Yes, I Mean No

2013-01-29 09.07.16Sigh. Why do the words “Yes” or “No Problem!” or “I’d be glad to” or “Sure thing!” always flow out of my mouth before I can stop them?  The word “yes” to any request comes naturally to me. I truly love to help others. Whether it is genetic or some quirky personality defect or residual guilt from twelve years of Catholic education, I’m not sure. I do know saying “no” is difficult for me, although more and more I find myself saying it. Not so much because I want to, but because I’ve finally realized I can’t do it all anymore.

In years past I ended up being the president of multiple committees, donating to causes I’d never heard of and volunteering hours of time on stuff I really didn’t care all that much about, because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and always glad to help out. Saying “yes” when I really meant to say “no” often left me feeling resentful inside instead of happy. It took me 43 years, but I figured out the hard way, it’s better to say “yes” only to the things that I really want to do, can afford to do and actually have time for. I’ve learned to bite my tongue when people are seeking volunteers and resist the urge to offer my time when I know I really don’t have it to give.

Instead I’ve limited myself to only one or two volunteer activities at a time. My daughters are also involved in activities and I am responsible for getting them to and from these extra-curricular activities. I want them to participate and have fun. However, that makes little time for my activities. We have dance on Monday’s and Thursday’s and choir/catechism on Wednesday’s. 4-H is every other week on Tuesday’s. We just finished up with basketball and cheerleading, which also landed on Tuesdays with games on Saturdays. In less than a month everything will be finished except 4-H until September. I breath a sigh of relief. I know other mothers who have even more activities on their schedules. I’m dizzy thinking about it.

Anyway as a solution to my “yes” quandry, I decided to volunteer my time to the activities my daughters participate in. I figure if I’m going to be there anyway, I might as well help out.  So I helped coach my daughter’s basketball team earlier this year and currently I’m helping out with the 4-H club and am teaching Sunday school. It’s a win-win…I get to help out and spend time with my daughters. Now when someone asks me to help, I can politely say “I’m sorry, I’m already committed” and decline without being overcome with guilt. And by learning to say “no” as hard as it may be, I now have a bit of time for me – to write, to work out and to just be.

How hard is it for you to say “No?”

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Today. Not Tomorrow.

2013-01-29 09.06.00Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. The sound of an old-fashioned, wind-up clock ticking off the seconds grounds me in the moment. Yet, no matter how you slice it, a day only contains 24 hours or 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds. No more and no less. Why then do some days pass quickly while other drag painfully on and on? 

Thomas Jefferson once said, “Never put off tomorrow what you can do today.”  While on the surface I agree with that sentiment, it seems the myriad of tasks that need my attention today often spill into tomorrow and the next tomorrow and the next. The question is not so much putting off those things that could be done today until tomorrow, but more on prioritizing those tasks appropriately. Which tasks if I complete today will bring me closer to my goals tomorrow? Which tasks if I put off until tomorrow will cause me to get an overdue charge or lose out on an important opportunity? Which tasks can I put off forever because they no longer matter? If only I had more time to figure it all out!

I work full-time as a technical writer. I’m a wife and the mother of two young daughters. In my spare time, I write contemporary romance novels, blog and try to promote my books. I want to be the best employee, wife, mother and author I can. When I focus on one the other areas in my life suffer. I don’t want to settle for mediocrity yet can’t imagine giving any of these roles up. How could I? They all define me and make me who I am. But because of them, I often find myself overwhelmed, irritable and struggling. I struggle with not being good enough, with being satisfied with where I am today and not worrying too much about what tomorrow might bring. I struggle with letting complacency keep me from longing for the perfect tomorrow. And, I struggle to keep that longing from preventing me from happiness today.

 

QWERTY Queen

a-to-z-letters-qAccording to Wikipedia, Christopher Latham Sholes, a newspaper editor and printer, invented my beloved QWERTY keyboard. His basic 1878 design still graces the majority of keyboards and touch-pads today. That’s pretty amazing if you think about it! He sequenced the letters on the keys so the typist must alternate hands when typing words. This  speeds up the typist as well as prevents jams in the original typewriters when two letters next to each were pressed too quickly.
2013-04-19 20.12.42 (2)I can remember play “typing” on my dad’s old type writer and jamming the metal arms when I rapidly pressed the keys as I pretended to be a writer. In high school I took a typing class and actually learned how to type without causing a pile-up on the type writer. Not to age myself too much, but I learned on an “electronic” type writer that actually had correction fluid built-in. I have to say for all practical purposes and real life uses, this was one of the best classes I ever took. I use my typing skills everyday of my life. I did a quick typing test and came out at 46 words per minute. Not too shabby.

