One Little Word 2017: SHINE

I’m ready. I am READY for 2017. This last weekend I spent a lot of time reflecting on the last year, reflecting on where I am in my life and what I want to do going forward.

I am doing something different this year. Or, rather, I am NOT doing something.

I’ve decided that I am NOT setting specific goals for 2017. I have set big concrete goals every year for the last half-dozen at least. I’ve even helped create a goal-setting memory keeping project.

But I’m not feeling that this year. I have a couple ideas of why, but I have no regrets or hesitations about that. I sent an email to my list a few weeks ago about how I still feel like I’m a transition chapter of my life. I know the direction I’m going but I still need more of a foundation for this new life. This next year is going to be more about being ME and owning more of who I am and not holding back.

shineSo I chose my One Little Word with that intention in mind. …. SHINE

I love this annual practice … I love having a theme and a focus for the year. A filter through which I make choices. I love having Ali’s guidance throughout the year and creative projects to help bring the word more into my life.

I am looking forward to my year to SHINE.

I wish I could remember how the word found me … all I know is I’ve been thinking about this word since, like, August? Several months.

Sometime in 2016, I realized that enthusiasm is my superpower. Being a cheerleader is a gift that I bring to the world. Those Five Love Languages that Gary Chapman talks about? I can provide words of affirmation all day every day.

That’s about when I started my SHINE pinterest board (this one is my favorite, I think. Language warning). That’s about when I got my SHINE journal.

For me, this year to SHINE means a few different things …

I want to figure out what I am really good at and what I can offer the world.

I want to be unapologetically enthusiastic. I want to love without reserve.

I want to reflect back to the people in my life their own value and worth. I’m a cheerleader and an encourager and I can’t help it. Might as well own it.

I want to be a beacon for what is possible. I want to give hope to people who may be going through the same thing I have, or are struggling with the same things I did.

I don’t know yet exactly what this will all look like. What ACTIONS I need to take. … but it’s a mindset that I intend to hold on to all year.

I am very much looking forward to 2017. I haven’t the slightest idea what my life will look like at the end of it … that’s part of what this word is for. To help me make sure I’m staying on course, even without specific goals.

What is your One Little Word? Any BIG plans for 2017??

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Make time for MicroAdventures

I tweeted something the other day that sounds ridiculous, but it’s still true: I plan my life around being flexible.

I get up before dawn and get right to work. I willingly answer emails on Saturday morning. I sometimes stay up late just to finish writing a chapter or researching hotels for S&S events.

I work at any time of day SO I CAN ALSO take off work any time of day.

My number one priority right now is building a life for myself when I can be flexible. My best friend here in Austin has 3 kids so I always want to be available when she can be. Another close friend has a very full schedule and can only make time to call me at random times, so I want to be able to drop everything when needed. I have at least 2, maybe 3 or more, friends coming to town the rest of this summer that I want to be around for.

It’s very important to me that my life is my own. That I can be flexible and make time for microadventures.

Want to see some examples?

(of course you do)

Mid-May my friend Garrett came to town! We did lunch and then walked around Lady Bird Lake (~5 miles in flip flops and a dress. Not my smartest decision).

That was a full Sunday….

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Just recently, my editor friend Kristin came and stayed with me for a week AND it happened to coincide with my writer friend Logan stopping by Austin for the weekend. They didn’t know each other at all, but all my friends are fantastic, so we had a fun, full Saturday doing Austin-y things.

Lunch at Homeslice. Amy’s Ice Cream. Then touring the state Capitol building. Coffee at BookPeople. Relaxing by Alyssa’s pool. Mexican food for dinner. Full full day.

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Logan is related to Lorenzo De Zavala, so he had ALL KINDS of history to tell us about that wasn’t on the official Capitol tour. It was adorable and hilarious and I’m so so glad I have the kind of work that I can be available at such late notice just because Logan happens to be in town.

