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A Feel Good Moment

Okay, this has nothing to do with writing other than the fact that feeling good helps us to be better at what we do, and this is one of those “feel good” clips that everyone should see. It just makes you want to find a mountain top and sing!

So click here then sit back, enjoy, and yes, you have my permission to dance and sing all you want! Go ahead…I know you want to!

Holiday Stress: Take 10:14 and Relax!

Okay, it’s time for my annual “stop and relax” post. This has nothing to do with writing–well, maybe except that on top of all our writing responsibilities, we try to do everything under the Christmas Star to make it a wonderful holiday for our family and friends, often at the expense of our own sanity. And we know how stress can affect our writing, right? (see how I’m trying really hard to make this related to writing–even though it really isn’t!).

So, here’s what I propose you do. Just like I recommended last year (but don’t bother going back to that post, for some reason the video link went kablooey), go get yourself a glass of wine. Red or white. Your choice. Go on…I’ll wait. Got it? Okay, now hang the “Writer at Work” door hanger on your office door and lock the door behind you. Now, light one of those holiday candles you’ve got sitting around. Any scent will do, whatever works for you–pine, cinnamon, hollyberry, whatever. Turn on your computer speakers, put your feet up, take a sip of wine, and click HERE. Ahhh…enjoy…

Did that help to relax you a bit? I hope so! Maybe it’s because I saw this performance in concert, or maybe it’s because the first time I heard “Prelude” (the first part of the video) was shortly after a good friend died of cancer (thus its haunting tone and sadness still sends chills down my spine), but this music has special meaning to me. It always touches that inner part of me, like music and words do to people on a very personal level (see how I related it back to writing–I’m trying here!).
So, don’t forget to take these moments during the hectic holiday season and r-e-l-a-x… You’ll be so much happier if you do!
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Migraines Are a Pain II: The Writing Life

Okay, here is where I share some observations I’ve made during my life as a writer. Note, there is nothing scientific about this—these are just observations made by little ol’ me ;-).

Conference and retreats: For some reason, the day after I return from a conference or retreat, I get a migraine. I can count on it. Even my husband knows to expect it. And sometimes, at longer events (like the SCBWI summer conference), it will sneak up on me on the last day of the event. One bit of knowledge that has helped me figure out how to “cope” with all the excitement of a conference or retreat came from the Shrinking Violets Promotion site. After reading Mary and Robin’s blog, I realized that I’m an introvert and introverts need—no, make that REQUIRE quiet time. I realized that I couldn’t stay plunged into the hubbub of conference events. Unless I wanted a headache. So, I take a break in the middle of the day. I go to my room and I listen to soothing music.
I also have found that I MUST be disciplined and get to bed at a reasonable time. No staying up past midnight chatting with my writer friends any more. I’m in my room by 9:30 at the latest. Lights out by 10:00. I also use earplugs and sometimes an eye mask, to insure that I get a good night’s rest.

What do you do when attending conferences and such, to keep your migraines at bay? Anyone care to share?

Book Signings: Last May, I signed books at Book Expo America. On day one, I was in the hall where I signed books for about four hours. The next morning, I woke up with a whopper of a migraine. I attributed it to the stress of the event (driving down, finding the booth, etc.). The following month, I was at the ALA Conference, where I signed books for about three hours at my publisher’s booth. I started getting a headache, and by the time I was heading home on my three-hour drive, it was in full swing (and the prescription meds I take for migraines makes me sleepy, so I can’t take them and drive).
There was no weather, hormonal or dietary event to have caused these migraines. On my drive home, I called my husband. He said, “You know, I was talking to someone a couple of days ago about migraines, and they said that fluorescent lights can trigger them. I’ve never seen a convention center that didn’t have fluorescent lights. Maybe that’s the cause?”

