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Find Your Focus

Perhaps you’ve seen the concept of a Word of the Year around the interwebs. The idea is to pick one word that resonates with you, something you want to really strive toward for the year.

The last couple months I’ve struggled to find my focus. I’ve fallen behind on multiple projects, hadn’t read a book in two months, and felt checked out from life, to be honest. It was like I was in a complete brain fog all the time. So it should really come as no surprise that for my word of the year, I chose FOCUS.

I picked this for so many reasons, but one of the key things for me was that it fit into all the different parts of my life. In my professional life, the word will serve to ground me and remind me of the goals I’m striving toward. I need to buckle down and focus if I expect to get anything done, because, uh, it’s just me. If I don’t do the work, mama don’t get paid.

In my personal life, the word will serve as a reminder to be present. So often my kids will tell me a story, and I find myself zoning out, thinking about the bathroom that needs to be cleaned/the groceries that need to be picked up/that appointment that needs to be made, and I totally miss what they’re saying. That kills me. Because before long, my twelve-year-old is going to be a fifteen-year-old who doesn’t want to talk to his mom.

FOCUS, as a WOTY, has proven to be incredibly inclusive of all aspects of my life. And while I haven’t been 100% successful with it thus far, I will say that having the word has helped me, well, focus.

Some key steps I’ve done to help implement my word:

  1. Limiting social media and/or phone time. I’m allowed 30 minutes a day of Twitter/Facebook/Instagram. And let me tell you, those thirty minutes fly by. Some exceptions are made if I’m learning something on SM. For instance, if one of my FB groups is having a discussion on productivity hacks, I take the time and read the responses. But if it’s just me screwing around and liking posts, that’s got a time limit. Likewise, if I’m having a conversation with a human being, the phone is down and I turn my attention to the person speaking so I’m completely present.
  1. Meditating. Of course I’ve known about meditating for a long time. True story, when I was in seventh grade, it was the “cool” thing to do, so I did it one night. And by did it, I mean I fell asleep while pretending to meditate. As an adult, I meditated for the first time several months ago, thanks to the suggestion of Marie Forleo. It didn’t stick with me then, but I picked it back up in November, and it’s been a saving grace ever since. I like the Stop, Breathe & Think app (it’s free!) because it’s easy to use, has customized-to-your-mood meditation, and offers both guided (with non-annoying voices!) and free-form where you can set a timer and background noise and go to town. I like to do this before I settle in to write for the day, as it helps clear all the other stuff I seem to have floating around in my head lately.
  1. Planning. True, this might not work for everyone. In fact, if you are normally a fly by the seat of your pants kind of person, having a plan—or even having to do a plan—might make you lose focus. For me, it’s the opposite. I like having that task list that I can easily reference to see what needs to be done next or what I can do when I find myself with some free time. That’s helped me work toward my goals—especially business—more than anything.

We’re only a month into the year, but I’ve found these three things have really helped me stick to my word of the year and be more present in my daily life, whether that be personal or professional.

Did you do a word of the year? If so, what did you choose?

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The Right Plot Bunny At The Right Time…

I’ve already written at some length about my weirdest plot bunny. So for this month’s theme, I’m going to focus instead on what has, thus far, been my most important plot bunny.

The beginning of 2014 found me at a pretty low point in my life. I was struggling with fertility issues, with the loneliness that follows an interstate move, and ultimately, with my career. I’d released a number of short books, but I wasn’t getting a lot of sales traction, and try as I might, I couldn’t seem to finish anything. This was compounded by my fixation on completing a full-length novel and my refusal to do anything that resembled plotting.

Finally, in what at the time felt like a Hail Mary pass, I scrapped everything and started one more manuscript—one I was determined to finish. I threw everything I loved at this project. Paris. Art. Museums. Sex. Sex toys. A dude who looked like Sebastian Stan. An art student grappling with her own self-worth, and perhaps more importantly, the worthiness of her ambitions to make it in a creative field. (No, there’s no deeper meaning there. Why do you ask??)

