Hello November!

I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I updated this blog.  Wow.  I did not intend for October to get away from me like that!

The Midwest Writer’s Workshop Manuscript Makeover session was wonderful!  Terry Faherty is an outstanding teacher.  He made many helpful suggestions for everyone in the session, and found a way to make us all feel encouraged about our writing.  It was a terrific session and we wound up going longer than scheduled because he was willing to keep going and none of us were eager to leave!  I came out of the session feeling good about the possibilities in my manuscript and ready to work on it.

My 5k was slow, but I had a lot of fun anyway.  I got to run with a co-worker, who was doing her first 5k.  We got lots of high-fives from Charlie Cardinal (races with mascots > races without mascots).  My co-worker’s daughter ran the 1 mile race with a friend and we had a lot of fun cheering them on to the finish line!  There we all are after our races, hanging out with Charlie.

Chase Charlie after race

The culminating event for October was attending the 21st Magna Cum Murder conference!  Magna is a mystery writers/readers/fans conference.  It’s organized by Kathryn Kennison, the director of the EB and Bertha C Ball Center at Ball State University.  The conference started out as a small event, meant to help connect the community to the university (Cum Murder is a play on Cum Laude).  The conference rapidly grew and these days we have guests from all across the country as well as internationally.  There are several people who have attended every single Magna, and it’s terrific to be part of something which inspires that sort of loyalty.  There are always new people each year as well, and it doesn’t take long for them to recognize how special this conference is.  No matter if we’re meeting for the first time or we’ve seen each other many years, it always feels like you’re getting to talk with old friends at Magna.  I had an amazing time at the conference but, as I’ve been asked to do the wrap-up write-up for the official newsletter, Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence (how we do love our plays on words), I’ll limit myself here for the moment.

Technically Saturday was the last day of October, but we had one more October-ish event which didn’t take place until today.  My husband and I went to the EB and Bertha C. Ball Center this morning to give a talk on Haunted East Central Indiana.  We shared stories we’ve collected over the years, as well as evidence we’ve caught on investigations, with an attentive audience of about fifty people!  We had a grand time sharing our stories and hearing a few from our audience as well.

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Now that the October fun is over, it’s time to buckle down for November!  I’m participating in NaNoWriMo (you can see my word count in the right hand column).  All the lingering October excitement has put me a bit behind, but I hope to catch up soon and be able to finish my 50k by November 30th!  I’ll also be taking my first knitting lesson tomorrow morning.  There’s another 5k coming up as well, plus Thanksgiving!  All in all, November is looking to be as busy as October!  I hope it will be just as much fun!

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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

I love the month of October.  It means fall – changing leaves, bonfires, football games, Halloween, and Magna Cum Murder!  I am happy we’re here, though I am wondering where the heck the month of September went.

I had a lot of hats to wear in September.  There was the runner hat, as I prepared for and ran my first half-marathon.  There was my historian hat as I gave a talk on Muncie in the Civil War at a local senior center.  And there was my writer hat as I registered for the Midwest Writers Workshop manuscript makeover session on October 10th (and needed to decide on, or create, 10 pages of a manuscript for making over).  It was a busy month, but I’m happy to say I survived it all!  The half was quite the experience, especially since it rained for almost the entire time I was running.  The talk would have been more fun with a larger audience (note to people running/volunteering at senior centers – don’t schedule a talk at the same time as euchre club if you want anyone to attend it), but it was fun to go back through all the research I’d done in preparation.

The worst part of the month was agonizing over the manuscript makeover.  I had a great idea to work with when I registered for the session, but nothing on the page, and I didn’t like any of my other manuscripts.  After weeks of staring at a blank screen and going um as all the words disappeared from my brain I finally managed to get a good start to the manuscript and thus the 10 pages needed for the makeover.  Part of the torture was that I didn’t want to tell my husband anything about the story up front.  He has always been the person I spit-balled ideas with, who helped me to figure out what I was struggling with, but that means he always knows what I’m trying to say before he starts to read.  I wanted to know if I was setting a good hook with my start and if he already knew where the story was going, he couldn’t evaluate that.  I had to keep quiet and fight on my own when all I wanted to do was talk to someone about my idea!  But I persisted and, when he did read my pages, he reacted exactly the way I wanted!  Success!

