Finding Simplicity and Slowness Amid Change

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The past few months have brought a great deal of change into my life. Where do I even start?

Townhouse renovations. Job hunting. Getting a job offer. Starting an awesome new job at a local library, which I am loving so far.

Dealing with a mystery illness for which doctors have yet to determine a cause, despite numerous appointments and tests. Battling joint pain, headaches, and sheer exhaustion.

Revising my novel Spellfire’s Kiss. I feel like this story is so close, and I’m getting ready to send it a fellow author who’s going to do some editing for me. The goal is to send the polished manuscript to her by October 1. The next goal is to start submitting it early next year, depending on the extent of changes based on her suggestions.

Where do simplicity and slowness fit into this? In the past few weeks, I’ve found a great deal of satisfaction in my new work environment, and continued making slow but steady progress on my writing, even with the frequent downtime and rest breaks required by whatever illness has got its hooks in me. Physically, I often feel worn down, and I’ve burned out before, so I’m trying to make time for myself.

So, how have I been keeping things simple and slow?

One: I try to wake up early enough before work (even though I am not a morning person) that I give myself time to sit with a cup of tea or coffee and just relax before I plunge into my day.

Two: Naps are my friend. If I come home from work and I need to rest, I give myself that time. Health is number one.

Three: I’m allowing myself time to adjust to this new schedule. Slowing down and cutting myself slack in other areas, thus allowing me to focus on my health and on adapting to my new life of library work and writing. And making time for all of those other things: playtime and snuggles with my animals. Quality time with my hubby. Spending time with friends. Reading and writing. Other things, such as trying new recipes and long walks in the woods, have fallen away since I’ve been sick, but I am hopeful that I can slowly add those things back into my routine soon.

I am trying to lead a slow, simple, purposeful life in the midst of a busy world. I believe things come into our lives when we’re ready for them. We have to work for them, of course, but we also can’t force things.

In my quest for simplicity, I’d like to add a few minutes of meditation into my daily routine. In search of simplicity, I am letting go of a quest for perfection. The house might be a little messy. Not every room is perfectly decluttered. Not every meal is homecooked from scratch.

Ultimately, I am learning that true simplicity lies not in living some picturesque life in which I rise early, bake bread, cook every meal from local ingredients, and live in a Pinterest-ready minimalist home. True simplicity is sipping tea and reading a good book. Keeping my possessions at a level that’s adequate without becoming overwhelming, and working, a little each day, toward my goals. Spinning and sharing stories that bring people joy and inspiration. Working toward a small, simple house filled with love, creativity, and whimsy. Maintaining my health. Staying close to my values and purpose.

I ask myself on a regular basis if something is in line with those values and that purpose. Writing books? Definitely. Working at a library? Solid yes. Saving up for a little cottage with a yard? Absolutely. Decluttering bit by bit? Yes.

But sometimes I fail. Eating take-out when I should be making a simple meal at home. Letting things slide until they become an overwhelming mess. Forgetting to let myself rest. Not doing yoga as regularly as I should.

When that happens, I’ve learned not to beat myself up. I simply regroup and make small course corrections. That’s the key. Tiny changes. Ten minutes of yoga or stretching. A little bit of money added to a savings account. Rising thirty minutes earlier to sip tea and be alone with my thoughts. Adding a new, healthy, easy recipe to my repertoire.

I have entered a season of change. But aren’t most seasons? Aren’t the seasons themselves a reminder of life’s constant state of change?

The key, I’m finding, is to find our true north. Call it purpose, principles, values, mission. The key is self-knowledge, and readjusting a little each day so we keep it always in our sights.

What about you? Have you had periods of intense change in your life? How did you stay grounded and focused on your values?

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Turning Plans into Action: (Lots of) Round 3 Goals

Ursula Le Guin Fiction Quote

It’s time for Round 3 of A Round of Words in 80 Days–the writing challenge that knows you have a life!

If Round 2 was about cupping an ear and listening, about learning and intensive study, about thought and preparation, then Round 3 is the action stage.

In Round 2 of A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life, I began my studies in aromatherapy, took a workshop on deep POV, and mostly researched, prepared, and planned.

Of course, the best laid plans go oft awry, which is why I try to remain flexible, even as I put plans into action.

