“The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there…and still on your feet.” — Stephen King
I'm NOT on my feet. I'm in the air and I’d like to tell you this quick thing, but I haven’t much time.
I’ll explain. But first, I am jammed into seat 20F, next to the window but in the back of the plane, flying DC to St. Louis. I have already flown Bangor to DC and SHOULD HAVE WRITTEN THIS BLOG ON THAT FLIGHT. But I did not. Instead I read Martha Hall Kelly’s, Lilac Girls, which is riveting about three women and their intersecting paths in WWII.
I want to share something. But, ouch, my Mac slants half off the tray table in my lap because the guy in the seat in front of me slammed his seat back shoving the corner of my computer into my belly button (that’s the ouch). He has a right to lean back. But still. I am noticing that he’s going thin and grey around the crown of his head. And I’m not proud of it, but this makes me feel a little bit happy.
I am returning from a trip to Bangor, Maine, writer-extraordinaire Stephen King’s hangout. No one in her right mind goes on a writer retreat, knowing she will leave 48 hours later for a month in Europe. No one picks a retreat teetering on the far northeastern tip of Maine, on a scrap of land that leans into the Atlantic, jammed with creepy lichen-laced woods and moss-covered rocks. Where the paths are so plush with decayed fir needles that your feet sink an inch as you walk along paths of hushed echoes. No wonder Stephen King lives near there. It’s the place to birth horror stories. Not really the place for a girl with an historical fiction genre. Good thing I’m going to Europe.
The writer workshop was so, so good. Whenever you hang with people doing what you’re doing, you talk shop and pick up wonderfully potent tips and tricks. “Stickers” is one of these small, but mighty, ideas.
Here’s how it works: If you have something, anything, you want to start doing regularly — like learning French, or improving your golf game, or being assertive in a conversation, or finishing the next draft of your book (yours truly) — the idea behind Sticker is to break those overarching goals into daily actions. As in, learn one new French word/day. By the end of a week, you’ve memorized seven new words. Voila - you’ve made progress. And you'll keep making progress, if you keep it up.
Sounds deceptively simple, but it isn’t, of course, because it’s hard to incorporate new stuff into your already very full day.
However, if you find a friend that will be your “accountability buddy,” someone who also wants to make incremental progress on her big goal, then you can strike a Sticker deal. Each day you each have a daily goal you’re trying to hit. If you hit it, you text your buddy the word Sticker. (You can actually GIVE yourself a sticker if that’s motivating.) But mostly the very act of knowing someone is waiting and you are holding yourself accountable to her, can make the difference in finding the time and energy and effort to accomplish that daily task.
If my goal is to write 1200 words/day and I do it (or more) — I text "Sticker" to my buddy. If I only write 800 (or even 1199 words) - I send no text at all. The little pressure behind this idea is that not only do I know I didn’t hit the goal; my buddy knows too. There’s someone other than me who knows I missed it on that day.
You would think that the pressure to perform is embarrassment, but, no…I don’t think that’s it. Frankly, I don’t need help feeling down about myself; I’m an expert in that.
The force of a Sticker is faith.
The motivation underlying Sticker is that I have another person who cares about my progress and believes I’ll do it. Cares about my aspiration enough to say, “I know you can do this. I am here for you and I believe in you and your amazing talent and the important voice that you are to this world. I know that sh*t happens, and your day may go nuts sometimes and you don’t make it, but I still stand by you. I have your back. I’m in your corner. I haven’t given up on you.”
I have a story about this.
There was a time when my mom was a caregiver for her father. My grandpa was well into his 90’s and pretty much stayed in bed. It was a 24-hour non-ending care-giving cycle. Mom was in Illinois and I lived in New Jersey with two little kiddos.
One day on a phone call Mom mentioned to me that in the midst of the constant care-giving every day she would try to sit down at the piano and play, even briefly. She and Dad had a baby grand that sat just outside the area where my grandfather slept. Even if she could only play a single sheet of music for a few moments, she would try to slip onto the piano bench every day.
A thousand miles away, I was so grateful that Mom was taking a few moments for herself in the midst of exhausting care for another. I imagined the gentle, soothing musical notes strung together, blending, harmonizing, hanging in the air like drifting flower petals caught in a breeze. I loved imagining my Mom finding a few minutes of release in front of those piano keys. When we talked on the phone, I would find myself asking a frequent question, “Did you play the piano today?” Sometimes the answer was yes. Sometimes, no. But really it was less whether she actually played that mattered between us, but rather what the question meant. “I care about you. I want you to take care of yourself. I am reminding you; you are worthy. You are important too. You are valued.”
You are loved.
Coming off of this writer retreat I now have two Sticker friends. With their help I am Sticker-armored-up to tackle the next phase of work on my book. I have broken down the many little steps into daily tasks for the next few months. There is an outline to deepen. Bits of research to gather. On our trip to Europe we are going to walk the steps and eat the food and stroll the streets where Johanna van Gogh lived. My daily task will be to journal and write and do my best to chronicle how I can use this wonderful experience in the book. I will post these bits on Instagram and in this newsletter too.
Do you have a goal that could use a Sticker friend?
(We have just been told to put away all “approved large electronic devices.” I have closed up my tray table and now have my Mac on my lap - that kinda counts right?)
How I’m Writing the Book Writer Retreat - The 3-day workshop retreat was put on by Author Accelerator where we dug into using a phenomenal writer tool called the Inside Outline, taught by its creator Jennie Nash. If you have a book that gnaws at the back of your mind, this Outline will bring it closer to reality.
"How I Became an Author" video - I recorded a 4-minute video (you can see it on this Youtube link) about the process of deciding to retire from my full-time corporate career to becoming a full-time author. I taped it for a Washington University event in St. Louis for a program called, "Your Next Move: Transitioning to the New Retirement." What I really like about "new retirement" is how it's less about stopping and more about starting -- I'll put it on my LinkedIn or website (post-Europe).
Personal Stuff Planning for this trip got started last January when Husband and I slapped together an itinerary that honored our frequent flyer miles. We'll go to Barcelona, then Lisbon, to a farmhouse north of Marseilles, then by train to Paris and another train to Amsterdam. We have local tours set with folks, including one in Paris who will take me to Johanna's apartment(!!!). I'll be posting pictures and comments on Instagram (#joanferndz) and Facebook. And be checking in here too.
Finally, I wanted to end on an inspiring quote from Stephen King related to the Sticker idea. I found this: “When asked, ‘How do you write?’ I invariably answer, ‘one word at a time.’” The quote is Sticker-great, but it’s a little ho-hum. I prefer this one:
“People think that I must be a very strange person. This is not correct. I have the heart of a small boy. It is in a glass jar on my desk.”
Hope that's not too jarring,