Writing through chronic illness and other challenges, with Karen Lock Kolp
This writing thing often feels hard. A common text among the three of us (Jess, Sarina and KJ) goes like this: OW OW OW OWOWOWOW. Our brains hurt. But for this week’s guest, Karen Lock Kolp, it’s more than that. Because of a rare tendon condition, Karen does all her writing and online work—and we do mean all—using her voice. That means that when it comes to both dictation and writing through big challenges, she’s a pro, and her advice in this episode was solid gold on both counts.
Episode links and a transcript follow—but first, a preview of the #WritersTopFive that will be dropping into #AmWriting supporter inboxes on Monday, September 2, 2019: Top 5 Things to Remember When Writing is REALLY Hard. Not joined that club yet? You’ll want to get on that. Support the podcast you love AND get weekly #WriterTopFives with actionable advice you can use for just $7 a month.
As always, this episode (and every episode) will appear for all subscribers in your usual podcast listening places, totally free as the #AmWriting Podcast has always been. This shownotes email is free, too, so please—forward it to a friend, and if you haven’t already, join our email list and be on top of it with the shownotes and a transcript every time there’s a new episode.
LINKS FROM THE PODCAST
Joanna Penn's The Creative Penn
Karen's Dictation Software Choices: Dragon Dictation, Chrome Browser, Dragon's Transcription Button.
MouseGrid video on YouTube: How to Use the Dragon MouseGrid (as it turns out, it’s focused on navigating in Facebook with Dragon, but still a great video)
#AmReading (Watching, Listening)
Karen: Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado Perez
The Purloined Paperweight, P.G. Wodehouse
KJ: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, Abbi Waxman
Jess: God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America, Lyz Lenz (Hear Lyz on the podcast here.)
Jeff Kinney's An UnLikely Story in Plainville, MA
Karen Lock Kolp is the author of Positive Discipline Ninja Tactics: Key Tools to Handle Every Temper Tantrum, Keep Your Cool, and Enjoy Life with Your Young Child and 10 Secrets Happy Parents Know: How to Stop the Chaos, Bring Out Your Child’s Good Behavior, and Truly Enjoy Family Time (Your Child Explained). Find out more at Karen's website: We Turned Out Okay. Listen to her podcast here. Her popular episode Positive Discipline Ninja Tactics is here.
This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwritingfor details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s Inside-Outline template.
If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.
Transcript (We use an AI service for transcription, and while we do clean it up a bit, some errors are the price of admission here. We hope it’s still helpful.)
KJ: 00:01 Howdy writers and listeners. August is basically over. September is here and this is the very last time I can invite you to join us in Bar Harbor, Maine for the Find Your Book, Find Your Mojo retreat from September 12th through 15th of 2019. It's a fantastic chance to get some one on one time for your project with me or Author Accelerator founder Jenny Nash, and then dig in with all your might in a gorgeous setting surrounded by your fellow #AmWriting word nerds, including Serena Bowen, who's going to talk about indie versus traditional publishing. There will be bonding, there will be writing, and knitting and artistic renderings of words of the year and all kinds of festivities and I for one can't wait. Find all the email@example.com/am writing.
KJ: 00:55 Go ahead. This is the part where I stare blankly at the microphone and try to remember what I was supposed to be doing.
Jess: 00:59 All right, let's start over.
KJ: 01:01 Awkward pause. I'm going to rustle some papers.
Jess: 01:04 Okay.
KJ: 01:04 Now one, two, three. Hey, I'm KJ Dell'Antonia.
Jess: 01:13 And I'm Jess Lahey.
KJ: 01:15 And this is #AmWriting with Jess and KJ. #AmWriting is our weekly podcast about all things writing, be they fiction, nonfiction, some bizarre intertwined creation, short stories, proposals, essays, long pieces, short pieces. And most of all, the one thing we always are is the podcast about getting the work done.
Jess: 01:46 And I'm Jess Lahey. I'm the author of the Gift of Failure and a forthcoming book about preventing substance abuse in kids. And you can find my work at the New York Times and the Washington Post and recently at Air Mail, which is a new venture by Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair. And that was kind of fun to write for someone new.
KJ: 02:06 I am KJ Dell'Antonia. I'm the author of How To Be a Happier Parent and the former lead editor and writer of the Motherlode blog at the New York Times where I am still a contributor. I'm having a freelancing break while I work on what will be my second novel and my first novel, The Chicken Sisters will be out next year.
Jess: 02:24 So exciting.
KJ: 02:26 That's who we are. That's why you should listen to us. Today, we have a guest that I think you are also going to want to listen to. I want to welcome Karen Lock Kolp. She is a child development expert and a parenting coach with a podcast, a thriving online community, and she is the independently published author of 10 Secrets Happy Parents Know. But we are not going to talk about anything parenty because what we are gonna talk about is getting all that work done because Karen is also a woman who lives with chronic illness. She has a tendon disorder that she'll describe to you later, but it has made her an expert in the use of her voice, both as a podcaster and in dictating her writing, which I know you're all going to want to hear about. And it's also made her an expert at keeping her butt in the chair sometimes whether she wants to or not, and getting her work done anyway, even when it's really, really hard. And that's why you're here. So thank you so much for joining us.