My list for this round is extensive. I have two projects that are about 90 percent completed but need some polishing and deepening. Those need to be finished and sent out on submission, so they are top priorities. I have several other projects that are also calling to me, but I’m more flexible on those because they’re in the early stages.

I definitely want to get back into blogging and actively visiting others’ blogs. I’ve been having some mysterious health woes that are now affecting my hands, so I’m really hoping the weird sensations in my hands don’t interfere with this goal. Seriously ROWers—I miss you!

I also recognize that my health needs attention, and I have been chipping away at bad habits—such as a sweet tooth and tendency to be lazy when it comes to cooking from scratch. Health is foundational, so I will be easing into some yoga and stretching this round while moving away from sugary or processed foods toward a home-cooked, natural diet.

And, as hubby and I debate whether to stay in our cozy townhome and for how long, we’re fixing it up, though whether for ourselves or new occupants, we’re not yet sure. In any event, worn-out carpets are being torn out and replaced with durable vinyl plank flooring, warped countertops and leaky faucets shall be replaced with shinier new upgrades, and clutter is slowly falling away, room by room.

The plan is to write daily, Monday through Friday, from 4 to 5 p.m. No interruptions, no excuses. Of course, I want to write more than that, but I’m hoping starting with this small, manageable goal will give me momentum.

As Ursula K. Le Guin said, “The use of imaginative fiction is to deepen your understanding of your world, and your fellow men, and your own feelings, and your destiny.”

As I delve deeper into my stories, I recognize that what has kept me from taking my stories to soaring heights and gut-wrenching depths is this deepening of character emotion. I’m shying away from the depths of despair, the terror of seeing your worst nightmare brought to life, the fear of repeating the past, the intense vulnerability of fledgling love.

And so, armed with new knowledge, I go forward. This round is all about crafting the stories that I so intensely want to tell—and moving forward on my storyteller’s path.

All that said, here are my goals for this round. They are extensive, but my plan is to only report on active goals.

WRITING

  • Finish a draft of Spellfire’s Kiss; query.
  • Finish and resubmit Oak-Bound.
  • POTENTIAL WRITING GOALS: first draft of Wild Tarot; first draft of Silver’s Stray, a paranormal cozy mystery; fourth draft of Rose Petals and Dragon Scales; first draft of a nonfiction project.

BLOGGING/SOCIAL MEDIA

  • Respond to blog comments and return visits to commenters’ blogs.
  • Regularly post ROW80 check-ins and keep up with commenting on other ROWers blogs.
  • Make and post one video per month.

HEALTH

  • Do yoga or gentle stretching daily.
  • Eat more fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy whole foods and fewer processed foods. Also work on seriously minimizing the amount of sugar in my diet.
  • Try making my own bread, granola, etc.
  • Continue making my own cleaning and bath products.
  • Finish aromatherapy courses on Udemy.

HEARTH & HOME

  • Replace worn-out carpet in living/dining rooms with new flooring.
  • Remodel upstairs bathroom.
  • New kitchen countertops and sink.
  • Painting—neutral colors—where needed.
  • Hang all remaining artwork.
  • Clean attic.
  • Organize office closet.
  • Clean out storage shed.
  • Decluttering—items to thrift store.

*exhales deeply*

Wow! I have a busy few months ahead of me. What about you? As we sprint through summer, iced tea with lemon in hand, our skin sun-kissed (for those of us who dwell in the northern hemisphere), what plans do you have?

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The Importance of the Pause: Failure, Patience, and Persistence in the Writer’s Journey

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If the first half of 2018 had a theme for me, it would be deepening. I have embarked on a journey toward simplicity and intentional living. This goes beyond the act of physical decluttering to include thinking carefully about what I devote my time and energy to.

You may have noticed that I’m blogging less frequently, and that’s because I want to create more thoughtful posts instead of just saying, “Well, I haven’t posted on the blog this week” and feeling obligated to whip something up.

I’ve heard we’re supposed to blog as many as three times a week, and I just can’t do that. My energy level and the maintenance involved in several chronic medical conditions don’t mix well with maintaining that schedule—not if I want to devote myself to writing fiction and deepening my craft.

And just as I’ve been deepening other aspects of my life, I’ve embarked on the same journey with my fiction. I have several WIPs that are close, but I really need to deepen the emotions, to help readers connect with what the characters are feeling. In support of that, I’m taking a course on deep POV and reading books on that aspect of the craft.

