All posts by Sharon Neustadt

I am a member of SCBWI and received an award at The Writer’s Institute’s Poem or Page Contest for my genre. I have a B.A. in Mass Communications, with an emphasis on radio broadcasting. Music has always been a passion of mine and I’ve worked in the radio industry for over ten years, which led to greater exposure of the music industry. My creative influences come from both the screen and literary worlds: from Japanese Anime to Hollywood fantasies, to the written works of Carolyn Keene, C.S. Lewis, Rick Riordan, and J.K. Rowling. I live in Madison, Wisconsin with my awesome husband of 18-years, two teenage boys, and our labrador--who thinks she's a cat.

“Winning Versus A Personal Triumph”

The following is a belated post, written post-NaNo, recently found again following the restoration of an accidentally-wiped computer. (Don’t ask.)


Whew. At last. NaNoWriMo 2015 is over.

Did I “win”, you may wonder? No, not in the official goals and concept behind NaNo. But I did not quit and kept plugging away on my story, every day, every chance I got.

My total word count for this year’s project made it to 14,513 when time ran out on me. Darn. In the final hour, the prose was just flying from my hand and if I had another 45 minutes, I could’ve even cracked the 15k marker. Oh well.

I did a little bit of research on my previous three NaNo stories. No, they didn’t “win” either; they were most decidedly far from it. But excluding my first attempt, each of my subsequent entries have improved in word count. To me, that is the best thing about NaNo: Setting a goal and seeing it through to the end.

Of my previous three NaNoWriMo’s, by far, my first year was the best, at approximately 10k. During the four-year gap until my next foray into the world of NaNo, I maintained the excuse that I didn’t want to start something new while I had so many partial stories on my shelf… A childhood friend convinced me to give it another go in 2013. That year I made it up to 8k before Life derailed my progress. 2014’s story started to go down a very dark path and far from the fun romp I intended to go. Because of this, and the speed at which my personal and family life was spiraling out of control, I purposely shelved that story early, ending at 4,600 words.

I really wanted to write a story about a boy and his dog going off on an adventure. So this year, an entire month in advance, I dusted off last year’s story concept and enlisted my son (and inspiration) to help me Story Build this year’s offering. We had a great time, bouncing ideas and concepts off each other, and plotting the story arc our protagonist would follow. I spent time online, doing research on all things local to the area where my story takes place. I talked with fellow writers about my concept and sought advice in the event I’d want to pursue publication of this story one day.

I came up with a game plan to get in my word count and was able to follow 95% of it. Yay! I acknowledged that the odds of me reaching 50k with all of the family obligations on the calendar, in addition to an On-Call work scheduled that’d eat up many nights and 2 key weekends of NaNo, were pretty much slim to none.

So, instead of admitting defeat right off the bat, I decided to set my own goals for this month:

  1. Write a minimum of 60 min each day.
  2. Spend my lunches writing, instead of socializing.
  3. Go into my 3rd Annual NaNoWri Weekend with the highest word count yet. (I had > 7,000!) ….This lead to a goal of leaving the weekend with at least 10k words. (I crushed that one, I actually returned home with over 12k!)
  4. Finish with my highest word count to date.

No. I did not complete a 50k novel this year. But it was by far a personal best and when one is trying to get back into a writing groove after languishing in a drought of words and time, a stressful job, and just pure depression, emerging from this month with that landmark being achieved, is darn right satisfying.

I’m now finding myself setting new goals for the next two NaNoWriMo’s:

2016: 25,000 words

2017:   50,000 words

I believe, that with the right stories, I can make these goals, too.

Changes, Resolutions, and Writing

It is amazing how changing just one aspect of your life causes a ripple effect on not only the rest of your life, but also on those who surround you. What’s even more impressive is when that aspect was a negative one you changed for the better.

I’ve worked the same job for the last 14 1/2 years. The last five saw a steady decline in a working/home environment combined with increasing pressures, stress, and overall unhappiness. I knew what I had to do (change jobs, stat!) but the economy and the fact the fact I’d been in the same industry for over 18 years made the breakaway even more daunting.

As cliche as it may be, networking and “knowing people” really does work. After months of fruitless searching and a particularly stressful day at work, I vented–via text–to my husband. What did this awesome guy do? He sent out an S.O.S. to his friends and colleagues.  <3 The end result: I landed a dream job at a young startup company.

The moment I accepted the offer and tendered my notice, the impact was so startling, the ripple effect was more like a tsunami. The physical impact was the most drastic. In an instant, 98% of my stress was gone. I felt taller, lighter, and just plain happier than I’d been in longer that I could remember. A spark of the “old me” flickered into life. I could now say, with sincerity and belief, “Life is Good.” Everything seemed brighter, colors more defined, and nature even more beautiful.

Two weeks into my new job, I went in for my monthly massage treatment. My therapist just gushed at how quickly my muscles released and was practically giddy. At the end of my session, she told me that this was the first true relaxation massage she’s ever given me–all of the 90+ ones before that day had been therapeutic massages and merely throwing sandbags on the ever-rising tide of stress.

