Rabbit Food

Rabbit Food

Typical healthy meal
Photo by Brodie Vissers from Burst

Before you break out the pitchforks and torches, take a deep breath. I am NOT going to advocate any crazy diet out there with this discussion. I’ve already gone on a rant over the stupidity of meal-planning, remember? (I also went to some lengths on the joys found in cake-tasting, so that should clue you in on the fact that I’m not some diet-Nazi) Every diet fad that’s broken from the surface of hell has peaked and crashed under the burden of scientific evidence. Also, not one works. The best these psychotic crazes manage is to dump any excess water you’re lugging around. You WILL lose weight, but it’s not exactly the fat you were looking to get rid of in the first place.

That said, you DO need to take a look at the food you’re putting into your body. Which is difficult for writers (or any freelancer, really). Why? Because when you get wrapped up in whatever you’re working on, you can’t be bothered to put together something from the…however many food groups the food…I think there’s a pie involved now instead of the pyramid they had when I was a kid. Nope, you grab whatever’s quick. Assuming you grab anything at all. I’ve gone an entire day without food or water because I zoned out completely. My writing brain took over and informed my stomach (and the remainder of my organs, I suppose) that they weren’t vital.

Awesome for the novel I was writing; terrible for my health.

So I graduated to the junk food routine. Mindlessly picking up chips or cookies while I typed? That didn’t require a ton of neurons. The package sat beside me on the desk, and any time I paused, I’d snag something. You know what that diet gets you? Fat. It gets you fat. It also makes your brain feel like crud, which interferes with the creative process. Of the two, when you’re a writer, let me assure you the second is the worse of the two. But it’s so much EASIER than:

  1. Pausing your writing brain
  2. Getting up from the computer
  3. Walking into the kitchen
  4. Putting together even a semi-healthy meal
  5. Attempting to eat and type at the same time

Who wants to go through all of that trouble?! No one. But if you want your body – and brain – to stay healthy and productive, it’s the only answer. (Trust me on this one) Which is why I grumble and fuss and complain EVERY day, but I make myself do it.

But it’s NOT a diet!

Okay, so there’s no junk food in the house in the first place. (There hasn’t been for years) So that eliminates the snacking temptation. I eat breakfast before work starts. That means I can sit down and break out utensils. When I hit the computer, I force myself to watch the clock while I work. When mid-morning comes around, I go back myself a protein shake. It’s a compromise between convenience (I can type with one hand and drink with the other) and health. It also doesn’t take very long to finish, even if I can’t chug the thing. And I’m usually at a place where I’m editing by then, anyway, so the typing’s minimal. It’s a perfect compromise.

A few hours down the road, and I’m ready for lunch. Yes, I have to MAKE lunch. If we don’t have leftovers (a rare occurrence), I have a few easy standbys. My personal favorite is rice cake sandwiches and celery with peanut butter (because I am an adult). Again, I can eat one-handed and type with the other. It’s a balanced diet, complete with protein, carbohydrates, fruit, and vegetables. But it doesn’t slow down my writing process. And my afternoon snack? A granola bar. (Yes, I focus on protein, but I also work out 5-6 times a week, so I’m feeding my muscles) Then my wonderful husband makes us a balanced dinner.

No junk, no AVOIDING meals, and my work doesn’t suffer in the process. I still think it’s annoying, and I complain that I have to GET UP and grab food. But my body likes me better. And I’m eating food I LIKE. Which is probably why I’ve maintained this so-called “diet” and haven’t others I’ve attempted in the past. You better believe I have chocolate now and then. On bad days? When everything falls apart and I want to hide? I have dessert. I refuse to deprive myself. Nothing gets cut from my world. Because as soon as you execute something, you make yourself feel miserable.

There’s a difference between dieting and eating healthy.

And that’s where all of those diet fads miss the message. They pick something out there in the world and condemn it to the depths of hell. And it’s usually something your body NEEDS! You NEED carbohydrates! They fuel your body. Protein rebuilds the muscle you break down every day. Do you need a ton of sugar? No. But is it going to kill you to have a reasonable amount? NO! It’s called a BALANCED diet for a reason. Fruits contain nutrients and vitamins your body needs – and they bring sugar with them. Maybe you need to take it easy if you’re diabetic, but you shouldn’t eliminate them from your life for good!

