I hit a milestone yesterday. According to my Bullet Journal, I’ve written for 365 days in a row.

Think about that. Three hundred and sixty-five days. One year.

A big part of doing anything is sticking with it. Last year, I watched the Rita and Golden Heart Finalists be announced, looked at my own writing output…and got very depressed. I love writing. I love putting those words down on the page, giving life to the people and places in my head. But it isn’t my full time job or what pays the rent and puts food on the table. For that, I’m a cog in the corporate wheel, like many of you who read this. I’ve also got family responsibilities that take time and energy, like many of you. And, like many of you, there are days that I just felt too stretched, too tired to do something I loved because I was busy taking care of everything else.

So I looked at those announcements rolling across Twitter and I decided that needed to change. I’d told myself I would get a book out in 2016 — or I’d have to sit down and face the fact that maybe I was never going to be doing this for more than my own amusement. So I grabbed my journal and made a note: Writing Day 1. Yes, words got written that day, just like we stick to the first day of the diet. Same of Day 2 and Day 3. Day 4? That’s when I stumbled. Work was crazy and there was family stuff and I wanted to watch something on TV and I was tired — you know the excuses. I figured one day wouldn’t hurt. Nor would two. It was several days later that I realized I’d fallen back in the rut of letting everything else push the writing aside.

So I started again. Writing Day 1. That’s the streak I’m celebrating now. It hasn’t been easy because, well, life and we all have too many things on our plate and too many things that demand our time and attention before we can get to that which we do for ourselves. But if you keep going, things happen. I’ve gotten not one, but two books out, with two more to come this year. I’ve written on days when I was assured I wouldn’t have time because I needed to be at the polls by 6 AM and it was going to be a long, hard day. I’ve written during the last month of the year when my job required much more than forty hours in a week because we were prepping for the year to come and the materials I needed arrived later than they should. I’ve written in a cubicle in the Emergency Room, sitting at a bedside. Some days it’s been several thousand words. Sometimes, it’s been notes for an idea or something to solve a plot problem. And, yes, there have been a few days I would have rather been anywhere else except at the keyboard.

I did it, though, because if you want to do something that you love, no matter what it is, you have to work at it. Maybe it’s just five or ten minutes a day most days, carving out little niches of time, but you keep working at it. If you do that, it becomes natural to carve out that time for ourselves, to do the thing we want to do. Will you be guaranteed fame and fortune? No — but it’s better to spend time doing what you love, even if it is only for ourselves. Much better than looking back and saying “I wish I had at least tried.”

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m working on balance for Lent, trying to find that sweet spot where I can get the work done, be who I need to be for my family, do all the things I need to promote myself as an author, and write. It’s not easy, but getting the writing done every single day for a year wasn’t either. So I keep trying. And I’m asking you to do the same. Write down a goal — not a big one, but a little one, something you can chip away at for ten or fifteen minutes a day. Something you’ve been saying “someday” about. Write “Day 1” behind it. Carve out that tiny sliver of time because that’s often all we have. Do it tomorrow, and the day after. If you stumble one day, the next day, write “Day 1” and start the streak over again. Given time, it’s amazing what can come from that sliver.

Light One Candle

Light One Candle

Light one candle for hopeTonight marks the Winter Solstice, the moment when the earth is furthest from the sun in its orbit and night is at its longest. Little wonder that this moment falls close to the point where we mark the end of the year. Throughout man’s history, this has been a time to note because after this, night grows shorter, the days grow longer — and the promise of spring and a new growing season is at hand. That’s still a ways away, but we know it’s coming.

But it’s a hard time as well. The stresses are piling on us as the 25th approaches, and we can keenly feel the weight of expectations. We struggle with diets, schedules, relatives (do not get me started), balancing work and family, struggling to carve out time for ourselves. Nor is the news we hear good. 2015 seems to be a litany of misery with disasters, terrorism, tragedies both personal and global, and a lead-up to next year’s elections that often seems like a very bad sitcom. Personally, I’ve had major upheavals in my home and work life that have long term impacts and both of which are contributing significantly to holiday stress. And, as always, there are empty chairs in the circle which we know will never be filled again and the loss pains us.

And yet…

At this time of year, we are also bathed in lights that hold back the darkness, even if only for the moment. There is kindness, often unexpected gestures that warm our hearts and make the day a little bit brighter. There are moments to make us smile. It is a time to keep those we hold most dear close to us, whether in person or in the warmth of memories. If we open ourselves to it, there is joy and hope. We have to reach for it, though.

So, as we face this longest night, light a candle against the darkness. Let other candles be lit from yours. As long as we keep the flame going and do not surrender to the night, there is hope, both big and small.

Light a candle, for we know that spring will come again.

The Choices We Make

The Choices We Make

Autumn Day“Choices made, whether bad or good, follow you forever and affect everyone in their path one way or another.” ― J.E.B. Spredemann, An Unforgivable Secret

The past week has been a week of choices around here, ranging from small to large. I decided to reknit the rows I lost when the cable broke on my Advent Shawl, thereby pushing other knitting aside while I pushed to catch up with the latest clue. That affects almost exclusively me and what I’m doing in my relaxation time.

Choices were made at work to go one direction in a new process rather than another. This affects me and my duties, and I was fortunate to have a good deal of input into the situation, so managed to avoid some pain points, even if I’m not happy with the direction itself.

My father-in-law made a choice about medical procedures that has a big impact on our household — and then changed his mind. Both actions have consequences.

