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5 Tips for when you feel like "I Have No Idea What I'm Doing!"

Have you ever said, “I have no idea what I am doing. How am I supposed to do this?”

I can totally empathize, because lately I have been feeling this on a grand scale.

Guys, here’s my confession: I have no idea what I am doing.

I’ve felt this way for a long time, actually. But lately it’s become a little overwhelming. There’s a lot going on in my life: we’re dealing with the normal family things, plus jobs, and all the regular crazy stuff. On top of that are some other things that are a little abnormal:

  • We’re in a custody dispute over two little girls, and we’re diligently providing all the information we can come up with to our lawyer. Plus, that situation is stressful to deal with. How can a parent deliberately withhold a child from the other parent out of spite? It’s unthinkable.
  • I am dealing with the fallout of some deep rooted family issues, and the stress and sadness is at times overwhelming.
  • I just turned 37 (omg!), which is maybe why I am dwelling on the “what am I doing with my life?” stuff.
  • Even happy things can cause life to tilt slightly off balance. We just got a puppy, which changes the dynamics of our day-to-day a little bit: I haven’t spent this much time thinking about another being’s frequency of going to the bathroom since my daughter was a baby!

So, I understand some of my feelings of being unhinged and overwhelmed come from life circumstances. I also know some of it comes from who I am: I am a creative person who was taught for years that feelings are ignored, not dealt with. Now I feel ALL the feelings, and yeesh…it’s rough learning at 37 what I should have learned at 7.

And some of it comes from that longing.

Do you know that longing? It’s the one where you are super aware of the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Do you feel stuck or trapped in a place that isn’t entirely your choice? A job you need versus one you want. A place you’d like to be but can’t get there for whatever reason. A life circumstance that just isn’t happening even though you desperately want it to? That’s the longing I’m talking about.

Here’s my gap: I work a part time job for a non-profit organization. It is a job that has meaning (yay!) and a steady paycheck (double yay!).

However…

My dream is to be an artist and writer. It’s all I think about, read about, and do. I’ve tried several times to let go of it, but it won’t leave me alone. So, here I am at 37, knowing I need my part-time job to stay afloat, and I need to devote a certain amount of time to life, and family (and sleep!), which leaves me the leftover time to make this shit happen. Or not. Or maybe I could… Or, no, it’s too hard and overwhelming, plus I don’t think I’m talented enough. But, yes! I could be awesome! (Do you see the issues here? This is what’s in my head on a daily basis. Sigh. Talk myself in, talk myself out.)

This blog is part of that dream of mine, too. It’s also one of the main areas where I am certain I have no idea what I am doing!

I read a TON of blog advice. Everything from design and graphic tips to writing great posts to promotion, and everything in between. I Hoover up blog advice like it’s going out of style. In a way, it’s an obsession, and it’s also completely overwhelming.

Why? Well, I’ll be honest: the one thing every blog expert says you HAVE to have before running a successful blog, I don’t have.

I’ve read a million times that a successful blog knows its niche, its worldview, its focus.

I’ve lived long enough to know that focus is not my forte. I feel more like I’m stumbling around in the dark looking for the light switch (Oh, there it is! No, never mind, that’s a picture frame. And, ouch I just stubbed my toe! Where was I again? And so on…) Oh, I’ve tried! I’ve done the exercises where you make up your “one person,” or you narrow down your niche, you pick something you can help people with, etc., etc., etc., grrrrr….

Still. stuck.

For whatever reason, I know I haven’t quite got it yet.

In my kinder moments, I know the truth. That nagging, frustrating feeling of “I have no idea what I am doing” only requires the addition of one little word:

. . . yet.

I have no idea what my focus is . . . yet.

I have no idea how to be successful with my art . . . yet.

I don’t have any idea how I will become a writer . . . yet.

Because one day, I will be those things, and can look back on the time when I didn’t know what I was doing as a necessary stepping stone to “getting there.”

That doesn’t make it easier. We all sometimes have to sit in the space of not knowing, of feeling inadequate, of feeling trapped by life circumstances. So, to help you and me both get through, even though we may be facing vastly different things, here are some suggestions. I hope they help.