I have slowed down. I’ve let go of word-count goals and am trying to allow each project to unfold in its own time. To do otherwise felt like trying to force the leaves to unfurl in the spring. Unnatural and troublesome to say the least.

And what this deepening has taught me most of all is a hidden patience I didn’t know I possessed. I’ve always been goal-driven, a go-go-go sort of person. And I’m still goal-driven, but I’m also allowing things to happen naturally, in their own time.

Truthfully, I still sometimes find myself glaring at my stories, shaking my fist and mentally shouting, “Why aren’t you working?”

But now I step back. I pour myself a glass of cold-brew coffee or brew some tea and I practice the art of staring. I ask the characters to whisper to me. One thing that emerged from the workshop on deep POV, for example, is that one of my WIPs lacks a sense of urgency. What’s the “so-what” of the story?

How have I spent five years working on the story and not seen that flaw? Because that’s half a decade spent with this story, off and on, and I love these characters, and my love for them means that them getting their favorite flavor of ice cream is a big enough so-what. That might be enough for the author, but it’s not enough for readers.

My husband suggested making it an epic fantasy—you know, baddy wants to take over the world or destroy it. Initially, I decided to run with that idea. But the more I thought about it, that didn’t fit in with the main theme of the story or the heroine’s character arc.

I sat. I waited. I sipped. And then the MC whispered. Eureka!

That is the power of patience. That is the power of persistence. That is the power of allowing life and art to unfold naturally.

When we slow down, we create space for the magic to happen.

Take, for example, another WIP, a novel in which I was racing toward the midpoint. And then something felt off. I could’ve pushed through, shoved my characters into a storyline that didn’t quite feel right.

Instead I stopped. I listened. I realized that, one, the storyline had veered off in the wrong direction. And, two, that I needed the hero’s POV as well as the heroine’s to ground the reader.

I’ve been reading Anne R. Allen’s blog, and she has written some lovely posts about the subject of slow writing, slow blogging, etc.

Our society wants fast. We’re trained to want everything now. No, not now. Yesterday.

And I’m just saying, it’s okay to take our time. I’m no longer racing through my goals, crossing WIPs off some master list like a one-woman story factory. My process is slower.

The day I threw away my busy badge, I became free. The day I gave myself permission to fail, I learned to fly. The day I released arbitrary, meaningless goals, I made space for real goals that are in line with my values.

And so, as the second round of ROW80 in 2018 draws to a close, what have I accomplished?

I’ve discovered Wild Tarot, the first in a trilogy about three women learning to embrace a magical destiny, and written 25K in my first attempt at that story.

I’m enrolled in a workshop on deep POV and completing assignments associated with that course. I’m also doing an intensive study of deep POV on my own and trying to master this aspect of the craft.

I’ve worked out some plot problems with two other WIPs as well and am preparing to revise those in round three.

What about you? Are there areas of your life in which you’ve slowed down? How have you learned to slow down and be patient yet persistent?

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The Joy of a Grateful Heart

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This afternoon, I drove home from my last session of physical therapy in the pouring rain, thunder rumbling overhead. Though I still have to keep up with my exercises and stretches to ensure the pain doesn’t return, I feel stronger than before, more grounded in my body. I am often too cerebral, and physical therapy has taught me to listen to my body and appreciate it.

I raced into the house amid the rain, my animals greeting me. My dog, Leo, thinks walks in the rain are perfectly acceptable, and while I usually agree, I draw the line at storms that involve thunder and lightning. So, I sipped my afternoon coffee, busied myself with a few chores and some decorating touches, all interspersed with rounds of tug of war and fetch with my lovely, lively lab mix.

Finally, the rain passed, and we ventured outside. Thankfully, the storms were fairly mild, and we were spared any truly severe weather. Storms can be beautiful, but I am all too often humbled by their power.

On our walk, there was a calm stillness in the air. Birdsong punctuated the quiet as Leo and I walked along. We strolled through the park, where the air held the scent of damp earth and wild forest. Back home, my rose bush was in full bloom, no doubt grateful for the burst of rainfall.

