Winter Quarter Goals 2017

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Winter Quarter (January-March)

Well folks, it’s been a bit since my last post about goals. To be honest, I don’t really want to talk about how badly I may or may not have failed at my last list. (In all fairness, I did have a boatload of changes in the last 6-ish months).

Instead, I’m starting fresh with the new year! I’m trying to keep my goals more straightforward this time around. Accountability is key for me to accomplish anything, so here I am, sharing with you.

  • Write 1 hour per day. I need to do this in the early morning or it doesn’t happen at all. I have a writing buddy that’s an early riser too and we’ve got a new thing going where we text and/or Snapchat first thing in the morning for accountability to get our butts moving.
  • Exercise 3x per week. I will not have the energy to get up as early as needed to write if I don’t start working out again. (Especially since my almost 2-year-old has decided that he won’t be sleeping anymore since we decided to switch to a “big boy bed” like big brother’s. Oh joy.)
  • Eat healthier. Because it’s important. Also, I’ve been having dietary issues lately and I need to figure out what works for me and what doesn’t.
  • Go to the dentist. On the topic of being healthier. Ugh.
  • Blog post 2x per month. Because I don’t think it’s realistic for me to post more frequently than that right now. We shall see.
  • Read 2 books per month. I read nearly a book a week last year, but it left me with less writing time so I’m trying to balance that out.
  • Organize office. Because it’s a mess and I’ll be happier and concentrate more if it looks good. There's a method to my madness but it's better if  it doesn't resemble actual madness.
  • Finish unpacking. We just moved and thanks to my super-duper mama and her goal crushing magic, we got very nearly set up. I do need to finish it out, though.
  • Minimize social media. (I’m looking at you, Facebook.) Not Instagram though, because that actually doesn’t consume me in a negative way, and it is a good promotional tool for my blog.
  • Get outside more. It rains a lot here so I need to take advantage of the sun while it’s out and take the kids out to play. Plus side of being here is that we now live only 5 minutes from a beautiful river and 15 minutes from the Ocean! No excuses!
  • Make friends. We just moved several hours from home and don’t know anyone here. I can be very anti-social. I know if I don’t make myself meet people…I won’t.
  • Date my husband. We have been incredibly busy since May of last year, with my husband's career change. He even needed to live in a different town for 6 months for job related training and while we're living as a family again, he is currently in even more training! It’ll be difficult to come by regular babysitters. (That whole not knowing anyone thing, again.) BUT, I firmly believe that a healthy marriage is the glue that holds a happy family together. Plus, I really like my husband a lot and want to spend more time with him. Even if it means we have a few dates at home. It just means getting creative!
  • Find a Church. Last but not least. Faith is very important to our family and my husband and I want to find a place somewhere here to call home.

Well there it is, my list for this quarter. I think it’s an attainable list, but also forces me to get moving and stay productive. This is crucial for me not spiraling into a pit of self-loathing and despair, which is really important in life I find. I'm sure you do too!

Here's to a New Year, with new goals to accomplish and dreams to reach!

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Do you set goals for yourself? How regularly? What are your methods for keeping yourself accountable? Feel free to share in the comments below!

5 Things I Learned While Losing NaNoWriMo

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Well hello there, I would like to begin by apologizing for my very long absence. Although, if you read my blog you are likely to be a family member or friend, in which case you probably have seen me around despite the lack of blogging. I could list all the reasons I stopped writing but I’ll keep it short and get the point across quickly. My husband was in training for a new job and I was with our kids most of the time by myself. Then we moved a few hundred miles away. At least we have moved ourselves and some clothes…our belongings are still back home, waiting for us to find a permanent place to live. We’re currently crashing in someone else’s home. Thank God for vacation rentals!

Despite all the chaos, I decided to take on my first ever professional editing gig. This backfired when I realized that I needed to pack boxes, clean and sell our house, find us a new place to live and then proceeded to get the flu in the midst of trying to move. However, I did end up completing the project, although at a slightly discounted price due to my lack of time to edit as thoroughly as needed. (Many life lessons learned there, but that is a story for another day.)

Being the crazy person I am, I still felt as though personal writing time could be squeezed in somewhere and decided to participate in NaNoWriMo (for those of you unfamiliar with this term it is the abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month).