Why You Feel You Don’t Know What You’re Doing (& What to Do About It):

  1. What you’re told: Your creative work won’t get you anywhere. Maybe your art, music, or crafting dreams were squashed early because your family or an influential person told you you had to have a real (cough, cough 9-5 cubicle) job. A sensible job. You can do your craft as a hobby, these people said. You need to work at a real job to support a family. And so, you grew up believing the very thing you wanted was impractical or, at worst, irresponsible. What to do: It’s 2015. The rules that used to apply are changing fast. People don’t believe in working their lives at one steady job until retirement. There are so many options available that could fit your vision, you just have to take the time to find them, and then pick the ones that best suit your goals, skills and lifestyle. It is do-able, and there are people who are proving it everyday. Have faith that one day you’ll be one of those people and there will be newbs looking up to you. (I need to tape this one to my own forehead).
  2. What You Feel: Your work is amateurish, or you doubt your skills. You see the work of other people who are further along the path than you, and their work looks like the Taj Mahal while yours is a rotting shack in the woods. It sucks when your passion outweighs your skills, but this is the reason why you have the passion! To make you work to build those skills without losing your drive to do the thing. Every creative person has doubts about their ability. I would be more worried if you had no doubts! What to do: The answer you didn’t want to hear. Hard work. If there’s a piece of your dream that you don’t feel skilled in, fix it. Build that skill. It may take time and it may be frustrating, like learning to tie your shoe at age 30. But in today’s world, you really have no excuses (I am critically eyeballing myself here, ahem) because the information is all out there! You can read a book, Google it, YouTube it, ask an expert, go to school, take a course…literally the options available to you are endless.
  3. What Worries You: You’re of a certain age (15? 34? 70?) and either feel like your dream isn’t happening fast enough or you’re running out of time. There are actually two ways to look at this one, because time is something we all have, and time is something we all waste. What to do: First, you could clear out some unnecessary stuff to make time for your dreams and goals. Then, if you are really serious about pursuing them, you will use that time to work on them. If a few weeks or months pass and you’re still not making progress, maybe that’s the time to ask why you’re not doing what you say you want to. There’s another part to this “time thing” that’s a little less concrete, but bear with me. Maybe it’s not happening fast enough because it’s not time yet. There’s something that needs to happen, some skill you need to learn, or some experience you need to have before your dream can become a reality. You may not know why or what is supposed to happen yet, but if you listen closely to yourself, you may hear a little voice saying, “Just relax. It’s not time yet.”
  4. What You’re Dealing With: Someone doubts your dreams. Maybe it’s you, or maybe a spouse, parent, or trusted friend. If it’s another person, he or she has enough influence over your thoughts and actions to make you doubt yourself and believe him or her. Sometimes these people mean well and just don’t want to see you fail. Sometimes these people secretly hope you will fail because they are jealous, negative, or unsupportive. (Sucks, but it happens . . . too often). What to do: It’s scary, I know. But you have to listen to you. Even if the person is well meaning, or even if it will impact your life with this person (working long hours, less money initially, being on the bottom rung . . . whatever their “reason” for why you shouldn’t) should be acknowledged. And then thrown out! Not in a rude or mean way. You can tell them you appreciate their concern (or not, it’s up to you) and then go ahead and do what you want to do. You may have to change some things to make it work, or you may even have to consider the possibility of letting this person go if they are unwilling to support you. But this is your life, not theirs. When it comes right down to it, you’re the only person who has final say. Period. End of sentence.
  5. What You Think: Everyone is an expert. Have you been on the Internet lately? You can’t throw a stick without hitting an expert in the eye with it. Experts on love, health, sports, celebrities, politics, the environment, and more. There are celebrities who are experts. There are experts on which experts are better. It’s exhausting and overwhelming. But you, over here in your little corner of the world, don’t feel like an expert. At least, not as expert-y as all those other ones out there with their websites and YouTube channels, and fancy Internet University degrees. Am I right? What to do: First, define expert. Basically, all it means is a person who has knowledge or skills in a particular area. Hey, that’s you! And me! The only thing we don’t have, like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, is a piece of paper (or nowadays a website), proclaiming our expertness. So if all that stands between you and what you want is not feeling like you’re expert enough, it’s time to get rid of that thought. Don’t lie and puff up your knowledge, but understand that to someone who knows little to nothing about your area of interest, you are the expert!

There you have it. Five tips to get you and me through this weird time of feeling like we don’t know what we’re doing. The best part is, you may find that someday you’ll recognize it in someone else and can pay it forward by helping them.

Are you struggling with the gap between where you are and where you want to be? What things in your life are making you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing? Do you have any other tips besides the ones I gave? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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Woman on bench photo credit: https://unsplash.com/mikael_k: By Mikael Kristenson

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"Respect the Past, Kick A$$ in the Future!"

“Respect the Past, Kick A$$ in the Future!”

So, hey, it’s almost 2015, and you know what that makes me?

Super freaking old!!

How the hell did this happen? I remember when 2010 was a distant planet of Someday. And suddenly in a few days it’s . . . 2015, and I have an almost-10-year-old!?

Psst, here’s a little secret for anyone under, say 35. You know how older people seem, you know, older and wiser? In our heads, we still think we’re 16, or 18, or somewhere around there. We are constantly surprised when we have to make decisions and be in charge and tell ourselves what to do and then either do it or choose not to. Because somewhere in the back of our overworked, overtired brains, we ARE still partying like it’s 1999, or 1979, or any other year that seems to be in the impossibly distant past right now.

