Stories have arcs. Characters have arcs. Writers have arcs. We write, we get better at our craft. We read, we get better at our craft. We interact with other writers and our readers, we get better at our craft. Whether you are a professional writer or just starting out. Hobby or career. We are all in this together. Welcome.

Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

A Writer Leaves 2016 Behind

I've never been a fan of New Year's Resolutions. I am a fan of "goals." A resolution is a desire or commitment to do or not do something. A commitment to losing weight. A desire to get a new job.  A hope of not making the same mistakes one made last year. Big, vague concepts, often unrealistic.

A goal is a desire to achieve a specific outcome. It also connotes having a plan. Something actionable and concrete. That's why I think goals are more attainable than resolutions.

Some of you are thinking, "that's just semantics," and I say, yes, you're right, but semantics matter.

Words matter. Especially how you put them together, who you say them to, and your intention behind them.

We are all throwing around a lot of words these days without a lot of thought behind them. We react fast and furious, often on social media, sending words out to thousands of people. We share the "news" that turns out to be false. We get angry over things taken out of context, then have to stay in our angry place no matter what, because that justifies our reactions.

Some of this is because bad things have happened. We are afraid, and for good reason, but that doesn't mean we have to lose our ability to take a breath, see the good, research the truth, react from logic and reason instead of anger and fear. Sometimes we're angry over things that should anger us, but we don't have a plan in place about where to move on from there.

That might make me sound like a Vulcan, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong.

2016 has been a rough year for a lot of people. We've lost big name singers, actors, comedians, and writers. People who made the world better for the rest of us with their talent, drive, and ambition. Folks who risked failure, put themselves out there, and didn't let bad reviews or unkind words stop them from achieving their goals.

As we mourn the losses, let us not lose sight of what these people taught us. That our differences can be embraced. That it isn't one success that makes a career, it's success and failure and success and failure repeated over a lifetime.

We have each also had our own personal, private tragedies. No matter who we are, we all experience failures, deaths, injuries. We lose our jobs, marriages end, our work is rejected. These things matter even more deeply than the loss of a public figure.

But alongside those events, we also have our successes. The jobs that exceed our expectations. The marriages and relationships that remain strong, the good reviews. Those who recover from illness or injury and embrace life again.

As we move into 2017, there is a lot of anxiety about the future. Which leaves us with a choice. Do we focus on the negative or acknowledge the bad without letting it overwhelm us? Do we see beauty in the world as we fight to save it? Or do we miss out on what's still here? Do we celebrate the gains we have achieved in our lifetimes or only see the erosion?

When I think of 2016 I will remember a woman was positioned to be president for the first time in US history and won the popular vote by almost three million votes, and I will work to support women  moving forward. I will celebrate my LGBTQ friends who could marry, and continue to fight for their rights. I support refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers who want to come to this country to work hard and build better lives for themselves and their families.

But my goal is also to go softly for a time. To contemplate the way forward. To listen, not just speak. To find the moments of Zen and beauty this world has to offer. To not get caught up solely in anger and fear, because then the bullies take my joy away and I'm not interested in letting them have that much power over me.

This isn't everyone's way. But for now, it's mine.

My wish for all of you for 2017 is that you achieve your goals or at least, and this may be more important, you are able to find them. We often wish for world peace at this time of year. That's a beautiful thought, but perhaps unrealistic today. So instead, this time, I wish for you a personal peace. A chance to find a place in your heart that is quiet.

I don't know what happens after we die, but I do know what happens during our lifetimes. We can either have a positive or a negative effect on others. We can be supportive or not. We can love fully or not. We can risk failure to achieve our heart's goals or we can fail to try. So I'll leave you with a few words from songwriter Tony Arata, who risked failure only to have success.

"Our lives are better left to chance, I could have missed the pain, but I'd have had to miss the dance." --Tony Arata

Dance my friends. Dance.

Writing in the Snow ... Ain't it a cold, cold world.

Beautiful day here in North Bend, Washington. The promised snow has arrived, along with a few downed trees and a short-lived power outage. Here's the current view outside my writing room window.

I'm waiting for the snow to melt before I drive out of my 'hood, so I didn't go to the gym. A free morning. I should be writing, right?

No, not so much. I've walked around outside in the snow. I've taken a lot of pictures, some of which have gone up on Facebook, so everyone else can see how cool our snow is. Which it is.

I took some video for my moment of Zen, snow falling on the middle fork of the Snoqualmie River.

Here's a picture of that, I can't post video here.

I've also looked at other people's pictures of snow, done a Facebook quiz on "recognizing animals," and watched my "2016 year in review."

Talked to my hubby on the phone while he drove in to Seattle, asking about the snow on the road. Texted the barn manager to check on the horses ... in the snow. They are doing fine. They have little heaters in their water bowls and get fed extra when it's cold.

Basically, I'm a kid on a snow day. I might as well admit I'm not really getting anything productive done. I did check on my Goodreads giveaway, which has been approved and will post up tomorrow, so I can give myself kudos for that.

But mostly, I'm sitting around finding all kinds of time-sucking things to do that have nothing to do with finishing Three Strikes, You're Dead.

I'm also eating sweets and drinking a lot of coffee, so there's that.

It's interesting to me how guilty not working can make me feel. Or maybe it's not guilt so much as a sense of total failure at being a grownup. I keep saying to myself, "Come on, Elena. You had a goal about reaching a specific word count today, but here you are contemplating going back to bed and reading Descent by Tim Johnston."

It's a good read so far. I'd justify it by saying I need to stay relevant in my field, but I know it's just because it's snowing outside and that fits the general state of anxiety I've been living in for weeks.

It looks beautiful, but long enough outside without the right clothes and the beauty will kill you. Bury you in a virginal whiteness and you don't get found until spring. Or, well, later this afternoon when the rain returns and the snow melts. This is, after all, Western Washington, not Billings, Montana, or Nome, Alaska.

The weather does, however, represent how I feel right now. What I want to do is hibernate. Stay in my warm bed, curled up with my animals, until the world feels safer, less full of misogyny, xenophobia, and hate. Until my Facebook feed isn't full of angry posts and doomsday predictions about just how bad it's going to get. I don't need Facebook for that, I can go there in my own mind without any help from my friends.

But this is Western Washington, and the snow is going to melt, and I do have to finish book three, and promote book one, and prepare for the launch of book two. These are the things I can control. Not the weather. Not the political disasters and impending years of dismantling human decency, such as it was. Not the hate. Not the anger. Not even my own.

So I'm going to enjoy my snow day, or snow morning as this is likely to be. And remind myself that spring does come. Eventually.