Retreating to Reconnect

A view of the lake and connecting waterway.

A view of the lake and connecting waterway.

April and May are reflective times of year for me. I often dwell on goals and achievements still unreached so I can set new goals, prioritize, and move forward. Interestingly, it has become a time to reconnect with past publishers. Not quite a week ago, I received an email from an educational publisher I worked with regularly for many years. The same happened with another publisher about a year ago. It’s even more interesting (and amazing) that this happened just before I left for a retreat and—perhaps due to the events/activities at the retreat—I received a

Beautiful banyan trees all around the property.

Beautiful banyan trees all around the property.

new assignment from this company two days after I returned home.

Arriving at the retreat house.

Arriving at the retreat house.

Feeling pulled in many directions and needing a moment (or many) of clarity, I made last-minute plans to car pool with a small group of friends also headed to Our Lady of Florida Retreat Center on the east coast. It was the best weekend I’ve had in five

Inspiring architecture. Columns look to me like "monks" holding up the roof and floor of the dormitory wings.

Inspiring architecture. Columns look to me like “monks” holding up the roof and floor of the dormitory wings.

years. (That’s about the time my father became so ill and much of my time centered around writing, teaching, and getting meals to him, or simply spending time with him.) I needed the break. I needed the peace, the fellowship, the downtime (no WiFi and I chose to limit phone use). I had time to think through life (and writing) puzzles and returned home restored and ready to reconnect—on a fresh frequency.

What I saw at the top of stairs before turning left toward my room.

What I saw at the top of stairs before turning left toward my room.

Those who follow my writing and workshop info know that I am drawn to nature to recharge. The grounds of this retreat center were beautiful. So was the architecture and art throughout the retreat house, dormitories, and grounds. I came away fed–physically, mentally, and spiritually. I cannot wait to go back!

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Notes of Spring in the Air

IMG_0184This morning I woke from a restless dream but once I inhaled the fresh and dewy air and heard the birdsong, I felt renewed. Memories of the dream evaporated on the wind. It’s no wonder I push my writing students to incorporate sensory detail into their stories and memoir—it is something I notice in my everyday life. Scent and sound are especially important to me and these are two of the little used senses in prose. Too often writing focuses on the visual. Sure, it paints a picture, but to give a sense of a situation, the reader needs more—and sound, scent, or taste can provide it.

I especially love spring mornings. This is the time of year in Florida when the greens are varied shades and vibrant from morning dew. The air is fresh and clean, and the winds are gentle, warm, and dry. A nest of squirrels live in the pine tree near my lanai screen and as they scurry from the branches to the trunk, the bark crackles.

IMG_0183This morning, though, the scent is less pleasant than usual. We had heavy rain showers most of the day yesterday and so my first few breaths smelled like worms. This is not entirely bad; it reminds me of where I grew up in Michigan. The wormy scent soon subsided but a lingering fishy odor wafted up from the huge pond along the golf course. Thankfully, after only a short time, the wind replaced this with the scent of rich loam, wet earth, which again reminds me of home.

Somewhere nearby, a spring-break visitor is either playing music or has his or her cellphone on speaker. The sound is faint, like murmuring, but I know it’s not a neighbor’s TV because it wavers as if this person is walking (likely around the pond).

IMG_0277I’ve lived here long enough to tell when the clink of a golf club from the 3rd tee is a solid stroke. If not, I’ll hear a clunk, thwup, or ping. If the palms and pine trees didn’t hide the tee, I might be able to connect those sounds with where the club struck the ball.

But these observations, noted as I drink a cup of dark French roast, do not merely help me wake. They prime the creative pumps. Whether I record these sounds and scents in my journal or not, they WILL make their way into my stories and personal experience pieces. Because they provide more than just the visual, they will enrich the scene. Sound and scent and taste (when that can be woven in) add depth to a scene and sometimes clues and hints about a character’s personality.

So listen to the world around you and note the details. Inhale deeply and note the scents and odors. Now draw on these details when you’re writing. Your readers will thank you.

Looking Back to Move Forward

I’m making my list and checking it twice. Yes, I know Christmas is over. No, I haven’t overindulged in eggnog. And, no, I haven’t bumped my head and now think I’m Saint Nick. But I am creating goals for the coming year.

Reflecting on where you’ve been in order to make plans for where you’d like to be is something I learned to do right out of college. I landed a job at a mid-sized corporation that was rapidly growing (and have management in their early thirties), and every year we had “Make It Happen” days to plan corporate, department, and personal goals.

An article I wrote based on what I learned at those "Make It Happen" corporate events.

An article I wrote based on what I learned at those “Make It Happen” corporate events.

