How I Am Choosing to Live the Greatest Version of Me

A super Christmas gift from my colleagues at work listing the things they appreciate about me. The cool beans comment is a secret message to myself!

As much as I enjoyed celebrating with my family yesterday, I feel as if the new year is truly starting today. On this second morning of January, I finally get to fully implement all the goals I set up for myself over the holidays. As you may know by now, I love to set goals in all areas of my life. But this year, I made a big change. 

Since the beginning of December, I’ve been listening to the audio book The Wisdom of the Council by Sara Landon. In chapter three, goals and resolutions are described as not being really necessary since we simply need to live as if we already are the greatest version of ourselves. Setting goals would imply we were not, thus negating the whole thing. I had to listen to that part several times for my brain to get on board. Although the words felt right, my goal-loving self kept rejecting the concept. 

I finally found a way to bridge the two by making goals based not on achieving certain milestones but on getting rid of the things that bother me. I figured that if I clear the junk in my life, then it will be easier for me to focus on the greatest version of me.

At the top of the list is the state of my house. As much as I love order and cleanliness, writing is not compatible with either. The more assignments I land, the worst my house looks. And the worse my house looks, the harder it is to focus on the writing. I know that if I jump into a scrubbing, dusting, painting frenzy and try to do it all at once, I’ll get worn out and discouraged and give up before I’ve made much of a dent. So, I decided to spread out the work over a full year and see how it goes.   

To help with the process, I turned to my trusted bullet journal and made a chart dividing my house into nine rooms (there’s actually seven but I made it easier on myself by splitting the basements into three sections). While the plan is to finish one room every month, I’ve given myself a three-month leeway in case some rooms end up taking more time due to unforeseen circumstances. 

I chose to start with the basement for a couple of reasons. One, we had a miserable December. Although it’s been much milder than usual, with very little snow on the ground, it’s also been grey, damp, and not much fun to be outside. This means I won’t miss much by hiding myself away in the basement. Two, a lot of our tools and supplies are stored there. If I organize everything so that I can find things easily when I need them, I’ll save a lot of time when I’m ready to tackle the main rooms.  

I gave my house-cleaning plan a test drive over the holidays by focusing on the back room of the basement. So far, it’s working great. Not only did I get the work done in just a few days, but I discovered an unexpected positive side. As I now look at the other rooms in my house, instead of getting grumpy and depressed at all that still needs to be done, I find myself smiling and telling each problem area, “Don’t worry, I’ll get to you when your month comes.”

For my writing, I decided to do something similar. Topping the what’s-bothering-me list on that side of things is the information mess. Over the years, I accumulated lots of bits and pieces of info, and created tons of physical and digital files and folders. Finding what I need can sometimes be a challenge, especially when I’m in a hurry. So, I made a twelve-month chart in my writing bujo to help me sort the useful stuff and get rid of the rest. For January, I’d like to reorganize my idea files and folders. On the surface it looks like a huge job, but as I learned from cleaning that first basement room, I don’t have to wear myself out to make progress. I just need to remember to focus on that one topic this month and ignore all those other pieces that also need sorting. “Don’t worry,” I’ll tell them. “I’ll get to you when your month comes!”  

How to Deal With Hate Mail

I had my first hate mail a couple of weeks ago. It started well enough with “Dear Pascale, I just read your article about how you asked your grandmother for money.” To my surprise, it quickly went downhill from there. It was quite a long email, interspersed with words in all caps—perhaps to make sure I did not miss this woman’s displeasure? It would have been hard not to with such utterances as “truly shocked” and “shame on you.

The only shock on my part was that my writing had the power to provoke such animosity! Had I received this letter at the beginning of my writing career, I’m sure it would have had a much more destructive effect. But somehow the main feeling I was left with was bemusement. Having so little free time of my own, I simply could not imagine that someone could have put so much effort into penning this huge letter simply to tell me they hated my essay!

The letter ended with me not being worthy of my grandmother. At least, she was perfectly right on that score. My grandmother was a strong woman, both in body and in spirit, who lived under much harsher conditions than I ever will. She also possessed great common sense, and while always polite, was not easily intimidated. I doubt she would ever have been made to feel ashamed in any way. Taking a leaf from my grandmother’s book, I answered with the following: 

Thanks for your comments. Sorry you did not enjoy my essay. Hopefully my future work will connect with you better should you happen to read it.

All the best,


If this person’s goal was to stop me from writing, I’m afraid she did not succeed. I love creating essays. For me, it’s the best form of writing. I get to revisit bits and pieces of my past and connect them to the present in a meaningful way. If an editor happens to like my work enough to offer me payment for its publication, then I have received all the approval I will ever need. No amount of hate mail can change that. 