2015, people. C’mon! That is a seriously cool number! It speaks of things that could be awesome, am I right? We have plans to make, goals to hit, and just maybe, some serious a$$ to kick! Bring it on, 2015. I, for one, am hoping this is my year. My “Finally I’m going to do it,” my “ready or not, here I come.” Or even, dare I say, my “It’s Britney, bitch,” year. Anyone? Britney . . . oh, never mind.

But hold up. Before we crash headlong into the new year, there’s a little thing called perspective that we apparently begin to develop as more years (ahem) are added like notches in our experience belt. There’s a person who is wreaking havoc in my family’s lives right now who likes to say, “You can’t keep living in the past,” to Luke. She says it because she doesn’t want to face all the bad choices she’s made and admit to the terrible things she’s said and done, all of which he remembers clearly. She’s right, though, in a way. You can’t live in the past because then you’ll just be stuck, trapped in a Groundhog Day of your own creation.

But there’s a funny thing about the past: even though you no longer live there, you do take it with you. You have to deal with things you’ve done and said. You grow from the experiences you’ve had and the people who have influenced your life. The past is important because it has shaped who you are today, even if you don’t want to admit it, or spend the majority of your time running from it.

With that said, this is often the time of year when people are looking back over the past year to take stock or to see how far they have come. It’s so hard in the in-and-out of each day to be able to pick your head up and take a look around at where you’re going and where you’ve come from. Sometimes it’s a miracle that you made it to the end of the day with your sanity and body intact.

So in order to say, “So long, 2014,” here are some of the things I am proud of this year, and after that, I’ll give an exclusive sneak peek into what I’ve secreted away in my sock drawer for 2015.

2014: That Was Some Cool S*$t, No?

2014: The Year In Which We Acquired the Allegro Bus (A giant diesel guzzling house on wheels)

In January, Luke and I bought an RV. An honest to goodness, mothertrucking recreational vehicle! And we’re not even retired! Here’s our priceless hunk of metal (Actually, you should replace the word “priceless” with “truthfully we throw fistfuls of money at it when we walk by it, just because . . .”):

"That there, Clark, is an RV..."

“That there, Clark, is an RV…”

With this gigantic rolling home on wheels, we get to travel, relax and enjoy life. We stayed small in 2014, except for our epic trip to Pennyslvania, where my daughter and I rode every roller coaster we could get our little paws on. Other than that, state parks, campgrounds, and even our own yard were just cause for rolling out the awning and stoking up the campfire for s’mores made with abnormally huge (pillow-sized, really) marshmallows.

2015: Once our custody issues are out of the way (fingers crossed) we want to roll down the highway in our massive beast of burden. On my list: Florida, New Orleans, the Grand Canyon, a possible hike to Maine, and more of Arkansas!) P.S. It doesn’t hurt that diesel fuel prices are about two dollars cheaper per gallon than last year! Our ultimate goal (and one that will probably not be realized in 2015 but we are working toward, is for me to write and do art on the road and Luke to be able to own and run a used car lot from the road while we gallivant around the country in our home on wheels. Yup, there I said it. Let it be so…

2014: The Year in Which I Actually Completed Paintings

My entire life I’ve operated on the premise that although creativity and art are in my blood, what good does it do me? It’s not like I can make something of it!

Insert glare at naysayers here.

I can make something of it, damn it, and I will, and this year I did!

Thanks to the Co-lab Artistry course with Susan Tuttle and Alena Hennessey, a course worth its weight in gold, as far as I’m concerned, I created more than ever! New paintings, new ideas, tons of creative inspiration. I even went back to old paintings I wasn’t happy with and redid them! After years of creative frustration, 2014 was the year I finally pushed through. By December 1, 2014, I had completed (finished, sealed with varnish and added hanging hardware to)  . . . uh, drumroll here, please! . . . six mixed media collage paintings and reopened my Etsy shop! For me, that was a huge accomplishment, and even though I haven’t sold anything yet or gotten as far as I would like, just getting myself out there is a big deal to me.

2015: I have at least 10-11 more paintings in various stages of completion and I will be adding them to my shop in the first months of this year. I also received an early Christmas present from Luke: an Epson Artisan printer and a flatbed scanner, so I can begin playing around with art prints and printing out my digital art. I’m also thinking about doing some merchandise on a small scale featuring my art (bookmarks, cards, etc.) to get my feet wet with being able to sell other items.

Here is a preview of some of the art I am working with at the moment:

Two digital pieces and two collage paintings I am currently working on.

Two digital pieces and two collage paintings I am currently working on.