While actual plotting remained a hard limit, I took the time to at least map out the basics. I decided I didn’t care if it sold. It was all stuff I loved, and it was stuff I wanted to write about. Sure, I threw in a billionaire plot line, but that was incidental, at least in my mind.

Then I sat down. And I wrote.

I wrote and wrote and wrote. My usual stalling-out point of 25,000 words flew by, and then 50, and even 75. Finally, at 90,000 words, I typed The End, and for the first time in so long, I sat back in my chair and I felt good about what I had written.

Good enough that when, by a lucky confluence of events, the opportunity to get my work in front of an agent’s eyes came my way a few weeks later, I was ready. I sent it off. I signed with that agent. And before I knew it, I had a three book deal with a New York house. Seven Nights To Surrender hit shelves about a year later, making one of the greatest dreams of my life come true, and the third book in the series, Nine Kinds Of Naughty, comes out next month.

Many people will tell you to write the book of your heart, and that your passion will show in your work, propelling you to success beyond your wildest dreams. I don’t know that that’s necessarily true. But for me, pursuing my own passions in my writing was a key to achieving my goal of finishing a novel, and eventually, to reinvigorating my career. I hold on to that every time I hit a rough patch.

Sometimes, all it takes is the right plot bunny at the right time.

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My Plot Bunny is a Poodle!

For this cycle’s theme of weirdest plot bunnies, I’m sort of at a loss: all of my bunnies are weird! I write about what I love, and that includes a few things that are fairly niche. Semi-obscure middle aged musicians as romantic leads, 1950’s tourist traps, muscle cars, the nobility of rescuing a rundown motel, and a marine invertebrate or two have all inspired my stories. Not usually all in the same one, but hey, the rich tapestry and all that…

But one element has always found it’s way into my story: the dog–usually a poodle. It might not be a main character (or it might be), but he or she is always there. Why? Because every word I’ve written this past 20 years for school, work, or this insane journey called writing fiction for publication, has been supported and accompanied by a fluffy friend curled up at my feet or right by my side, including these words I’m typing today. Sometimes life may be hard, stressful and sucky, and every word may feel like a hard-earned failure. But all along, no matter what, I’ve had the uncomplicated love of a fluffy little friend. So, to Rosebud and Busco in Doggie Heaven, and Leonidas (pictured below), I dedicate this post to you.

Do you have a special pet you’ve written into a story, or one who’s just a writing buddy? I’d love to hear about them!

S Carroll Lee Selfie

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I Like To Move It, Move It!

Let’s be real for a second: This writing gig ain’t the healthiest around. Add to that the fact that my day job is also desk bound, and I spend a lot of time sitting on my arse. The zinger is, if I don’t get some kind of physical activity or exercise on a regular basis, if I don’t move, I go full “Meh.” Mentally, my brain feels so full I can’t pick any one task to tackle. Physically, I become lethargic. I think they call it malaise in historical novels. 😀 Or is that ennui? Whatever it is, I come down with a big ole case of it. But, with a full time job and a child now in elementary school, specific classes at set times (like spinning or Zumba) are difficult to manage, if not downright impossible.

For me, the key is convenience and a flexible schedule. During the school year, on a week day, I wake up before 6am and I get home a little after 6pm. I don’t want to spend another hour at the gym, away from my family. But, where there’s a will, there’s a way. At least 3 days a week, I work through lunch and, around 3:30pm, I go downstairs to the gym in my building, and I squeeze in a workout. I crank up my Spotify (good tunes are key), and I do some elliptical and lift weights. I love weight training. It’s hard work and often times I’m sore the next day, but the work out makes me happy. The endorphin, the results, the fact I can pick up my 50lb kid with little effort – all of it makes me happy.

