If at first you don’t succeed, set the bar lower

Okay, that sounds a bit pessimistic. But hear me out. If you wanted to become a high jumper, you wouldn’t set the bar at a height impossible to clear, right? You’d start low and get really good at each level before moving up to the next. If you are learning a new skill, you’d start with the basics and then work yourself up to the more complicated elements. And maybe you’d fail a few times, or a few million times before you could do the thing you set out to do, and maybe that feeling of failure lights a fire under you and forces you to try harder.

But you know what else is super motivating? Success.

I have participated in Camp NaNoWriMo three times. It’s an online contest of sorts that grew out of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, where to win you must write 50k words in a month. Camp is more laid back (as camp should be). You set your own goals and have a cabin of fellow writers to cheer you on and make references to roasting marshmallows and making s’mores. It’s fun. It’s encouraging. The first time I participated, I agreed to join a large cabin – some writers I knew, some I didn’t. There were virtual crafts, write-ins, and shout outs on Twitter. At the time I was revising my second novel and thought two hours a day seemed a reasonable goal. But I started the month off on a road trip, clocked zero hours of revisions for the first few days, and rapidly became discouraged. There’s this great STATS feature, which tells you your daily progress, how much you should do to reach your goal, and if you continue at your current rate you will finish…. in 2020.

The second time around I was working on a new novel, and decided 10k was reasonable. It wasn’t. Our cabin had only three members, and we had some amazing discussions about plotting and staying confident in your work. I made more time to write, but the words weren’t flowing and again I felt discouraged by the ever distant finish rate.

Third time’s the charm. Between April and July, I worked to unclog the stuff that wasn’t working and brought the first chapter to my critique group. They loved it and told me to keep going.

Let me stop here for a second. I know some of my blog followers aren’t writers and they are probably skimming through this post because blah, blah, blah she’s carrying on about writing again. Look. Your words can make a difference in someone’s life: your child, spouse, co-worker, employee, friend. A stranger. Be kind. Encourage someone today. It might be the very thing they need to keep moving forward.

When I decided to join Camp NaNoWriMo this past month, I thought about my goal. I didn’t want it to be too high and get discouraged. July was busy, people. BUSY. But I didn’t want it to be too low and seem insignificant. I thought about what my friend Kate had said a while ago, about setting micro-goals. If I could sit down every day and write something, 100 words, I would keep moving forward on the story. I set my overall goal for the month at 4k, and did my best to write at least 100 words every day. I didn’t write every day (I missed about half), but when I did, it was always more than 100 words. Sometimes it was only a few more, sometimes a lot more.

So I set the bar lower, but at a reasonable, attainable height. And it worked. The project is at 12k and I’m excited to keep writing.

And it feels pretty good to see this:

camp win

Are you trying to accomplish something and feeling overwhelmed? Can you break it up into smaller, more manageable micro-goals? Find a way to earn success. To celebrate the mini victories and stay motivated.

You got this.

Happy Camper

I love camping. Fresh air, campfires, afternoon naps in the sun. The blissful escape from routine.

Back in the days before kids, hubs and I camped all over the state. We weren’t very adept when we started out—on our first trip we forgot pillows and other essentials and had to drive to a nearby mega store. (Incidentally that was not the only time I forgot pillows on a camping trip and had to drive to a store to buy them; somehow pillows are not high on my list of necessities for sleep).

I remember trying to cook in the pouring rain, hunched over the propane stove, umbrella in one hand, utensil in the other, and then eating our meal in the car. After that we purchased a simple canopy, which took off down the hill in a strong gust of wind and retrieved right before it landed in a nearby creek.

But the misadventures were part of what made camping great, the stories I tell when people ask why I love it. During a visit to Letchworth State Park, we arrived to discover the campsite was full. The ranger directed us to a nearby campground which turned out to be one of our favorite places to stay.

Enter children.

When our oldest was two, we took him to the above mentioned favorite campground. He had a blast despite the rainy conditions. However, I fretted for most of the weekend and did not enjoy the mountain of muddy laundry on Sunday night.

Next we tried to camp on the beach. Readers, you should NEVER CAMP ON THE BEACH. A strong wind collapsed our tent in half on itself (there is no way to fully stake it in the sand), the lack of distinguishable sites meant our neighbors were all on top of us, and when we got home after leaving early because of previously stated reasons, SAND WAS EVERYWHERE.


At first I laughed. “Hey, everything’s sandy, like me!” Two years later I used one of our sleeping bags as a prop in a play and my student commented on the sand still stuck in the bag. I had stopped laughing.

That ended camping for a while. When our youngest joined scouts, we started going as a family to overnight cabin trips, and took the boys to summer scout camp. The camping bug returned, and I remembered why I loved it. This despite the constant rain during summer camp, a car that smelled like wet feet, and a kid so covered in mosquito bites I needed to dump him into a bathtub full of calamine lotion.

Through scouts we found a great group of friends with similar aged kids who also loved to camp. Moms who don’t mind getting dirty and being without makeup or running water. We took them to our favorite spot and had an amazing weekend. But camping with two kids is a lot of work. The prep, the execution, the cleanup. I do most of it on my own. Also, to be perfectly honest, I’m not a huge fan of sleeping on the ground.

So when an opportunity came along to buy a small cottage on the lake, we jumped on it. Hubs calls it glamping because it has all of the things we love about camping—nature, fire pits, no technology, without the things we hate—sleeping on the ground, washing dishes in a plastic tub, dealing with drunk neighbors. I love waking up early and watching the sunrise. Sitting around the campfire and playing board games with my family. Curling up with a good book and taking a nap in the middle of the afternoon. No TV, no video games, the responsibilities of life left at home, at least for the weekend.