I didn’t move to a computer until my first year in college. Computers and word processing programs made my life as a budding typist and writer even better as now I didn’t have to start over because I wasn’t paying attention and typed off the edge of the page or made a mistake. Cut and Paste and the Backspace key are my heroes.

I  now do all my writing on a little netbook. The keyboard fits my hands and fingers perfectly. While I do use my smart phone for quick emails, I’m nowhere near as fast touch-typing. I’m awed watching kids quickly type out texts and Facebook statuses with their thumbs or index fingers. I’ve heard some schools have even stopped teaching keyboard. That makes me so sad. I’ve thought about moving to a tablet, but I know I couldn’t live without my QWERTY keyboard.

What about you? Do “hunt and peck” or do your fingers know where to find the letters on the keyboard seemingly on auto-pilot?

Nasty Naysayers Beware

a-to-z-letters-nI’m my biggest critic. Neurotic thoughts often swirl with negativity when I think about myself -when I think about where I am now and where I want to be. The gap between my ideal “me” and the real “me” is wide. For me, writing is personal; my words are part of who I am. While my need for external validation is strong, I know that successful writers learn to tune out the naysayers and the haters.They set aside the rejections and move on.

Fear kept me from putting my words out there in the past; that fear of rejection and not being good enough. Yes, I write for myself, but the smile that comes with a positive comment or a great review of one my books is addictive. I indie-published two romance novels over that last year. I didn’t even try the traditional publishing route. For one I hate waiting and for another I didn’t want rejection to discourage me from my dreams. I did a lot of research before going the self-publishing route. I corresponded with and read the blogs of many romance authors who ditched their traditional contracts and re-published their back lists via self-publishing. These authors were succeeding and making more money than they had with their traditional contracts.  So in the end I decided in this new age of electronic books that I could reach more readers quicker as an indie author.Yet, still nagging the back of my mind  was the thought that I wouldn’t be a real “author” unless a traditional publisher published my books.

This notion led me to enter my first novel in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award – the winner of which would get a publishing contract with one of Amazon’s publishing imprints for romances, it’s Montlake. You have no idea how elated I was when I found my “pitch” made the cut and my excerpt would be read by expert Amazon reviewers. A month later I read two glowing reviews from those experts and moved on to the quarter-finals. Out of 10,000 entries only 500 remained. I started to feel like a “real” author. I knew my chances of making the semi-finals was slim. Only 25 entries moved on to the next level and only five in the romance category. What excited me though was that a Publisher’s Weekly (PW) reviewer would read my entire novel and provide feedback.

This morning Amazon announced the semi-finalists. My book did not make the grade. Don’t get me wrong. I’m fine with that fact. I’m not complaining (much). What I wasn’t prepared for though, given the fact that my first-round comments were so positive and the majority of reviews from my readers were complimentary, was the harsh, borderline-nasty review my book received. I know the PW reviewer gave what he or she thought to be an honest critique, but it felt mean. I write contemporary romance, not suspense or erotica. Yet, the reviewer bashed the book for being too “unexciting and slow-paced” and for not having enough sex in it, saying it was more “sad than sexy.”  I guess it’s a good thing I wasn’t going for sexy.

I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere. If anything, it made me realize I am a real author regardless of whether I have a traditional publishing contract or not. Being an indie author gives me the flexibility and control over what I write and when that I need. It also taught me that not everyone will like my books and that’s OK. Its find for someone to write a negative review so long as they aren’t nasty about it.

An Inkling

a-to-z-letters-iIf you could catch a glimpse at your future would you? Just a little peek? Or what about going back in time to give your younger self some advice? I know I would jump at the chance. But, I’d just want to know enough to give myself a nudge down the right path. I just want a little direction. What I wouldn’t give to know just an inkling of what I know now back when I was 20. I’m sure down the road, I’ll look back again and wish I’d known what I’ll eventually know at 60 when I was 40.

