Monday Morning Post-Vacation Blahs

Yes, I have something worse than the Monday Morning Blues. A disease more distressing than Post-Vacation Lethargy. I have the “Blahs.”

Do you know what I mean?

The weather outside is gray and drizzly. Blah.

Piles of cat-scratchings mock me, clinging to my slippers when I walk anywhere near the dining room. Who cares?

Dishes are piled in the sink and my bullet journal schedule for the week is practically blank. Whatever.

Last night, I tried to convince my husband to call in sick so we could do something fun today. He laughed. (Although he agreed that he didn’t want to go to work today either.)

Working at home is a double-edged sword when I have the blahs. I mean, if I really don’t feel like it, I don’t have to head to the office. No one is staring at the empty desk wondering when I’ll show up.

But my mother taught me better than that.

It’s called self-discipline. And if it isn’t her voice chiding me about the filthy bathrooms and the piles on my desktop, it’s a drill sergeant blasting me with condemnation.

So even with the Monday Morning Post-Vacation Blahs, I’d better get myself in gear and go to work.

At least I can wear my new sweats. Ah, talk about comfy.

I can take breaks to crochet another granny square. Or play Words with Friends.

After all, I’ve only got to write the blog posts for the next two weeks. And I’ve come up with a fantastic idea for half of them.

Vacation is needful. It’s especially important for me to get away from home so I can inhale fresh adventures and map new settings. These are gold mines for future fiction tales.

Hemingway got a few things right. And this was one of them.

If I didn’t work as a substitute teacher, I could go days without ever leaving my house. I don’t count walking to the mailbox or picking up groceries as “living.” Sorry.

Many writers face the same sort of compulsion. To lock ourselves away with whatever we’re currently working on. Why bother even showering? No one’s going to see us.

And then the UPS guy rings the doorbell and waits for a signature.

It’s always best to plan for package delivery if nothing else.

I wonder what he thinks of the big smear of something above my left knee. He glances toward my hair and suddenly a platoon of itches marches through my unwashed hair.

Don’t scratch. Don’t scratch. Don’t scratch.

And then I return to my office and plunge back into my writing.

Did the doorbell ring? What time is it?

Apparently, I should be figuring out what to cook my husband for dinner. When he travels, I don’t have to deal with this problem.

As you can see, this post might have arrived a few hours later than usual. But it’s here.

The blahs didn’t win.

What constitutes the blahs to you?

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Warming up the Patio

House warming. Do they even have those anymore? I don’t know but after all the drama and trauma of the too-long three-week installation of our new patio, it seemed appropriate to have a patio warming.

Do you throw yourself this sort of party?

I’ve always been a little confused by the social standards and expectations for parties, especially if they involved gifts. Doesn’t it seem a little self-centered to throw yourself a birthday bash so people will shower you with gifts?

In this case, the only gift required was attendance…and maybe a side dish for the barbecue.

Before

Our house is seventeen-months new. But that doesn’t mean it has no need for improvement.

It was pretty obvious during our first summer here that the patio was insufficient.

 

I mean, I like to do editing, read-through and read-aloud stages in an outdoor office if the weather is nice. Which is less than six months out of the year in the Pacific Northwest.

The original patio that came with the house was hardly large enough for the grill and my lounge chair.

I wish I was kidding.

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So on the short wish list of things I wanted to change, the outdoor entertaining area of the back yard become the top priority.

During

The project started a week before we expected it to. And lasted a week longer than we were told to expect.

And it was messy.

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So I didn’t have any outdoor office options for about one month of my three-month summer.

And it wasn’t just the back of the house that became a disaster area.

Who knew patio stones could take up two curbside parking spaces?

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The weather decided to cooperate. And then escalate.

The day the secondary crew (which we weren’t supposed to need) came to fix the issues the first crew couldn’t seem to deal with, temperatures soared into triple digits.

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No, these aren't supposed to do this when you step on them.
No, these aren’t supposed to do this when you step on them.

After

In the end, it didn’t have the level appearance I had imagined.

This is the problem with an imagination. At times it hinders our enjoyment of life as much as false expectations.

Truthfully though, I have everything I could want with a soothing water feature and portable fire pit still to be added.

I spent time in the lounger and at the table reading through the first draft of my novel-in-progress.

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And there was plenty of space for the family to recline during the patio warming event on Labor Day.

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It seemed fitting to inaugurate something that required so much labor on that auspicious day.