My October will be busy too, but more fun!  In addition to attending the Manuscript Makeover session on October 10th, I plan on going to a couple Ball State home football games, I’ll be running a 5k, attending a Halloween party, and then – the best comes last – attending Magna Cum Murder October 30th-November 1st!  Somewhere in all of that I’ll keep working on the current manuscript, hopefully armed with some helpful advice from the makeover session.

Balance

I call this blog The Balancing Act for a few reasons.  First, the old title seemed super pompous to me.  Second, it’s really what I want to write about and third, I think we’re all trying to pull off our own balancing act.

I attended Midwest Writers Workshop this past weekend, and my struggle for balance there was between my introvert tendencies and my extrovert tendencies.  I’m pretty sure I’m an ambivert, because there are times when I do feed on being with a crowd and yet there are also times when I need to run away from that crowd.  It comes and goes.  But for this past weekend, the introvert side of me was definitely taking over.  Part of the conference is networking with other writers, but mostly I wanted to hide in the corner and watch all the activity.  I found Riley, a writer I met last year (when I had an extrovert moment and introduced myself to her) and we went to a lot of the same panels.  On Saturday night a couple of Twitter friends decided to make a “Shelly sandwich” and pulled me out of my shell a bit (and didn’t run screaming in fear of what emerged; thanks Rena and Kathy!).  Despite the wanting to hide parts, I had a good time at the conference and learned a lot.  I will write more about that at another time.

Balance this week is about getting back to exercising.  I am signed up for a half-marathon in September which will be, thanks to the whole stress-fracture-scare of March/April, my first half.  It may be my only half.  It depends on how well the shin holds up to the training.  I am woefully behind in training from where I should be according to every training plan I’ve looked at, but I’m trying not to let that worry me.  I’m mixing in biking to hopefully make up for not having quite as much running mileage and planning on doing a mix of running and walking in the race.  It will be my first at this distance so that’s an automatic PR anyway, right?  Besides, this is TRUE:
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Balance this week is also about accepting that I’m not going to hit my word-count goal for Camp NaNoWriMo and not obsessing over it.  I could drive myself crazy trying to hit impossible daily goals, miss them all, and not get in the exercise I need, or I could let this one go and try to keep the story moving without making myself nuts.  So far I’m doing good on the not making myself nuts part, but not so much on the keeping the story moving part.

And just like that, we’re at the crux of this blog. I seem to only be able to pursue one hobby at a time.  For the second half of last year it was running.  I ran at least 1 mile every day for 177 days in a row.  It was great.  I set PRs in the 5k, ran my first 10k, lost about 20 pounds, and felt really strong physically.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe I managed to write much more than 177 words that whole time and I missed writing.  The year before I threw myself into NaNoWriMo, hit the 50k word goal (writing over 8,000 words in a day to make it) and I don’t think I ran more than a couple days the whole month (and yep, I missed running).  I’ve yet to figure out how to balance getting in my workouts with getting in my words.  And I really want to do that, not only because of the whole punching people thing but because I really want THIS to be true too:

MugI believe that one day I will manage to do both of these things.  I just haven’t figured it out yet.  I’m going to try not to let that make me crazy (or crazier) in the meantime.

Patience, Patience

I resumed running this week.  My doctor suggested I start with just a mile and increase slowly so on Monday I did a mile on my treadmill.  My shin felt absolutely fine after the run.  Yesterday it was a gorgeous day so I took my run outside.  It felt so good to be out in the sunshine running.  I stuck to the one decent road in my neighborhood (the only one that’s been repaved in the past 23 years) and thus was able to avoid the pot-holes, patches, and crumbling asphalt that makes the running on the other roads like trail running.  I felt great running and really didn’t want to stop at one mile, but I made myself stop anyway.  I don’t want to over-do it.  I went back to my house and got my dogs (and husband) to take them out for a short walk, just to get to spend more time out in the gorgeous weather.  I think the walk may have been a mistake.  My calves got very tight and there is some pain in my shin today.  It’s not as bad as it was before I went to the doctor, and there’s no swelling.  I’ll spend some time with the foam roller today before and after my bike ride and see how I feel.  If necessary, I’ll move Friday’s run to the treadmill rather than pounding pavement again.  I’m trying to balance my determination to get back to running with a suitable amount of caution to avoid injury.  It is not easy, especially on beautiful spring days that beg me to get out and run!

I’m continuing to bike, using it for a cross-training activity.  I signed up for the National Bike Challenge and have been logging my miles there.  The one bright spot from the stress fracture scare is that I finally got that bike I’d been wanting for several years, and my husband has one now too so he can get out for some much-needed exercise!  It’s a good reminder that there are always silver linings to be found.