Karen: 03:28 Oh, thank you. It's really wonderful to be here. This is very exciting for me. Your podcast is one of my favorites. It is one of the few that survived my recent digital reset. Yours was one of the few that I brought back in because it's incredibly valuable.
Jess: 03:51 Oh, that's so nice. We survived a purge. That's so exciting.
KJ: 03:56 I purged lately too, although I partly purged just because I get so frustrated with the iTunes podcast app and switched and then once I switched I realized I hadn't brought everything with me and some of it I didn't miss.
Jess: 04:08 I had that moment where iTunes said, you seem to have not downloaded this in awhile. Do you still want to listen? And I thought about it and I said, well, no, actually I'm done.
Karen: 04:20 That's really cool. I did that.
KJ: 04:22 So Karen, so what I really want to talk about today is the specifics of writing with chronic illness, but also more on a general note, just the challenges of writing when it's hard. I think that we all have times when we feel like this is impossible and you have written through moments that I think most of us would define as actually impossible. So, start by telling us where you stand and how this started for you.
Karen: 04:56 Wow. It's, it's quite a story. So, actually first of all, I think I just want to say that I was well into writing my second book before I would dare to call myself a writer. So there's that as well. I was like, I'm a podcaster, I'm not a writer. You know what I mean?
KJ: 05:14 Yeah, no, we all have that. Yeah. I mean it's always, well, I wrote for the New York Times, but only online, you know Nobody, none of us thinks we're a real writer yet. Yeah, except maybe Salmon Rushdie, he thinks he's a real writer.
Karen: 05:34 Thinks he's a writer. Yeah, exactly. A real writer. I was midway through the second book and I was like, I said to somebody, Oh, I'm a writer. And I was like, wait a minute, I actually am a writer. I'm like, that's pretty cool. For me, it all started eight years ago, more than eight years ago now, I contracted a tendon disorder. And the way that I did it was I got a gastric disease called diverticulitis, which I would not wish on my worst enemy. And I took some (this is the nearest that my doctors and I can figure out) I took a really strong course of antibiotics to get rid of it. And they had a thing in them called fluoroquinolones. And since that started, since I went down this rabbit hole, it's been discovered that fluoroquinolones cause tendon problems largely in kids, but caused these problems anyway. And the rheumatologist told me, probably four or five years in that like I'm one of the lucky few who it stuck around for it. There's like a third of people who get this that they get it and get better right away. And then there's a third who sort of get it and it sticks around for a couple of years. And then I'm one of the ones who's, you know, it's gone on for a really long time.
KJ: 06:42 That's just annoying.
Karen: 06:45 I mean, isn't it?
KJ: 06:48 The truth is that in a single hand card game, odds don't matter and it’s either going to stay or it's not and if it stays those odds just make you mad.
Karen: 06:57 Yeah. And I, I, it took me a long time to get here, but I, I would say that what I've done is I've kind of gone through a real metamorphosis, you know, before I was a caterpillar and then this was my chrysalis and now I'm a butterfly. Like I truly understand the meaning of differently abled in a way I never, ever did before. For the first couple of years, the focus was really on my legs. I lost almost complete use of one leg in particular (my right leg) because of some of the tendons in it. And then there was a sort of very long rehab. But while I was going through that, I needed a wheelchair. Whenever I left the house it was a mess. And when that got better, then my thumb tendon started to go. And I'm still basically really still recovering from that. The legs are much better than the upper body. So all my writing is done online, and I do it with a speech recognition software. But, I want to even go further back than that, if it's okay.
KJ: 08:04 Yeah.
Karen: 08:05 Because I, the whole reason that I started to do anything is because I wanted, it sounds, it may sound silly, but I wanted to give a TED talk. I was, I remember watching TED talks and loving them and laughing at them. Like I couldn't move, I was stranded in a chair. And I remember thinking, you know what I could do, I could do a TED talk in a wheelchair. I want to do a TED talk. And so what, I, I haven't done one yet, I'm still hoping to, but this whole thing started because I was like, well, I want to do that. So my husband especially helped me try to figure out like, how could you do that, because at the same time as I wanted that I was also feeling incredibly useless and a total burden at home. We had two young kids and I couldn't be the house wife, and I couldn't be the cook. And I couldn't be the laundry and I couldn't be the chauffeur. So I really was feeling very down, like not quite suicidal, but if you got hit by a bus it wouldn't be a problem kind of thing. I had to learn first that there is value in me even if I can't use my hands or my legs. Once I learned that, my family was like, we need you, we need you to be the brains, which is how we define it around here. Then I could sort of look outwards from that. And that was when I really decided, I think I want to do a TED talk. And that has led to so much cool stuff. And even if it's not ever a TED talk, I'm so happy.