And the warmest news of all? Those stones heat up and hold the warmth like nobody’s business.

What is the most important feature for your outdoor living space?

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Am I a “real” Author yet?

Author at work

I’m coming up on two years as a full-time writer. I have spent hours writing words, days editing them and months submitting the resulting stories to appropriate markets. And still I wonder: at what point does a person feel like an author?

When the first acceptance letter comes? I’ve got two, and I still feel like I’m pretending to be an author most days.

When the first paycheck comes? Okay, I can’t really consider that minuscule royalty check a “paycheck.”

When someone asks for an autograph? I’ve signed a couple – for family and friends.

When they get an advance with their sold  manuscript?

When they see their book on a best-seller list?

When they must start a Facebook fan page because they have reached the maximum number of friends on their profile?

When they have 5,000 or more followers on Twitter?

When they say their name and someone standing nearby asks, “Are you the Sharon Hughson who wrote this book?”

I keep waiting for a magical moment. I always imagined there would be one. Doesn’t there have to be one?

I’ve dreamed of writing stories that people want to read for most of my life. I’ve been writing stories since I was nine years old (before then, I just told oral tales to my stuffed animals).

I imagined that I would spend my days at a handsome desk. Sunlight would pour over me from a nearby window. Words would spill from my fingers onto the page.

It's a beauty! Those Hughson boys can assemble a desk, I tell you.
It’s a beauty! Those Hughson boys can assemble a desk, I tell you.

I am living that vision.

The one where a bookcase behind me is filled with titles I wrote? Not yet. It’s only been two years. I do have the proof copy of my sole independently published title on my office bookshelf.

Why do I keep waiting to “feel” like an author?

I can’t imagine Brandon Sanderson waking up in the morning and wondering if he is really an author.

What makes a person reach a point where they consider themselves an author? Please, help me figure this out.

New Office: Assembly required

Environment matters. Nature versus nurture aside, we know successful work can be promoted by the proper surroundings.

My sons had the music cranked while they worked on homework. I prefer the sound of silence while I’m concentrating.

One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to optimal work space.

As a writer, I spend most of my time working at home. I love this, but I have to admit the cramped quarters of my old office inhibited me.

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Now I have a big, beautiful new office. And everyone knows a new office needs a new desk.

Is my clever title beginning to make a little more sense now? Did you really think I was going to talk about setting up my office space?

My husband loves to build things. “If I won the lottery, I’d quit my job and work on a construction crew.”

Yep, that’s what he says. Unfortunately, my husband has the worst luck when it comes to home improvement projects.

He may love to build – but it doesn’t come easily.

Thus, the reason my two sons found themselves assembling my lovely 71 x 71 inch L-shaped desk this past weekend. Hubs was wrestling with water hoses for the washing machine and converting circular dryer vent pipe to fit the oval-shaped ductwork.

Meanwhile, I was unloading boxes (mainly shelving books and sorting items into the donation bags and boxes).

“Those two need supervision,” my husband told me.

Of course, who am I to supervise the construction of anything? Well, a lemon meringue pie maybe.

My youngest son had the assembly manual. (Yes, it required a manual to convert two heavy boxes of boards into this lovely desk.) My oldest son lined up the parts and wielded the tools.

It’s amazing how manufacturers have learned to label all the boards (A-K for my desk) and include pictures of even the smallest screw. I’m convinced the poor sap who spends his days writing the assembly instructions has the most boring writing job in the world.

My oldest son predicted the desk construction project would take five hours. He’s learned to estimate high after watching how things don’t come together for his father.

Each time I stepped into the doorway (the entire floor of the office had been requisitioned for organizing the parts and equipment), I smiled. They were working together – and getting it done.

These sons of mine argue about everything. Mostly, it isn’t because they disagree. It’s because they like to rile each other up and cause friction.

It doesn’t help that they both think they know everything. (You remember that, right? Between 14 and 25, you didn’t need any help because you had all the answers. Or maybe that was just me – and my sons.)

There were some debates early on in the building process. When my husband sought me out as an overseer, he had just stopped them from assembling things backward.

It's a beauty! Those Hughson boys can assemble a desk, I tell you.
It’s a beauty! Those Hughson boys can assemble a desk, I tell you.

After the first hour, most of the criticism went to the manual writer. I learned this when I mentioned I might review my desk at the online retailer. After all, I really liked it.

