Yes, I’m a bit late in looking back on 2019. But I found it difficult to put into words my feelings about the last year and the three previous ones.
Category: Writing Life
December 2019 is here. Where did November, October, and September go? In my world, they seemed to fly by. How about you? The image above reflects mostly what I’ve been doing–reading by the fire.
In looking through my blog yesterday, I was shocked to find my last post was on November 19, 2019. The post is my review of Kathy Pooler’s second memoir, Just the Way He Walked (see Disclosures). I have other book reviews to share but I’ll be honest and not beat around the bush. My motivation to write, even a book review, is gone.
I seek inspiration looking out the windows, listening to music, reading others’ work. Nothing happens. Nothing comes to me. I go back over my list of ideas for blog posts. Nothing jolts me into action. And it’s not just writing.
Some days I can’t find interest in doing much of anything. I tackle the mundane–household chores, laundry, cleaning the kitchen following meals, wiping down countertops. These are chores that cry out to be dealt with NOW!
Why am I telling you all this? Simply to let you know that I’m going to turn out the lights on the blog until January 2020 in hopes of feeling more like the writer/blogger I have been. I may even tackle sending out a monthly newsletter. Who knows what the new year may bring?
With the preparations needed for the holiday season and appointments four out of five days next week, I need to devote time to get through this month.
I came across this quote from Marianne Williamson this morning.
‘Once everything falls into place,
I’ll feel peace.’
‘Find your peace, and
everything will fall into place.’
A still small voice said, “You need to find peace with your current situation.” That’s my plan for December 2019.
Just one more thing before I go…
and a HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Don’t Know About You, But My Inbox Has Taken Control!
It’s Sunday night around 10:30 pm. I’m taking one last look at my inbox before the new week starts. “What??” I scream. “159 emails in my inbox? It can’t be!” But it was. It often is that and worse. And it’s out of control at my hand. I allow my inbox to control my time.
How do I let it happen? By subscribing to this newsletter and the next one. Each tells me they will make me a better writer. Don’t we all want to be better at our craft? But that’s not all I subscribe to. Tempt me with platform building, social media expertise, writing courses, how to topics for writers, and I’ll subscribe.
And there are the emails that come from places like WordPress (my platform here), BlueHost (my site host), Google+ and Google Business, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Hootsuite, MailerLite, and the list goes on. They all want to make me aware of improvements or upgrades to make their service better for me. And all of a sudden, I’m buried in unread emails.
What Do You to Regain Control of Your Inbox?
I turned to my friend Google to try to solve my problem. Perhaps a little reading (in my spare time!) on the subject of too many emails would help. What I learned is: Everybody has a system they want you to believe is the best system ever devised to keep your inbox empty. Okay, okay! Enough is enough! Everybody seems to have a solution to every problem.
Out of all the ideas Google coughed up, I decided I’m comfortable with the one I’m using currently. I’ll explain how it works below. But first, I want to say you need to be certain you want to make changes in your email handling before you start. Otherwise, it’s going to be a hard journey. Maybe some redoing and undoing, which could be more frustrating than what you experience now.
How I Manage My Inbox.
We have been Comcast customers for years now. Although we have our gripes and complaints, when they make a change we grumble and it serves us well anyway. One feature in the email service I appreciate is the ability to use colored flags. Below is a screenshot of my inbox showing several colored flags.
The flags you see denote the email’s status. Red means immediate attention required. The purple tags relate to book reviews coming up. Light blue is an indicator that this should be read before others when I have reading time. There are other colors in my “crayon box:” orange = urgent follow-up, and yellow = no urgency follow-up. Other colors are available but not in use.
When I sense my inbox is crowded and my “tenants” aren’t happy, I sort my emails by “color,” giving me an overview of what needs to receive my attention. If an email not flagged is more than 3 weeks old, I take a quick look and either delete it or file it away in one of my email folders (see above at left margin). Note the use of a hashtag (#) with the top folders under my folders. These folders represent emails I move routinely from inbox to folder without opening them.
This method works well for me. For it to work for you, your email provider must have a way for you to mark emails, such as the flags I use. If that is not the case, you’ll need to design another plan or use one from the links I provide below.
One of my biggest stumbling blocks.
