Journal and pens

Ever thought of journaling? It’s a great time to start.

I love journaling. Journaling’s my favorite.

It is!

I started journaling in 10th grade and have been doing it off and on since then. I’ve had times of great journaling consistency and times of inconsistency.

But lately, with a few strategies I’ll share with you today, I’m on a journaling roll and believe in its value now more than ever.

My Journal(s)

I’m particular about my journals (I keep a few). For example, I have an simple, plain, black, leather-style notebook that I keep notes about my writing projects and other work-related things.

But my personal journal is different. I like a personal journal that stores little surprises for me, like quotes or drawings, that help me focus and reflect. I’ll give you an example.

My recent journal

My most recent journal has pink flowers and gold flowers on the cover. I picked it out in a rush and wasn’t crazy about the pink flowers or the title on the cover, “Always Be Kind.” (I know. So cynical.) While I believe it’s important to be kind in principle, I wasn’t sure I wanted the daily reminder. Sometimes I journal when I’m angry and not feeling so kind.

But it also has quotes, which I really like and it’s been one of my favorite journals ever.

The quotes are about being kind, like this one,

“I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay…small acts of kindness and love.” JRR Tolkien.

What a great nugget of truth.

Some people like to journal electronically, like in a journal app. I prefer writing longhand in a notebook. It feels more intimate to me. My handwriting is unique, like my fingerprint. 

What’s the purpose of journaling?

Journaling is great for:

  • mind dumps
  • clarifying what’s on your mind
  • chronicaling a journey
  • writing practice
  • venting

Mind Dump

Sometimes when I’m feeling conflicted about something or struggling with an issue, journaling helps me clarify my feelings about it. That sounds strange to say because who doesn’t know what they think about things? But many times, I don’t. I’m a very “Living in the gray” kind of person. Things are rarely absolutely black and white.

Sometimes I can have an opinion about something but something about that opinion still doesn’t feel right. Although, to be truthful, I rarely write about current events or issues. I mostly write about me, my thoughts, my feelings, and my impressions about what’s happening in the world. 

Vent

I don’t expect my journals to be read by anyone else, except maybe when I’m dead. They’re for me. 100%. That frees me up. I don’t have to hold back or think about what I can say without hurting someone else’s feelings.

I think maybe I’ll write a disclaimer at the front of every journal, something like: Please understand that I write in the heat of the moment. If I vented about you, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It means I was angry, frustrated, or annoyed with life in general and maybe you in particular.

Purpose?

Journals can be like a “Dear Diary” or can be a chronicle of a trip or journey toward a goal. I’ve kept a gratitude journal in which I wrote specifically who and what I felt grateful for and why.

I keep a notebook of writing ideas, story issues, plot points, and blog ideas.

If you’ve ever thought about journaling but have never gotten past the first page, here are some tips I recommend to get you started. 

Decide how long you will write.

Start by setting your timer for a designated time. Work with what you have. If you only can set aside 5 minutes a day, then 5 minutes it will be. It may not sound like much, but 5 minutes is better than 0 minutes. You may be surprised at how quickly you fill the pages by writing just a short time several days a week.

Also, decide how often you will write.

3-5 times a week may be good to start and set the days you’ll journal, like Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays. Or you can shoot to journal every day for 5 or 10 minutes. No worries if you miss a day. Pick it up the next day.

Remember, it’s for you.

I used to write for hours when I was feeling down or angry and I’d look back on those journals and actually feel bad for that angry, discouraged girl. It may have helped at the time, but I can’t say for sure.

I definitely vent and mind dump all over my journal, but I also use the space to gain perspective for a more positive outlook on whatever’s on my mind.

What do I do with it?

Keep it if you want, but you don’t have to. Put it in a time capsule, in a lockbox, will it to be buried with you. 

But you might be surprised at how interesting your experiences may be to some one in the future. We are, after all, living through a historic event.

I just finished reading Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. Great book and one of the most compelling things about it are the personal accounts of the harrowing Antartic journey as written in a log book, or journal. The details fill in the blanks of their incredible story of survival.