Wow. I’d never heard of that. So I did a Google search and read that there are special glasses to prevent migraines. Amazing. But to good to be true, the skeptic in me said. So, I asked my eye doctor about it. He explained that fluorescent lights can trigger migraines in two ways; either the micro-flashes from a single light source (like in your office) or from the lack of light rays from multiple lights (like in a convention hall, classroom or store). Specifically, it’s the red light rays. Apparently, cheaper lights, like those used in a convention center, lack the red rays (Note: There are more expensive ones available, but they cost a lot more). He pointed to his office and said, “This is why my office walls are pink. I want to cast enough red light into the room to avoid triggering migraines in my staff and patients.” Hmm. And I thought he just loved pink! He continued, “If the lack of red light rays is the trigger, all you have to do is paint your walls pink, or wear pink-tinted glasses.” Well, that’s all I had to hear. I ordered a pair of pink-tinted glasses right there on the spot.
In the month of August, I had four book signings scheduled. I went into each store armed with my pink glasses. And guess what happened? Or shall I say, “Didn’t happen?” That’s right. I never got a migraine. I’m still being cautiously optimistic, at least until I try them out in a large venur, but I think they work. Now, when I walk into a fluorescently-lit room that I know I’ll be in for more than an hour or so, I pull out my pink-tinted glasses. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll continue to work for me.

Has anyone else found this to be effective?

Sorry if I’ve rambled, but I really do hope this might be of interest and possibly help other writers. I’ll say it again; I’m no expert, just a writer who wants to pass the word about possible migraine solutions.

5

Migraines Are a Pain

It recently occurred to me that I haven’t made any “Healthy Writer” posts for quite some time, so I thought I’d talk about a subject that’s near and not-very-dear to my heart. Migraines.

A few months back I saw, on a writer’s discussion board, a thread about migraines and I was stunned to see how many writers are cursed with them. Yes, I said cursed. I’m normally a “glass half full” kind of girl, but when it comes to migraines, I just can’t see any upside to them at all. So, I thought that I’d share some of my own experiences here and hopefully, some of you will share, and maybe together we can help others. First question: Are you plagued with migraines? If the answer is yes, then you have my sincere sympathy.

Now, I’m not going to try to explain what a migraine is medically because well, I’m not sure the medical profession knows the truth behind migraines (but if you want to read up on them, you can read this Wikipedia article or go here). I won’t profess to be an expert on them, despite their frequent visits for the past eight years of my life. What I will share though, is what has worked for me, and what hasn’t. So here we go…

For those of you who don’t get them, you might wonder, what is a migraine? Well, remember high school woodshop? You know those steel vises anchored onto the worktables? Well, imagine putting your head into one of those, lining up your temples just even with the vice and then asking someone to crank the vice down as hard as they can. That’s a migraine. It is NOT a headache. It is not under the victim’s control. It is not something one can just “push through.” It is debilitating pain that causes vision problems, painful light and sound sensitivity, nausea, dizziness and a throbbing pain in your head that personally makes me glad that I don’t own any guns. I am not exaggerating. It is THAT bad.

What triggers a migraine? I first started getting them a year after a car accident, when I was hit by a drunk driver (please folks, don’t EVER drive even after having a couple of beers). This unfortunate life-altering event also happened to coincide with peri-menopause (Oh, lucky me! I got a two-fer). Through the years though, I’ve realized that I have a variety of triggers for my migraines (I find the word “trigger” so fitting, as some migraines do feel like someone has shot me in the head). Okay, so here is a list of my triggers:

Hormone imbalance (you know what that means 😉
Certain foods at certain times (very dark chocolate, alcohol)
Barometric pressure drops (as in, storm fronts moving through—a biggie in the fall and spring)
Fluorescent lights (this is a new discovery for me)
Sleep deprivation
Stress

What are yours?

Now, the last three things tie into my writing life and can be quite problematic for me. Fluorescent lights (like those in convention halls or in classrooms or in meeting rooms at hotels) can certainly offset a migraine (and what a drag it is to be hit with a migraine at a conference, or worse, during a school visit!). Sleep deprivation can also occur at conferences, writing retreats or other writing-related events. And stress. For Pete’s sakes, just planning for and getting to an event can be stressful for some of us!

Have you noticed any writing-related things that trigger migraines for you?

My post is getting a bit long now, so I’m going to stop here (but not because I don’t care). Later this week, I’m going to share with you some of the things I’ve found that have worked for me to control my migraines (See? There’s a little hope).

I hope some of you will join in and share your experiences by leaving a comment.
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Holiday Stress? Take 9:26 and Relax!

Are the holidays starting to get to you? All that online shopping (if you’re an introvert) or commando shopping at the mall (if you’re an extrovert); the decorating, baking, planning, and all that ho-ho-ho-ing, while of course, still trying to keep up with your family and your job, whether it be clinging to your creative writing soul or heading out into the “real” world every day. It’s just about enough to make a person go crazy, isn’t it?