Remember all those people I mentioned in the second paragraph above? The ones who have a better way to build a platform, want to teach you how to be a better writer, who have the latest greatest book on social media and how to manage it, and on and on.
It’s often tempting to subscribe to some of these people, especially when you’re in a low place and looking for an easy way to remedy a problem you’re having. After a while, you find yourself with this inbox stuffed like a turkey on Thanksgiving. Do yourself a favor. Get rid of the newsletters and emails that are not benefitting you as a writer. Use that “unsubscribe” link. If you’re not receiving information or material that enhances your writing life, save the action of deleting the email for another task.
Now to Some Potentially Helpful Links.
Declare Email Bankruptcy and Get a Fresh Start by Michael Hyatt
How to Manage Your Email for Inbox Zero by Gretchen Louise
How to Keep Your Inbox at Zero by Caitlin Muir
4 Tips to Better Manage Your Emails by Jacqueline Whitmore
Seven Ways to Manage Email So It Doesn’t Manage You by Jeff Weiner
Perhaps you have a method of keeping your inbox clean or managing so that it’s not managing you. If so, please share your methods with us in the comment section below.
Where did I put that?
Have you ever misplaced something? And then months later or maybe years have passed by, and guess what? You can’t remember where you put that treasured item. Then you panic!
On the evening of September 10, 2018, I found myself in a quandary. Husband Bob had left for his weekly Monday night band practice leaving the house empty save Maggie and me. I knew what I wanted/needed to work on…an outline for restructuring my memoir project. But where was that draft I so carefully wrapped in a bundle with beautiful ribbon back in 2016?
I searched high and low all over my sewing room/office shared space. In every nook and cranny. All this searching suited Maggie’s curiosity and the idea she was helping. My investigation took me nowhere. No folder, notebook, box, stack held my priceless (to me) stack of paper.
Frustration and panic set in.
What to do next? A cup of coffee, a good book, and Maggie in my lap. A calming and relaxing combination to ease the mind from my self-imposed stress. Perhaps I would think of someplace I hadn’t searched.
A half an hour or so later I had finished my coffee and put down my Kindle. As I stroked Maggie’s back, I struck upon an idea. Putting Maggie to the floor, I stood up and headed back to my workspace. I began plowing through standing magazine holders. To my surprise and relief, there it was–my beautiful, beribboned, marked up manuscript!
By now, it was time for bed and the next day other things took priority. However, I now know where that manuscript is, and I will try my hardest to remember its location.
Q4U: Have you ever forgotten where you’ve placed a manuscript, essay, or story you’re working on? Or do you have a nicely organized plan for keeping up with unfinished projects? Please share with us below.
Header Image Attribution: Via Lifewire
Today’s post brings to a close this series. The first and second posts on chronic illness and the writer can be found here and here. The five remaining tips for coping with chronic illness and/or pain are shared below. As stated before, I’m not qualified to say these will work for everyone. I share them because, on occasion, they have worked for me. You know your body better than anyone and your illness as well. Let no one tell you what will work best for you. Decide for yourself.
Tips for the not so good days.
If you need a refresher of the first five tips, take a moment to go back and review those in this post.
6. Practice Acceptance.
We all have dreams. Some come true. Some don’t. The part of my dream that came true is the publishing of several essays for inclusion in anthologies. So far my bestseller hasn’t seen publication.
Acceptance is all I can do on those days. If you have to work through this process, please learn to practice acceptance with grace.
7. Put your health first.
This topic probably should have come earlier in the list of tips, but I think anyone with a chronic illness knows that putting your health first is important. If you have a day when nothing works to keep you comfortable other than taking a nap, take that nap. With a chronic illness or pain, your body and its systems are already compromised. Doing what your body requires will keep you feeling better in the long run.
On the “not so good” days it may be that all you feel like writing is one sentence. If that’s all you can get out, congratulate yourself. Perhaps using these days to brainstorm a new project is the best purpose you’ll find. Envision your characters and begin to structure their personalities. Another good use of down days is to read books by other authors. Learning from other writers is one of the best ways to learn how to write.
8. Seek out a support network either online or in your community.
As writers, we are encouraged to build a community of support and encouragement. As a chronically ill writer, this is even more important to your well-being and writing life.
