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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: stress

Image courtesy of Eflon via Flickr Creative Commons
Image courtesy of Eflon via Flickr Creative Commons

The past few years have been just brutal. My grandmother who raised me was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and it was just one crisis after another and it just never…freaking…let…up. I felt like I was in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu being crushed all the time, but not allowed to tap out. Then, on Independence Day (ironically) my grandmother finally passed away.

I really never appreciated how much her declining health was impacting me until she was gone. It was like I was wandering around in a fugue state only aware that my knees hurt. Then out of nowhere a hand lifted off the 500 pound gorilla and I could breathe again. I never noticed the gorilla, never noticed the lack of air, only the knee pain.

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So now I am in the process of rebuilding. I plan on taking a couple days off to just rest and get away from all the work that piled up for me to do. Hit my reset button, so to speak. But I figured blogging about this might help some of you who are struggling, too.

Burnout can come from all directions—family, job, marriage, illness, death. Sometimes we are not even aware how hard we have been hit until something radical changes (for me, a death). We are the frog being slowly boiled alive, oblivious that maybe we should jump out.

Writer’s Block

The words won’t flow and you think you might have worn out your thesaurus function looking for another word to say “the.” You might be your own worst enemy.

Writing can be therapeutic. True. But, our creativity can also be one of the first casualties of too much stress, which makes sense when we really study what is happening to us when we’re under too much pressure.

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Biology 101

Have you ever wondered why you can’t remember half of what you said after a fight? Wondered why it seems the only time you can’t find your keys is the day you’re late for work? Been curious why you said the stupidest comments in the history of stupidity while in your first pitch session with an agent?

Yup. Stress. But how does stress make perfectly normal and otherwise bright individuals turn into instant idiots?

Basically, the same biological defense mechanisms that kept us alive hunting bison while wearing the latest saber tooth fashions are still at work today. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems work in tandem to regulate the conscious mind. Sympathetic gears us for fight or flight. Parasympathetic calms us down after we’ve outrun the bear…or opened that rejection letter.

In order for the sympathetic system to do its job effectively, it dumps all sorts of stress hormones into the body—DHEA, cortisol, adrenaline—to enable that super human strength, speed, and endurance required to survive the crisis. The problem is that the human body thinks in blanket terms and cannot tell the difference between fighting off a lion and fighting with the electric company.

The human brain is divided into three parts:

Cerebral Cortex—higher thinking functions like language, meaning, logic.

Limbic/Mammalian Brain—used for experiencing emotions.

Reptilian Brain—cares only about food, sex, survival.

I believe that writers (and people in general, for that matter), could benefit greatly by truly understanding stress and the affect it has on the mind and body. A brain frazzled to the breaking point physiologically cannot access information contained in the cerebral cortex (higher thinking center). Thus, the smart writer must learn to manage stress.

And for the purpose of this blog, I am referring to bad stress so there is no confusion.

Modern life may not have as many literal lions and tigers and bears, but we are still bombarded with their figurative counterparts all day, every day. When stress hits, the body reacts within milliseconds.

Welcome to Stress Brain

This is me right now *head desk*
This is me right now *head desk*

The sympathetic nervous system floods the body with hormones, increases heart rate, pulls blood away from digestive and reproductive systems, etc. And, most importantly, it diverts blood supply to the mammalian and reptile brain at the expense of the cerebral cortex. Apparently the body feels your witty repertoire of Nietzsche quotes are not real helpful in lifting a car off your child.

Thus, since the mammalian brain is in high gear, this explains why it is not uncommon to experience intense emotion while under stress. This is why crying, when confronted or angry, is very common. It is also why, once we calm down, we frequently wonder why we were so upset to begin with…mammalian brain overtook logic.

This is also why the gazillion action figures your child leaves littered across the floor suddenly becomes a capital offense two seconds after you accidentally set dinner ablaze. Your emotions have taken front and center stage and knocked logic into the orchestra pit.

Another interesting point…

When the sympathetic nervous system prepares us for fight or flight, our pupils dilate. The purpose of this is to take in as much information about a situation as possible. The problem is that, although we are seeing “more” we are actually seeing “less.” The body is totally focused on the cause of the stress. This is why, when we’re running late to work, we see every clock in the house, but cannot seem to find our car keys.

This also explains how, once we take time to breathe and calm down, those keys have a way of magically appearing in the same drawer we opened 763 times earlier (while screaming at the kids, the dog, the cat, the laundry….). Poof! Magic.

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Once we understand and respect stress, it seems easier to give ourselves permission to go on vacation or truly take a day off. It is a matter of survival. When bad stress piles up, we physiologically are incapable of:

1) Being productive.

