Holiday Reading- Publishing a Collection of Short Stories

I put the last five short stories I’ve written together in a collection and published them. Over the past few years I’ve written a story to give away as a holiday gift to friends; this grouping includes those stories, which have been edited and reworked, as well as two new ones.

Producing multiple stories over a period of time helped me see a pattern in my storytelling: I like characters off the mainstream. This is probably years of people watching paying off. I like the weird ones. The odd balls. I like like thinking about who they are and how they became the way they are, what they want and what they’d like to accomplish. This angle meant the stories I write sometimes come off feeling dark. The working title for this collection was, “Christmas in a Minor Key,” because when I read them back to myself, I hear tin-tunes and sad winds pressed by the feelings of people we all look past.

Self-publishing has been an adventure. It’s vulnerable and difficult to be all alone; the imperfections scream at me. The stories themselves had several passes with my fantastic beta readers but the marketing images and hard copies were all on me. Right away, the high of getting the first copy in the mail and sharing it on Facebook met the hard slam of humility when a friend found a typo on the front cover, which had to be corrected. I think I had a whole 60 seconds of euphoria! But, I’m grateful someone with a keen eye caught it. These are lessons learned and solid confirmation that my goal of pursuing traditional publishing with an agent is still the way I want to go in the future. I’m thankful for the accessibility of self-publishing and distribution, but I value having company on the journey.

In 2018, work continues on Hindsight, my novel in progress. I’m relieved to have these five stories released into the world with some formal closure. These characters were ready to send on their way.

I’ll be highlighting the backstory of how each of these tales came into being on my Facebook page. If you buy a copy of Not Feeling It, please post a review on Amazon and come say hi on Instagram or Facebook!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all, even if you find yours comes with the shadow a light always brings.

– Tia


Scaramouche, Scaramooch, Can You Do the Fandango? Also, Thank You Jane Kenyon

The same week that Apple programmed Siri to answer iphone users who said, “I see a little silhouetto of a man,” with, “Scaramouche, Scaramouche, can you do the fandango,” followed by the rest of the song’s lyrics by Queen, Anthony Scaramucci was hired to be the Communications Director for the White House. In his first interview to hit the press he mentioned cock-blocking and firing everyone who didn’t agree with him.

The dictionary defines a scaramouche as,

“a stock character in commedia dell’arte and farce who is a cowardly braggart, easily beaten and frightened.

and a fandango as,

1. a lively Spanish dance for two people, typically accompanied by castanets or tambourine.

2. a foolish or useless act or thing.

I recently began a formal break from social media. I did it to lessen the pain in my eyes from scrolling motion, to self-protect from the radical undulations of news suggesting our democracy is failing, and to satisfy a blood desire to meet a writing deadline. An occasional peek to see what a few loved ones had posted revealed the scary “mooch” (he referred to himself as The Mooch) and also a speech given at the Boy Scout Jamboree, which seems to be have been mistaken as another campaign rally to a crowd of his voters instead of a bipartisan organization made up primarily of children. Someone posted the speech Obama gave at the same event a few years ago and I felt my ears bleeding.

Remember the days when the administration of the free world spoke in complete sentences and kept their use of profanity within a professional decorum? I wonder if those who voted this situation into office remember these words:

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

I sometimes want to add, “Ye shall know them by their vocabulary. Ye shall know them by their sentence structure. Ye shall know them by their education.” But who am I to do so.

I kind of like a world where a communications leader knows how to communicate well. And also, kindly. I also like a world where leaders lead from a position of intelligence and discretion.

Good fruit, according to the bible, which a majority of Republican voters say they revere, is:

  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • patience
  • kindness
  • gentleness
  • goodness
  • faithfulness and,
  • self-control.

I heard one of his voters once say they didn’t expect him to be a pastor. They expect him to be a leader. Good luck getting grapes from that thorn bush. Or, maybe it’s the other way around: he’s the fruit from the tree of the voters.