Here’s one historian’s view on the value of journals: Historian: Why We Should All Be Keeping Coronavirus Journals

If you’ve ever thought about keeping a journal, now is a great time to start.

And remember, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Find the way that suits you best and then keep it going!

Read more about keeping a gratitude journal on the blog: Make every day better with an attitude of gratitude

Do you journal? What’s been your experience with it? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter of journaling in the comments.

Get started

Time to get to work. No excuses.

When I think I have good reasons for not getting stuff done it’s sometimes hard for me to admit I’m really just making excuses.

But no more. Time to get to work. 

No more excuses. 

I’m working on a new book. Non-fiction. It’s part commentary about aging and part memoir about my journey to menopause. 

The thing is, I wrote the first draft 3 years ago. 

I wrote it in hopes that my experience would help other women better navigate what can be a very confusing time. 

But then I put the manuscript on a shelf and left it there. 

For 3 years. (Did I already mention that?)

There are a few reasons I chose to get back to it:

  • I still think my story might help other women or at least give them something to think about. 
  • There’s value in the message. 
  • Re-writing/editing the manuscript is do-able, even if it may be difficult.

So I decided to get back to it and have given myself until April 2021 to publish. 

I made that commitment this past April, thinking, Oh yeah. That’s plenty of time. 

And just like that, 2 months have passed.

I have been working on it, but it’s pretty slow going. Even when I was stuck at home in COVID quarantine with no place to go, no people to see, and not much else going on, I chipped away at it very slowly. 

This has all helped me realize a few things about what I need to do to improve my results and meet my goals.

These realizations may help you, too.

Decide whether you really want to do it.

Projects kept on the “back burner” don’t get done. Of course it’s important to prioritize and you may have to shift things around now and then.

But if you really want to do that thing you’ve left on the back burner, you’re going to have to move it to the front burner eventually. 

I left my manuscript on a shelf in my office without looking at it. For 3 years! If it was ever going to be finished I had to pull it off the shelf, read it, and decide, Yes, I still want to do this. 

But this goes for anything you say you want to do. If you’re waiting for the perfect time to do X, and are just waiting for “someday,” it won’t happen because “Someday never comes.” 

It’s okay to change your mind about stuff you thought you wanted to do. But if there’s truly something you want to do, you have to decide to do it, then get to work.

Which leads me to my next point.

Make a plan. 

Time races by. It’s important to have a plan to do the things you really want to do. Even a loose plan is better than no plan. 

I find I work a lot better when I have a clear idea of what I’m going to be doing and when I’ll be doing it. And I have to write it down in a calendar, planner, journal. Something. 

I came across a journal in which I’d written my New Year’s goals several years ago. In 2015, I wrote that my physical fitness goal was to do 100 double-unders unbroken (double-unders are fast–you jump rope with 2 turns of a rope instead of 1).

That goal is funny to me now because I said I wanted it, even wrote it down. 

But I didn’t make a plan to meet my goal. 

Had I really wanted it, I would have practiced several times a week, gotten coached on the skill, set intermittent milestones throughout the year, so that on December 31, 2015, I had a good shot at setting up and knocking out a hundred double-unders with no problem. 

Didn’t happen. Not even close.

No plan, no good.

Give it time. 

If there’s something you really want to do that you’ve put on the back burner, take a peek at it now and then. Maybe you can’t be all in at the moment, but are there little things you can do here and there to prepare for when you can?

Most things take time and preparation. You may have to take a class, read up on the subject, do some research, start with trial and error. Expect it to take time.  

No more excuses.

Anytime I come up with “reasons” I don’t do what I say I want to do, even though some of those reasons may be pretty significant obstacles, I have to see them for what they are…excuses. 

Jim Rohn said, If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse. 

When I make excuses for not sticking to my plan or continuing to put things on the back burner, I have to ask myself, if I really want to do this, then what’s keeping me from doing it?

At that point I can begin to discover what obstacles are keeping me from reaching my goal. Often, it’s some internal obstacle stemming from self-doubt or fear. Or maybe I don’t really want it that bad. 