Getting Back to Sanity

I knew I loved running and that it was important, but I had no idea how much of an anchor it formed for me.  Since I got the news about the stress fracture I’ve felt so off-kilter.  Everything has suffered.  I basically gave up on my manuscript for Camp NaNoWriMo, didn’t do much reading, and I’ve felt discombobulated and moody.  I kept getting emails inviting me to register for races and they felt like taunts.  Reading about Boston was torture.  When I was training for the Indy Mini, I started each week with a list of to-dos for each day, sorting out what would fit in around my running plan.  That got dropped when the running got dropped and I think that’s a big part of why I felt so lost.

I got a call last Tuesday telling me that my appointment with the surgeon was being cancelled and instead I would follow up with the regular orthopedic doctor I originally saw.  I spent the past 7 days trying to figure out what that meant.  Surgery was out because it wouldn’t work?  I didn’t need surgery to get better after all?  They were going to tell me to just give up on running?  What did it mean?!  It was not a good week. Patience is a virtue that I have not acquired.

The appointment was today and, despite all my fears, the news was good.  Surgery is out because the bone does not show swelling, which suggests that it has adapted to the stress it was under.  I can return to running next week.  I’m supposed to start slow – do a mile and see how I feel – and then ease back in, upping my mileage by 10-20% each week.  If I have any trouble, I should call the doctor.  I am clear, so long as problems don’t develop, to do the 4-miler I’m registered for in July and work back up so I can train for the mini-marathon in September.  As I ease back in, I will use the bicycle my super-supportive husband got for me for cross-training.

To say I am relieved would be an understatement.  I feel like I”m getting my life back.  Running truly is my anchor.  It’s so good to have it back!

Bumps (and Potholes) in the Road

Well, to be honest, it’s more than a bump or a pothole.  It’s more like a sink-hole.  The road just fell away.

I am supposed to be running my first half-marathon on Saturday, the Indy Mini.  I’m not going to be doing it though.  I’ve been having a lot of shin pain post run and, after trying rest, ice, compression, and elevation without any relief, I made an appointment with an orthopedic doctor.  We did x-rays and they appeared to show a stress fracture in my left tibia.  I had a MRI on Friday which will confirm this, but the doctor didn’t seem to have any doubts about what he saw on the x-ray.

That’s sucky enough, but no, it gets worse.  This fracture, unlike the ones that runners typically get, is on the tension side of the bone.  The conservative treatment option – rest for 4-6 weeks – is almost never successful.  The treatment which does work is having a metal rod installed in your leg.  The doctor’s response, when he told me this, was that hey, no one is paying you to run.  You can swim, you can bike.  I’m not sure why I didn’t explode at this point, save that I was still processing the news.

If running was just about fitness then sure, I could switch sports.  But, for me, running is about much more than physical fitness.  It’s about mental fitness too.  I call it my mobile meditation – when I’m on a run, all I’m thinking about is running.  I’m not worrying about what happened at work that day, or dreading what might happen tomorrow, or plotting a story.  I’m thinking about how my body feels, how far I’ve gone, how much farther I want to go.  On bad days I’m giving myself pep talks or making deals to go a bit further.  On good days, I am reveling in the feeling of strength and power.  I’ll admit, I could probably get that same benefit from another sport.  But what I can’t get is the other part of the mental fitness.

A big part of my running is racing.  Racing, for me, is not about winning or placing (which doesn’t happen).  It’s about running a best time.  That means setting a goal for myself, coming up with a plan to reach it, and then going after it.  I won’t get that from swimming or biking (there are no races).  I need that to motivate me to get out there, to do that run when I’m tired or my head aches or maybe I just have had a crappy day and want to curl up on my couch and hide from the world.  But there’s more to it than just that.  I have met so many interesting people at races, from the girl walking her first 5k who high-fived all of us runners as we passed her on the return to the woman out running a 5k while in the midst of chemo for breast cancer (who also high-fived me as I passed her on my way back out for the second half of the 10k I was doing that day). When we’re all lining up to wait for the race to start, we’re all united and wishing each other well.  Maybe running is the only thing we have in common but at that moment, it bonds us.

The bottom line is, giving up on running is just not an option.

