Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Power of Stress ~ Life Lessons from Procrastination

Have you ever had one of those moments where someone makes a casual remark and it hits in just the right spot? Suddenly their off-the-cuff sentence has opened up a world of understanding about yourself.

This happened to me the other day.

I've been busting tail for the last two weeks to finish a project for a friend of mine. I've had it for a year. I didn't touch it until two weeks ago. Oops.

As I was running around the house crying and freaking out, because over the course of a year I'd lost an essential piece of the project, I wondered how my life ended up in this situation so often.

I always seem to be one step from the edge of the crumbling cliff. Miraculously everything meets deadline, but I'm nearly dead by the time it gets here.

photo from Wiki Commons
So I complained to my husband. That's what he's for, right? (Just kidding, honey!) He calmly continues what he's doing (which, coincidentally, is helping me look for the missing item) and says, "I think you just like stress."

My gut reaction was, "I do not! Who in the world wants stress?"

But then I started thinking about it. The honest answer was, "I do."

I think it's the sense of urgency, the dare of the deadline, and my desire to be as lazy as possible that make stress such an integral part of my getting anything done.

And I don't like that about myself. I don't think God cares for it either. Crying jags, loss of sleep, and shredded nerves don't add up to life more abundant.

Is stress a necessary factor in accomplishing your goals? So many authors write to the deadline - letting that be the thing that finally turns on their juice, whether it's creative or desperate. It's the essential requirement for sitting your tail in the chair and getting it done.

If that's you, I invite you to join me. The post is shorter than normal today because I'm getting up and doing something. Today I shall do something well before it's deadline is on the horizon. I am laying the groundwork for productivity to come easier later.

Today I am changing my life. Because I don't want to crave stress.

Are you joining me? Put your anti-procrastination goal in the comments below. You can do this. And so can I.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Try One of My Family's Favorite Recipes

I'm over on Regency Reflections today talking about how a last minute fix can become a family tradition. Try one of our favorite recipes!

Slice of shepherd's pie and a tomato
Ask people to list traditional English meals, and you’re very likely to get Shepherd’s Pie in the list right next to Fish and Chips, Bangers and Mash, and Yorkshire pudding.
Slice of Cottage Pie. Note the meat and vegetables on the bottom layer and the potatoes on the top.
Shepherd’s Pie is really a particular version of a Cottage Pie. Technically, a Shepherd’s Pie should contain lamb or mutton while a Cottage Pie can contain the meat from pretty much any animal, though it usually contains beef.
Simply put, Cottage Pies are a mix of meat and vegetables topped with a heap of mashed potatoes....

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why Self-Published Books Get Bad Reputations

If you've been in the writing world much at all, you have likely stumbled across at least one "discussion" involving self-publishing versus traditional publishing. If you've never followed writers and agent blogs or email loops, you may not realize these two camps even exist.

As a writer, I've noticed a disturbing increase in the number of arguments that arise around this topic.

The Camps

Traditional publishing is what most people think of when they think of putting a book out there. Someone buys the book from the author, edits it, makes some cover art, and prints it for distribution in the bookstore. It's a really long process and the author is at the mercy of the acquiring editors, hoping to write a book someone wants to sell.

Self-publishing is just what it sounds like. Someone writes a book and does all the necessary work before publishing it. Sometimes these books are published in E-Book only, sometimes they run a small print to sell at speaking engagements and through a website. Rarely do they find their way into bookstores.

The Fight

Not all authors fight about this. Some happily rub shoulders with each other and celebrate every book, no matter the format.

But when things get ugly, here's what they say:

The self-pubbeds call the traditionalists lazy for not grabbing hold of their own careers and destinies. They say it's ridiculous to let someone else get such a chunk out of each book you sell. The publishing house is the equivalent of "the man" and he's out to get you and force your art into a certain mold. Besides, what's the publishing house doing for most authors these days? We have to do our own marketing anyway, so why not take care of everything else, too?

On the flip side, arguing traditionalists think self-pubbeds are impatient and sloppy, unwilling to perfect their work before throwing it out there. They also see that many self-pubbeds don't have a significant reach with their books. The audience is smaller, and the work load is higher.

Both methods have good points and bad points, and no side is ever really going to win. But I don't think the crux of the problem is really disagreeing with how someone chooses to publish.

The problem is the reputation of self-published authors. As a whole, their reputation is bad. Since I know plenty of really good self-published authors, I wondered about that.