Well, here’s my hot little tip for all of you kid-lit folks who need to take a 9-minute and 26-second break from the world. First, go pour yourself a glass of wine (red or white, it doesn’t matter to me) or whatever beverage gives you an “Ahhh…” moment. While you’re in the kitchen, raid your hidden stash of chocolate (you know, the good stuff that you hide from your kids). Go ahead–grab a couple of pieces and your glass of wine, then take them to your computer. Lock your office door or hang the “Do Not Disturb: Writer at Work” sign. Make sure you turn on the computer speakers (not too loud, just enough for clarity and a soothing sensation). Now, click here.

Put your feet up, take a sip of wine and nibble on your chocolate. Let it melt in your mouth as the music pours over your weary soul and your eyes come to rest on a sampling of beautiful images that are all about what we strive to do.

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

2

Stretching More Than Your Imagination

As writers, we’re constantly stretching our imaginations, but for as many hours–no wait, days–no wait, weeks–no wait, months– no wait, years–no wait, decades that we spend at our computers, we really should be stretching our muscles as well. All that typing can lead to tight shoulders, neck and back strain, and headaches (and that’s before we’ve submitted our work and are stressing over what will come of it!). Here’s what I do to help with this problem:

I keep a list of stretches in my computer desk drawer that are good for the neck, shoulders, arms and hands. These particular stretches come from Bob Anderson’s book, Stretching.

I keep a timer nearby, for when I know I’m going to be at the computer for hours. I set the timer for every 45 minutes or so, then I stop and do my stretches (right there at my desk. I don’t even need to get up and it takes less than five mins—no sweat suits necessary).

I know what you’re thinking—it disrupts the creative flow, and yes, it can. However, I find that when I’m more relaxed and take care of myself, the creativity is going to come out anyway. And if I’m right in the middle of something “big”, I can reset the timer for another five mins.

I highly recommend buying Stretching, but if you can’t get a hold of a copy right away, check out this website.

Happy stretching!

The Healthy Writer: It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, No—it’s a TheraCane!


I hate knots. Not as in a figure-eight loop, a fisherman’s or a square knot. I’m talking about the ones that get in my upper back and shoulders after hours of writing at the computer. But thanks to a helpful little tool I’ve discovered, I can combat those “naughty” little knots.

Meet the “TheraCane.” It looks kind of like a torture device used by Santa Claus, but it’s anything but that. You position the TheraCane to massage out knots, or “trigger points” that accumulate in your muscles from extended use (basically caused from an accumulation of lactic acid—at least that’s what my doctor tells me).

There are many ways to hold the cane to allow you to get to various parts of your back and neck, but the one shown here is the one I use the most. Another favorite way I use it is to hold the small nubby part against the notch at the base of my skull and gently massage. This helps with headache pain caused from neck strain.

To learn more about the TheraCane, click here, or Google it to find a selection of prices.

Note: This is a sharing of information from one writer to another (well, maybe quite a few others) about something that I’ve found to help me. I’m not a medical professional. Consult with your own doctor first.
2

Tips for Sailing Through the SCBWI Summer Conference

It’s almost that time again—the SCBWI Summer Conference is rapidly approaching. Yippee! An illustrator colleague of mine recently asked me about it, seeing how this will be her first time to attend. Since I’ve been a few times, I thought I’d offer up some tips–in no particular order of importance–just things as they randomly came to mind.

1. Take a sweater or jacket. While the hotel is lovely with the most comfortable hotel beds in the world (they don’t call them “Heavenly” for nothing), the meeting rooms and ballroom can be freezing! Of course, they can be stiflingly warm too. Take a cue from the Boy Scouts. Be prepared.

2. Predetermine your sessions. I like to determine my breakout sessions in advance, highlighting which ones pique my interest, but I also keep my ear out for other people who might have heard the same speakers in other sessions. That way, if I get a sense that the speaker doesn’t offer what I’m looking for I can change plans. I usually have a first and second choice highlighted on my conference flier. I’ve also found that it helps to read the books of the speakers you know you’ll be hearing.

3. Wear comfortable shoes. Even though we’re in the same hotel all day, there are three levels for conferencing, plus the treks to our rooms and dining opportunities. No one wants his or her piggies to be crying at the end of the day.

4. Food: IMHO, there are slim options for eating at the hotel: one nice restaurant—overpriced in my opinion, a poolside café, and the lounge/bar. For lunch, usually there’s a sandwich cart in the hotel lobby (sandwich, chips, soda/water), except on Sunday, due to the Golden Kite Luncheon. Oh, and speaking of the Golden Kite Luncheon (or as it’s affectionately called, “the parade of chicken breasts”), the dessert is always to die for! I’ve never been disappointedJ.