“Make sure you mention the manual was written by an idiot.” Yeah, I’m pretty sure that won’t make it into any review I write.

Someone had to take the fall for the difficulty my genius sons faced in assembling this central figure in my new work space.

I’m not surprised it was the beleaguered manual writer.

What’s one feature you love or would change about your work space? Any thoughts on assembly instructions?

A Photo Tour of the New Place

Today is my first official day working from my new office. Isn’t it amazing?

That's an L-shaped desk with room for writing and editing.
That’s an L-shaped desk with room for writing and editing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d love to take you on a tour of the whole house. Maybe I’ll figure out how after we get everything unpacked, all the furniture in place and the mega Styrofoam explosion cleaned off the floors.

This is the new kitchen.NewKitchen

Not as many cupboards as the old one – and yes, I’ve almost completely filled the lovely pantry in the corner to bursting.

 

 

 

We ate most of our meals at the bar in our old house.

You can see the bar in the foreground here.
You can see the bar in the foreground here.

Now we have even more room at the new bar, but we don’t eat there. It isn’t because of the clutter. Aside from scarfing down pizza on the first night – in between hauling boxes galore – this place has been lonely.

Pull up a seat on one of those fancy new stools
Pull up a seat on one of those fancy new stools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isn’t she lovely?

The beautiful new dining area - only steps from the kitchen and the great room
The beautiful new dining area – only steps from the kitchen and the great room.

Can you see why we would rather eat in the lovely room at this cozy table? Tonight will be the first “solo” meal for hubby and I without the kids, so maybe the bar will feel intimate enough for the two of us.

The move is finished. I can’t use that as an excuse for the lack of words flowing onto the page.

 

 

Time to do what writers do…play with imaginary friends all day.

One Good thing about Moving

Moving isn’t all bad news. In fact, there are a few things I’ve enjoyed about the whole “getting a new house” ordeal.

            In a word: shopping.

Not the usual kind – groceries to keep us fed or toilet paper to…you know. I’m talking about decorating a new living space from the ground up.

Maybe not the ground. I’m not buying floor covering. Unless bath mats count. No? I didn’t think so.

            Online Stores

I am a reason that Amazon is super successful. They should pay me for my dedication to searching their store and making purchases.

As an introvert, the idea of strangers pushing past me while I’m checking out towels and window coverings at Target holds zero appeal. Especially when I’ve had success shopping from the Brylane Home catalog for such things.

In this case: beautiful teal and nautical blue cotton towel sets for the master bath. And an eight-piece comforter set for the master bedroom. Don’t forget a new comforter and sheets for the “guest” bedroom.

All of this spurred me toward a smiley face. Even when the total surpassed $200. It’s only money, right?

Blinds for the windows in the bedrooms and living room are essential. After all, our nearest neighbor is twenty feet away (thankfully, there are no windows into bedrooms on that side of the house).

After comparing several sites, I ordered samples from justblinds.com. A few days later, they arrived. I held the three inch ultra-mini blinds up to the window. How much light would they block? How transparent could they be under the right circumstances?

Heading to my computer, I placed my order. Another $450 on the Discover card. Think about all the cash back I’m earning for using this account to decorate my new home!

            Online “Window” Shopping

Some things need to be seen in order to invest in them. Namely: furniture.

The World Wide Web offers a unique opportunity to narrow the field, however.

In my new home, I’ll need a new dining set, living room seating and a desk for my office. (Yes! I’m going to have a real writing haven in this new place.)

Surfing the net, I found a general idea for the dining room. I know I want a counter-height table. Most of them are square, with legs at the corners only. This also appeals to me. Now if I can find a color and chair styles to suit me…

Couches, chairs and sectionals require in-person shopping. Seriously. Do people actually buy furniture without sitting in it to see if the cushions act like hungry beasts or solid rocks?

I’m still debating about the leather issue. Leather makes me hot. It doesn’t breathe. I envision myself slicked up in the summer by my own perspiration, sliding onto the floor like some sort of cartoon character.

No thank you. I like the way leather looks, though. I haven’t been completely impressed with the durability of microfiber fabric. (And I’m not talking about the claw marks. That will be handled before a certain feline is admitted to the new house.)

I’ve had the most fun frustration searching online for a desk. I know exactly what I want. If you think this is a plus, you haven’t been shopping with me.

When I say I know EXACTLY what I want, I mean I have a picture in my head that I expect to find replicated in real life.

            Now you see the issue.