If you would like to visit my Etsy shop, please click here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/DieselandInk. I plan to be adding more mixed-media work and some of my merchandise creations to my Etsy shop in the first half of 2015.

2014: The Year in Which I Wrote Things!

I’ve been writing things for a while. I wrote articles, blog posts, and profiles of companies and products. But I didn’t write anything for me. In 2014, I quit writing for others all together, and focused on writing my own stuff for the last few months. Now, I’m going to be honest, I am a little disappointed that I didn’t turn out epic reams of fiction, burning up whole forests of paper (or, uh, just copious amounts of megabytes of computer memory) in my quest to become a bonafide Fiction Author (with Capital Letters to make it seem extra important).

No, I didn’t do that.

But here’s what I did do: I started the outline of a non-fiction ebook and am at least halfway through with it, I wrote a short story that is 10,000+ words, a shorter short story of around 5,000 words and began a story based on the ghostly blue digital art piece in the collage above. I did all of that! Me! Now, I have to go back and edit the fire out of all of those things I wrote so they will not burn the eyeballs of anyone who reads them.

2015: Once the things I wrote are fit for human consumption, I will start sharing them on here, and then I will write more and share more and possibly head to Amazon in the future to try my luck at creating a Kindle book, etc., etc. In other words, I am going to go big. I will be a writer. I am a writer. Just keep saying it with me, because eventually it will be come true.

The stories I am working on right now that I will be sharing on here in 2015:

1. The story of a stolen diamond that leads to the discovery of an underground mine of enslaved diamond miners (who may or may not be a hidden race of Bigfoot creatures) run by a mysterious and evil villain who hopes to collect all the diamonds for his own gain and greed. The only hope . . . a teenaged Bigfoot who is thrust into the villain’s sights when he hatches a plan to free his enslaved mother and sisters and avenge his father’s death, along with with a helpful group of humans working for a government agency tasked with bringing down the villain. And our furry hero has to do all this while battling the weird feelings he is developing for the beautiful human girl who is helping him.

2. The story of a cursed vintage mug that brings visions of a fiery death to everyone who possesses it, as found out (maybe too late?) by the lonely woman who purchases it at a vanishing antique shop for a dollar.

3. The story of a boy who moves to the Northeastern forests of North Carolina with his forest ranger father and discovers that the leader of the protected pack of wild red wolves may in fact be a ghostly girl whose tale is tragic and whose intentions toward the boy may not be entirely good.

4. The big one: I am working on the beginnings of a novel set in New Orleans about a girl, a ghost, and the possibility that a tragedy that happened over 100 years before may not be laid to rest. This will not be ready in 2015 (unless miracles really do come true) but I will be working on it this year!

So with that, I say “See ya, 2014!” All in all, I have accomplished more this year than I ever expected, and I have very high hopes for 2015!

What about you? Do you think it’s important to look back and look forward as the new year begins? Are you planning some big things in 2015? Or, are you someone who thinks resolutions are meaningless? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

 

See you next year!

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When you head off to college, you’re supposed to know what you want to be or do for a career. That’s the whole point of being in college, to gain knowledge for your intended major. In the early fall of 1996, I headed to New Hampshire to take my next step as a college student.

Nobody gave me the memo that said this meant I was supposed to know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was just happy to be accepted into a college.

That first semester, I took the basic courses that you have to get out of the way: Algebra, Biology, Sociology. Then, halfway through the semester, I discovered something shocking: by the end of the semester, I had to declare a major. My advisor kindly explained to me that it would be like a snowball effect if I didn’t. If I didn’t choose my major now, I would not be able to fit in all the courses for that major and that ultimately meant I would not graduate with my class, and would have to attend another semester, if not another year, costing my parents and myself thousands more in tuition and expenses.
That little pep talk spurred me into action.

I headed back to my room with the course catalog in hand, ready to decide my destiny.

I was either going to choose an intelligent, well-thought out career path taking into consideration my strengths and weaknesses, plus factor in my earning potential at my chosen career . . .

. . . or I was going to open to several pages at random, and see what struck my fancy.

I didn't know how to figure it out. Which way would I choose?

I didn’t know how to figure it out. Which way would I choose?

While it wasn’t quite that random, I did make a decision as only a person unsure of themselves and their path in life would do. As I remember it, my reasoning went a little like this: Well, I was the assistant dance teacher for a few years and I liked working with kids, plus I’m pretty smart, so I guess being a teacher sounds good.

Oh, I wish I were joking.

On top of that, I added a minor in art, because I loved art and wanted to keep taking art classes. I didn’t choose it as my major because I had zero faith in my own talent or ability to turn it into a career. At least as a teacher, I would get hired and get paid, right?

