The Next Chapter

Sometimes in life, we have to give up something to get something else. For me, it’s time to say farewell to this blog.

Capture_CommuniqueYep, after more than 700 (!) posts, this is my last one – at least for a while.

I wrote my first post on Sept. 27, 2009 when I became president of the National Federation of Press Women. My first post was about my campaign platform. With members across the country, I was looking for a means to share knowledge with others on a regular and frequent basis. For some reason, I thought that posting three times a week would be ideal. Members and other followers responded favorably to the posts even after my term as president ended two years later.

Through the years, I did scale back. Now instead of posting three times a week (what was I thinking?!), I now post three times a month. My focus evolved, too, and my tagline became, “Navigating careers, the media and life.”

The few times when I considered ceasing publication, others would convince me to keep writing. They shared how the advice guided them through a difficult time, provided them with new tools, or reinforced messages they were sharing with their colleagues or bosses. So I kept writing.

I have enjoyed every minute of the writing. But the blog was more than writing. First came the ideas and research, then writing followed by editing. I always appreciated when my readers pointed out errors so I could fix them, even when it was a former police officer who worked for me and was so proud to point out a mistake. Harvey wasn’t trying to show me up, but rather to show me that he had learned some rules of writing from me. I was thankful he reached out.

My blog is not controversial so comments aren’t frequent. I always appreciated hearing at conferences and workshops from readers who shared, “I don’t comment on your blog, but I want you to know how much I enjoy it.” That meant the world to me because the blog truly is a labor of love.

That said, the top commenters on my blog posts are some of my favorite people. The top commentator is my former high school English/journalism teacher Roger Hudak. He encouraged me back in high school and he encourages me now. Anyone who knows Roger knows he will make a difference in your life.

I have appreciated all of the comments, but perhaps none more so than from Mary Lou Hinrichsen, whom I met through NFPW. Mary Lou was from Iowa and died at age 90 on Feb. 5, 2017. She was a journalist, farmer, and musician. Here’s what she once told me, “You do a great job of keeping me up to date our here in the cornfields of Iowa on what’s going on.”

When I write, I picture Mary Lou.

Another remembrance I wrote was of my dear friend and mentor Emyl Jenkins Sexton. Even now reading the post, I become teary-eyed, although she wouldn’t want that. I’m still working on becoming a published mystery author, and that is the reason I am ceasing my blog. It is time for me to focus full-time on publishing my books.

My travel memoir about visiting all 50 states before I turned 50 is finished. I am currently shopping it. My mystery was three-quarters finished, but I have decided to start fresh. Thanks to my friends and colleagues in Sisters in Crime and James River Writers, I have learned much about writing. I fear my manuscript will take much to get it in shape. Starting fresh is easiest. I’m hard at work. I will revisit the original manuscript at a later date. When I am a published author, I hope to see and meet many of you at book signings. And, I’m sure I’ll be promoting my books on my blog and elsewhere.

At the suggestion of many readers, I also plan to turn my blog posts into mini books, which I plan to sell. Check back here on occasion to see what I am up to. I hope you will stay subscribed for when the whim hits me to write a post.

For the last few weeks, I’ve enjoyed re-reading many of my blogs – reliving conferences, thinking about friendships, looking forward to new adventures, and yes, getting a bit sentimental. I knew it would be best to not announce the end of the blog in advance.

As I’ve told myself, and I’ll tell you: Don’t think of this as good-bye. Think of this as another chapter. I hope you will turn the page with me.

5 Tip to Ensure a Successful Presentation

Earlier this spring, my team was on the talk circuit giving three presentations in a short time span. We hadn’t given any talks in the prior three years!

Here are some of the things we did to prepare.

Consider the audience and messages. Gearing up for the presentations we considered our audience and what messages we wanted to share. We also wanted to have strong stories that would illustrate the points we wanted to make.

Think visually. We had plenty of information to convey but we didn’t want our audience to suffer from “death by PowerPoint.” We started with a rough outline in Word and noted what images we would use.

As we built the presentations (each one was a different topic), we practiced multiple times. When we couldn’t remember what we wanted to say about a slide, we knew we had the wrong image. Sometimes, it wasn’t the image but rather that we had too much information or the wrong information.

Practice. Once the presentation was finished, we asked colleagues to be our audience, and we did a practice run. One time our timing or pacing was off.  Another time, we realized one of the images didn’t convey what we really needed. Each time we tweaked and did one more practice.

