Taking a Break

By Liz, looking forward to seeing the sun again…someday?

I turned in Murder She Meowed, book seven in the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries, on May 1. On time, and (almost) without a lot of last-minute angst, as is my norm. I was really proud of myself for this, because as the Wickeds know all too well, I have a penchant for stressing myself out by somehow getting to the eleventh hour without a fully finished book. Which I’ve written about numerous times, so I won’t go into it here.

My point is, this was a huge accomplishment. And then I thought about all the other accomplishments I’ve racked up in the past 10 months–and compared them to the challenges– and decided to actually celebrate for a change. Here’s an excerpt from my Facebook post from the day I turned in the book. Since last July, I:

  • Wrote three(!) books (and did copy edits/page proofs for one).
  • Had a really crappy few months at my old job.
  • Found/started a new (and pretty demanding) day job.
  • Traveled a bunch with said new day job.
  • Managed to take a real vacation for the first time in a long time last fall.
  • Dealt with A LOT of personal issues, including Shaggy’s illness, which was wicked stressful for me.
  • Lost 2 cats within 2 weeks back in January – Pumpkin and Johnny. 😦
  • Did one round of B-School.
  • Managed to give off the illusion that I was a semi-moderately high-functioning adult most days.

Actually acknowledging that I got a lot done despite most of this stuff is new for me. Typically, I’d cross stuff off the list, tell myself to suck up the rest, and move on.

But I didn’t do that this time. I decided to give myself a break before the next deadline (which is looming, but it’s all good). I took a couple weeks off from serious writing, and tried to be good to myself. Granted, I spent some extra time on the day job, but aside from that, I managed pretty well.

So if you’d all care to indulge me, I thought I’d share five things I’ve been reading/doing/watching/pondering during the little vacation I granted myself (kind of like Tim Ferriss’s 5-Bullet Friday emails):

Watching: both of Harlan Coben’s Netflix series, The Five and Safe. Calling it research. Loved them both – he is a master.

Reading: My reading time was severely compromised during the past months. I finally got to finish Dennis Lehane’s Since We Fell. And I read Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love, a book I’d only read in pieces up until now.

Who I’m following: I’m currently obsessed with the poet Nayyirah Waheed. Her short poems speak volumes.

Quote I’ve been pondering: By Alan Cohen: “Fear and resistance are the dragons that stand at the door of the temple that contains the jewel you seek. Just keep going.”

Where I’ve been: This isn’t super exciting, but I’ve wanted to go to a Container Store for years – and there’s finally one close to me. I made my first trip a couple weeks ago. It lives up to the hype!

That’s a little bit of what I’ve been up to. Thanks for indulging me!

Readers, what are your favorite down time activities?

 

The Secret to Journaling

News Flash: Galen Hillers is yesterday’s winner of Edith’s ARC. Please check your email, Galen!

By Liz, enjoying the longer days already even though it’s still kinda cold…

Last month I wrote about some foolproof ways to find the muse when she seems to be hiding. One of those critical steps I mentioned is journaling. And I’ve since found that the thought of it scares some people.

I mean, it does sound kind of intimidating, if you haven’t been in the habit of doing it. Especially if you go into it thinking you have to write a certain amount of pages every day, or spend a set amount of time. I remember the first time I contemplated doing The Artist’s Way and committing to writing three morning pages every day.

I gotta tell you, it wasn’t an easy commitment. But once I jumped in and started, it was worth it.

But three morning pages a day aren’t the only way to journal. In fact, there are no rules about how to do it, as long as you do it.

So here are some alternatives to think about, if you’re still on the fence.

  • Use a guided journal. There are a ton of them out there, and they help you get your thoughts down and ease you into the process. From a simple gratitude journal (so many to choose from), to the popular Five Minute Journal, which asks you to write affirmations, gratitude lists, and document amazing things that happened to you that day, to a Bullet Journal, there’s no shortage of ways to get some thoughts down.
  • Go digital. If the thought of going to the bookstore, picking out a journal, maybe even getting really crazy and decorating it – not to mention the pens! – then go digital. Our phones are never far from us, so we may as well put them to good use. And there are really cool journaling apps out there now. The Five Minute Journal has a digital version. Journey is another good one. And if you want a written invitation to journal – seriously – try Dabble.me, the app that emails you at a time of your choosing and asks how your day was, and you can respond however you like. (Don’t worry, it’s private – just perfect for those who don’t like the whole pen and ink thing!)
  • Focus on appreciation. A foolproof way to get your journaling going and also boost your mood for the day is take that notebook with the blank pages and write about all the things you appreciate. I’m not talking about gratitude lists – I mean, actually writing out all the things that you love and appreciate, what makes you feel good, what makes you laugh and gives you a reason to get up in the morning. Write one thing and watch it build into the next, and the next. I learned to do this from Gabby Bernstein, and at first I thought it would be too hard. You know how it is when you’re cranky in the mornings and want to write down everything that makes you mad or upset? Yeah, that. But seriously, try it. It can lift your mood and change your whole outlook on the day.