And that’s okay, too, because it frees me up to do the things I really want to do.

And…begin.

Now it’s time for me to plan my work and then work my plan. No more excuses. 

How about you? Is there something you really want to do but have put it on the back burner for someday? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Read more about setting goals on the blogpost: Create your vision and dare to dream big

rubymontalvo.com

After a break – Getting back to work

It seems like I’ve been away from work for a while, like between the week of Thanksgiving 2018 and the first week of January 2019 work came to a stand-still.

I used my office to store packing materials, stash Christmas presents, and house living room knick-knacks displaced by season decorations.

Hmm. Something’s not right.

It was a nice break, but the time off didn’t mean I sat around the house binge-watching The Hallmark Channel and eating fruitcake, not at all.

Life gets busy

My husband and I took a last-minute weekend trip to Philadelphia, PA, prepped for Christmas, and were thrilled when a bonus Christmas gift arrived — our daughter and son-in-law made a surprise visit home from overseas. All this was after two family weddings, an out of town book signing, and an unexpected death in the family.

I didn’t blog, write, or edit during my break. It felt good to step away from my Works In Progress, “A Song for Jessica” (ASFJ) Audiobook, edits of sequel to ASFJ, and revisions on an urban fantasy YA novel I’m working on.

Pushing hard and getting nowhere

To be honest, for a few weeks leading up to the holidays I felt myself putting in hours at the keyboard but producing very little. Then I had a few setbacks (see What I’m working on now). I knew I was approaching the point of diminishing returns, like getting your car stuck in the mud and the more you press on the gas the deeper you sink.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away for a bit and think about something else. The break can help ease frustration, give a new perspective, allow you to catch your breath, and devise a plan.

While out of the office, I

  • Wrote out 2018 accomplishments Writing them down keeps it for the record because in a few years you may remember the biggies, but you may not remember the small victories and those are important, too.
  • Made a list of personal and professional goals for 2019 This is a flexible document : )
  • Started planning action necessary to execute 2019 goals.
  • Began cleaning and organizing my office. (It’s a WIP)
My office needs attention.

When it was time to get back to work, I was refreshed and ready rather than feeling overwhelmed and directionless, like I had at the end of the year.

Taking a break from your work can boost your focus and productivity. Even if you love what you do, rest can be the best thing you do for yourself and for your work.

Photo by Ruby Montalvo publshed on rubymontalov.com

It’s the in-between stuff that can kick your butt

Starting a project is hard. Finishing is hard. But it’s the in-between stuff that can kick your butt. That’s what I’m going through right now as I’m writing the sequel to my first novel, A Song for Jessica.

But the struggle to get to “The End” isn’t unique to writing.

Think of a remodeling project.

I love those home improvement commercials that start by showing the outdated, dull room, then the guy/woman/couple decide it’s time for a change.

Next scene, they’re at the store picking out their new products for the remodel. The guy/woman/couple smile, the sales clerk smiles (they actually find someone to help them!).

Next scene, the remodel happens. They tape a door frame and stir the paint. Simple and clean.

And then the very next scene, the work’s all done! The guy/woman/couple straighten a picture they’ve just hung on the wall as a finishing touch.

Now they stand back and admire their work. It’s beautiful and perfect.

If only it were that easy.

What they don’t show is the back and forth “disussion” about design, colors, materials, and cost. “Discussion” about the best way to do it, the unexpected kinks in the plan, then what to have for dinner because there’s dust and/or paint everywhere, and that goes on for days or weeks and maybe the project is never totally finished.

The struggle is real.

Getting to “The End” of a project can be exhausting and frustrating, but it’s do-able.

