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The Smallest Step by Grace Burrowes

I  have two older sisters, both of whom I love dearly. I mention my sister Gail in the Author’s Note for “Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight,” because in her seventh decade of life, Gail is pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative literature. Her knowledge of Catullus’ poetry figured significantly in Louisa and Joseph’s story. Growing up to be just like Gail would be a significant step closer to canonization for me.
Gail is also the person who happened be with me one terrible, horrible, awful, very bad day when I was ranting about some minor calamity or mommy-fail that felt absolutely overwhelmingly, irreparable—and probably undeserved. My life, according to me, honked raspberries. Do. Not. Try. To. Cheer. Me. Up.
Gail lit this candle of wisdom in the midst of my Stygian emotion gloom: Think of the smallest thing you can be genuinely grateful for—the ability to breathe, silence, the lock on the bathroom door, eyesight, hearing, speech, anything—and hold the gratitude in your heart for the smallest moment.
Bother. Even on my worst day, I am capable of nanoseconds of gratitude, and even in miniscule doses, genuine gratitude will rebalance the humors. Gail’s suggestion has borne much fruit beyond that simple coping mechanism though.
I set my alarm clock for an hour before I intend to get out of bed. I use that hour to ponder my writing projects, and come up with the scenes I intend to write upon rising. Some days, nothing comes. Not one word, not one scene, not a single sentence—not even a wretched, trite, boring single sentence. It’s tempting to throw away the writing day at that point—and I love to write—but instead, I ask myself, what the smallest, positive step is that I can take in the direction of writing.
 Turn the computer on. Open yesterday’s file. Read it. Read it again, and tweak a few words… Often, some momentum develops.
Similarly, when I walk into a situation full of people I don’t know, my inclination is to turn right around and walk out. This will not do when one is a published author. People are entitled to expect some civility, at least. So I ask myself what the smallest step is that I can take in the direction of Being Sociable: Smile. Smile at somebody who looks as awkward as I feel.
They usually smile back.
I see much advice regarding ways to make a day more productive, how to set career goals or devise outlines for writing terrific books. Lovely stuff, none of which has ever been as useful to me as asking the question: What is the smallest step I can now take in the direction I want to go?
Do you have micro tools that have served you similarly? The holidays are upon us, and I would certainly be glad to find a few handy little coping mechanisms beside my plate at dinner tomorrow, or under my tree next month.

My author copies of “The Bridegroom Wore Plaid” just arrived, so to three commenters, I’ll send along a signed copy. Don’t forget that Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish will be a 99 cent NOOK download on Friday, and to everybody, a happy, peaceful Thanksgiving.


  1. Not that I'm wishing you any amount of disfunction, Grace, but I was comforted by the fact that a roomful of strangers is disconcerting for you too. I have to draw on my past theatre experience and put on my "author hat" to get through it.

    What is it about writers that makes us what to stay in our safe little hidey-holes of fiction where we can control every aspect of every interaction and . . . oh, so that's it.

    I'm grateful for you, m'dear and for your wonderful, sensitive books.

  2. Grace, I hate social things! Hate them! Like even with my good friends I get stressed out. I used to jot down some conversation ideas just so I would feel like I had something to talk about because I'm not good on the spot.

  3. I have always loved family functions and am so comfortable in this environment. However, put me in a room full of strangers and I am a definate introvert. I'll find a corner and as soon as I can... the door. Have I told you recently how much I LOVE your books. I am looking forward to this one very much!!

  4. Mia, my mom is a vivacious red head. IS, at 88, more vivacious than I was when hyped up on chocolate at age two. I got the sit on a toad stool and write gene, but that walk into a crowded room stuff... work with what you have, I suppose. Wish I had your voice.

    Shana, at least with the book-meets, we can start with, "So what do you enjoy reading?" etc. Here come the holidays parties, though, and yikes! I won't even be able to cower under my author hat for those.