To say I made a mistake choosing my career would discount two things that I now believe:

1. Nothing we do is wasted. I spent two years teaching in a public school, three years working in an education-related field, and five years as a preschool teacher. My experiences and knowledge informed who I am today, so I would not say it was all wasted. I have a Bachelor’s degree, which is useful in many situations, and I was able to earn a living for many years teaching.

2. Sometimes, you’re just not ready. Sure, I could have chosen other careers. But I chose the one that felt right to me at the time. Could I have been an artist then? A writer? No way. I didn’t have a strong belief in my own identity, and too many people around me had said or alluded to the fact that you can’t make a living on those careers.

So, while I didn’t pick a lifelong career that fall day in 1996, I did pick a path that would allow me to grow, learn, and provide a living for myself and, in the future, my family.

But as time went on, my true, deep down feelings about what I wanted in life kept coming back around. In 2004, I took a correspondence writing course. In 2005, after my daughter was born and I was staying at home, I got my hands on as much information as I could find about starting a home-based business, freelance writing, and how to market my services. By fall of 2006, however, it was very clear to me that I was not ready and/or aggressive enough to jump completely into writing. Waving a white flag, and falling back on my education (plus doing a good thing for my daughter), I applied to work at the local preschool.

At the time, my ex-husband and I were still living in my parent’s house, and if we were to ever have any hope of buying the house in town we wanted, I needed to provide a steady income. Plus, my then 15-month-old could attend preschool and I would not have to worry about daycare. It was a win-win situation.

And I was absolutely miserable.

The first week I was there, I would take a bathroom break just so I could go sit and cry for a few minutes. It was the first time I had really been away from Sophie, and the teachers at the preschool told me it was best if I didn’t see her throughout the day because she was having such bad separation issues that merely the sight of me would sent her into uncontrollable fits. I felt devalued, because I was nothing more than a glorified babysitter. High school girls were in the same job position I was in.

I hated my job so much that . . . I stuck it out for five years. I felt trapped and didn’t believe I had any other options. I was making decent money and I should have liked my job. The hours were decent, and I got all school holidays off plus all school vacations.

But when you’re working just to get by, it’s not the same as doing what you are meant to do. I did my job and I did it well, but for all the wrong reasons. I was too scared and had too little belief in myself to even consider what else to do.
I finally got a nudge in the right direction, but my life had to fall apart for me to take that chance. Over Christmas of 2009, my then-husband left. Suddenly, to start the new year, I had to start my whole life over. I was now responsible for all my bills, keeping a roof over my daughter’s head, and adjusting to life as a single parent, something I had never considered would happen to me. I was like an ostrich who had just pulled her head out of the sand and looked around for the first time, finally seeing the lies I had allowed myself to live.

By summer, I had found my footing a little bit and knew I wanted to do a whole lot more for myself. The final push came when everyone at my school was told that in order to work again in the fall, we would all have to reapply for our jobs. I was furious! I had worked there for five years, and I felt as though it meant nothing. I turned in my notice, and struggled for several months to make ends meet. I got one freelancing assignment, and by December had also added a part time job. For the next year or so, I worked on getting better as a writer, plus some of the pressure was off financially thanks to the steady paycheck my part time job provided.

I often wonder, as I’m sure many people also wonder about their own lives, what took me so long? Why did it take so many years for me to understand what I already knew? What was I so scared of?

This is no way to pick your path in life. Although, it's sometimes tempting!

This is no way to pick your path in life. Although, it’s sometimes tempting!

Partly, it’s what we’re told by (I assume) well-meaning friends, family, and society. Go to school, get a good, steady job. Unfortunately, that advice hardly ever applies anymore. There are no “good, steady” jobs. People who are loyal to one company might find themselves pink-slipped, the company is sold, or their job is suddenly outsourced, and then? Where is all that job security they were told about? So it’s smarter to say these days that the only thing you can really count on is . . . yourself, of course.

That’s why the world is a freelancer’s oyster. Companies want to hire a contract person to provide a much needed service. People who own service businesses can pick and choose their clients if they understand how it all works. And it’s only heading more in that direction every day.

That inkling I had way back in 2006, when I tentatively flopped about in the world of freelancing, was a good one. I wish I had been able to trust my instincts a little more back then, but for whatever reason, I wasn’t supposed to start then. I had a lot of life lessons to get through before I could know what I wanted to be when I grew up. And, right now, I’m still growing.

It’s funny, my Dad always had a joke he would say when I was a kid. He would say he was still figuring out what he wanted to be when he grew up. It always struck me as funny because he was a grown up! So he already knew what he wanted to be – because he was being it, right?

Now that I’m grown up, I understand. We’re always figuring out what we want to be. What felt right at 20 may not feel the same at 28 or 32. What you trained for may be outsourced. What you wanted then might not fit anymore. No matter what you are right now, it won’t remain the same, unchanged, forever. You grow, change, move, learn, and live. You accept who you are, or become who you always wanted to be. It can take one decision or years of baby steps.