Either way, Queen already said it. “Scaramouche, scaramoosh, can you do the fandango? Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening.”

The remedy to this, a tonic offering temporary sanity during these troubled times, came from Jane Kenyon’s Advice to Writers.

Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.

July sunset in Florida, unfiltered.



Editing My Novel: The Value of Taking a Break

When finished the second draft of my novel, The Perfect Traveler, I had a sludge of slow cooked emotions in my pot. Relief, pride, discouragement, frustration, embarrassment, achievement….never has the classic writing advice to, “put it away in a drawer for awhile and forget about it” felt like such a pressure value to me. I took it to heart. The print out was bound, set aside, and forgotten. The intention was 2 months.

I read other fiction, focused more intently on work and family, and when my novel occurred to me I’d jot down a note on a sticky pad, slap it to the manuscript, and close the drawer again.

Shirley Jackson has nearly become a patron saint. I discovered her writing during this season (how did I ever get this far in life without knowing her?) and am still devouring her canon. I wrote a short story to give away to friends, now an annual tradition of mine. I debated never writing again. For three of those weeks, I didn’t.

I didn’t wonder when to pick it up again. Whenever too much time passes without writing, a panicky anxiety presses on my chest. That rose in my throat the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I’ve read somewhere that anxiety is to writers what the wind is to a storm: all that churning spurs the action. It seems essential. I saw a phrase that goes, “write like you’re running out of time” and thought yes, that’s it exactly.

Blackwing Palomino sharpened and ready for the editing ahead.

Blackwing Palomino sharpened and ready for the editing ahead.

I have a new Blackwing Palomino sharpened and ready to go and clarity on the next few steps. Most importantly, the thing I was worried the most about– length and simplicity of plot– has been answered. Those aren’t necessarily hinderances, let alone the hallmarks of failure I feared they were.

It’s as if someone came and shoveled away all the snow that covered my path.

Why am I giving a short story as a gift?

Every day I milk a large, verbose cow.

There was a little song my kids learned when they were preschoolers: “What can I give to the king, what can I give to the one who has everything.”  It’s got a contagious earworm of a tune and a sentiment that gets under my skin anytime I’m like a preschooler: feeling small and overwhelmed that anything I could offer up would possibly be of any worth or value. Kings and God-metaphors aside, that little song hits to the center of every creative person’s wrestling mat. Is what we make any good? Is it gift worthy? Would anyone ever want it?

The song’s verse goes on to say we can offer, “a heart that is open wide, a life that has nothing to hide.”

Funny, that. One short poetic children’s lyric lays out the angst of anyone involved in the pursuit of an authentic, open, honest, humble, true life.

It’s not easy keeping a heart open wide. It’s not easy telling the truth about one’s life. And yet, that’s our greatest gift as creative human beings.

For me, that means living the mantra, the line that works equally well for meditation and whining toddlers alike: USE YOUR WORDS.

I can give words. I can use words. I can craft words. It’s how I was made and the older I get, the more I suspect its why I’m here.

Which brings me to last year, the ramp up to Christmas 2015. I wanted to offer something handmade as a gift and that brought me to words. A poem? An essay? Anne Lamott suggests in Bird by Bird that writers have many ways to share their writing beyond traditional publication. She says writers who feel compelled to write should simply do so.

I tell my students that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, bad skin, unsightly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe; but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway.

But I also tell [my students] that sometimes when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other time. And sometimes when they are writing well, they feel that they are living up to something. It is as if the right words, the true words, are already inside them, and they just want to help them get out. Writing this way is a little like milking a cow: the milk is so rich and delicious, and the cow is so glad you did it.

And, after you milk the cow, what do you have?  A bucket full of milk. If you do it every day, you have enough milk to drink, to make cheese, soap, butter, chocolate…you start having things to give away.

So, I did last year, I gave away some words. It felt good. Some friends enjoyed my story. One said I didn’t go deeply enough into the psyche’s of my characters. That was helpful feedback for a character writer. I worked hard this year on craft. I finished the 2nd draft of my novel Work In Progress and then took a 2 month break to read. Another story spilled out.

