Defining Success

Katie Ledecky, winner of 7 Olympic and 15 world championship gold medals.

When my youngest kid was in middle school, he had knee problems. He couldn’t play football, but all that energy needed to go somewhere, so I signed him up for swim team. He went to one regional swim meet and I was impressed (confused? befuddled?) by the sheer number of kids who were rotating in and out of the water. His coaches reinforced the message that the kids weren’t racing each other as much as they were racing themselves. Winning gold was nice, but getting a personal best time was better.

That philosophy fits pretty well with an idea I’ve run across more than once in writing classes, often in terms of inspiration and motivation. We’re told that rather than waste time in jealousy or envy for another author’s success, each author needs to define success for themselves. For example, in a master class at last weekend’s Emerald City Writers’ Conference, Angela James started her presentation by asking each of us to describe what success looks like, and then leave a comment in the chat (we were on zoom) sharing some aspect of it.

People piped right up with comments like, “I’ve figured out what success looks like for three months, six months, and a year.” Which, okay then. LOL. I was happy for them – sincerely – yet there I was, still parsing the question.

See, if you ask me to list my goals for whatever time increment, I can do that, no problem. Weekly, monthly, one year, five year? I got this. (Well, five years might be a little vague.) And generally, I’m pretty good at accomplishing the goals I set for myself – or coming up with a damned good reason why I haven’t.

However, I’m not sure meeting goals and “success” are the same thing.

Clearly they’re related concepts. Checking things off a list feels good, whether it’s this week’s Trello to-do list or January’s goal to publish 4 books this year. And you know, according to the dictionary, that’s success.

So why am I balking? Why do I think success is bigger than just checking things off a list? Why don’t I feel like a success?

I think it’s because whenever I meet a goal, in the next breath I’m already planning the next one. Published 4 books this year? Good for me. What’s on deck for 2022? Pulled off a successful writing conference? Cool. When’s the next one?

I swear if I ever hit the New York Times bestseller list, I’ll immediately start figuring out how to raise the bar.

The thing about goals is they need to be concrete, measurable, and within my control. I’d argue that success is none of those things – unless it’s only about meeting goals. To me, it’s bigger than that. Success is satisfaction and happiness and pride, a complicated emotion that isn’t easily quantified.

I also think that defining success depends on where you focus your lens. The second bullet point in the dictionary definition is “the attainment of fame, wealth, or social status.”

And all of those values are relative.

Like, in my day(night) job, I’m a nurse practitioner in the NICU of a major university medical center with a national reputation. Does that make me famous? Probably not, although pretty much everyone in the world of neonatology has heard of my unit. (And if you google the name that’s on my ARNP license, you almost certainly won’t come up with hits about vampire romance. LOL)

Am I a success? Well, this gig is seriously my dream job, the reason I went back to school for a masters degree, and after working in a couple different places, I can honestly say its be the best utilization of the NNP role that I’ve found.

But it’s still a job, and I still have to pump myself up to go to work every night.

My husband and I have owned a house for over 20 years. To someone who’s worried about making rent every month, that might look like success. To me, it looks like unfinished projects and the garden needs work. I’m planning on taking early retirement at age 62, which might look like success, but it’ll only work if I write more books.

And….that might sound like a whole lot of bellyaching, like my cup’s half empty. It’s not. I’m very fortunate and very grateful. In thinking all this through, though, I have reached one conclusion.

If I’m not going to define writing success by meeting goals, there needs to be another way of looking at it. If I take away the goals – the yearly plan, the Trello to-do lists, the orange banners from Amazon – what’s left? The dictionary would say it’s wealth, and yeah, there’s the money, the number of books I sell minus what I spend on production and promotion.

But do I really write books to make money? Maybe a little, although I’m leery of picking a dollar amount to define success, because I can’t truly control how many books I sell. I can put together a good product and do my best to let buyers know it’s available, but I can’t make them buy.

So if I’m not successful because I meet my goals and it’s not about how much money I make, what’s left?

I think for me to be a successful author, it’s about the writing. It’s about being engaged in the process, the nitty-gritty draft and edit and read and learn and polish. It’s bringing characters to life and exploring the world through them, and it’s readers who tell me they love my work. It’s the alchemy of creativity and craft, organizing words into thoughts and recording them with care and attention so they’re telling the story’s truth.

I may not have an Olympic gold medal – or an NYT best seller – but I am writing. And by that measure, I’ve been a lot more successful than I realized.