NaNo (as it’s often called, because who doesn't like abbreviated abbreviations?) is a friendly competition that takes place every year in November. The goal is to write 50,000 words towards a novel beginning November 1st and ending on November 30th. It’s free to participate (although donations are encouraged, plus cool merch!) and the website has fun ways to track progress, talk with fellow writers and read motivational tidbits from experienced writers that like to pop in and cheer everyone up. It’s like they know how hard it is to silence the inner demon and just get something on paper, and then how discouraging it can be if you make the mistake of re-reading what you just wrote. (Don’t do that. Just. Don’t.)

I can’t chat with you about how I won NaNo, sadly. (If you want to read about the excitement of someone who did, you oughtta go check out my friend’s blog. She writes a bit about her experience of exceeding her goals last month in this post here.) I can however, talk about what I learned from participating.

          1) It’s fun. Friendly competition can be a very fun thing. Especially when you have a buddy or two. If you don’t have real life friends, you can pick some up on the NaNo website or on Facebook writing groups for your area. (That sounded weird. If you don’t have real life WRITER friends, is what I meant to say! Of course you have friends IRL. Duh.)

          2) Goals are motivating. Having a goal to work towards every day can push you to write just a few more words than you usually would have. This really helped show me where I had been failing to push myself in the past. Whenever I hit the end of a scene or when things would slow down thought process wise, I used to hit save and quit for the time being, always saying I would come back and finish later. When I came back to it, I would curse myself because I didn’t push past that part when the idea was fresh. Then I would have to start my writing session with something difficult to get out. During NaNo, whenever I was about to quit, I would look at my word count goal. (Scrivener is good for tracking that sort of thing, FYI.) Realizing I was still short, I would pull up my big girl panties and crank out a few hundred more. When I hit my goal, I wouldn’t realize it immediately because I was in the middle of a scene. When I finished the scene, I often exceeded the needed daily 1,667 words.

          3) Competition is a healthy thing. That is, if you have the right mindset. Going in with personal goals and working towards them as hard as you can, knowing that you’re simply competing against yourself and alongside other people who can get as discouraged as you, yet pick themselves up and keep going, makes NaNo a fantastic experience. Competing against other people is good as well, but it has its place and that is not in writing. When it comes to writing, it can wind up being detrimental. To yourself. No one ever benefits from comparing themselves to people who either have more time on their hands or who have had years more experience. If you are capable of being reminded that the best thing you can do is beat yourself at your own game, then you’ll wind up coming out the other end a stronger writer.

          4) Participating brings self-awareness. I learned a lot about myself as a writer last month. I’m still a newbie for sure, and maybe you know quite a bit about yourself already, but my bet is that each new writing experience, competition or whatnot will bring out something new in you. New stories and characters have a way of speaking to us in different ways and bringing to light our strengths as well as our weaknesses. Be conscious of how you’ve done things in the past and my bet is that you’ll come out the other side just a bit different than you were going in. If you’re aware of your struggles, it makes you able to attack it from a whole new angle next time! (Because there WILL be a next time! NaNo 2017, I’m coming for you!)

          5) Winning isn’t everything. What am I saying? Of course it is! No participation ribbons given            here! All joking aside, while winning is amazing and I fully believe in pushing yourself to complete your goals; sometimes you can learn just as much by not finishing. Oftentimes, we writers get extremely overwhelmed when things don’t look or sound exactly the way we pictured in our head, or we don’t reach our goals (amongst many other insecurities). To not finish can really put us through the ringer, but if we learned something from it and became a better writer at the end of the process, then it’s okay if your measly 24,225 words doesn’t look as nice next to someone else’s 50,000. (Yes, that’s how many words I completed last month.)

Well I hope this list was enlightening to you, or at the very least a tiny bit entertaining. If you didn’t finish this year, don’t cry. Maybe cry a bit, but wipe those tears off and get writing again! The only way we’re ever going to get better (or get to the end of that damn manuscript) is to keep going! So, get out there and write some more words! Life doesn’t end at the end of NaNo!

5 Steps to Creating Believable Characters

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Initially I struggled with creating characters for my novel so much I was convinced that I would be terrible at it forever. Then I forced myself to sit down and attack the problem because I was tired of hating everyone but my villain. He is simply brilliant.