    Betty, your immediate family is the size of some rural Maryland towns, so you should have an advantage. Maybe having a big family means we didn't encounter many strangers early on, and have a shyness as a result? Or maybe we just love our books.

  5. LOL! Lock on the bathroom door - yes, lots of little things to be thankful for, and great advice from your sister. My profound moment is in the morning when I step out with the dog and check the status of the sunrise and weather. I cannot help but thank God for whatever picture presents itself. I like that a lot more than stepping into a crowded room!
    I really enjoy your stories - if a book can make me cry and laugh, it's definitely worth it! Thanks.

  6. Grace, I am a speed reader, which means when I first read your comment about your mom being a vicious redhead, it gave me pause. LOL :)

    Setting goals helps me to stay on track! To get such and such done today, word count, no matter how much it seems I can't do it, like you, I'll reread scenes and a light bulb will go off. Hopefully! Sometimes research helps to trigger a new direction.

  7. I am grateful for your question "What is the smallest step I can now take in the direction I want to go?"

    Key word is 'smallest' I always see the enormous end and then drag myself to it. Somehow starting small seems so much more doable! Yet again you impart such wisdom and comfort with a sentence, thank you.

    At this stage of my life I am ever so grateful for my eyesight (which I took oh so for granted in my youth!) I will do everything I can to make sure these eyes stay healthy. I can start off everyday giving thanks for my eyes every day, what a lovely way to start a morning or end an evening.

    As to the Holidays ,after a lifetime of having to have them be 'perfect' for my mother (of course that never was possible) I now allow them to just 'be' and enjoy my family. We eat, we play, we light candles (dust doesn't show with candles did you know that?) We laugh and thank God every year we can all be together. I now embrace them. Life is darn good if you know what I mean ;)

    Happy Thanksgiving to you my dear author friend, I give thanks for your stories that take me to a different place and add joy to my life.

    Cathy Rackowski~

  8. I'd love to win the book - from commentor Anonymous above. I guess you need an ID...
    skylark918 at ymail dot com

  9. since my mom and brother moved to Florida several years ago, I don't do as many social functions anymore, but I do love a great book to take me away from all of this.... one thing I can count on you with. :) Happy Thanksgiving!

  10. Hmmm, I am a cautious extrovert. I get all pumped up in a room of strangers...who can I find? Who will I connect with?

    But to my dearest author buddy....I love your writing and your enthusiasm for me to write.

    I am a list writer so I have tons of lists of to get going.

    I will use this thanksgiving to count my many blessings including reading all these amazing books.

    Thanks Grace...and to all a Happy Thanksgiving

  11. A step at a time. Determination. Absolute Gratitude. Memories. Music. A Good Book. Thanks Grace Burrowes, You're a Treasure.
    Peggy Wright

  12. Grace, I had this picture in my mind of all authors being outgoing extroverted social butterflies. (in other words, the exact opposite of me) It makes me sad that because of your vocation, you are now forced into more of these situations, and you're expected to be something you're not. My personal dreaded situation is the annual holiday office party, which includes the usual suspects, plus the addition of spouses and / or significant others, while I crawl even further into my shell. I start dreading this two weeks before it actually happens. The only thing that has helped in recent years, is that I have started telling myself, "This is ONLY four hours, then it's finished for another whole year. I can DO just four hours." For some reason, the thought that "This too shall pass," helps me. Would welcome a copy of the book, if selected. Thanks, Bonnie (bonnieblue at wowway dot com)

  13. My husband is a teacher and has to teach doctors how to use computer programs and when he started he would get physically ill after each 'talk'. He is wonderful around out children and close friends though. I think everyone has a little bit of social unease.

    I love the nanosecond of positive thinking! I'll have to keep that in mind when I also have those mommy fail days! I usually will just lock myself in the bathroom for 20 minutes with a book and try to breath slowly and get lost in said book for a few minutes. It seems to help me get my mind in order!