What is this year’s holiday gift?

My 2016 annual holiday free short story gift.

My 2016 annual holiday free short story gift.

This year’s short story gift is about Marjorie James, a woman in her late 70’s reorienting herself after sudden and unwanted change. When her new husband starts stealing her joy, Marjorie discovers her spine.

“A glimpse into an older generation– I think I know these characters!”  -D. Hesterman

My story is a free download, available via email. I hope readers will share it with their friends, will give it away, will pass it on. You can do so by signing up here, by sharing the link, or by sharing the email once you’ve received it.

How Long Should a Novel Be? (and other anxious doubts)


This weekend marked an enormous milestone for me: I completed the first working draft of my novel.

I did not celebrate.

In fact, I cried.

Here’s why.


Set up and digging in for a marathon weekend of writing my novel, “The Perfect Traveler”

I’ve been working on this story for a year now and finished the first structural draft last fall. It had a different working title then- “Where Do We Go From Here?” but a friend of mine has a happy musical number of that same name and it threw off the sound in my head. My story isn’t necessarily happy. It’s a psychological love story between two travelers and it spins off an idea I got from the recent Amazon Kindle ad campaign #haveKINDLEwillTRAVEL. It sometimes gets quite dark. So I changed the title. I also scrapped the back half of the draft last May.

My goal was to get a solid second draft of, “The Perfect Traveler” crafted by the end of September so that I could have a cleaned up third draft ready to show to a professional editor by the end of the year. I hadn’t yet decided if I wanted to try and pitch it to Amazon or not (because it’s fun throwing a pebble into a gianormous ocean to see the ripple effect, right?) or if I just want to self-publish and consider it measurable progress towards my lifetime goal of being a successful novelist.

I take goal setting seriously.

I also take my family, full-time employment, friends and a host of other projects (like #100runningdays and #storyswatch) seriously. The calendar was racing past. I ticked off the squares. I saw the holiday decor hit the stores. Someone threw out there were only 12 more Saturdays until Christmas. I broke into hives of anxiety. I was getting close to a full-on freak-out of failure. And then, miraculously, this weekend opened up.

My kids went to see their dad for the first visit in a long while. My husband went to visit his brothers for a football fest. Three whole days opened up. It was the parting of the Red Sea of Obligations for me to be home alone and write. This. Was. My. Chance.

As you can see in the photo above, I was well fortified. Twizzlers, a bottle of Pinot Grigio, a meatball pizza from my favorite brick oven place, Sour Patch Kids, and coffee. I cleaned the house first (can’t write with a dirty sink) and I shut off all the social media. I hid my phone. As they say, I decided to, “put my butt in the chair and write” until that draft was complete, story told, ready to print and mark up.

6 hours on Friday, 14 on Saturday, 10 on Sunday. I could feel the momentum build. Then, my butt went numb. The deeper I got into the story, the more I was loving it. This is meaningful to me because a few years ago I abandoned a manuscript at the 75% mark after coming to loathe it. This one has good juju. I love my characters. I love seeing the progress I’ve made in cutting unnecessary words. My husband came home as I was finishing the second-to-the-last chapter and I hollered, “Baby! You’d better be ready to celebrate because I’m going to make this deadline!”

Context clue: I get frothy about celebrating milestones. I make them up and I make a big deal out of achieving them. My birthday lasts a full month, my projects all get hashtags, and I rejoice over baby steps.

And then, there it was: the final word at the end of chapter 22. I’d told the story from start to finish. Can we say I’d looked forward to that moment for my entire cognizant life? Yes, we can. It was after dark on Sunday night, the pizza and wine were gone, and I’d hid the rest of the Twizzlers from the kids. Everyone came home. Out of time, I told Scrivener to compile and took a look at the word count.

25,000 words.

