Ten Things of Thankful – Before the Voyage

Looking back on the past week and a half, I have so much to be thankful for. Writing about my gratitude will tie together – quite nicely – all the different things going on in my life at the moment.

The Meditation Retreat

I continue to feel the effects of so many days of meditation. Being with 28 other folks who were from all walks of life and had all sorts of different beliefs, this validated for me how we can all coexist peacefully – if we but just understand that all we need is to love and have compassion for each other.

Meditation
The quad area at the retreat center. Incredibly restful and peaceful.

The Last Day of Work

I finished the school year. It’s been stressful and tiring and, you know, sometimes I wondered if I was cut out for working in the academic world. Still, working with so many people – from elementary students to superintendents, to parents and church leaders – the experience has made me grow in ways that I can’t even describe. I have a level of confidence I had not known was possible in my existence. I can read and understand people on a different level now. Furthermore, I have a much deeper understanding of the idea of “the boss.” Where I used to question the decisions former principals and directors made, I now have utter sympathy for those in charge having to make unpopular decisions. You never really know what’s going on behind closed doors.

The Novel

This morning, I finished the final “content” edit. I’m going to do one more read-through to try to catch typos and other such errors, but otherwise, I’m going to send it to my editor – my ever-supportive husby – in the coming week. This being a first novel, I’m not looking for any high dollar investments as far as editors and book cover artists. I will publish on Kindle and we’ll just see how all this goes.

The Possibility of Publishing the Novel

I have now gotten further than I ever have on any novel I’ve worked on. Littering various hard drives and thumb drives, I have an assortment of unfinished novels in different genres. I figured out somewhere along the way that I love to write about scary things – ghosts, the unexplained, supernatural phenomena, and even superhero-type characters – and the possibility of FINALLY publishing has me really giddy. Honestly, I don’t expect much with this first one: the goal was to get over the hurdle of publishing. I’m still not there, but I see the hurdle itself coming up along the racetrack and I have the confidence to jump and clear it. So many times that hurdle came up on my running sprints and I stopped when I saw it. I’ve been training hard to focus on the success of not only jumping it, but briefly looking back to marvel at what I just did.

Discovering Chris Fox’s Books

These have helped me churn out a novel really quickly. Here’s what I’ve read while I’ve been working on my novel (these are affiliate links):

  1. 5,000 Words Per Hour
  2. Lifelong Writing Habit
  3. Write to Market
  4. Launch to Market

As a side note, I didn’t discover some of these books until this 3rd content edit, so some of the tips he talks about won’t apply until the next novel I start – which will be immediately, actually. But still. I can churn out 2,000+ words in half an hour if I don’t let myself edit and I have a clear plan of what I’m doing. I even emailed him to get clarification on something in one of his books and he emailed right back!

The Upcoming Epic Road Trip

So, school’s out and I have five weeks to have some fun. To be sure, I’ll continue writing while I’m on the road, but we’re planning on doing a road trip through Kentucky, Illinois, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming and then to Colorado. See, at least once, if not twice a year, I head out to Colorado to see family (starting out in North Carolina). But we often drive out there and then drive straight back and don’t have a lot of time to see other things. This year, starting in January, we started saving for an epic journey. We leave on Monday morning. We’ll check out the Badlands, Deadwood (remember the TV show?), The Devil’s Tower, Bighorn Medicine Wheel, Thermopolis (for the mineral waters) and then head on down to Colorado.

Close College Friends

There are people who have lots of acquaintances and then there are people who have a handful of lifelong close friends. The latter would be me. I made three friends – that I managed to not run off – from my days at Colorado College. At the risk of dating myself, I graduated in 2001. We live all over the US now but our friendship has transcended distance and time. We joke that we’ll be the scourge of some nursing home one day, throwing Oreos at staff and having wheelchair races. Hopefully those days are far, far off into the future.

Close Friends Who Graduate

So…out of the group of us college buddies, all of us have completed our Master’s degrees. One even completed her PhD. We run the gamut of people studying different things: I have my Master’s in Spanish. One has hers in Divinity. Another has hers in Psychology. The last just completed hers in Education at our alma mater, Colorado College. While I’m in visiting family and friends in Colorado, we’re also going to celebrate her graduation and accomplishments.