Diets are stupid. But eating HEALTHY isn’t. And you have to eat healthy when you’re a writer. You have to take the time to pause your brain, get up, and get the food. It’s HARD! You never want to do it. There are a MILLION reasons to avoid those meals (you can eat when you finish – in three months). But your body will HATE you. It devises revenge – trust me on this one. But if you put the proper fuel in the tank, it works happily, and your work improves as a result. It’s kind of a win-win situation.

Defending the Line

Defending the Line

You have to defend your boundaries
Photo by Burst from Pexels

What’s one of the best things regarding freelance writing (or any freelance job)? Getting to set and control your hours, of course. You have complete freedom over when you want to work. Which means you have ZERO obligation to keep a standard 9:00-5:00 schedule if it doesn’t work for you. Want to take an extended lunch hour? No problem. Feel like burning the midnight oil when no one else is up and about (and likely to pester you)? That’s your decision. Only want to work during the week and leave your weekends open for adventures? You have the right to make that choice.

YOU are in control of yourself.

As long as you complete the work and deliver it to your client on time, they don’t care if you “clock in” at 2:00 PM or 2:00 AM. It’s a huge perk. You aren’t squished into the box of regular work hours, staring at a clock and wondering why that minute hand never moves. And you don’t have to get on your knees to beg for time off when doctor appointments or other events pop up out of the blue. You simply schedule them to suit your needs and work around them. It’s one of the best situations out there. Honestly, freelance writing took a GIANT load of stress off my shoulders in that regard.

Until I realized people are time thieves.

The words, “I’m a freelance writer, so my schedule’s flexible,” are absolute poison. Suddenly, I opened a gateway for people to decide they have the right to invade my world with demands. That “flexibility” translates into excessive wait times, multiple appointments over several days (because one makes no sense), and frequent interruptions. After all, why should they worry about taking time out of my life? I can simply work later, right? I gave these idiots permission to intrude on a schedule I worked so hard to carve out.

You HAVE to set boundaries with the outside world. Yes, you have that flexibility – when it’s needed! Otherwise, people need to learn that you’re working! Maybe you don’t punch into a clock every day, with a boss hovering over your shoulder, but you still have assignments and tasks to accomplish. You ARE WORKING! It looks different, but it’s no less important than what they’re doing. How would they feel if you treated them the same way? (Ask them sometime) Stand up for yourself and defend that boundary. The freelance work you do is IMPORTANT, and if you can’t work? Well, you’re not going to pay those doctor bills (or whatever the appointment is for).

Admitting you have flexibility is a dangerous thing. You’re trying to be accommodating. A lot of people struggle with their schedules because they’re trapped in those jobs with bosses that frown at them when they ask for five minutes to breathe. They need specific times. You don’t. So you’re trying to help out the rest of the world. But you don’t want to get taken advantage of, either. It’s a careful balance of being helpful while still setting up walls to defend YOUR time.

And, honestly, I’m still working on the balance.

I cut people off when they start tirades about how great it is to not have a schedule. I point out that EVERYONE tries to steal my schedule. I chop phone conversations short. And if I’m in the middle of an article and feeling overwhelmed? Those calls go to voicemail. I’ll deal with them later – as I would with a “normal” job. Maybe it shocks the doctor, but it reaffirms the boundary I’ve set. My work needs to come first. You need to figure out how to do the same thing. And if you work in the middle of the night, you need to build those walls to defend your sleeping time.

Our work looks different to the rest of the world. That doesn’t make it NOT work.

The Death Drop

The Death Drop

Story arcs need to follow a recognizable pattern
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

There’s nothing better than a roller coaster. Whether you prefer traditional wooden roller coasters that whip you around corners and over hills to the point you’re convinced you’re going to come off the seat. Or the latest launch coasters that fling you out at top speeds that water your eyes so badly you can’t see half the twists and loops you go through. Perhaps even hanging coasters where you get the sensation of flight, with the air rushing around your body to the point you can picture the wings attached to your back. Your heart starts racing, blood rushes to your brain, and synapses fire at an alarming rate. And then the car slams on the brakes, and you shudder into the station. Ride’s over, and you’re left with an incredible rush of adrenaline.

