It’s been a long time since I’ve done a personal update to this page. Somehow in my mind, it ought to be the beginning of June, and yet here we are in the middle of November. Time has flown by at a pace that boggles my mind. So let’s catch up.
I started this year determined to remake my life, determined to be the happy change I needed. After getting socked with pneumonia, I felt I was off to a good start with daily visits to the gym, a self-published I-Team novella that I felt good about with a super-sexy cover from Jenn LeBlanc, and every single day of the week to work on my fiction writing and the life I want.
Benjy, my younger son, graduated in May with a film degree. Summa cum laude. Yes, I was proud.
Then summer came, and I started working on Striking Distance, the next I-Team novel. And things began to unravel.
I seem to think I can do everything all at once and do it well. As some of you know, I’m a strong proponent of urban farming and the local food movement. It’s vitally important that people have some skill with growing food, and it is likewise important for all of us to keep as many pollutants out of our bodies as we can. In keeping with my views, I began growing veggies a few years back with great luck, supplying most of our veggie needs from June through about October.
When May came and we planted, I was trying to juggle a few balls: exercise, tending a very large veggie garden as well as the flower garden, handling the massive amount of watering we had to do this year due to extreme heat and drought, harvesting and processing all the food we grew, and writing books.
It seemed possible. I figured it was just a matter of discipline. Because if something isn’t working, the fault must lie with me, right?
I began getting up at 5 AM and working outdoors in the early light when it wasn’t so hot. And this lasted a week. At the end of the week, I was in so much pain from my neck that I couldn’t raise my arms. I ignored this, afraid that if I went in to see my neurosurgeon he'd tell me I messed up all his fine work and needed another neck operation. Unwise. This meant that the neck pain continued all summer.
I did, however, realize that I can’t handle the more physical aspects of gardening any longer, and this left me feeling really depressed. Realizing that you have physical limitations is never fun for anyone; when those limitations are linked to activities you enjoy, as has happened several times to me in this life, it’s a huge downer.
Summer drifted on, and I just couldn’t write. I went to Romance Writers of America and got to meet both readers and author friends. It was a lot of fun and a great way to relax. I came home still in pain but charged up — only to find that I still couldn’t make Striking Distance budge. I had planned initially on writing Joaquin’s book next, and it seemed the Muse was making me pay for having walked away from the inspiration I had for his story. I assure you, that won’t happen again.
Is it a coincidence that it’s my 13th book?
In the midst of this frustration, Benjamin and I made a spontaneous trip to San Diego where I was able to keep the promise I’d made to him as a 2-year-old and show him the ocean sea. It was a wonderful four days, the most magical of the year and some of the most precious in my life thus far. Also, I got lots of afternoons and evenings with Alec at Coors Field, where we talked about everything from how much we missed Tulo this season to the fact that my book still had no plot.
I returned to find myself facing a book that still needed to be written and a deadline I could not meet. I’ve had books that were difficult to write, but never a novel that flat-out evaded me, where I would turn inward to write and find... nothing.
It was due in August. Then November. I tried everything I could think of to wrench a story out of my brain — I had the characters and the gist of it — and nothing worked. Last week, I finally told my agent and editor that I had hit a true wall. I spent a couple of hours on the phone with my sister in tears over what felt like a failure. The book has been bumped back to a November 2013 release date.
And then with the pressure off, it started to dawn on me that my well had quite simply run dry because I haven’t done much to refill it. Apart from RWA, RomCon in Denver, and our trip to San Diego — or Sandyego, as I wrote one night on Facebook when I hadn’t had enough sleep — I’ve treated myself the same way I always have, like a work horse who needs to do everything perfectly. No weeds among the roses. No veggies that go unharvested and uneaten. A clean house. Writing perfect chapters. Exercise. Making healthful fresh-picked meals. A smile plastered on my face. And all of this despite the fact that my neck has been killing me.
I haven’t read a book in ages. I’ve started reading half a dozen, but they inevitably get put aside because there’s work to do. I have art supplies but haven’t drawn so much as a smiley face.