All I can add is, thank you Grand-maman for giving me this double opportunity to bring you back into my life and creating more memories of you in the process. 

And should you ever receive your own unprovoked and unasked-for hate mail, PLEASE don’t let others’ small mindedness keep you from doing the work YOU LOVE. There’s a big difference between receiving helpful comments or suggestions for improvements and a belittling, venomous sermon. If the message is not supportive, feel free to ignore it, go enjoy what’s left of your tulips, and KEEP ON WRITING!

The Weirdness and Beauty of Plans

I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon in my writing life. Every time I take action to land more assignments, things do happen, but somewhere completely different than where I intended. For example, I recently completed a course on feature writing for adult publications. I had barely started pitching magazines when an educational publisher approached me to write a nonfiction children’s book. That was not in the plan at all—at least not this one.  

I’m sure I must have mentioned this before, but I love making plans. They give me direction, a clear path to follow, and a feeling of safety and control. But I often wonder why I bother when the opportunities that show up never seem to be linked to my current plans. 

I suspect it’s largely due to the fact that the publishing industry tends to move very slowly. Getting any kind of response can take weeks if not months. But like most writers, I can’t afford to twiddle my thumbs until replies come in. I have bills to pay, stories I want to tell, new skills I wish to learn… and did I mention the bills? So I’m always in motion, constantly writing, learning, and reaching out to editors.

And because these two worlds don’t work in sync, I end up being offered a book contract from a children’s publisher I sent a letter of introduction to over two years ago instead of jumping into features for adult magazines.

Am I upset? Of course not. While I play it cool, I’m actually jumping and screaming for joy on the inside! Still, I sometimes wish my plans would work out the way they were supposed to. You wouldn’t believe how beautiful they look on paper. 

I think that the lesson here is this: If you want to write and get published, don’t be a control freak. Go ahead and make plans. They’re still important because they’ll get you to take action. Had I not followed through on my plan to contact educational publishers a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t be writing a book right now. But be willing to adjust the plan, put it on hold, or toss it out the window when great opportunities show up. 

And who knows, the editors I did manage to contact after my features writing course might answer me six months from now just as I finish another beautiful plan that’s completely unrelated to features. Again, I will be flummoxed by the strange timing, but you know what? I’ll be totally cool about it, and yes, totally jumping for joy on the inside, too! 

Now back to my book and my comfy socks…

Contract Woes

A couple of months ago, I received an offer to publish one of my Regency historical novels. 

I’d been trying to find a publisher for this manuscript for a while now, so receiving this offer was a big deal. But as eager as I was to get the process going, I chose to take my time to research book contracts. I hadn’t signed one in a long time and was due for a refresher course. 

Most book contracts are notorious for being nearly impossible to decipher. It’s almost as if every line is trying to trick you. Worse is when one clause contradicts another, making you feel as if the people writing these things either don’t know what they’re talking about or are extremely devious. 

To be clear, the publisher in question wasn’t a big gun. It was a small, newish operation with few titles on its list. But I was willing to give them a chance, seeing as they had a professional looking website, nice cover art, and made good use of social media to promote their authors and their work. 

One of the first clauses in the contract involved the rights being acquired. In this instance, they wanted everything. And by that, I mean every single right imaginable, including those yet to be invented. I’m aware that publishers will do this as a matter of course. It makes sense for them to try keeping as many rights as they think they can get away with. Some clueless or desperate writers might go along with this, but as I was neither, I crossed out all of it, except for digital and print rights.

My decision was not arbitrary. This publisher happens to sell mostly ebooks. They do have print books available, but as they’re print-on-demand, the price is much higher, making for a very difficult sell (meaning that only loving family members and very close friends would choose to buy a copy instead of putting the money towards their retirement funds or a six-month stay in Bali). Had this publisher held more clout, I’d have been open to discussing granting them additional rights, but unfortunately they weren’t at that stage yet. 

As I poured over the contract, I crossed off many other clauses as well as rewording several to make them more advantageous to me. I knew it was not likely that my changes would all be accepted. What I did expect however was an open discussion, leading to negotiations that would ultimately attempt to satisfy both parties. Instead, this is the reply I received:

“Unfortunately, a lot of your changes make it difficult for us to publish and advertise your book. Unfortunately, we’ll have to pass.”