For dinners, my pals and I hoof it down the street to the mall (less than ten-minutes) where there is a variety of eateries at the food court. Saturday night we nosh at the poolside gala (a fun munch and mingle kind of thing—live music and a costume contest).
The only eating issue I’ve had is on Sunday night, but what I’ve found is that room service, while a bit spendy, offers large enough portions to share with my roommate. Plus, I usually take some snacks down with me (fruit, granola bars), so there’s enough to tide me over.

I honestly don’t know much about the breakfasts, other than the muffins, etc. that I’ve seen sold at the lounge/bar. I usually bring some homemade muffins so I don’t have to waste my morning time standing in a line. Coffeemakers are provided in the rooms, plus there’s free coffee in the lobby until around 11:00 or so.

5. Bring a book bag and money–especially you book addicts. Of course, there will be books sold and after hearing all of the fabulous authors, you’ll want to buy their books. Here’s a hot tip: the “cash” line is always shorter than the “credit card” line, so if you’re comfortable with it, bring some spare cash with you (hotel rooms do have safes for locking up your valuables).
Additionally, there are usually freebies (catalogs, posters, writing guidelines from various publishers, promotional materials from authors/illustrators). Now, I have to say that “freebies” doesn’t mean taking an author’s book from the display table. Eh-hem…yes, one year I took a copy of my new joke book to proudly display and by the end of the first day, someone had stolen it. Yep, stolen it! Can you believe that? I like to imagine a child somewhere is enjoying that book, and doesn’t know that how it came to land in his hands.

6. Take care of yourself. This is a personal one, because we’re all different, but I’ve learned to allow some “down time” for myself because four days of listening, learning, schmoozing and just plain hanging out with my writer and illustrator pals is fantastically exhausting. I bring a swimsuit for the Jacuzzi. Some folks participate in the yoga class. If you read my post on getting a good night’s sleep while traveling, you know that I bring a headset with quiet music. In essence, take care of yourself! It’s so very easy to overdo it.

7. Step out of your shell (if you have one). I know this is tough for a lot of people. The second conference I attended I didn’t know a single person. It was quite intimidating. I roomed with complete strangers who also didn’t know another soul in attendance. But I immediately discovered that children’s writers are some of the friendliest people on the planet. Some of those people I met way back then have come to be my closest writing friends.
One way to break the ice with people is to notice where they’re from (it’s on the nametags they give us) and strike up a conversation about that. If you’re waiting for a session to begin, chat with the person next to you. Ask them what kind of writing they do, if they’re published. Heck, you could even ask if they’ve read any good books lately! Remember, we all have a common bond of writing/illustrating for children, so there are a many interesting things to talk about.

8. Parking: If you carpool with a friend, drop the friend and all the luggage off at the hotel front then park the car. It’s a bit of a haul to lug all your bags from the hotel to the parking structure in the back.

9. Etiquette: Please don’t shove your manuscript under a restroom stall at an editor. It makes us all look bad. Manners, manners, manners! And I’m serious.

10. Expectations. Don’t expect to come home with a book contract in hand. That just doesn’t happen. What you will come home with is 1) newfound knowledge and skills, 2) new friends/colleagues, 3) editorial hope. By this, I mean that you will have heard editor’s speak and have the hope that because you better understand their needs, your work might find a place with them. However, this takes time—time for you to go home and re-evaluate your work (now that you have this newfound knowledge), time to further polish it (newfound skills), time to compose a well-thought out cover letter, and time for the editor to read it. That’s your hope 😉

BTW, I know that other conference vets will be addressing this same topic, so please check them all out to insure that you’ll have a great time. Gregory P. mentioned that he‘d be posting something, and Shrinking Violets Promotions has already posted Conference Survival Tips on their site (June 24, ’07).

Enjoy and happy conferencing!

TRAVEL TIPS Part 2: Staying Safe When You Venture Out to Play


Part 2: The Nitty Gritty of Staying Safe

YOUR WEAPONS

12. Your best weapon is YOU! Listen to your “inner-voice” (not your inner-editor who is always nagging you about word choice and plot structure), but that “inner-voice” that senses danger. This voice is important. Listen to it, whether it’s whispering, “Uh-oh” or screaming, “Run!”

