Can I retire now?

Retirement: that far-off event that’ll change my whole life...

Let’s poke at that subtitle a little.

The change my whole life part is accurate – I mean, I’ll go from spending some 30 hours per week in a NICU to…not. No more NICU. Weird.

Still, it’s the far-off bit where I really need to adjust my thinking. Because honestly, I’m looking at three years before I can reasonably retire.

Three years!

I’ll only be 62, but I started my first retirement account theirty-four years ago, when I was twenty-five. I’ve literally been preparing myself for this most of my life.

Preparing for what, you might ask.

Well, it’s the “what” part that makes me nervous. I’ve always been a fairly goal-directed person. I mean, yeah it took me five years to earn an associates degree (lol!) but it was the ’80s. And I was in Honolulu. There were a lot (!) of distractions.

And I subsequently went on to earn a bachelors and then a masters, so things worked out okay.

Still, I’ve always sorta wondered what people do when they’re retired. I mean, shuffleboard’s not my bag, ya know? I guess I vaguely thought I’d travel some, and work in my garden, and just sorta go from one day to the next.

But golly that sounds pretty aimless. And kinda boring, if I’m honest.

On the other hand, after thirty-four years in the NICU, I’m ready for something new. Don’t get me wrong, I love working with babies and I take great pride in my work. It’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I can start an IV in just about anyone, any time, anywhere, and for me n’ my superpowered grey hair to be able to calm down a fractious family situation just by showing up.

But.

But…

Last spring my employer merged with another hospital and my group of Neonatal Nurse Practitioners found ourselves responsible for covering another unit. (Which is an extreme simplification, but it gets to the gist.) I ended up working a lot. Like 120 hours in a two-week pay period kind of A LOT. Those hours went on all through the summer and into the fall, so the point where I started joking that I was going to need a whole month off to recover.

And also to bring down my vacation hours so I wouldn’t lose any because I was over the limit.

Apparently I made the Month Off joke often enough that our lead and our scheduler gave me the green light. I’ve been on vacation since 4/2/21 and I don’t work again until the first weekend in May. (Okay, I covered 8 hours last weekend for a no-show but that won’t be repeated.)

Once I saw the official schedule with me officially not on it, I started calling April my Dress Rehearsal for Retirement Month. If I can’t handle a whole month off, what the hell am I going to do with the rest of my damn life?

(This is where the goal-directed piece comes in.)

I didn’t just walk out of the hospital on April 2nd without a plan. I committed to writing the first draft of the sequel to Soulmates, my m/m/m paranormal romance. My word count goal for the month is 80,000, and I’m at about 35k now with a couple thousand more in me today. Not exactly where I meant to be, but not bad, either.

I’ve also had time to sort through a particularly cluttered area of our basement and work in the garden and do yoga and walk the dogs and read for fun. It’s been pretty effing fantastic, to be honest. If this is what the rest of my life’s going to look like, sign me up.

I’ve reached this stage in life through a combination of luck, priviledge, talent, and hard work, and I don’t take one minute for granted. When it’s time for me to leave the NICU for good, I’ll do so with a lifetime of memories and a heart full of gratitude. Babies made me grow up and turned me into the person I am today.

Still, going forward, there’ll be books to write and veggies to grow and dogs to walk.

I’ll be okay.

Do All The Things!

Image from http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/. I think I found my spirit animal.

I had a hard time trying come up with something to write about today, so I’m just going with what is on my mind. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whether it is better to be a specialist in your writing or a generalist. There are some writers who only write in one or two closely related genres. In the realm of historical fiction, there are many writers who specialize in a certain time period or location.

I don’t do any of those things. While I write primarily in historical fiction (and historical fantasy), I also write non-fiction and contemporary women’s fiction/romance. Within historical, I don’t have just one time period, but will write in any period/location where I find a story of a strong woman that needs to be told.

I’m currently editing my first chapter for an academic book. I’ve recently branched out into poetry and am considering giving essay a whirl as well. I also run several blogs for various interests that I don’t have time to tend to as well as I want.

What is wrong with trying new things, you ask? Nothing. But…okay…did any of you watch the TV show JAG? The captain’s girlfriend/wife (I don’t remember) was one of those people who thought she could do anything and everything, but in reality was terrible at a lot the things she thought she was good at (I specifically recall her thinking she was this great singer and she was actually terrible). That is who I fear becoming.

I have this terrible fear that my poetry sucks and everyone is afraid to tell me. I’m scared that I’ll try to write essays only to find I have nothing to say or that I’m too scared of being attacked if I do take a stand on something.

Yet the same time, I’m curious about so much: different forms of writing, different genres (I have a gothic historical and several contemporary books I want to write, in addition to all the historical and non-fiction ones on my list), all kinds of subjects.

I understand the appeal of sticking to one thing and being an expert in that, but I’m the kind of person who wants to be an expert in whatever story I choose to tell. So, instead of being one on 19th century America or post-Roman Britain, I’m one on Victoria Woodhull, Virginia Minor and modern versions of Guinevere. (I don’t claim expertise back past 1980 with her character, though I have written about it.)