Even though I was disappointed, I was glad of two things. One, that I had put in the time and effort to brush up on book contracts. The knowledge I gained was invaluable. And two, I learned that this publisher was not savvy enough to instigate negotiations. If they didn’t have a handle on such a basic skill, what else were they ignorant about? I feel that I have enough to learn at my end without having to worry they’re doing their job well. Otherwise, what’s the point? I may as well publish my own books. As I’m not quite ready to take that step yet, I’m off to do what I do best—write amazing stuff! 

Which reminds me, my latest article “When a Page a Day is Too Much” is featured in this week’s issue of Funds for Writers. Here’s the link:

Still Bodies Make Poor Writing Buddies

I had forgotten that bodies that don’t move tend to fall apart, especially older bodies. For the last couple of nights, I’ve been waking up with shooting pains in my hip and thigh. The culprit? Writing, of course.

Since the start of my summer vacation three weeks ago, I’ve been writing, reading about writing, and participating in online writing trainings almost non-stop, only taking the occasional break to eat, sleep, and shower. 

My body finally rebelled by sending painful signals at three o’clock in the morning. So today, I dutifully put my writing aside and looked for something my out-of-shape body could do without too much strenuous effort. 

I suddenly remembered I hadn’t used my soccer ball yet this year. Actually, it technically belongs to my son, but when he moved out, I refused to… All right, let’s just say that being the caring mom that I am, I’m looking after it for him until he’s all settled in. He’s only been gone for a couple of years after all. So, back to my original story, ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved kicking soccer balls in the backyard. At first I’d try to set records for how long I could keep the ball up in the air. As I grew older, I discovered it was a wonderful way of releasing stress and finding solutions to pesky problems. Later on, when I began writing, it become my go-to activity for relieving writer’s block. 

Soon after setting the ball in motion, I was quickly reminded of this unblocking side effect. My mind naturally drifted towards various writing tasks, one of them being that I really needed to make time to create a new blog post. My poor fans were probably starting to worry at my prolonged silence. Then, totally out of the blue, I found myself writing the perfect blog post in my head. The problem, of course, was that I was supposed to be exercising. I couldn’t stop barely minutes after starting just to put my musings down on paper, could I? The thought of another painful night helped me keep the ball in the air. 

As I kicked away, I allowed the blog post to compose itself flawlessly in my mind. It was a thing of pure beauty, a true work of art, enough to make anyone weep with awe and joy. Unfortunately, it evaporated before I could do anything about it. I’m afraid you are now left with this poor attempt at reconstructing what would most certainly have been the best piece of writing ever recorded. 

On the positive side, you can still benefit from my great wisdom: don’t become so obsessed with your writing that you forget to take care of your body. After all, in order to share your words with the world you will need some sort of physical assistance. 

Now go give some love to that amazing bod of yours so the rest of us can keep being utterly blown away by your magnificent awesomeness for years to come.

What Do You Do Every Day?

This week I seem to have spent more time communicating with editors than working on my writing. It’s a fun development, which came about from my new year’s resolution to pitch at least one editor and write for at least one hour every day, including weekends. And by day, I usually mean evenings as I have a day job. 

I started on January second and managed to hit my two goals most days. The only thing stopping me have been headaches and migraines, which always show up out of nowhere and can last up to three days. Even then I usually managed to sneak in a bit of market study or write a few lines on my work in progress. So even though I didn’t actually hit my goals on those days, I still moved forward, which was super exciting and motivating. 

Here are the two rules I set for myself and what happened: 

Rule for writing goal – Work in small bursts if I have to, as long as I hit that one hour mark before I go to bed. 

Result – For the most part, as soon as I started writing, I lost track of the time and hit the one hour mark no problem. It’s a process that seemed to build on itself. If I could do it one day, then I knew I could do it the next. As I saw the progress I made each day, it made me eager to get to work. In four weeks, I wrote two blog posts and three new articles, finished one work in progress, and rewrote another from scratch. I don’t consider myself a fast writer so these numbers are pretty impressive for me. 

Rule for querying goal – Send a pitch or a complete manuscript to a book publisher, magazine editor, or literary agent before I go to bed. 

Result – The regular querying brought me to discover new markets and opportunities here in North America as well as the UK and Australia. It forced me to put self-doubt and fears of all kinds aside and just send that pitch so I wouldn’t fall behind. Except for a few quick rejections, not much happened in the first couple of weeks. But on week 3 and 4, I started getting interested replies and requests for more information, which led to my first contract of the year. Joy! This, of course, is making me want to write and pitch even more.      