Organization for Authors: Finding what works

Not my actual workspace….but it could be…

This post is a spin-off of last month’s post, “So many spinning plates! An Author’s Life“. You don’t have to have read that post – I’ll recap the high points here – but if you want to jump over to it, I’ll be here when you get back. 🙂

Here’s the deal. I had a book release on September 4th and I’ll have another one September 23rd. I’m helping organize the Emerald City Writers’ Conference in October, and I’ve also stepped in as president of the Rainbow Romance Writers chapter of RWA. (And tbh, I believe in what the the organization is trying to do, but right now supporting RWA is exhausting.)

Also, also, I’m trying to plot the next book in the Soulmates series, and I’ve got research to do – like, two books to read, for starters – for The Pirate’s Vampire (sequel to The Vampire’s Pirate that released last week). And any day now Irene will be sending me the next scene for Benedictus, Book 3 in our Hours of the Night series.

That’s…a lot. (If you have read last month’s post, you might notice I haven’t mentioned the 1950s murder mystery I had on my list. I’ve decided to keep it on the back burner in the interest of honing in on my brand – vampires/paranormal – which is in itself a good subject for a blog post. Maybe I’ll do branding next month.)

You might be wondering how I’m keeping up with it all. Heh. I’m wondering that, myself. There are probably as many ways to stay organized as there are writers, you know? The way I see it, though, a successful approach has to include both the big picture and the daily work in a way that makes sense.

I’ve tried a couple different strategies that didn’t work particularly well. For years, every January I’d come up with a list of goals. I’d use Word or Excel and try to block out what I wanted to get done when.

And then I’d ignore those lists and spend most of the year jumping from thing to thing.

Then 3-ish years ago, I joined a Facebook group dedicated to the use of planners for authors. I bought a pretty, spiral bound notebook planner and actually used it, more or less. I liked that I could make weekly to-do lists, but it still didn’t give me a fluid way of connecting my annual goals to what was happening on a week-to-week basis.

I’m pretty sure that someone in that Facebook group first mentioned Trello. It’s a project management app, and while I probably use about 1/10th of its functionality, that 1/10th is exactly what I need. There are a kajillion different templates for all kinds of business and educational applications, but I use a series of very simple boards.

This is my board for 2021. The far left column is my goals for the year, and I made a column for each month where I broke down those major goals into smaller bites. Scrolling to the right, I can easily see what I’ve accomplished every month and what’s coming up.
I also made a board for each quarter, using the monthly columns in the 2021 plan to come up with the to-do list. I *LOVE* moving cards from the “Doing” column to the “Done” column!
The cards are key! I’ve managed to discipline myself to take time every weekend to come up with a to-do list for the week, breaking up my big goals into smaller and smaller bites.

I don’t know why Trello works for me. Maybe it’s the pretty pictures or the way I can change things with a couple of clicks, but I’ve been more successful using it than any other organization tool I’ve come across. For sure, the phone app makes it easy for me to add to my to-do list when I remember something random and to check things off when I’m not at my laptop. Trello is the easiest way I’ve found to translate goals into action, and I’m pretty danged proud of what I’ve accomplished this year.

If you’ve got a cool organizational tool, leave me a comment. I’m still open to learning something new!

I’m a Biographer, Weeeeee!!!!

(Yes, the title is a Hamilton reference.)

Several years ago I came across the name Virginia Minor when researching my historical novel, Madame Presidentess, which is about Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President in the U.S. in 1872. Because Virginia wasn’t who I was writing about at the time, I noted her as an interesting figure (she is the one from whom Victoria got the idea that the 14th amendment already gave women the right to vote) and moved on.

Virginia Minor

But Virginia wouldn’t let me go. I kept thinking about her and wondering how a woman could come up with such an intelligent and unorthodox theory during a time when college-level education was reserved for men (and a few rich women.) I started researching her and found a few profiles and the more I learned the more I wanted to know. But there was no biography for her.

Well, in 2023 there will be!

I am so thrilled to be sharing her “forgotten” story with the world. The biography is really a dual biography of her and her husband, Francis, because they were “partners in crime” on the subject of suffrage–and equal in all things (which was unusual for their time). However, there is far more information available on Virginia, but I was able to reconstruct a good portion of Francis’ career as a lawyer, as well as his suffrage work.

One of the reasons this book is so important to me is that the way we’re taught about the Suffrage Movement in school is that is was pretty much taken care of by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and a handful of other women. But that is far from the truth. The movement was actually progressed by thousands of women of all races and class levels. Writing them back into history is so important to a fuller understanding of the movement and its repercussions to us today.