The worst thing about a chronic illness or condition is being alone. Writers tend to work alone for the most part so it isn’t something new to those of us limited by our health issues. Yet, as you look around, you see everyone else looking healthy and energetic, having fun and being happy. And there you sit all alone taking medications and feeling sorry for yourself. Wouldn’t it be better if you had a place to go where others understand what you’re going through? After all, if they’re going through the same situation, there’ll be understanding and compassion.
One of the best ways to find such a network or supportive community is the internet. Take a look at Facebook or websites focused on your illness for recommendations. I’ve joined a couple of Facebook groups and have gotten answers to questions and found support on bad days. On good days, I can then encourage others. It’s a great way to find common ground with others in your situation.
9. Use a to-do list to reward yourself.
Rewarding yourself from time to time for even the smallest accomplishments is a great motivator. Using a to-do list not only gives you a way to track the things you want to accomplish but also a way to assign a reward of some kind when you check off an item. For example, if you write 500 words, allow yourself a certain amount of time on social media. Or let’s say I finish my book. I can buy myself that piece of exquisite pottery I’ve been wanting. This is a way to work your way through smaller amounts of the work effort and at the same time give yourself a reason to feel good about what you’re accomplishing on your good days. And sometimes even on the not so good days.
If you are looking for an app to help with tracking your tasks, look at one or more of the following: (1) Todoist (free/premium options) lets you keep track of everything in one place; (2) Wunderlist (free/premium options) tracks your tasks for home, office, school and more; (3) Microsoft To-Do (free) keeps your day in focus; (4) Ike (free) is a playful to-do list created in the spirit of President Dwight D. (Ike) Eisenhower; and (5) Habitica – Gamify Your Tasks (free) helps motivate you to get things done using a video game to improve your life habits. I’m not a user of any of these apps. I use Google Calendar to track things I need to accomplish–simply and easily. And free!
10. Don’t forget to celebrate your successes.
Whether it’s meeting writing goals, progress made in physical therapy or nutritional therapy, or completing an online course, celebrate your successes! Remember as you struggle with a chronic illness each day you’re up against obstacles not everyone else has to battle.
Did you get out of bed this morning despite the depression you’ve been fighting? Maybe you finished that short story and submitted it to a contest despite the fact that your fingers and hands were enveloped in pain. Or is that book on its way to the publisher? If any of these or some other accomplishment found its way into your life, celebrate the victory over your situation.
Don’t let the impossibility you feel about big goals get you down. Look at the small accomplishments you’ve already made. See how far you’ve come. Look at the number of bad days you’ve already survived. Set your modesty aside and be proud of yourself!
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Header Image Attribution: Chronic Fatigue Clinic
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Last week I posted the first post in this series on chronic illness and the writer. Today I want to share with you some tips I’ve found to be helpful. I’m not qualified to say these will work for everyone. I just know they have, on occasion, worked for me. You know your body better than anyone and your illness as well. Let no one tell you what will work best for you. Decide for yourself.
Tips for the not so good days.
Before I get started with the tips, I want you to know I am the worst at following my own advice. However, I am still learning at 72 what I need in my life to function and be happy. Yes, I have my low moments, maybe even days, but you have to pick up and keep on moving, so to speak.
Today I’m sharing the first five of ten tips for those not so great days. Next week we’ll look at the remaining five.
1. Establish a routine.
A routine for your days gives you something solid to return to after one or more not so good days. I once had a rheumatologist give me the following instructions to cope with fibromyalgia:
You need to establish a set time to wake up each morning, same time every day. The same should be done in the evening, a set time to go to sleep. The bedroom needs to be dark, no light at all. Also no TV or music in the background. Clear your mind. If you can visualize, think of a way to clear the things from your to do list that perhaps didn’t get finished today. Eat a healthy diet, get exercise no matter how bad you hurt, drink lots of water, and get plenty of rest.
I worked hard at his instructions after several days of pure anger at his thinking he could tell me what to do. At the end of several weeks, I began to feel better. And thanks to him, fibromyalgia isn’t a part of my chronic issues today. The only element in this advice I’m unable to commit to currently is getting the exercise.
