Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Joy of a Silent Author's Retreat

I've been at the Oregon coast all week with three other writers. All of us come for the same reason--to get away from the daily grind of life and to immerse ourselves in a world of make believe. All of us have deadlines for several titles each year, ranging from short stories to full novels. Between us we have published more than 80 titles. We all of the same goal on a retreat--complete a book and start another one.

Interestingly, we barely speak to each other. In fact, most days I can count on one hand the number of sentences I've said aloud to one of the other writers. We don't even share meals together until the final night. That's because we have different schedules and each person often eats while writing. I'm up at about 6am and write all day until close to midnight. I tend to take a break around 2pm to walk on the beach. Yesterday, I walked in the morning. Another woman here gets up in the late morning and writes until 2am or 3am. Yet another works from 9am to 9pm and walks twice a day--always alone.

Each persons need to stand or walk or putter in the kitchen depends on how the story is going. Sometimes I simply need to walk away from the characters and think about what just happened. Sometimes I'm facing a difficult emotional scene next and I need space before diving in. Then there are the times when I know I'm writing all around what's important. I can't seem to capture that illusive scene and put it on the page. It's clear in my mind, but there are no words yet to do it justice.

On our last full day, everyone is heads down fighting to meet their goal. Finish the book and turn it into the editor for me. Get to the halfway point in a new novel for another. Finish a novella and start a new project for a third. Turn in a short story for an anthology and get to the half way point in a new novel for the fourth. We had a deadline today of 7pm. It is our last day and we will go to dinner together and talk with each at length for the first time in five days. Fortunately, we each made our goals.

I finished a book that I've struggled with every step of the way. Nothing was easy about this book--not the characters, not the themes, not the climax or the denoument. It seemed that for every 10,000 words I wrote, I ended up changing 5,000 of them. But it is finished and now its off to the editor. One of the other writers had to throw out everything she'd written yesterday because she was over her maximum word limit for that story. Then she had to rework the entire manuscript so that the subplot and those characters were no longer mentioned anywhere. She finished too, at 5:30am. She stayed up all night to make her goal.

With our personal goals met, we could all now enjoy the camaraderie of friends who have managed to silently support each other while maintaining complete separateness. We could now toast to our shared success. Our conversation over dinner helped us take the first tentative steps in transitioning back to reality. We still have six hours tomorrow to tie up lose ends, pack up our characters and send them to the back of our minds. We will go home to husbands and children and grandchildren, dogs and cats and horses, laundry and jobs and house remodeling and volunteer hours. And we will each find small bits of time to write, as we always have. We all have another book still due this year. Most of us have more than one to finish before December 31st.

I'm already counting the days until the next retreat.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Nature's Beauty

It's been a very busy month for me between teaching author workshops, distributing new titles, and hiring a virtual assistant. Consequently, I've not been as good about posting. But now with help on the administrative side of things, I should be back to normal within a couple of weeks.

This week I am in Bend, Oregon on a little mini vacation.  On the way over, I witnessed something I've never seen before--clouds with rainbow colors. There was no rain in site, nor was there an actual rainbow anywhere.  It just felt like a real blessing to see it. It was about 2pm as I was driving east only Oregon Hwy 26 just before Madras.

Of course, as soon as we got to our lodgings I had to look this up.  Here are some interesting things I learned:

The phenomenon is called different things in different parts of the world: sundog; fire rainbow; and circumhorizontal arc came up the most.

What natural process creates it? I assumed there was rain in the clouds. Evidently it's not rain, but it happens when sunlight shines through Cirrus clouds which contain ice crystals. There are all kinds of rules about how high the clouds are and the angle of the sunlight as it hits the clouds. (click on the last picture in this post to get the facts)

Looking for other images online, I found a number of them.  Below are my three favorites. Each is linked to the website that talks about it.

All I can say is that seeing it made my day!!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Value of Persistence and Tracking

Persistence is one of those words that parents hold up to their children as an important life value. Why is it that we can be really good at persisting for some things, and then really bad with others. I've always been a persistent person. I tend to know what I want and keep striving to get there no matter how many roadblocks get put in the way.  I did this throughout my education--elementary school through university. I've been the same way with work choices.