Nanowrimo lathers writers into 50,000 word drafts in a month. Standard novels have a suggested length of 80,000. There are notable exceptions like Harry Potter’s bloated lengths and Hemingway’s brevity for Old Man and the Sea. But, for average Jo March’s like me, we have to follow the standard rules of publishing.

I’m really short on words. It’s probably the first time in my life I can say that.

Cue the tears and self-doubt. I wrote harder than I’ve ever written in my life this weekend on something I want more than almost any other life accomplishment. Writing comes right after my kids. Maybe I just don’t have the chops to tell a story well at that length. I have other stories that are long; Nano-drafts that sit near 100k of pure crap. But this time I was sparse on purpose, trying to write clean. An editor will still need room to chop. Doubling my word count is essentially re-doing the entire previous year. It’s like telling the marathon runner, “now turn around and run back.” Most would probably walk away.

Today I’ve worked on processing. My daughter sagely suggested that rather than try to overwrite scenes I worked hard to tell sparsely but completely, I should simply try to add in 25 more scenes. My good friends suggested I take note on the devastation I’m feeling and remember that it’s useful. They threw out titles that are beautifully told in fewer words. A few suggested its a novella. Another said maybe Amazon would even prefer a novella so it can be pitched as a quick travel read on the plane. (One can hope.)

I sent it to print. I’ll be taking Stephen King’s advice later today. My draft, which I still feel so proud and protective of, that I love so very much, will be put into a drawer and set aside for a few weeks. I’m going to read, ruminate, work, keep up my projects, and let some insight steep.

I want my story to be whatever length it needs to be.

My Year in Review: the Transformative Inventory of 2015

“Be kind. Every one is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

(quote source, a matter of debate)

Day 99 of 100 Happy Days. Everything old is new again.

Day 99 of 100 Happy Days. Everything old is new again.

If I could use the analogy of a coin for the 365 days that just passed, I’d say  2014 and 2015 are exactly opposite sides of that coin. The situations on the list would run off the page and the heads/tails contrast is defined and identifiable, even if most surface observers see nothing out of the ordinary. Last year at this time I was operating in the daze of shock, experiencing repeated grief and devastation more like an incessant faucet than a sudden flood. My mind filled like a jar, drop by drop, as the winter passed. My anxieties rose as stress evolved and I panicked frequently watching as the levels being stored continued to rise. Spring inclined; then, summer heat radiated into blinding, blistering, boiling inescapable tension, almost all within my own mind as I was able to cope less and less. I didn’t merely spill from the overfill; I broke.

The details of these situations are not as important as the impact that they had. In fact, that is one of my insights from the year. We all can experience overwhelming times in our lives and chances are the more family members and the more abundant our blessings, the more opportunities there are for stress. I have 3 teenagers and an elementary age son, a second marriage, a full time job; there’s lots of room just right there for stress. Children are not always healthy, relationships experience strain, job are lost and found. And that’s just the tip of the obvious iceberg of possibilities in everybody’s lives, mine included. It isn’t necessary (or even beneficial) for me to overshare, describe, or divulge the drama happening in the wings, amid the curtains and props where no one can really see. The truth is, we all have it, regardless of the personas we send out to perform on stage. The distractions ruin, rather than support, the story of our lives. I’ve come to realize that real transparency and honesty comes through decluttering that back stage, by cleaning house once in awhile,  and by understanding our lives are not monologues. We need interaction. Feedback is good. Response is healthy. The result of this work is that our best, most true self is the only one we nurture and send out into the world.

I thought I knew this before. This is the age of Oprah. I’ve been to therapy. I read. But until my 41st year I was not fully aware at how good I’d become at pretense. At filtering myself. At blending in like a chameleon in order to hide my true self. Which makes a shaky foundation upon which to handle life’s stress. If you know me, and you didn’t know I was suffering, that just goes to show how great at hiding I’d become.