America’s Forgotten Suffragists is a cradle to grave biography because it is the first one ever written about Virginia and Francis. Among the things you’ll learn about them:

  • Their early lives, education, courtship and wedding.
  • Virginia’s work during the Civil War in the health department and Francis’ work as a war claims agent.
  • Virginia’s founding of the Woman’s Suffrage Association of Missouri two years before Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone formed their national organizations.
  • How Virginia and Francis came up with the New Departure (the 14th amendment theory) and argued it through the court system all the way to the Supreme Court.
  • Virginia’s tax revolts (refusing to pay her taxes until women get the vote)
  • Her work with Susan B. Anthony to campaign for women’s suffrage in Nebraska
  • Virgina’s unorthodox funeral and will.
  • Posthumous honors for both

And if you want a little preview, you can visit virgniaminor.com, which is the companion website to the book.

If you had told me four years ago that I would write and publish a biography, I would have told you you were crazy. I didn’t think I was a good enough writer for non-fiction much less that I had research skills to write a biography from scratch. But when an idea seizes you and doesn’t let go, you follow. And this one gave me two amazing people who now feel like grandparents (a few times great) to me. I hope they will to everyone who reads about them, too.

Creating New Worlds

Every novel, regardless of genre, needs a few big things to make it work: great characters, a riveting plot, and a compelling setting. But for speculative fiction–fantasy, science fiction, and everything in between–setting carries a little more weight than in other genres, especially in alt-world settings, where the world is totally invented by the author.

World building is one of my favorite parts of writing craft, and is probably one of the more intuitive elements of my writing process. In fact, sometimes it’s so intuitive that I forget to actually put any thought or effort into it while in the planning stages of my books. And then, inevitably, I’ll realize I completely failed to come up with something crucial and need to go back to the beginning.

To help me improve my mastery over world building (and maybe yours too!) I’ve rounded up my favorite tips for deepening already complex worlds.

Breakfast

In one of my favorite quotes from Margaret Atwood, she talks about how she likes to start her world building with breakfast.

“I like to wonder what people would have for breakfast–which people, as their breakfasts would be different–and where they would get those food items, and whether or not they would say a prayer over them, and how they would pay for them, and what they would wear during that meal, and, if cooked, how … Breakfast can take you quite far.”

With this technique, a seemingly simple, basic act becomes a lens through which a world’s customs, values, and systems are distilled. Focusing on a single activity can help you color in a world’s broader dynamics, from the micro to the macro.

Death

One of the most interesting and diverse elements of human culture is how we deal with death. How a society approaches old age, funeral customs, spirituality and grief can tell a lot about their values, religious beliefs, and understanding of their place in the world.

Ask yourself–do the characters in your book fear death, or accept it? Do they bury, cremate, or entomb their dead, and why? Do they believe in ghosts, spirits, or ancestors? Answering these questions will help clarify the deep-seated values of your characters and define where they believe they fit in the cosmology of your world.

History

Your characters aren’t the only thing that needs a backstory. Give your world a history, too! While you don’t need paragraphs and paragraphs outlining the last thousand years of your world’s history, you do need glimmers of what has come before and how it may have affected the world your story takes place in.

Have their been any wars in the recent past, how did they start, and how did they end? How did the people in power get there, and who came before them? Have there been any societal shifts that changed the way the culture saw themselves?

Once you understand the history of your world, you’ll be able to offer the reader glimpses of it when needed.

Keep it simple, stupid

It may seem like a complex world needs complex world-building. This isn’t necessarily the case, though. If you need to bend over backwards to explain something, chances are you’re overthinking it. If your magic system needs a glossary, simplify. If you need to explain the past two thousand years of history for the current social structure to make sense, simplify. If your readers can’t figure out what invented words mean through context clues, simplify.

Speculative fiction can stand–nay, demands–a degree of lushness and intricacy. But don’t get so tangled up in your own world building that it becomes convoluted.

Say yes to you

At the end of the day, trust yourself. This may seem a little contradictory to the last point, but you know your story and your characters and your world best. The details that will make your story shine will ultimately spring from your glorious imagination. Try not to second guess yourself too much, especially in the early stages of a project.

Sometimes the wildest concepts will make your world sparkle; other times, it’s the simplest of details that will make your world shine. Try not to be precious about being so original that no one has ever done something similar; try not to be too derivative, either. Trust your gut and your imagination–that’s how you’ll build your world from the ground up.

So many spinning plates! An author’s life…

Yesterday I saw a “What are you working on?” query on FB and responded with “I’ve got this, and this, and this, and this in progress.”