We knew it was the final practice when we each felt great about our respective parts, and we were raring to deliver our presentation.

Streamline. Most of us keep several files open on their desktop. Before each presentation, we closed everything on the laptop we were using except the PowerPoint. We didn’t want emails popping up on the screen. We also checked that our computer was updated so we didn’t get the message that the computer was ready to restart.

Test the equipment. We arrived early to ensure we had all the power cords and connecting cables and that the images displayed properly. We also brought our own remote clicker so we wouldn’t be tethered. (We even had extra batteries.)

We know the presentations went well based on the questions we were asked and by the follow up inquiries we received.

Are you ready to present?

Rabbit Holes and Notebooks Spark Joy

I’ve always loved notebooks. I knew I might need help when following Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her advice is to pile all similar objects in a room and then sort through the pile, keeping those items that spark joy. I didn’t follow the advice as intended. I simply gathered all of the notebooks I had scattered throughout my home and piled them into a basket. Confession: The basket wasn’t big enough ─ and it was quite a large basket. I determined that I likely had a lifetime supply of notebooks.

Worse, a month after this exercise, I attended a conference and proceeded to pick up another notebook. In my defense, the notebook was more of a journal with a hard cover and reference to the conference city. It was lovely, and I knew I would use it. In fact, I went back to see if I could claim a second one and they were all gone. Whew!

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Field Notes offers practical applications for using their products. (Photo from Field Notes website.)

My point is that I clearly need no more notebooks. And then I began a rabbit hole journey when I viewed an email for The Graduate Hotels, which was opening a new hotel in Cambridge, U.K. I noticed that the hotel offers a Field Notes edition to their guests, which I found charming. In fact, it may be the reason I book my next stay at one of their hotels.

These Field Notes are ruled and “perfect for lecture notes and assignments, or tailgate, playlist, or road trip planning,” according to the site. In its description, The Graduate Hotels writes, “Field Notes is inspired by the vanishing subgenre of memo books, ornate pocket ledgers, and the simple beauty of a well-crafted grocery list.”

The notebooks caught my eye, and I discovered I could order them online. And that is when the real trouble began.

As I searched online, I discovered the wide variety of notebooks, including National Parks and Three Missions, as well as Clandestine, a limited and cryptographic edition. As a mystery writer, I just had to have the Clandestine Field Notes pack, right? And I love visiting Yellowstone. You do see where this is going, don’t you?

It gets worse. They have a yearly subscription. Next year’s Field Notes have not been revealed, but it did not stop me from signing up for the subscription.

My basket overflows.

P.S. I suspect this post reads like an advertisement for Field Notes. I promise you I was not paid to write this post. If anything I lost money on this post, but I’ll have great notebooks all year!

Back To School Is the Perfect Time To Organize

20170307_084141Walking into an office supply store is always an expensive endeavor for me. I can’t help myself: the pens, colored notebooks, shiny folders. They all want me to take them home. And as they say, “Resistance is futile.”

August and September are especially challenging because of back-to-school sales. I can’t help but be tempted, especially when I can find items on sale or have a coupon.

This time of year is also the perfect time to organize for the coming year. It’s always been that way for me, and now that I work at a university, my need to organize in late summer is even stronger.

Here are a few suggestions to organize your work space of office:

Corral your pens and pencils. I have one container, and if they don’t all fit, I need to get rid of some. Obviously, toss the ones that don’t write. For those that work fine but you know you will never use consider donating to a senior center or after-school program.

Clean your desktop. Remove everything from the surface of your work space and wipe it down. Don’t forget to clean the keyboard, too. It’s an amazing feeling to then begin working with a clean desk.

I also make the time to clean off my computer desktop. I’m always amazed how files accumulate. For me, it’s often laziness. It’s easy to save a file to my desktop rather than thinking about where I should logically file it for archival purposes. Knowing I frequently save to my desktop, I force myself at least once a quarter to organize my files. Once I do, I find my productivity increases. And knowing that the files are saved to the cloud or a backup device lets me sleep at night.

Shred your files. When is the last time you pulled a piece of paper from a file? If it’s been months, maybe it’s time to purge some of your files. I’m working toward having zero files. If someone gives me a paper document that I will need, I ask for it electronically or I scan it and save it on my computer. At least once a quarter I work to eliminate one or two file folders. I’m down to one small file drawer.

Order the necessary supplies. Nothing is more frustrating than discovering you have run out of sticky notes or staples. I check my supplies and order what I need for the next six months. That way you don’t run out and you don’t waste time each month placing an order. And maybe you avoid going into the office supply store and buying another notebook! (But that’s a post for another day.)