That book proposal will take 15 times longer to prepare because you keep forgetting the point you were trying to make in the first place.

We will wear out the thesaurus function on our computer looking for another way to say “good.” Face it. Stress makes us stupid.

2) Making clear decisions.

We won’t be making decisions from the logical part of our brain, so eating everything in the house will actually seem like a good idea.

3) Interacting in a healthy way with our fellow humans.

The new trees for your back yard might never get planted because your husband will be too busy plotting a way to bury you under them.

The most important lesson here is to respect stress. We must respect its effects the way we should alcohol. Why do we make certain to have a designated driver? Because when we’re sober, we think clearly and know that driving drunk is a very poor decision. Yet, the problem with alcohol is it removes our ability to think with the higher brain functions. Stress does the same thing. It limits/obliterates clear thought.

That’s why it is a very good idea to have people close to us who we respect to step in and 1) force us to back away and take a break, 2) convince us to take a vacation, get a pedicure, go shopping, hit the gym 3) give us a reality check, 4) take on some of the burden, 5) run interference with toxic people.

Like great violinists take great care to protect their hands, we writers would be wise to do the same with our emotions and our minds. So when the stress levels get too high and you start seeing it seeping into your writing, it is wise to find a way to release stress. Take back the keys to your higher thinking centers! Take back that cortical brain!

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Exercise, read, pray, meditate, watch a movie, laugh, do yoga, take a walk, work in the garden. Most of all…write. But do a different kind of writing. Write without a care in the world. Ever wonder why experts advise us to do freewriting when we hit a wall?

Seems counterintuitive, but it is actually super smart when you think about the biology lesson we just had. If we can just write forward, without caring about the clarity or quality, we often can alleviate stress rather than fuel it. This freewriting can calm us back into the cortical brain so later, when our head is back on straight, we can go back and clean up the mess.

Which is exactly what I will do…after I go for a walk.

What are some ways you guys deal with stress? How do you overcome writer’s block? Have you been through caregiver burnout? How did you recover? Hey, I am a work in progress too 😀 .

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Check out the other NEW classes below! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th) will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that 😉 .

We are doing ANOTHER round of Battle of the First Pages!!! August 5th

The first time we did this we had some tech issues doing this new format and we’ve since worked those out, but for now I am still keeping the price low ($25) until we get this streamlined to my tastes.

LIMITED SEATS. This is an open workshop where each person will submit his or her first page of the manuscript for critique. I will read the page aloud and “gong” where I would have stopped reading and explain why. This is an interactive workshop designed to see what works or what doesn’t. Are you ready to test your page in the fire?

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages August 12th

The first five pages are the most essential part of the novel, your single most powerful selling tool. It’s how you will hook agents, editors and readers. This class will cover the most common blunders and also teach you how to hook hard and hook early. This class is 90 minutes long, 60 minutes of instruction and 30 minutes for Q&A.

Your First Five Pages Gold Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique your first five pages.

Your First Five Pages Platinum Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique of your first twenty pages.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

 

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It’s funny how life has this way of pointing out our weaknesses. We have this delusion that we can keep doing things the way we always have and it will work…and that’s when the pressure piles up. I admit it. I am a control freak and a perfectionist.

I grew up in a family of chaos where the rules changed daily and the only thing I could count on was nothing could be counted on. My family was also rather stoic (likely because we are mostly military and medical workers).

I still tease my mom that she had a saying, “Come home with your lunch kit or ON it.”

Growing up, we went through a lot of bad times and crying was highly discouraged. Second place was the first loser. Failure was not an event, it was who you were.

When Life Lands in the Blender

I try to always walk my talk. When I advise getting out of the comfort zone? I mean it, and I do it. Starting WANA International was terrifying for me. What’s interesting was up until that point, life had been pretty uneventful, even awesome. We’d had wonderful, almost stress-free three years and I ran my life and writing with the efficiency of a Swiss watch.

Then it was as if the second I filed the LLC to start my own business? The Gates of Hell opened.

Now? I’m lucky to have my underwear on correctly. A lot has gone right with WANA International, but just as much has gone sideways. I’m learning a lot about just how much I don’t know. Seriously humbling. I also MUST stop comparing how I ran things before life changed. Sure keeping an immaculate house and meeting deadlines was easier when Spawn was in a PLAYPEN.

But just like our novels run our characters through a crucible to (hopefully) change them for the better, life can do the same to us.

While a lot of what’s happened in the past couple years has been HARD (even devastating) it’s amazing what I’ve learned and how it’s forced me to come up higher and grow.