KJ: 09:33 Well, I mean, you know, it's kind of cool that it started from that, right? And, and it remains as a goal, but now you have, you know, you have so many other goals that you have achieved in the meantime.
Karen: 09:54 That's a very good thing to know. I mean, I, it's nice to have that validation, you know.
KJ: 10:01 Yeah.
Karen: 10:02 Thank you.
KJ: 10:02 I almost don't even know where to go from that, but so you've picked a topic and you took it from there. It's sort of hard to list all the things that you have, but you have this thriving online community, you have a coaching business, you have a lot going on now. What came first?
Karen: 10:28 So first came the podcast and that came about in a really interesting way too, because my husband wanted me to have an iPhone. So part of my problem, part of the hands per happened because I was doing too much texting on a phone that had those nine buttons, you know what I mean, where you'd have to like cycle through the number one to get to a and all those sorts of things. And that really blew up with the thumb tendons and my husband's like, okay, we're gonna get you an iPhone because it's playschool. You won't ever have to worry about like anything. You know, there's no, you don't have to choose between apps. Like it's just, it's there for you, there's no worries with an iPhone, which my family has since they've gotten Androids and there are times where they want to throw them out the window, you know what I mean? But I still have an iPhone because I need it. And that was when I really first discovered podcasts and one of my favorite podcasts was done by an entrepreneur who teaches other people how to start an online business. And I really wanted to start an online business.
KJ: 11:34 You need to name the podcast, by the way.
Karen: 11:37 Oh, that podcast is called The Solopreneur Hour podcast with Michael O'Neal. So I got into his podcast and I started trying to do something. I made a horrible, horrible website with my husband's help that I'm so glad it's gone, basically. Because I just needed to start and I knew I wanted to do something for parents of young children. I have a master's degree in early childhood education, I've got a bachelor's in human development and family relations, I've got nine years as a preschool teacher in an industry standard, state of the art, absolutely wonderful town-run preschool program. The town I grew up in actually. And I wanted to help parents cause I couldn't be in the classroom anymore, so maybe I could, you know, I could at least help them that way. So, I'm developing this pretty awful website and I'm doing it listening to Michael O'Neal's show. And I wrote to him at one point to basically say thank you because what he was doing was making me feel like I could do this, like this was attainable by me. And I explained my tendon condition and he read my letter on the air and he gifted me three months in his coaching program. I just want to take a moment to send up a silent thank you to him because I don't know what I would've done if I hadn't had him. But I mean, what, he's just a wonderful guy.
KJ: 13:08 Say a thank you to you because if you didn't reach out, do you know exactly when he would've come and knocked on your door if you hadn't written that letter? Never.
Karen: 13:17 Exactly.
KJ: 13:19 Yeah. You know, we often are like, yeah, I was really lucky because, but you made your luck.
Karen: 13:24 Yeah, that's very true. And I remember the feeling of like, this is really happening. Like, Oh my gosh. And his real jam, the thing he's really good at helping people figure out is what's your brand. And so we went through, as I said, he took one look at my goofy website that I had been working on and he was like, Oh, you know, this isn't going to fly. Yes, not this. Exactly. And then we spent, I would say probably a good part of those first three months coming up with the concept and the brand. And I, I will never forget the day after trying three or four, you know, names, when I said to him, you know, what I've been really thinking about and pushing around is the idea of a podcast called we turned out okay. And he was like, that's it. He goes, that's it. And then he goes, you know what your tagline is? It's the modern parent's guide to old school parenting. I was like, yes. And it was just so much fun. So the whole process was fun and like he made it fun and he made me feel like I could do this, you know? Whereas at home I was sort of getting a little bit of like, are you sure? Do you really want to take this on? This is a lot for somebody with, you know, with the conditions and the problems that you've got. And it was so motivating and such fun to be in that program, so I'm grateful to him. Very grateful.
KJ: 14:43 Well, and it's cool that it came about that he offered that to you, but this is also sort of a moment to recognize that getting some coaching can be super helpful. I think a lot of us are really reluctant to spend money on our dreams and, and also we have this feeling that if we were really capable, if we could really do it, we could do it on our own.
Karen: 15:08 Exactly.
KJ: 15:10 If I were a real writer, I wouldn't need an editor's help. If I were a real entrepreneur, I wouldn't need a coach to guide me through finding my brand. And that is, that's just, that's just not true. We all need to learn where we're going and getting in with an expert can can cut your time in half, it can inspire you, it can help you see exactly what you saw, which was that it might not look to people on the outside like you were ready to do this, but you wanted to prioritize it. I think that's cool, too.
Karen: 15:45 Yeah. So that's how I got started. That's a really long story for how I got started.