One year I attended the SCBWI Summer conference in Los Angeles. It was Monday afternoon and I was exhausted. My head was effervescing with information and ideas as I made my way to my car. I stepped onto the parking lot elevator, hit the button, all while jostling a suitcase, my water pillow and two over-stuffed book bags. The door was inching shut when a hand shot through to stop it. A young man dressed in scruffy clothes slid inside.

My inner voice said, Uh-oh! Not a good situation. I thought about my first preventive step: projection. I looked him directly in the eye, puffed up with an “attitude” and said, “How’s it going?” in my strongest “tough girl” voice. I then shifted my keys (remember—I always take them out in the lobby) to a position where they became a weapon. The man smiled, nodded and took a quick glance at my keys. Of course, chances are he had no ill intentions, but at that moment, all I wanted was to project an attitude of “Don’t mess with me!” I didn’t care if I came off as slightly paranoid or even if I offended him a bit. When it comes to my safety, social graces go out the door (in this case, the elevator door).

13. Keys. Holding your keys with the sharp end turned out will transform them into a weapon (just make sure you don’t slip your fingers through the key ring). A gouge to the face or eye could buy you the opportunity to get away.

14. Shoes. Shoes are a great weapon, especially if used by surprise. If someone grabbed you from behind, scrape the outside edge of your soul down the attacker’s shin or use your heel to stomp on his foot–HARD.

15. Your knees. It almost seems redundant to say this, but we all know the power of the knee. One strong thrust to the groan could save your life.

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS

16. What if you still find yourself in the grasp of an assailant who’s pulling you into an isolated area? Resist and yell “Fire!” (not “Help!” Sadly, people are not as likely to respond). This grabs people’s attention and that’s the last thing a predator wants. The more you resist, the higher your chances of survival.

17. Do whatever it takes to prevent an attacker from taking you to a secondary location. Secondary locations are where the worst case scenarios occur. Even if you’re thrown in a car trunk, kick out a tailight panel and try to signal for help.

Writing and illustrating is a solitary profession, but we do get to come out and play occasionally. And just like on the schoolyard playground, not everyone plays nice all the time. So whether you’re attending a conference, doing a book tour or school visits, always remember to play it safe when traveling alone.

Bon voyage!

1

TRAVEL TIPS: Staying Safe When You Venture Out to Play


To keep things managable, this is the first to a two-part article that I wrote on keeping yourself self. As a former black belt who assisted with women’s self-defense seminars, I thought this might be of interest to anyone who attends conferences, retreats, weekend workshops, etc.

Part 1: Staying Safe

Writing is a solitary profession, but there are those occasional times when I clap with excitement, kick off my bunny slippers, don a nice dress and attend a conference.

I love conferences—I schmooze, swap ideas, listen and learn. Attending conferences is like chicken soup for my career, but venturing out does one thing that I’m not accustomed to— traveling alone.

While others are heading off to their daily jobs in the “real world”, I (like many other writers) am heating up the coffee and settling into my writing chair. It’s easy for me to forget basic safety rules that others take for granted, so here are some tips I think we should all keep in mind whenever we venture out to play:

YOUR IMAGE

1. How do you project yourself? Men who prey on women are predators and will scope out their victims in search of someone who appears to be an easy target. Do you walk tall, make direct eye contact with people and keep aware of your surroundings? Or do you appear timid, look at the ground and have your mind elsewhere?

YOUR VEHICLE

2. Carpool, if possible.

3. If renting a car, request either a car near the rental building or ask a security guard to escort you to your vehicle.

4. Park in a well-lit location where people are present.

5. Have your cell phone readily available.

6. Have your keys ready before you approach your car. I always take my keys out while I’m in the hotel lobby to 1) avoid fumbling around in my purse for them while at my vehicle, and 2) having them ready for use as a possible weapon (more on that later).

YOUR HOTEL

7. Never accept an isolated room.

8. Always use the security door locks and brace the door, if necessary. One year I roomed with a writer who shared with me that the night before, when she stayed in the room alone, she braced the door with a desk. Smart lady!

9. Just like Mom taught you, only answer the door if you know who’s there.

10. Bring a flashlight and keep it on your nightstand.

11. If you stay out late to schmooze or do a critique session, stick with your writer companions, but if you do happen to end up alone in the hotel lounge or restaurant, wait for others to leave so you can walk out with them.

(Part 2 will be posted later this week)