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And one last microadventure that I made time for last week ….. Kristin didn’t have any specific plans when she came to Austin, BUT her hockey team (Pittsburgh) happened to be playing in the Stanley Cup final. !! SO we went and sat in a sports bar for a few hours so she could watch her team win!!

Nothing I ever would have thought to do myself, but I’m so so glad I was able to be available to do it with her.

(freaking adorable when they won. OMG that girl)

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All of these little microadventures have been SO FUN for me! Being able to be available when people I love want me is SO FUN for me! Knowing that friends will text me when they come to town and I can drop everything to do fun touristy things is SO FUN for me.

This has really been a magical year so far, and making time for microadventures is a bit part of that.

I have a ton more I want to do too. If you live in Austin and have ideas, let me know!

I’ve started a couple Pinterest boards here:

 What is your next microadventure?

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How to host a conference for writers

Hahaha! Just kidding. I have no idea. I mean, I did it recently, but that doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing :)

On March 30 and 31, the company I work for hosted a conference for indie authors. And I basically ran the whole thing.

I’m working on journaling ALL OF THE DETAILS for myself (thinking about printing out all the pages and tucking it in my Project Life album). The document has barely scratched the surface and it’s already like 4000 words. … and I keep being reminded of more. But in the meantime, here’s a tiny bit of an overview.

Last summer, the guys asked me to plan a conference for our audience. Now, keep in mind I have never in my life even been to an event of this size let alone plan one. But. You know. They trust me. And I can figure it out. Probably.

Fortunately, my mom HAS planned events like this so she helped me figure out all the things I needed to remember and think about and answer questions about. So I wasn’t totally flying blind. I spent months and months and months trying to plan this all in between all my other work (and still part-time). We didn’t make any money. We MIGHT have broke even. I’m sure I made mistakes …

Putting together the Smarter Artist Summit was … HARD. It was chaotic. Especially having to try to fit it around all my other work. The last month leading up to the event was SO full and stressful and my face totally broke out and I just know I have so many more gray hairs and all of it.

I basically did everything except invite the speakers and write the email blasts to promote. But everything to do with putting the actual physical experience together was on me (and, fortunately, the dozens of volunteers).

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But in spite of all that stress, it GENUINELY still exceeded all my expectations. The speakers were so smart, and I think everyone learned something no matter how far they were in their career.

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But my personal favorite part was the attendees. Everyone was so generous and kind and I could not have done this without them. I had more volunteers than I could use. And then in addition to that I had people going out of their way to buy me gifts, or lunch or physically take things out of my arms to help me.

I got to see friends from previous events and spend time with them which I LOVED. But I also got to meet so many new people. Not everyone that was there (disappointing), but I have all kinds of phone numbers and contact info for new friends that I am hoping to be able to connect with over the next year.

The attendees were all amazing.

More photos here and here.

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I tried to articulate it a bit in the caption of this photo.

I wish that I had had more time to hang out with everyone in between the actual event itself. I think several people are planning to come into town for a whole week next time. And we’re going to adjust the order of the events so post-Summit is more relaxed and more able to be social.

I am so very much looking forward to it!

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Thursday night, after the Summit, about 40 of us all went out to karaoke and then out to a bar after that. I know one person specifically just stayed up all night before catching his flight at 6am. I love these people and I could not be more excited about next year.

In fact … we have already started selling tickets for next year’s event — even though we don’t have dates, a location or any speakers at all. And as of right now we’ve sold almost 10 already. Not too shabby.

Sterling & Stone isn’t my company, but I’m proud to be on the team. If you want to be in the loop for next year’s event or anything else the guys are working on you can sign up for the email list here: http://sterlingandstone.net/repeaters

I was *exhausted* and stayed in bed for several days afterward but it was totally worth it.

RECOMMENDED: I actually was *just* on a podcast episode last week talking about the event, if you want to hear some of the specific stories …. The guys recorded a couple podcast episodes about it too here more professionally mostly about the community and here totally NSFW but I join the show halfway through.