The Problem

The problem is, if you self-publish right, I don't know you self-published. Your book looks professional, it's well written and well edited. Time and thought has gone into the plot and characters. In short, if the book is done right it looks like every other book put out by a traditional publisher.

But anyone can self-publish. And a lot of people do it badly.

EReaders give easy access to
self-published books. 
I was reading a book the other day with a great premise, an intriguing idea, and potentially lovable characters. I didn't make it past page three.

The writing was full of typos, the point of view was inconsistent (and I mean in a first person to third person kind of way), and the heroine's name changed on page four. I couldn't keep reading.

Sure enough, there was no publisher listed in the book's credentials. Someone had thrown their idea into a computer file, said "Wow! I wrote a book!", and noticed they could toss it out into cyberspace with very little money or effort.

So they did.

And the problem is that I looked and saw it was self-published. Unless I absolutely love a book, I don't make a habit of looking up its publisher. Closer inspection of my reading list revealed several self-published books I had enjoyed, but I wouldn't have looked if I hadn't been writing this article.

The Solution

Unfortunately, there isn't one.

Aside from a good self-pubbed author walking around telling everyone they published their own books, there's no way to make sure people know you're managing every aspect of your own career.

A group's reputation sinks to the lowest level represented. When there's no gatekeeper, the low can be pretty low.

There's nothing to do to change the general reputation, but we can stop the fighting by realizing the truth about the source of self-publishing's reputation.

All pictures from WikiCommons. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Waiting For The Best ~ Life Lessons from A Fast Food Drive-Thru

Confession time! I know, I know that happens a lot around here.

Photo by Wiki Commons
My family eats too much fast food. We eat it at least twice a week, frequently three, and occasionally more. Part of it is because we have such a long drive to church (It takes at least 45 minutes but we always have to allow an hour.)

On Wednesdays, we not only eat fast food, we eat it in the car. (Remember.... 45 minute drive...) All this means I've gotten very familiar with the fast food drive thru line. And I've noticed something.

They're slow with the straws.

Because of the way things are set up in drive thru lines, you get your drink almost immediately. Sometimes they hand them to you before you hand them your payment, which can be really awkward when neither of you has a hand free to actually receive what the other is trying to pass you.

So your drink is in your hand (or your cup holder) and it's all cold and yummy and you're thirsty because you spent the past hour running around putting kids on shoes (or shoes on kids, depending on your viewpoint) and gathering Bibles and other church goodies and such. And there in front of you is the wonderful, if unhealthy, cure for your thirst.

But they didn't give you a straw.

I don't really follow the football much, but
have to take this moment to cheer on my
alma mater. Go jackets! Sting 'em!
You see they've started putting the straws in the food bags. I guess this is so they don't forget them. But it means they hand you your drink and don't give you a straw. So the cup sits there, mocking you. The cup starts sweating because there's cold deliciousness inside but you don't have a straw.

Now I understand that a straw is not a requirement for drinking a drink. I could take the lid off and sip it that way. But there are many problems with this:

1. I'm clumsy. I've dropped a cup in the car more times than I care to admit and been very thankful for that little piece of plastic keeping most of the liquid where it belongs - in my cup.

2. I'm going to have to replace the lid so I can put the straw in to make it drinkable as I drive down the road. Because I can't be tipping my head back with a cup in front of my face as I truck down the interstate. So why take it off because...

3. I always seem to break the lids when I remove them. It's a special talent. I thought about trying out for America's Got Talent, but I couldn't see me making a whole Las Vegas show out of that skill.

What this all means is that, in my case at least, it's better to just let the cup sit and wait for the straw. Sometimes I'll get lucky and they hand me the straw with the cup, but that is becoming more and more rare. Most of the time I have to wait for the better way to drink my drink.

Life is like that.

I love this picture. I know nothing about it
but it looks like these two women are
waiting on something important. One is
content to sit and wait, possibly dreaming
about whatever is coming. The other is looking
to get out or hide. It's pretty cool.
Photo from WikiCommons
Sometimes we know what we want. We can see it. We're so close we can almost taste it.

But we don't have the necessary means to get there yet. There's a quicker option but we run the potential of spills and mess and damage to a part we might need later on.

I can really relate this to book publishing. Right now, there is a lot of discussion about traditional vs. self publishing. A variety of hybrid models have started coming out too.