Project Happiness? No, more like Project Creative Exhaustion.
Somewhere in the midst of this year, I started to wonder why things weren’t working out as I’d hoped. I was home every day, writing full-time, and yet things were sucking — with a few bright lights. Jenn LeBlanc and I started buddy writing, something I’ve been doing with my good friend Libby. That helps fight the isolation that I often feel as a writer, and helps us all focus better, especially when we ban the Internet.
But why were things not going as I’d hoped? I think part of it is that this is a huge transition from working in a fast-paced group environment to being alone all day with no really daily structure. It’s like walking into a new life. I just haven’t quite gotten it down yet.
Also, however, I ignored too many things — my need to relax a lot after leaving journalism, my need to refill my creative well, my need to not being in pain 24/7 because I'd spent the day doing things my body can’t handle.
I finally got an MRI and learned that the C4-6 titanium/implant construction was fine, but that by bending over and cocking my head back, I had herniated C3. It is healing, and the surgeon says I don’t need surgery. That was great news and a big relief — and another sign that it’s time to quit pretending I didn’t fall off a mountain.
I guess to sum it up, you could say that this has been a year of great successes with regard to my writing career, but that I’ve had some difficulty getting my act together, doing it in fits and starts and getting really angry with myself when I feel I have failed.
But the year isn’t over yet. Every day is a new day, a new chance, not to be perfect, but to take care of myself.
Here are some good changes I’ve made. In hopes of taking pressure off my neck that comes from sitting and writing for 16 hours a day (bad posture), I got a treadmill desk, which you can see crammed into my office below. I’ve been walking on it for more than an hour now as I type this. My goal for the moment is to walk two hours a day, gradually increasing until the bulk of my work day is spent walking. It wasn’t cheap, but I think it will make an enormous difference to my health, and so I deemed it worth the expense.
Another thing I’ve done is take time to be with Benjy. He’s my roommate for the moment, but he’ll be leaving and I don’t want to spend the last few months he and I live together writing in the evenings while he hangs out in the house basically alone. Nothing is more precious to me than my kids, whether it’s Star Trek in the evening with Benjy or watching the Rockies lose (again!) at Coors Field with Alec.
Here’s a shocker: I quit drinking coffee. No more artificially pumping myself up so that I can stay awake when what I probably need more than anything is lots of sleep to make up for 20 years of journalism. I do sleep more deeply at night on nights when I’m not in pain, and sometimes I even wake up feeling like I’ve slept.
Also, I’m taking the rest of November off writing to really think about this story. I’m doing the things I do when I finish a book — cleaning the house, reading, giving myself permission not to think about writing. I’m just letting the pressure go away and putting myself first, something I almost never do. Plot arises from character, so when I do work on the story, I’m working on character using a couple of new tools.
Another bright spot has been the release of the I-Team books in audiobook format. Getting to know Kaleo Griffith, the actor/voice artist who is narrating the series, has been a true joy, as has hearing my work brought to life in a new and exciting way. His respect for the stories and the characters has been deeply touching. His sexy voice certainly hasn’t been difficult to listen to, either.
I’ve made some decisions: No more urban farming. This was a tough one. I can join a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm and support the work of local organic farmers without doing that work myself.
Also, I’m going to get a sprinkler system and help with yard work so that the outdoor work goes away. No more stress over weeds or any of that.
I also need to step back from the Internet. I let this blog go forever because I just didn't have the time to get to it. I’ll post as often as I can, but writing and family need to come before social media.
This way, my life can focus on exercise, sleep, good food, and writing.
I’m not a work horse. I’m a person with only so many days allotted to my life. My books mean so much to me, but writing has to come from the inside. If my insides are empty, I’m screwed. I can’t fake it.
As we near Thanksgiving, I’m basically standing up again, brushing off the dirt, and reassessing how best to commit myself to happiness for the rest of my life. I have so many things for which I am grateful, so many reasons to feel blessed and happy.
I am going to try very hard not to stand in my own way any longer.