    Thank you for being a wonderful writer and doing the giveaway!

  14. Anon, my mom has lost a lot of her central vision in one eye, and the rest could go at any time. The courage she demonstrates getting up in the morning as you, and loving the day for being visible, inspires me to get up and go outside too. Thanks!

    Terry, threaten one of my mom's wolf cubs, and she could be vicious. I once saw her tear into my high school principal on my behalf, and what a lovely moment to be her daughter.
    And yes... sometimes, back up, review, and try to catapult the imagination into some progress. Good advice.

    Cathy, I always get vaguely queasy sitting in plotting workshops, wondering "Am I the only one who doesn't get this?" I felt the same way in math classes, and yet I'm good at math, if I can keep the anxiety at bay.
    And my new best friend? Control +++. Makes life soooo much easier at the computer.

    Vanetta, I SEE YOU on FB, and know you also enjoy the occasional road trip, AND you have the love of a good fellow. Lucky you!

    Hope... lists can be good, provided they start with, "have a not hot, cup of jasmine green tea, pet a kit-teh, tell the dog he's a good boy...."

    Peggy, it's comforting to me to know I'm not the only one who has to take life on in micro-tome slices. The variety of ambition that drives other people to create structures well in advance of substance eludes me... Unless that structure is one of Larisa Labrant's dessert recipes.

  15. I love that philosophy of the smallest step. I am the same way in a room full of people and a smile is a great first step! my kids are 5 and 3 and they are so friendly and talk to strangers all the time. Embarrassing for me, most of the time, so I just smile.

  16. Hi Grace, when I am thrown into a situation that I think I cannot handle I usually think of all the people that have done it before and say "if they can do it, I can too". I like the way your sister deals with stressful and aweful moments and situations. I am going through a rough time at the moment as I had to put my cat and best mate Fluser down yesterday and try to put Gails advice to good use and think of the small things that made it worthwhile so I can breath again. I think it is good advice. Please thank your sister on my behalf.

  17. I love how you said to find something small to be thankful for, even when you are not having a very good day. I always tell myself "this will pass, next week, month or year there will be something new to worry about". I mostly used this when my children were younger and living at home. It also seems to be that when ever I am down in the dumps over something I will see or read something where someone else is having a much harder time in life then I am and I think to myself be thankful for what you do have. A home, your child is well and your family and friends are well. I to hate social things! I was a very shy child, but have learned to be more out going. My sister was very out going and when we were young adults people in our town would see me and think it was her. They would look at me strange because I wouldn't be talking their ear off. I would get away as soon as I could and leave them wondering why I was so different. lol. I am a lot more out going and find it easier to talk to strangers, but still would rather be home then anywhere else.

  18. I am not big on family functions. I like a small gathering.

  19. I really enjoyed your "how I get up in the mornings" routine as it is similar to mine. Now that I am "retired" from fulltime work I like to take my time and enjoy the beginning of each day. I, too, plot my day's schedule in my mind, but I also do some stretching exercises while in bed, and I tickle, tease and belly rub my Yorkie as she, too, wakes up. I save my reading time for afternoons and evenings after the day's tasks are done...and I enjoy a more relaxing evening meal because I wind down as slowly as I wake up. :-) I truly enjoy each and every day I wake up this side of the green...and enjoy reading my romances because they give me joy.

  20. Bonnie Blue, for the author stuff, I've learned to find the people who look even more nonplussed than I feel, the debut author, the one who's never done a major conference. This might reassure them, but it also reminds me that I've made some progress. Some--you're right, though, I might enjoy a room full of people some day, but it will generally leave me with less energy than I had when I walked in.

    Brittany G, if you haven't read the children's book, "Five Minutes Peace," then you must. The kids even invade the bathroom when Mom's in the tub... but it has a happy ending.

    wilove, if your kids are confident in a room full of strangers, you're doing something right!