Learning I am NOT ALONE

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff
Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff

I began the idea of WANA (We Are Not Alone) because I knew what it was like to have a dream of being a writer and be alone with no support. Deciding to become a writer was probably the first time I stepped out in faith that I could DO something remarkable….and it was a beating.

That trial taught me how much support networks are vital for success. They keep us pressing and give us people we can lean on when we’re about to fall apart. I felt writers needed help beyond social media or craft. Writers are people with a lot of stress and life can make us give up the dream. And WANA was born.

We still need to keep stepping out and doing stuff that scares us. I have always been such a workhorse/caretaker that I forget to ask for help. I know none of you have this problem, but I will cop to it  😉 .

In May, (after six deaths in less than two years and two more pending) it all became too much, so I joined a weekly group at my church designed to help those dealing with grief. My pride had kept me away for too long. It’s been…weird. Stripping away the gallows humor. Learning to feel when I’m in the habit of running an endless list of things to do through my head to avoid feeling.

I remember when my dad suddenly passed away, I showed up for work the next day. My coworkers were horrified. WHY are you HERE?

Um, because I am scheduled to work? *confused* It never occurred to me I should stay home. I had obligations.

Control is an Illusion

SO ME!
SO ME!

Part of what I’ve learned is control is an illusion. Often it will get us sidetracked on things that really don’t matter (um, refer to above image) at the expense of doing things that are meaningful.

Yeah, I was in denial. I made jokes about being OCD or a control freak, but recently it’s hit me how BAD I really was (am). So, again, I made a decision to do things differently. So much energy had been focused on the sick, deceased or dying, I forgot to focus on the living. I began doing a lot more with The Spawn, taking him to the pool or the park and enjoying it, instead of working while he played. I joined martial arts with him so he’d have Mommy as a teammate. I abducted Hubby to learn to play D&D.

The Spawn LOVES "Mommy School"
The Spawn LOVES “Mommy School”

I made friends here locally and have become more comfortable asking for help.

It’s odd how we don’t honestly see ourselves and how that parallels with writing a good protagonist (they really ARE their own worst enemy in the beginning). Last Friday, I was in a rush and my foot met the wrong end of the glass shower door giving me a BAD puncture wound in my foot.

I rinsed it with antiseptic and taped it together and headed out for the church potluck because I promised I’d be there. As I was enjoying the food and the company, my new friend Shannon simply got up and refilled my drink and plate and tended The Spawn…and it stunned me.

People can help…ME?

Weird, I know. But even though I was hobbling around, my nature was to be up refilling and cleaning and helping everyone else. The fact that another person naturally did that for ME?

BIG eye-opener.

Confessions of a Yoga Nazi

Another thing I’ve done differently is I’m back going to yoga. I needed a place to relax mind and body before I imploded from stress. I came from two years of doing Bikram, which is Sparta of Yoga. Very strict.

I’m now doing gym yoga—hot yoga, which is only an hour and only 98 degrees. It’s a lot faster. But people come in the room talking away. Two days ago, I was in the middle of the workout and a woman next to me texted through the entire class. She had her cell on silent, but it did this weird strobe thing when a text came in, then she’d drop to the mat and text back. (In Bikram they would have booted her from the class.)

*me twitching*

It really took a lot of discipline to just let it go and not let her poor manners ruin my peace.

The hot yoga really is metaphoric for what I’m learning. Yes, structure is great, but true emotional or mental discipline doesn’t come from being told everything to do in a controlled environment. It’s having the ability to maintain the calm despite. It’s ignoring the people talking, laughing or texting inappropriately and still choosing peace. Because LIFE is anything but a controlled environment.

Having a Good Cry

Image courtesy of Cellar Door Films WANA Commons
Image courtesy of Cellar Door Films WANA Commons

What I REALLY like about this hot yoga, is the teachers will bring in lessons for the day. One hit home with me. It was about crying. When we stuff emotions and refuse to feel them, these emotions GO somewhere. They don’t vanish. She spoke about the benefits of crying.

Crying, in ways, doesn’t make sense. We feel sad or hurt and our eyes leak?

Apparently scientists tested different types of tears. Tears from cutting onions are very different from tears released when watching Bambi’s mother die.

Emotional tears are extremely high in toxins and hormones produced due to stress. It’s our body’s way of releasing the “bad stuff” and it’s why we feel better “after a good cry.” This made me think a lot about our society. Being emotional is discouraged. Crying is often viewed as weakness. Maybe that’s why a lot of us are too close to crazy these days. We are in a non-stop world moving from task to task to task and never stopping to feel or to even —GASP—cry.

Also caregivers are in a weird position. We have to be strong for others. If we aren’t careful we slap on a smile even when we’re crumbling. Often we aren’t even AWARE we are crumbling. I’m learning that it’s okay for me to recharge. I can’t help others if I’m empty.