Kind of like the feeling you get from an exceptional story.

So imagine the sensation you’d get if someone forgot to finish the tracks on a coaster. You’d drop off the end and plunge to the ground. Not quite fun ride you were expecting. Or you experience so many twists, loops, batwings, and corkscrews that your blood pressure plummets and you can’t see straight. If your brain loses comprehension, your enjoyment isn’t quite there, either. (No one likes getting taken to the ER as a result of a carnival ride) And, of course, if you board a roller coaster that makes a single loop, with NOTHING, you’re going to complain (or wonder if you accidentally ventured into the kids’ section of the park)

Yet people do this ALL the time with their writing!

Regardless of the genre you write, or the form you choose to work in (I’ll exempt poetry because those rules are all over the place), you have one framework you’re expected to build your plot beneath: the story arc. And it’s the most basic skeleton in a writer’s tool box! The story arc contains these basic elements of your plot:

  • The beginning: Your introduction of characters and the problem
  • The middle: The conflict and action
  • The end: The resolution

At it’s most fundamental, that’s what’s required for ANY story. Do most stories resemble a real arc or parabola? No, not really. The best tales – even short stories – have dips and raises, and a few quick hairpins and corkscrews you weren’t expecting. However, the framework exists. If you leave out one element of the arc, your readers wander around scratching their heads. Or they get supremely annoyed. You’re not being clever or “breaking new ground.” You’re being an idiot.

Beginning, middle, end.

Introduction, conflict, resolution.

It’s really NOT that difficult of a concept. Or, at least, I wouldn’t think so. Nor should it get so complicated to realize you need to introduce dips and rises into the middle of your arc. This is an adventure for your readers (yes, even if you’re writing something heart wrenching). No one wants to get on a flat, go nowhere ride. SOMETHING needs to occur. How interested are you to read about someone eating their white bread and mayo sandwich? No one’s picking up that story. Give them a REASON to invest their time. Don’t bore them half to death with the mundane!

And don’t you dare leave everything unresolved and then have the nerve to pat yourself on the back and walk away. I’m not talking about a cliffhanger, either. I understand those; they’re employed all the time by writers intending to write a sequel, trilogy, etc. No, I mean I actually read an epilogue where the writers announced they’d FINISHED a story arc (their words, not mine) despite the fact every single ball was still in the air! NO! BAD WRITERS! You’ve finished NOTHING! That isn’t a story arc. It’s…it’s not even a recognizable piece of geometry. I threw the book across the room. That’s an affront to a loyal reader – and to writers everywhere that slave over their computers or ink pads.

If you’ve written yourself into a corner, go to your publisher and admit you need more time. Don’t decide it’s “good enough” and walk away, dusting your hands. The story arc exists for a reason. It’s a principle of writing that dates back to the ancient Greeks. (Probably further than that, but we can document their work) People get annoyed with incomplete work. They lose interest. They throw things (literally). They refuse to pick up the next thing you put on a shelf (assuming your publisher decides to maintain a relationship with you).

It’s a simple framework to build a story upon. What you do under that arc? That’s completely open to you. So it seems like a small thing to ask you to respect it. Hell, even in my non-fiction writing, I use a story arc. I have a brief introduction, then I flesh out the topic, and then I round everything up with a summary. (Crazy how that works) It’s a respect for your readers. And it doesn’t take much work to follow it.

Use ALL the elements of your story arc. And you can pat yourself on the back that no one will throw your work across the room. At least, not for that reason. (I throw books for other reasons, too)

Double Vision

Double Vision

Two computer screen set-up

When you like habit and routine, it gets difficult to admit you MIGHT need some change. Add in that you already went through a whirlwind of change in the past nine months, and your mind wants to put on the brakes. After all, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But when you’re doing twice as much work to accomplish a task, that’s a kind of broken logic. It disrupts your productivity, stresses you, and prompts unnecessary errors.

Time to bite the bullet.