And of course, you can alway just go old-school. Buy a pretty journal, or buy a blank one and put awesome stickers on it. Buy some fun pens – gel, felt-tip, pretty colors, whatever makes you happy – and write whatever comes to mind. You can set a timer, or not. Write until you feel like you’ve got it all out, or write two sentences and call it a day. However you do it, just start.

Once you’re in the habit, you won’t want to miss a day. Seriously. And you’ll start seeing results in other areas of your life – writing productivity or otherwise. Guaranteed.

Readers, do you keep a journal? What’s your process? Leave a comment below!

Writing With Spirit

By Liz, doing everything under the sun to call in the muse!

You may have noticed that I can be a little bit “woo woo.” Luckily I have Jessie to commiserate with when everyone else thinks I’m a little too crazy! But my woo woo-ness has served me well over the years, and even more so lately as I take on more writing projects and at the same time, think through what I want my future as a writer to be.

So many of us creative people have, at one time or another, experienced blocks to our creativity. These blocks could range from not knowing where to go next with a current project to being unable to start writing or creating at all, possibly because of something you learned as a child about creativity being shameful or unrealistic to pursue as your life’s work. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, calls these blocks “creative injuries.”

I experienced those creative injuries myself along the way, including an ingrained belief that writing was not something I could do for a living. I spent years writing only peripherally, and when I did finally take jobs that centered on writing, I wasn’t paid well (you hear me, fellow journalists??). Eventually, through a lot of work – and applying Cameron’s practices – I found my way to the page and, well, here I am.

But I was still missing something. Even though I was successfully writing two series, I was still struggling – with process, with procrastination, with plots. With taking myself seriously enough to expect more for myself and my writing life.

Until I remembered that writing is my soul work. Which meant that everything I need to be successful – and peaceful – is within me, and I simply had to tune into it. Once I started applying my “soul practice” to my writing life, everything started to change. I stopped procrastinating, started turning out more words daily, “found” more time where there used to feel like none was available, got more inspiration. As a result, my two looming deadlines aren’t causing me stress. I’m approaching my writing time with joy, and I’m confident everything will get done. When I think back to where I was a year ago – stressed to the max, racing to meet a seemingly impossible deadline amidst a spate of personal crises, getting barely any sleep – it’s almost like I can’t even remember who that person was anymore.

So here’s my five-step process for how I did that:

  1. Ask. Ask that place inside you – whether you call it the universe, your muse, God, your soul, it doesn’t matter – for help. Set your intention for creativity and inspiration. It can be as simple as, I need guidance today. Help me find the right words and put them on the page. And be confident you’ll be heard!
  2. Meditate. I know, going completely still and breathing used to seem impossible for me too. Especially with crazy writer brain, where other people are always talking. But I’m telling you – it works. Five minutes a day can totally change your writing life. You can use a guided meditation, music, or nothing at all. You can walk in nature and try to still your thoughts. I started using guided meditations by Kris Carr and Gabby Bernstein, and one of the key things I learned from them is that thoughts are always going to interrupt you – you just need to bring your attention back to your breath and your intention. There’s also a fabulous app called Insight Timer that offers both guided meditations and music to meditate by, whatever your preference. But really, you need to remember to just breathe.
  3. Journal. This is my other non-negotiable practice. Journaling daily can help you get out of your own way. By releasing some of those thoughts that won’t leave you alone, you clear the space for your inspiration to show up. I still use Cameron’s practice – three pages a day, and it can be complete crap. Doesn’t matter. Just get the clutter out of your head.
  4. Use affirmations. Yes, the way you talk to yourself really does matter. If you’re always saying, I can’t do this, I can’t meet this deadline, I have no imagination, my characters have nothing to say, I have nothing to say, I’m going to have to go work at the grocery store because my contracts will be cancelled any minute…Well, you get the idea. It’s much better to plant positive seeds, even if they feel like complete and utter BS at the time. The more you say them, the more they’ll stick. I created this affirmation for myself:

    Say your affirmation daily. Feel it.
  5. Have fun and be thankful. How lucky are we to be creative people? And we’re all creative. It doesn’t matter if you write or not. However you express your creativity, be grateful for it. And most of all, enjoy it. Often we as writers put too much pressure on our work. We need to get back to the joy. And really, what else is there?