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I left yoga yesterday and saw two quotes that spoke to me.

Nature does not hurry and yet everything is accomplished. ~Lao Tzu

Blessed are the flexible, for they shall never be bent out of shape. ~Anonymous

What to Take Away

When we step out to do something remarkable, expect disaster. Expect failures.

I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer here, but like our protagonists face trials and threshold guardians when they accept the adventure, we will too. It might be life testing us to see how badly we want the dream, but it’s more than that. Failures and setbacks are simply logical. We’re doing something different and unknown. We’re learning. Failure is part of that. I like to say, Show me a person who isn’t failing and I’ll show you a person who’s not doing anything interesting.

Quitting is easy. Anyone can do that.

Additionally, life doesn’t PAUSE when we decide to reach for our dreams. We must learn to maintain peace in the storm and to remember storms do eventually pass.

Oh, and another storm will come eventually ;).

Resting doesn’t make us lazy. Asking for help or even crying doesn’t make us weak.

My dishes will always need washing and my e-mail will always be a monster. The Spawn won’t remember that the house was perfectly organized, he WILL remember a day at the pool playing Water Zombies with Mom.

Also, some setbacks or bad events in life are worth having a good cry.

Peace is a decision, not a destination.

I’ve learned that $#!& happens. Me freaking out that the AC overflowed and flooded the attic doesn’t change the hefty bill or the mess to be cleaned up. Besides, most of the crap we fret about 1) never actually happens or 2) does happen and in five years we don’t even remember it.

Never underestimate how important you are. The little things are the biggest of all.

The comments on a blog, the funny pics on a FB timeline are all the small actions that keep a lot of us together. Never buy the lie that your actions don’t matter because they are “too small.”

Remember to rest, to cry, to laugh and to BREATHE. Hey, it’s life. None of us get out of it alive 😀 .

What are your thoughts? Have you been through stressful seasons and realized you were too focused on the problems and not enough on the joys? Do you find yourself holding your breath? Are you a caretaker and feel guilty doing anything for yourself? Do you forget to ask for help? Are you overly critical of yourself and learning to give yourself a BREAK? Can you think of hard times that nearly crushed you, yet when you came out the other side, something in you had changed for the better?

Hey, I am right here with you. We can trade notes 😀 .

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

For those who need help building a platform (HINT: Start as EARY as possible) here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

Announcements:

If you feel you might have the vapors after reading all of this, no worries, I offer classes to HELP.

July 19th is my First Five Pages Class  and use WANA15 for $15 off. If you can’t make the time, no worries, all classes are RECORDED and come with notes for reference. Upgrade to the GOLD level and I will look at your first five pages and give DETAILED analysis. This is NOT simple line-edit. This is a detailed, how to start your story in the right place and in a way that HOOKS analysis.

Also my Antagonist Class is coming up on July 26th and it will help you guys become wicked fast plotters (of GOOD stories). Again, use WANA15 for $15 off. The GOLD level is personal time with me either helping you plot a new book or possibly repairing one that isn’t working. Never met a book I couldn’t help fix. This will save a TON of time in revision and editors are NOT cheap.

This GORGEOUS image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Aimannesse Photography
This GORGEOUS image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Aimannesse Photography

One of the things I’ve strived for with WANA, this blog, my teachings is to offer practical lessons, honesty, tools for growth and change and support. Change is tough, right? I love to serve, to help, but I’m challenged daily to live the life and walk the talk. I have good days and bad days and OH DEAR LORD IS THERE A REWIND days (been having A LOT of those recently).

I believe our character will impact our dreams, our relationships, our well-being. And I would love to tell y’all I’ve got it all together, but I’ve been struggling…a lot. And I have some seriously clever excuses involving alien abduction, but….sigh. Tempting as it is, I won’t go there.

The Infestation

I remember a dream I had in 2008, and it’s been such a guide in cleaning up my behaviors and attitudes. I dreamed I inherited a beautiful cottage-home. From the outside it looked almost perfect. Just needed a little bit of paint…

.…yeah.

So in the dream, I begin to paint and notice the wood is loose. I know I can’t paint bad boards, so I pull them back with a pry bar.

AAAAAGHHHHHHHH!

Vermin everywhere. I scream, get them cleaned out and prepare to paint. But then I open the cabinets. WTH? OMG! You guessed it. More rats, roaches, termites. I’d just about get it pretty then see another layer and another and another. I couldn’t even DO any of the fun stuff—painting, decorating, picking out cute curtains—because what was “beneath” was infested and rotten.

My subconscious knew me better than I did. Pretty on the outside, but LOTS of problems on the inside.

