Content

So, you ask, does the title refer to the content of a book, or being content in life?

It is both. You see, I’ve discovered some things about my writerly self. It is easiest for me to write when I am happy. It is harder for me to write when I am unhappy. But, it is hardest to write when I am content. In other words, being content means I produce little content. See? Both.

I began the new year with the determination to turn off the screens and read more. I have done that. I set a goal of 50 books this year and I’m almost to 40. The free time also set my mind to niggling at problem areas of my book, which along with feedback from critique partners, helped me delve back into a rewrite. Success on that front.

Already feeling a slower pace of life from reading more, I then discovered a meditation/breathing technique that calms anxiety and finally allowed me to sleep well after over 20 years of interrupted sleep and constant weariness. It’s amazing how much more manageable problems seem when you’ve had a good night’s sleep.

The biggest problem I have to manage is my finances, and I can’t say all the worry from that is gone. I’m slowly depleting what’s left of my savings, but all the things that truly matter in life are in place. My work is fulfilling, I’ve found my tribe, and I’m strong and healthy. And with better sleep and less anxiety I can appreciate all that even more. Thus, I am content.

Yes, being a published author is an unfulfilled goal, but since I’m content, I’m happy to keep journeying. If the road leads to a career in writing and I don’t live my senior years trying to figure out how to keep a roof over my head, that’s a bonus.

The down side to all this contentment… it’s hard to find the motivation to spend hours a day carefully reading each sentence of my manuscript, making sure it says exactly what I want it to say. There’s just no rush.

Pitchwars is coming up, so I have that as a deadline, but it’s still far enough away that I don’t feel the pressure. And I wonder, should I just start querying again and skip the mentor contest? That would give me a more immediate goal and keep me rewriting. After all, I now have a killer query letter and I think the first 10 pages will grab the reader. Do I just go for it? However, I see so many Pitchwars mentees get book deals after having a mentor help them.

I think I will wait and submit again, because if I submit and get no requests, I will know I still have work to do, and won’t have burned through any agents. Sadly, that decision won’t speed up my editing process, and it will be even longer before I start querying again.

That’s okay. What’s a few more months when you’re content and enjoying the scenery.

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Ebb & Flow

One of the things many of us forget quite often in our chase for happiness, is that life is in constant flux. I’m not sure why many of us believe that happiness and contentment are just a goal away. Once we achieve X, then life will be good. For a while it is. We revel in our new state and think this will be how life is until we die. That’s why it seems so shocking when sometime later stress piles up and things aren’t going so well. Then you think, “Wait a minute! I had this figured out!”

Nothing is ever static. Whatever you’re feeling today will probably change tomorrow. I’ve been doing better about remembering this. Experience has shown that any time there’s an improvement in life, the euphoria from the improvement lasts about six months. Then it’s back to the same old happiness set-point. Something too many people forget is that “this too shall pass” applies to joys as well as sorrows. So, I watched for this shift after my move. Still waiting…

There were small dips along the way, but in general, my joy and contentment of living here has not faded… until the holidays. There were a variety of stresses going on in life at the time, which led to some insomnia.  A part of me was shocked at how quickly my frustration levels rose again. I thought I was back to my old, happy, chill self. It felt slightly embarrassing that my stressed, less-than-my-best-self came back so quickly.

Then I was surprised again when life settled back down and the joy and contentment returned. I was cooking in the kitchen one night when I was suddenly overwhelmed with the joy of it. I find such pleasure watching foxes, geese, joggers, dog-walkers, drone-flyers, metal-detecting treasure hunters, and today – a flock of turkey vultures, doing their thing in the park across the street.  After having an LA-style 45-minute drive going home in an ice storm, my 10 minute commute suddenly seemed notably wonderful again. With the return of the sun, I feel excitement at the coming spring. There will be thunderstorms, afternoons and evenings spent on my sun porch, fire flies, long walks, and all manner of critters singing me to sleep in a thunderous chorus every night.