However, there is one thing that has eluded me for most of my adult life. That is getting regular exercise. There have been times in my life when I did well with exercise. Those times usually involved an activity I loved (jazz dancing, tennis) or a boyfriend's passionate occupation (scuba diving). However, as I've become older and settled in my ways, it seems that days go buy easily without me hardly moving. Given a choice between doing something that takes a lot of mind work (reading, writing, researching) versus moving around, I'll always go for the mind stuff. I know I'm not alone in this. I have family and friends, and lots of author friends, who suffer from the same sedentary lifestyle I lead.

My doctor, and friends who have been successful with weight loss, have all told me all I have to do is walk 30 minutes a day. I'm a world-class rationalizer when it comes to non-movement, so it's taken me a couple years of hearing this again and again before I decided to actually put it into practice.  So, let me share with you a few things I've learned a long the way with the hope that you don't let these things top you.

First, forget that 10,000 steps a day goal. That is WAY too many to start with and if you go for broke in the beginning you will hurt yourself and just stop. Find out what your norm is and then work up from there. DO NOT FEEL BAD ABOUT WHATEVER THE INTERNET SAYS NORMAL IS. By the way that 10,000 steps a day is a myth.

Also, stay away from Internet ideas about what is "normal" for daily step counts when not even trying to exercise. I saw estimates ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 steps per day. One evcen claimed that 6,000 was the norm for just doing our daily routines. Well either I'm very abnormal or all the "normal" people are twice to three times as active as I am during their days. Given the obesity rate in the U.S. I have a feeling I'm in the majority and those 5,000 steps a day "normal" people are in the minority. However, it took me a while to throw out the guilt for being such a lazy butt.

I'm a tracker. It provides me daily statistics and, for me, information is critical to keeping me on the straight and narrow. So I decided to start from MY normal and work up from there. I bought a cheap pedometer for $12. No fancy fit bit for me. I wasn't going to be some athlete who was measuring her heart rate and miles walked or run and sharing it with the entire world to compete. Just so you don't feel bad I will share my first three days of tracking. I did 1,450 steps on Sunday, 1,040 on Monday, and then an amazing 2,375 on Tuesday. Who knows what happened on Tuesday I did another 1,000 steps than the other two days (I think I probably went to the grocery store that day).

Now that I knew what my normal was, I set some achievable goals for the first couple of weeks. That was to get to 3,000 steps every day, and to strive for 5,000 for two of those days. It wasn't so easy, but having the intention helped and tracking it every day made it clear to me. I learned that a 15 minute walk around the block yielded 800  steps for me. Wahoo! I also learned that if I set a timer and get up from the computer once per hour and just walk around the house for a couple minutes I could get nearly 150 steps each time--that's another 500 to 800 steps in a day. Before I knew it (okay three weeks of tracking), I was reaching 3,000 regularly.

After I could hit 3,000 five out of seven days in the week for two weeks in a row, I set a goal of hitting 5,000 three days a week and at least 3,000 the other four days. That took me another six weeks to accomplish. An important part of accomplishing that was to convince a friend of mine to become my walking buddy three days a week. If I had to actually walk for 30 minutes I needed someone to talk to along the way, and preferably someone who was not into speed walking. Then I color-coded my spreadsheet and put bright yellow highlights every time I made 5,000. Yes, I am easily satisfied with bright colors as rewards.

Now, I'm 13 weeks into my tracking and I'm aiming for 7,500 steps at least three days a week and 5,000 all the other days. 7,500 gets a pretty green highlight. :)  I don't know how long it will take me to make this next step. I'm guessing a month or more. It means really changing my daily life routines and adding that 30 minute walk into EVERY day, and something longer three days a week.

Will I ever make to 10,000 regularly or even 7,500 regularly? I don't know. I don't know if that is a reasonable goal or necessary (see linked article above). What I DO know is that I feel better and that I do look forward to my walks. In the meantime, I've lost ten pounds over the 13 weeks and that can't hurt.

I'm not saying, yet, that I'm persistent with exercise. I still prefer to stay home and read, work on the computer, write my stories. But the joy of walking is peeking its head into my conscious and the way I feel is making me better at concentrating when I am sitting. I just need to get to the point where that joy of walking is more than 50% of the time. Then I will achieve persistence.

If you are having difficulty with the whole exercise thing, or you've already found a way to keep yourself moving every day, drop me a comment here. If we all share what works, it can only get better.

In the meantime, if you see me walking in the Portland metro area, or at a reader event or conference, say Hi and feel free to join me.