Choices are on my mind a lot lately as I face some decisions and prepare for a new year. Go right, one thing will happen. Go left — it’s an entirely different course. Right now, it feels as if every move has to be weighed and measured, looking for the impact downstream. I spend time on my writing — it’s time I don’t get to spend with my husband. I work overtime due to end of the year insanity, I don’t get to spend as much time on my writing. I spend time on social media doing all the things writers are supposed to be doing — and that means I don’t get to hang out on Tumblr dissecting every frame of the Captain America: Civil War trailer or arguing over who’s in that grave on Arrow.

The important thing is once we make our choices, we take ownership of them and their consequences. Far too often, I see people who always insist the responsibility doesn’t lie on them, that it was always someone else’s fault, always a mitigating circumstance as to why they shouldn’t take the blame and other people should pay the price. I don’t want to be one of those people, and I’m lucky to have some good friends who’ll smack me up one side of the head if they see me falling into that trap. And that trap can be so, so tempting at times.

It’s December and the world will soon finish another rotation. We start a new year and give ourselves a clean slate. What choices are coming up for you and what do you hope to take ownership of?

(And, I’ll take ownership of this one thing — there’ll be a cheerier topic tomorrow morning.)

Red Sky at Morning

Red Sky at Morning

Early Morning December 9Sooo… remember how on Monday I said hiding under the bed wasn’t an option? Yeah, I’d like to revise that.

  • The cuff I finished on the cardigan? Didn’t switch to the smaller needles, so had to rip it out and am reknitting it.
  • My Advent Shawl that’s been going so nicely? Cable broke on my circular needles last night, and I lost both Day 8 and Day 7, so those have to be re-knit.
  • And the row I’m trying to start from has the incorrect stitch count so I have to figure out what’s going on there.
  • My father-in-law is going in for a surgical intake meeting today about the pacemaker his doctor wants him to get — which he might be getting before Christmas.
  • There’s more — a lot more — I could whine about here, but I won’t because it’s not attractive. It’s been a fun and interesting few days, so much so that I nearly did pull the cover over my head this morning, mumbling to myself that I’d walk later, knowing I probably wouldn’t because we’ll be dealing with other things this evening. So, I grumbled, got up, got out later than I wanted because somehow I’d managed to put my walking things in a different place from where they usually are, but I went. I did my walk, and was rewarded with the realization that I’d made seven days in a row and got to enjoy a gorgeous sunrise. For that moment at least, I could forget the list of complaints and felt a little better about facing the day.

    We’re not going to talk about how late another area at work is in getting information to me I desperately need. That’s something to face after I get off the computer. But at least I know there was a moment today when the world was quiet and good.

    NaNoWriMo Wrap-up: Moving Forward

    NaNoWriMo Wrap-up: Moving Forward

    Moving Forward with Knitting

    Yes, you can knit a small shawl in 24 days

    Okay, everyone’s had a few days to recover now. I opted to spend the last couple of days reading, knitting and watching television with my husband. There were also a few things, such as laundry, which had stacked up over the last five days of November. Amazing how four days off from work doesn’t seem enough time to actually accomplish things. Except the writing we did.

    So NaNo has passed and if you’re a winner, you’ve at least taken a peak at your winner goodies. If you didn’t validate 50,000 words, you’re probably either swearing that you’re never going to do this again or figuring out how you’re going to cross that finish line next time. For both of these, it’s probably best not to linger on them longer than this weekend, because now we should be all about moving forward.

    Reclaiming Your Life

    Yes, you can watch television, put up the holiday decorations, bake cookies. It’s good to devote ourselves to our writing for a solid 30 days, but a writer does not live by the keyboard alone. They need to, well, live — connect with the world and the people in it. If you’ve been on a roll, it’s very tempting to push yourself to keep going, but we all need a break every once in a while. Take one this weekend. Put your story in the back of your mind where it can age like fine wine and treat yourself to something. See a movie, visit friends, go shopping. On second thought, don’t go near the mall; the idea is to avoid stressing yourself out.

    Aside from putting our outdoor Xmas lights up, I’m planning on doing some baking and spend some quality time knitting. Wednesday, I impulsively decided at 3 PM to join Anna Dalvi’s Advent KALendar shawl. By 5:30 PM, I’d gotten home from work, grabbed two yarns and cast on. Before I went to bed, I’d gotten through both the Day 1 and Day 2 clues. Of course, I ended up deciding the contrasting yarn I’d chosen didn’t work, so last night I frogged, chose a new contrast and knit Day 1 and 2 again, then started on Day 3 while catching up on Elementary. You can see my progress on my Ravelry Project Page, and I’ll post updates through the month. I’ve got until Christmas Eve to finish this shawlette, which will be a nice little treat.

    Reclaiming Your Writing

    But even as you let yourself get reaquainted with the people you share your life with after chaining yourself to the keyboard, we need to not let that momentmum slip completely away. We are writers; we need to write. So, in the middle of enjoying yourself, carve out fifteen minutes to scribble down a new idea or half an hour to do some revisions on something other than what you’ve been working. If your book isn’t finished, do some writing at a pace that’s comfortable to you. It’s important to rest so the mind and muscles restore themselves, but too long isn’t good, either. If you’ve taken a day or two, get back to the keyboard for just a little bit today; you’ll find that even if you’re writing at slower pace than you did in November, it may be faster than what you were used to before. Don’t push, but let the speed come.

    Here’s another suggestion: this weekend, when you write, write just for the joy of it. Don’t worry about how it sounds, if you finish or even if it makes sense at all. Write for yourself and have fun with the words. We do this because getting words done makes us happy. If NaNoWriMo left you feeling a bit stressed about your writing, time to rediscover the joy, because that joy is very much a part of moving forward.

    So, what are you going to do for yourself this weekend?

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