And those are just my actual writing projects. I’m also involved in two different chapters of RWA (for Reasons) and both have ongoing projects and then there’s the day(night) job, which has apparently decided to seek revenge for the month I took off in April.

It’s all good stuff, but I’m a bit fried.

For today’s post, I thought it would be fun to run through my spinning plates, so you know what’s on the horizon…


Is death too great a risk when the reward is freedom?

Dáire Malone has been undead for over 200 years when he is summoned to the home of a would-be queen, a vampiress who possesses an unnatural potency. She declares that Malone will not leave without giving her a pledge of loyalty.

He’s been held in thrall before and would rather face his final death than let another have power over him.

Thomas Clifton is a pirate, or rather, a privateer. He too is summoned to the vampiress’s home and commanded to pledge his fealty to her. Clifton’s allegiance lies only with the man he sees in the mirror, and his first impulse is to run.

But Dáire Malone’s aura of mystery and his melancholy beauty appeal to Clifton, and Malone won’t leave until they destroy the source of the vampiress’s magic. Caught between opposing impulses, Clifton must choose.

Leave, and lose Malone, or stay and risk his freedom…and his life.

First up, THE VAMPIRE’S PIRATE! A sweet little novella that poses the question, “what if Bridgerton had vampires?” Actually, PIRATE is set in 1805 New Orleans, so the time period similar to Bridgerton, even if the location is different. This book’ll be available FREE as part of a multi-author giveaway that starts tomorrow – Friday, 8/20/21. Here’s the link to the promo so you can bookmark it. The giveaway runs until 9/3/21 and after that, PIRATE will be available at all ebook retailers.


There’s no easy way to come back from the dead…

…and Connor MacPherson is living with the consequences. He may be back in Trajan’s life – and in his bed – but the trust they once shared is gone.

Some days it feels like David is the only thing holding their threesome together.

When Trajan and David stumble over a murdered kitsune, Connor is drawn into the investigation. He uses that murder to cover a second inquiry, one he’s bound by his oath to the Elites to keep secret – specifically from Trajan.

Then David uncovers his covert search, and if Connor’s own internal conflict is painful, seeing how it hurts David makes it even worse.

But they don’t know the secret Trajan’s keeping, a command that could destroy everything. Trajan’s maker has ordered him to kill, and if they don’t rebuild their damaged trust, this time death will be permanent.

TESTED is book 2 in my Soulmates series (m/m/m paranormal romance), and I’m busily editing the manuscript so it’ll be ready for a 9/23/21 release date. The official cover reveal will be on JoyfullyJay‘s blog 9/2/21. I’m sooooo excited for this one!


The next spinning plate doesn’t have an official cover yet. Heck, it doesn’t even have an official title. I’ve been working with The Blue Sky Murders, although that title is subject to change. Basically, the BSM is the start of a mystery series set in 1950 Seattle, about a PI who was an MP in the second World War. He’s hired to follow a young man who just inherited a whole bunch of money and he shows up just in time to see the young man get murdered. He then spends the rest of the book solving the crime and fighting his own demons. Fun stuff!
I’ll be (hopefully) pitching it to a couple of publishers this fall. (Also, a red Cadillac plays a key role, so pretend the Mustang is a Caddy.)


And finally…

The project I’m arguably the most excited about, is BENEDICTUS, book 3 in the Hours of the Night series I co-write with Irene Preston. We started this book in 2017, y’all, but life has a way of messing with even the best plans. At any rate, here we are, four years older and four years wiser, with four years more experience as writers which’ll hopefully pay off as we bring Thaddeus and Sara their happily every after.

But first we’re going to mess with them in a big way!


Just a couple other bullet points to share. One of the bigger projects I’m working on is the Emerald City Writers’ Conference, put on by the Greater Seattle Chapter of RWA. The ECWC will by 10/15- 10/17, and it’s on-line only this year. Registration is $150, and we have a fantastic line-up of presenters, as well as agents and editors who want to hear your pitches!

Click HERE to register for the Emerald City Writers’ Conference!

And FINALLY – for reals, this time – if you’re in the Seattle area, the Shanty Tavern is having their grand reopening on Friday, September 10th. The Shanty’s over on Lake City Way, one of the last survivors of the days when Lake City was it’s own place. The Shanty only opens Friday nights and there’s always live music of both kinds – country and western. (Random Blues Brothers reference…lol…) At any rate, for their first post-pandemic show, my husband’s band The Fentons will open for the 1Uppers, so if you’re in the ‘hood, come say hi!

