Words to Live By

I follow a lot of writing blogs, and I like to comment on them, either to let the blogger know that I enjoyed reading their words or to join the conversation with other commenters.  The writing blogs I like best are the ones that give writing advice that can be equally applied to things other than writing.  For example, I recently read a blog in which the blogger gave advice on getting famous authors to review a debut author’s book.  One of his recommendations boiled down to, simply, don’t be a jerk.  I commented, saying that I liked the advice because “don’t be a jerk” will get a person far in most pursuits, not just writing. 

“Don’t be a jerk” are words to live by.

Which brings me to today’s topic, which is Taking a Step Back.  I normally try to write six days a week, but this past weekend I was too tired to write, plus there was a book I really wanted to finish reading.  At first I felt guilty about not sitting down at the computer, but before long I realized that I needed a short break from writing.  I needed to take a step back.  I sat down on Monday morning with a renewed energy for writing, and with a renewed interest in my story.  Taking a step back gave me a fresh perspective, and I was glad I had taken the weekend off.

Taking a step back can be a great way to find new solutions to old problems.  It can force us to take a slow, deep breath when we’re about to hyperventilate.  And it doesn’t have to be for a whole weekend.  It can be for twenty minutes or an hour or the time it takes to eat a whole package of Oreos.  The point is, stepping back from a task or a problem allows us to refresh, renew, and refocus.  Anyone who’s ever been on vacation knows this. 

Taking a step back works for my daughter’s math problems.  It works when I feel offended or angry and my instinct is to say something snarky.  It works when I’m too tired to keep my eyes open another minute.  It works when I feel like I’m going to scream if I have to fold just one more piece of laundry. 

It can feel unnatural to take a step back sometimes.  It can feel like the best solution is to force my way through something until it’s done.  And don’t get me wrong:  there are times when that’s true.  But I find that when I take a step back, it’s almost always easier to regain my focus and energy and complete my task, whatever that may be. 

So here are today’s words to live by:  Take a Step Back.

Until next week,


Do Good

Because Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is meant to be a day of service, I am posting early this week because I have something to share with you that I hope you’ll check out before Monday (and use often).  It’s a website you can find at http://www.allforgood.org.  This is a website devoted to helping match people with charities or local charitable projects that are in need of volunteers.

The site allows you to select one or more of fifteen areas of interest to you.  If you don’t find your area of interest listed, you can type in keywords that will assist you in finding what you want.  You then put in your zip code.  It’s a simple as that.

Once you’ve entered your information, the website finds projects that you can work on for an hour, a day, a weekend, or indefinitely.  Here’s a sample of projects I found in my area:  sorting coats on January 20th (MLK Day) to be distributed in the surrounding communities; a full-time internship beginning May 1st to monitor coastal nesting birds; volunteering at the local animal shelter.

I checked out some other randomly-selected (sort of) areas, too.  Here are some opportunities that are available:  beginning on March 1st in Sackets Harbor, NY, volunteers will be needed as Event Assistants to work with Great Strides, the largest national fundraiser of the year for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.  On January 20th in Syracuse, NY, volunteers are needed “to help sort, fold, package and deliver donations to area non-profits.”  In Kailua-Kona, HI, AARP is always looking for volunteers to be Information Assistants to link people in need with services available.  In San Francisco, CA, the Hamilton Family Center is looking for people to help children with homework or tutoring on January 23rd.  On January 31st in Denver, CO, Community Shares is looking for Spanish-speaking volunteers to help edit Spanish translations of English documents.  And last, but not least, in Bloomington, IN, on January 20th, people are needed to go out in teams to collect money and food for the Hoosier Hills Food Bank.

There are so many opportunities to volunteer, help, and serve the communities in which we live.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. Day approaches, please remember the less fortunate in your community and resolve to do good for them.

Until January 28th,


The Power of More-Than-One

This past Sunday I had the rare treat of getting together for brunch with some of the members of Women Who Write, a community of women writers based in northern New Jersey.  I had to drive two hours to get to the brunch since I live in far southern New Jersey, but I wouldn’t have missed it.  Within Women Who Write, there are a large number of women with hugely varying interests in writing:  poetry, children’s books, picture books, young adult, middle grade, fiction, screenplays, and the list goes on.

Members of Women Who Write are invited to join critique groups in which members submit pieces of writing for feedback by other writers.  I am a member of the only online critique group in Women Who Write (all the other groups meet in person), and the members of my group write in several different genres.  We are a mix of women of different ages with different careers and interests, but we have one passion that brings us all together…writing.  We submit our pieces of writing once a month and a few weeks later each member of the group submits her critique of each submission.

At brunch on Sunday we got talking about the importance of being in a group, and I was thinking on the drive home that being part of a group, even if it’s just a group of two, can have a huge affect on a person.