KJ: 15:51 Okay. We accept long stories. So at this point, you're podcasting and then you must at some point have sort of decided, well, I need some blog, I need some writing to go with this podcast. Let us know how you figured out how to do that, especially given that you were gonna need to dictate.
Karen: 16:15 So I think one of the, one of the things that a lot of people overlook I guess or don't want to hear maybe, is that you've got to start it before you know what it is. You have to start it before it's fully formed. And I started the podcast in 2014 or 2015, it's just over four years old. So 290 episodes in, in four years and counting. I got to maybe like 56 or 57 and I did an episode called Positive Discipline Ninja Tactics and people went nuts for it. Like I started to get emails from people and that got downloaded more than any other episode I'd ever done. People really responded to the idea that, wait a minute, there are these little Ninja tactics I can do to make my home life better? It's super easy, but things that I know as an early childhood professional that maybe, a parent who's not, wouldn't know, you know what I mean? So things like, how to make no sound like yes was one of those first Ninja Tactics. What I did from that was I decided to write a book called Positive Discipline Ninja Tactics. And I wanted to be able to talk about it in written form as well. You know, there's this idea you should have an email list. I've been taking a lot of time to try and figure out what my email list is going to be and I've gotten to 2019 and I figured it out and I love it. And people again are really responding to it. It's a weekly newsletter now, where I always get to vary it. But, I started it as, Hey, if you want to get notified when Positive Discipline Ninja Tactics is available, then I'll put you on this email list and you can find out and that really grew from there. For me it's been a lot of experimentation and exploring my burnout rate. So I used to do a six episodes in a month. And I realized that after the second year that that was not working for me. It was too much. I couldn't concentrate on my coaching clients if I was spending that much time on the podcast. Instead, I started doing these biweekly live members only calls for the people in my community. And, and if I did that twice a month instead of this extra podcast, I suddenly, I wasn't burned out anymore. I was focusing my energies in the right place because the people in the community could then say to me, here's my question about this. And I could go, Oh my God, people who listen to the podcast need to hear about that too. So I'm serving my clients first and then being able to bring these cool things to the listeners.
KJ: 19:08 Right.
Karen: 19:09 So, then I started listening to Joanna Penn, the Creative Penn podcast. And I started to sort of reframe myself as not just as a podcaster, but as an author as well. And what she does is so cool because she's all about like write books that are really professional and well written and fantastic at giving good advice and keep writing them. And I was like, you know what, that's something I could do. And so I've been working on that.
KJ: 19:43 So wait, wait. You're saying that's something I could do, but you don't type.
Karen: 19:50 No, I don't type, exactly.
KJ: 19:53 First of all, we want to know how you actually do it, but how did you get over that mental block of, you know, I'm going to write, but not with a pen, not with a keyboard, and not with a pencil.
Jess: 20:07 I'm especially waiting to hear about that because I have tried.
KJ: 20:11 We want the mental block first, then we want the tools.
Jess: 20:15 I just can't. I've tried so hard, so I'm dying to hear how you do all the dictation.
Karen: 20:20 Can I just say that it was not without many temper tantrums? I mean, I think this is necessity as the mother of invention. There was no way for me to do this without the speech recognition software. So I had to form a truce with the speech recognition software. So for me over these years now I've spent, I don't know if I've gotten my 10,000 hours in or not yet, but I would say probably. But the way that I got there was by doing it. So, I work much better if I can read something that is printed. So, my husband printed out the entire user manual for speech recognition software. So I was learning the commands - because there are these interesting commands that you can use. So you can tell it to click here, you can tell it to click save, you can bring up a mouse grid. I think if you guys are looking for the tool that has been a lifesaver for me. It's this idea of a mouse grid. So I want you to envision your computer screen and you say the words mouse grid. And what happens is a grid of nine blocks comes up on your screen. Say I want to click something in the lower left corner, that that happens to be the number seven. So I would say seven. And then the mouse grid would reappear, but the whole mouse grid is now where the number seven used to be. And so it's a little more focused now in that corner.
KJ: 21:57 And where do you get something like that?
Karen: 22:00 Where do you get the mouse grid?
KJ: 22:02 Yeah.
Karen: 22:02 Well, I use Dragon Speech Recognition software, so it's a component of that. But I'll tell you, I learned how to use that properly by watching the most beautiful and just heartbreaking video on YouTube. I mean you think you've got problems, right? And then you Google how to use the Dragon mouse grid and the person describing it to you is a person who not only has lost the use of his arms and legs, but also has speech difficulties and they are describing to you how to use this mouse grid and then they are using the mouse grid. By the time he gets to the small enough place in the grid in this video, I am crying. I mean my thought was if somebody like that can not only do that, but teach me how to do it, there is nothing that will stop me. Like what a good, incredibly good example of someone who's making it work no matter what, you know?
KJ: 22:56 Wow. All right, we're going to find that. We're going to link it.