Click HERE for the Shanty Tavern’s FB page for more info.

Thanks for reading along! I’m off to keep the plates spinning…

Flash Fiction Writing Prompt Ideas

You’ll have to forgive me for the brevity of this week’s post. I just don’t have the bandwidth to think of 500-1000 words this week. If you follow me on Insta, you’ll understand why.

But every day is a little better than the day before so I didn’t want to bail completely.

I thought, since it was summer, and we’re between NaNos, it might be fun to give you guys a flash fiction writing prompt. Maybe, if you’re between projects, or feeling a little stuck, or just want to see if you can do this challenge, it would inspire you.

I took two flash fiction prompts from Chuck Wendig many, many years ago and they, somehow, became the inspiration of my longest running series, The Matilda Kavanagh Novels. The first was to look up the name of a cocktail and base a 1000 word story on that name. The second, be as creative with profanity as you could.

The first prompt I found a cocktail that had the word Fairy in it and the story of a half-troll stealing the magical token of a royal fairy and using it to blackmail her for riches beyond measure came into my mind. The second, a witch who had been cheated out of payment for a spell she’d brewed for a man in a position of power burst into my mind, creative new profane words bursting from her. Both stories ended up in my series. And Mattie just might be my favorite character I ever created.

So, if you’re game, here are three prompts. Pick one, or all three!, and see where your muse takes you. The goal is to write a whole story within 1000 words, no more than that, so paint that picture, but hone your words.

  1. Your favorite food.
  2. Spotting a shooting star.
  3. A broken object.

See where your imagination takes you. I wrote about fairies and witches, which you probably automatically think of some far away land or time, right? Nope. My fairy was in a casino bar. My witch lives in North Hollywood. Both live in present day. See? Anything can happen with flash fiction.

Have fun with it! And if you feel proud of your story, post it to your own blog and come back here and share the link in the comments so we can read your story. Who knows, I just might do this challenge too if I find the will.

Summer in the garden, 2021 edition

Mr. Lincoln hybrid tea rose

It’s summertime and I want to take it a little bit easier than normal. So, instead of slamming you with bits of hard-earned wisdom (see my post on Rhythm in Writing or Research for Writers or Promo for Authors for that), I’m going to share garden pix instead…

I’ve shared garden pix before. You can check out The Garden in Spring from 2020 or Summer in the Garden posted in 2018 if you’re curious. The thing that’s interesting to me is how much changes from season to season but how little changes from year to year.

And I have a short attention span, so the season-to-season change works for me. (lol!)

There’s one notable difference in the garden compared with past years. We got rid of the grass in our front yard, replacing it with something slate-adjacent. (You’d have to ask my husband for the specific name.) I’ve always liked our front yard, but now it’s our favorite place to hang out at the end of the day. The trees that surround it make it shady and cool and private. Just lovely.

These three pix show our new stone walkway. The picture in the middle – the one with the dog – is from the front gate and shows the stone birdbath. The other two are taken of the veggie bed, where the pumpkins have taken over everything. There are also beets, carrots, and onions in there, along with a grandiflora rose Lagerfield, which is super happy not to have to share space with other shrubs.

There’s a close-up of the lavender that wants to take over the world. You can’t get to the front door without brushing against it, and while it’s been suggested that I cut it back, I kinda love the scent. Behind the lavender there’s an espaliered apple tree, and there are a couple of tomato plants and basil hiding between them. The other pic is our raised bed with strawberries and herbs. There are also some cranesbill geraniums that I stuck in there to so the guys who laid the stone walkway wouldn’t step on them, and will eventually transplant…somewhere.

And there’s OREGANO. Did I mention the OREGANO? It’s fairly happy to spread every damned place – lol – and I’m starting to treat it like a weed.


We haven’t sorted out the back yard yet. The house is built on the side of a hill, so there’s an elevation difference between one end of the yard to the other. We’d thought about bringing in a backhoe and leveling it, then inviting our friendly stone-layer dudes to come back and lay a large patio. The problem is, there’s a 40-foot hemlock at the high end and we’d damage the tree by digging up the roots to level the yard. And if we managed to level it without pulling up the roots, they would eventually push the stones up and ruin our patio. So.