I’ve figured out now what I didn’t know when I was 18 and had to pick my major: it’s okay to not know. I’m still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up.

What about you? Did you always know what you wanted to be? Or are you still in the process of figuring it all out? Either way, I’d love to hear from you!

WriteAdvice

I’m beginning to understand why the old cliche “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” has stood the test of time. When we were kids, it was nothing for us to learn new skills because, well, we didn’t know anything, and everything was a new skill to us. Now that we’re adults, learning a new skill seems tedious, nerve wracking, endless, or fruitless. I’m learning a new skill right now. One that is actually a skill I first learned when I was about five: writing.

I forgot how hard writing is.

Oh, sure . . . I have been writing nonfiction articles and blogs for several years. I had that shiznit down cold. The format was pretty much the same for each piece. I knew what to write based on my research. Have a catchy title, interesting hook, lots of information geared to a specific audience, and include quotes when appropriate.

Boom.

Done.

Here’s the problem with what I was doing: I was beginning to get that restless feeling. I was bored. And I knew I couldn’t continue to be interesting and informative to an audience of readers if I wasn’t into what I was doing. Sadly, I knew what this meant, because I had felt that feeling before. It meant I was ready to move on.

I cast about for several months, trying to pinpoint exactly where to head next. It came to me almost like a bolt out of the blue one day. Return to what I used to love doing. A long time ago, in high school actually, I wrote stories. Then, when I was in my twenties, I signed up for a course on writing for kids. For that, I wrote nonfiction articles and fiction stories, all aimed at kids. I also spent a little while in a writing critique group led by a lovely older lady who was both a writer and an artist (you can do that??). For that, I wrote a memoir and started work on a fiction thriller for adults.

Then? Life . . .

I had a baby, went back to work, bought a house that needed fixing up. I’m sure many of you know how that all goes: you get caught up in living life. As a result, I lost touch with that type of writing for a long time.

So here I am, years later, wondering what my next move is. That’s why I was so surprised when, after thinking it through for days, weeks, months, I realized I wanted to write stories again.

It took me a while to decide what to write, who to write it for, etc., etc. It’s kind of like knowing you want to bake a cake and being unable to decide what kind . . . chocolate? Carrot cake? Angel food? For a birthday? A potluck? The county fair? Exactly like that.

I knew my first dive off the cliff would be relatively small: I decided to tackle a short story. After turning over a bunch of ideas in my mind, I landed on one that seemed interesting and sat down to begin . . .

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Oh, hi blank screen.

That blinking cursor is where I’m supposed to pour out lots of creativity and direct yet interesting yet original prose, right?

Sigh. Tap fingers.

Hmm, I wonder what’s going on over on Facebook. Ah, there’s some new pins Pinterest thinks I should check out.

Hell, this is not a good start to my new career.

In the face of total paralysis, I did what I do best. Research. I decided to look for advice on how to get started and . . . stay started. The internet is full of helpful advice, plus now every type of successful and bestselling author has words of wisdom to share. Surely I could find something to help me write a measly short story! My search led me down the rabbit hole of the old Interwebs, to Pinterest boards and websites, free reports and email newsletters. There are oceans of information, but there was only one thing that mattered to me:

Which piece of advice was going to work for me?

No way to know until I tried one. Here’s the 5 bits of advice that didn’t do it for me, and finally, the one that did.

Writing Wisdom #1: Start with interesting characters. This is very helpful if you have an idea for a character, and you want to create a story for them. However, I had an idea for a mystery. I had characters in it, but I wasn’t even sure which one would be my main character. I wrote a few pages, trying to dump some characters into my plot. After a while, I realized that my story had no focus at all, because I didn’t know who was telling my story. So, Catch-22: I had to develop my idea more before I could start talking to imaginary people.

So, some advice works only if it matches up with what you know you want. I didn’t, so I kept searching.

Writing Wisdom #2: Write from an outline. Ugh. Outlines. Maybe I should start diagramming sentences next? This advice was universal, it seemed. Outlines made better stories. You were better able to organize your thoughts, see where everything was heading, and have a clear idea of what was going on when you sat down to write. So I gave outlining a go.

I didn’t get very far. It’s hard to write down specific points about your story when you don’t know what they are.

Sometimes universal advice works, but sometimes you need to try something more unconventional.

Writing Wisdom #3: Wing it. Apparently, there’s a group of people that exist out there called “Pantsers.” This is not a newly discovered tribe in the Amazon, or a cult religion. These are just people to fly through whatever they’re doing by the seat of their pants. Don’t plan, don’t map out every minute detail. Just do what feels necessary and you’ll be able to work your way through it.