Cutest Pumpkin in the Patch

By Liz, hoping the worst of winter might be over….?

Since all you readers are like our family, I thought you might not mind if I used today’s post as a tribute to a friend. Some of you may know that I lost my little Pumpkin cat last week. It wasn’t a shock, as he’d been sick for some time and on a steady decline over the past few months. Still, it’s never easy.

I didn’t want to do a sad post. Instead, I thought I’d share his life through pictures, starting with his baby pics. Wasn’t he just the cutest? 

Pumpkin and his three littermates were left in someone’s driveway on my mother’s street. She found them and called me, but not before these two ran and hid in a bush. Guess who had to fish them out??

I totally knew he was my kitty soulmate from the moment I laid eyes on him. He and his sister Gypsy spent a lot of time in my bathroom when they first came home, so they could be away from the other cats.

That might have been where he picked up his love for water and showers. I always knew where to find him – waiting in the tub for someone to turn the water on.  He wasn’t happy unless he was soaking wet. IMG_1440

Or eating. Eating was his second favorite activity. At one point, he weighed 21 pounds…and he was always on a diet. Which he didn’t love.

But he loved most everything else. Pumpkin was known for his crazy loud purr. He purred all the time, night and day, asleep and awake. Sometimes it was so loud it woke you up. I always took comfort in the sound of his little motorboat.

He also bonded with one of my other cats, Rico. He thought she was his surrogate mother. She cleaned him a few times a day and he could always be found by her side. 

Pumpkin was almost 17 when he passed away, and I know he lived a long and happy life. I also know I’ll miss him forever.

 

 

Readers, share a favorite picture of a fury pal from your past that makes you smile. Even if you have to take a picture of an old picture and post that! (Like what I did with the baby pics.) I’d love to see them!

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Stow-Away Snake

By Liz, already wishing for summer…it’s freezing in these parts!

So Barb had a teaser the other day in the blog about a stow away story I’d shared with the Wickeds at one of our retreats. I thought in keeping with the theme of her release day for Stowed Away, I’d share my story with all of you. But I’ve gotta warn you – it’s pretty disturbing!

So it was a really hot summer day – the kind I’m wishing for right now, in fact – and I was off to work. I was working in Hartford at the time. I was wearing sandals, and these particular sandals tended to slide off my feet. So I didn’t think much of it when I was driving and my toe brushed up against something. I thought it was the gas pedal, that maybe my shoe had shifted or something. Forgetting about it, I reached over to pick up my coffee from the center console.

And a snake slithered right through the console and vanished into the backseat of my car.

I’m pretty sure I screamed. I have no idea how I didn’t rear end the 18-wheeler in front of me. Oh, and did I mention I was merging from one highway onto another?

I had no idea what to do. In my mind, the snake was the size of a boa constrictor, and I imagined it was readying itself to wrap around my neck and strangle me, causing a fifty-car pileup on I-84 and killing me instantly. So I was driving looking over my shoulder to make sure this didn’t happen.

Being in the middle of a merge, there weren’t a lot of places to pull over. When I finally reached a spot where I could get on the shoulder safely, I did so, then jumped out of the car and opened all the doors. I had no idea what to do next.

I didn’t see my passenger anywhere. I checked the whole backseat, pulled out the dog’s blanket, checked under the seats. Nothing. At this point, my hair was suffering from the 80-degree, high humidity weather, and I must’ve looked like a crazy person on the side of the road. Or a drunk person, although it was barely nine a.m.

I wandered to the front passenger side of the car and happened to glance in the window. I wish I had been thinking clearly enough to take a picture of what I saw.

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The contaminated purse

This snake, who was clearly messing with me, had hopped into my Coach purse and was sitting there, looking around, tongue sliding in and out as he surveyed his new domain.