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Now that the days are longer and we don’t have to be at school so flippidy-flappin’ early, I’ve gotten back into swimming. Morning swims are like this weird, cardio-heavy meditation for me. I swam competitively in high school, but I’m not 16 anymore. Swimming is hard, y’all! But in the water there is quiet and calm. Despite my panting at the end of each 100m, it is peaceful. When I’m swimming, I think of little else; only my stroke and my breathing, my form, and my progress. When I finish, I’m exhausted but exhilarated. Every day, I can swim a little farther. I leave the pool, just as the rest of the neighborhood begins to stir, and I feel balanced.

Working out and swimming, even the teensiest bit of run-walking I’ve recently added, keeps me balanced and my brain works better. Even if I spend ~8 hours a day at a desk, I’ve swam half a mile or I’ve walked 1.5 miles and ran .50 (running is hard too, y’all!). Whatever it is, I’ve done something that is the opposite of sitting at a computer. This helps me focus on what I need to do at the desk jobs. I love writing and I’m lucky enough to really like my day job, but I the only way I can continue to enjoy them, is by taking the time to move.

What do you like to do to move it, move it? 😉

 

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A Space to Create

It’s just a little nook at the top of the stairs, but it’s mine, all mine. Some time ago, I wrote a post about my goal to have a writing space of my own. At the time, it was only a frustrating wish, as we had recently gotten our floors refinished, and all the random boxed stuff that hadn’t been put away yet was stacked all over my area, which had never really been set up properly in the first place. Fast forward a year or so, and I’m happy to finally update. I have a space to create! It’s a little more cluttered than I’d like, mainly because it doubles as a sewing studio due to our square footage constraints. While it’s no pæan to sleek modernism, it’s functional and decorated with love and inspiring bits of this and that. Allow me to give you a tour!

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Pending projects, fabric stash, happy art, including some my grandmother painted… and most importantly, my writing buddy.

 

All the necessities, including the giant glass of iced tea!

Antique motel postcards, and vintage patterns help put me in the creative mode for both writing and sewing. There are also the obvious necessities, especially the giant glass of iced tea!

My knockoff Hans Wegner Rope chair, the perfect place to sit and ponder.

My knockoff Hans Wegner Rope chair, the perfect place to sit and ponder.

Hello, who's this? The vintage gown I hope to wear to the Rita/Golden Heart Awards banquet at RWA Nationals in San Diego! She's still in rehab, but I have every reason to hope for a glorious recovery.

Hello, who’s this? The vintage gown I hope to wear to the Rita/Golden Heart Awards banquet at RWA Nationals in San Diego! She’s still in rehab, but I have every reason to hope for a glorious recovery.

 

Well, that’s the grand tour of a tiny, happy place! What’s your space like? Are you lucky enough to be all Virginia Woolf with a room of your own, or do you have to make do with a corner somewhere? Does it make you happy? How have you made it yours? I’d love to see or hear about it!

 

Happy Writing,

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Deadline Doubt & Doom

When you’re on a deadline, you doubt everything.

I cannot write. I won’t finish this book. If I do finish this book, it’s going to be utter crap. I am crap. These characters are crap. Is there no logic left in the universe? What is life? What even time is it?!?!

But – plot twist – all of these doubts are horse hooey.

These are lies your brain tells you because you’re under a lot of pressure. The truth is, you can write and you will finish, and the book will be wonderful. You’re just a teeeeeeeeeensy bit freaking out at the moment.

How do I know? Because I’m on deadline right now. O_O (Omg, how did you guess that? You’re so smart!)

It’s not just me though. Over the past, idk, three or four years (HOW HAVE FOUR YEARS GONE BY?!?!), I’ve watched and listened as my best writer friends continue to take this journey. Inevitably, as the book due dates close in, panic ensues.

The book will never be done! ‘Tis rubbish! All is Lost!!!

I’m not smirking at my friends; I’m smirking with them, because I said these exact words this past weekend.

WE ALL PANIC. I’ve come to think of it as a writer rite of passage. Don’t feel like you’re the only head-case around. Come on and join the Panic Parade. We have cookies and Cheetos, a whole spread of unhealthy stress and comfort food, and wine. Like, lots and lots of wine. We will look into your crazy eyes with our crazy eyes, and you will know you’ve found home. Come, commiserate with us over our imminent doom.