I tried being a pantser. I glanced at my skeleton outline and just decided to sit and start typing, and see what formed. For several pages, I rolled! Wow, this is totally working! I laid down words, created dialogue, did some action, and threw in a little description. Maybe this advice was just what I needed.

Until everything came to a screeching halt. After that large and productive brain dump, I wrote myself in between a rock and a hard place. For at least a week, I would open up my file, stare at the place where I left off and halfheartedly type a sentence, then hit delete.

I was stuck, and I didn’t know where to go, or how to get there. Winging it just created confusion.

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Writing Wisdom #4: Play “What If.” One piece of advice I came across was for helping to unstick you when you’re stuck. This was actually not specifically for writing, but for life decisions in general. Make a list of possibilities by asking “What if…?” What if your main character became just a minor player, what if an uncle arrived from Fresno, what if aliens landed in the field? Write down things both reasonable and outlandish. Then pick two or three that seem likely and try those out.

I did this, and had an inspiration for an unlikely love connection between two characters, so I went through and wrote several scenes that followed this idea. After a while, it was clear to me that this idea wasn’t going anywhere. Defeated, I quit writing again for a few days.

The “What If” idea was a good one, but in this case, it just sent me in the wrong direction.

Writing Wisdom #5: Get pissed and give up. Uh, this might be my own personal advice, to myself, when I was frustrated. I spent a little while wondering what the hell I was thinking, and there was no way I was cut out for this, and people who wrote books must just be smarter, or more talented, or have some sort of magic sauce I hadn’t yet discovered. After I threw myself a proper pity party, I gave myself a pep talk.

I was gonna finish this story if it killed me, damn it! Just to prove I could.

I went back to the Internet. One thought I had was, How long is a short story, anyway? Maybe I was trying to cram too much stuff into something that should be more simple, more focused. Once I had a reasonable idea for a word count, I could see if I was spiraling off into the atmosphere or not.

What (Finally, thank you sweet baby Jesus!) worked:

I happened to come across a website that discussed the word counts for short stories, novellas, and novels. Then, below that, was a suggested count for number of scenes in each type of writing, with a rough estimate of how many words per scene I should write.

Hallelujah!

Suddenly, I could picture it. The site suggested writing down my scenes as a mind map, and to either work from the beginning of the story all the way through, or to decide where the story ends and then map out how the story gets to that point.

My Story Map

My Story Map

There’s no other appropriate word here except for “Duh!” It made so much sense to me. I had to think “How will this end?” and then decide what to do to get there. Within 10 minutes I had my seven scenes (short story!) and an ending. Then, I took a page of my notebook for each scene and began to jot down my thoughts for each. Again, within about 20 minutes I had all my scenes mapped out.

The last thing I needed to know was who the heck was my main character? I listed all the characters I had come up with so far. Wouldn’t you know it, the last on the list, and the least likely one to focus on was the one that suddenly made sense to me. With that, I had my complete idea, with a character to focus on and each scene laid out with what would happen in it.

So, what’s the point of all that? It’s something that can be applied to anything you are facing, whether it’s writing a story, like I was, learning a new skill, making a decision, or any time you’re tackling something new. When you get stuck (and at some point, it’s likely you will), it helps to have a solution that works for you.

But you may not always know what that solution will be when you find yourself stuck, and that’s when it helps to be able to turn to someone who has been through it already and can offer a solution. Then, if that doesn’t work you go find another, and another, until you get to what does work.

Whether in writing, or in life, you have to try many things to find the one answer that is right for you. The good news is, it’s totally worth it when you do.

Have you ever tried to work through something, and found you had to go through several solutions before you found one that worked for you? Was it frustrating, or did you keep the faith that you would figure it out? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments!

 

I guess the moment where you realize something very important is referred to as an epiphany, and darned if I didn’t have one recently. So far, the only person who has really heard the results of this brain explosion is my Dad who, it turns out, is my Number 1 supporter. Yay, dad! Super scary for me…cause now I have to actually DO what I said I was going to do. (Insert hyperventilating here.)

From Flickr.com Attribution Some rights reserved by thefranksterk

Many things I’ve read suggest that you write stuff down to help solidify it. So here goes, I’m writing it down for all the world to see. Check back in with me occasionally to make sure I’m actually following through and not hiding in some corner of my house, mumbling. Okay? Thanks. That will be my insurance policy.

So as a quick background, let me explain what has been brewing in the back of my head for a while now. By profession, I have been a teacher. But I’ll be the first to admit…I was seriously burned out. I wasn’t even sure I liked teaching, to be honest. But I felt really tied to it since it is what I was trained in, what I went to college for, what I get paid to do. I was good at being a teacher, but my heart wasn’t in it. I don’t think anyone could tell that, though. I gave it my all each and every day. But you know when you’ve reached your limit, and I had reached mine. So, I quit. (I don’t recommend this, by the way. Just up and quitting.)