I opened the door, took the entire purse and threw it down the embankment. Then I waited ten minutes to make sure he’d slithered away, and I went and collected my things. I had some qualms about the bag itself – I mean, what if there were snake eggs in it or something?? but in the end I had no choice, since I had no other purse.

I went to work, a bit late and a bit disheveled, but I have to admit it’s been a great story ever since.

Oh – and it took me a few days to figure out how he’d come to stow away in my car. I’d put a bag of recycling that had been in my trunk in the driveway because I needed the room. When I put the bag back in  my car, it must’ve had a bit more than water bottles in it…

Readers, has anything creepy ever showed up in your moving vehicle? Or anywhere else it wasn’t supposed to be?

Out of Print

By Liz, enjoying the still-warm weather!

A couple months ago, a former co-worker from my reporting days called to tell me that one of our former editors was retiring. I’d known the day would come eventually, but I couldn’t imagine the Norwich Bulletin newsroom without Marilyn in it, working nights to put the paper out.

She’d been there the day I walked through the door eleven years ago, new to town and hoping for a reporting job. They didn’t have a position at the time, but they gave me some freelance work. Marilyn edited those stories, and I got used to her calling me an hour or two after I turned in my story, asking clarifying questions or suggesting a different way of phrasing something. I remembered thinking I better have my grammar up to speed, because there was no way Marilyn was letting me get away with any mistakes.

When I was hired full-time, I was on general assignment for a few months. I did all kinds of stories, from features to local news to education. General assignment also meant that during the local elections, which was two months after I started the job, we had to do “man on the street interviews.” These were my least favorite assignments – basically walking up to random people on the street to ask them what they thought about the candidates or the issues. Sometimes it was easy to find people. In some of these smaller towns, not so much. I remember stalking a liquor store one day just to find people. And let me tell you, they didn’t like my questions standing between them and their after-work activities. But we had to have at least seven people from each town. On this particular day, I had six quotes. That final person was eluding me. And that was after nearly seven hours of this. I called the newsroom and told her my dilemma. She was adamant about the “one more quote.” But before I could hang up and use a few of my signature curse words to describe the situation to the inside of my car, she got really quiet (so our managing editor wouldn’t hear her) and gave me the phone number of a friend in that town she kept on standby and told me to call her, that she’d give me a quote.

That was Marilyn. She pretended to be tough, but she always had the reporters’ backs. (She used to bake for us too. I remember one Halloween where I nearly ate myself sick off the cookie platter she brought in for us.)

Then, after a couple months on the general assignment beat, I got the main city beat. Which was exciting at the time. There was a lot going on, lots of development proposals in town and political dramas (although by today’s standards it was nothing) and it was a chance for me to learn a lot about myself. This was the first job I had after moving from New Hampshire to Connecticut after a really difficult time, and I’d lost a lot of self-confidence along the way. To be there for such a short amount of time and get the premier beat was exciting, and it also reminded me that I was good at what I did. I could earn–and keep–people’s trust. I was a good writer. I was even giving my competition a run for her money, and she’d been on this beat for a decade and had sources I hadn’t even met yet. I made new friends. I got my confidence back. Marilyn was a big part of that. She wasn’t overly exuberant with praise, but you knew if she was pleased with you. You also knew if she wasn’t, and nobody wanted that!

I remember nights sitting in the halls outside city council meetings at all crazy hours, typing furiously while I was on the phone with Marilyn, who was editing in real time. The buzz of all that was undeniable. Exhausting, but exhilarating. Marilyn was a fabulous editor, and she believed in repetition to keep us from making the same mistakes again and again. For example, I heard in my sleep for many years the AP Style guidelines about time, date and place (in that order) for an event. I will never, as long as I live, forget it. Or any of the other lessons Marilyn taught me, grammar or otherwise.

I had lunch with her last week, and I made her laugh when I told her I still heard her voice in my ear when I was editing something at work. I am still adamant about AP Style, even though I get a lot of blank stares when someone at work asks me why I wrote something a certain way and I explain. It doesn’t matter. I know it’s right.

We spent a lot of time rehashing the good old days, and all the crazy times we had in that newsroom. She told me how many former reporters from her many years at the paper had gotten in touch when word spread about her retirement. She seemed surprised that so many people would reach out. I wasn’t. She touched a lot of lives.