“Here’s the thing about hiding. You can get so good at it that you are even hidden from yourself.” -Joy, the movie, 2015

In August, I dropped all my boxes. To use another metaphor, they tumbled down the stairs, cracked open, almost knocked me down. Have you ever had that moment when you are absolutely positive you can not handle one. more. thing? That was me. I’d reached capacity; my eyes teared involuntarily. They just leaked out of my fogged and puffy eyes. As they say, an “all system breakdown” was underway. I was physically sick, emotionally overwhelmed, spiritually numb, and losing my ability to pretend otherwise. I startled, flinched, panicked, feared, dreaded and measured survival in small increments. ODAT, but they weren’t good ones.  I was also exhausted from having to pretend. Even if I stooped to pick up the box contents scattered all over the floor, the container to put them in and the arms that used to carry it all, was no longer whole enough to do so.

And then a couple of things happened. First, I got a new therapist immediately. As a survivor of domestic violence in my first marriage, which legally ended 8 years ago, I’d been in years of talk therapy with great therapists for whom I’m very grateful. Except for one relieving EMDR session, most of this served as a place to vent, unload, and get some temporary relief. But I didn’t have the strength for more of that; the backstory alone would have crushed my finger-held grip on the edge. However, my new therapist specialized in PTSD and some cognitive behavioral techniques that I’d never tried, one of which works very well with those able to easily access their emotions. Mine were spilling everywhere, which made me an excellent candidate for treatment.

Next came a change in how I spent my time, as my therapist insisted now was the time to reach out and strap on my own oxygen mask and breathe, before helping others. That airplane analogy is very vivid for me. I have a compulsive, thoroughly ingrained codependent tendency to put myself dead last. Not second, not third; last at the end of a long line of family members and friends and obligations. It was killing me. Changing the order of my priorities was top of the list in the triage appointment and I wasn’t in any shape to argue.

Third, two of my friends posted they were going to do the 100 Happy Days Project in time to finish the last 100 days of the year happy and grateful. Something about this idea deeply spoke to my squashed spirit, the part of me that needed some hope at the end of the hard work. I’m a visual, story based person and I like goals and projects. I tweaked it a little for my purposes and signed on. It became integral to my work. The opening question is, “Can you be happy for 100 Happy Days?” I knew that if I could find some way to be happy during this specific 100 days, I needed to. It was a challenge I needed to meet.

What would it mean to look back at the evidence that I’d been happy for 100 days in a row? What would it mean to me to have visible proof of happiness for that length of time?

I had to know.

And so, the work began. I went to therapy. I got up every day wondering what my happy moment would be. I trusted it would happen. I uncovered memories I’d buried, discovered connections once welded together in my mind. We released the chains. I made amends with my relationships. Others made them to me. I let others do their own work. I stopped relating their work to me. I stopped taking everything personally. The flip side of last year is a contrast in almost every way.

I’m healthy. I’m happy. I’m creative, fulfilled, content, calm. When I’m not, I know how to find out why and I’m learning (still learning!) what to do about it. The work was working.

As I got to to the end of the line, the last 9 days of my 100 Happy Days, I started getting nervous. I started anticipating the loss of the anchor of the project and the accountability of it. There is new territory ahead, kind of like when someone is learning to swim and it’s time to let go of the wall of the pool. On Christmas Eve morning I got up early, ran my sprints (a new habit about 90 faithful days old), and I sat down on our dock with my notebook. The inventory that resulted is work I’m proud of. I could not have written with sincerity and belief a day before this year.

The Life Changing Magic of What I Learned in 2015:

