The Awkward & Exquisite Art of Becoming

Hey there, baby dolls! Nervous as a cat, as I’ only five days out from the official release of When Never Comes, but honestly, I’m so promotioned-out that I’d rather talk about something else. So let’s talk a little bit about the “B” word. (no, not that “B” word) I’m talking about BECOMING. It means we’re in process, not quite where we’ve set our sights, but taking definite steps to get there. Sadly, somewhere along the way, BECOMING as a state of being, has lost its schizzle. We’re only interested in BEING, landing at the summit and planting our flag. BAM! We did that. We revere the DONE, not the DOING. The PRIZE, not the PROCESS. Because the process is messy, awkward, fraught with unexpected twists and turns, perhaps even a big old belly flop. And who needs that? ANSWER: You do. I do. We all do. Because that’s how it works. We arrive in this world as pure potential, NOT a done deal. We’re meant to be glorious works in progress, never finished, always evolving… in a constant state of BECOMING. Which is why we need to get ourselves to a place where we’re okay with being in flux, and simply glory in the getting there. It can’t just be about winning the blue ribbon and taking our bow. It has to be about the climb itself, the virtue of the dream, the nobility of our blood, our sweat, and yes, sometimes our tears. Too often, we fail to begin a thing because all we see is the climb, the years it will take to get there, all those awkward fits and starts between where we are now and where we want to be, and we’re just not willing to go there. We’d rather just stay where we are and not risk the BECOMING. And we can do that. It’s our birthright to choose that kind of life, to stay safe and dry and watch life pass us by. But why would we, when we can dive into the deep end of the pool and teach ourselves to swim? It’s okay to flail, to sputter, even to sink a time or two, as long as we keep moving toward the dream. It’s called being human. It’s also called living. And it’s a choice we all came into the world to make. So here’s to BECOMING, my darlings, every messy, scary, awkward bit of it! 

A Life Worth Savoring…

Good day, my lovelies!

The pace of life has definitely ticked up a notch since When Never Comes hit April’s Amazon First Reads list, and that’s a good thing! But more demands on my time means less time for savoring the actual fruits of my labors, which is probably why I’ve been thinking a lot lately about things like beauty and simplicity, and how they’re often crowded out of our lives in the name of productivity. Meals become rushed affairs, prepared on the fly and often eaten in shifts, gulped without tasting in order to move on to the next thing. The bath ritual, once a symbol of serenity and calm, has become a forgotten art, replaced by five-minute showers mindlessly taken in preparation for another jam packed day. Even sleep, one of our most precious commodities, has lost its sense of the sacred, as our bedrooms are increasingly filled with digital gadgets that keep us up later and later, and affect our ability to quiet our minds.

We’ve become slaves to a hair-on-fire, 24/7 pace of life that isn’t really a life at all. And the truth is we’ve CHOSEN this. Maybe not in word, but certainly in deed. We’ve stopped setting boundaries on how we spend our time and energy. We’ve stopped observing the small traditions that refresh and renew, like meals prepared with care and enjoyed together, self-care routines that require us to slow down and honor the body and its needs. Long story short, we’ve stopped valuing beauty, richness, quality, and ritual. Now we just value fast. Or as Daft Punk so succinctly put it: Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger. And I get it. There’s a lot to do, people counting on us, places to be, targets we need to hit in order to see ourselves as successful.

But success isn’t always about cramming MORE into our days. More stuff, more time, more lists. Sometimes it’s about slowing down, deepening our experiences, savoring our moments. One. At. A. Time. It might look like setting the table, pouring the wine, turning off your phone, and enjoying a meal together, instead of wolfing something down on our way out the door. Running a bath, adding some salts, lighting a candle, and having a good long soak, rather than stumbling blindly out of bed and dragging ourselves to the shower. Preparing for sleep by slipping into your favorite PJs, turning off your gadgets and picking up a book (I have some suggestions there!) and reading until you’re drowsy, instead of dropping off in a stupor, still dressed, with the TV droning in the background.

Now, I know what you’re thinking… who has time for THAT? You do. I do. We ALL do. If that’s how we CHOSE to spend our time. And by choosing, I mean setting priorities and   establishing boundaries, making ritual and self care as critical as whatever else is on our to-lists. And yes, it’s about saying no to some requests. As the saying goes, “Something’s gotta give.” Well, shouldn’t YOU be the one who decides WHAT that something is? Today, why not set aside a few moments to ponder the kinds of rituals you might add to your life to make it richer and deeper. If you’re stumped, here’s a tip to get you started… stop saving “the good stuff” for later! Live now, fully and richly. Sleep on pretty sheets. Pull out the guest towels. Eat off the good china. Slip into the silk jammies. Buy your own flowers. Read good books. Sip good wine.

Savor. Savor. Savor.

The season that calls us home

This. So much… this.

Leaf of the Tree

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You should go home to your hermitage; it is inside you.

Close the doors, light the fire, and make it cozy again.

That is what I call “taking refuge in the island of self.”

If you don’t go home to yourself, you continue to lose yourself. You destroy yourself and you destroy people around you, even if you have goodwill and want to do something to help.

That is why the practice of going home to the island of self is so important. No one can take your true home away.

 ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

In judging our progress as individuals we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education … But internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being.

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Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity…

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The “book stork” & my 40 lb. bundle of joy!

As some of you may know (and may be sick of hearing by now) my fifth novel, WHEN NEVER COMES, is due out on May 1st, and the last two days have been an absolute joy. And yesterday, the UPS man (aka: the book stork) brought me a big beautiful box of… you guessed it… author copies! Toss in the fact that it’s my first hardcover release… AND my first audio release, and you can probably guess that I’m a pretty happy girl!

Ask any proud mama and she’ll tell you the moment she held her baby for the first time made was one she’ll never forget. But I’m here to tell you, for authors, holding our book babies for the first time isn’t so very different. And when you think about it there are some pretty striking similarities. There’s the moment of conception, the giddy quickening of new life, followed by months and months (and… months) of awkward and uncomfortable stuff, like insomnia, exhaustion, second thoughts, not to mention the absolute certainty that you’ll never survive the process. And then, at long last, after much angst and weight gain (starting to sound familiar?) comes that final agonizing push, and viola! our creation enters the world in all its new and squalling glory.

And here’s something else–the best part, really. Most mothers will tell you those feelings don’t disappear with the second or third child. Or the fifth. Maybe you know what to expect (or think you do) but each birth is unique, fraught with its own hopes and fears and dreams. This holds true for authors as well, which is why, when that 40 lb. bundle of joy appears on the doorstep, courtesy of the UPS man, be it the first, the fifth, or the fifteenth, it can be a bit of a weepy moment. Because until  we can finally hold it in our arms, call it by its name, and yes, even cuddle with it in bed, it’s never quite real. So excuse me while I coo just a little over my newest addition. I’m a new (ish) mama, and absolutely over the moon that I get to do this wonderful thing for a living!

 

First Drafts and the Art of Imperfection

This week I’ve been working on the first chapter of my brand new novel, and I don’t mind telling you, it’s been going spectacularly. And by spectacularly, I mean it’s been a bit of a disaster. You see, I’m a perfectionist. Now I know that sounds like a good thing, perhaps even a bit of a brag. But I assure it’s not. Because as a writer, there are times when perfection is the absolute last thing you want to strive for.

Confused yet? Okay, let me try to make sense of that. Writing a novel—or anything, for that matter—is a process that requires two distinctly different states of mind. (if we’re not counting mania, confusion, or total unworthiness as states of mind) The first is the “just get it all out” state of mind, required to get a fledging novel off the ground. It’s the starting point: messy, undefined, a brain dump of all the ideas swimming around in your noodle. The second state of mind is the “laser-focused” state of mind required to bring a novel to market. It’s the end point: the pretty, the polish, the song, the art. It’s also the dotting of Is and crossing of Ts, the refining of theme and voice and absolute clarity.  “Laser-focused” is how you finish every writing project of your life.

And therein lies the rub.

“Laser-focused” is NOT how we should start a new project. The truth is, there’s nothing I find quite so torturous as making the shift between editing mode and first draft mode. In editing mode I’m focused on details, on the rules of grammar and punctuation, slashing wayward commas, polishing my words like carefully-mined diamonds. Editing mode is my wheelhouse, my holy grail, my mother’s milk! In editing mode there are rules. Clear do and don’ts. Best practices and never-evers. But then I’m done with that bit of art, ready to begin the next one, and I’m just supposed to… wing it???

Yes. I am.

And so is everyone else who wants to write. Because that’s what the process looks like when you don’t know what you’re doing, or where your story’s going. You have to be okay with being OUT OF CONTOL (not my favorite thing AT all) to be willing to just throw up on paper, knowing some of it (okay, most of it) is never going to see the light of day. You also have to understand what a first draft is—and more importantly, what it’s not. It’s NOT a book. It’s NOT art. It’s NOT sacred. It’s a therapy session, an excavation, an exploration of previously uncharted territory. And it’s supposed to be a mess.

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5 Quick & Dirty Tips for Writing a “Throw-Uppy” First Draft:

  1. Know going in that it’s going to suck (yes, suck) and be okay with that. Stop agonizing over word choice, comma placement, to adverb or not to adverb. This is not time time or the place. Keep your hand and your brain moving. Think throwing up on paper.
  2. Keep the words flowing. (even the bad ones) You can’t edit what you haven’t written. But you can spend a ton of time editing words that are never going to make it into the final draft. Get the story out, build the ideas, explore scene options and character traits. That’s what this stage is about; feeling your way to your story with both hands and a flashlight.
  3. A first draft is for your eyes only. Seriously, this draft is about you. Your process, your discovery, your epiphanies. Critique partners and beta readers can provide invaluable insight later in the process, but right now, you don’t need anyone else in your head.
  4. Stop trying to put lipstick on a skeleton. First drafts are about laying down the bones, building a structure for your ideas, a foundation for all the details that will come later. In other words: it’s everything. The pretty will come later.  (I promise)
  5. Muzzle your inner critic and keep writing. This where the rubber meets the road, where you have to ignore everything your 9th grade English teacher or last copy editor has ever told you… and just write. Forget the spelling, the punctuation, the endless searching for the perfect word, and just make a mess. Messy is okay. Messy is part of the process. Messy is GOLD.