Yeah I know, I love my villain. Call me crazy but my favorite characters are usually the bad guys; Darth Vader, Hans Gruber, Harley Quinn (had to squeeze her in to prove I loved her before the movie comes out), Terminator, Snape (it can be argued that he wasn’t a villain, but I loved him before anyone knew he was actually good. And yes, I did put two Alan Rickman characters down. He’s amazing okay?). I could go on and on about villains but that is a post for another day.

I decided to tackle the problem of boring characters head on (after months of procrastinating of course). There was a lot of trial and error, but I finally came up with a process that rescued my characters from dull and lifeless to exciting and entertaining!

Step 1) Pinterest pictures.

One day I was banging my head against the desk after my main character pissed me off again (for being whiny and annoying and dumb). So I did the natural thing, I gave up and skipped over to Pinterest. While I was there I stumbled upon the best picture. It was an actor from a popular TV show and it was my villain! Sure the hair and eye color weren’t quite right but otherwise it was exactly what I had been imagining him to be like. I got so excited, I started searching for images for my other characters, and before I knew it, I had a picture or two for all of them!

I would highly recommend finding a handful of images to show who your characters are to you. It may be a celebrity or someone you know, or a total stranger from the interwebs. If the person doesn’t match exactly, find another one and make notes about what you like about each of them. This will help you later when you’re describing your characters.

Create a board for all of your characters or a board for each of them, whatever suits your fancy. If you’re like me and don’t like to share too much about your characters before you’re farther along, you can make the boards private.

Step 2) Take the Meyers-Briggs Test for your characters.

If you’ve never taken the test, you should do so for yourself immediately.  You can do that here. Then read about the personality type the test comes up with on that site as well as this one.

Based on my experience with myself, my friends and family, it’s very accurate (as long as you are very honest with your answers) and really intriguing to see them work out your personality with your strengths and weaknesses and what this means for different areas of your life. Obviously not all of it is going to be a 100% fit to you because you are a unique individual. But if they get it right more often than not, you’ve taken the test right.

Next, or first if you already know your personality type (ENTP for the win!), start taking the test for your characters. Have a notebook handy so you can write down each personality type for your character, that way you can go back and read more about it later. Try to visualize each character answering these questions. Answer them how your character would, even if you would NEVER answer like that yourself.

Once you have the personalities written down and a general idea of what each of them is like, head on to the next step.

Step 3) Fill out a Character Profile Worksheet

What is this you ask? Basically it’s a fact sheet of all of the boring details about your character. Height, hair color, face shape (this is where the Pinterest images come in handy, you can visualize them and find words to describe them more easily). Also family size, occupation, educational background.

Why is this step third? Because there are also some deeper questions you should also ask such as: How does this character deal with anger? Sadness? What does the character want out of life? If you answer these before you’ve taken the personality test you may struggle a bit. (I know I did.)

You could use this worksheet. Or this one. Or you could mix them together and add other things you think of to create something of your own, like I did.

Step 4) Interview Your Character.

This one may seem very similar to the previous step but I find these are specific questions that require a more in depth answer. It helps you develop your character’s voice, how they actually talk or explain things.

Ask your characters questions like you would a friend. What is your greatest fear? Who is your hero? I love this questionnaire from French author Marcel Proust. Back in the day questions like these were a party game, sort of like truth or dare. But more like truth or truth.

Step 5) Write a short story about each character.

You could combine a couple of the characters into one story, maybe to describe how they met, but I would challenge you to try to write one where each of them is the main focus of the story. It will help you to solidify who your character is as an individual. This story may not even make it into your novel, but it will help your characters really come off of the page and make readers fall in love with them. Or even hate them! (This is equally important if you ask me.)

My recommendation: Complete this process for each character that is going to play a crucial role in your story. Obviously I’m not telling you to make a character profile for the random blacksmith or fishmonger that your main character meets once and talks to for five minutes. I’m talking about the people that are around for a longer period of time.

In my humble opinion, in depth development of all characters is something a lot of authors fail to do. They put a lot of work into the main character and then half-ass everyone else. Develop everyone. The villain, the sidekick, the secondary characters that come in and out of the story, even if you’re going to kill them off. If they move your story forward in an important way, they need to be developed. Nothing worse than a flat character who dies and nobody remembers or cares. (Okay so there are things a lot worse, but this is a big peeve of mine.)

I hope this process will do for you what it did for me! Now I am excited about ALL of my characters. I can’t wait to watch each of them make an impact on my story!

What is your process for creating characters? Is your process similar to mine or different in some way? Please share in the comments!