I learned to begin by making four lists: accomplishments, failures/misses, big dreams, SAM goals (that last stands for specific, achievable, and measurable). Over the decades I have adapted this “process” to include a fifth list. It’s my first list.

1) Begin with gratitude. List everything you can think of–great and small. Challenge yourself to make this as long as possible. Aim for 25 items. For example, I list:

  • the silence of the early morning on a dew-covered golf course (I can see Tee 3 from my lanai)
  • an abundance of westerly sunshine in my living room every afternoon
  • books in every room
  • my health (no meds)
  • watching wildlife on my walks
  • listening to birdsong in the mornings
  • listening to frogs and crickets in the evenings

Once you have a few things on paper it becomes easier to think of things and add items.

Think of all the "victories" great and small you achieved this year. Challenge yourself to think of several dozen.

Think of all the “victories” great and small you achieved this year. Challenge yourself to think of several dozen.

2) Make an accomplishments list. Again, list any size achievement (and you can look at goals lists from other years to do this). And, I get silly–listing minor events just for the fun of it. For example, I have a variety for my list:

  • interviewed about The Right To Counsel for CitiesTour program on BookTV/CSPAN2 (a highlight of my year)
  • getting involved in Marco Island Writers group
  • conducting seven summer reading program library visits
  • reorganizing my office
  • finally recycling my dad’s cellphones
  • finding a new venue for writing workshops

These two lists alone can go far in setting a positive mind frame for the next steps. Making these lists are quick ways to reflect on the past year. They also help in jogging memory, especially small items from early in the year. (Of course, I have the benefit of reading these items in my journal and planner.)

3) Make a Dream Big list. Spend time thinking of and listing what you’d like to accomplish in the new year. Think of this as a preliminary goals list. This is for your eyes only, so dream big. Write each as if it has happened, (as if this IS your accomplishments list for 2015.) Don’t allow the inner critic to tell you your dream is impractical, unattainable, a pipe dream. (This IS the dream big list.) For these second and third lists, I challenge myself to come up with more than 15 items on each. In fact, I try to outdo the year before, so this year I’m aiming for 25.

4) Disappointments List. Now you’ll make a list of the goals you didn’t reach. While this may not be as fun as the previous lists, it should be enlightening. Just do yourself a favor and do not judge. (Gag that inner critic.) This list is easy for me since I have a journal ornament which has become a tradition. Each year when I take down the tree, I list my hopes for the new year. Sadly, a few of the SAME goals have been listed for the past four years. Don’t dwell on the negative–this list is to help you gain perspective. The point of all these lists combined is to help you reflect on the past year–the ups and the downs. The misses and disappointments can help you create both realistic goals and the desire to follow through.
Since I have done the above for several years, I have the benefit of looking at past lists to see that I have made progress–a LOT of progress n fact.

5) Create New Year’s Goals. Now that you’ve made all four lists, from the fanciful (dreams) and fun (accomplishments) to the misses and disappointments, you should now set five goals. But this is key: not only will you get a goal, you will also decide what steps are needed to achieve each goal. And you will then create an action plan for each step. It helps to think of this as creating short-term and long-term goals. The action steps help make each goal achievable. (If you can’t figure how you will take steps to meet a goal, it is probably not attainable–at this point.)

Dream

The difference between a dream and goal is the ACTION you take to make it so. (Advice shared with my college FYE students.)

It also alerts you to a goal that is dependent upon other people for you to achieve it. For example, getting an agent and receiving a huge publishing contract is dependent on a lot of factors out of your control. When you create the actions steps to meet this “goal” you’ll realize that you can do a lot of things that will move you toward achieving publication (polishing your manuscript, researching agents who rep your type of book), but they have no guaranteed results. NOTE here that these “unrealistic” goals can remain on the dreams list. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming of getting a great agent and a huge contract (and according to The Secret, daydreaming about it creates the positive vibrations to help it manifest). But the point of setting clear and attainable goals is so you can take action to achieving them.

Once you’ve created action steps, your goals list will be longer than 5 items (another reason I aim for a smaller list of goals). They will also likely be specific, attainable, and measurable because you’ve used your four lists to reflect on the past year to ensure your make progress in the new year.

Have fun, happy writing, and best wishes for productive and prosperous 2015!

Time to Celebrate!

Whoa! I can’t believe I’ve been blogging for 3 years! Actually, I’ve only posted sporadically as I juggled teaching in several programs, publishing 3 books (one each autumn) with one publisher  and exploring ebook publishing on my own. But, sporadic was better than the 5-year hiatus I took (right after Hurricane Charley) before plugging back into blogging. So, I won’t get down on myself for the small number of postings considering it’s been 3 years.