It sounds strange, but I’m happy I’ve had to earn things the hard way when it comes to being an author. Growing up, I was naturally smart, the person who didn’t study and made As. As much of a blessing as it was, it was really a curse.

I could cruise through “appearing” to have it together, but it created a lot of BAD habits and rotten attitudes and behaviors. I’ve cleaned out a lot of the “infestations” but there are always more. Also, even if we do rid our “homes” of rats, mice, roaches, termites, we have to be in a habit of keeping the place clean so we don’t invite in new unwanted guests.

Cute but DESTRUCTIVE little buggers.
Cute but DESTRUCTIVE little buggers.

Living Mindfully

There are dumb things we can do that can have serious consequences. For instance, out at our ranch, one of my relatives forgot a bag of feed corn on the porch. When we got out there, there was CORN EVERYWHERE. You couldn’t open a drawer, a cabinet, a closet that there wasn’t some well-fed family of mice with a lovely stockpile of corn. The mice chewed through wiring and the hoses on the dishwasher…which then spewed water all over the floor.

A momentary lapse of mindfulness created hours of expensive, dirty and dangerous work. Not only that, but guess what LOVES to snack on mice? Rattlesnakes. Snakes that normally would have been quite happy out on the property discovered there was a SWEET buffet at the Lamb Ranch if you hung out on the PORCH.

Hubby and I spent an hour trying to coerce a rattler off the homestead property. I have this hysterical video of Hubby flinging a very annoyed rattler through the air. And yes some people would shoot the snake, but why? We invited him for dinner. Snake was just doing what snakes do.

And there is one brain-damaged snake now wandering our property with head trauma and a grudge.

Which is to say that life is always moving forward. We think life is a static picture like a magazine, but it isn’t. The kitchen will always need cleaning, there will always be more laundry and more bills. We need to shower more than once in a lifetime, and this also applies to our attitudes and habits.

If we slow down (and I am LEARNING) we can be more mindful about where we commit, what we start, or what we need to finish. Give ourselves grace, but be brave enough to address small problems early before they rage out of control.

Name It and Claim It

We can’t change what we won’t face. I have a saying. Name it and claim it. To offer a bit of insight, this has been a rough couple of years. It’s like everyone in my family is getting sick, ill, injured or dying. We’ve lost four family members in just the last year. Five in the last two. FOUR major surgeries, three of them life-threatening. As a person who loves and honors family I chip in to help the best I can.

I’m sure you guys have been through seasons like this. It’s as if life DOG PILES you and just about the time you come up for air, you get hit again.

Image via Frank Selmo WANA Commons
Image via Frank Selmo WANA Commons

But the thing is this is life. When I became published, no cute forest creatures showed up to style my hair and help me clean.

LUZRS.

Times of trial can be crucibles that reveal our weak points. I used to be a MAJOR WHINER. Oh poor me. I just about get going the right direction and SOMETHING happens. I was at the mercy of situations.

What these recent life events have shown me about myself are embarrassing, but I have to face these flaws even though truth stings.

I need to be better at communicating. For some weird reason, I will work myself half to death before I think, “Hey, I could possibly ask for HELP. Whouda thunk?” I’ve come to see that I overcommit. That is a BAD habit. If I give my word, I need to follow through because I want to be a person of integrity. This means I need to strive to be better at saying, “Let me get back to you.”

I’ve also developed this awful habit of cramming my schedule to the point that I can DO everything…so long as everything goes smoothly and the planets perfectly align. They WON’T. We NEED margin. If the Internet goes out, the weather goes nuts, the car breaks down, the business hits a rough spot, the kid gets sick, a spouse loses a job, it will affect everything else.

I’m working diligently to be more honest and realistic. Sure, I want to help people, but if I just flake out, forget, lose stuff, I’m doing more harm than good.

Yes, I need to give myself grace, but I can always seek to come up higher, too.

We NEED a Support System

Stress is a lot like being drunk. Our bodies default to limbic brain. We run on adrenalin. As a survival mechanism, we cannot harness our higher thinking centers. Apparently pondering Nietzsche while running from a bear is BAD. Yet, in modern society, we have the equivalent of bears all the time (and they look a lot like the unfinished WIP, piles of toys, a stack of bills and the IRS 😀 ).

This is why we need the similar equivalent of a Designated Driver. We need people who love us and are honest enough to say, “Go sleep. Say NO. Finish what you promised.”

Jay Donovan is a fantastic friend. Why? He encourages me. He is there for me. But, he’s also unafraid to send me a kind but scathing e-mail when I need my butt kicked correcting. I have a looong list of stuff to finish, but baby steps.

