Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

I’ve been stepping out into my garden a lot lately, mostly planting veggies I know I can grow successfully. I did challenge myself with something I’ve never tried before though: sweet corn. It might grow, it might not. I mostly did it for the fun of it, not because I expected any kind of success. There’s not much at stake either since the grocery stores, markets, and road stands will soon be overflowing with them.

Stepping out of your comfort zone is quite different when people are relying on you to do a great job. We’ve all had to do it at some point. Some people actually thrive on it. But if you’re anything like me, just the thought of stepping out of your comfort zone when the stakes are high will make you want to hide under the nearest rock, even if you have to huddle next to the creepiest of creepy-crawlies. 

As an introvert, most of life’s experiences fall way outside my comfort zone. I’m at my happiest holed up at home with my books, pens, papers, and snacks galore. This is why I’ve adjusted to COVID-19 confinement better than most people. However, not even the stay-at-home orders could keep me safe from my editor’s request. When she proposed that I create a short video to introduce each of the five ebooks I recently completed for teens with intellectual disabilities, my first urge was to look around for a likely rock. But since we were on a video conference call, I smiled bravely and said: “Sure! Sounds like a great idea!” 

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not at my best in front of an audience. It all started in elementary school when our teacher told us we would each have to pick a slip of paper from a hat, then stand in front of the class and mime whatever was written on the slip. No big deal, I thought as the kids before me mimed easy stuff like combing their hair and brushing their teeth. When my turn came up, I picked a slip with the word “angry” written on it. Getting into my angry pose, I crossed my arms over my chest, frowned, and glared at my classmates. When no one volunteered any guesses, I deepened my frown and glared even harder. Puzzled by my classmates’ unresponsiveness and feeling more uncomfortable by the second, I looked at my teacher for help. All she offered however was a disappointed shake of her head and a wave of her hand motioning me back to my seat. 

I sometimes think back on that humiliating experience and wonder how differently my life might have turned out had my teacher offered to help me instead of rejecting my efforts. Who knows, I might have transformed into the next Meryl Streep. The fact is, my teacher didn’t help me, and I’ve had a hang-up about doing any type of public performance ever since. Which leads me back to making these five videos… I’d like to say that it all went without a hitch and each one ended up worthy of an Oscar nomination. Well, it didn’t quite go that way. Turns out it was even harder than I thought. Yet, I did make those videos. Not only that but my editor even looked happy with the results. Take that, teacher-whose-name-I-can’t-recall! 

Stepping out of our comfort zone is really something all writers must face if we want to see any type of growth in our careers. Yes, it can be scary—terrifyingly so at times. But it can also be a wonderful way to learn valuable skills and gain experience in areas we would never have attempted otherwise. 

So, go ahead and scare yourself silly! I’ll see you on the red carpet. 

How to Get Work Done When You’re Not Feeling Well

I haven’t been well since December. I have good days where I almost feel like my old self. But unfortunately, I have a lot more days when I don’t have the energy to do a tenth of what I was capable of just three months ago. It’s extremely frustrating and upsetting since it’s affecting all areas of my life, including my writing.

As you may have noticed if you’ve read a few of my posts, I’m the type of person who loves making plans. I plan my years, months, and days way in advance. I’m definitely not a last minute person. But since my health took a nosedive, I’ve had to face the fact that long-term plans simply don’t work for me at the moment. 

The funny thing is that I now have all the time in the world to write. Because schools are closed due to the pandemic, I’ve been off work for a week and may not be able to go back for several more. In a way, it’s a golden opportunity. However, my body is not cooperating. It doesn’t care that I could literally write every single minute of the day. It mostly only cares about how soon it can get another nap.

This means that I’m learning to go with the flow instead of forcing things to happen. Surprisingly, I’m still managing to get work done, but not necessarily when I might have liked to or when it might have made the most sense.

Take yesterday for example. Saturdays are usually when I try to catch up and tie up loose ends. I start with admin, wrap up writing projects, and plan for the coming week. Instead, I woke up, took a shower, had breakfast then immediately went back to bed where I spent about an hour revising a story, followed by several bouts of napping, reading, and checking the news for coronavirus updates. Not exactly what you would call a productive day, but I’m happy to say that my client still got her story on time. 