  • I’ve had my children for half of my life. The season is changing; the signs of this started a long time ago. Denial and sadness that drags on is not useful. It’s time to, “remember the me that was me before we became we.”Julie Bogart.
  • I am now the girl who “gets up early to run”, even on holidays that fall on weekdays, even on weekends, and this is something I do almost always, not only sometimes. I am really a morning person after all, because I like to spend time with myself before the day becomes dominated by anyone else’s needs. The kind of running I do is fast. It is fast and short because I have fun when I sprint. I’m totally fine not earning a distance sticker like, “13.1” or “26.2” for my car. I run dashes of 25, 50, 100 yards over and over. I don’t pace myself. All of this repetitive goal accomplishment is a very strong way to start my day.
  • I have an intense interest in story, film, theater and books. These hours are some of my favorite spent. It’s a satisfying use of my time and actually is food for my spirit.
  • I also interpret what happens in my life through Story. I have the power over the story I tell. Stories reveal beliefs, reinforce feelings, and trigger emotions. This means feeling shitty is optional. When I feel shitty, it’s time to change the story.
  • Feelings are chemicals. Chemicals can get out of whack for lots of reasons. When they are off-kilter, it’s better if I identify why, rather than stroke or simmer the feeling stew bubbling on the stove. I can avoid bad chemical reactions by understanding recipes and by following instructions, by turning down the heat or by remembering what works and what does not.
  • The worst part of depression and generalized anxiety is how physically ill it can make a body, and how often it’s only diagnosed in retrospect. Those physical symptoms are real and current Medicine is devoted to the expensive exploration of symptoms.
  • Busyness is an instrument of avoidance. A depressed, stressed person wielding that weapon will push people away because it is too hard to allow them to come close. This is counter-productive to health but it does not seem so at the time. I’m very grateful to my loved ones who were there waiting when I learned I could put the weapon down and come back to them.
  • Guilty people blame others.  Anytime there is blame, there is guilt that is being projected, dumped, vented, and used as a shield. Blame is a waving blood red flag signalling something lies beneath. The source of the guilt and shame may have nothing to at all with the person being blamed. Blame is not the same thing as responsibility. Shame destroys relationships and creates impotence. Defensive people have been blamed a lot; they may have had to contain so much misplaced shame that they reverberate, shake, or become brittle and crack, like once pliant rubber that dries and crumbles in the hot summer sun. I have been part of all the above.
  • Here’s the thing about PTSD: the trauma is in the past, the symptoms are happening now. It doesn’t matter how long ago it happened; time is almost irrelevant. In the brain, experiences link to experiences, they connect and compound and sometimes smaller traumas attach onto larger ones, much the same way a garbage pile accumulates mass. Left to rot, trauma will eat away entire sections of the soul. Surface platitudes are as effective as swatting flies. Trauma must be cleared out and away before anything living can grow in its place. 
  • Knowing what you want is a stone foundation. Don’t try to build on anything else. Decisions are the walls of the house; the occupants and furnishings are the consequences from choices made. It has taken a lot of work but I now remember what I want, who I want, and why. If I’m having a hard time making a decision, it’s probably because I don’t know what I really want, and that is probably because I haven’t given myself room, space, time, or food to think. As a child I was very definite in what I thought and wanted and my needs were very basic. I need to listen to her more.
  • Hip flexors. Psoas major. Obliques. When these muscles spasm and cramp and clench and pulse and lock, which they can do for months at a time,…it feels like nausea, gas, appendicitis, colitis, an ulcer, and worse. The last resort from the medical establishment, when they can find nothing else wrong, will be natural methods of pain management. Therein lies the cure. Yoga’s Warrior poses, physical therapy at the chiropractor to release muscle knots and tension, sitting less/walking more, and cognitive behavior therapeutic techniques to clear trauma and anxiety…these all address that kind of stomach pain and they all are preferable to unnecessary radiation and expensive testing, pharmaceuticals, gluten free and other elimination diets, or living with chronic, undiagnosed illness.  My warrior pose is wobbly because I’d gotten out of practice. I sometimes fall. I get back up and it unlocks my pain. I like the metaphor.
  • Clearing trauma means there’s no longer a need to self medicate with anything. The desire for excess food or drink, distraction,  background noise, laziness and procrastination…goes away. Contentment, moderation, and knowing what is “enough” takes its place.
  • There’s a significant difference between “learning how to be married to someone” and “learning how to be married with someone.” In my case, the different experiences are embodied in the two men I married. I need to mind my prepositions. Not just, “with” and not “to” but, also “beside” and not “beneath”; “via” and not “versus”.  One of the things I want from my lifetime is to learn how to be married well.  A love story is a fertile seed but planting it is not enough. Nurturing the growth is up to us.  I will not say to the rain, “why did you fall?” I will not say to the sun, “why did you shine?” I will help shelter the plant, offer it shade, wrap it in warmth to protect from the freeze. It takes work but the fruit is good.
  • Use a paper calendar. I love how my Google calendar syncs up and sends reminders but there really isn’t any app or digital technique that beats a paper, hand written, month-at-a-glance calendar for my organization and presence of mind. I remember things better if I write them down. And, I have a new trick for making sure I schedule in enough solo and social time! I attach a sticky note on the first page of each month’s calendar with a list of names and activities I want to be sure I do. During the first week, I spend time getting everything scheduled. This means I have had coffees with friends, met for lunch, thrown parties, gone for walking meetings, went to a gallery opening and two plays, and taken personal time alone.