It’s the same with my novel. While it’s a constant project that never leaves my mind, it definitely has its ebb and flow too. As discussed in my last post, sometimes I’m slogging, sometimes I’m flying. I’m trying to understand the shift. Does slogging mean I’m off course? Just haven’t had time to daydream so I don’t know where the story is going? Or is it just the normal ebb and flow of life.

I am back to a bit of a slog at the moment. Thankfully I’ve learned to fill that time with editing. It frustrates me when the word count doesn’t rise as quickly as I think it should, but the editing has to get done too. Experience tells me eventually an idea will spark and I’ll be off to the races again.

The trick, I’m learning, is to simply relax into it. It’s like surfing. When the wave is coming in, paddle like crazy and catch the ride. And when the water goes back out, let it take you past the breakers so you can catch the next wave. Don’t worry about either phase. They each have their role. Just relax. Whichever state you’re in, this too shall pass. And so shall the next one. Ebb and flow – that’s just life.

 

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Wonder and Gratitude

The writer’s group was really fun. There were two manuscripts to discuss. Each of us had around 7 minutes per manuscript to discuss our thoughts on what we’d read. The authors politely sat through it all. I can’t imagine how difficult that is, but I’m about to find out. They asked if I had anything I want to submit, and I foolishly said I could. It’s amazing how I am suddenly very motivated to write. I’ve stumbled upon a routine for my writing. The 4 days of the week that I don’t work, I will focus on writing new material. On the 3 days that I do work, I will focus on editing what I’ve written. I’m figuring it out, I really am.

This week I’ve had a dawning realization that things are shifting in my brain. When I first got here I was a bit frenetic. That was partly due to life in the city, and partly the stress of accomplishing every task needed to move my entire life across the country. Only now am I beginning to appreciate the effort it took to get all the gears to slide into place in the right sequence.

Then there were stresses that crept in naturally even once here.

Work – I was worried I was so used to the TV world that I wouldn’t know how to deal with the real world. I didn’t want to let my friend down who had recommended me for the job, and felt I had to prove myself, probably more to myself than anyone else.

Socially – There were also a whole lot of faces and names coming at me that I had to put together and remember. I worried about fitting in and being a part of things.

Diet – I fell into comfort eating during this transition and was feeling the pounds pile on. I felt pressure to get my eating back under control.

Writing – I even felt pressured to get writing and make some real progress…

Untll…

While talking with my best friend about my weight and finding an eating plan I could live with, she made the comment that she was impressed I was even addressing the issue this soon. It made me sit back and think about all I had just gone through. I completely uprooted my life of 25 years, and transplanted it to a place I’ve never lived before. I made the decisions, and it mostly worked out as I’d planned. Perhaps I needed to cut myself some slack, and just take it all in.

Not long after that, I must have processed that information, becase there was a definite and unconscious shift.

Work – I no longer felt so driven at work. I’m still doing my job, but I’m doing it with an ease that was not there before.

Socially – I’m relaxing into myself. I no longer worry so much that I’m going to do or say the wrong thing. I’m content with what is. There’s a story told about me as a child of 4 or 5 that illustrates my true nature. My sister was trying to take a picture of me while I was swinging. When she missed the shot and only got my feet I responded, “That’s okay, feet are just as good as heads.” For long periods of my life, I have been just fine with whatever life delivers. Sadly, the pressures of life in LA buried that, but I’m thrilled the inner core is still there, just waiting to come out and shine again.

Writing – I have remembered that a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and don’t worry about time limits quite so much.

This shift has led to my emotions beginning to balance out. I no longer feel giddy joy, which I knew was not sustainable. Now I’m settling into a deeply grateful contentment. Last night I sat on my sun porch, which has yet to be screened in, on a dining room chair, because I can’t really afford patio furniture yet, and watched the cats chasing crickets. I enjoyed the fireflies dancing to the percussion of the insects and tree frogs as the sky faded to black. There was a dreamlike quality to the moment, and I was filled with wonder and gratitude. I pray my writing is good enough that I never have to wake up.

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