Let's say you have a book (I do) and it's great (I like to think so.) and it sits on your computer, asking you what you intend to do with it. Most authors want their book published. It's sort of the natural culmination of the book writing process.

You can get to it immediately by publishing it yourself, and for some people this works amazingly well. For others, drink gets spilled everywhere until there isn't a need for a straw because there's nothing left in the cup.

Your other option is to wait for traditional publishing. It's a little slower, but you have less risk once you get it. IF you self-publish the editing, cover art, everything is on your shoulders. There's no advance, no safety net, no nothing.

I'm not trying to get a self vs. traditional war started here. (Believe me they can be ugly.)

What I'm saying is that sometimes in life, the thing that's better requires a little more wait. There are times when the shortcut just isn't worth the risk.

Have you ever experienced that? Have you ever taken a shortcut and ended up with a giant mess on your hands?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Milestones ~ My Journey So Far

Sometimes milestones are big and obvious and you know they're coming. Like birthdays, anniversaries (whether marital or work related), and Christmas. They're on the calendar, other people are talking about them and they are easy to spot and catalog.

Other milestones catch you by surprise. Something significant happens and it makes you turn around and realize just how far you've come.

That happened to me this week.

Two years ago, I suffered from insomnia while I was pregnant with my third child. This isn't a good thing when you have two other small children to care for. It makes you really tired.

Playing computer games got old and I had too much restlessness to sit and read a book. TV was too loud and could wake up someone else in the house. So I started writing. This isn't new. I've started books before on numerous occasions. I came across a notebook with the beginning of a book I wrote in 3rd grade. It has a lot of company.

This time, it was different. This time I finished it and I looked at it and realized I actually liked it. It was good (or so I thought at the time). I showed it to my husband and a good friend of mine.

About a year ago they convinced me to get serious about it. To really go for it and figure out what it took to get it published. I looked into writing groups because it seemed like that would be a good source of help and encouragement. (It totally is, by the way. If you are seriously wanting to write, I highly suggest joining one or two.)

The first GRW (Georgia Romance Writers) meeting I went to, they were announcing the finalists for that years Maggies - a writing award with categories for published and unpublished writers.  Soon after this I got serious about my writing, started a blog, took some online classes, and attended GRW's annual conference.

GRW announced this year's Maggie finalists at Saturday's meeting.

I am one.

It made me realize just how far I've come in a year. And that is a good feeling.

What moments have made you look back and realize just how far you've come?

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Communal Crayon - Life Lessons from School Supplies

My oldest started school last week.

It's hard to say who was more excited about school starting - her or me. One of the reasons I've been anticipating my kids starting school is for the excuse to go Back To School Shopping.

Seriously. I'm addicted to office supplies. I love them. Pens, pencils, rulers, notebooks, paper clips, index cards, all of those wonderful things in the stationary aisle at Wal-Mart are a total draw for me. I've mentioned this before when I talked about my total obsession with sticky notes.

So when my oldest was headed to kindergarten I was clapping with glee in anticipation of getting my hands on her school supply list.

Until I actually got it.

Maybe it's because of this weird thing I have with new office products, but I always loved the trip to buy school supplies. My mom probably didn't because I distinctly remember one year having to go to four different stores before we found the five subject spiral notebook with pockets on the dividers that my brother was supposed to have for school.

We would gather all of our things, meticulously crossing off colored pencils, notebooks, crayons, pencil box, and clipboard. I remember the clipboard. (It was to keep our loose leaf paper contained, in case you were wondering.)

Once we got home, we would pull out the paint pen and label everything. My mom turned the clipboard into a work of art with my name in the middle of a big vine of flowers. It was awesome. I think I still have it in a box in the attic.

All of those beautiful new school supplies with my name on them. Every year I vowed to treat them well and keep them looking new. It would last for a while, and when the notebook was squished on the corners or the paint chipped off the clipboard or the pencils started to look a bit run down and chewed on, well, I had no one to blame but myself.

My daughter doesn't have that option.

This year I sent a bag full of crayons and gluesticks to the school for her whole class to use in the classroom. Every supply on the list is communal property in her classroom.

I confess to struggling with this.

The rant to my own mother went on for a while. "What if some other kid in there breaks crayons? Is my daughter going to have to use his mistreated crayons?"

Notice how it's obviously not going to be my kid mistreating the crayons despite the state of our own crayon box at home.