**SIDENOTE** Should I start focusing more on writing and being an indie author? Are you at all interested in that kind of content? It’s a big part of my life, but I’m not sure it belongs on this site. It’s ok to tell me to leave it out :)

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I feel stupid: On intellectual challenges

I feel stupid. Or, rather … I don’t feel like I’m as smart as I used to be. And I’m not totally sure why that is.

I’m an English major (totally stereotypical). Between my undergraduate and graduate school, I spent ~6 years immersed in critical analysis of novels and other texts. But that ended almost 10 years ago.

And in those 10 years I have gotten out of the practice of that analysis. Of that deep thinking and making connections between seemingly unrelated things. And as I work on my first novels, trying to make them worthy of being categorized in the ‘literary fiction’ genre, I want those skills back.

I feel stupid.

critical analysisMaybe because I miss academia.

Maybe because I work with people much smarter than me.

Maybe because I spent last year reading a lot of just-ok YA novels.

Maybe because I haven’t actively created or launched any new products in about 2 years.

I need to fix this. I don’t like feeling stupid.

All my belongings were delivered on Friday, so I now have all my books again. Including books like this and this and this which will absolutely scratch that academia itch. I’ve been reading a lot of ebooks lately, and I miss having the physical books. Physical books with orange pen in hand.

Some plans and ideas I have ….

  • Read (and re-read) the lit-crit books I already have.
  • Read (and re-read) the novels I studied in college/grad school
  • Actively seek out academic journals and papers
  • Deliberately make notes about the books I’m reading
  • Write academic papers?

I mean that last one …. seems like such an indulgence. Writing academic articles as a hobby? What would I do with them? I can’t imagine them being good enough for any kind of publication. But the practice of articulating my ideas might be useful?

I’m not sure. What do you think?

I DO have my Master’s thesis (and I’ve mentioned this before) …. it’s about Harry Potter and memory and material culture, and I wrote it before the 7th book came out. I’ve long wanted to revise it (substantially) and self-publish it in case anyone else out there is a super-nerd like me. Maybe this will be the year I finish that.

I’ve been doing morning pages, which helps some. But it’s still not that academic critique that I (genuinely) love.

I need a challenge.

Recommendations? What do you do to challenge yourself intellectually?

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Why I’m moving to Austin

austin  028I moved to Austin, Texas this weekend.

If you had asked me a couple years if I would ever move to Texas I would have laughed at you. Laughed in your face. It probably would have been rude, actually, but I mean…. C’mon. Texas???

And then I made friends with Sean Platt.

Let’s back up …  

Last year at this time my life started falling apart, so in order to feel like I had some kind of control I started grasping for a plan. Any plan. What could I do to take control back of my life?    

I could move. I could give myself a true fresh start in some place else entirely.

I love L.A. I really do. But I was tired of it. Too expensive. Too much traffic. Too many bad memories.

I didn’t have any reason to stay in Los Angeles, and plenty of reasons to move somewhere else. Anywhere else. So I started from scratch …. What are my priorities? What do I want in a city? What do I not want?

A partial list …

  • I want to live somewhere that I already know people
  • I want to live somewhere I can afford to buy a house within the next couple years, that I can afford to not have to get a full-time day job and that will allow me to be able to save money or spend it on travel
  • I don’t want to have to drive in the snow
  • I’d prefer to live somewhere liberal and creative if possible

 There’s more. And nowhere is perfect, really. If I had more of a regular income right now this would be a totally different decision. 

The primary factor came down to where I know people. I mean, to be honest, because of the miracle of the internet I have friends everywhere. All over the country, for sure, and if I were to go to Germany or Australia I could scrounge up a couple coffee dates too.

But the only places I know more than 1 or 2 people are Los Angeles (which we’ve already eliminated), Phoenix (where Andrew and I got married and lived several years. It would not really be starting over), Couer d’Alene, Idaho (but the only people I know there is Andrew’s extended family. Also, snow) …. Portland and Austin.

Which narrows my choices down to Portland, OR and Austin, TX …

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Portland is gorgeous and amazing, and I do know about 3 people there.

But in Austin’s favor ….