    Fluser, it hurts so to lose a companion animal, but you made the right choice. They give us so much, we owe them freedom from non-productive suffering. When I put my mare down, I know I also made the right decision. I thought I was OK... as I stopped at green lights, forgot whose number I'd called before they said hello, and left my purse in the truck. Guess it just takes time...

    Mary D, I refer to it as "kid jail." We love our children, and we would die for them, but the day and day out stuff? ARGH. They do grow up, though, thank a merciful deity, as parents, we grow up too.

    Gail, you are too busy having fun with your You Tube vids. Keep 'em coming!

    Janice, one of my cats, Chloe, has appointed herself Mistress of the Mattress. She sleeps with me every night, often affixing her purring self to my bum hip. She's part of my waking hour too, a lovely part.

  21. I remember a time not long ago when I was extremely nervous to approach you, Grace. I told you I was star-struck.

    I think everyone has bouts of doubt. We wouldn't be human if we didn't. But then I think to myself that all people just want to be accepted.

    I always tell myself that if I don't take a chance, I'll never know what is possible.

  22. --> "What is the smallest step I can now take in the direction I want to go?"

    This is an important and most excellent question. One of the things I learned from a pain management specialist many years ago was, "Take it one breath at a time." Though this advice was meant to calm one down while waiting for pain meds to kick in, I find it useful in so many other situations.

    I'm a massive introvert who explicitly schedules downtime/decompression time when I'm at large social events or conferences. The noise utterly drains me. If I can't get up to my room for a half-hour's decompression time...well, that's what headphones and the last bathroom stall are for. ;-)

  23. Victoria, I recall my mom telling me that she actually dreaded all the big dinners parties she threw, though she enjoyed having people over. She was afraid somebody would feel left out, wouldn't like the food, wouldn't like company. She said she eventually realized she could feed people peanut butter and celery and as long as she made them feel welcome, they'd have a good time.

    I was REALLY glad for your company at Turn the Page!

    Tamara, I seldom have conference roommates because I'm like you: Must have solitude. MUST. I had two roommates in Anaheim, wonderful people, but it ended up being a long, loud conference and I stumbled more than once. Next time...

  24. Hi Grace!
    Have to say - I am reading your books right now! On The Soldier. Really wonderful. (I started with Maggie's story and then went back to the beginning)

    I have to make To Do lists, because when I accomplish a task, then I can check it off and give myself that wonderful bit of postive reinforcement for a completed task. That might include writing or exercise or even making dinner, but I like giving myself a gold star for a completed job.
    (Time to make Chex mix for the holiday -- it's on my list. And I've already got my work count in for today.)

  25. Try. And try again. I also like to set goals starting with small ones that I can meet and expand to to longer ones. When I have goals set it motivates me and gives me a place to start. Making lists helps me, too. They calm me.


  26. Thanks for this giveaway! I'm a faithful must-buy reader of Grace's and have collected all her books to date! Please choose me and help me add this one to my private collection!!

  27. That is such a great remember that there is ALWAYS something to be grateful, even when it seems like everything is going wrong. I look forward to reading your new book!

  28. What works for me the most is ending my day with a book. It makes me forget my troubles and makes sleep come so much easier. I am currently reading Lady Louisa's Christmas Knight and loving it!


  29. iOMG, I LOVED Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day! That book was so awesome!

  30. Yes, I'm a great fan of small steps. When I'm trying to get my exercise in, I always tell myself I just have to do so much, then when I get that far it's usually easy to keep going and before I know it I'm done. That works on lots of big jobs, I give myself permission to just do part of it and usually end up finishing the whole thing.

  31. Nan, I recall somebody telling me that sticky notes were the result of a bunch failed experiments at 3M. Somebody was trying to make an adhesive, and ended up with... the single greatest organizing tool since THE LIST. Whatever works, right?

    Na, I think it was IBM that figured out they should be setting sales goals that most employees would be able to meet. The impact on morale and productivity for setting goals too ambitiously was worse than if they set modest, attainable goals and inched them upward based on success over time. So you're on the right track.