First, being in a group makes you accountable to people other than yourself.  There have been times when the women in my group, myself included, have been unable to submit because of other commitments or schedules that are way too full.  But each of us feels like we’re letting the group down when we can’t submit.  We have made a commitment and we know that in order for the group to work optimally for everyone, we all need to submit.

Second, being in a group helps you set and keep goals.  Each November brings the NaNoWriMo challenge.  For those of you who don’t know what this is, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and it is an opportunity for writers from all over the world to challenge themselves to write a novel in one month.  The goal is 50,000 words.  The great thing about NaNoWriMo is that the challenge is the same for everyone.  Not everyone enters the challenge intending to write a novel; lots of people join just to give themselves a kick-start, to see how many words they can write if they really focus for an entire month.  But the goal of 50,000 words is there if people wish to give it a try.  The amount of online support from the writing community is enormous, and that support is what helps many writers keep pushing towards and even beyond their goal.

Third, being in a group encourages you to meet people you might not otherwise have met.  I am a member of a Pilates studio where I have met some wonderful people in my community that I would probably not normally run into in the course of my daily activities.  They have become an important part of my day, and I miss seeing and talking to them when I can’t get to the studio for a day or two.  They are a diverse group of people with interests and hobbies different from mine, and it’s great to get out of my own world every day and talk to these wonderful people.

Finally, being in a group is healthy!  Whether I’m going to the Pilates studio or a brunch in northern New Jersey (or meeting other people while I’m walking my dog or going to a PTA meeting or the list goes on and on), I’m getting out and talking to others and maybe moving- just a little- out of my comfort zone.  It’s great for my attitude and keeps me from getting bogged down by the things that go on in my own day.  And on the rare occasion that I don’t enjoy my time in a group, well, that just helps me to appreciate the time I spend alone at my desk even more.  And that’s good, too.

Are you part of any groups?  I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Until next week,


Lemons Become Lemonade

Mother Nature threw New Jersey a curveball this week in the form of snow (six inches where I live, to be exact).  We don’t normally get that much snow here, and when we do, people quickly divide into two groups:  those who hate the snow and those who love it.

I’m proudly in the latter group.  Sometimes.  There is nothing more beautiful than snow falling and evergreens with their boughs bent gracefully under the weight of the white, fluffy stuff.  Don’t get me wrong, though: I want the snow to melt immediately once it gets gray and dirty, and I don’t want my ability to drive or walk anywhere to be affected.

And don’t even talk to me about ice.  The only way I like ice is in a beverage.

When snow comes to our neck of the woods, there are those who act as if the unthinkable has befallen us.  It’s winter in the mid-Atlantic, though, so what should we expect?  Snow is a distinct possibility.  And this week’s snow got me thinking about things that happen – things that we didn’t necessarily expect or want- and our reactions to them.  These things happen all the time, really.  They can range anywhere from winning the lottery to catching a cold to losing one’s job to a death in the family to being late for a dentist appointment.  Unexpected events run the gamut, in other words.  And not to get all preachy, but the way we react to these events can have a strong bearing on our outlook, our attitude, our health, and perhaps most importantly, our loved ones.

A very mundane unexpected thing happened here last Friday.  My kids had a snow day.  Earlier in the week, I had expected them to have school on Thursday and Friday, but nature decided otherwise.  I could have been angry that I wouldn’t be able to accomplish what I needed to do on Friday, but I’ve been down that road before and believe me, we were all the worse for it and the snow day stunk.  I took a different approach this time:  I told my kids that I needed some time to myself to work and that I would take them sledding later in the afternoon.  You know what?  It worked and everyone was happy.  Frostbite notwithstanding, my kids had a blast sledding.

Here’s another example:  last August we went on vacation to California.  I was waiting for a very important phone call while we were there and when it didn’t come and then it didn’t come the next day or the next day or the next day, I turned all Mommy-Dearest on everyone and very nearly ruined the vacation while I wallowed in my own misery.  I had a headache everyday and I’m sure I gave my family their fair share of headaches, too.  I hope I’ll remember that and respond better the next time something doesn’t happen when I want it to.

Here’s another example, and then I’ll be done.  I promise.  Two weeks ago I was working on my second book when I realized I had some problems that were becoming increasingly difficult to solve.  I was getting frustrated, but I am learning to step back a bit when that happens, and that’s what I did.  I eventually realized that I needed another character in the story…just like that, problem solved.  I could have insisted that no one bother me or that everyone go outdoors so I could think, but instead I’m the one who went for a walk outdoors.  Like I said, I’m learning.

So the next time life hands you lemons (or a snowstorm), do what your grandmother always told you to do.  Make lemonade.  Or go sledding.

Until next week,


P.S.  How are you doing on those New Year’s resolutions?