Karen: 22:58 So, the mouse grid is a huge tool. I've discovered that Dragon plays very well with Chrome and not very well with Firefox, for example. So there have been times where I have felt like I was drowning and that I just couldn't get a breath. I wish I had a better description. Like, I will sit down and I'll be like, alright, I'm going to write a blog post and I use the speech recognition software to open Google Chrome and then I use it to navigate. to the inside of my website, not the outside pages everybody sees, but the sort of private admin pages and I get to the correct post.
KJ: 23:56 And you're doing all that using the Dragon Dictate?
Karen: 23:59 I am, yeah.
KJ: 24:00 So we think of Dragon Dictate as something that lets you dictate a story, but you can sort of basically set it up to run your whole...
Karen: 24:09 You can, yeah. You can use their voice commands for all of this. But what I've learned to be more patient with what used to kill me so bad was I would get three quarters of the way through that process and then I would open the dictation box, but sometimes Dragon can't see and doesn't know what you're trying to do. I don't know how else to describe it - it won't write anything. You'll say something and it will say, we can't recognize that speech or something and you're just like ugh. So I would get all the way to that point and then the app would crash or something like that. Talk about temper tantrums! But I just kept playing the song It's a Long Way to the Top by AC DC. I kept thinking to myself, there's no other way. Like it's either this or you go throw yourself in front of a train, like what's it gonna be here honey? And, I knew I wasn't going to do that, so I was gonna have to keep doing this basically. Does that make sense?
KJ: 25:15 Oh yeah, no, it totally, it totally makes sense. So now you're writing a book via Dragon Dictation and all of the challenges that that entails and then you're editing it the same way.
Karen: 25:33 I am. And, and I have learned - this was such a breakthrough for me. So, say if I'm going to write the title of a chapter and have Dragon sort of recognize it, I can now make a recording for my podcast, get my microphone out and my headphones and stuff like that. And I can say the following. So, here's the title of my book that dragon will recognize. OK. are you ready?
KJ: 26:04 Yeah.
Karen: 26:05 Cap educating cap. Happy cap kids, colon numeral nine cap ways to cap help cap your cap, child cap, learn cap to cap and joy cap learning, something like that. I can't remember it exactly, but I'm, that's the book I'm working on right now.
KJ: 26:19 So, you're fluent in, you're fluent in punctuation.
Jess: 26:24 There really is a whole other language.
Karen: 26:26 It's a whole other language. But what's neat is you can get into the flow of it in a recording sense. So like I can record 15 minutes of language that sounds like that. And, and I can, there's a transcribe button in Dragon and it will take that and put it on paper but legibly so that it can be read. It just says educating happy kids. Nine ways to help your child learn what they need to know. And it's like such a mirror every time this, every time I see this appearing, I'm just like, yay!
KJ: 26:59 I need to quickly hop in and apologize for only naming your most recent book cause I knew that you had more. But in the intro I, for whatever reason just threw out the first one. We will be listing them all.
Karen: 27:10 Oh, thank you. No worries. I mean, I appreciated that you listed any of them. I mean this is the one that I'm currently working on, so this is the one that my brain is like really thinking about. So I just today, today I sent it off to my editor for final revisions, so yay.
Jess: 27:31 It was funny when you said the thing about how if you want to do this thing badly enough, you can figure it out. But when we were interviewing Shane recently about the fact that he uses his two thumbs to type entire books on his iPhone and Oh my gosh, you know, KJ and I used to have a segment in the show called Ow It Hurts, but it was always like it hurts. Like, Oh, I don't really want to write this, but not like I have to write an entire book with my two thumbs. If Shane Burcaw can write three books with his thumbs, I think I can figure out the intricacies of how to use dictation software.
Karen: 28:17 If you want to, if it's a real goal of yours. I think a lot of times that I would not be a podcaster or an author without the tendon disorder. Like I was, I was too invested in my own life. I guess. I remember sort of having this yearning, like I remember being 38 about a decade ago and just saying to my husband, like, you know what, isn't there anything else? I mean, I love you and I love the kids, but isn't there anything else? I think had I not gotten the tendon disorder and, and had all of that other stuff kind of stripped away from me, I'm not sure that I would've had the guts even to try something different. Even now I will walk into a Christmas tree shops and I get tired, so I often need to find a seat so you'll find me sitting on the bird seed. This happened just recently. I was in line of Joann Fabrics and the line was so long that I literally sat down on the floor and crossed my legs and apologized to everybody around me and said, this is just what I have to do. I mean, once you've been through things like that, those are really socially embarrassing situations and it's like, well, I can do anything if I can do this.
Jess: 29:36 I just am fascinated. I've never, I'm fascinated. My brain is stuck on the line that I wouldn't be a writer without my tendon disorder. I think, you know, the thing, the very thing that makes that more difficult for you is the thing that made it happen. And I find that really wonderful and fascinating and complicated.