Age and Wisdom

My mom runs an assisted living center out of the house I grew up in. While it is unusual – I just love the look on people’s faces when I tell them I grew up in a nursing home – there are some really neat things about it. One of them is this patient who is turning 106. Yes, you read that right. She’s still pretty sharp and completely fluent in Spanish and English and my mom now takes care of her 85 year-old son. But, to celebrate 106 years of earthly living, my mom’s going to bring in a mariachi band to serenade her. We already have word that various news outlets will be there to witness this incredible milestone. Doctors told her she’d never live past 95. Just look at that miracle!

The Library

For our road trip, we have an assortment of books and CDs to keep us entertained. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been to Iowa and my perception of it is that it’ll be flat with no radio stations. It’s always good to be prepared but open to the possibility that there might be hills and pretty things there, and maybe even a good radio station or two as we pass through. And hopefully no dustbowls!

This has been part of the Ten Things of Thankful Blog Hop.

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Going on a Retreat and a Writing Update

meditative retreat

Before I tell you what’s going on, I just have to remark that it’s fun to be back on my blog fairly regularly. It involves a lot of 5am days and writing before going to work, then writing in the evenings after work, but I’m just having a lot of fun right now.

The Retreat

Back when I was doing a lot of those posts on meditating, I signed up for a meditation retreat. At the time, I was really thrilled about going on a little adventure like that: getting away, having undisturbed meditation time, and truly having no access to technology.

Here’s the part where I admit where I’m utterly human and have changed my mind.

Okay, I pride myself on not being *that* addicted to technology. I don’t like having my phone with me all the time, and I make sure to not have any technology in my room at night, save for the alarm…which, unfortunately, is my phone. But, I make a point to not look at it until I’m ready to wake up, with is usually right before the alarm.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand waking up to the noise of an alarm and it doesn’t matter how soothing the sounds might be. However, I’m scared to not set it and sleep way too late, but I usually wake up right before it goes off. Anyways….

I think I am addicted to technology, though: I check email at least several times a day. I check Facebook too much – sometimes once a day, but sometimes more. A lot more. There’s Twitter and Kindle and Google and…and…

My life is too encased in my computer. I use it for not only work, but for leisure, too.

It gets hard to separate the two.

That’s one of the reasons I signed up for the retreat. I told myself that I will pull away from it all, get back in touch with nature and have a “reset.”

But now, I admit I’m not so excited about going on this retreat later today through the afternoon on Sunday.

I get the feeling that it’s pretty rigid in terms of schedule. I’m not a big meat eater (avian and fish foods make up the biggest part of my meat-eating habits, even then, most of my meals during the week are vegetarian). All the meals are vegan at the retreat center. And there are mandatory silent hours.

I love to write and create, and I do my share of talking. In fact, people tell me that I tell way too many stories sometimes. Yes, I share too much and love to think out loud. Yup. This girl right here. They could very well kick me out.

I would rather stay home the next few days and write and watch movies. I may end up having to get up at 4am and spend hours on a meditation cushion. I have no idea; I don’t know the schedule. I’ve always wanted to try meditation for 8 hours or longer in a day, but I’m not sure I want today or tomorrow to be that day.

But that’s what I always default to: staying home and writing. I write all the time…and I wish I had more to show for that writing, but…that’s neither here nor there.

The Book

Which brings me to “the book.” The ghost story.

At the time I booked the retreat, cranking out a novel in a month’s time (that’s what I intend to do, anyways) wasn’t on my radar. I was in the height of stress at my day job. (I often wonder how much it’s worth it to be under so much stress, even if it isn’t year-round.) I needed meditation just to make it through the day.

I make it sound like an addiction. At least it’s an enlightening one. Ommmmmm….

But, as I’ve gotten back into feverish writing, I’ve slacked off in my practice. I tend to think of writing as quite meditative. If you’re writing a novel, you don’t think about the rest of what’s going on in your life:

You enter a different world where there are all these characters you’ve invented and you’re sculpting them into 3-D figures who are totally believable.

