On Finding Balance Between Career and Personal Life

portrait of young gymnasts training in the stadiumI didn’t get to see the US women’s team compete on the balance beam in the Rio Olympics. But if I had, I would’ve oohed and aahed at the astounding physical prowess that allows those female athletes to twist and contort their bodies all over the place – while staying on a four-inch-wide beam.

How do they do it? Practice, practice, practice. Raw talent and skill. But mostly practice, practice, practice.

And when they practice, they fall down. They make mistakes. They bobble and wiggle, maybe even flail their arms or miss a dismount. But they get back up and keep going, absolutely determined they can and will do better the next time.

I admire that conviction, that perseverance, that dedication to finding balance.

Balance has been missing in my life this past year. I’ve launched myself into this fantastic, brilliant, beautiful, overwhelming, competitive, uncertain world of romance writing. Well, specifically romance publishing. I love it. I truly do.

Open book with bar graphs laid out on a red background

But in my quest to meet the expectations and requirements “they” say one must do to be successful (publish as much as possible as quickly as possible, be active across social media, write newsletters, go to conferences and signings, guest blog, etc), I lost my balance in other areas of my life.

This doesn’t surprise me. I’d be the first to fall off that beam and land on my head. I’m rather all-or-nothing in my general personality and love to throw myself into new projects and new adventures. Which is fine, until I realize there’s stuff I’ve left behind as I set off on my new quest. Important stuff.

How do you do it, fellow authors? Fellow human beings? How do you find balance and manage to get everything done without ignoring your spouse, your kids, your home, your health?

What I’ve come to realize over the last month is I need to pick a simpler routine, so I don’t fall on my tush and disregard the ones I love most. And disregard myself.

If only my own toenails were that pretty...

See, I’m a stress eater. An emotional eater. I’ve got serious food issues. And over the course of writing, editing, and publishing A Scandalous Matter, I put on twenty-five pounds.

Dang it.

This was and is a clear sign I don’t have things in balance. (As is the state of my house, but let’s not go there…)

If I could, I would spend all my time writing and reading and editing and especially learning about marketing and publicity and connecting with readers and doing everything I can to be the best indie author I can be. Because it’s fun. And I have spent my time that way. Well, more the latter things, because writing and editing are hard, y’all.

But I have a husband who loves me and wants some attention, kids who still need me and deserve my attention, and a body that IS me and requires more movement and care than I’ve been giving it.

This is not to say I’m quitting. No way. I’m finally doing what I feel in my bones is what I was meant to do: write romance.

Slow Down sign with clouds and sky backgroundBut I have to slow down, change things up, accept that I can’t do everything I want to do when I want to do it. Being an author is easily a full-time job and more. But I don’t have full time to give it. Not at this stage in my life, when I’m still mom and chef and taxi driver and school volunteer and Girl Scout parent, etc., etc.

In addition to limited time, I also have limited energy. (Those twenty five pounds on top of all the rest might be influencing that, but frankly I’ve always had less physical energy than many I know…)

So I’m accepting that and relaxing my schedule.

I’d love to have a new book out every six months, but it might be that nine months to a year is more realistic. That means I’ll miss out. I won’t hit the right beats in the coveted Amazon algorithm. Some readers may not be satisfied and may move on because I don’t produce quickly enough. I guess I might lose potentially higher income from having more books on the market.

So be it.

ASMPreOrderAdI hope you’ll stick with me and support me and read my books and engage with me online, because that’s what I love – interacting with readers and writers and just talking about the glory that is language and writing and stories and words.

In the meantime, I’ll go back to editing The Demon Duke (Grace Mattersley’s story) and planning out storylines for The Legendary Duke and The Boy Next Door (Taylor Goodson’s story) and A Delicate Matter (Sophie Mattersley’s story) and whatever else pops into my head.

Female legs jogging on a trailBut I’m no Olympic gymnast. I’m no gymnast, period. So while others authors manage to dazzle you with their speed, I’ll just be over here, trying to stay on the silly bar. One foot in front of the other.

Speaking of which, one foot in front of the other is exactly what I need to do to get some of this Book Baby weight back off, too. So excuse me while I put on my walking shoes and head out the door…

Flash Friday Fiction: Autobiography

Young hiker @ Gibson Ranch Regional Park. CC2.0 photo by Ray Bouknight.
Young hiker @ Gibson Ranch Regional Park. CC2.0 photo by Ray Bouknight.