Goals for 2016:

  • Write real letters. I want to write ordinary letters on paper by hand. I’ll write to friends who live far away because we are not near enough to have lunch and because technology is filled with much blather.
  • Enter my stories in more contests.
  • Continue the novels. I have one with the second draft at 75% and another in the planning stages, pre-outline. In 2016 I want the first one complete, which might mean making it a screenplay, and the second one through a fleshed out first draft.
  • Work my ass off. My career is in a great, exciting place where I’m challenged and creative, trusted and flourishing. It’s time to dig in with gratitude and devotion.
  • Travel, hike, and try new things. Something new every month.
Day 5 of Tia Leving's 1

Day 5, when my mind became quieter than the sea.

Other images from the project:

across the room 1   day 6 of 100 happy days  bedtimechats

ethan 005  final jump  1bookmine

a day in the park  datenight  costumes

teaching rowan yoga  19  best chip

billie holiday  coffee  nola

happy18  short story  christmas tree

1  2  Day 100

The Power of No: Setting Personal and Work Boundaries for Greater Productivity and Integrity

Why can’t people get work done at work? It was the premise of a very good talk by Inc. columnist and 37signals co-founder Jason Fried at TEDxMidwest. He articulated the need of “creatives” – designers, programmers, writers, engineers, etc- to have long periods of uninterrupted time to get things done. And, how businesses that spend a bunch of money on a place called “the office” have staff and employees who don’t get their work done there!

I found it to be validating. Liberating. Because saying yes to everything only leads to burn out and overwhelm.

Listen to what he says about work “moments”:

Jason Fried TED Talk, “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work”

He’s got nothing nice to say about managers and meetings. From what I’ve seen of traditional salaried, cubical work, I’d have to say I agree. His work-sleep phase analogy was brilliant.

As a creative, as an entrepreneur, and as a working parent I’ve learned to embrace what I call, “The Power of No”. While a lot of women’s self-help focuses on learning how to say no (and not feel guilty about it), I find it to be addictive and empowering. Being able to say no enables a boundary to be upheld. Being able to say no also offers the flip side of the coin: the ability to say yes with passion, authenticity, and honesty.

When my children were little, I said no to a lot of outings and obligations so that I could say yes to their naps and reasonable bedtimes. When I’m faced with multiple personal growth “groups”, all with evening meetings, I might say no to 4 so I can truly participate in 1. I frequently say no to distractions by turning off social media and my phone volume so that I can say yes to a few hours of writing. And yesterday I said no to a freelance opportunity because my current projects require my focus and an authentic yes.

At first it was hard. Sometimes it still is. It can feel like letting people down or missing out; they don’t always enjoy being told no. But building the boundary makes me a better writer, a better wife and mother, a better business owner. The benefits outweigh the challenges by far.