UPDATE:  The MRI does confirm the stress fracture.  The soonest I can see an orthopedic surgeon is May 27th.  I am on a waiting list for an earlier appointment and will call to check in on that regularly.

Ready to Stop Going it Alone

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the introvert-extrovert dynamic lately, and how it applies to me.  If you’d asked me growing up (at a point when I understood the terms) I would have called myself an introvert.  These days I think I’m closer to an ambivert.  I get energized both by being around people and by getting away from them – I hit a saturation point with either activity and need to switch things up.  Keeping things balanced is key – just enough socializing, just enough time to myself.  Finding the right balance is the part that’s challenging.

I used to have a friend to run with.  We’d meet up on Saturday or Sunday to run together.  Our pacing was similar enough that we could run together.  Sometimes I had to push a bit harder to keep up, sometimes she did, and some days we spent a lot more time walking and talking than we’d intended.  It worked.  It was especially nice when she was training for a half-marathon and had some long runs to get in.  I wasn’t training for that distance but I joined her for her first 7-miler, 8-miler, and 9-miler anyway.  Unfortunately, after her half, she quit running and I’ve been on my own for the past year and a half.  That’s been fine – I run at the time that works best for me and I don’t have to worry about pacing with anyone else – but now that I’m training for my own half-marathon and have my long runs looming, I find myself wishing I had someone to run with me.  It’s not a matter of accountability – I manage that part just fine on my own – but company on these long runs would be appreciated.

My writing situation is similar.  For years I wrote fanfiction and was part of a group of supportive writers.  I did my first NaNoWriMo with them and had a blast.  Over the years several of us have drifted away from fanfiction, and a few from writing at all.  That support network isn’t there any longer.  For a while it didn’t bother me but of late I’ve been feeling like I’ve hit my saturation point on writing solo.  I miss having that supportive group, miss having people to be encouraged by and to encourage in turn.  It wasn’t hard to find a supportive group in the fanfiction community, but figuring out how to do that outside of it is a puzzle I haven’t solved.  Yet.

Writing: It’s Not a Race

Registration for Midwest Writers Workshop opened last week (register here).  I knew I wanted to do the Intensive session on Thursday and that those fill fast, so I wasted no time heading over to register.  After debating with myself about which session to take, I made my choice and click-click-click, I was signing up.  It was exciting.  It was thrilling.  It was… a bit disappointing.

You see, at last year’s MWW I talked to so many people who were making pitches to agents, getting asked for pages, who had completed manuscripts which they were ready to send out into the world.  I wasn’t there but I wanted to be.  I was going to be.  This year was going to be the year that I pitched.  I was all fired up!

Alas, I’m not there.  I don’t have a manuscript that’s ready yet.  I’m disappointed by that.  I was beating myself up about it pretty thoroughly too.  Fortunately, I had an epiphany.  I’m just not at the same place that those other writers were, and that’s ok.  This is not a race.  Even if it was, I’d still need to go at my own pace.  This is about me doing my best, not me comparing myself with someone else.  In that sense, it is just like my running –  my goal has to be to do my personal best and not worry about where I place.  This year isn’t my year for pitching.  Maybe, if I can put in the work this year, next year will be.  And that will be awesome.

Fighting Fear

I am training for my first half-marathon (the official training plan start is today). I am a bit nervous about the race, but only a bit. After all, I have trained for races before and I have a training plan to guide me. After years of competitive swimming (ages 8-17) and a few years of running behind me, I know I can do this.

Thinking about my running has me wondering what’s different about my running? Because while I’m confident I will conquer my first half-marathon (and the one I signed up for later in the year as well), I am NOT confident about my ability to write at the moment. I hoped to have something to pitch at Midwest Writers this summer but I don’t think that’s going to happen after all. I’ve been feeling blocked for some time now. I’ve finally got an idea for something to work on but my inner-editor is trying hard to shut me down. She wants to find plot holes, character flaws, and other reasons why this idea won’t work. I think it boils down to fear, pure and simple. I had another idea I was working on shot down by other people and it’s been hard going to bounce back from that.

What I need to do right now is pick a “training plan” for my writing and let it guide me. I have a few to choose from. There’s the NaNoWriMo method of no plot, no problem; there’s the inverted pyramid method Jess Lourey shared with us at last year’s MWW; there’s a weekend novelist idea. I need to pick one and run with it, see where it takes me. But most of all, I have to trust that, like the running, I can do this. I can get past the block and start creating again.

Right?