While we’re pondering, on the left there’s a picture of the big oakleaf hydrangea and on the right is a spirea up against a shrub rose with a determined bamboo in between. Those white hydrangea blossoms need to hold it together for a couple more weeks, b/c they’re going to go in the centerpieces at a friend’s wedding reception! And if you look close in the upper left corner of the spirea picture, you can see the chandelier my husband hung last year. Unfortunately, he ripped up the patio underneath it after I put my foot through one of the boards a couple months ago, but hopefully by next year we’ll be able to spend evenings under the fairy lights.


And here are some close-ups. The top row shows a daylily, a scented geranium, and a Seafoam rose, and the two big pix on the bottom are a squash blossom (with a neighborhood bee!) and a purple poppy. Every damn year I fall in love with that purple color.

So there you have it! A little glimpse at what this author does when I’m not tapping away on my laptop. Which reminds me…I should probably go water or weed or something. Happy summer!!

….and as long as you’re here, I’ve got a couple special deals to tell you about!

The Rainbow Readers Club on Facebook is running an Opposites Attract promo this week. If that’s one of your preferred tropes, join the page and check out the author chats and giveaways! Jump HERE to get to the Rainbow Readers Club!

….and!!

This is a fantastic collection of romances on SALE!! 70+, from contemporary to paranormal to historical. Need a beach read? You can find one here! HERE’S THE LINK to the sale page!
I’ve got AQUA FOLLIES on SALE!! Regular $4.99, now $0.99!!

Click HERE to find AQUA FOLLIES on SALE!!

The Trick is to Pay Attention

“The trick is to keep breathing.” – Garbage

Yes. Breathe first. But second, pay attention. (10 points to Ravenclaw for each one of you who knows that song reference – you have excellent taste in music.)

My brain is stuck in the 1990s lately because I’m working on two book proposals that have to do with female characters on TV in the late 90s and early 00s. I mention this because I found the opportunity on a Facebook group for ghostwriters that I’m a part of. If I hadn’t been paying attention to my feed, it would have passed me by. But because I did, I have the opportunity to pitch two books now and have three others in mind, which could do wonders for my career.

My point is that opportunities are everywhere if you pay attention. A friend of mine was on the Today show about a year ago and now she is in Forbes, just because she was able to pitch her story to the right person at the right time. Another of my friends was a finalist for the Penn Faulkner Award in Fiction this year because he dared to enter even though he isn’t well known and his publisher is small. A paper that I gave at a history conference is being turned into an article for a magazine, which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t applied to the conference to speak even though I’m not an official historian.

Tips for finding opportunities:

  • Pay attention to the news (and sports, entertainment, whatever your writing fits best with) and keep an eye out for events and other things you can tie into or get involved with.
  • Set up Google alerts for the subjects/keywords of your books so you can monitor what is going on.
  • Join HARO (help a reporter out) and don’t be shy answering queries related to your expertise. I’ve gotten some great press coverage that way.
  • Join writing groups on social media and investigate opportunities that appeal to you.
  • Actively seek out groups that are similar to your subject and/or places your readers hang out. You never know what may catch your eye.
  • Be brave! Don’t ever think you aren’t good enough, well known enough, etc. There is no such thing. You can’t win if you don’t play!
  • Keep an open mind. Once you start looking, you’ll see opportunities everywhere.

In addition, inspiration is everywhere if you pay attention.

I follow a lot of people (writers and otherwise) whose careers I want to imitate. From looking at their websites, analyzing their newsletters and social media activity, I think about what I can model in my own life. There are a lot of things I don’t have the budget/time to do (yet) but sometimes there are scaled back versions I can do right now.

Ideas for finding inspiration:

  • Follow blogs, newsletters, other communications on people and subjects you care about.
  • Join groups on social media that discuss these topics and issues.
  • Become involved (online for now, but in person once COVID is over) in groups of people who are passionate about the same things you are.
  • Read and watch movies/TV widely. It could be one little word or scene that triggers something in your mind.
  • If you are a visual person like me, frequent Instagram and Pinterest for images that inspire you. Save them and look back every so often to see if anything strikes you.
  • Take time to refill your well. Walk in nature. Go to a museum or other place that inspires you. (I personally like New Age stores – they rebalance my energy. Oddly enough, Whole Foods does as well.)
  • Take time to dream. Imagine your perfect life. Sketch out what you can do to get there. Make a vision board. I am a firm believer that when you think about things, they happen.

It’s easy to sleepwalk through life – especially now during the pandemic when we’ve been worn down by so much strangeness – but that isn’t going to benefit you or anyone else. Even if you don’t have the energy to do anything right now (I’ve experienced burnout, so I know what that is like), keep a list of ideas/opportunities to address at a later date. Future you will thank present you.

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 thirty-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.