I was greatly concerned that nothing I sent to school was going to be hers. And now I wonder why.

There are some valid reasons such as wanting to teach her to take care of her things and learn that responsibility, and not wanting to have to buy four boxes of crayons when she herself might only need two through the whole year if they were simply hers.

But she has things to take care of at home, so there's another way to learn that lesson. And having to utilize a communal bucket of crayons will teach her to share and work with others, so that's a good thing, right? Plus I don't have to buy a school supply box and argue over the color of paint to use on her name.

So I have to wonder at this drive to have things be just hers. As I look around my life, I see other areas of possessive behavior.

I won't share my sticky notes with my kids. I make them use the free ones from a college job fair that were shoved in the back of the drawer.

My problems and issues are just that - mine, and my wrath may fall down on you if you try to take them away from me. They might make me miserable, but they're still mine.

And what I'm coming to realize is that it's not always a good thing to have your name painted across every aspect of your life. I'm not saying everyone should go live in a commune where everything from the toilet paper to the minivan is up for free use, but my grip could be a little looser.

In the end, it's not really mine anyway. It's all on loan from God and He should be able to use it however He wants to.

So I'm starting to realize that I don't have to control everything. That it's okay for someone else to run with certain things, to have a little bit of control. Maybe by sharing the responsibilities and the struggles, I'll find myself working better within the team, whether the team is my family, my church, or life in general.

And if someone else gets to use the new box of crayons before I do? Well, I'm going to have to learn to be okay with that, too. Sometimes someone else gets the reward.

How are school supplies done at your kid's school? Do you struggle with wanting your name painted over every aspect of your life?

All photos from WikiMedia Commons. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Dog Ate My Blog Post

Or he would have.

If I had a dog.

And it lived in the computer.

*Sigh* I guess I have no one to blame then. Except the Olympics. I could blame the Olympics. Yes!

I'm supposed to be back on my regular blog posting schedule today and all I can say is that it just caught me off guard. Probably because the Olympics are still going in our house.

We were out of town all weekend, so I'm still catching up on some of the DVRed Olympic events. Do you ever find yourself watching things later than everyone else? Does the magic of DVRs and Hulu and things such as that keep you from watching things live? How do you prevent spoilers?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Highlights and Lowlights ~ A picture of life's struggles

The Olympics are drawing to a close. Soon the flame will be extinguished and all the the athletes will return to their own countries and resume their lives.

For some that life will be the same. They'll work, practice, strive to be better and faster while dealing with the other family and survival stuff that life requires.

For many others, life has been irrevocably changed. Some will have the glow of accomplishment pushing them to new heights, new experiences, and abundant opportunities. Others will start a new life without relentless athletic pursuit, but with the satisfaction of a job well done.

Then there are the ones who didn't quite succeed, at least not by some standards. The ones who have to decide whether or not to pour four more years of blood, sweat, and tears into their sport. Can they get closer to their dream? Is it worth it?

The Ups

One of my favorite thing about the Olympics is seeing the great accomplishments. Some of my favorite moments from the London games:

May and Walsh in Beijing Olympics
Wikimedia Commons
       - Great Britain's gymnastics men winning the bronze medal.
       - Missy Franklin's first gold medal
       - Women's gymnastics team gold including that amazing vault by McKayla Maroney.
       - Aly Raisman's gold on the floor event finals - stunning routine!
       - Grenada's first medal ever - and it was gold!
       - Mo Farah winning the 10,000m run with his US training partner in second.
       - The double amputee from South Africa making the semi-finals in the 400m race.
       - Walsh-Jennings and May-Traenor winning their third gold medal.
       - The handful of women from countries that had never before sent women to the games.
       - Great Britain's celebration after coming in first and second in the two-man white-water canoeing
       - Phelps. 'Nuff said.

Not all of these moments were golden moments, but for the people living them they were accomplishments beyond anything they'd dreamed of before.

The Olympics are full of moments like that. People who are thrilled just to be there. Athletes who do their personal best, even if that wasn't enough to make the finals.

The Downs

McKayla Maroney
Wikimedia Commons
Unfortunately, when there is a winner, there is also a loser. And while there are people ecstatic just to get on the podium there are many athletes that had golden dreams, a desire to hear their national anthem played for millions because they had excelled.

Some of the hardest moments to watch in these games?