There is gratitude in this, in a quiet walk on a cool spring evening, and gratitude is the fertile soil in which joy grows. I don’t believe we can lead a joyful life without gratitude. We can seek pleasure or experience bursts of happiness, but joy has deeper roots and lasts longer. Joy has become my neutral, the place to which I return and find center after the storms of life.

Tonight, my animals sleep soundly as I type away at the keys. I’m nearly done with the first act of Wild Tarot, the first book in my Wild Fae trilogy. It’s set in the town of Foster Springs, Virginia, where the Faerie Forest stories also take place, but these are longer, novel-length works. These are books all about magic, both the human and the faerie variety, and I’m excited to be working on this new series. I’m also doing a readthrough of Oak-Bound and trying to fine tune that work for resubmission. Spellfire’s Kiss is finished and off with my critique partner.

On the home front, we’re chipping away at the excess, peeling away the layers defined as clutter to give our house that tidy but cozy vibe we’re after. I don’t want stripped-down minimalist, but rather a simple sort of whimsy, a feel that speaks of the magic that fills my spirit and my life. We’re working on a number of projects to continue with our home improvement efforts. Up next on the list is new countertops for the kitchen since the old ones are stained and a little warped.

But a part of the day was just this: a quiet walk under a cloudy sky, a walk with my lovely dog, a walk full of birdsong and calm. It was peace and wonder and joy all rolled into one, and there was a simple kind of magic in that moment.

May we all find such moments. They’re often hiding under our clutter—jam-packed schedules, overflowing closets, unending to-do lists. But every day, those moments await. In the space of a few breaths, we can find them.

What about you? What have you been up to lately? Any new projects? Are you undertaking spring cleaning?

Wherever you are, I hope you are safe and sound, and that you were spared the worst of the storms. Stay safe!

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Is there such a thing as ‘controlled busy?’

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As life unfolds at an accelerated pace, I’m asking myself this question. Things have been racing along lately—home projects unfolding, decluttering efforts gaining momentum in the spring. Different parts of my life are opening up and blossoming now that I’ve made space for them.

Writing is progressing steadily, with the latest draft of my novel Spellfire’s Kiss finished and off to my critique partner, a kind and thoughtful no-thanks-for-now from an editor, whose suggestions I am mulling over as a couple beta readers mull over the manuscript, and a new(ish) novel just begun. I’ve always toyed with the idea of setting a series of novels in Foster Springs, Virginia, where The Beltane Kiss and The Faerie Key, my two novelettes, are set, and this idea came to me, demanding to be told. It’s about a tarot reader and a strange faerie man who comes seeking a tarot reading. There are three sisters, and I’m enjoying their dynamic so far. I’ve also joined an online chapter of RWA and attended my first meeting of a local writers group too!

And teaching English as a second language is expanding as well. I’ve moved from one class a week to two, and we’re even expanding to include some computer literacy training for the students.

On the home front, hubby and I have about a zillion projects to finish, and there are other life things that we’re doing as well. Now that the weather is warm, hikes and long walks in the woods are once more high priorities, and we took a weekend trip to Pennsylvania to visit family and attend the PA Fairie Festival. I’m also getting back into a yoga routine after a hip injury sidelined me for a while.

So, yes, it’s a lot. It reminds me of the Chariot card in tarot. Whenever I draw this card, the phrase that pops into my head is “life unfolding at an accelerated pace, but maintaining one’s stride.” (I believe that’s how Anne-Marie Ferguson, creator of the Llewellyn Tarot, puts it.) Or, as Biddy Tarot describes this card…

You will be successful at pursuing your goals, so long as you maintain focus, determination and confidence in your abilities. You need to focus completely on the task at hand, get in the race and win it. … You must cultivate the ability to withstand the rigours of what is required. In fact, striving towards your goal can be as satisfying as attaining it. This is a time to be strong and in control. You must also draw upon your willpower and self-discipline.

It’s a wild ride. I’m trying to just enjoy it. The rejection stung, but it was also beautiful, in part because the editor was so encouraging and made it clear that she saw a lot of potential in my story, and in part because it showed that I had the courage to put my work out there.