101 words

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

But what if you don’t wanna take it? What if every inch of you screams out, “Stay still, avoid discomfort?” Avoid change.

What if temptation surrounds you, luring you into stuffing your face, into adorning the couch, at all hours. What then?

Inertia is the ultimate pull. Ironic, that, the drive to do nothing. Movement requires energy, energy requires calories, calories equal donuts. Or something.

I put on the walking shoes anyway. I don’t want to. But I do. One small step for this woman, one giant step for health.

Here were Rebekah’s instructions:

Writing is a journey, as is life. In keeping with that, as we also wind down our Year Three novel prompts, today it’s my great privilege to present for your dining/writing pleasure the dark, triumphant, terrifying, heart-pounding, spirit-lifting novel that is preacher John Bunyan‘s powerful allegory Pilgrim’s ProgressProgress follows the adventures of eager, oft-stumbling but good-hearted Christian as he leaves his doomed native land in a quest to reach the glorious golden shores of the Celestial City.

Story elements (base your story on any TWO of these elements; be sure to tell us which two you chose. Reminder: please remember the Flash! Friday guidelines with regard to content; and remember please do not use copyrighted characters).

* Conflict: man v man, man v self (not gender specific)
Character (choose at least one): a pilgrim; Beelzebub; a man whose mission is to help others; someone who talks too much; someone who loses his/her life for standing up for what is right; a corrupt mayor; someone whose primary purpose in life is avoiding hardship; a cheat
Theme (choose one): salvation; good v evil; the value of true friendship; the dangers of temptation
Setting (choose one): a doomed city; a corrupt and wealthy city; a long road; a palace guarded by lions

We had 100 words (+/- 1) in which to craft a tiny tale using two of the elements listed above (the two I chose are in bold italics). What do you think? Autobiography crammed into less than a page? Well, why not? Now if only I’d written this while walking on the desk treadmill…

Head on over to Flash Friday to see other people’s takes, and maybe to leave a comment or two, or craft a story of your own!



The Whole (30) Truth: No Grain, No Gain?

body-weight-scaleOkay. It’s been several weeks since I ended my #Whole30 challenge. I made it through all 30 days not eating legumes, grains, dairy, sugar, alcohol, or a number of additives.

Since then, it’s been a challenge. It started when I fell face-first into a pan of brownies after an initially successful week of slow reintroduction. Then I found myself inhaling all sorts of crap again.

I don’t want to. I don’t want to be a slave to food like that, to be eating so unhealthfully like that. Not only do I not want to gain back the twenty pounds I’d shed, but I can’t afford the damage to my body. At 43, I’m showing signs of wear and tear, and if I continue my “All Sugary Bready Things All The Time” diet, I’ll be diabetic with a fatty liver and who knows what else going on in no time.

And yet, the addiction is strong. It is SO strong, people. I can’t tell you how I weep at my own struggles with this. It’s a daily battle against a substance, sugar, that is eight times more addictive than cocaine and heroin. EIGHT TIMES.

sugarBut sugar is not my only nemesis. Oh, no. Apparently my brain also loves white flour (which, of course, turns fairly instantly into sugar in the bloodstream). Give me, please oh please oh please, my daily bread. Only make it a donut, or a Twix bar, or a Little Debbie Double Decker oatmeal creme pie. Anything that combines flour & sugar is so much better than flour or sugar items alone. I’d rather eat a Kit Kat than a Hershey bar, rather suck down croissants than bagels.

So I decided, very logically, to go sugar-free and grain-free for the month of October. These seem to be the big triggers, more than legumes, or even dairy. And eliminating these two, while daunting, felt LESS daunting than returning to the Whole30 whole-hog.

The ugly truth: how I feel when I'm in sugar withdrawal.
The ugly truth: how I feel when I’m in sugar withdrawal.

Only, uh, I made it two and a half days. Two and a half, until I was sitting in Costco yesterday, hungry, eating a friggin’ cold chicken Caesar salad while around me people chomped on pizza or hot dogs or smoothies or what-not. In hindsight, the pizza might have done me better, because I felt so deprived that it made me rebellious. Yes, it was my choice to put those chocolate chip cookies in my cart, my choice to eat about half of them over a 12 hour period. My CHOICE, but a choice also driven by the emotional and physical addiction in my head screaming, “Give us more, give us more, give us MORE MORE MORE.”