You guys have been an amazing support team and I’m so grateful. When I was up all night with The Spawn in the ER because he knocked out all his front teeth, people on-line were there to keep me calm and offer prayers, love and support. Same with the deaths, etc. You are the voices that make the world more lovely and never lonely.

WANA Lynn Kelly, really is a superhero.
WANA Lynn Kelly, really is a superhero.

But last week I had a major revelation. My husband, The Spawn and I are too isolated. We have family, but no one who lives nearby. I have no one to lean on when I am sick, worn out, overloaded or on the verge of just crying for a month. We’ve lived in this house for almost five years and know none of our neighbors. We don’t have any friends in the local community.

Last week, I stepped out of the comfort zone. I needed more. I NEEDED people close who might let me have a day where I can take a long nap. I can’t run forever on sheer force of will. As much as I love social media, it can’t be our only resource of support.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a GREAT resource, just like chainsaws are AWESOME for cutting up trees downed in a storm (but not so great for hanging pictures on the wall). We need to diversify our relationships. I need to as well even though I am an introvert. On-line friends are far less terrifying than talking to…*shivers* neighbors.

But, Suck it up, Buttercup.

It’s OKAY to BE WEAK

We aren’t robots. We live, laugh, love, screw up, start over, do better, blow it, then try again. I do. And there is a blessing to being weak. It offers others the gift of being strong for us. When we allow others to help us, we are giving them a gift. We feel good when we can help others. Why would others be different? So many of you take time to comment, encourage, offer help and you guys make me better each day.

We are not alone ;).

What are your thoughts? Do you feel like renovating your attitudes, habits, behaviors is overwhelming? Do you get discouraged too? Are you bad about overcommitting or not stopping to realize maybe you could kinda-sorta-maybe use some HELP? Are you hesitant to make friends with neighbors? Do you work your schedule off plank time? LOL.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.

Image via Moyen Brenn Flikr Creative Commons
Image via Moyen Brenn Flikr Creative Commons

Recently I ran across a neat post over at Forbes 14 Things Successful People Do on Weekends. It was a real eye-opener for some critical areas where I’m slacking. Namely, I’m not slacking enough.

See, y’all can at least rest assured that, as I’m lecturing you, I have three fingers pointed back at myself. Today’s topic dovetails nicely with last week’s post Entropy is REAL & Author Careers Need Feeding Daily.

ANOTHER Time-Saving Device?

Is it just me or, do you feel like you’re drinking from a fire hose? It seems like the more apps and gadgets and widgets they invent, the more crap we’re expected to keep up with. I rarely feel my time is saved at all. Yet, what would I do without the alarm on my iPhone to remind me not to leave my child at nursery school?

Calling CPS on a negligent mother? There’s an app for that.

Image via Pink's Galaxy Flikr Creative Commons
Image via Pink’s Galaxy Flikr Creative Commons

Repairing My Damaged Relationship with Rest

I grew up in a home that didn’t know how to rest. If you sat still too long, Mom would have you lemon-oiling something or pulling weeds. Weekends were for yard work and painting the kitchen some new color, because, well the current color was at least three months old. 

Yes, my mother is Norwegian and Norway is the motherland of OCD.

Even now, I find it hard not to be doing something productive all the time. If I happen to be on the phone, I fold laundry and clean while I talk. I’m always moving, tidying, scrubbing, and sorting….unless I’m writing :D.

Wash off your dish, or I will hunt you like a dog....
Yes, I wear this apron everywhere except BED.

Before DFWWWCon, I went to get a pedicure and forgot to bring any work with me. I thought I was going to have to be medicated because I wasn’t doing anything productive!

Busy, busy, busy. B.S.

Johnny in the DOG BED.
Cats have the “rest thing” DOWN.

Hotel California

And, have you ever tried breaking free from time-saving? We’ve done paperless billing and auto-debit for the past few years, but then, because Hubby and I are now both full-time entrepreneurs, we wanted bills sent on PAPER.

White stuff. Remember that? So the electric company apparently knows to send me a boatload of meaningless paper junk mail, but did they send the BILL?

Nope.

Woke up this morning to no power. Had to pay a $40 reconnection fee. A $15 I’m Sorry I’m Human Fee and a $150 I Swear I Will Never Do This Again Fee just to get power.

Yes, it’s why the blog is late.

When did I enter the Moronosphere? The effort it took to get a paper bill was just mind-boggling. They wasted at least an hour of my time to save me time? I’m lost.

Don’t the French drink wine with breakfast?

Yes, I Have a Point

These days there is a lot to do. For writers, we DO have a lot on our plate. This post isn’t to give any of us a pass to get out of working hard, but sometimes I believe we can get too sucked in. We should seek balance.