… The cost of living is slightly lower than Portland. Which leaves me more a buffer to build up my freelance income, will let me buy a house sooner and travel more.

… I have a lot of friends there. A lot. And a couple more planning to move in the next few months. I already have a monthly dinner date with several friends, 2 of them went and looked at apartments for me.

… Because the company I work for is more or less headquartered in Austin, I would be traveling there every 6 months (at least) anyway. This company has big big plans for the next few years, so if I stay with them it will make more and more sense for me to be living in that city.

The dinner table photo above is of a bunch of writer friends I saw when I was in Austin last September. These are the people I’ll be seeing regularly now.

I’m not saying I’m married to Austin (in fact, I’ve been fantasizing about living in Washington DC if I could afford it). I could totally see myself living in Rome for 3 months or renting a cabin near Yellowstone for a summer. But right now, this is the best option for me.

I am so excited to be starting over here!

Have you ever been to Austin? What did you think?

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One Little Word 2016: MAGIC

I love love love the practice of choosing a word to focus on every year.

After the last couple years … I need some fun in my life. I need something special. I need something larger than life. I need to be with people who care about me. I need to go on adventures and create things and hit my goals and feel good about myself.

I need magic in my life.

My One Little Word for 2016 is MAGIC

I’m taking Ali’s OLW course again! You can sign up on her site here. It’s a great price for a year-long reminder and prompts to help you stay focused on your word. Not an affiliate. I just love her.

A short list of some of the things I find magical:

  • travel
  • fiction
  • musicals
  • Muppets
  • hitting goals
  • storytelling
  • American History
  • laughter
  • singing and singers (like Adele and Freddy Mercury)
  • fresh starts
  • love
  • scrapbooking and memory keeping
  • being independent and strong
  • Harry Potter

So far my plans for 2016 include …

…. Moving to Austin, to be near my writer friends and to live in a place that is inexpensive enough that I can afford to travel more often. A truly fresh start.

…. Travel to Richmond on my own to spend a week taking in all the Civil War history and battlefields around.

…. Traveling to New York City, to see the musical Hamilton (it’s about American History, yo. It’s like it was written for me)

…. Tentative trip to Chicago to see friends, see Hamilton AND Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them with said friends

…. Publish 4 novels. Write first drafts of 3 novels. Read all the how-to-write and creativity books I can find (Big Magic is already on my kindle).

…. Revel in fiction. Be more deliberate about the fiction I choose to read. Return to my M.A. in Literature roots by putting the priority on reading classic literary fiction that I love, rather than whatever new trendy Y.A. fantasy books just to see what the masses are reading.

Seems like a lot in a list like that …. I seriously cannot wait!!

But in addition to all of this …. I need to remind myself that I AM MAGIC.

I’m also going to use the word MAGIC to remind myself how awesome I am. 2015 destroyed me and my self-confidence. Which is ridiculous, because I’m awesome.

I am MAGIC.

2016 is going to be amazing!

P.S. I’ll be emailing more about my year of MAGIC, so be sure you’re on the list here to get those missives.

3 comments

How Morning Pages changed my brain

I’m having a hard year.

Things started falling apart in January, and by mid-year I was determined to do something. Anything. There was not a lot I had control over, but it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try something I have been hearing about for years.

I admit I have not (yet) read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, but basically everything I’ve heard about it praises Cameron’s concept of Morning Pages.

I’ve been doing Morning Pages since about mid-May 2015. At the time I was in the middle of a course on prosperity, and our coach challenged us to just try what she was suggesting. To commit to the process, in spite of what we might think is silly or outside our comfort zone. I approached Morning Pages the same way.

I began them when I was going through a giant life upheaval and I think I’ll always wonder how much harder that experience would have been without the quiet, calming, letting go practice of writing every morning.

I had heard about Morning Pages for years beforehand, but I always thought ‘I don’t have time for that’. The first week or so I timed myself — 20 minutes.

20 minutes of journaling instead of 20 minutes of Twitter? I can handle that.