I just reread my initial entry. I had become overwhelmed with all the stuff I had to do in my writing life that had nothing to do with putting words on paper. When I began clicking away at the keyboard again, I had found a way to balance to everything writing with everything else and so got “Plugged In Again.”

Celebrating 25 years publishing for children & teens

Celebrating 25 years publishing for children & teens

Touch magazine September 1989 issue

Touch magazine September 1989 issue

I’m glad. And I’m glad I discovered this anniversary. It’s not the only one. Today, April 4, I celebrate 25 years since my first sale to a children’s magazine (actually 2 items accepted at once). I found the letter just after New Years when I was clearing out file cabinets. These first 2 publication credits appeared in the September 1989 issue of Touch magazine (which I believe is now out of print). I received a whopping $25 for both items!

That acceptance was followed by a handful more from that magazine plus a smattering of others, so I didn’t care about the compensation. I was on my way! In fact, I’d been published for about a year in non-children’s magazines (mostly parenting and trade magazines) plus wrote for the local newspaper and did computer software reviews for Compute! and PCM. But my goal had always been to write for children–well, mostly for children. It was exciting news and managed to cover a (modest) celebratory dinner for myself and my boyfriend at the time.

Setting up for the interview.

Setting up for the interview.

The Right to Counsel (Enslow Publishers, 2009)

The Right to Counsel (Enslow Publishers, 2009)

As I plan a gathering to share this good news with friends and writers, I have something else worth celebrating. During March, in the aftermath of participating in an AuthorFest, I was contacted by C-SPAN for an interview. My book, A Right to Counsel: From Gideon v. Wainright to Gideon’s Trumpet,  was sought out by the Cities Tour program while they were in Fort Myers, Florida. The segment is to air Easter weekend (April 18-20) and I was one of 3 authors interviewed. While the crew was in Fort Myers they also taped coverage of the Edison Estate, the historic Burroughs Home, and Babcock Ranch.

With friend and author Susan Westley at Marco Island Writers AuthorFest 2014

With friend and author Susan Westley at Marco Island Writers AuthorFest 2014

Also a result of participating in the AuthorFest, I am now scheduled to present 4 library programs during Summer Reading in Collier County. I’ll share those dates and more info as soon as I have it. So, in all, March was an exciting month and it seems April is picking up the celebration. Cheers!

One Step Closer

This has been an overwhelming year. The month of November was especially challenging, but I got through it with the help of friends and family . I’m grateful to them. But I’m also thankful that I learned something years ago that has helped me navigate the rough waters of life. While working for a company that held yearly “Make It Happen” goal-setting days, we also received Franklin-Covey planners and learned about creating action steps and prioritizing every item on our To-Do lists.

Out of this evolved a process to juggle a variety of projects — I’ve always thrived on having a lot of irons in the fire. But the idea is so simple most people disregard it.

The key is actually two parts that work together. The first part is to remain positive. The second is to break every task and goal into smaller pieces. The pieces help you feel you’re accomplishing something, which makes it easier to remain positive. With this in mind, break everything into as small a piece as necessary to 1) move toward completion, and 2) feel as if you’re making progress.

So, every word builds a sentence. Every sentence a paragraph. Every paragraph a page. Page after page builds a chapter and so on until the manuscript is complete. Now you’re moving forward and making progress.

During the last few months I’ve focused on “just one more” of whatever I’ve been facing. One more class meeting toward completing a workshop. One more meeting toward completing a project for a client. One more manuscript to read. One more student to critique. One more course proposal submitted. One more box toward packing away my father’s possessions. One more load to donation. One more room emptied and cleaned. One more day toward a fresh start in a new year.

And now, one more blog toward getting back on track. Try it for yourself. Just one more step takes you closer to your goal. And as you get through each task, you’re have one more thing to feel good about.

#Dear Dad, I’ll Miss You!

#Dear Dad, I’ll Miss You!

Robert F. Wroble Sept. 2, 1929-Aug. 12, 2013

Robert F. Wroble
Sept. 2, 1929-Aug. 12, 2013

It’s been awhile since I’ve written. To all my followers, I apologize but this was the better option. Words are my life and passion so word choice says and means a lot to me, which is why I chose not to write and post to avoid complaining or coming across as jaded. It’s been a rough year, but especially the past two months as we dealt with my father’s declining health. (See? Even that feels a bit snarky though I don’t intend it so.) My father slipped from this life on Monday, August 12, and I’d like to express to him my gratitude. After all, my last post was on Father’s Day–his 60th–and a special day for the two of us since I was born on Father’s Day. Now it seems appropriate to offer him my goodbye.