I guess that goes along with an unending desire to learn. I’m one recommendation letter away from finishing my application to get a certificate in Gender and Women’s Studies from Loyola University in Chicago (online program). Those credits will carry over when I can move and get my MA in the same program, along with an MA/PhD in American History. When that is done my credentials will be ridiculous alphabet soup: BA, BS, MA (that is today), MA, MA, PhD.

So why does it surprise me that I want to go from novelist and biographer to add on poet and essayist and whatever else comes along in the future?

I guess some people are meant to find their niche and stay there, while others do many things. I do know that strong women will always be a connective tissue in everything I do. That’s my passion, my jam and what I believe I am meant to share with the world, in whatever format the message takes. That’s why it is also my brand.

What about you? As fellow writers/readers do you think it is wiser to develop a specialty or dabble in whatever you want and see what sticks?

Adapting as a Writer

When I first started writing books I never outlined. I tried to outline my first book and found that, once it was outlined, I couldn’t get into the rhythm of writing the actual narration of the story.

It was incredibly frustrating and I felt like I couldn’t write. My lifelong dream of being a writer, going to college to learn how to be a writer, all my lofty goals would never be achieved because I couldn’t understand how to write.

Then I read a blog post by an author I loved at the time, she was a very prolific writer so I figured she knew what she was doing, and she said she wasn’t an outliner. She explained that she was a “pantser,” or “pantster” if you prefer, which meant she had an idea for the book and then just wrote freely, or “by the seat of her pants.” As she explained it, once she outlined a book it was as if her brain decided she’d already written the story and lost all sense of urgency to get the story down on paper. That was a lightbulb moment for me.

Maybe I wasn’t an outliner either. So I tried it her way. I was able to write my first three and half books that way. I wrote so much so fast, it was incredible. It really was like I was flying/writing by the seat of my pants. I’d found a key that fit my writer lock and I was so happy and relieved.

Then my hard drive became corrupted and ate tens of thousands of words from my fourth book. I was devastated to say the least. A magical IT guy recovered some of the lost work but I did have to rewrite a lot of what was lost and I had to try to remember what I’d written (I have multiple redundancies of back ups now–a hard lesson learned) and I started making notes, which turned into a very loose outline. And, thanks to those bullet point notes, I finished that book in record time.

So, when I started book five, I tried to outline again. And I found I was a new kind of writer. I started outlining books, long-form, by hand. But the incredible thing was, I didn’t lose my need to tell the story again. Instead I found it easier to leave off for a couple of days and come back and pick up where I left off. I didn’t need to remember all my cool ideas because they were all written down, waiting for me. And I learned I didn’t have to hold exactly to the outline, I could spin out and come back to it. Like an anchor in a storm.

Then, if you’ve been reading our blogs for a while, you know I burned out and took a break from writing. Then the pandemic happened and my life blew up, and I only started writing again very recently. And this book has been entirely different than all my other books.

I’ve worked with an outline with it and then, when I ran out of outline, I’ve pantsed some of it, and then inspiration struck and I got all these incredible plot twist ideas that made me realize I needed to change the whole book. That last bit meant that I needed to add whole scenes and characters to the book. Personally I’m the kind of writer who starts at the start and moves forward, in one document, until I reach the end, then I’ll go back and add/edit later. I never work backwards. But not with this book. Because I’ve had such a paradigm shift with the story of this book. I knew I needed to work through those missing scenes. I tried to just go forward, telling myself I’d fix the first half of the book later, but as soon as I wrote a line referencing the change in the story I knew I needed the ground work.

So I started opening new docs. As you can see I’ve written a few scenes like this.

It’s kind of strange. I feel a little like I’m making a quilt or puzzle pieces that I’m going to fit together later. I’m not even sure where these scenes will go, but I knew I needed them written so, as I write the second half of the book, I have memories of these scenes to build upon. I don’t even know what to call this style of writing.

I will say, I am not a huge fan of it. I like to watch my word counts jump when I’m done for the day and this makes it feel like I’m not doing as much work. But I am. I know I am. One pro is that I can see I’ve hit my daily count much easier than doing the math . Another pro is that it does fee like I’m hitting small milestones so I can feel al sense of accomplishment that way. And I know, once I’m satisfied I’ve written all the missing scenes to pull the book together, when I got to copy and paste those scenes into the main document I’ll feel a huge amount of gratification when I watch my wordcount jump over 5 figures.

It’s just different.

And this far into the game it’s kinda weird to realize you can change your writing style again. So, if you’re new to writing, or old hat but finding you’re struggling to figure out how to do this thing called writing, maybe you just haven’t found your style yet. Sometimes a book is first person, sometimes it’s better in third. Sometimes you need an in-depth, thorough outline, sometimes you just need to write a scene that’s burst into your mind without knowing where it’s going.

Just like a story can evolve as the characters move through the plot, you as a writer can evolve as you get further into your career. You just have to figure out what is going to work for you at this point in your career and learn to adapt if one way of doing things isn’t working for you. All that matters is figuring out what gets the story written. Outline or pantsing. Morning sessions or nighttime. Small goals every day, or big wordcounts once or twice a week. There is no one way to write a book and you can learn from other writers so you don’t lose hope.