Note to self: do not go to Costco on day 3 of sugar/flour withdrawal. Stupid plan all around.

Second note to self: plan better to have more foods at home to eat, so that you don’t feel hungry and deprived before going shopping.

It’s the dance. It’s the dance I do, people, the dance with the monkey on my back, with the devil in my head whispering, “Just this one time. That’s all. You’ll stop after that. Just for today.”

You’d think after 43 years, I’d stop hitting the dance floor. Nope.

BUT . . . today is a new day. My motto has long been, Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight.

The Sugar Roller CoasterSo I’m getting up. I’m suiting up. I’m so weary of the battles, so very weary of the war.

But I’ve got to try again, for my health, for my family, for my own personal well-being. Because I felt better at the end of the Whole 30. I felt better than I KNEW – I was so busy hating it and thinking not so much had changed, that I didn’t realize how much HAD, until I added those substances back in. Unless the bloating, the digestive issues, the self-shaming, the sleep struggles, the guilt, the tired eyes, the foggy brain, and the friggin’ five pounds came back.

Yes, I felt much better at the end of the Whole 30, as much as I don’t want to admit it. And I don’t, because the devil I know – my own body and brain – desperately wants me to go face down in pizza and pumpkin cheesecake today. “You’re happier on sugar,” my gut tells me. Only I’m not. Not really. I’m addicted. I’m high. But I’m not happier.

No grains, no gain, I joked to myself on October 1st. Well, here’s to the fight, to making one day’s slip not become two or five or the whole darn month.

No grain, no gain – and hopefully not as much emotional pain.

Rant over.


The #Whole30: Week 1 in Review

keep-calm-igRather than commit to (and bore you with) daily entries regarding my month of embracing radical change a la the Whole 30 recommendations, I decided to blog once a week.

Most of these notes probably interest only me, but in case you’re considering giving the Whole 30 a try, are in the middle of a Whole 30 like me, or are a Whole 30 veteran, if my experiences/challenges/victories provide guidance/inspiration/warnings for anyone, then I am pleased.

And here we go – my week in review:

Whole 30, Day 0:

oatmealcremepieI’ve alternated between bingeing on crap and trying to still my racing, nervous insides. Tomorrow? I start this tomorrow? I’m so excited and yet so irrationally terrified. Which tells me I really need to do it. I spent the last two days reading The Whole 30 essentially from cover-to-cover; today I delved into It Starts With Food. All while doing what they say not to do: don’t start the Whole 30 with a binge the day before. Uh, try a week. I’m sure I’ll be paying for this. On the other hand, if I don’t do the program, I’ll be paying for much longer.

Whole 30, Day 1:

tongueoutI didn’t eat all morning, because of yesterday’s Super Binge. I had to go to a church luncheon, but it really wasn’t bad – I ate a snack pack of almonds, a Larabar, a banana, and some carrots. Pretty sure that’s not the ideal Whole 30 meal, but I didn’t eat any off-plan foods.

Dinner brought my first adventure with zoodles – zucchini sliced into noodle shapes.

One of the most annoying things about me (to me) is my weird rejection of foods that don’t seem “right.” I tried substituting ground turkey for ground beef in spaghetti once, for the health factor, but couldn’t eat it. Likewise, I bought a pound of ground bison once, but again, it didn’t go into my mouth. So. Annoying.

zoodlesHalfway through my second bite of spaghetti-sauce covered zoodles, my gag reflex went off. Hello? No. I don’t need this. Zoodles are bland. They are fine with spaghetti sauce, if a bit crunchy (is one supposed to cook them? I assumed not). So why was my head trying to reject them?

[The community subsequently informed me one should cook zoodles, and if they had eaten them raw, they, too, would have gagged. I feel better.]

I ate about half the bowl, saved the rest for lunch tomorrow, ate some broccoli, and a few strawberries and grapes. Interestingly, I had been starving right before dinner, but barely ate half of it before I decided I was full. We’ll see if I get hungry this evening.

Also, I tried to make Whole 30 mayonnaise (not sure why, since I don’t like mayonnaise, but hey, it seemed the thing to do). No luck; it was a soupy mess. I’ve put it in the fridge anyway, to see if it will solidify there, and I might still cook some chicken in it or something, but clearly it was Disastrous Kitchen Mess: 1, Margaret: 0.