Thanks for having my back. From the day you took off my training wheels I knew without looking behind that you were there in case I fell. I lived my life knowing that I had back-up, someone there to pick me up and send me on my way again should things go wrong. That feeling is a boost to a child’s confidence–at any age. Rest assured, Dad, I’ve still got your six.

With my father, July 1988

With my father,
July 1988

Thanks for encouraging life experiences. We gain something from every experience. There is no failure except NOT trying. You taught me this and it developed into a life philosophy. Even when we do not succeed, we have gained something during the act of trying. Disappointments and unexpected outcomes can help us grow and create new experiences. That thinking takes away fear of trying and I embrace it. I will draw on it in the coming months, too.  No regrets, Dad.

IMG_0064

1977: Example of true love

Thanks for listening to my secrets. You spent plenty of time drying tears and listening to my side in arguments with siblings or frustrations with friends. And, this doesn’t even cover your soaked shirt collars when I thought my heart had been broken. You listened to my hopes and dreams and secrets. As far as I know you never broke that confidence. During the past two years I’ve learned a few of your secrets, but I promise I’ll do my best to keep yours in confidence, too. No worries, Dad.

Thanks for your time. You worked a lot. You went on many business trips. With a large family there were plenty of other people vying for your attention but you made time for each of us; at least this is how I feel. I know we spent many hours talking business, especially when I tended toward creative writing. It has helped me navigate the business world as well as turn my passion into a business. But I’ve especially enjoyed our conversations over dinner during the past 10 years, or the 2.5-hour drives to visit family as well as the 2-day travels “home” in the summertime. This quality trumped quantity.

It’s hard to say goodbye. I get it now; this was probably your biggest struggle during the past few months. I have plenty of memories to cherish and more that I recall each day. These will outshine the troubling memories. So, I bid you goodbye. Peaceful travels, my father, my friend.

Of dial-up & baud rates

Do you recall what you were doing 20 years ago today? I was almost 5 years into my freelance writing career. In fact, I had regular copy-editing and writing assignments from Gale Research in Detroit as well as article assignments from exciting trade journals, such as Cleaner Times (about the pressure-washing industry) and FMData Monthly (about construction renovations and site management). I was also beginning to explore a modem to purchase. Today is the 20th anniversary of the advent of the world-wide web, and I thought it would be fun to recall how the internet changed my writing life.

That’s right. Twenty years ago, I was using a computer to type  my assignments, but I was still using a typewriter for envelopes and letters, so I could keep a carbon copy and have a more professional looking letter. (Shortly afterward, I purchased a Panasonic 32-pin printer which had impressive print quality without the cost of laser and also allowed sheet-fed printing on my writing letterhead.) Though I was still mailing manuscripts to magazines, I was allowed to use a fax machine for the trade journals. In fact, owning one was a requirement to write for them. I often returned home from my part-time job in the office of a construction company to find scrolled sheets in the fax machine with a marked up article to revise and return. (These editors often assumed I wrote from my home all day since I was able to use the time zone differences to my advantage in interviewing companies for these articles.)

In late April 1993, I was ready to bump up my game and outfit my office with the latest technology.  According to old journal entries, I was eager to find a good modem so I could connect to the library of my Alma Mater and save time in searching the computerized card catalog from home before making the trip out to Ypsilanti to use my Eastern Michigan University alumni library card. I already had a personal copy machine in my home “office area,” so I could copy research pages from textbooks, magazines, and newspapers in completing research for book and magazine work. I was comparing models and saving for a 9600 baud modem, though I needed one so much that I was considering the slower 2400 baud. Wow! The patience I must have had! Of course, that typewriter I was still using had been state-of-the-art when I invested in it during college more than 10 years earlier and it had a whopping 14K memory! Whoohoo!

I am so glad times have changed. Want to hear that lovely sound of the dial-up that was “dream” of convenience for this young writer? Listen here.

Though I didn’t hunt through old journals to verify this fact, it seems to me that within the year I not only had a modem and had saved myself the 25-minute drive to the EMU library, but I had also signed up for AOL and was using their “groups” of selected websites for further “online” research. By 1997 I had left AOL behind for a local internet provider that allowed me to comb the world-wide web on my own to find whatever I needed and allowed unlimited e-mail use. (No more worrying about how many minutes I spent online composing messages or researching.) I can tell you with confidence that rapid changes in computers, modems, and the internet allowed me to make a great income writing for websites in the mid- to late-1990s.  I doubt that would have happened if I had not invested in that dial-up modem in early May 1993.

Happy Birthday Internet! You’re an amazing creature that has evolved tremendously and made life for this writer much easier. Thank heaven!