Utilizing double computer screens is a freelance writer’s (actually, ANY writer’s) best friend. You half your work load, ease that knot in your shoulder (literally), and find yourself typing away MUCH happier. Why? Because you can see your notes and research material on one screen while you work at the other! It’s pure genius! And unbelievably simple. Yet I fought the temptation for nine freaking months. (Maybe you’re denying yourself this handy writing tool even now)

I’ve watched people use double screens in other fields before, and I shook my head. What was the point? You can always set up two windows on a single screen. And if you don’t want to squint, you can upgrade to a larger monitor without too much trouble. Why turn yourself into a human ping pong? It seemed a ridiculous notion – not to mention a complete waste of time and money. I rolled my eyes at my husband with his double screen set-up. It seemed absurd (and his computer desk comes out smaller than mine!).

Then my freelance work started to pile up.

Even when I split the screen with windows, I struggled. I could only keep one active at a time. (Maybe there’s a work-around for that, but I’m not the most tech-savvy person in the world) So I found myself constantly flipping between one and the other. Then I needed to pull up different tabs here and there. Half the time, the computer got confused on where to put the new tab, and I’d panic over lost work. (It wasn’t lost, thankfully, but when you think hours of work just vanished, you have a mini stroke) I doubled my work time flipping from program to program. And the tension up my dominant arm? Yeah, talk about a pain in the literal neck!

It took some convincing – I won’t lie. I needed a reminder that, as a freelancer, a new computer monitor falls under a business expense (one of the pros of freelancing). And I needed a reminder that better productivity falls into my wheelhouse. But I finally caved in. The double monitor settled in on my work station, and I divided up the icons on my desktop. Everything work-related went on one side, and the rest stayed on the primary monitor. I stumbled a bit, initially, figuring out how to move things from one screen to another (and learning where that critical “dividing line” exists for the mouse), but I’m a quick study. And, to be honest, this wasn’t the most complicated thing in the world.

Holy increased productivity-olee!

Having one screen where I could keep my notes while I worked made everything SO simple! I could write on the first screen and glance at the second. No more flipping around in the windows. No more fighting with tabs and worrying about where my current work disappeared to. And fewer mistakes, too. Everything moves more fluidly. I use the mouse less, so my arm, shoulder, and neck ache a thousand times less (always a bonus), and the battery drains at a lower rate. I kick myself for not moving to a double screen set-up sooner!

I don’t have monster-sized monitors, either. They’re both 21-inch screens. But I’m not a gamer or programmer. I’m a writer. I don’t need a mammoth computer screen – for either purpose. I need a large enough space to read my research material and whatever I’m writing. And while the second monitor currently lacks the polished stand of the first (what can I say, Ikea doesn’t make them anymore), some creative searching through the house yielded enough books to keep the pair level.

Double screens have cut down the time I spend on my writing projects. They’re a HUGE life-saver. I pull up my notes, and I’m ready to go. The fumbling and frustration are gone. If you’re not working with two monitors already, consider the upgrade. You won’t regret it. You’ll take the strain off your body (seriously, you’re eyes alone will thank you), the stress off your brain, AND the workload off your peripherals. Well, maybe not the keyboard – that still ends up working about the same.

It’s definitely a change, but it’s worth it. And if I can grudgingly admit that this big change was a good thing, you KNOW it’s true.

Tag It

Tag It

Screen capture of Evernote tag list

Most people look over my workspace (virtual or physical) and label me psychotic. Because if you can think of it, I have it. Color-coding, tracking sheets, Post-It notes, scratch paper, files with (color-coded) tabs… I even have one notebook for writing down the weirdness with my health and one for the Minions (complete with cute stickers on the outside so you know which belongs to who). Organization is my life. I can FEEL when a book or movie is out of order on the shelf (and I’ll go crazy until I remedy the situation). So it stands to reason that I’d never overlook a way to sort through my research.

Or so one would think.

Subconsciously, I think I allowed some self-sabotage to get to me. After all, following a dream you’ve held your entire life is terrifying. You expect to crash and burn and go crawling back to corporate, soul-sucking America. (Incidentally, if you’re happy in corporate America, good for you. I never was) So when I set up my first few “notes” in Evernote, I didn’t bother with the single-most critical feature of the program: the humble Tag.

