Friday, October 21, 2016

4 Things I did to Become a Morning Person

Ever look at someone who gets up at the butt crack of dawn to start being productive and think, “Man, fuck that person”? That used to be me. Now? Now people look at me and think, “Man, fuck that person.”

Don’t get me wrong, I still adore sleeping in when possible, but that’s more of a rarity these days.

I used to drag myself out of bed with just enough time to get dressed, grab a cup of coffee, and shove the kids out of the house. That was back when I was still in school, but even when I didn’t have class in the mornings I would struggle with my productivity levels. The end of my days were packed with a sudden onslaught of everything I’d ignored that day.

This didn’t just start after kids, either. Back at 19, I lived a mere 5 minutes from the University of Memphis campus. I signed up for an 8 a.m. class, and then proceeded to show up only twice. It’s OK, I ended up dropping out anyway. (Stay in school, kids.)

Soon after finishing my degree, I was still working from home, and it made financial sense to take my kids out of daycare and the after-school program. My age-old trick of just sliding by in the evenings wasn’t cutting it anymore, and I knew what I had to do – wake up before my already early-rising kids. Which sounded just about as pleasant as receiving a hair cut from a T-Rex. It took some time, but here are the 4 steps I made to make it happen.

My mornings look less like this and more like a hungover zombie.

1. Went to bed early
Look, this one isn’t groundbreaking, I get it. But I used to routinely stay awake until midnight or one in the morning, which generally contributed to my inability to do little else than hit the snooze button for half an hour. So did I just hit the hay with lights out at 9:30 and conk the eff out? Nope.

In order to make going to bed early actually work, I put off reading time until I went to bed. That way I had something to actually look forward to and could easily roll over and go to sleep as soon as I felt ready.

2. Made plans for the morning
The first morning that I rose before the sun and managed to make it downstairs was disorienting. I was up early, but what was I supposed to be doing? Maybe I would eat breakfast first, or get a bit of writing done, maybe take care of a few work assignments. Ultimately, I didn’t get anything done. I sat on the couch watching The Mindy Project while downing cups of coffee. Relaxing, but the complete opposite of productive.

My mornings have routine now. First I get up, wash my face, then enjoy a cup of coffee while I make my daily to-do list. It may not seem like much, but it’s the definitive starting point to my day.

3. Moved my phone
Look I am like queen of the snooze button. I don’t care what time it is or where I have to be, if it is within reach I will slap that little son of a bitch like there’s no tomorrow. Give or take 30 minutes of telling my phone to shut up, and my morning is off to a late start and I have to make my to-do list while my kids are awake and begging to play video games.

My phone now stays plugged up on my dresser, on the other side of the room from my bed. This forces me to actually get out of bed and stumble over there without my glasses to turn it off. By then I can’t fight the “I’ve gotta pee” feeling anymore, so screw it up I’m up.

4. Changed my outlook
This was probably the most difficult step in all of this. It took a tremendous amount of effort to change how I perceived my nighttime habits, which mostly consisted of re-watching TV shows and browsing through social media. Which, FYI, I’m in Mountain Time Zone (Arizona, no daylight savings FTW), so pretty much everyone east of me was already in bed and no longer posting.

These nightly habits were neither worthwhile nor were they healthy. Sure, taking a lazy night every now and then is great, but every night? Not so much. I had to make a conscious decision to look at early mornings as an opportunity to address the issues I was having, and to reconsider just how much I valued my nightly habits.


Changing an aspect of yourself isn’t easy, and before you decide to change part of who you are, it’s probably a good idea to ask yourself why you’re making this change.

Have you ever made a conscious effort to change a bad habit? How did you do it?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

What I'm Reading (and Why I'm Putting Some Books Down)

Ever read a book that leaves you so completely enamored that you read nothing else but that author’s work for about a month straight?

That was me this past August and September. A friend lent me her copy of It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover, and suddenly I was checking out every available Hoover title at my library and putting the others on hold. There are still a few more of her books I want to read, but you know how it is. Budgets and books don’t always mix, so shout at to my library.