    Elf, there were days as a single working mom when I had to start out with, "I am grateful there's air to breathe that won't hurt me." Not everybody can start there.

    Jeanne, Thanks, and that business of clearing the buffers at the end of the day by reading a good romance got me through many, many trying days and year.

    Brooklyn, right up there with Where the Wild Things Are, and WAY ahead of Goodnight Moon (except for the mouse, he was cool).

    Barbara, I'm the same way with exercise. I tell myself: Walk six minutes away from the house, six minutes back. You can do six minutes, and you can do it three times a day... which is walking a couple miles by any other name.

  32. Grace, I've spent the day in the kitchen preparing for the "zoo" that will arrive tomorrow morning and I'm just now getting to your blog (which I always, always look forward to reading). Today it was simply wonderful but at the close of the day before Thanksgiving when my leg is hurting and I'm whining I'm grateful for your blog to make me smile and realize that I'm not the only one...
    Who has trouble talking in front of strangers (I'm all bluff, honest)
    Who doesn't really like social things (I'm all bluff, honest)
    Who'd much rather spend the day in my pajama bottoms writing as attending a big social foo-rah
    Who wakes up in the morning and thinks about what I need to write that day
    TODAY...I'm grateful for you, Grace Burrowes!

  33. What absolutely brilliant advice your sister shared with you! It's so easy to get lost in the 'big picture' that we forget to find peace and gratefulness in the small things.

    As a mom to 4 boys, I often have to find that small step to tranquility … for me it's laughter. Find something funny in the moment, some crooked way of looking at the scenario that will allow a smile, no matter how brief. I try to defuse my sons' when they are overwhelmed by the 'big picture' by bringing humor to the moment (usually a funny anecdote
    or silly example of why their problem isn't so HUGE).

    A little laughter can go a long way to finding peace!

  34. After years of attending large social gatherings, I much prefer smaller functions now.

    Thanks for the heads up on the Friday special - I have the print version but it will be nice to have it on my Nook too.

    jtcgc at yahoo dot com

  35. I cant say that I have any micro tools I can think of. But I believe I will start looking for a place or way of finding my own version of them. Thanks for the thoughtful post. Happy Thanksgiving!
    lisakhutson@ cox. net

  36. I agree that taking small steps at a time is the way to go, especially if the task at hand seems daunting at first. The only micro tool that I use would be making lists! Pretty much things like daily to do lists to get things done one at a time.

    Hope those in the US have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


  37. Don't use any micro tools. I think taking small steps is the way.


  38. Carolyn--shucks. And tell the Vandal horde next year, you're ordering pizza.

    Emily, what a wonderful reminder. Many times, when I was single-parenting up to my eyeballs, must do this, must get that done, must,must,must, Beloved Offspring (often dragged about at my side), would come up with some outlandish, childish, observation, and put a smile on the whole undertaking.

    Taurus--tell all your rowdy friends, please. I really like Sophie and Vim's story, but who'd have thought a hero who changes dirty dipes would make such an impact?

    Lisa, Gail passed this one on to me years ago, and I've kept it handy. Quality rather than quantity seems to define my coping strategies.

    Winnie, when I worked for a Fortune 500, I was the queen of lists--and I used my commute to make them, review them, organize them... makes me tired to think of those years now.

    bnn--thanks for stopping by.

  39. And my winners of a signed copy of "The Bridegroom Wore Plaid," are...

    skylark918 at ymail dot com

    bonnieblue at wowway dot com


    chibipooh at gmail dot com

    Thanks much to everybody for stopping by, and if you pop over to, the media events page lists blog tour stops were I'll be doing a lot more give aways.

  40. Sometimes you can get lost at family affairs. All anyone does is ask you how's your job hunting coming along.
    It's hard mot to be negative. Thanks for giveaway.


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