I know I’m not there, yet. I’ve finished the first edit – it was a content edit and took about a week to do. It went fast, but I’m doing that on purpose: if you go through quickly, you can spot the broader plot problems more easily.

Which is exactly what happened. I corrected a lot of things as I went through the first draft.

I’m halfway through the second edit. This edit is more of a read-through. It’s another look at the plot and character development, but not many additional words or corrections. As of right now, though, I have about 147 different notes I’ve added.

Draft three will be addressing all the problems I’ve spotted. It’ll be more like a content edit.

Draft four will be a final read-through.

And then it will be off to alpha readers. (Or are they called beta readers?)

Except it’s killing me that I won’t be looking at a computer for 4 days.

True, that’s a complaint. I really have nothing to complain about. It’s just that I feel like I’m on literary fire and I don’t want the flames to die out and my words to get drenched.

I have entertained the thought, however, that this could be perfect timing. That stepping away for a few days will help my mind subconsciously process everything so I come back with the best third draft ever.

If you need me, I’ll guess I’ll see you on Sunday. I’ll be headed off into the deep recesses of the jungle, where few people have ever tread in that undisturbed wilderness…

Just kidding. It’s in the mountains near my old stomping grounds, where I used to live. Ironically, it’s not far from there. But it IS isolated, and it is in the wilderness. I’ll be in my own tent. Wish me luck.

Working at the Office

It’s the end of the school year and after a week of cleaning, moving furniture and cabinets to store everything for the summer, a CPR class, and starting the process of aggregating data, I am enjoying the “slow down” from the frenetic pace of the year.

Now that the pace has slowed down a bit, I’m devoting at least a couple hours a day of my time each day to finishing the first edit of my ghost story novel. I’m psyched: I’m farther than I’ve ever gotten before. I’m determined to publish to Kindle. And then start another.

I’ll write another post this week about that, but for now….

I had the lovely Sandra Hayward contact me for a guest post. She’s a newer writer and I like to help a person out when they’re starting out. She’s written some sound advice that I would tell a first-time manager…like myself! She doesn’t have a website, yet, per se, but writes for Edubirdie.com (link below).

She saw the content on the blog here and asked if she could share some of her expertise. I can say after my first year of managing staff, I hoped I did all the things she mentions below. But still, being a leader of a crew of folks is time-consuming and requires a lot of energy and professionalism.

And now, let me turn the stage over to Sandra.


 

Tips for Managers: How to Improve Work at the Office

By Ashrafhage (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Current studies are not as uplifting for the US managers as it may seem at first sight. Their employees consider 40% of them as inefficient and bad bosses.

Whenever you think your relationships with your staff are running smoothly, consider and evaluate several key factors that enable the most efficient communication and feedback.

According to a Gallup Pollone in two U.S. adults said they left their job to get away from their manager”.

Managers find their backs against the wall when good employees leave. Compensation is not always a good solution to the problem as efficient communication is vital.

Considering the fact that the current marketplace offers comparatively equal salaries in particular segments, other factors appear to be of main priority for the staff. Here are some useful “seeds” to plant, letting managers keep employees to showcase growing productivity and development.

Efficient Retention Strategies

Implementation of efficient retention strategies is useful for both reducing costs and keeping employees engaged, featuring a creative and motivated approach to every responsibility they are assigned.

  • Engagement. Managers should provide maximum tools and chances letting employees develop their skills as well as pick up some new abilities that are beneficiary in their work.
  • Praise them when necessary. Giving a praise will hardly lead to high costs. At the same time, it will mean a lot to your staff, recognition of a well-done job is obligatory.
  • Track the needs. Keep in mind that your every employee comes with changing needs that you need to track and meet; it helps to build a loyal approach letting them know that managers do care. We all call for a piece of stability in our lives, don’t we?
  • Let people do their best. The idea is to create an appropriate environment letting employees express their innovative ideas and solutions; don’t limit them in actions and encourage for development.
  • Let employees trust you. Your staff will be much happier in case it can fully trust you; it means that you are a reliable leader.
  • Get rid of weak employees. Whenever you detect a weak spot in your team you should eliminate it at once; all your co-workers are supposed to be of the same proficiency and expertise level.