Allow me to briefly diverge here and confess that I’m old enough NOT to live in a world of hashtags. To me, the “#” is still a pound sign. You use it to play tic-tac-toe, not to devolve into weird spirals on Instagram or Facebook. When I had my first blog out of college, tags made their introduction as a part of blog culture (before any of us knew what the hell SEO meant). But that blog died ages ago, and I lost practice. I only picked it back up with my writing.

Fast forward to last month when I found myself scrolling back through PAGES of notes, trying to find the name of one stupid fish. I knew I’d researched it at some point, and I knew the title of the Note, but where the Note lay in the “stack?” That was a mystery. Then came the realization that I was coming across the same dog breeds over and over – with no desire to cover the same territory. But THOSE Notes lay buried even DEEPER. And while flipping through physical notecards would take longer than scrolling through a screen, Evernote wasn’t making my job easier.

Because I failed.

If I took a few extra moments after finishing each assignment to type in a few tags, I could simply pull up the entire list and then view the Notes I needed. The option sits at the bottom, waiting happily for input each time a Note’s created. You can throw as many tags on as you want, with no character limits. A level of organization deeper than anything I’ve yet encountered, and I MISSED it!

So guess what I got to do – on my days off, no less. That’s right: go back and assign tags to every single Note. Over TWO HUNDRED Notes! We’re talking an entire weekend, stuck on the couch with my laptop, working through research – some of which I haven’t see in MONTHS. But I finally caught up on everything. (And, honestly, once I had a chunk of the tags set, I got to select them without a need to type them in) The work’s already paid off, too. Which is why I have a little Post-It reminder scribbled down to tag NEW research, preventing the need to repeat this insanity.

Organization exists to save you time and effort. Of course, if you ignore the options, you create MORE work for yourself. And when you’re a freelancer, there’s a GOOD chance you may find some themes cropping up time and again. Rather than redoing work you DON’T need to, tags can save you from going up the wall. It’s a huge time-saver. And when you find yourself filling up your calendar (something you’re probably going to strive for), every moment counts.

Or you can wait until you’re drowning in Notes and then decide you want that last little helper. It’s entirely up to you. Personally, I wish I’d thought ahead – like I usually do. (Self-sabotage is a tricky slope!)

Galaxy Eyes

Galaxy Eyes

Firefly's eyes (with Tonks)

January 2020 began a long, crazy, EXPENSIVE journey for the family. I had noticed an odd cloudiness in Firefly’s left eye in December. He sometimes had flares of upper respiratory infections, and I thought this might be one of those times. But by January, it was still sticking around – and getting worse. He needed some lab work to recheck his thyroid, so I figured I’d mention it.

Cue the dramatic crescendo.

Uncertain WHAT the cloudiness was (other than not anything typical), the vet recommended a referral to an ophthalmologist. We trooped him out the same day – and got more confusion. It LOOKED like a sequestrum – a malady more common in dogs. Cats can certainly get them (spontaneously for no damn good reason – of course), but it was rare. And there was ulceration on the cornea due to an underlying dry eye problem. Surgery was an option, but with his dry eye, it wasn’t recommended.

Firefly's eyes with the worst of the sequestrum

Over the next six months, the poor kid proceeded to suffer through eye drop after eye drop after eye drop. At one point, he was on SIX drops – half of them THREE times a day. (Good thing both of us work from home!) And then, just for fun, he developed an ulcer on the right eye. His beautiful eyes started to resemble galaxies. NOT a good look for a cat. We were regular visitors to the ophthalmologists. They knew our car on sight, and everyone knew him. (Luckily, he’s a star patient) His dry eye improved – a little…at least it wasn’t ZERO anymore. He started resenting the eye drops and began running and hiding when he heard us open the bottles. We were hitting a brick wall.

Firefly post-double keratectomy

Out of options, we decided we’d hit rock bottom. The ophthalmologist agreed, and we went forward with surgery: a DOUBLE keratectomy. They removed part of the cornea on both eyes and place grafts. With his dry eye history, we were warned the grafts may not heal – not to mention that his eyes were going to look…well, not the best. And for those first few weeks, he looked rough. We held our breath and watched the blood vessels form attachments to the grafts. Fingers crossed, sacrifices made, and star charts consulted; he’d been through SO MUCH. When we hit that four-week recheck, I don’t think either one of us were breathing.