10 Famous People Who Failed Repeatedly Before Succeeding

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            I chant that saying over and over to myself in my head, regularly. As human beings, we value achievement. Our desire is for results. Usually immediately. When we don’t see them, it is easier to chalk ourselves up as failures and give up. Often we procrastinate until action is imperative. Giving the excuse, “I want it to be perfect.”

While there is nothing wrong with desiring quality, it often stands in the way of action. At least, that’s the case for me.

What we often forget is that the day to day drudgery of “trying” (and failing) is a part of success. It can even be argued that it is crucial to success.

The next time you consider not taking action, consider these famous people and just a few of the failures they experienced on the road to success.

1) Walt Disney

He was told he lacked imagination and drove his company to bankruptcy before his worldwide success.

2) Albert Einstein

He didn’t speak until age 4, couldn’t read until age 7 and flunked out of school.

3) J.K. Rowling

She had Harry Potter rejected repeatedly, while dealing with depression, divorce, poverty and single parenthood.

4) Theodore Geisel

More commonly known as Dr. Seuss. He had his first book rejected 27 times.

5) J.R.R. Tolkein

Publishers were extremely reluctant to publish The Lord of the Rings; they weren’t sure it would gain any popularity.

6) Lucille Ball

She was told by her drama instructors to find a new career. Remember I Love Lucy? Yeah, I thought so.

7) Winston Churchill

He was terrible at school and experienced years of political failure until he was elected Prime Minister in his sixties.

8) Michael Jordan

He was cut from his high school basketball team.

9) Stephen King

He had his first book rejected 30 times before he threw it in the trash. Good thing his wife rescued it and encouraged him to try again!

10) Elvis Presley

He was fired after only one show at the Grand Ole Opry and told he would fail and to go back to truck driving.

I've heard a lot of people comment about now successful people saying, "These people who rejected them are dumb, they just didn't know who [insert famous name here] was." No. No. No. A thousand times, no. There's a pretty popular meme circulating that I love about Oprah getting fired when she was young. The interviewer was shocked and gave a similar response. The person who fired her was obviously wrong to fire her. The interviewee (is that a word? I think it is.) Responded No. He probably wasn't. Because SHE WASN'T OPRAH YET. She became the powerhouse she is today, because of her FAILURES. Bam!  

We are shaped and molded based on our successes yes, but oftentimes in a much stronger way because of our failures. The humiliation and frustration that comes from failing or being told you aren't good enough is what eventually pushes people to a point where they flat out refuse to give up. Be that person. Don't let people knock you down. Learn from your mistakes and keep going. Try harder, think differently, approach it in a new way and with a new attitude. Maybe it'll take 27 more times. Eventually you'll get it right. It only takes doing it right once.

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Summer Quarter Goals 2016

I have goals to accomplish. I’m guessing you do too. I don’t know about you, but I set goals all the time. My problem comes in when I actually have to accomplish these goals. I need accountability. Someone (or several someones) expecting things from me to remind me that I’ve got things to do. If I don’t have accountability, I tend to change my mind on what my goals are, sometimes even in the middle of doing them. Which means very little actually gets done. For example, there was that time I started a YouTube channel before I decided what the heck I wanted to do with my life. I made a few videos and then quit. Sigh.

And then there was that one time that had the goal to paint the baseboards in my house. Each time I go to do this, I decide I’m going to do something else. I got fed up with never completing it, so I grabbed some paint and a paint brush and marched upstairs to begin. Aaand then I ended up painting the cupboards in the bathroom. Well…I started to. So now, the baseboards are not painted and my bathroom cabinets are a two tone combo of 90s looking wood and white. It’s sexy. No. It’s not. That was a joke. I’ll include a picture. Maybe if I share my shame, I’ll actually finish painting it.

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See what I mean? I need help.

I decided to set myself goals for the four quarters of the year. Each quarter I’m going to come up with a list of goals (writing, reading and personal) and share them here. If I accomplish the goals, I am excited to come share with you. And the idea of telling you all that I’m going to do something and not doing it is a little embarrassing. I’m a pretty competitive person so I think this method will work for me. I got this idea from a pretty awesome writer that I follow on YouTube, Jenna Moreci. You can check her out here! She is hilarious, and oh so wise. Also, her book Eve: The Awakening is pretty cool!

So here we go!