Karen: 29:54 Yeah. Thank you for recognizing it. When I think metamorphosis, that's really what I think of. And I came to our conversation today with a couple of points that I wanted to make sure to cover. If anyone is trying to work in difficult circumstances that, that I thought they might want to know, this is what's worked for me and the first one is to just own it, to say to yourself, this is what I want to do. Like it can be so easy for us to get caught up in I've got to get dinner on the table and I've got all these duties that we have in our day and there can be some guilt around backing away from work or family and saying, I'm taking this time to do this thing that I really want to do. And for me that had to come first.
KJ: 30:44 Yeah. I mean, if, if you are in a situation where you have limited resources, be there physical or mental to put them into this thing that at that moment is only for you is really hard. You know, it's very easy to say to yourself, well, you know, if I'm going to have like an hour of, of like sort of on time today because I'm suffering from exhaustion or because I get physically tired, I should put that into my kids' school meeting or dinner or you know, something. So I think that's really important.
Karen: 31:21 Yeah. That's what's worked for me. I remember lying in bed one morning just before I wrote to Michael O'Neal, just before I started to like come up with this website. And I remember lying in bed one day and every day I had been thinking, you got to get busy living or get busy dying, which is from a movie, it might be from the Shawshank Redemption. I literally would lie in bed going, are you going to get up now cause you got to get busy living or get busy dying. And on this particular day I sat up in bed and I said out loud, I am doing this and I'm not even sure that I knew what this was yet. But like it was this idea of I am breaking free of the sort of constraints. Whether they are because I feel guilty that I can't do very much or because like my time really ought to be spent on this other thing. And I was basically like, I got no hands. So like I'm going to do this, whatever it is.
KJ: 32:21 I was just going to say, okay fine. If you can get your mental head around it. And it also sounded like you had had partner support, which is great, but sometimes we have to go on without it.
Karen: 32:34 Yup. Yup. Yup. It was huge. So Ben used to say to me, he's actually the producer of my show. And what's funny is he has a day job, he goes off to work every day and that doesn't have anything to do with audio. But he went to school for sound engineering and his friends from college are people who work on the Today Show or who have won Grammy's and stuff like that. And he basically decided that his life was going to take a different path, but we used to joke, we'd pass a radio station in the car and I'd be like, Hey, let's move here and I'll be the talent and you can be the producer. And like that's kind of what's happened, which is so interesting. So he gets to feed his audio soul a little bit. He gets to geek out over, you know, making the show sound great and like all the cool, you know, little audio things that he couldn't do before. So support is really important. But I will say this, too. Ben is the one who, he was like, he used to say like, we need to get you with your friends because you're so much happier when you're like with people. He would say, I've seen you come alive today. We went to a party or something and cause it's just so hard to be sitting alone and you know, only feeling like you can't do stuff. So, when I said to him, I think I'd like to try starting a a business, he was like, yes, please. I'm glad because you need something to do with your mind. So he was always very, very supportive from the beginning. I didn't think to put that on the list, but I think that's probably pretty important.
KJ: 34:05 Well, it's, it's hard to be the partner because you can think to yourself, you know, if I were in that position, I would do such and such. Well, and first of all, you don't know what you would do, but secondly, you can't actually do it. So, you know, you can look at your partner and see, well I, she really needs to get out there and, and do stuff with her friends. But it's not like he can pack you into the car.
Karen: 34:25 Yeah, exactly.
KJ: 34:28 To be them too. All right, well what comes next?
Karen: 34:29 Alright. So next for me was the idea of just starting small, like small habits have won the day for me. When I first started, and even sometimes now, I have a version of your open the document, you know what I mean? And I always felt like, so if you've got 5% use of your hands, what can you dedicate that 5% to? And sometimes it was twirling spaghetti and that was all I had, you know. But if I've got 15 minutes, if I can take the next 15 minutes and dedicated to writing something like, and then I don't do anything else for the rest of the day, that's fine. I put one foot in front of the other today. I took one step. So really small habits that you do repeatedly. The next thing I think, cause you can say to yourself like, it's too big. I can't, I just can't. But, but if you try to break it down to like the smallest step, the step, the step that you feel like, okay, I can do that, I will do that. And then you're done for the day and you come back to it the next day. So small habits are fun and good. The next one that comes up for me is celebrate the wins. Even the tiny ones like - so actually, I've been writing a fictional book one minute at a time, which I know sounds crazy, but it worked for Neil Gaiman so I feel like it's gonna work for me.
KJ: 35:57 It's really the only way to do it. It's just a question of whether they're consecutive minutes or not.
Karen: 36:02 Yes, exactly. I just don't have the time to commit to even 15 minutes a day of fiction writing, but I can open a notebook and it's actually, it's hand strengthening practice too is how I look at it. I can open a notebook and I can write a sentence. And what I've been taken to is I'll write a full sentence and then I'll make the next sentence be like the beginning of the next sentence. So the next day when I come back, I've got a writing prompt basically. And I have found that it's enough to keep this story alive for me. Like, so I had the idea for the novel and I did a lot of work around who's who, what's the main character dealing with? I have a dear friend who lives in Maine and the property next to her dream property has been taken over by a jerky landlord who insists on bringing like people from away who shoot off guns and bring bands in and they're raising a family. And so I'm writing this to give her some hope, basically. I've been having a ball with it, one minute at a time. So that's one of my one minute, like that's one of my tiny habits. I can't do more than that. So that's what I do. And when I do it, I celebrate that win, like I did this today. Yes.