And this is the significant part: I’m learning that moving forward is not about getting everything on my list done. It’s about focusing on what is truly important TODAY. And in these times of uncertainties, it may be the smartest thing to do. 

When I woke up this morning, I wasn’t as tired. As I took stock of my energy level and tried to figure out the best use of my time, the idea for this blog post popped into my mind. Since I don’t have any pressing tasks, here I am writing this post before both the idea and my energy disappear. I have a feeling it’s going to be a good day though. Who knows, I may even start a new writing project and see what happens.  

Whatever is on your to-do list for today, make sure to STAY SAFE!

Planning for Another Great Year

I’ve had a good year this year. In fact, I’ve had a record year in terms of the money I earned from my writing alone. I’m super happy—and I’m sure I’ll be even happier when I actually receive payment for it all! 

Now comes the hard part. How can I make next year as good? What happens if I don’t even come close? What if it was just a fluke?

These questions always seem to plague me when life’s good. The answer of course is : there’s no way of knowing. 

However, there’s a few things I can do to help put luck on my side. For instance, looking over this past year, I can see that I was more outgoing. I used every conversation as an opportunity to slip in the fact that I was a writer while mentioning the books I was working on. It helped build my credibility and spread the word. When these people speak to me now, most will start the conversation by asking me how the writing is going. 

Another thing I did was not shrink back when opportunities presented themselves—even if I was scared out of my mind! This led me to appear on a podcast about writing for magazines, submit my portfolio to a school board looking for a children’s writer (and landing a five-book contract!), writing my first newspaper profile, and proofreading the English part of seven bilingual picture books for a renowned French publisher (three of them are pictured above).

So, if I simply keep doing these two things (being more vocal about my writing and saying yes to opportunities instead of running in the other direction), there’s a good chance I’ll be having another great year. 

And if I don’t? Well, it’s not the end of the world. Truly! Whether I have a good year or not, I’ll still be here doing what I love most—writing. 

Can’t beat that! 

How to Spend Your Summers Writing Instead of Weeding

Every summer I look for ways to make more time for writing. In the past that meant taking extra time off from my day job. It worked great except that it left me with less income. When I eventually got a better job with more vacation days, I didn’t think this would be an issue anymore.

The thing is, when I landed the better job, I also became a house owner. I quickly discovered that house chores and yard work can pretty much take over your life. So last summer, I did what I do best—I looked for ways to cut. 

The most difficult and drastic move came when I decided to ditch the pool. I agonized all winter about it. I had never had a pool before so over a period of five years l invested a lot of effort, energy, and money just to learn how to keep the water from turning green. Getting rid of the pool meant throwing away all that hard-earned knowledge. But keeping it meant spending valuable time on an expensive oversized tub that I got to use only two months out of the year (Quebec summers are pretty short). It took one day to dismantle the beast. I haven’t missed it since, not even during the hottest days. I simply take more cold showers now.

The vegetable garden came next. I have mixed feelings about gardening. It’s a love-hate thing. I love when I actually manage to grow something, but more often than not, my plants either don’t grow well or end up getting eaten by wildlife at some point during the night. So I skipped the garden and settled for three potted tomato trees. Much easier on my back and more restful nights.

That left the flower beds. Who doesn’t love well-tended flower beds? But who has the time to pull out all those weeds day after day? Certainly not this writer! I give the flower beds a Iot less attention now. Weeding gets done only when I need a break from writing, not because I worry what my neighbours might think. And in the process I learned that some of these weeds make pretty awesome flowers.

These three changes made a huge difference in giving me back my writing time. I sent out more pitches and finished more stories. It worked out beautifully, and is still doing so one year later.

This summer, I did restart my vegetable garden though. But I increased my odds of a better yield—and more restful nights—by putting up a chicken wire fence around the whole thing. Yes, it’s not as pretty, but I doubt my fans will make a big deal out of it. What matters is that my gardening efforts didn’t take anything away from my writing. Thankfully we had enough rain that I only had to water it a couple of times. Weeding got done when it got done, and it didn’t bother my veggies one bit. 

With summer nearly over, I’m already wondering how I can make next year even better. Who knows, I might earn enough from this summer’s writing to hire someone to do all the weeding next year!