Speaker and writer Mike Robbins, in an article that appeared on The HuffPost Healthy Living blog wrote, “…saying “no” is one of the most important aspects of living a life filled with balance, integrity, and authenticity. Our ability and capacity to say “no” with confidence is one of the most important aspects of creating peace and power in our lives. This is about creating healthy boundaries, honoring ourselves, and being real — it’s not about being closed, cynical, or unwilling.” He went on to point out that being able to tap into the power of saying no offers us freedom and liberation but also helps those around us to trust we mean what we say.

I appreciated Fried’s suggestion of creating no-interruption times.

  • Cancel the next meeting. Just don’t have it. Everything will be just fine.
  • Switch from active communication (meetings) to timed-choice methods: email or IM
  • One afternoon a week of silent work- “No Talk Thursdays”

“Giving someone a few hours of uninterrupted time is one of the best gifts you can give” he says. Better than software, a new computer, or anything else you could offer.

So think about that. Give yourself the gift of uninterrupted time. Unplug over the weekend. Put earbuds in and tune out distraction. Set boundaries and be unafraid to speak up about them when making appointments. Choose your communication method and teach people that’s the best way to reach you. And then say no. As Jason said, “everything will be just fine.” Keep track of your productivity and you’ll probably find you are better than fine: you are managing life instead of life managing you.


Photo taken at Olio Restaurant on E. Bay St. Or as one instagrammer said, "Perhaps where Ebay gets their Dry Goods"

Photo taken at Olio Restaurant on E. Bay St. Or as one instagrammer said, “Perhaps where Ebay gets their Dry Goods”

When Bad Marketing Happens to Good People

I don’t really understand why my electrician needs to be on Twitter. He’s on call 18 hours a day, has a family, and more work than he knows what to do with. But when he was here to fix some wires the other day, he heard what I did for a living and said, “Oh yeah, I need to get my business on Twitter and use social media.”

I found my electrician by searching online. He  needs a better listing in Google Places. His website should stay modest but it could certainly use a software update and some optimization to help him stay up in the rankings. His logo is a bit hokey; if brand identity really matters to him, that could use a fresh pass.

Mostly, he just needs a day off.

What made me bonkers that day was the reminder that one size does not fit all when it comes to marketing strategy. Some business really benefit from deep sites with extensive copy, very visible and frequent social media integration. They experience noted increases in conversion rates from email campaigns and newsletters. There are still industries who thrive on direct mail, customer incentives, and street signage. Some people get on social media and actually harm their own interests. Or, they sign up and spend on ideas they can’t make come to fruition.

Trying to do it all, just because you think everyone is doing it and so should you, is random and wrong. It’s spreading yourself too thin. Bad marketing isn’t about the medium: it’s about the application. So here’s the prescription:

  • Get a vision of what you want
  • Think about your audience and what they need
  • Create a plan to meet that need and engage their attention
  • Keep is Simple Sweetheart
  • Measure Your Progress.

If something isn’t working, you can always adjust. The catch is that you can’t measure progress if you don’t know where you started and where you want to be.

Case in point: A dentist wanted more customers. People need the dentist but they also hate going. Our city has tons to choose from too. So this marketing savvy dentist hatched a plan: make coming to the dentist more attractive.  He had his vision, he knew his audience, and he started a plan.

To get attention he:

  • has a great website that’s deep and easy to use.
  • invested in a fantastic reminder system that syncs with calendars. Patients get reminders via text, email, and with a phone call.
  • offers an incentive program that makes kids beg for their next appointment: free movie passes if you keep your scheduled 6 month appointment!

He kept it simple. His office is very busy actually handling patients and appointments. They don’t have time to maintain active social media profiles or write newsletters. They’ve seen marked customer increases through their incentives (there’s another one involving free dinners out for sharing a referral). Their website needed some improvements and they addressed that; I experienced their business model when they needed a series of internet articles written and published to increase their search rank. Their website comes out on top and they’re easy to reach. They have a good local reputation.  They’re happy, their customers are happy.


One size doesn’t fit all, no matter what the salesman says.

Photo taken at Mickler's Landing, south of Ponte Vedra.

Photo taken at Mickler’s Landing, south of Ponte Vedra.