In the months since I began, I’ve missed maybe a dozen days. The first one because I just couldn’t handle thinking about things for any more time. The others because I was traveling and already getting up VERY early.

WHY

Morning Pages are my form of meditation. I have so much going on in my brain at any given time, I have had an impossible time trying to do real meditation, but taking 20-30 minutes to empty my brain writing longhand helps in a very similar way.

I love this post about the benefits of morning pages. I have absolutely found the same thing to be true.

Granted, I don’t really have a control-level to test it against — my whole life was a disaster when I started. But I totally believe I would be more of an emotional wreck without the daily brain drain as I pour everything on to the pages.

It’s part “dear diary”, part walking myself through that day’s to-do list, part big-picture future dreaming. I don’t know that I have come to any lighting-strike-realizations, but I certainly feel more calm and more in control of my life after starting morning pages. Both VERY important considering how the first half of my 2015 was.

How I do it:

  • Silence. No music. No one else awake in the house.
  • I write the date and exact time at the top. My morning routine is important to me and my productivity, so recording that data is an easy way for me to keep on track. It also serves as the perfect writing prompt at times. “Late start this morning because …. ”  or “I love being up before the sun. I feel … ” or similar.
  • Same place every day.
  • This pen. This notebook. 3 sides of paper. Fast handwriting. No editing.

I never put it “away.” I never have to hunt it out. I don’t have to think. I just start the coffee, then sit in a nearby armchair where my notebook sits the rest of the day. I usually finish my 3 pages shortly after the coffee is done brewing.

I’ve missed some days, but they have pretty much all been when I was traveling and my schedule was thrown off.

I have been LOVING this practice. It has totally changed my brain for the better.

Further reading about Morning Pages here ….

Try it this week.

P.S. I’ve started this Pinterest board about Notebooks and Journaling. Have any more good resources for me?

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Self Education: Never stop learning

I want to know ALL THE THINGS! I read at least 50 books a year, but still have more books on my to be read shelf than most people. I’m making up a U.S. History class for myself (going on 7 years now). I tell people to ‘assume I know nothing’ so I can get them to teach me all kinds of things.

If being a professional student was a thing I would totally do that. My favorite part of every semester was getting the syllabus at the beginning, and poring over the reading list and having that long list of things-I-will-be-learning to look forward to.

I don’t ever want to stop learning.

Turns out this is a common trait for both INTJs AND Enneagram 5s. Both me.

All I need is more time for all this info-absorption.

I have a few methods for finding more time to read — which sometimes includes reading-as-procrastination on work. I read on any break/lunch I take during the day. I don’t spend much time watching movies or TV. I go to bed early just to have time to read before I fall asleep. I take my kindle most places. Just in case.

I don’t take notes, and lately I’ve been reading some kind of fast, mindless, non-literature books. But for me really, I don’t have a goal for a certain number of books to read each month. I just will continue to read and read and read.

I want to know all the things.

Why? Well, among other reasons, a certain billionaire you might have heard of, Warren Buffet, estimates that he spends 80% of his working day reading and thinking.

I’m not saying reading a book about Pixar is going to make me a billionaire, but I do believe that the smarter I am the more chance I have at success.

At the time of this writing, I’m currently reading a book about storytelling and have just started a book about President Polk.

What are you learning this week?

P.S. Have you heard of the Feyman Technique? Looks interesting. I miss graduate school and having a reason to invest so much time in super-close-analysis of novels. I can’t justify that time investment right now.

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Set aside time to create

What did you do this morning? First thing, as soon as you started working? Was it answering email? Maybe checking in on a Facebook group you help manage? Scrolling through Instagram?

Or was it creating? That big project you’ve been trying to chip away at? The one that you’ve been planning for a few weeks at least?

Up until a few months ago, I started my mornings slipping into the magic social media time warp and somehow spent all the time answering other people.

99U calls this Reactionary Workflow.

Maybe you do this too? You’re just filling your time reacting to what other people want from you or ask of you.