Camp NaNoWriMo kicked off on Sunday. We were out at the cottage, and despite the sweltering heat I was able to get back into my WIP and make forward progress. Last week I took the first chapter to my critique group and they loved it. Told me I needed to keep writing. When camp started I set a modest goal and made a commitment to myself to sit down every day and write. So far so good. We’re back out at the lake and I am sure my muse has found me here. (She likes to go places with no wifi—who knew?) Our friends are coming up for the holiday and I hope they love it as much as we do.


Ready to write on the first day of Camp NaNoWriMo

Sometimes I think the secret to life is as simple as this: find what makes you happy and do it. Adjust as necessary to accommodate children and bad  backs.

Dog days

Happy summer everyone!!

Back in my teaching days, the end of June meant two months of sleeping in, but now that I work over the summer, it’s more about the shifting of routines. Instead of heading off to school, the boys head off to camp. We still have to get up, make lunches, and get out the door on time. No lounging about. Weeknights and weekends are packed with soccer, soccer, soccer. Summer often feels more relentless than the – dare I say it – lazy days of winter. Nevertheless, I look forward to spending time outdoors. Enjoying a good book at the pool, taking a long evening bike ride with the family, watching the sun rise and set at our cottage. There are things to be thankful for with each passing season. And it presents another opportunity to reflect and set new goals.

Our local writers/illustrators group, BNCWI (click on the super cute Buffalo on my homepage for more info), met earlier this week to discuss some of our favorite lines from kidlit. It was a great way to get some new reading suggestions and talk about what grabs a reader’s attention. After the sharing, someone asked what everyone’s writings goals were for the summer. One of my friends mentioned setting what she called “micro-goals” or small, manageable goals that keep you motivated and feeling successful. For example, saying you’ll write 1k a day may be too daunting, but 500 words? Or even 250? An hour in the chair is not always feasible, but what about 10 minutes? Is your house a disaster due to weeks of backpack regurgitation? (It can’t just be my house, please tell me other people experience the onslaught of desk/locker clean outs!) Tackle one pile a day. My friend pointed out that sometimes the micro-goals are what you need to get moving, and once you start you accomplish even more than you set out to do – and who doesn’t like busting through the bottom of a to-do list?

If you write, and need a little extra encouragement and cheer leading to keep you motivated, check out the monthly writing challenges on Twitter. It is a wonderfully supportive community. Or try Camp NaNoWriMo, which runs next month. Even though my July looks like this:Capture

I plan to participate. I know what you’re thinking, if she has enough time to make a visual representation of her life as a soccer/scout mom, she has enough time to write. And I do. We all have time for what fuels us, if we make it a priority.

Before starting this post, I looked back on my Spring intentions to reflect on how things have gone these past few months. I’ve been writing regularly, perhaps not as much in my WIP as I’d hoped, but I published a weekly blog post and recently began to work on a new verse novel. I’m also super proud of the fact that I got my website up and running despite the small meltdowns along the way. My health is good, and I continue to look for moments where I can simply be present. One of the things I look most forward to in late June is the arrival of sugar snap peas in our farm share box. It sounds silly, but they are so incredibly delicious that I usually eat half the bag on the drive home. Add in my favorite hummus and a good book, and you have the makings of a perfect moment.

So what’s on my to-do list for summer?

  • Read
  • Write
  • Laugh
  • Eat from the Earth
  • Soak up the sun

How about you?

Different kinds of smart

Oh, technology. I want to embrace you, but sometimes you frustrate me so.

Today’s mission: forward progress on the whole marketing thing. Let’s start with updating the blog. Link all of my accounts together. Easy-peasy.

Or not.

There may have been some yelling and shaking of fists. Possibly a curse word or two. I think the problem with all of this is I do not consider myself tech-savvy, despite the fact that I am often the go-to person at work for such things, and I am most definitely not a visual person. Which you may have guessed from the lack of photos and other visual elements on my blog.

Remember back in the day when Gardner’s multiple intelligences was a thing? His theory is that there are seven (and eventually nine when he added naturalistic and existential) types of learners, and we all fall in one or more categories. We are all different kinds of smart. He was at the height of educational popularity during my time as an undergrad, and I did a whole bulletin board lesson complete with student self-assessments and tips on how to maximize your learning style. So of course I took the self-assessment and -SHOCK- came out a logical/linguistic learner with musical undertones. Translation: I’m good at reading and math, and can parody just about any song. My lowest scores were in spatial and interpersonal. Translation: I can’t read a map or interact normally with others.

Here I am, faced with the challenge to create something visually appealing that will encourage people to support me as an author.

You can see why I feel a tad uncomfortable. Give me a book or a math problem and I will read/analyze/solve it. When I need to memorize information, I set it to music or create word-links. Ask me to navigate out of a parking lot downtown and successfully find my way back home? Not even with the lady in my phone telling me which way to go. (Side note, this is why I hate when my dad gives directions and asks me to “picture it”.) Put me in a party setting and expect me to make clever conversation? Maybe after a drink. Just one. Two drinks and I’m challenging my husband’s co-worker to a push-up contest. True story.

So how do we work through something that involves our weaker intelligences? You don’t need to subscribe to Gardner’s theory to know that there are things you do well, and things that make you want to shake your fist angrily. Focus on what you do well. Use that to the fullest, and then call in reinforcements. I have friends that are amazing at website development and making things visually appealing. These friends will be hearing from me. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. And most importantly, don’t give up. I eventually figured out how to link my other sites and update the blog widgets. I even joined Instagram, despite my fear of its visual focus.

We can’t change our fundamental makeup–I frequently clam up and/or embarrass myself in public no matter how hard I try not to–but we can embrace who we are and figure out how to work through our challenges. That being said, I WILL have my website up and running by the end of the month. And I’d love feedback/suggestions on the new blog design (updated cover photo coming soon).