It helps to:

  • Be patient. Expect your project to take time and effort. You have to want it bad enough to believe the time and effort will be worth it in the end. (Remember the remodeling scenario.)
  • Pace yourself. If it’s a long road to the finish, slow and steady is more likely to get you there, especially if it feels like the work is an unpleasant grind. I was working on revisions to a first draft I finished months before and every time I worked on it I wanted to give it up, just abandon the project. But one page at a time, that’s the only way to do it. Slow progress is still progress, right?
  • Be open to getting help if you can. It’s hard to trust another person with a project that’s your baby, but the right person can make a big difference in the end result. Another set of eyes, an extra hand can be the boost you need.
  • Set up an accountability partner who can give you a gentle push to the end. It’s like having someone cheering you on to the finish line.
  • Set a schedule–break down what needs to be done and pace it out to an end date. For me, it’s a way to help visualize the end of the project. But be flexible. Remember, stuff happens and some days you’ll be more productive than others.

If you’re struggling to get the “The End” of a project, you’re not alone. It’s not easy.

But don’t let that stop you from getting started, whatever it is you want to do.

For more tips on Why it’s so hard to finish what you start and what you can do about it, click here.

Photo by Mark Montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

A small victory outside my comfort zone

I had a Book Signing at the Barnes and Noble store in Corpus Christi a few weeks ago and it was a big deal for me for a couple of reasons.

First, it was my 1st ever Barnes and Noble event and, to me, brick and mortar stores are still really important. (See my post 4 Ways in person shopping is good for your health). There’s nothing like talking to other people who love books. (Somehow I hadn’t realized what a major book-nerd I am!)

Second, I would be among strangers. I was not in my hometown and my friends and family wouldn’t be there. I would be talking to people I’d just met. Except for my husband, Mark, who patiently sat and listened to me read from my book  : ) I’d be meeting all new people.

Here are my top 5 takeaways:

Opportunity lies past your comfort zone.

Maybe it helped that my husband was with me and I knew I’d have at least one person in the audience. I loved being there and seeing my book among a bunch of other books. It didn’t matter that I was in the Cookbook section and near the toys and games.

It was a great reminder about why I write and what that’s all about.

I sold 2 books (yay!) and the 2 women who bought them could relate to my novel’s plot for different reasons. It was a really great reminder that even though my story’s not for everyone, it’s for some people. I have to get out of my own way and just tell the story. Then I have to work to help people find it.

Practice, practice, practice.

Only 3 people stopped at my table and I was there 2 hours, so I read from my book and did a Q & A session. That’s right, my husband asked me questions like, “How do you come up with names for the characters of your book?” and “Do you know what’s going to happen when you write? Do you know how your story will end?” I used a small sound system and read random chapters of my book, which was great practice for my audiobook recording.

Here’s the thing that’s really interesting about that: My husband, Mark, knows this story, A Song for Jessica, and my process better than anyone else. But he asked questions he was genuinely curious about.

I learned that it’s very different to know something in my head and another thing entirely to talk about them. Speaking to an audience of one was very good practice.

Nothing’s wasted.

A writer commented on Twitter the other day about coming across a story she’d written years ago and had never developed but then fell in love with it again. And she said, “Nothing’s ever wasted.” That’s kind of how I feel about the Q & A and reading to my husband.

Everyone has a story.

When I first decided to self-publish my book and started learning about marketing, one of the people I follow said, get out of your office and meet people. She said authors tend to do great online and in ads and marketing, but we struggle to get in front of people. I’ve been the opposite. I love meeting and talking to people, even if they don’t want to buy my book. I’m always amazed by the compelling and fascinating stories of regular people and the choices that determine outcomes. I’m reminded that I’m still writing mine.

A small victory

When it seems like you’re not making much progress and your efforts feel pointless, remember that small victories can be hugely satisfying.

And bear in mind:

  • Opportunity lies past your comfort zone.
  • Practice is good.
  • It’s okay if your work isn’t for everyone.
  • Nothing’s wasted.
  • Everyone has a story.

Thanks to Jessica and the Barnes and Noble Corpus Christi staff for welcoming me to their beautiful store. I’m grateful for the opportunity. 

Photo by Mark Montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

When the level of gratitude is over the top

There’s an old movie starring Joanne Woodward called “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds” based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Paul Zindel.

I watched the movie a long time ago, and don’t remember a lot about the plot, but one scene has always stood out in my memory.

It’s the scene where the mom, Joanne Woodward’s character, walks down the aisle of a near empty auditorium where her daughter’s just won the school science fair. (The daughter’s science project is where the name of the play comes from.)