Clear Deadlines and Priorities

Establishing clear deadlines is vital unless you want your employees to flounder. They will never know about the priorities on a given project are unless you inform them; these easy tips will let you set accurate deadlines and increase productivity.

  • Specify the exact date and time. Try to be as specific as possible because whenever you set a “next week” deadline, do not complain if the task is completed on Friday, not on Tuesday. Indicate the very date and time you need the job done.
  • Set the priorities. Your employees must be aware of assignments that are of main priority, so try to steer clear of old-fashioned “ASAP” formulations.
  • Always set true terms; avoid establishing false deadlines as it will result in more problems.
  • Regularly update the schedule. An updated schedule is vital especially when you deal with long-term projects; always create a clear vision of every process.

Note that every change deals with loss for every employee. Some of them are more likely to resist those changes even if they come with obvious improvements. Managers should make intelligent and accurate decisions letting their staff cope with all new introductions.

The same thing with confrontation poor performance of your team. The latest KEY Group survey revealed that only 31% employees think their managers are consistent with their expectations.

To be sure, efficient workers don’t like working with people who aren’t. An accurate balance is necessary. That will eventually come with eliminating all your weak spots and establishing an efficient team with high productivity potential.

 

Sandra J. Hayward is a Miami Dade college MBA graduate that is interested in academic research and writing but does not want to depend on the rigorous schedule. That is why she has been collaborating with http://edubirdie.com for a while time as a freelance writer and enjoys her flextime.

 

A Little Side Project

Book first draft personal development

I’d started off strong with blogging in April and through a chunk of May, but I “slacked off.”

Well, there are several reasons for this.

The Work Situation

First, is the day job. Last March (2015) when I started this job, I had “two years” to start an after school program, grow it to 50 students (at least) and fulfill all the goals set in the grant process.

I didn’t write the original grant for this job. But I did become the coordinator.

I found out in October that the state considered 2015-16 our second year of funding, even though I’d only been there about six months. When I officially launched our after school in May of 2015, the state called that our “first year.” One year of funding smashed into four weeks? Only the bureaucratic state is good enough to invent something as logical as that. When we got our “second year of funds,” the state let us know that all the accounts for the program would have to be closed out in June 2016.

So, for ten months, I’ve been ordering supplies, hiring (and even firing) tutors, finding volunteers, recruiting students who fit the criteria to be serviced by the grant, helped create the curriculum, planned field trips, managed daily operations, conducted staff meetings and trainings, conducted parent meetings, planned employee schedules, did inventories, met with county officials, met with state officials, worked with the church where our after school site is located, met with school officials, worked with parents and met with them each day as the need arose for their child, and more.

It’s been a good year. We fulfilled those goals. But I’m dog-tired. Tired in a way that I’m sure anyone who’s ever worked in education would understand. My brain needed another task to do to not only release the stress of this year, but for other reasons, which I will touch upon in a moment.

I do not yet know about continued funding for our program. That could mean that as soon as July we’ll know something, but it’s also very contingent upon our state legislature, who, last year, did not release budgets for educational programs until October 2015. So, it could be as late as that before I find out anything.

I have a salary through August. But, that’s it – for now. And October is a long time to wait if you don’t have a salary.

The Explanation for the Side Project

You may know I’m a highly sensitive person. While I have enjoyed the day job, the stress and energy drain have created the need to meditate a lot, to exercise more by walking or mountain biking, and to write. A lot.

You would have thought with working 50, sometimes even 60 hours a week (that was early on), that I would have no energy left for creative endeavors.

Honestly, that’s why I didn’t blog a lot in the past year. I really was that drained. But, I always continued to write in some form: whether it was journaling or writing daily bulletins for staff, I always had several thousand words under my belt every day.

It’s not the same as writing articles or books, but at least the typing-thinking-writing muscle was still going strong.

You may remember in my last post that I mentioned how I wanted to do something with my writing. Not just a blog post. Not just an article. A book. With my name as the author.