[“Mayo soup” got thrown out on Day 4, without being used]

In the meantime, back to reading It Starts With Food, and hunting down more recipes to try.

Whole 30, Day 2:

tiredStupid gag reflex. Ate a bite of raw red pepper this morning. Nearly gagged (but not when they were mixed in with my eggs). Ate my leftover zoodles for lunch. Struggled a little, but not as bad as yesterday. Ate a cold, hard-boiled egg in the afternoon, and thought I was going to hurl. Stupid brain. I’m pretty sure it’s all in my head, but I need this reaction to GO AWAY.

Walked two miles. Slowly – it was not super-hot, but was very humid outside.

Tired today – took a two hour nap. A bit mentally foggy. Did eat a Larabar at the store. Still struggling with finding things I like to eat, and getting the balance right for the program (ie, still ate two snacks today, and I know my meals aren’t quite at the protein+lots of veggies+fat balance yet). But I was “compliant” (a word which makes me want to scream, “I’m not docile!”) and I made it to the end of day 2. I was feeling pretty good tonight – we’ll see what day 3 holds.

Whole 30, Day 3:

angryIn the book, Days 4 & 5 are labeled “Hate All The Things.” Well, I always was a precocious child. Hating everything today. Stomach feels off. Took a nap, and dreamt I was eating large mounds of donuts and muffins. I guess I know what I miss most.

Wrestling with that old familiar thought of, “What the heck is the point of trying to eat well? Why not just pig out and enjoy everything there is to eat, since we’re all going to die and the world is going to hell in a hand basket anyway?”

My Sugar Dragon is devious and enormous, people. What’s your answer to the question above? Looking for reasons to stay resolute. (I am resolute, no worries, but it still helps to have reasons to remind me why I am.)

End of the day was better than the first, though I’m still struggling to “get it right.” I definitely don’t want to eat as much protein as I’m supposed to, and want to, instead, eat nuts and fruit. Told you that Sugar Dragon was quite the wench.

Whole 30, Day 4:

unmotivatedcatSlept in; woke up feeling better, but dreading breakfast. That’s the hardest meal for me. Made scrambled eggs with peppers in them. Didn’t get tired until mid-afternoon, but still had to lie down for an hour.

Same feeling of food dread/food frustration in the evening. This isn’t good, folks. I WANT to embrace new foods and feel happy with what I’m eating, but I’m not. Not yet.

Then again, according to Whole 30, I’m still in the “Want To Kill All The Things” phase. So I’m hoping this is my brain in rebellion, and that it will pass, and soon I will love food again. If not, well, maybe eating less is good on the weight end (though I suspect some of my lack of energy stems from that).

Whole 30, Day 5:

Totally wiped out. Walked two miles this morning and it was way harder than it ought to have been. Didn’t take a nap today (the first time all week!), but that’s only because I had to go with son to high school freshman orientation–which in and of itself was exhausting!

The hardest part was walking out and smelling pizza. PIZZA. My salivary glands still have not recovered.

I felt angry much of the day. This evening, had some bouts of melancholy. I must really think this is worth it to keep at it. But I vowed all 30 days, and that’s what I’m doing. Please let the Tiger Magic come sooner rather than later, though.

Whole 30, Day 6:

eggsLesson learned: Do not try to reheat a hard-boiled egg in the microwave – at least not for too long. I wanted to avoid the gagging issue of a few days ago by heating up an egg before eating it. Only it exploded. With a very loud bang, and a very big mess. The kids thought it was hilarious. OK, I did, too, but it sure was a chore to clean up – and I ended up making scrambled eggs, instead, after that.

A friend invited me to lunch with her daughter and my daughter. I didn’t really want to go because I was nervous about the food part, but I like this friend and don’t see her often enough, so I said yes. Guess where the daughters picked to eat? Golden Corral. GOLDEN CORRAL, people. Buffet-O-Rama.

I did the best I could. I would not be surprised if the cold steak pieces I ate, the one slider burger I ate (sans bun & cheese, of course!), and the small piece of rotisserie chicken (inside piece) had stuff on them I shouldn’t have had. I ate a naked baked potato, salad with chopped up egg and no dressing, four strawberries, and two pieces of pineapple.

If there was stuff on the meat, I’m not starting this thing over. Because I WANTED to be face-down in the mashed potatoes, the bread, the entire dessert island. And I wasn’t.

I do feel a bit better today – slightly less interested in killing everything. Frustrated that this evening I feel quite apathetic – there’s so much I can and should be doing, and I’m just like, “Whatevs.”

