Category Archives: Work-Life Balance

Who Stole the Goal Posts?

THEY say, “Goals are not set in stone; goal posts can move; better to have a goal and fail then to not have one and achieve nothing at all.” But THEY never said, “Sometimes the goal posts disappear and you’re out of the game!”

So imagine my surprise when my goals to complete a novel, and revise another and research a third disappeared. I was devastated. All my energy was required to heal a broken ankle compounded with a severe sprain. Ten weeks in a cast, three extra months to learn to walk and the energy drain exacerbated my chronic fatigue. Zheesh! “This is a great opportunity to write,” THEY said. But the energy drain left little for creativity and critical thinking. So now what?

I didn’t fight it. Not one bit. Frustration and anxiety bear no fruit. Putting words down for the sake of it and then trying to revise nonsense later made no sense either. Searching for stolen goal posts was counterproductive. So I went on a holiday! To New York, Iraq, and other cool places on this world and others. Even outer space! Yes, I read books and short stories and loved every minute of it.

Isn’t that why we write? So that others will enjoy the tales we tell, become immersed in the worlds we create and form relationships with the characters we give voice to? I threw away the critic’s hat, no learning the craft for me and I went on a holiday of pure literary pleasure!

Somewhere along the way I made notes for the novel in progress. When I felt more rested and energetic, I proceeded to revise another. And now I’m back – revising. creating. blogging and yes, still reading.

Being forced to fail, which is what a health complication can bring, brought me balance and new joy in the world of words. And for that, I’m grateful and I’m on a permanent working holiday now.

So, I practice my three R’s of the craft – Read to learn, wRite, and most importantly, I Read to enjoy!

Happy reading and writing!

Juggling Personal and Professional Lives – Never Drop the Ball

A year has passed since I wrote my post on how we spend our time being a value statement, but I still find that my time is my most precious resource. By the necessity of my choices, I have become very skilled a juggling large workloads. Between extraordinarily long professional workweeks, maintaining my personal relationships, and the every day effluvia of keeping food on my table and a roof over my head, I somehow find the time to regularly blog and write fiction. It is a juggling act that I suspect that many aspiring writers will empathize with.

However, some of those balls, those commitments, have come disturbingly close to hitting the ground recently. I was able to recover, but as I grow older, the number and weight of my obligations grows ever larger. I fear that one day I will accidentally and irrecoverably sacrifice something important to me to feed my ambitions.

I have been pondering this possibility a great deal recently, as both my personal and professional lives gain momentum. For me, personal and professional progress is both exhilarating and terrifying. You see, once you start getting what you want, you have something to lose. As we chase accomplishment, we often put on blinders to what else is important in our lives. As an example, I was fortunate enough to be invited to dinner with an extremely successful author in her field at a convention I recently attended. During the meal, one of the diners asked the author what her greatest professional regret was. I can still remember the broken sound of her voice as she told our group that she was afraid that her daughter would never forgive her for the years she spent locked in her office.

Despite the trepidation that such examples inspire, I am unwilling to give up my writing and my dreams of professional authorship. After all, in biological terms, the fear response serves to both identify potential hazards and prepare us to face them. If I want to accomplish my personal and professional goals, I must use my fear, not be ruled by it. My unease reminds me that I have things that I value outside of my accomplishments, and in so doing, allows me to keep my other priorities in focus. I must choose what I sacrifice, not let circumstances decide for me. As an example, for the past couple of years, I have rarely played video games or watched television. By cutting out these activities, I have made more room in my schedule for writing. I have talked to many authors who have done the same thing. Compared to the rest of my life, that particular sacrifice was well worth the cost.

Throughout my life, I have found that accomplishment is almost always paired with sacrifice. It is up to me live deliberately and choose how I spend my time wisely so that I may both achieve my goals and retain what is important to me. To live is to risk pain. To fear is to be aware of that risk and to manage it appropriately.

What Color Should an Introvert Wear?

unnamedCrowds wear me out. As do conventions and even large meetings. At first, I thought I was an introvert but that didn’t always make sense because I like people and I like conventions. But they tired me out and so I searched for coping strategies. How could I even enjoy myself, let alone talk to anyone, especially agents and publishers, if I wasn’t on my game?

I embarked on a journey to find the perfect wardrobe- inside and out. Outside was easy – some interesting jewelry, clothes with a unique flare. Inside I needed to know if I was an introvert trying to maneuver in an extrovert world. Despite doing the research and planning for events, I found I still wore out easily and I began to suspect that it may not be about whether I was an introvert or an extrovert. How could it be? I’ve spoken in front of hundreds of people, given workshops and have been a guest speaker only to now find myself dreading crowds. I was getting tired everywhere, all the time – at meetings, critique groups, writing retreats and workshops. What was going on?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) – that was the diagnosis. It crept slowly into my life stretching like a shadow on a lazy summer day, creeping until it melded with the dusk. It eroded my energy, my confidence and my ability to fully participate in events and conferences. Worse yet, it decreased my productivity because I tired easily. My greatest fear now wasn’t what color I should wear, it was about whether I’d have enough energy to maintain a productive and fulfilling writing life.

There is no known cause and there is no cure. One of the current theories is that the mitochondria (our cells’ power plants) aren’t functioning optimally. I’ve learned coping strategies to manage the symptoms and to reduce ‘flare ups’. Writing goals have been adjusted and are being met. I’ve learned to limit activities and to be more strategic about interactions. I’m managing it so it doesn’t manage me. It’s not perfect and I do suffer from over-exertion but I sometimes choose to do things knowing there will be consequences.