I’m trying to take it one thing at a time, and to build downtime into my schedule. Morning coffee is reflection time, and I aim for a cup of tea and some chill time in the evening. Reading tarot cards helps me find my center and reflect, distilling those little what-if questions into something tangible. Best of all, each of my endeavors is something I’ve consciously chosen. Writing books filled with magic and romance. Teaching the English language to a group of dedicated students. Creating a tidy, whimsical home I love. Adventures with my husband and our animals. Time with family and friends.

Sometimes it is indeed the chariot. It’s wild; it’s a rush. It’s busy and beautiful and blessed.

What about you? What do you do when you’re swept up in the busy-ness of life? How do you create the right level of busy-ness—not so much that you’re stressed, not so little that you’re bored? How do you build downtime into your day?

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Embracing Our Inner Hobbit: Life lessons from Tolkien

Tolkien quotes, Denise D. Young, fantasy, simple living, author

I love hobbits, and I love the Shire. There’s something very hobbit-like about my version of the writer’s life. I curl up with a cup of tea, maybe something yummy to eat (croissants from the bakery down the street are a favorite), and I set to writing. I sip Earl Grey while I get lost in a book I’m reading. My husband and I laugh and share stories about our days. I walk the dog in the park, enjoying the beauty of nature right outside my door. Friends visit. No wizards, yet, but I’m still hoping.

Of course, I have, on occasion, gone on strange and wonderful adventures. The world’s oddest tea room in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the proprietor, upon seeing us eyeing the menu, asked, “You want food?” A stay in a little red cabin in Germany, where chickens awoke us and friends awaited with food and conversation.

I stumbled across this quote from Tolkien, and I wanted to share it because too often we get caught up in destinations. I do this all the time. I think, “Someday we’ll buy our house in the country”—forgetting that our little townhouse, with all its quirks, is a perfectly delightful home. I forget the rose bush I planted last year, with its brilliant magenta blooms, or the little amethyst room where I can curl up and write, or the vibrant blue walls in our living room, or the dining room table, not even second-hand, but probably third-hand, which has seen so many wonderful conversations had and meals served. Yes, the kitchen faucet leaks, but it works. Yes, the bathroom tile is hideous pink, but the space still functions.

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Food. Cheer. Song.

And stories, of course.

We need stories—the ones we write, if we’re writers, and, all of us, the stories of our lives, the little, everyday ones. Like my memory of the night we brought puppy Leo home, and how everything in the house startled him. Like the memory of curling up on a cold night in an unheated cabin in Germany, my husband’s warm body pressed against mine. And waking in the morning and sipping French-pressed coffee with a beloved friend. Like the time we bought solar eclipse glasses and glimpsed the event from our front yard, and how we shared them with our neighbors so everyone could take a peek, and got to know people just a little better.

This is life. These small moments. A dinner with friends. A croissant and a cup of coffee while an author takes us down a wending path of adventure and magic.

We talk about the process. We talk about the goal.

Let’s not forget the journey. Let’s not forget the small, sweet moments that unfurl every day.

Let’s not forget to turn our eyes to the wheeling stars, gaze at the watercolor panorama of the sunset, watch the dog play with one of his canine friends, listen to our children or significant other tell us a story about their day, sing in the kitchen while we do the dishes.

In the midst of doing, let’s not forget to be.

In the midst of making a living, let’s not forget to live.

So far this week, I’ve focused on revamping the website and taking a blogging workshop over at WANA International. I also revised chapter two of Spellfire’s Kiss. No work on my novelette Spun Gold yet this week. I’m also in the process of redecorating the living room. I found a couple of gorgeous art prints on Etsy to add some color, and bought a new lamp and mirrors from Target to improve the lighting. Not much else to report!

Are you a Tolkien fan? What life lessons have you taken from his work?

Blessed be.

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The Practice of Stillness

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“The Page of Cups is sentimental. She is a true romantic at heart, and in a world that is filled with so much noise and bustle, she longs for the time and space to simply breathe and to truly take in the pleasures that abound. She listens to the still voice from deep inside that speaks with understanding and intuition, and she longs to believe in the impossible.”—Stephanie Pui-Man Law and Barbara Moore, Shadowscapes Companion

The other night I was reading Tarot with my beloved Shadowscapes deck, and I stumbled across this beautifully written description of the Page of Cups. It resonated with me on so many levels, but most importantly because it’s a great description of the life I am striving to cultivate. A life in which stillness is appreciated, revered, and celebrated. A life where intuition is listened to as a trusted guide, its voice never silenced. A life where creativity emerges naturally because it is given the space to do so. A life where beauty is celebrated for its own sake.