This post wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t also talk about what I’m not reading.

For me, life is too short for bad books. Maybe “bad” is the wrong sentiment here, but the truth wouldn’t fit into a convenient motto. The truth is that some books just aren’t my taste or don’t hold my interest very well. I used to push through these books like I was a child being told I’d get dessert if I would just eat my freaking vegetables. But you know what you get for finishing a book you don’t like?

Nothing. No one cares, and now you’ve wasted your time. So repeat it with me:

I give books until about page 60 to turn things around. If they don’t? I take it back to the library and bring home another stack.

Right now I’m reading The Perfect Neighbors by Sarah Pekkanen. I’ve enjoyed her novels over the past several years, but I didn’t even realize she had a new book out until I spotted it with a 20% off sticker on its cover at Target. So far, so good (I’m past the 60-page mark, if you’re curious). Each character and her respective family is going through its own crisis, when from the outside they might even seem like the perfect neighbors.

So what are you reading right now? Did it come from the library, the store, a friend, or your own shelves?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Tell Me The Truth

The most useless person you could possibly ask to read and comment on your work is your spouse. Unless you have a spouse who is an editor or a writer themselves, otherwise, bad idea.

To my husband, every word that I tap out at the keyboard is brilliance, pure magic. Realistically, we both know that's not true. I have an Excel spreadsheet of rejected submissions to prove it.

Ideally, I'd like to find a local writing group, but time-wise this isn't really feasible right now.

I hear other writers mentioning beta readers and critique partners, but I've never really picked up the necessary networking or social skills to find any of my own. For years I've convinced myself that having someone else read my work before submitting it isn't really necessary, or that swapping critiques with a partner won't really add much to my writing, but I'm starting to think that I'm wrong.

Do you use beta readers or have a critique partner? More importantly, how did you find them in the first place?

Friday, July 1, 2016

What I've Been Reading

Even if reading wasn't one of the most important aspects of being a writer (does reading time count as working?), much of my day would still be spent stealing minutes here and there to sit down with my nose placed firmly in a book. I've read some truly phenomenal books this year, some good books, and others that I didn't quite finish because life is too short for bad reads. Here are some of my favorites, and for your benefit, I've managed to cut the list down to five.

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
I first fell in love with Backman's writing after reading A Man Called Ove. Britt-Marie is a character that appeared in one of Backman's other books, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, and I definitely suggest reading it before moving on to Britt-Marie Was Here. Backman's insight into the human soul (in a non-religious sort of way) is absolutely stunning.

The Dinner by Herman Koch
This novel takes place over the course of a single evening at a fancy restaurant. Koch has the kind of pacing ability that I strive for, reveals necessary information without spoon feeding it, and depicts the lengths that parents are sometimes willing to go to in order to protect their children.

Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty
Moriarty is easily one of my favorite authors. She has the brilliant ability to weave together multiple story lines and characters, and builds on conflict until explosive climaxes. Three Wishes isn't my favorite Moriarty novel, although it's still quite good, it just happens to be only one of two Moriarty books I've read this year. It follows the lives of three sisters (triplets to be exact) and the mayhem that seems to follow each of them.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
I listened to this one as an audio book, and specifically went on longer runs than normal in order to keep listening. First off, Mr. Penumbra's bookstore sounds like the kind of place I need to be (floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, yes please!). Between its weird owner, even weirder customers, and a beautifully designed secret society, this book is definitely one to add to your bookshelf.

The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo
Sinisalo is a master of speculative fiction and this novel is no exception. In the Eusistocratic Republic of Finland, there are two types of women: eloi and morlocks, and only the eloi have the legal right to marry. Defective morlocks are sterilized, drugs and alcohol are contraband, and the black market smuggles chili peppers across the border. This one had a real HG Wells feel to it and I gobbled it up in a few sittings. This was one that I checked out from the library, but I'm certainly adding it to my own collection in the future.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Thirsty, But In The Physical Way

I’ve always been thirsty. Not metaphorically or spiritually, just thirsty. My childhood nightstand always sported a cup of water at bedtime, and even now I can distinctly recall the plastic Pocahontas cup standing ready at the bedside.