       - Jordan Weiber missing the all-around, though points for coming back and busting it out in the team finals!
       - McKayla Maroney landing on her backside in the vault finals.
       - The USA men losing in the beach volleyball semi-finals
       - The woman from Qatar pulling up injured in the 100m prelims
       - All of the other people for whom injuries kept them from even finishing their Olympic moment
       - The US men falling apart in the gymnastics finals
       - The disqualified badminton players

The Olympic Spirit

But that's part of the Olympics. The ups, the downs, and everything in between. The disappointment would not be so bitter if the reward were not so sweet. The history, the legend, the mark left on your particular sport that the Olympics allows people to achieve.

Phelps made incredible, potentially unbreakable history. Though the argument could be said that Missy Franklin has set herself up for the potential to bust his new record.

While your day to day victories might not gain national media attention or garner a small fortune around your neck, there is something to be learned from the Olympics.

Triumph is not always easily won or expected, but it should always be celebrated.

Defeat may be hard to swallow but sometimes you have to "buck up" as my dad says as get the next job done.

There is pride in the fact that, even if you didn't finish, you still beat everyone who didn't start.

What were some of your favorite or most poignant moments of the games?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Excitement of Enduring ~ Life Lessons From The Olympics

Two of my absolute favorite moments over the weekend came from the most unexpected events.

I've never been thrilled with the really long races in either the pool or on the track. I guess I want more action  than that. I want to wonder who's going to win. Frequently in endurance races, the outcome is clear well before the race is actually over.

Saturday, I didn't care.

Did you watch Katie Ledecky win the 800m freestyle? Incredible. Absolutely incredible!

100m freestyle in 1912. Swimming has come a long way
since then. Photo from Wiki Commons. 
The best part was hearing the announcers saying she was messing up for going so fast. They said that even her coaches were talking about how she needed to let up for the first few hundred meters, save her energy, let the veterans set the pace.

Sometimes it's great to see the people who "know" get proven wrong. It was clear well before she touched the wall that Katie Ledecky was going to win the gold medal, but that didn't make it any less exciting to watch. Fifteen years old and saying to all of those who think they know better, "Just watch. I know what I'm doing."

And then the men's 10,000m run. Never would I have thought I'd be gripped by a group of men running in circles for six and half miles. Watching Farah win, knowing the importance of his race to the country, and then his US training partner coming from behind to take second. It was wild.

The race was so close. Watching them sprint for the finish you would have thought the race had been 400 meters instead of 10,000.

I don't think I had ever appreciated the skill of endurance more than those two moments.

Mo Farah running for Great Britain.
Photo from Wiki Commons.
Maybe it's because I'm older. I appreciate the fact that sometimes it takes longer to accomplish things. I look at how long most authors have to endure before they get published, and I realize that it's a race that requires staying power and longevity.

Life requires staying power. Losing weight, learning a new skill, obtaining a degree or promotion, all of these things take time and are done little by little.

Ledecky didn't jump into the pool twenty meters before everyone else. She just slowly built her lead until her triumph was awesome, even to her competitors. Farah didn't lead until the very end, but he kept at it, knowing what he was capable of, knowing that it wasn't who led for 9,500 meters, but who crossed the finish line first.

Are there things in your life that require endurance? Long term goals that require short frequent steps to reach? Don't give up. Hang in there and you can do it.

Friday, August 3, 2012

For the Love of the Game ~ Life Lessons from the Olympics

Swimming is drawing to a close in the Olympic games. Of all the incredible athletes and stories, Missy Franklin has caught a great deal of my attention.

What I find most incredible is that she has turned down sponsors and endorsement offers in order to maintain her eligibility to swim with her high school swim team.

Not Missy Franklin, but a kid
that looks very happy to be
swimming. ;) 
Can you imagine? Lining up on the blocks at a high school swim meet and seeing an Olympic gold medalist to your left would be incredibly intimidating.

Most likely Missy has many years of swimming prowess to cash in on, but to turn down potentially millions as a teenager boggles the mind. It's possible, and even probable, that after the Olympics she won't swim her senior year swim team, but the fact that she did it last year is enough to show her love of the game.

She still has plans to turn down endorsement offers in order to swim in college.

So often we look at what's in it for us, or we think, my skill level is higher/lower than the other people involved, so why should I contribute? Sometimes we need to just do it because we enjoy it.

Have you ever loved something enough that you just wanted to participate as much as you could?