Work hard, play hard.

The World WILL NOT End

In an age of instant this and that, everyone (including me) wants stuff yesterday. Yet, here’s the thing. What we WANT and what we GET in life are two different things. I now turn off my phone and I don’t check e-mail over the weekends (unless WANA is running a class). I’m also banned from doing ANYTHING on Sunday. No making the bed or cooking. No picking up toys. I veg. I recharge…and my left eye twitches.

But I’ll get better with practice. Have no Make-You-Happy-Meals to serve today :D.

Suck It Up, Buttercup

All people need rest. Creative people especially need rest. Rest is work. Seriously!

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.
Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.

According to that Forbes article, almost all 14 activities successful people did on weekends involved rest. That really hit home for me and showed me where I had to sit still longer if I wanted to climb up higher.

Yet, I admit it. I feel guilty for having fun. I know I have a problem, but the first step to solving a problem is admitting we have one, right? Rest is important. It allows us to recharge the creative batteries.

Resting gives time for our subconscious to chew on problems and come up with brilliant solutions. I know all these things consciously, but it’s going to take time to give myself permission to chillax, especially in a culture that worships workaholics. Games, fun, naps, vacations are just as important as the WORK.

*writes that on sticky notes to paper the house*

Can I just be French?

What about you? Do you feel guilty for resting? Do you not know how to have fun? Do you feel guilty when you’re having fun? Do you have a hard time writing fiction because it’s fun and doesn’t feel like “work,” so you feel bad because you could be cleaning something? Have you overcome your workaholic tendencies? How did you do it? Tips? Tactics? I’m all ears…*sets down Swiffer*.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

Will announce May winner later in the week. Had no power :p. I’ll get there. Sigh.

 It’s our first Monday of the New Year and we are standing on the threshold of a shiny new year. It’s almost as good as getting new school supplies. The smell of virgin paper not yet touched by a ballpoint. A new start. No mistakes. Nothing but potential.

Okay, so if you are anything like me, your initial New Year’s Resolutions might look something like this.

  1. Lose 20 pounds by February 1st
  2. Run a marathon
  3. Go to gym 5 hours a day
  4. Win the Nobel Pulitzer by my birthday
  5. Save 85% of my income
  6. Go on vacation to Bora Bora (Note to Self: Look up actual location of Bora Bora)
  7. Clean out garage
  8. Paint house inside and out
  9. Finally have all my socks match
  10. Write 3 award-winning novels by summer

There is something about facing a new year that instills us with such hope that we lose all touch with reality (blame it on the booze and sugar). It’s great to set goals, but if we get real honest, most of the time we are our own worst enemy.

Odds are, if you are a fan of this blog, you are likely a writer, an aspiring writer, or this is a condition of your parole. Regardless, all of you need to learn to set effective goals and learn habits that will keep you from sabotaging your success. Hey, I hear ya! I am the world’s worst.

But this past year, 2011, has been one of my best. I reached a lot of goals. Why? Because I learned some good lessons and applied them consistently. I hope to do even better this year. So I am going to pass these lessons on to you and hope that you will benefit as well.

1. Grant Permission to be Imperfect

The world does not reward perfection. It rewards people who get things done.

Perfectionism is a noble trait taken to the extreme which can serve as an excuse for mediocrity and a mask for fear. Perfectionists tend to be self-saboteurs (I would know nothing about this *whistles innocently*).  We perfectionists nit-pick over every single detail often at the expense of the big picture. Perfection is noble, so it makes a great shield. I mean, we just don’t believe in churning out shoddy half-ass work, right? Um…maybe. Or maybe we have a fear of failure, or even a fear of success.

So long as nothing is ever complete, we never have to face our demons and can happily fritter away our days perfecting our scenes and dialogue. Here’s the deal. No publishing house ever published half of a perfect book.

2. Give Baby Steps a Chance

How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.

All or nothing thinking, a close relative of perfectionism, can tank the best projects. It is so easy to fall into this trap of, If I can’t do X, then I do nothing at all. Baby Steps are still steps. Small steps, over time, with consistency add up. It’s sort of like working out. We can choose to show up January 2nd at 5 a.m. and work out three hours, but that is a formula to end up sore, injured and burned out.

Same with writing. Make small goals. “I will write 15 minutes.” “I will write 100 words.” Sometimes all we need is a little momentum. Can’t rev the motor if we never turn the key. A good way to get going is to use kitchen timers. Set the clock and write for 30 minutes.

I use sticky notes and set my big goal, then I divide it in half. One sticky note is on the left-hand side of my monitor (starting count). I then place the half-way point in the middle, and I am not allowed a break until I make that number (even if all I write is pigeon poo). The finish line is on the right. Getting started is always the hardest part. I generally find that if I can make it to the mid-point, I am golden.