If need be, write little and often. Don’t set yourself up for writing five or six hours straight and ending up fatigued. Because there are other tasks throughout the day which call us at the ready, we need able to withstand the energy they require too. Our illnesses and pain drain our energy level and we need to protect ourselves from draining our energy source.
One method of protecting against excessive loss of energy and the end result of fatigue is The Spoon Theory. The brainchild of Christine Miserandino, The Spoon Theory exists to provide a simple method of gauging your energy usage task by task. Read Christine’s post here and her explanation will be much better than any I could write for you. I understand and appreciate this theory but have not personally tried it.
2. Be flexible with your goals.
It’s easy to get caught up in the list mode when looking at your goals for the year, a month, a day, a week. It’s also easy to beat yourself up if you miss a goal. That only adds to your discomfort.
Sometimes it’s what we read or hear that pushes to meet our goals on a regular basis. As a writer, I’m sure you’ve heard that “to be a writer, you must write every day.” My thinking here is the author of those words never suffered from a chronic illness and/or pain. Trust me–if he/she had, they wouldn’t have written those words. So, what are you to do?
Let’s say you set a goal to write 1,000 words each day. Some days you may meet that goal. But others you may only write 500. Then on a really good day you write 3,000 words. And on your worst days you write nothing. Do you see how this all may balance out in the end? This is where my next tip comes into play.
3. Be honest with those who need to know.
When I was still a working girl in the private sector of the Portland legal community, I pushed every day to get to work no matter how bad I felt or hurt. I continued to work long, overtime hours in spite of my physical condition. Honesty with others about my chronic conditions left me vulnerable and fearful they might judge me as lazy or goofing off. An incident a few weeks later taught me differently.
The memory of this particular day is still fresh in my mind. It was during my years of coping with fibromyalgia. I knew I really wasn’t able to cope with a full much less an overtime day and three attorneys. Each one of the attorneys expected me at his/her beck and call. The work was flowing across my counter in front of my desk like Niagara Falls.
One of my three attorneys had left me gifts of several tapes to transcribe and I had done a couple of them. I picked up another just as I was interrupted by a ringing phone. I put the tape in my transcription machine and voila, I hit the ERASE button. Didn’t even phase me. It hit the end and I rewound it and didn’t think about it at all until he asked about the finished product. That’s when I realized I had been walking a tightrope with no security net that day. I burst into tears and explained to my senior attorney what was going on. He called my husband to meet us at our home, and he drove me there and told me to take off the rest of the week. Understanding? Oh, yes. Fears warranted? Never. It was all in my head and my upbringing.
Be honest and upfront with those who need to know.
4. Find ways to adapt your workspace to your needs.
Most importantly, make certain your desk, computer, and chair are ergonomic to fit your physical needs. Search online for charts showing the distances necessary to make these three things just right. During the last two-plus years, I’ve spent many hours using my laptop while sitting in my recliner because it was the most comfortable place for my back and other injured areas.
I keep a pain-killing cream nearby (Aspercreme with lidocaine 4%). It really works quickly to erase the low-grade pain. Also, the freezer is stocked with ice packs for deeper and more intense pain. On the days, the pain is at its worst, I simply call it a day and do other things, like pick up a good book and read it all the way through. I listen to music and knit, or I succumb to adult coloring books. With my mother-in-law’s kitchen stool from the farm where my husband grew up, I can pretty well prep and cook meals. Little things are all it takes to make it easy to do what I need to do, or not.
5. Don’t compare yourself to healthy folks.
This is an area where I lose ground easily. Especially during the seasons I love, spring and summer. Right now, I’m envious of those out planting gardens and having the ability to be outside actively working in their yards. What I should be doing is thinking about all the things I can do that they can’t. Comparisons never work in your favor in the instance of healthy vs. unhealthy.
When you’re a writer, it’s doubly easy to succumb to the successes of your fellow authors. For example, when you’re on Twitter or Facebook, someone always has a cover reveal to share, or announces they’re signing with a new agent, or sharing they got a gargantuan publishing deal from one of the big houses! And you’re sitting there wishing you could just write 1,000 words a day. Remember this, if nothing else, we can’t all be Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or Alice Hoffman. So just be the best you can be.
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Until next time and Part 3,