I think the first step to a journey toward a simpler, more purposeful, more creative life is to cultivate stillness. It doesn’t have to be a monthlong vow of silence, or an hour-long practice per day. Even five minutes of stillness can go a long way toward creating a space for a new way of life to emerge.

This week was a perfect example. Tuesday night, I honored the super blue blood moon (you heard that right—lots of power wrapped up in that name) by drumming and meditating. It was a space to connect with spirit; a space to honor the earth, moon, and stars; a space for reflection, pause, magic, and connection.

Stillness, in the right quantities, doesn’t create disconnect or foster loneliness. The right amount of stillness, especially for introverts and highly sensitive persons, cultivates warmth, compassion, gratitude, and creativity.

When we are still, we are open to ideas that will take our creative practice to new heights. When we practice stillness, we create a small space inside of us that is filled with calm and connected to our intuition. We can then call on that calm and intuition during the more frantic, busy, chaotic moments of our day.

This week, in a quiet house, since my husband was away on business for most of the week, I connected to stillness. I worked magic. I listened—to my heart, to spirit, to my intuition, which are all perhaps one and the same.

I find myself recharged, reenergized, ready to get back to the business of making art, ready and energized in a way that I haven’t been for a while.

It doesn’t have to be a lot. It doesn’t even have to be every day. Look up. At the full moon, the stars, the patterns of the clouds, a flock of geese, a hawk soaring high above.

Once we’re still, and we’re looking, we can then begin to listen.

I’d like to end with a brief ROW80 check-in. Again, I’ve divided my goals into three categories: creative living, simple living, and healthy living.

CREATIVE LIVING

The big news for the week is that Oak-Bound is finished and out on submission!

I also wrote a new opening scene for my novel Spellfire’s Kiss, the first in a series. I did a ton of brainstorming for that series. I realized one of the key ingredients that was missing was a strong sense of setting. My theory is that if you could pick up the characters and plot and plop them down in another place, if they lift right out of the setting, there’s something off. And I wanted a town where magic, while not necessarily openly acknowledged, could coexist with our world. Enter Gladewood, Virginia, bordered by Emerald Creek. Thus, the new series name is Emerald Creek Magic, and a new fictional place is born. Now that Oak-Bound is submitted, I’d like to revise a chapter a day, but that might be pushing it with all the changes I want to make. Some chapters might take two days.

SIMPLE LIVING

Some meditation, and making a point to be present, to savor the moment, and to practice slowness and stillness this week. As I do so, I feel my creativity opening up like a flower to the sun, and I’m reminded of how closely linked simplicity and creativity are.

On the decluttering front, I used to have a tote bag crammed full of stuff sitting beside the sofa—in addition to a small, round storage ottoman full of stuff. I dumped everything out on the floor and sorted through it. Now, the tote bag is empty and tucked away upstairs to be used for trips to the beach, and the storage ottoman is organized, with a few essential items neatly tucked inside.

Saturday, I took a few things up to the attic for temporary storage. I have developed a system where I label the box with the date I packed it, and if I don’t need anything in that box within six months, I’ll take it to the thrift store. This is mostly to appease my husband, who has more trouble parting with things than I do. I boxed up another box of stuff from the kitchen and that is heading to the attic as well.

HEALTHY LIVING

I did a lot of walking with Leo this week, so I definitely got some good exercise. I didn’t eat a lot of sugar or fatty foods, but I need to get better about making sure I don’t skip meals during the day. Often, I get so caught up in tasks that I forget to stop and eat something healthy, and then by the time I’m hungry, I just grab the first thing I see, which isn’t always the healthiest thing to eat.

(A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge for ordinary folks who want to set their own manageable goals and find a supportive community to cheer them on in their journey. Click here to join us.)

What about you? How do you make room for stillness in your life? How did you practice living simply, creatively, and healthfully this week?

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Digging Deeper, in Life and Art

Mountains and Clouds in January

One of the most magical years of my life was spent living on a farm in rural Southwest Virginia. I’d rise in the morning and, before it was too hot, work in the large garden I tended. Afterward I’d sit on the porch, read poetry, work on my master’s thesis, write poetry—I even tried my hand at making jewelry.