The Side Project

Right after my last blog post, I started investigating writing a book and exercising my fiction muscle. I discovered a Kindle book called, 5,000 Words per Hour by Chris Fox (not an affiliate link).

And in two weeks, it has changed my life. It’s not the personal development type of book I’ve talked about in previous posts, but another kind of personal development that will help me fulfill a dream.

Well, on May 31 I took the book’s advice and began writing, using the steps the author suggested. I now wish I had this tool when I started my first NaNoWriMo adventure back in 2012.

I’ve written, as of this morning, 45, 147 words towards a new ghost story (7 days). I’m nearly finished with the first draft. I have gotten farther than any other first draft I’ve done, and we’re talking five of them – all in various stages of compilations of words – 22K here, 57K there…all rotting in virtual trash. I don’t want to even look at them.

I’ve finished the climax and denouement in this new story. I want to add a couple scenes that became necessary as I was writing, and I will finish those today.

I now know what it was with those first drafts of the other books that prevented me from finishing: they went too slowly. I don’t have the patience to take a year to write a book. The whole process gets too overwhelming to me.

I have been teaching myself not to edit. I’m a recovering perfectionist and not ever hitting the “backspace” key is still somewhat of a challenge as I barrel through a draft, but I’m getting better at it. Not as fast as I would like, but better.

Still…45,147 words in a week. It usually happened for 30 minutes in the morning and maybe in two other 30-minute sprints over the course of an hour and a half in the afternoons. It’s not a crazy-miracle sort of thing: anyone can do this. (I can’t stand it when I sound like a car salesperson on something I get really excited about – just so you know.) You hammer out words and intentionally create a bad first draft.

The first draft, I will tell you, is atrocious. But if you go into it knowing you’re going to edit 4 or 5 drafts down the line, it takes the pressure off to think of a perfect word that first time around. Besides, when you think about it, it’s a waste of time: you’ll probably change that word or phrase out in the editing phase, anyways.

I’m learning to accept the shitty first draft.

Before, the presure was too great. I used to think the first draft had to be as near perfect as possible, with subsequent drafts improving upon that. And the process taking a year or more.

You chart and graph your progress and have accountability buddies (thanks, Melanie! and thanks to the husby, my Juanito.). I learned that while writing first thing in the morning is one of my favorite times to write – because of the silence, not letting the day interfere with my thought processes, etc. – I am not at my most productive. I produce nearly 1,000 LESS words per hour in the morning, than I do in the afternoons. Which is crazy to me after a long day of work, but still.

I’m the first to tell you that my mind is like a fleeting dragonfly. I never know where it will be from one moment to the next. I just don’t have the attention span (I’m not ADHD – I’m just a quixotic creative who changes her mind a lot) to wait that long. And that was killing me.

I know I’m a writer. I know I can write great things. I’m not being arrogant. I’m making a statement that, if it’s not true this moment, I am using a visualization technique to make it my reality. But I now know that if I take too long on a project, my energy for it will fizzle out before it’s finished.

It’s partly because of the energy demands of my day job. I have to be very careful where I expend the precious reserves of energy I have left to indulge my creative beckonings.

The other motivation I have is retirement. I don’t know about you, but I’ve tried the frugal route and it sapped much of the joy out of life. I’m sure I was doing it wrong. But always scrimping and saving for a point in the distant future that may never come seemed increasingly pointless to me. Yes, I still save. Yes, I try to avoid debt. I just do it differently now.

These days, I let myself get a green tea frappuccino, we go out to eat once or twice a month and I work on my giving. I could stand to give more than I already do, but that’s a process.

And I can’t see another route to passive income than writing. It’s what I’m good at. Forget stocks (what the hell is the Dow Jones Industrials report anyways?). Forget trying to buy rental houses (Did you listen to David Sedaris’ tale of his father and the quadplex?). Forget creating a site to make internet millions (The chances of that happening are probably like the lottery AND creating some sort of product to sell is outside the scope of my introverted personality).

So there you have it. My side project. The goal is just to publish ONE freaking book. THEN I will look at the process and my options.

Stay tuned. At this rate I may need alpha readers in a week.