KJ: 37:20 Yes. All right. Keep going. Do you have time to?
Karen: 37:25 I got two more, two more. I think my most important resource is energy. When my energy level is gone, it is gone and I have to go to sleep for eight hours to get it back. So, I tend to work in projects and the way I think of it is like I'll do so quarterly, I'll look at this each quarter anew and my project for the first month of the quarter is recording the podcast episodes and getting those show notes done so that for the whole quarter. So now I've got two other months that I can keep writing or I can do other cool stuff. This August we're gonna have a staycation. So I get to do that because I planned in July for August. So I'll get that project completed and then work on the next project. So, for this quarter it's been educating happy kids has been really my next project. That and rest.
KJ: 38:24 That's your next book, right?
Karen: 38:25 Yup. That's my next book. I have found that is a really great way to manage my energy level because I can see progress as I'm working through a bigger project. For me that really, really works. It may not work for everyone. Some people might like to sort of get a little bit of something done every day repeatedly, but I like to be able to say, okay, that project is finished and now I can move on to the next one. So I've been doing that. And then the last one, and this is probably the most important one, is the idea of trying again tomorrow. So like if today is a blowout, if you cannot do it, if, if everything has gone wrong today, you still have the choice to get up and try again tomorrow.
KJ: 39:11 Cool. Yeah, no, that's, that's great. I love it.
Jess: 39:14 We've also observed in the past, this happens to me with writing and it happens to me with teaching that some of my very worst teaching and writing days have been followed by some of my best. So that's a good reminder for me that no matter how crappy things go on one day it can turn around completely the next.
Karen: 39:33 Yup. Yup. And as I think as a part of all of this, there's this idea of support.
Speaker 3: 39:39 Like we talked about that a little bit with my husband, right? But you guys are such a support for me. The #AmWriting Facebook group is one of the only places I go on Facebook. I go there and I go into the group of We Turned Out Okay listeners that I have developed over there,
KJ: 39:55 It is the only place I go.
Jess: 39:57 It's literally true. KJ and I, what we did was we made it so that the group is our bookmark for Facebook. So if you're going to go on Facebook, you have to go there.
Karen: 40:07 No way.
Jess: 40:08 Yeah.
KJ: 40:09 You can, that you could have two bookmarks, one for our group and one for your group and then you never have to risk being caught up in something that you didn't want to experience.
Karen: 40:21 Oh, I'm going to Facebook and figure out how to do that.
New Speaker: 40:23 I think it's going to be particularly valuable as we head into the next couple of years.
Jess: 40:28 Yes, I think so too.
Karen: 40:30 Yup. Yup. Wow.
KJ: 40:31 Can we talk about what we've been reading?
Karen: 40:32 Yes.
Jess: 40:34 But before we even go there, I have to say, the amount of helpful information so far has been - I've been writing stuff down on my end it's been great. So anyway, yes,
KJ: 40:45 I've written down tons and we're going to come up with some ways for listeners to get at this. I'm vague potting but more to come, more info to come probably like in the afterward or the prologue or something.
Karen: 41:06 One last thing I want to say before we get to the books. Jess, I don't know if you will remember this, but I was referencing how I use that one minute to strengthen my hands and I got to meet you.
Speaker 3: 41:23 This was several years ago now.
Jess: 41:24 I remember, I totally remember.
Karen: 41:25 I totally remember that cause I brought my book, I brought my book of quotes and I asked you to sign that.
Jess: 41:33 I have a picture of your book of quotes. It was really, really cool and explain what you mean by book of quotes.
Karen: 41:41 So I started taking either pictures from magazines or newspapers or images or whatever that I really liked, that really resonated with me, that made me feel positive and happy. And I started putting them into a notebook. And then I also started putting favorite quotes from books, things that I knew I was going to want to revisit. And what's cool about that is now I have like several years worth of those and I can go back and I can be like, Oh my God, yeah, I need to remember that. And there were like five quotes from the Gift of Failure in there when I brought the book to you. And it was so much fun. Your reaction just made it so exciting.
Jess: 42:19 It's super trippy and amazing and you inspired me to do the same thing. So now in my notebook, I'm constantly writing, but your notebook was really, really pretty and I took pictures of it because the way you put together these quotes that move you and inspire you was so beautifully done. So it meant so much to me. And of course I remember.
Karen: 42:37 Yeah. Oh good. I'm really, really glad. That was, wow, that was really, really fun.
Jess: 42:42 So what have you been reading?