Nothing has changed now. Every night, before padding up the stairs but after letting the dog outside for one last pee, I fill up a cup with water and ice to carry to up to bed. On nights that I feel particularly parched, I forego the plastic cup and fill up my two favorite reusable water bottles. And no, I don’t share with my husband.

A few months ago I noticed that I was drinking even more than normal. Even now, a cup of water is always at my side and I fill up several water bottles when leaving the house. So I did what everyone does. I Googled it. And convinced myself that I had diabetes.

I used to be a fairly unhealthy person. I didn’t eat well and exercise wasn’t even part of my vocabulary. After dropping and keeping off about 100 pounds I’m an overall pretty healthy person, but I was terrified that the damage had already been done.

A visit to my doctor ended in bloodwork and a two-week wait, during which I turned my unending thirst and handful of other symptoms over and over in my mind. Every activity was racked with guilt. Why hadn’t I moved more when I was younger? I could hardly eat without wondering how things might have been different if only I had exercised more self-control. And you know what?

It was my fucking anemia.

Iron pills, a bill of clean health, and I was reassured that some people are just thirsty. The dry, Tucson air doesn’t help much either.

The whole ordeal was an unnecessary strain that I put myself through, but I only recently realized how that situation mirrors my writing life. When starting a new story or gearing up to outline an idea I’ve been tossing around in my head for a while, I experience an extraordinary amount of fear. It follows me throughout the day, beating itself against my skull as I run farther and farther from actually writing.

And then when I do start writing? Well, then I learn that the fear was wrong.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Whoops, There Goes Another 2 Months...

I've pretty much accepted the fact that I'm the worst blogger ever. I remember, I forget, then I remember again and panic internally for 3 weeks straight. Maybe it's not a healthy system, but it's my system. Here are the highlights from the past 2 months, and we can move on to more exciting things next time.

My husband came home:

And it was awesome.

I was published.

In 2016's SandScript.

You can get it here.

Visited the Grand Canyon for the first time.

They were clearly overwhelmed by its beauty.

And pitched a few tents.

And now I'm writing again, which is what I'm always doing I suppose. Right now I have 2 different short stories that I'm working on and a novel that I'm scared to touch. Something tells me a bottle of wine could help me get over that.

What have you been up to recently? Any trips, new stories in the works, or a new brand of coffee at the grocery store?

Friday, April 8, 2016

Rejected, Accepted, and Still Going

Excel has probably about a million different features and formulas, but honestly I don’t use any of them. My husband set up our budget spreadsheet and is an Excel master, but I’m more of a basic user.

I use Excel to track my submissions. What I submitted, when it was sent off, where I sent it to, if it was an article or short story, and if it was accepted or rejected.

The “Rejected” column has me feeling a little beaten down. As writers, we all know that rejections far outweigh the “yes”s, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to take. For me, it’s not so much the individual rejections, it’s the image of them all combined in a tidy little spreadsheet.

Those few “yes”s, though? They’re the sip of water when I’m trudging through the desert, fighting to get over the next sand dune to that magical land of full-on publication. Recently I’ve had two articles published and not much else, although not for lack of trying and pitching and querying the shit out of myself.

Recently, though, I got a larger drink of water when I found out that my short story I’m Coming, Mary will be published in this year’s SandScript. That acceptance came at just the right time, as I had been struggling with my competence as a writer. I mean come on, you can only have so many people say, “Sorry, not for us,” before you start to question the validity of your chosen career path.

Writing isn’t easy, and it isn’t necessarily the softest on the ego, but I still couldn’t picture myself doing anything else. Which is why I drink through the rejections. You know, sometimes.

How do you deal with rejections?