The grafts held, though! Healthy tissue and vessel attachment showed. And at the two rechecks since, the report’s been the same. He’s been able to drop down to just three eye drops (one’s even an over-the-counter drop!) twice a day. He’d prefer if we left his eyes alone, so he takes off now and then, but it’s not as bad as he used to be. And while his eyes aren’t the beautiful stunners they used to be, they don’t resemble cloudy galaxies anymore, either. It’s a compromise we’re willing to take. And not having to see the ophthalmologist for six months? That’s a freaking miracle!

Firefly's eyes now

We can actually see his pupils again. They’re larger than normal, but they’re in there. You also get a little of the prominent blood vessels on the left, where they’re gripping the corneal graft, but it’s more subtle than before. And since the left eye was worse, it’s kind of expected. We’re just amazed to SEE his eyes again. We spent so much of last year NOT seeing them. And wondering how much of his vision was obstructed. It was heartbreaking. Older, dapper gentleman or not.

We know he lost some of his depth perception. He’s a little more careful with his jumps. However, he didn’t lose his sight, which was a major concern of ours (especially since removal of his EYES was another possibility we discussed). And for a handsome boy approaching thirteen-years-old that isn’t too shabby.

The Numbers Game

The Numbers Game

Hourglass and clock
Photo by Jordan Benton from Pexels

Like it or not, everyone gets a little older each year. (In case you’re wondering, I fall into the NOT category) Some people luck out and don’t show that age. They pass through decades without a hint – inside or out. Other people feel every passing minute and it shows. And then you have people that may not wear their age on the outside, but their internal mechanisms fail. (Time comes in a close second in the sense of humor department to the universe)

And stopping time? Not possible.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of the adage “Getting older is mandatory, but growing up is optional.” I know I can’t stop the years from adding up. And my body lets me know, in no uncertain terms, that I’m not a spritely kid anymore. However, I’m not about to hunker down in a rocking chair on the front porch. (Not that I’m THAT old, either – in case you were suspicious) I don’t think my numerical age should dictate how I live my life. And, ironically, that knowledge came with getting older. (Hysterical, I know)

The moment you throw in the towel on the things you love and enjoy because you hit…I don’t know, some weird age threshold, is the moment your body DOES start to quit on you. The MIND dictates how old you feel (most days). And if your brain tells you to belly flop into the pool, run around with a Nerf gun, or kick back on the porch with a stack of comic books, then arguing you’re “too old” to do so violates your programming. Does knitting or arranging coffee table books HONESTLY sound like more fun to you? (If you enjoy knitting, this isn’t meant as a dig – do what you love) Look at the difference in activity level! One’s going to keep your body moving and pumping blood through every limb. The other? It encourages sedentary life and stagnant blood flow.

Now tell me which is healthier.

Laughter promotes health. Which means cartoons trump documentaries, people. Pushing the “try me” button on toys in the stores and giggling lightens the stress hormones in your body. (Even if you get strange looks from the “adults” around you) And what sounds better to you? Creating a work space with your favorite characters or making sure you adhere to feng shui? As someone with cartoon, comic characters, and cast photos on her walls, toys and stuffed animals on her desk and shelves, and stickers on the computer and monitor, I can tell you which fosters the better work environment. (Especially since I’ve lived in a rigid work environment in the past)

Does that mean I stop learning? Of course not. Hell, my job requires daily research. I have non-fiction books on the middle shelf over my desk, and I pick up a few new ones every year. I watch the occasional documentary if the topic catches my interest (and I don’t consider it absolute bilk; Tiger King falls into that category. I never watched more than 10 seconds of the trailer). I expand my mind between Marvel movies and cartoons, but it’s on MY terms – not because I feel it’s expected due to my age.

And my body? Yeah, it feels twice my physical age. I’m down four organs already. Writing my surgical history ALWAYS overflows the lines they give you. My body is crisscrossed with scars. I take handfuls of medications twice a day. And my collection of specialists is coming along nicely; I’m only missing a few before I think I’ll have seen every single one.

But people mis-guess my age.

It’s all a crazy number game. And you have ALL the control – over YOU. So why in the world would you ever choose to act your age?

