’s in Your Glass

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I’ve been thinking quite a bit about personality this week. And attitude. The different ways that our personalities affect our attitude, and vice versa.

I often refer to myself as an optimistic realist. Instead of a glass half full or half empty, I am very glad that there is anything in my glass and understand that realistically my perception of the glass is impacted by the world around it. I am solely responsible for whether there is anything in my glass or not.

I see myself as someone who hopes for the best, but I understand that realistically that is not always the case. Realism, however, might be different for different people. Ultimately, realism is the process of accepting things that have happened and being ready to deal with those things. How willing we are to accept the outcome as it is, and how prepared we are in dealing with it is going to depend heavily on our personality, which will then inform our attitude.

Outside input like a bad day or bad interaction with someone might result in a negative attitude, but ultimately our personality will find us resuming our normal attitude in no time at all. If you are someone that has a sunny disposition then this is less difficult, but, if you find yourself having a hard time seeing past the negative then it’s important to acknowledge this about yourself so that you can see it coming and react to it appropriately. Regardless of your personality, knowing yourself and how you feel about things will make it easier to tackle the difficult things and keep your footing moving forward.

Knowing my personality makes me realize that it is my call in how I react to things. I determine the outcome of my emotions, and no one else is responsible for my feelings. I can get angry, but someone else’s actions do not make me angry. I have to take ownership for these feelings so that I can better navigate what to do with them, and also so that I can better navigate how my interactions with people might go. I can’t be upset if someone won’t hear my thoughts on something if I always react negatively to things before hearing them out.

The ability to react well to critique goes hand in hand with the idea of knowing our personality. If we react poorly to outside opinions like critique or reviews then it makes it difficult for others to work with us, and makes it difficult for us to overcome the things that hold us back, and even more difficult for us to find our way going forward.

Be aware of your personality, understand how it informs your attitude, and understand how your attitude affects the world you live in. Once you accomplish that you make everything else seem that much easier by comparison.

Remember the glass – half empty, half full, it doesn’t matter, because you always decide what’s in your glass.