So once I got my head on a little straighter and realized I was making little-to-no progress on the major creative endeavors I was in the middle of, I made myself stop. I had to force myself. I LIKE feeling like I am helping. I LIKE the feeling of productivity that comes from answering emails and clearing out the inbox.

But those little things aren’t helping my long-term goals. Instead, made the concerted effort to remove myself from that loop of responding to what everyone else was asking of me.

I turned all notifications off of my phone — including (and especially) the notifications from my company’s instant messaging profile. I don’t work ‘on call’ so there’s no need to know the exact second my boss asked me to tweak a book’s product description. I took work email off of my phone. I made sure to close the email and internet programs on my laptop, so when I open it in the morning, I’ve only got my writing project open.

Most importantly ….  over the last 6 months I’ve been doing Morning Pages (as prescribed by Julia Cameron). That’s a subject for a whole post on its own, but let me tell you …. It has been so great for my brain to have ~20 minutes first thing every morning just set aside to clear my head and write something.

So I wake up, feed the cats, start the coffee, and then sit down and write by hand for about 20 minutes. Then (usually) I get to work on my writing project of the day.

I can get away with this schedule for a lot of reasons — I work part-time, from home on my own schedule. I get up SUPER early, so no one expects me to answer email at 6:30am ET when I am beginning work.

But you can do something similar:

Give your brain a break from input — resist taking out your phone when you are just waiting in line
Close out your Facebook tab
Turn off notifications from your phone
Schedule your creating time on the calendar
Meditate
Take your lunch break outside (without your phone)
Take a nap
Go for a walk (without your phone)

There’s a ton of ideas to take yourself out of the cycle of constant media absorption. Not every single second needs to be filled with entertainment.

Set aside time to make something instead. First thing. Before anyone gets in your way.

I’m still not winning this game. I’m still working on this every day and all the books I wanted to have done this year? Yea, not even close.

But I’m working on it. And every day I get better at it.

P.S. Be sure to register for 30 Days of Lists if you want a fun and EASY creative challenge for next month. You only need to set aside 5 minutes each day to create.

You can totally manage that.

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A year of PRACTICE: Working for writers

This year I am working on PRACTICE. My One Little Word. My focus and foundation for the year. I haven’t been doing a ton exactly, but the idea has been percolating in the back of my brain all year. Like when I chose the word BRAVE, I think PRACTICE will remain long-term as an anchor for me.

Part of my year of PRACTICE is building up my daily writing practice. So I have been so lucky this year to surround myself with writers on all sides. Not only do I work for 3 full-time writers, but I have been embraced into the whole community of writers that surround them and their podcasts.

It was all kind of a stroke of luck. Last November (before I had even started thinking about my 2015 OLW) I emailed one of the writer guys I *kind of* knew and basically said, “Look. I’m awesome. You should hire me.”

And he did.

(for the record, the email said more than that, but that is the gist)

So for 10 months now I have been working very very part-time for 3 full-time self-published authors. It really is only 10 or fewer hours per week, but I have learned SO MUCH. I have more or less built my job into being their COO+Team Mom. I get to see behind-the-scenes as they build out their assets, decide how to market and leverage them, spend their resources, and so much more.

I get to see what a business looks like when you write 5000+ words/day. I get to see what consistency can do for you practically.

Every day these guys produce more before I’m done with my coffee than I will all week.

It’s amazing and so inspiring.

I’m still working on making my own fiction writing a daily practice, but the example I see in working for these writers is a huge inspiration. My plan for the rest of the year is to publish 2 novels and write the 1st draft of a third. Not too shabby (especially compared to what I produced the first part of the year).

What is your One Little Word this year, and how can you surround yourself with the people that can help you with it?

P.S. A few books I can recommend on building a writing habit are The 8-Minute Writing Habit by Monica Leonelle, 30-Day Author by Kevin Tumlinson and Writing Habit Mastery by S.J. Scott

P.P.S. I also know all 3 of those authors mentioned in the P.S. I’m telling you… surrounding yourself with the right people pays off SO MUCH.

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