Are You Up for Nothing?

One of my favorite things to do is nothing.

The problem is I don’t do enough of nothing.

I’m working, running errands, writing, playing on my mobile ─ you get the picture.

CaptureBut when I do nothing, I feel better. People who know me often don’t believe me when I tell the I am doing nothing. But it is the greatest gift you can give yourself because it gives you time to recharge, to ponder, to be.

I now have a better way to define what it is I am doing. The Dutch have a word for it, niksen. I learned about it in an article in The New York Times, The Case for Doing Nothing” by Olga Mecking.

She wrote, “The idea of niksen is to take conscious, considered time and energy to do activities like gazing out of a window or sitting motionless.”

One of the best ways for me to practice niksen is when I gaze out a window at birds at the feeder. I become mesmerized by the variety of species as I watch them flit to and fro. Before long, I am barely aware of the birds and am simply staring into space. It’s a wonderful feeling for as long as it lasts.

Even before I knew of niksen, I tried to follow the advice of Lillian Hellman, who said, “You do too much. Go and do nothing for a while. Nothing.”

Sage advice.

Are you up for nothing?

Overcoming Writer’s Block

Most writers at some point struggle with writer’s block. Overcoming the block can take many forms.

For screenwriter Ramona Taylor, writer’s block is a sign that she doesn’t have a strong enough story. For Mary Burton, writer’s block means she has a problem with her character.

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Don’t let cupcakes distract you from writing. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Fortunately for these writers and Greer McAllister, they have developed ways to overcome writer’s block, and they shared their tips at a James River Writers’ Writing Show.

Burton, a New York Times and USA Today bestselling suspense author, said every book “hits a stage where the authors thinks she can’t write and is a fraud.” Burton’s approach is to not focus on the first draft, which she called her “sloppy copy.” The real story, she said, happens in the editing.

McAllister’s novel The Magician — a USA Today bestseller, Indie Next pick, and Target Book Club selection — has been optioned for film by Jessica Chastain. She finds it helpful to write a synopsis first. “I discover what the heck is going on in my book,” she said.

Taylor, whose films have screened in festivals across the country, said she visualizes her screenplay and writes the bullet points. As she is writing, she places asterisks where she is stuck and needs to come back and rewrite. By leaving the writing for a bit, she said she will be inspired later and is able to clean up the bad spots.

All the authors stressed that research is not writing. “Research is fun,” Burton said, “But research is not writing!”

Added McAllister, “Research and writing can really be frenemies.”

When they are truly stuck, she said she will write the copy for the back cover, write social media posts or write to other authors. Her writing continues but not on the book.

Burton recommended creating something or exercising to reset the brain.

One author noted, “You can tell how the writing is going by the number of cupcakes on the counter!”

If all else fails, Burton recommended a “plot nap.”

Write Start 21-Day Challenge

Sometimes you need a push to get started.

Fortunately, I found the encouragement I needed with Javacia Harris Bowser, whom I met at an NFPW conference in Alabama. She recently led the “Write Start 21-Day Challenge,” which was designed to help participants uncover confidence, commitment and creativity to develop a daily writing habit.

I confess that there were a few days in which I did not get to the challenge on the day it happened. I would catch up the next day. And that’s okay because sometimes things don’t work as planned. The key is to keep moving forward.

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I generated plenty of ideas following Javacia’s writing prompts. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Javacia encouraged us to create a morning ritual that would include writing. That didn’t work for me because I already have a morning routine that helps me set my intentions for the day. I elected to complete her challenges in the evening.

I had always thought that writing at the end of a full work day would not be possible. Instead, I discovered the time was ideal for me. I did more writing in the 21 days than I had in the previous three months. And I’m still writing! (This post was written in the evening.)

Writing requires a commitment and, if it’s important, Javacia said, “You have to make the time to do it.” In a blog post Why Writers Should Write Every Day she offers reasons to write every day.

She also stressed that being a professional writer means writing even when you don’t feel like it. I set daily and weekly writing goals. I also appreciated Javacia pointing out that we can’t wait for inspiration to hit us. She cited early American author Jack London, who said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

As a result of the Write Start 21-Day Challenge I

  • Developed a habit of writing daily.
  • Created a long list of potential topics.
  • Identified prompts to inspire me.

I know this was a lot of work on Javacia’s part. Thank you Javacia for the inspiration, the creativity and the confidence!