Surprisingly, she seems ready to retire and find another adventure. I never thought she’d let go of that life, but like she says, it’s changed so much. Small town papers have a low survival rate these days, and they’re operating on maybe a quarter of the staff they used to have. It was all getting to be too much.

And she seems content knowing she ran the city desk with an iron fist and had a grammatically correct influence on so many people’s lives in the process. But more than that, she lived and breathed the news, and she cared about all of us. Even the ones who drove her crazy. And that’s not something you find at every job.

I hope her retirement has a lot of happy headlines.

Readers, do you have a former colleague or someone else who greatly influenced your life?

Wicked Wednesday: Santa Claus Stories

purringFriends, we are still celebrating Liz Mugavero’s Purring Around The Christmas Tree release. A reminder about what the book is about:

To the townspeople’s delight, the annual lighting of the tree is a spectacular success. Unfortunately, Santa pulled up in his sleigh, DOA. At first Stan is sure it’s Seamus, her boyfriend’s uncle, inside the red suit. But the victim turns out to be an employee from the town’s Christmas tree farm. Rumor has it the deceased was a mean drunk with a soft spot for feral cats. Stan has no idea why he was dressed as St. Nick—or why he’s dead.

Meanwhile, Seamus, a jolly Irishman who comes to America every December to visit his pub-owner nephew, is nowhere to be found. Could he just be off on a Boston bar crawl? Or is something more sinister under the tree? Seamus was supposed to be dressing up and posing for pet pictures with Santa at the shop, but the dogs and cats might have to find another lap to curl up in if Stan doesn’t solve two mysteries soon. Or murder might be the only thing under the mistletoe this holiday . . .

The question this week–Wickeds, do you have a Santa Claus story you want to share?

Jessie: Huzzah, Liz! When I was a small child my mother would read me the story The Jolly Christmas at the Patterprints every year on Christmas Eve. It was the story of a family of mice who end up with Santa dropping into their cauldron of soup hanging over the fire. Quite the kerfuffle ensues. I now read it to my own children every Christmas Eve.

Edith: Congratulations, Liz! I can’t wait to read this new installment. When I was growing up we always read the old standard “Night Before Christmas” on Christmas Eve, and I continued that tradition with my sons. The poem has so many perplexing words and concepts for a child. “Threw up the sash” always made me feel a little queasy, as if Santa had eaten the sash to a dress and then vomited. And for years I thought he put a finger INside his nose – not a foreign concept at all to kids. Here are my sons (at 11 and 14) getting almost too old for the tradition.

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Sherry: Yay, Liz another new book! When my daughter was in second grade we were stationed in Florida and my husband traveled a lot. There was a movie on the Disney Channel that Elizabeth and I had watched about the tooth fairy. One night after I put her to bed, I sat in the family room reading. Elizabeth came out, put her hands on her hips, and said, “Tell me the truth is there a tooth fairy?” I told her no there wasn’t. She lectured me about lying and stomped back off to bed. A few minutes later she repeats the process, but this time asks about the Easter Bunny. Another lecture, more stomping. I sat there dreading what might come next, wondering why Bob was never home for these things. Sure enough Elizabeth comes back out, places her hands on her hips, and glares at me. “I don’t even want to know about Santa Claus,” she announced. Then she twirled around and went back to bed.

Barb: Congratulations, Liz. I LOVE your cover and can’t wait to read this new addition to the Pawsitively Organic Pet Food Mysteries. I love Christmas, and pretty much everything around it. My husband’s father’s family has a party every year on the Sunday closest to the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Santa comes and gives each kid a small gift to tide them over to the big day. I loved this tradition when my kids were small, and my granddaughter has participated the last few years. (With, I admit, mixed results.)

Julie: First off, HUGE congratulations Liz!! So happy for you!! When I was growing up, my father always took us shopping and out to lunch one day around Christmas, likely to give my mother some time to catch up with the holiday. One year, when we were really little we went to meet Santa. This Santa was tiny, thin, and had horn rimmed glasses. We would have nothing to do with him, insisted that this was NOT Sand, and my sister started weeping. So my father, who was always quick with a story, told us that we were right. It wasn’t Santa. It was too close to Christmas, so he sent two elves down to stand in for him. There were actually two elves in the suit. WHEW. Childhood memories were saved.

Liz: I love these stories! Thanks so much for sharing them, guys! And for celebrating my release with me! xo

How about you, dear readers? Any Santa stories you want to share?Save

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