First mentally, then physically, the tsunami carved a path and washed away the mammoth layer of negativity, stress, and despair which was coating and eroding away my life. In its wake, the ripples of change became evident in other areas.

Home life improved, too. Not just mine, but that of my husband’s and two sons’. We laughed more. My boys could see and felt the change in me and made efforts to improve themselves.

At first, I was concerned that my boys would be resentful about the new, longer hours my job kept me away from home. After some heart-to-hearts, they informed me I couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yes, it stunk I wasn’t home when they got home from school and that I couldn’t chaperone a field trip or two anymore. They both told me  all that was offset by how happy I was now.

I’d like to say that my transformation showed my kids how important having a job you enjoy going to–even if it means long hours–can be for your physical, mental, and social well-being.

The last place I’ve noticed the waves of change touch is my Creative Self. This part of ME was all but snuffed out, the first casualty in the toxic atmosphere of stress that gradually consumed my life. Sure, I tried to write. But looking/reading back on the pages and stories, they’re all flat. Words on a page that may as well have been symbols belonging to a dead or alien language. What few nuggets of quality writing that existed were all sad and dark. None of which are ME.

I went to a writer’s conference (SCBWI-WI, to be precise) about a month after starting my new job and felt that faint ember of my Spark flicker a little brighter. The weekend of camaraderie nurtured that ember and breathed new life into it. By the time I went on my now-annual NaNo Writing Weekend, that ember had grown into a cute little fire. Coming home from close to 40 hours of intensive immersion of creativity, word wars, and connecting with a childhood friend, that cute fire was now fire-pit-sized and crackling merrily.

Looking back on my writings of the past two months, I can say this: the quality may not yet be 100% back, but I am writing. That’s what is important right now–exercising a part of my brain, my Self, that atrophied from stress and neglect.

A quote from a previous writers’ conference echoes back to me: “Just write! 99% of it may be crap, but at least you are writing.”

So, I’ll wrap up this post with three resolutions:

  • I resolve this year to write and to do so in increasing allotments of time.
  • I resolve this year to “win” NaNoWriMo.
  • I resolve to be WAY more regular with postings to my site. 🙂

And two mantras:

  • Change is Good  — Especially if it improves the quality of life for you and/or your family!
  • Life is Good  — In your deepest, darkest moments, remember that. It may not seem that way and quite hard to see in the moment, but Life IS Good.

If we can all remember those mantras and hold them close to our hearts, they will help us make it through the hard times …and maybe shelter our creative sparks.


Pencil and Paper versus Keyboard

“Wow. You actually write out your stories, first?”

Yes, I write. I mean that in both the creative sense and the physical one.  I wield my craft long-handed. That’s the best way to describe my Process. Pencil to paper–sometimes a pen might be used.

I know a bunch of writers that work their craft via the keyboard. And that is just fine. It works for them. For a person with my Process, I find it interesting to note that practically all of those writers are right-handed. I only know of a handful of Lefties who write that way, too. Again, this is perfectly okay for all of them. I’m cool with that and won’t try to change their Process. It’s just not for me. Continue reading Pencil and Paper versus Keyboard

Seeking Equilibrium In My Crazy World…

It’s an interesting task, finding the balance between the work/normal and creative lives…

At first, there’s a dramatic dropping of the scales to one side or the other. You’re in a place where one aspect languishes while the other the other thrives. …Then there’s the guilt of paying too much attention to one and not the other.

Gradually, though, a delicate balance takes foothold. Well, maybe “toehold” –that’s where I am now.

I would *love* to reach the day where I’m that kid who finally succeeds in standing in the middle of the see-saw, maintaining that precarious balance needed to remain on top while both parties on either end try to bounce the other–and me–off their seat.

Some days I think I’m nuts to throw in to my balancing act not one, but two more objects. Those would be my venture into the world of tweeting and this. How can I balance work (which gets so stressful it’s mentally draining), hausfrau duties, yard/garden projects, writing or editing my stories AND keep my blog & Twitter accounts up to date?? Ugh. This is when the song “Some Nights” by Fun. really speaks to me. Then listen to their track “Carry On” and I start to feel a bit better.

Wow. Typing this out I realize that this is my longest post yet. Woot! It’s still short as some blog posts go, but hey, I’m still trying to find that balance… some sort of equilibrium in my crazy world.

But I know I’ll get there. 🙂

So much to do, so little time…. Squirrel!!!

Wow. I’m learning it’s *super* easy to get lost in this world of blog/webpage setup…. And I mean that in both the literal & figurative sense. “How did I get to this part?” “Where can I find…?” “What do you mean ‘it’s after 2am’??”

That being said, this is a TON of fun. Even though I know Future Me will cringe at the sloppy-crudeness of my early posts, I hope that F.M. would get a good laugh and remember this craziness.