3. Establish Accountability with Other People of Excellence

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

We do need to establish accountability. But, better than that, we need to make sure we are accountable to the correct circle of friends. A critique group is not enough. If a critique group is comprised of people who whine, complain and write when they feel like it, that attitude can rub off. Find people of excellence and they will help you stretch to meet a new bar. Hanging around a bunch of whiners who aren’t successful authors (and who likely will never be) is poison to your muse.

First step is find excellent peers. Join a critique group that has actual published authors or people regularly being paid for writing. If you can’t find that in person, look to Twitter. #MyWANA #RoW80 #writegoal #wewrite are all groups of dedicated professionals with a focused work ethic.

Critique groups and partners do keep us accountable. It is easy to blow off writing when it is just us, but when we will be a let-down to others? Different story. This is one of the reasons I LOVE blogging. Blogging has done so much to change my character and I highly recommend it to help you make the mental transition from hobbyist to professional. Blogging creates deadlines and accountability.

This is why writing down your goals is imperative. If nothing else, it is a cue to your subconscious that you are committed to something. You will feel a lot more conviction if you write out a goal than if you decide to let it float around your gray matter. I would even advise taking it to the next step and sharing your goals with others.

I feel this is why so many writers have a hard time saying aloud, “I am a writer.” To say it means we have to own it and that people will be watching. We are going to invite a whole other level of accountability and people will notice if we are screwing off. But I say that accountability is the best way to reach your dreams faster, so bring it on!

4. Small Change Will Grow into Big Change

If we cannot manage a little, why should we be given more?

Good habits have a way of filtering through our lives. I have a saying, “Smaller truths reveal larger truths.” We don’t have to do mind-blowing alterations in our routines to start seeing real change in our lives. I guarantee that if you just start making your bed in the morning that other things will fall in line. Soon, you will notice that your bedroom is neater, and then the kitchen. As your house gets tidier, so does your purse and your car, and so on and so forth.

Just start with small writing goals and I guarantee that bigger better changes will follow suit.

5. Understand that Feelings LIE

Emotions are important, but not necessarily a useful tool for direction. Sort of like the bumper of my SUV is important, but not for helping me get directions.

Modern pop psychology loves to ask about our feeeelings all the time. Feelings are important, but they are a lousy compass to guide our actions. Why? Feelings can be affected by so many things—fatigue, diet, too much sleep, too little sleep, jerks at the office, kid toys underfoot, PMS, hormones, too much caffeine, not enough caffeine, cat vomit in our house slippers, and on and on and on.

If I can pass on any lesson that will change your life it is for you to understand that your feelings will almost always take the path of least resistance. If we are going to accomplish anything in life we cannot let our feelings have a vote.

I blog whether I feel like it or not. I don’t wait until I feel like writing to sit my tuchus in a chair. Feelings can be the enemy and steal your dreams. The Crappy Excuse Trolls and Procrastination Pixies will capitalize on your feelings and do everything in their power to convince you that you will get to it later when you feel like it. Shut them down. Don’t give your feelings a vote.

The best way to shut down your feelings is to make lists of goals. I make lists every day and it keeps me focused. I can be exhausted, disenchanted, disillusioned, but it doesn’t matter. Getting over inertia–getting started–is usually the toughest part. Discipline yourself to be a starter and it is much easier to learn to become a finisher.

6. Make a Plan

Fail to plan, plan to fail. 

A good plan will keep you focused, accountable, and give you clear benchmarks to measure success. I recommend buying NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer’s Warrior Writer. He teaches how to craft a plan for a writing career. I also recommend 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Getting Things Done, and Eat that Frog. Find ways to structure your life so that you maintain peace. Anxiety and clutter kill creativity.

In the end? Just Do It. Put that slogan on a Post-It notes and paper your house if you must. Put a Troll doll on your computer to remind you to be wary of Crappy Excuse Trolls in your midst. If any of you are new and don’t know the M.O. of the Crappy Excuse Trolls and Procrastination Pixies, go here. They make 12% commission off your shattered dreams.

And remember:

  1. Grant Permission to Be Imperfect
  2. Give Baby Steps a Chance
  3. Establish Accountability
  4. Trust that Small Change will Grow into Big Change
  5. Understand that Feelings LIE
  6. Make a Plan

What are some struggles that you guys have? What are tactics you use to keep focused? What are your goals for this year? Be brave and put them in the comments. What are some goals you’ve always wanted to reach but haven’t? Why? What is your advice?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of January I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I will announce the December winners on Friday. 

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

Happy writing!

See you next year!

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