Cue it Up

Cue it Up

Playlist of records
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

The ancient Greeks divided up inspiration among nine different Muses, crediting their influence for the creativity that flowed over the known world. Terpsichore held dominion over music and dancing. So the Greeks felt music held the same importance as poetry and comedy. Probably because separating music from writing is damn near impossible. And when you’re stuck, mired in writer’s block, Terpsichore lies in wait in the wings, waiting to assist you.

Simply put: Turn on the radio.

Nowadays, finding inspiration has myriad forms. Music lurks everywhere, in every form. CDs reside in hefty binders or stacks against the wall (don’t deny it – you know you have them), records have returned to weigh down shelves, and computer drives hold decades of MP3 files. Not to mention the variety of streaming services open to people – free or paid. If you can think of it, there’s a station for it. Type it in, and you have music blaring from your computer, laptop, or phone.

I’ve said before that I refuse to work in the vacuum of silence. The music calms my brain, but it also helps me when my writing brain locks up and refuses to work. I have playlists designed specifically for inspiration. They’re chock full of songs that take my breath away and energize my imagination. They transport me into different places, different times, even different worlds. They drop the curtain on the world around me, giving me a chance to breathe and reorient myself with what I’m struggling with. And they jolt electricity through my imagination, sparking new ideas into my writing.

Magical playlists? I guess you could say that.

The funny part is, none of the lyrics have every prompted a story idea. I don’t take inspiration from the words, from the scenery (a lot of the entries on the playlist come from Broadway shows), or even the original concepts. It’s the feeling generated by the music that does the trick. And I know you have songs that engender that feeling in you. Music that gets into every nerve fiber, causing you to freeze up. You find yourself in another place – somewhere YOU created – feeling emotions only your writing brain has words for. Maybe it’s the beat, or the harmony, or something less definable. You just have to stop and let the power sweep over you.

And then the words flow – so fast your fingers can scarcely keep up.

Maybe that’s why the Greeks felt there were demigods behind inspiration. It’s an immediate rush. Or, sometimes, it’s perfect quiet. Other times, you break down completely. The music provides the emotional connection your brain needs to break down that wall blocking your creativity. Or it ignites the imaginative spark in the first place. The rush is crazy, and when you “wake up” from it and see how much writing you’ve accomplished, you’re amazed.

Everyone needs that playlist.

Think over the songs that resonate with you. Start setting them aside into their own playlist. Organize them into the order you need – or leave them on shuffle. (I get some amazing results when I do that) Keep it labeled so you can find it the next time you need a jolt of inspiration. And each time you stumble over a new piece, add it. Will the songs have any kind of cohesion? Of course not. Will people look at you strange if they hear that particular playlist? Probably. (Mine bounces from classical music pieces, through musicals, to modern instrumental pieces, to hard rock, some pop, a couple 80s – it’s a crazy hodge-podge and I love it!) It doesn’t matter. If it resounds with your imagination center, that’s what counts.

And the next time writer’s block rears its ugly head, sit back and cue up the list. You’ll clear the obstruction in no time.

Matter Over Mind

Matter Over Mind

Trust your gut instincts
Image by athree23 from Pixabay

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Sound familiar? People like to throw that bucket of ice water around whenever you get your hopes up over something. And your response is often defensive. They don’t understand or appreciate how amazing the chance you’ve stumbled upon may be. They’re jealous of your opportunities. They’ll see when you’re looking down on them from the pillar of success.

Except the saying’s dead right.

Whether we’re talking about speculative fiction or a freelancing job, you need to keep an important tool in your arsenal to prevent yourself from falling for those obvious pitfalls. And it’s one everyone has (but we often forget to dust off and take down from the shelf): gut instinct. The lurch inside that tells you something feels off – which your brain and heart cheerfully overwhelm with rationalization and hope.

Now, I’m not saying you have to abandon all hope, but that twist in your stomach deserves more credit than we tend to give it. Most of the time, it grabs our attention for a reason. It’s a buried instinct that tells us something feels off and needs a more critical eye. It we’re just willing to stop, set the heart aside for half a second, and employ THOUGHT (not rationalization), we might unravel the truth. Your gut can save you A LOT of grief down the road, but you have to USE it.