But I made it through another day.

Whole 30, Day 7:

Tired. Tired. Why I am I always tired? Part of the reason I’m doing this is to IMPROVE that, not worsen it. I have been so tired all week. Yesterday I took a nap from 3:30 – 5. I went to bed at 11:30, a bit late, but didn’t get up until nearly 9 this morning! And yet I’m still tired. I just got up from napping with my daughter (she had an excuse; she was exhausted from an overnight) for two hours. Augh.

Apparently I've been angry for a long, long time. This pic is from 1995.
Apparently I’ve been angry for a long, long time. This pic is from 1995.

I also am angry. Irrationally, intensely angry. I’m sure this is both because of the withdrawal reactions to food I love, AND because I’m no longer stuffing that anger down with food.

So in a way, it’s good, these horrible moods.

Not that I want to be in them, not that I want to expose the people around me to them, but because maybe, just maybe, it means I’m breaking down 40 years’ worth of behavior patterns. I’ve never, ever felt comfortable with being angry; it’s an emotion I’m supposed to deny, to ignore, to stuff down. Or so I tell myself.

I was grumpy this morning, irritated with this whole process. This afternoon, I’m feeling hope again, hope that there’s a reason I’m doing this, that it will get better, and that I can make real, lasting progress in this life-long war with food and myself.


This isn’t the happy, cheery first week of Whole 30 people might want to read about. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a shot. I’m a week away from the Magic, as they call it, the Tiger’s Blood, where I’m supposed to sleep extra well, be full of energy, etc. I’m in the middle of the really sucky part – and yes, for me, it’s really sucked.

And yet, I’m determined – because recognizing that while feeling angry SUCKS, the fact that I FEEL it is good, has me pushing on, and pushing forward.

orange-clip-art-2Although I admit, I still have a long way to go. I need to:

  • include more vegetables, especially green ones
  • eat a bigger variety of protein
  • eat fewer Larabars! (I’ve averaged one a day)
  • work on getting to a true 3 meal a day plan – I still want to snack/graze through the day
  • figure out how to manage the gag reflex versus trying new foods.
  • get more exercise in!

If you’ve read this far, kudos to you. Wish me luck for Week Two, won’t you?


#Whole30 Thursday: Prep Week

keep-calm-igIf you know me in real life, or have read my posts about sugar woes, you know that food and weight have been lifelong battles for me.

Last year, I successfully gave up sugar for six months. Since then, I’ve hopped on and off the sugar train more times than I care to count (why does the conductor keep punching my ticket?). I dropped a bit of weight, most of which has stayed off, and yet my eating habits are straying back toward utterly reprehensible from merely rather embarrassing. And the walking I’d been doing? Yeah, that has disappeared, as well.

It’s time to do something. I sit far too often and move far too little (especially now that I’m writing). I eat nutritionally empty foods, and then complain about how I feel. And now that I’m in my 40s, some of the deleterious effects of this non-approach to health are making themselves known. No fun.

As I a) do well with new approaches and b) do well with all-or-nothing type deals (moderation is NOT workable for me when it comes to this issue), I’m doing the Whole 30, a plan recommended to me by my doctor, and about which I’ve been reading a lot the last few days.

sugarSure, there will be things I’m giving up:

  • sugar [cue the sobbing]
  • grains/gluten [what? no donuts?]
  • dairy [cheeeeeeez]
  • alcohol [ha ha, I don’t drink]
  • legumes [bye bye, beloved peanut butter]
  • soy [oh boy]

But there will be things I’m gaining: not only will I finally be eating the foods that are really GOOD for my body (high-quality protein, veggies, fruits, and good fats), but if things go as planned, I’ll also be improving the quality of my sleep, my energy levels, the way my body feels on a day-to-day basis, and maybe I’ll even drop a few pounds. 

(If you’ve done this plan, I’d LOVE to hear from you, either in the comments below, or via email at AuthorMargaretLocke@gmail.com.)


Once a week, I’ll pop in and document my progress, not because I think y’all will be riveted to the screen, but because I need accountability, and how much more accountability can one ask for than to post publicly that one is doing this?

Pray for me, will ya? Or send warm wishes – whatever works for you. Because it isn’t going to be easy for this sugar-addicted, chocolate-inhaling, carb-loving woman to give that up.

But it will be good.