When it comes to my writing life now, to being at conferences or at workshops, I know what I need to do to function. Part of it is understanding that over stimulation is tiring, that there is only so much I can do and participate in and then I must rest. It’s manageable and if I’m careful with my energy, I can be as productive and outgoing as I want to be. As for what color to wear? It really doesn’t matter anymore. I know my limitations and whether I wear brighter colors or quieter ones, my confidence is back because I’m in control and I can pick my moments.

My apologies to fellow CFS sufferers because I don’t mean to minimize the effects of CFS or to imply that there’s a simple solution. This blog isn’t about coping strategies, management and symptoms. It’s about letting people know that sometimes when you feel like life is overwhelming and that you don’t have enough energy to do the things you want to or to even enjoy them, sometimes it’s important to step back and take stock. Ask those questions about physical and mental health, consider if you’re taking on too much, examine expectations – take charge so you can choose the colors you want to wear on any day so you can achieve your goals in your writing life.

What I Know Now

A guest post by Lisa Mangum.

Well, hello there, Past Lisa. I see you are just sitting down to your laptop, an exciting new book idea all fresh and bubbly in your head. You haven’t decided what to call it yet; for now, it’s just “my story”—as in “I can’t make dinner tonight, sweetie, I have to work on my story.” You don’t know it, but this idea will be your first published book, The Hourglass Door. It’s good the story is about time travel, because you see, this is Future Lisa, and I have come from, well, the future to share with you some advice about writing and publishing and the journey that awaits you.

1. You’re going to love it.

Trust me on this one. There is a lot to love about writing. Developing an idea is freedom. You get to do whatever you want and no one can stop you—not the plot, not the characters, not your readers, friends, family, or even the voice in the back of your head that warns of failure. You get to ask “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” all the time, and there are no wrong answers to slow you down.

The writing process itself is even better. It’s like a huge, scattered jigsaw puzzle, and you get to sift and sort through the words, ideas, and images until you find two that fit together so perfectly you just know it was meant to be. And you simply connect more words and ideas and images until you have a whole big beautiful piece of art to share with everyone.

You’re going to love seeing your words come alive on the computer screen. You’re going to love making them stronger and better. And you’re going to love it when other people read them and say, “This is great!”

Most of all, you’re going to love seeing those words between the pages of a real book cover. And yes, that will be your name there on the front. You will never forget the first time you hold your very own published book in your hands.

Savor those moments. Love them. Remember them. Hold on to them tightly, because as much as you’re going to love it…

2. You’re going to hate it.

Editing sucks. Rewrites are ugly. Bad reviews hurt. Figuring out how to sell your book in one sentence is excruciating. Standing for hours on a Saturday afternoon in Costco trying to talk strangers into buying your book when all they really want to do is buy a five-pound jug of mayonnaise and go home is no fun. Sitting at a bookstore on a cold February night with only one copy of your book in the entire store, but you can’t sell it because no one even comes into the store for two hours—unspeakable.

(Later, you may find these to be valuable learning experiences, but at the time…yeah, you’re going to hate them.)

Deadlines are impossible, terrifying, unrelenting beasts. You will find yourself saying “no” to all kinds of things: No, I can’t go to the movies with you; I have to work on my book. No, I can’t read that new novel; I have to work on my book. No, I can’t be bothered to shower, eat, sleep, change my clothes, speak nicely to another human being; I have to work on my book. Your life will be measured in increasing word counts and decreasing days until the deadline knocks you flat.

But it doesn’t matter, really, because the deadline is just the point where your editor will say, “That’s great. Now rewrite the whole thing and make it better. And can you have it done by next month?”

3. The answer is “Yes.”

Remember to balance out all those “No” answers with some “Yes” answers as well.

You will be asked a lot of questions during your journey as a writer. And more often than not, the best answer to give is “Yes.” I know you won’t have much time for marketing your book. (You’ll still need to work full-time while you write, after all.) But if you say “yes” to one marketing event per week, you’ll be surprised at how many wonderful things you’ll experience and how many wonderful people you’ll meet.

So say yes to those book signings, blog interviews, newspaper articles, TV appearances, speaking requests for book clubs, business conferences, and writing conferences.

And above all, say yes when it comes time to celebrate your achievements: “You’ve just finished your last book. Do you want to go to Disneyland to celebrate?” YES.

4. Dream bigger.

You know how everyone tells you to “dream big”? Well, I want to tell you to dream bigger. Whatever you think your ultimate goal is, whatever the pinnacle of your personal and professional success looks like—dream bigger.

You hope in your secret heart to sell 1,000 copies of your book? Dream of selling 5,000. You think it would be amazing to win an award for something you wrote? Dream of winning four awards. You feel pretty sure you’ll be happy if you write only one book? Well, surprise—you have more stories in you than you’ll know what to do with. Make sure your dreams grow every bigger day.

5. “Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. Don’t stop.”

Remember when you saw this quote at Disneyland? The truth of it will become more important to you every day that passes. No matter what happens, don’t hurry through the good stuff, don’t worry about the bad stuff, and just don’t ever stop.

(So, now that I’ve been-there-done-that, where do I pick up my T-shirt?)

Lisa MangumGuest Writer Bio: Lisa Mangum attended the University of Utah, graduating with honors with a degree in English. A lifetime lover of books, she has worked in the publishing industry since 1997, editing works by several New York Times bestselling authors as well as debut novelists. She was recently named Managing Editor of Shadow Mountain Publishing.

Besides books, Lisa loves movies, sunsets, spending time with her family, and trips to Disneyland. She lives in Utah with her husband, Tracy. She is the author of four award-winning YA novels (The Hourglass Door trilogy and After Hello), a short story (“Sold Out”), and novella (“&”). She also edited One Horn to Rule Them All: A Purple Unicorn Anthology.

You can find her @LisaMangum or