BEFORE you make the mistake.

Hope springs eternal, though, and the bugger gets in the way of that gut instinct.

There’s a market out there you’re haunting. It’s not currently accepting submissions, and the notice says they’re working on a Kickstarter – dated five years ago. Your gut assures you that market is dead and gone, but your heart tells you to keep checking, just in case.

Just in case what? Come on. If things were still functional, there’d be an update. Publications DO go under. Move on and find another.

You find another market, but even their submission guidelines tell you they have no response time. You’ll never know when/if they’ll get around to your story. Your heart wants you to try, on the off chance your work might find a home. Your instinct screams it’s a waste.

Again, there are so many markets out there WITH response times and ways to follow-up on submissions. Do you want to roll the dice with someone that isn’t willing to do that for a writer?

You take a contract with someone who tells you they won’t pay you for 45 days. You’re so excited you have a freelancing job that you rationalize the finances. After all, you’ll get paid…eventually. Your gut instinct tells you this is suspicious.

Even the largest magazines pay ON publication. If they have your work and it’s displayed, you have the right to receive payment. Sitting around for over a month, waiting for a check is nonsense.

LISTEN TO YOUR GUT!

Because, honestly, that twist is right 99% of the time. It’s trying to protect you. Sure, evolution developed the gut instinct to preserve our health, but it works in your writing career, too. Maybe it doesn’t speak the way your heart and brain do, but you know the sensation. When that jerk behind the navel happens, take your hands off the keyboard and ask yourself, “What feels off?” It’s a tool that gets more accurate the more frequently you use it, believe it or not. It starts to save you from embarrassing gaffes. And you find yourself succeeding more and more.

That gut instinct? It works both ways. You get a funny swoop when something feels right. You’ll stumble on a writing contest that speaks to one of your stories perfectly. A new market will open up that suits your work perfectly. Or you’ll land a new contract with the perfect client. And you’ll feel a butterfly that lines up with your heart and mind.

Don’t discount what you’re body tries to tell you. It wants the best for you. I mean, it IS attached to you.

2020 in Review

2020 in Review

2020 switching to 2021
Image by sarajulhaq786 from Pixabay

Not many people have warm fuzzy emotions related to 2020. Odds are, you’re one of the majority counting down the seconds until we punt this year out the door. (And cringing in anticipating of what 2021 will decide to bring) I won’t blame you; we got hit with a whopper of a year this cycle around the sun. And it’s easy to focus on the negative – particularly for pessimists (such as myself). That said, pockets of light DID make their appearance this year. After all, I got married this year.

That wasn’t the only positive, though. This was the year I stepped into my forever dream of writing. And while I braced myself for failure when I walked through that door, I succeeded beyond my expectations. That isn’t to say I’m not one of the people shoving 2020 out the door (with a shotgun, if necessary), but I can’t hate it 100% – more in the realm of 95%.

Which is why I’ve decided to do a neat little year-in-review round-up of my writing. Not to brag, but to demonstrate how far I came from the start of this little freelance writing career. Also, it gives me a starting point going into 2021. (If you can’t continue to do better, what’s the point?) Honestly, it shocked me when I started looking at the numbers:

Freelance

  • Clients: 17
  • Articles Written: 194
    • Byline: 130
    • Ghostwritten: 60
  • Edited: 3

Reading

  • Books Read: 57
    • At least – I didn’t start tracking and writing reviews on Goodreads until the spring, so there’s a good chance I mis-remembered my timeline from the beginning of the year

Speculative Fiction

  • Short Stories Written: 8
  • Submissions: 34
  • Rejections: 27
    • Rejections with Personal Letters: 6
  • Publications: 0

I won’t deny 2020 WASN’T the year I expected. From the beginning, it threw me for a loop. And I experienced plenty of downturns and needed to make adjustments I didn’t anticipate. I could sit in the corner and refuse to acknowledge it’s presence in the calendar. Or I could look at everything I accomplished DESPITE what was going on.

And while I’m the furthest thing from an optimist, I’m going to stick to the latter. I amazed myself this year. And I have every intention of doing better in 2021 – no matter what it decides to throw in my direction.