 

Lovely, right? Only $1,768 and this desk could be yours.

Isn’t there a huge market for computer desks with keyboard trays and a set of drawers connected to a five-foot work surface to run perpendicular to it? They call them L-shaped workstations or desks.

The selection of styles and sellers boggles even the Google search engine.

Sadly, my mental image has yet to find its perfect match. Sigh

This means I will end up settling. Because I refuse to pay $1,300 for the set-up. We all realize my annual income since becoming a professional writer has been in the – $600 range. This year – even with a contract – it looks like it will be closer to -$2,000.

I can’t justify decking my office out with solid maple furnishings.

Should I settle for a $250 flim-flam setup courtesy of Staples? That remains to be seen.

            Beating the Pavement

Eventually, the search heads for the street. The number of furniture stores pales when compared to the frequency of drive-thru coffee klatches.

No, that doesn’t mean it is easy to narrow down the search. Or maybe it is. If you just choose the place nearest to the Barnes and Noble bookstore where you worked while leaving your house empty for an inspector.

I love shopping. Especially when I know what I want and I have the money in hand to purchase it.

What is your experience with online shopping? Share your nightmare stories – or amazing finds – in the comments so we all can be warned.

Writer Recluse: Good, Bad or Ugly?

Image from zazzle.com

Recently, I was told that the population of Brown Recluse spiders is growing. This isn’t good news – especially if you fear detest the eight-legged arachnids like I do. In my world, hardly a dark and dank den for spiders, I’m more concerned about becoming a reclusive writer.

In fact, my tendency to immerse myself in the worlds I create in my stories convinced me to give up on pursuing my writing dream the last time I tried it. My kids were in grade school and I needed to be there for them. Not half there while most of my brain was weaving plots and analyzing people all around us for possibly starring roles.

Coupled with the string of rejections the manuscript I was marketing collected, this absence from reality sounded like a warning bell. It wasn’t the right time for me to be self-centered and follow my own path. Is it ever the right time to be selfish?

The Good about Writing Hermitage

  • Uninterrupted time to let the words flow onto the page. Most people who write on the side don’t have this luxury. They must write anywhere and grab spare moments to jot notes and scenes.
  • An abundance of words. Left alone, I can produce in excess of 1000 words per hour in my writing cave. If I actually wrote for eight hours per day, that’s a short story for every day of the week. Or an 80,000 word novel in just two five-day work weeks. Nothing to scoff at, for sure.

The Bad Side

  • Leaving out family. This is the one that kept me away from my writing pursuits in 2002. I
    Image from techpinions

    couldn’t compartmentalize my writer’s brain with my mother’s mind. If you have kids and a spouse, this is unfair to them.

  • Abandoning friendships. Face it, friends need to spend time together if they expect to stay friends. Sure, I have friends who I rarely see and seem to remain constant when I do see them. They live in other states. The friends who live down the street? They expect me to answer their calls, hang out with them and be available when they need to talk.
  • Forgetting what living feels like. No one wants to read a stale tale that drains energy rather than invigorating it. When we don’t experience life, we can’t bring realism to our stories. Yes, we write what we know. Thus we need to have experiences to keep our writing fresh.
  • Losing perspective about the writing life. As much as I want writing to be about writing, it has to encompass more than that if it is going to become a career. Writers are expected to have an author platform, engage with fans on social media and understand what sort of comparable titles exist in the marketplace. Thanks to technology, much of that can be done in the isolation of the writing cave, but a new writer has to get into the public eye if they want to succeed.

Ugly Truth

Avoiding reality doesn’t help. In truth, this is what I’m doing when I choose to dwell in my make-believe worlds rather than interacting with the population of my real-life community.

Stories are nice but they aren’t real. I hate to admit this fact. When I’m in the clutches of writing and rewriting a novel, the people and places in the book become more real to me than my family and home. This might be okay for a few days, but why should I expect actual living breathing people to hang around waiting for me to emerge from my self-induced Narnia? I need to be able to shut the wardrobe office door, and let the pretend people wait.

In short, a writer recluse can be as deadly as the Brown Recluse spider. Deadly to relationships that matter. In the end, relationships are all that really matter. Who wants to celebrate their writerly successes all alone? Not me.

What are other good, bad and ugly truths you’ve discovered about the tendency of writers to withdraw from reality? Share your advice on avoiding this pitfall and learning to compartmentalize. I obviously need to hear it.