For a long time, I have had many interests that I have felt lived in their own separate tower. Writing. Photography. Digital art. Painting. Scrapbooking, paper and digital. Then this summer, I have been swimming in that information overload I was talking about in this post. A lot of what I was learning dealt with starting a business, being an entrepreneur and changing your mindset. Suddenly in the midst of all this, here it came…

The crazy, beautiful, insane, awesome idea. I don’t have to keep all my talents in separate towers. I can create one business and incorporate all the stuff I love into it. Oh my gosh, why had I never considered that before? (I’ll answer that question, too: too scared, didn’t think I could run a business, entrenched in the rat race, too scared…uh…yes. Lots of fear.) Anyway, now I saw it. My business idea was like an umbrella and all my parts are under the umbrella. It will be a creative business where I write, create art, take photos, and find a way to make money doing all of it. The most startling thing about all of this was that, no matter how foreign the concept of starting a business to do what you loved was to me…hundreds of people are already doing this! And making a living doing it. It’s not insane or crazy. Well, actually, it still may be. However, as a business idea it has merit. Now all I have to do is figure out how to get it to work. Soooo, yes…the hard part.

Flickr.com Attribution Some rights reserved by Carnoodles

But the good news it this: I thought it, I said it, I wrote it down. Therefore, it is real. And now, I get to make my dream into a reality. How cool is that??

Yikes! I’ve become a “pile-r.” There’s a pile of printouts and binders on my loveseat, a pile of books by my rocker, a pile of clothes on my bed, and piles of emails and digital info on my computer. I check my email lately and check right back out because there are SO many emails there that I don’t even know where to begin. I think the laundry has piled up because I’m so busy trying to digest all this information that is surrounding me. I won’t even mention the piles of magazines…

Is anyone else overwhelmed out there? There’s so. much. stuff. I have all this stuff I want to read and learn and do, and I feel like I will never be able to do it all. I’ll see people say “I’m so bored,” and it makes me nuts! Bored? Sometimes I wonder what it would feel like to be bored.

I look for a lot of information online. There’s so much valuable information and it seems like I find something that leads to something else, and that leads to something… and suddenly I’m standing on the side of the information highway, totally lost.

So many people are trying to sell me something, too. I find so much good stuff for free, but there’s so much other stuff that I should pay $27, $47, $97 or $497 for! Who pays $497 for sometime online, by the way? I don’t pay $497 for something on real life, I’m sure as heck not going to do it online. I understand that some people make their living online, and need to sell as their livelihood. And I also want to make money online with my writing and art, so I understand that. However, it seems every turn on the internet leads to something that I am being asked to pay for. This morning, I was on a job website, and they wanted me to pay $30 to “verify my education.” Well, I decided not to verify it. Sheesh, if people are really questioning they can call and ask the registrar. I just thought that was ridiculous!

So there’s my current struggle. I want so much to learn all I need to know, but it seems like once I learn something, there’s sixteen other resources to go with it offering things I never considered or even knew existed. It’s just overwhelming. That’s the perfect word for it, for everything at the moment actually. It’s crazy because I am also so excited about everything going on right now, but at the same time feeling like I’m sloshing through a huge sea of information, and I don’t know if what I’m looking at is worthy or junk.

So normally at this time, I would be going to bed early because tomorrow would be the first day of school. The night before the first day of school was always so nerve wracking and stressful; I almost never slept good. I was always thinking about how the day would go, did I forget anything, what would the parents be like, what would the kids be like, etc.

This year, for the first time in five years, I am not getting up tomorrow to go teach. I am getting up to take my daughter to her first day of first grade. And then…the day is mine. But not to sit around and eat chocolate bon bons, though. I have been given this awesome gift of a lot of free time while my daughter is in school to get my business ideas together, search out writing jobs, get stuff ready for a job interview on Thursday, decide a direction for my life to go in…you know, everyday stuff. (That was my sarcasm talking. Sorry, she comes out every once in a while.) I really do see it as a gift, too. For more than a month, we two have been stuck together in our little house as one hundred degree day followed the last in a seemingly endless parade. If I got one thing done at the end of the day, I was proud of myself. So I am really looking forward to the time I am being given this week. I am determined to use it to the fullest.

As I get more specific on this business idea I have rumbling around in my head, I’ll probably share more about it here. Right now it’s just a tiny baby idea, and I’m not even sure what it will look like yet. If any of you reading this have ever gone through the process of “Oh, this is a good business idea” to “Now I’m in business,” I’d love to hear from you. (Especially if you started a “creative” business). This is all new to me and I am trying my best to figure it out!

I’ll keep ya posted!