I’m kidding. There’s no imminent doom (it just feels imminent), but we do have crazy eyes.

Take a deep breath and repeat after me:

I can finish this book. I will finish this book. I’m a bad a$$ author who has done this before. And, when I do it again, I’ll take a moment to pat myself on the back and celebrate another successful THE END…right before I dive into the next book and repeat this whole process again.

See? Feel better? Awesome! Me too.

Now, I gotta run. I have to finish this damn book! 😀

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When Your Escape Becomes Your Cage

I love writing. I love reading. They are the things that have sustained me for pretty much my entire life. In my darkest periods, they were my escape, and there have been a couple of times when they were probably the only things keeping me sane.

When you love something that much, all you want to do is more of it. And so I wrote and I wrote and I read and I read, and eventually, two years ago, I hit my ultimate goal. I signed a contract for a multi-book, traditionally published series.

I’d made it. My dream was now my life.

But what I didn’t see coming at the time was that, in its own way, it had also become my cage.

Don’t get me wrong—writing and reading are still my passion. But over the course of those two years, the thing I turned to as an escape from the pressures of real life slowly became my real life. Between deadlines and sales figures and marketing, the stress of it slowly began to crush me, to the point where I finally started therapy for an anxiety condition that had been generally manageable for decades, but which had suddenly reached a point where it was controlling me and making me miserable.

One of the first questions my new therapist asked me was, “So what do you do for fun?”

And all I could do was blink at her. It was the scene from Captain America: The Winter Soldier where Sam Wilson asks Steve Rogers, “What makes you happy?” and Steve gives the saddest little smile in the world and admits, “I don’t know.”

As my writing career became a bigger and bigger source of stress, the writing itself remained enjoyable, but it stopped serving as an escape. It came with a huge amount of baggage, reminding me at every turn of the pressures and fears lying in wait.

It took time and a lot of soul searching. But I eventually had to accept that while writing could remain a wonderful, important, fulfilling, enjoyable part of my life, it couldn’t continue to be my entire life. Not if I wanted to hold on to any shred of perspective or sanity.

So. In the past six months, while dodging deadlines and continuing to work my butt off at my writing, I’ve been putting real effort into trying to figure out what else is important to me and what else I enjoy. Some of it I’m less than proud of. Binge watching multiple seasons of Supernatural isn’t the peak of mental health. But at the same time, it was the escape I was so sorely lacking in my life, and while it can get out of hand, a little couch potato behavior can sometimes be a good thing for a mind that can’t seem to let go and relax.

Some of my other efforts have been better. My husband and I have been spending more quality time, going for walks and playing games. I’ve gotten back into some creative endeavors, including knitting, sewing, adult coloring, and even a little bit of drawing. Making something tangible with my own two hands has been particularly satisfying, especially in the publishing world where so much progress is intangible and everything is a matter of waiting.

While the time away from work has come with its own anxieties, overall it’s been worth it. I come back to my writer life with better perspective and more energy. And less crippling fear of failing at what I love. That kind of helps, too.

All in all, it’s a work in progress.

Has anyone else made the transition from doing something for fun to doing it for work? How have you coped? What fun things have you brought into your life to help take its place?

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Bedazzled Brighton

Ornament I made my agent with pages from her favorite book she's written!

Ornament for my agent made with pages from her favorite book she’s written!

This month here on Bad Girlz Write, we’re talking about things we enjoy doing outside of reading and writing. And, I’ll be honest, reading and writing take up a good 87% of my time, so finding the energy/mental space/desire to do anything but starfish is hard.

Except when it comes to crafting.

And, okay, I don’t actually use a Bedazzler as I eluded to in the title (though my husband and I joke we should get one just to screw with our kids), but I do own a lot of crafty thingamabobs. Part of the reason for that is I’d see something I’d want to buy and realize it’d cost the same or less for me to buy the tools to actually make it than to have someone else do it for me. (This is a sickness of mine. Don’t feel like you need to be caught in the trap, too. It’s exhausting always thinking, “Hey, I could totally do that.”)