As a side goal, I also decided to journal every day. It’s something I had let go of in the last few months because I stopped being able to get up early enough to get it done. It was a painful decision, but I chose to prioritize giving my body the rest it needed over my love of journaling. The thing is, I’ve always preferred journaling first thing in the morning. I feel as if it sets me up for the rest of the day. Over the long Christmas break, I got a taste for it again as I was able to do it first thing. I hated having to let go of it when I got back to my day job. So I decided to keep journaling no matter what the time of day. Sometimes I do it as soon as I get back from work. Other times it’s just before I turn in for the night. The nice thing is that even though I don’t get exactly the same benefits as I used to, something good always comes out of it no matter what time of day I journal. I especially love when it leads to new insights and ideas for writing projects. I’m happy to say that I only missed one day of journaling this month (stupid migraine). 

My goal for February is to continue pitching, writing, and journaling every day with the addition of managing the growing number of editor responses. It’s a really good place to be and I intend to enjoy every minute of it—migraine or not!

Be the Inspiration

January is a great time to get inspired for the coming year. I’ve been finding mine by reading In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from Over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs by Grace Bonney.

The book is basically a compilation of successful women who each answer a set of questions about their experiences as business owners and creators.

As inspiring as each of these women are, I thought it would be interesting to answer the same questions myself, exactly as if I were being interviewed for the book and see what my answers might reveal about my own process.

Here are a few of the questions asked of these 100 women and my own answers. 

* What is your favourite thing about your workspace?

That it is movable. I like the fact that I can write anywhere as long as I have my laptop, iPad, or just a notebook and some markers and pens. This summer I did a lot of writing in parking lots as I waited for my partner while he attended a multitude of medical appointments. As I was not allowed to accompany him inside due to the pandemic, I made sure to bring plenty of work to help pass the time. It worked beautifully and really brought home the point that writing can be done anywhere. 

* What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting or running your business?

Time (and this seems to be a popular answer in the book as well). Over the years, I’ve spent countless hours learning, writing, editing, researching, thinking, developing, reading, planning, and dreaming. The amazing thing is that none of it has ever felt like a loss. Every minute that I spend on my writing business is special to me even when it’s not going so well. After spending years wondering what to do when I grew up (I was nearly thirty when I finally figured it out), I am utterly grateful to have found my calling at last, which means I’ll never take it for granted. Ever! 

* What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting out? 

Don’t wait to hear back from an editor before starting on another piece and sending out more work. Always be writing and submitting. I’ve found that not only does it help my business grow but that it keeps me from getting into a funk when I get the inevitable rejections—or complete silence in many cases. By always working on a new piece, I have less time to spend on feeling sorry for myself. 

Grace Bonney’s book contains many more questions and inspiring answers. While I encourage you to read the book, I also invite you to answer the questions yourselves. I’m sure you’ll discover some amazing things about your own artistic life. But don’t keep these answers hidden in a notebook. Make sure you find a way to add them to your posts, CV, LinkedIn profile, and anywhere they could have an impact on your creative career. 

Here’s to a wonderful writing year! 

Is Your Passion for Writing Petering Out?

Do you find your passion for writing has taken a nosedive? Is that burning, all-consuming desire to succeed not as strong as it once was? If so, here’s why you shouldn’t give up just yet. 

A few days ago, I came across an article in Bloomberg Businessweek entitled “The Psychological Formula for Success After Age 50” by Arianne Cohen. It stated that even though passion dwindles with time, it is offset by perseverance and determination which both increase in middle age and peak in our 70s. 

As soon as I finished reading the article, I rushed to the kitchen to share this wonderful discovery with my partner of 31 years. As he listened to me, his hands froze in mid-chop, the partially-sliced red pepper on the cutting board forgotten. His whole body went rigid before he bellowed: “Are you serious?”

Surprised at his angry outburst, my mind quickly sorted through the most likely reasons. “I’m not talking about sex,” I replied. “I’m talking about work and hobbies, you know, getting stuff done!”

My words instantly reassured him—and thankfully saved lunch! 

For a while now, I had been wondering why I was having more and more trouble getting myself to do any writing. After some deep thinking, I realized that my passion for writing basically was not what it used to be. I then started asking myself some hard questions. Was it time to do something else? Had I fallen out of love with writing? No, I didn’t think so. After 20 years, I still enjoyed the process of turning the germ of an idea into a finished story, the thrill of seeing my work in print. But the eagerness to grab a notebook or run to my computer to get the words down simply was not there.

Things finally clicked into place after reading Cohen’s article. Just like my partner, I felt instant relief. It was all right not to have passion anymore because frankly, I have bucketloads of perseverance and determination to spare. Even though I don’t have the drive and desire I used to, I can still keep going until the work gets done. To me, that’s way more important than relying on something as fleeting as passion. And just in case my partner should be reading this: No, I’m not talking about sex!  

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!