So many times I’ve stood at a crossroads in my life wracked with indecision, self-doubts and what if’s. If I had the chance to go back and tell myself to “go for it” when I should have taken the initiative or the “don’t do it” when I was headed for heartache and pain, I’d take it. I would tell myself to take more risks, have more fun and save more money! Of course, I can take my advice now, but still, if only…what if I could go back?

Honestly though, having my 60-year-old self come back to give me advise now would really freak me out and I’m not sure I wouldn’t listen to her any more than my 20-year-old self would listen to my 40-year-old self. Sigh. I do have to admit I’ve been tempted to see a psychic to “read” my palm or something. I mean I wouldn’t want to know when or how I’m going to die or anything, but just a little reassurance I’m headed the right way!

I know life wouldn’t be exciting without surprises. We need failures to learn and grow. It’s our pasts that shape us into who we are today. If I trust my instincts, have faith in God, stop second-guessing myself, and remember that you “reap” what you “sow,” I’ll have a better chance at predicting my future than a time-traveler or psychic might. Hmmm, now that’s an interesting idea on this day of the incredible, letter “I” in the A to Z blog challenge.

So tell me, would you be tempted to peer into the future?

A Homage To My Humble Hands

a-to-z-letters-hMy hands amaze me. As my fingers fly across the keyboard seemingly on their own accord and words and sentences appear across the screen, I’m reminded of how remarkable my hands really are. They remember exactly where to go on the keyboard and know where each letter lives without the help of my eyes.  

Our hands identify us as human. Each finger is kissed with a unique finger print making them truly ours alone. Small and slender or thick and large, hands come in all shapes and sizes. With only 29 bones and 34 muscles our hands can perform millions of tasks. From stitching a wound back together to cracking an egg to playing a complicated piece of music on the piano or flute or guitar to knocking someone out cold.

2013-04-09 22.14.42Hands perform simple tasks such as using a fork to eat, a pencil to draw or a hammer to nail. Our hands are strong and powerful in one moment, yet gentle and comforting in another. They can stroke, clap, snap, tease, tickle, touch, slap, rub, punch, tap, knead and drum. Our fingers and thumbs work together to comfort and create or hurt and destroy.

As a writer I treasure the miracle I call my hands. I’d be lost without them. And so, I will pamper this gift of mine. In fact, I think I’ll treat them to a manicure very soon. And as I finish this post, Jewel’s song, “Hands,” plays in the background – a perfect tribute…

My hands are small, I know.
But they’re not yours, they are my own.
-Jewel

What amazes you most about your hands?

 

“Black Bugs, Banana Boxes”

a-to-z-letters-bThe second day of April brings the letter “B” in the Blogging from A to Z  April Challenge. And, who can think of the letter “B” without thinking about the The Berenstains’ B Book by Stan and Jan Berenstain? Certainly not me. This fun book about “beautiful, baboons blowing bubbles, biking backwards and baby bird’s balloon” is one of my all time favorites. In fact whenever my kids go through their books to donate to our county’s Relay for Life used book sale, and I find that book in the give-away pile, I pluck it out and put it back on the shelf where it belongs.

While I don’t intend for my A to Z blogging challenge to be solely about children’s books, when I found out in my Facebook news feed from my local library that today is International Children’s Book Day, I knew my “B” blog had to be about books. When I look around my house, I see books everywhere – paper backs, hard backs, picture books, chapter books, eBooks (not that we are hoarders or anything – they are stacked neatly for the most part).

I love to read books and write books. As I child many evenings were spent in the quiet solitude of a good book. Both my parents, my sister and I were found lost in our books in silent companionship. My love of reading comes directly from my parents. My mom is a retired school librarian. Both she and my dad were always (and still are) reading a good book. Reading before bed was a nightly ritual in our house and continues to be so in my own family. Aside from the books I read to my daughters, I read on average one to two books a week when I’m not on a strict writing schedule.

As kids my sister and I always looked forward to trips to the library and now my daughters look forward to those visits as well. And the day our Scholastic book orders came in at school was “jack pot’ day. I see that same excitement on my girls’ face when they come home with their book order sheets already circled with the books they want. I admit I may indulge them in buying too many books, but I can’t help myself (which probably accounts for our overflowing book shelves). I love books and so do they!

By the way currently I am coincidentally  reading a book that starts with the letter “B” called Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. It is very thought-provoking and is making me really think about my boundaries, but that’s another blog for some other day.

What about you? What books do you like to read? Do you read as a child?