It was a creative time in my life, one full of possibilities. Surrounded by mountains and forest, with the New River just down the hill, I was connected to nature and spirit in a way I hadn’t been in a very long time.

Though life has since moved me into town, I still strive to remain close to nature. The photo above is from Monday’s afternoon walk with my dog Leo. Though I live in a townhouse, I’m blessed to have a park filled with walking trails just steps from my backdoor, and we walk there daily.

During Monday’s walk, Leo and I were walking the hills. I paused to admire the way the clouds hung close to the brow of the mountains. I breathed in cool air, aware that cold air was soon to follow, perhaps bringing with it a dusting of snow.

This is digging deep. It’s savoring these precious everyday moments. It’s listening to the flow of things and being present. It is only when we’re connected to the flow that we can live both simply and creatively.

I returned home, where I curled up with a cup of tea and my laptop and put the finishing touches on my novella. It is officially query-ready. I’m still waiting for some feedback on my synopsis, and once that’s revised, I will be sending Oak-Bound off to editors, in hopes of finding a home for a story that began whispering to me five years ago. I wasn’t ready to tell it then, but last summer, I realized it was time.

I’ve done several drafts, each time listening intently to my characters and their reactions. Each time letting my world unfold on the page, helping the story to shine.

This is the creative process. This is why revision is so vital. Too often I’ve dreaded revision, but when I think of it not as the dreaded chore of revising but instead as the magic of digging deeper, it becomes less of a chore and more of an adventure.

With any luck, 2018 will be a year of digging deeper into my life and my art. On the home front, I’m paring away the excess, parting with objects that no longer serve me to create the sort of home I’ve always wanted: cozy, soothing, tidy—with a touch whimsy and a hint of magic. On the writing front, I’m listening intently to my stories, allowing them to unfold in their own way, not forcing them into prescribed criteria but instead letting them happen organically.

I’m a firm believer that we must envision the life we want and then find ways, slowly but surely, to bring that vision into being. What’s that saying? That goals are dreams with deadlines? Sure, maybe sometimes. But I think, perhaps, that goals are dreams made tangible. It’s not so much that we need a deadline (although sometimes, for us writers, that helps) as it is that we need a way to help dreams take root and find form.

Digging deeper allows us to pare away the excess to find the authenticity that lies beneath. Too often, our lives are buried under the stuff we own, the trappings we carry that no longer serve us. To dig deeper in our lives, we must work toward a vision of what we truly want to make of our “one wild and precious life.” To dig deeper in our storytelling, we must listen to our characters, make them and their worlds come to life.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from my newly completed novella, Oak-Bound.

He landed hard against cold, damp earth. The smells of rich, fertile soil mixed with moss and mushrooms tickled his nose.

The light was diffused gray here—wherever here was. Tendrils of silvery-white mist snaked along the ground as though they were living, sentient things. One began to crawl up his leg, wrapping him like a boa constrictor. Nick took a few quick steps back.

What are you? The mist seemed to whisper in a thick, raspy voice.

He is not from here, another, higher voice hissed.

Human? The first voice.

“Yes,” Nick answered, the single word laced with uncertainty.

Ah. Welcome to The Crossroads.

“The Crossroads?” He furrowed his brow. “The place between life and death?”

High-pitched laughter met his ear.

This place is so much more. Here the roots of every tree, every plant, the energy of every living thing weave together to create a tapestry of life. The dead pass through here on occasion, but this place is not death, young one. Not at all.

Something inside Nick relaxed, a coil of fear inside his belly easing slightly. Not for himself, but for Cassie. He still had time.

What about you? How are you digging deeper into life and creativity? I’d love to hear from you!

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The Problem with Perfectionism

Coffee with Crumpled Paper
Shirley Hu | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Confession time: I am a recovering perfectionist. I am striving to embrace my human imperfection because I have come to realize that is the only path to meaningful fulfillment in life. And I am recovering because I know my struggle with perfectionism is lifelong. The seeds of perfectionism will always be waiting to sprout inside me, if through self-doubt and self-unkindness, I water them and provide them with fertile soil.

Reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly helped me realize what a tremendous burden my perfectionism was—and more importantly, why it had developed. Perfectionism is a form of armor against vulnerability. And vulnerability is scary. But it’s also necessary. Without vulnerability, there is no true love, no vibrant joy, no great adventure. Afraid of judgment or ridicule, I wielded perfectionism like a shield. This is especially harmful because I am a writer. I exist in the creative arena. To create anything meaningful, vulnerability is necessary.

One of my biggest epiphanies as a creative came to me in the middle of the night. As a self-professed night owl, I’m prone to midnight epiphanies, and so I wasn’t surprised, though I was moved by the awakening this realization stirred.

It went something like this: There is no such thing as a perfect book. The best of books has its critics. What one reader loves, another loathes. The best we can strive for is to create a story that moves someone, to stir human emotion, whether joy, sorrow, hope, sadness, excitement, or passion. Or, perhaps, all of these.

This seems obvious, but perfectionism is sneaky. It has its tricks to convince us otherwise.

This dawning was liberating. It freed me from the sharp briars of perfectionism. It renewed my joy in the creative process. It doesn’t make writing easy, but it does make it more enjoyable, more exciting.

Brown opens her book with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that I think can serve creatives and recovering perfectionists well:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

So, onward I march, flawed and imperfect. Fumbling and failing all the while, I strive forward, toiling at the page, living the life of a storyteller. Starting next year, I will be sending my stories out to editors and agents, daring greatly.

This week I started the second draft of Oak-Bound. The plan is to incorporate my critique partner’s suggestions and a few changes of my own I want to make and then send it to my husband for his feedback. After that, I’ll make some more changes and hopefully by January, it will be ready for submission. I also want to start the next draft of Spellfire’s Kiss this month and try to get that ready for submission early next year.

I’ll share another quote from Theodore Roosevelt that I think can serve creatives well:

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

Or, as Buffy more succinctly said:

“The hardest thing to do in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live.”

Be brave. Live deeply. Dream wildly. Create passionately. Embrace imperfection.

What about you? In what areas of your life have you struggled with perfectionism? How are you daring greatly?

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Autumn Whirlwind

shoes on sidewalk
Photo by Bellemedia, Dreamstime Stock Photos.

Wow. My life has been a whirlwind these past few weeks. Some of it amazing. I started teaching English as a Second Language, which is promising to be a life-changing journey for me. Some of it not so amazing—like a beloved family member being diagnosed with a serious illness.

So, in the midst of all of the craziness, I’ve been plugging away at my novella Oak-Bound and trying to get it done by the end of this month. I’m close, guys. It will probably be 25-27K, and I’m right around the 22K mark as I type this. I hope to get another 1K or 2K words in before I go to bed tonight.

So. Close. This is a story half a decade in the making. I remember sitting at my friend Amelia’s kitchen table and going over critiques of the first first chapter of this story. And then I set it aside. I wasn’t ready to write it then, but Nick and Cassie kept whispering in my ear, and I knew I couldn’t give up on them.

Five years later, a first draft is close to being completed. And yes, there will be a happy dance when it is done.

So, where does this leave my progress on my goals for this quarter? Well…

  1. Finish a draft of Oak-Bound. On track, and I hope to finish this in the next few days. Fingers crossed!
  2. Revise Spellfire’s Kiss,once I receive feedback from my kind and helpful beta reader. On hold until I finish Oak-Bound.
  3. Participate in one or two community events each month. Going to see author Sharyn McCrumb at the local library on Sunday, and hubby and I bought tickets for a hayride next weekend.
  4. Meditate or do yoga twice a week. Nada.
  5. Continue paring away the excess in our home and making the townhouse our own. Ordered new chairs for the living room and library, and I’ve piled up a large quantity of items to take to the thrift store. I’ve also hung some photographs in our hallway and in my library.
  6. Bonus Goal: I just found an upcoming call for submissions for an anthology based around the mythology of Baba Yaga, this fascinating figure from Russian folklore. I’d like to write a draft of a Baba Yaga novelette—somewhere in the 10-12K range, so I’m adding this goal.

I am hoping the rest of autumn will be calmer, as I settle into a teaching routine, dig deep into my stories, break out the cozy sweaters, and move closer toward submitting some of my stories for publication. I currently have one short story out on submission and will hear back sometime next month.

What about you? How is your autumn progressing? And please, because I love this season, what is your favorite thing about autumn?

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