The truest necklace you could ever wear.

The truest necklace you could ever wear.

If I’m honest, this dates back more than a decade (*grabs cane and hobbles to front porch while yelling, “Get off my lawn!”*) when I first bought Photoshop. Now, no, Photoshop isn’t crafty per se, but it does allowing you to get creative and make one of a kind digital items and/or photographs. So that’s where it all started. Then I hopped on the scrapbook bandwagon (that wedding scrapbook is still sitting, a quarter completed. Hubs and I have been married for 14 years.). Then it was homemade cards (which, thankfully, I was able to use a plethora of my already-aquired scrapbook supplies). After that I took a bit of a breather for a while.

But then came everyone’s worst nightmare/best dream: Pinterest.

Remember that covered cereal box mail holder? Ahem.

Remember that covered cereal box mail holder? Ahem.

My God, the first three months of using that, I made so much crap, I can’t even remember it all. Some sort of decorative item with mason jars? Yes. A mail sorter made out of a recovered cereal box? Check. A menu planning board, New Year’s Resolution jar, bucket list contraption, recipe card organizer—all over it.

Book wreath I made for my sister using pages from her favorite Harry Potter book. Isn't she the luckiest?!

Book wreath I made for my sister using pages from her favorite Harry Potter book. Isn’t she the luckiest?!

Since then, I’ve acquired a few more crafting items, like hand stamping tools to make jewelry (which I actually still do!), and a Silhouette machine to make my own planner stickers (and maybe open a shop with them, too, idk idk idk). I also started hand lettering (very basically), and the day I figured out how to make a pocket folder for my Traveler’s Notebook, I proceeded to make six. Besides the stuff I stumble upon or seek out specifically for myself, every year my family exchanges homemade gifts for Christmas, so I get to hone my skills even more and try out new things and techniques.

What I’m saying is I have a fever and the only prescription is more crafts. Or cowbell.

I totally made this (tutu).

I totally made this (tutu).

But, hey, it makes me happy. And while I definitely have more money wrapped up into “inventory” than I’d like to think about, I know it’s one thing I can do to escape the every day crazy. Plus, as an added bonus, when I’m wearing/holding/working with something that I’ve created and someone compliments it, I get to say, “Thanks! I totally made it.”

 

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How To Not Lose Your Sh*t

Truth time: The last few weeks have been some of the most difficult, exhausting, and overwhelming in my life, and none of it has to do with writing. I’m talking about a real life adulting, one million items on my To Do list, sh*t storm of stress.

Show of hands, who else has been here? I see you! Big hugs to you (or fist bumps if you’re hug averse).

Over the last few weeks, I’ve gone through the roller coaster process of selling my house, buying a new house, closing on both houses, packing up, moving, unpacking, transferring my child from one school to the next, getting my mother ready for a month long trip abroad, an unusual and insanely busy time at work, some personal life SNAFUs that I won’t get into, and yes, being on deadline.

But, I made it…I think.

How did I keep from going insane? For me, there is one fool proof therapy for all of life’s toils and trials. One activity outside of writing and working out or working it, that is guaranteed to take me out of my head and whatever quicksand pit of responsibility life has tossed me into, and allow me the five minutes to, oh – let’s say two hours, of respite required to bring me back to functioning level.

That thing is (and this should come as no surprise): FANGIRLING.

Yep. That’s the secret to my sanity. A daily dose of diving into a subject I love, yet has no link to my responsibilities, and is 100% selfishly for me. I don’t fangirl because it will bring me success or money. I don’t fangirl because it’s altruistic in any way. I do it for me.

A rewatch of Star Trek Into Darkness is an escape from a Sunday of packing fifty boxes. I can pack and watch Chris Pine being beautifully broken and begging for the lives of his crew while Benedict Crumblebread is like, “B*tch please. I will walk over your cold corpses. Peace out, Enterprise!”  