And the mom calls out to her daughter, “My heart is full.” Her voice echoes and she repeats a couple of times, “My heart is full.” Then she turns and leaves.

Moments that stick

I might have been 10 years old when I saw that movie, but that scene has always stayed with me. In my mind it perfectly exemplifies that feeling of being overwhelmed with gratitude and love and absolute joy, when there are so many emotions all mixed up at once.

That’s how I felt last week at my Book Launch party for “A Song for Jessica”. My heart was full.

The party was a celebration of the official publication of my first novel and to have worked on it for more than a year and told people “I’m writing a book,” and then little by little to have it formed into something real and tangible that I can share.

And then for people to be interested in it and to have it all come together and my family and friends show up on a steamy, Thursday night to help me celebrate the actual publication of a book I wrote and published.

It was just a very humbling experience and to say I’m grateful doesn’t quite get it. Yes, I feel incredibly grateful, but it’s like uber-gratitude, which doesn’t even sound right.

No. My heart is full. 

Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

Gratitude’s a game-changer

I believe daily gratitude can change your life, but this mixture of love, gratitude, hope, and joy doesn’t feel like an everyday thing. It’s one of those moments I’ll always hold in my heart as an extraordinary gift.

Thanks to everyone who came and special shout out to my team ; ) — my husband, Mark, who’s always right there beside me, my sister, Lynda, who always comes through for me, and for my niece, Juliana, who was a popcorn-popping trooper. And to my friend, Gigi, owner of WT Cafe who provided cookies and muffins. It was a warm evening and we were very fortunate to have a nice evening breeze and smooth sounds by Frank, Kelso, and Kelly Ann Morales. Thanks ya’ll!

Thanks also to Marisol at The Koffee Kup Co. for offering to host and stay open late. You rock!

To all my family and friends who couldn’t be there in person but were there in spirit, thank you for sending love and good thoughts. I felt those, too.

The finish line and other wondrous moments

Well, of course my big news this week is that my book is published. Actually published.

Yes, self-published, or as I’ve learned is a more accurate term — Independently Published. (In case you missed it, you can go to my book page here.)

At my desk holding my preview print copy of “A Song for Jessica”

I noted last week that, in my mind, until I get to the finish line (published work) I haven’t really done anything. (Click here to read about celebrating milestone accomplishments.)

Well, I made it to the finish line.

And it hit me, almost knocked me over in fact and actually did bring me to tears, as I was updating my book’s webpage with a link to Kobo and I clicked the “Preview now” button.

I was able to read the first chapter of my book, this story I’ve worked on and fussed over for the past 18-months was there. That made it real like never before.

Something happened

There was something very surreal in that moment.

It was the realization that my work is out there, that it’s not just for me anymore.

And then I clicked the “Preview” and my book loaded. There it was. My character, my novel (the story I wrote!).

It was one of those surreal moments of accomplishment, relief, euphoria, and absolute satisfaction, one of those moments you almost can’t describe.

It’s like seeing your child for the first time. One second he’s in your womb, the next moment he’s in your arms. There’s no way to adequately explain the power of the moment. But I think you know what I mean. 

This whole thing is like having a child in another way too. It’s like being a mother who adores her child and wants everyone to notice how great he is. Some people may think he’s amazing, but some people may think he’s nothing special.

She’s got to be okay with that.

For me, as much as I’d love for everyone to love my book, some may, some may not.

I never really believed I’d be okay with that, but somehow I do now.

Maybe it’s because I did what I said I wanted to do. I reached my goal. I’ve written and published a novel. Will it get good reviews?  How many will I sell? Who’ll play the lead role in the movie? : )

But for now…

For the moment, this wondrous moment, none of that matters.

It’s like finishing a marathon with a very slow time. It doesn’t matter. I crossed the finish line.

Time to celebrate? Definitely.

Do you know what I’m talking about? If you’d like to share a wondrous moment I’d love to hear it in the comments.

Click here to read a short synopsis of A Song for Jessica. Available for pre-order now!