Karen: 42:44 Oh my gosh. I've been reading. The one I'm going to start with is the one I want to most talk about. So if I run out of time, I gotta get this one in there. It's called Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed By Men Caroline Criado Perez, which the spellings are all going to be right in the show notes, I'm sure. It is a book about how the world is designed for men and how that can actually be life threatening for women. And it's so interesting because at first you're like, really? I mean really, and then you start reading and my mind has been blown. Just one example is in, I believe it's in Finland. I actually haven't gotten to this yet. My husband recommended this book cause he heard about it on a podcast. And there's a chapter about, I believe it's Finland where snow plowing, like snow street clearing is threatening women's lives because of the way the streets are cleared because of the methodology behind what streets are cleared when and it has to do with the fact that men basically go to work and come home and women do all their errands so they're slipping and sliding all over the side roads. Um, absolutely fascinating. And I like just the foreward of this book, I kept having to stop and be like, Oh my God, can you believe this? Like, and I'm raising two teenage sons. And so what's really fun about this is just engaging with them on this stuff. And they're like, Whoa. Like I never thought of it that way, you know, or whatever. It's been really, really cool. So Invisible Women, please, please read it. It's great.
Jess: 44:20 That sounds really interesting and I hadn't heard of it.
Karen: 44:22 And the cover is the little the bathroom symbol for males in black. Really, really clear and vivid. And then in sort of like this silvery whitish color, the same color as the cover itself is like, is the female symbol. So you can't even see them if you're looking at it in the wrong light. Absolutely. Yeah. So I'm sneaking them in. I also am reading The Purloined Paperweight by P.G. Wodehouse, that's my bedtime reading. I need something really light before bed. And P.G. Wodehouse just fulfills that. So that's so good.
Jess: 45:08 KJ is such a huge fan. You totally went straight to her heart.
KJ: 45:13 There's another author written out there has written something like P.G. Wodehouse....
Karen: 45:19 You shouted about it a few weeks ago and I was like, Oh, I need that book. And I read it. It's called Jeeves and the King of clubs. Yep. That was such a great, yep. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it very much. Okay. Last one. Grown Up Anger, which is a book by Daniel Wolff, an author I've had on my show for another book that he wrote. This is a book that takes Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and a massacre that happened in 1913 in the upper peninsula of Michigan and connects them in this really interesting musical line, which just blew my mind. So I had to talk about that one. It's just so good.
KJ: 46:00 It sounds like it might be up Jess's alley.
Jess: 46:03 Yeah, that sounds really interesting. KJ, what have you been reading?
KJ: 46:06 I just read a really fun, summer read called The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman. You know, she might, she might turn up around here at some point.
Jess: 46:21 She might indeed.
New Speaker: 46:22 Anyway, I had such a good time with it. I am a sucker, as many of us are for any book with the word book, library, books, etcetera in the title. I actually think authors have recognized that a little too hard, so you have to be careful about picking those books. Always download the sample if you're reading them on digitally, otherwise, you know, pick them up and touch them. Anyway, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill was really, really funny. Book story, Silicon Valley, oddly enough, California and all the sort of juicy bits of things that you don't know about, like trivia contests and lives you'll never lead. Lots of fun.
Karen: 47:05 Cool. That sounds like a good one.
Jess: 47:07 Our selections are really diverse this week. I'm reading one of our former guests book. It's finally out. Lyz Lenz's book God Land. It is fantastic. It's part memoir. It's part of a reflection on faith. It's not really, not much of it is memoir, but it's really a story of faith, loss, and renewal in middle America and has a gorgeous cover. It was shorter than I expected and she's done a really great job with the pacing. I'm really impressed with the book. So yay. Congratulations, Lyz. You did a beautiful job and if you recall, she had two books due in the same year. So this is one of two books that she wrote the same year, both research based books. Anyway, props to Liz. Good job Liz. Well we ran super long, but this is such a jam packed with lots of helpful bits to it. So I am thrilled and thank you so, so much for being with us. And if people would like to find you, where can they find you?
Karen: 48:14 They can go to, weturnedoutokay.com and you can spell it either. Okay or Ok.
Jess: 48:20 Excellent. I also completely forgot about our bookstore shout out. Do you have one?
Karen: 48:27 Yes. Oh, I was going to give a super quick shout out to the bookstore that is owned by Jeff Kinney. The author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid is 20 minutes away from me. It's called An Unlikely Story and it's in Plainville, Massachusetts. And it is such a blast. It's like such a fun place where there's so much more than books and the books are awesome too.
Jess: 48:48 I know of a couple of people who have read or done events there and have just loved it. So I'm going to have to do a pilgrimage there at some point.
Karen: 48:54 Yes. Yes, please do. Let me know when you do. Cause I will, I'll try to meet you.
Jess: 48:58 Oh, absolutely. Alright. I think we're, I think we're good. This has been a fantastic episode. So until next week, everyone keep your button, the chair and your head in the game.