Taking half an hour at the end of the day to surf Twitter or Tumblr for fandom news, press tour clips, talk show appearances, Sebastian Stan’s face, reviews, gossip, whatever, about Marvel, Trek, Star Wars and occasionally DC (Because Wonder Woman is awesome and also Chris Pine), is how I unwind. A few funny memes or gifs, along with crazy cat videos, dog Vines, and baby goats being adorable – that is the kind of quality content I want filling my brain.

Watching Captain America: Civil War, three or four times, will be my reward for working my butt off the last few months. Captravaganza Weekend with BGW’s Jeanette Grey is the celebration of not only Steve and Bucky and Sam and all of my feelings, but a party to celebrate the fact that the months of February through April did not break me. They could have. They almost did! But I clung to the pieces by having this escape that is mine.

I suggest, to any writer, wife, mother, hard working lady: find something for you. Be it knitting or learning to pole dance, fangirling or fashioning cosplay outfits. Whatever. You need a little slice of life that doesn’t benefit anyone but that beautiful woman in the mirror.

Enjoy!

trek dress

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Finding Your Way Back

Hi. My name is Brighton, and it’s been months since I’ve written.

Yes, you read that right. Months.

There are some writers who have to write on the regular or they go crazy. If they don’t, they feel off. I’m not one of them. The fact is, my entire writing life since I started on this journey many years ago can be summed up in two words: floods and droughts. Either I am going gangbusters, or not at all.

Since finishing Paige in Progress last fall, I’ve written blog posts and a short outtake for Tessa Ever After, but that’s been it. I have a work in progress I’ve tried fruitlessly to flesh out, but no characters would talk to me. None of my usual tricks worked. And so I did something that a lot of writers may have had a hard time with: I gave myself permission not to write.

Have I missed it? Yes, of course. While droughts are nothing new for me, this lengthy of a drought totally is. Five months with nothing more than a thousand word piece here or there is the least amount of words I’ve produced in seven years. And it’s been frustrating to say the least.

But the reason I gave that forgiveness to myself and said it was okay to take the break was because in the last year, I’ve had some health issues that have made writing—or even finding the desire to write—a struggle. One like I’ve never really experienced before. It’s like the worst case of writer’s block I’ve ever had, multiplied by 17,000.

Last April, what I thought was a minor problem of flared-again sciatica from earlier pregnancies turned into a severe bulging disc in my lower back that needed back surgery. By November, I was spending most of my days in bed because, while it still hurt to lie down, it hurt slightly less than walking, standing, and sitting. And being horizontal in bed, while great in my books (heh), isn’t so great for actually writing those books. Could I have written while flat on my back? Probably. My word count would’ve taken a severe hit, and thus so would’ve my progress, but, sure, it could’ve been done.

The problem was that I just didn’t want to.

Writing about happy people falling in love while in constant pain isn’t something I’ve ever had to work through, and bless all those authors who manage to do it. I just couldn’t. Prior to this little hiccup in my career, I didn’t think my moods affected my writing or my characters all that much, but hoooooooo, boy, do they.

It’s been four weeks to the date since my surgery (microdiscectomy between L5 and S1 for those curious), and I’m still working on finding that desire. Up until yesterday, the pain was equal to what it was pre-surgery, so nothing much had changed on that front (which is a real bitch to work through in and of itself). I’m hopeful that the meds the doc put me on has me on the right path to feeling better, and thus—hopefully—on the path to being in a headspace to write again. I kind of miss hearing the whispers of characters in my head—especially when I’ve been trying so hard to hear them for months.

I know I’m not the only one who’s heard others profess that writers have to write every day to be considered a “real” writer. Well. I’m here to tell you, on month five of my drought, that it simply isn’t true. Writers can write whenever they want. And if it takes you five days or five weeks or five months or five years to pick up your pen—or put fingers to the keyboard—again, you are still a writer. Once you’re a writer you’ll always be one, and a lack of words—no matter how great—can never strip that from you.

The good news is, that blank doc will always be there waiting for you. Whenever you’re ready.

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