Summer Quarter (July-September)

-New blog post every Tuesday! I’ve been doing pretty good with it, but I want to keep up my momentum! (I almost didn't make it today because my day was busy. But here I am!)

-Start posting fiction on my blog. I’ve begun to share writing prompts, but I am trying to challenge myself to share a piece of fiction with you from time to time. I haven’t because, nerves. (It was also a mini goal to actually include this goal. I deleted and retyped it five times. Yay me!)

-Figure out what forms of social media I am going to use to promote my blog. This is going to take me a little bit of research because I am pretty much only proficient at Instagram, and I’m decent at Facebook. I know I don’t need to use every form of social media out there. Thank God! I checked out Tumblr the other day and that scared me to death. (The name irks me too. I really don’t like it when things are misspelled on purpose…cringe.) I’m not so great at all of this internet business, but I do want to broaden my horizons.

-Read 1 book/week (This will push me towards my bigger goal of reading 52 books this year!)

-Read a wider range of books. I have a lot of books on my shelves that I need to read before buying more. I would like to read every book I own no matter what it is about. I fully believe there is always something to be learned from every book! (Even if the lesson is how not to write.)

-Write 30,000 words in my novel (sounds like a whole lot but that’s around 500 words per day, not counting weekends and a few extra days off here and there, like 4th of July.) I’m a wordy person. I can do it!

-Get outdoors more often! I tend to hermit when I'm busy. Or stressed. Or tired. Okay so I'm a hermit most of the time. I live in the desert so it's not always appealing to go outside, but there are nice parks to go to! And I do have a really pretty tree in my front yard! I definitely spent Friday evening waiting for my hubby to come home reading in my front yard. I need to do that more often!

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-Clean out my garage. It is jam packed full of all kinds of things. Some of it is stuff I need, most of it is not. Time to donate, donate, donate! I’d really like to be able to park my car in the garage, since I hear that’s what it’s for!

-Create a better system for paperwork (bills, etc.) that way my desk is more free for writerly things! (And so I'm less stressed about the bills!)

-Oh, I guess there's the painting. Those baseboards and bathroom cabinets aren't going to paint themselves! Seriously, I keep waiting to see if it's going to happen. I was hoping for little elves to come in and help out while I'm sleeping but no such luck.

Well that's my list! I'm a little intimidated. But, I have to say that I am excited to see just how much I can accomplish over the next couple of months!

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Do you have a system for setting goals? Is it a list you keep somewhere or just in your head? Do you set deadlines on those goals?

Please share, I’d love to hear what keeps you motivated! 

 4 Tips for Balancing Productivity and Creativity

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I don’t know about you all but I pretty much always felt like growing up these two things were polar opposites. You could either be productive or creative, not both. Just me then? Well, I am learning more recently in my life that I can have both. Most often I find that the more productive I am, the more freedom I have to be creative. This may sound a little strange at first but bear with me.

We all have our goals for creativity, things we “want to do.” Word count goals, books to read, video games to beat, etc. But we’re weighed down by the real life things that we “have to do.” Laundry, dishes, cleaning toilets, changing diapers. Especially when those things begin to pile up and then before we know it we are surrounded by the chaos of an endless to-do list.

Now, if you’re like me, you might hate all of the mundane to-do things. You might let the loathing of those things get in your head and defeat you. Your brain gets all overwhelmed and turns to mush. Then you might throw your hands up and say “F*#% it. Nothing is getting done today.” (Okay, I still say that sometimes. But I’m working on it.)

Now I say, “Well, I gotta do it so I might as well like it.” (Thanks Dad, that one’s stuck in my head forever!)

Growing up, I hated when my dad said that to me. Usually it was when mom wanted us to get chores done, and my siblings and I fought her tooth and nail on it (sorry Mom). Then Dad was called in and dropped that line. Like, every time. Ugh.

Now that I’m an adult and have spent the majority of my twenties feeling a little lost in life and doing the bare minimum to get by and keep my life in order, I’ve realized that I think he’s got something there. Because the more I actually get done, the more I feel accomplished and my mind is freed up for my creativy things. (I know it’s not a word. Carry on, Grammar Nazi.)

So here are a few tips that I’ve discovered that help me to be productive so I can get creative:

1) Get up early.

I know, I know. Creative people are supposed to be night owls. Well for me this just isn’t realistic. I mean, I could stay up ‘til the butt crack of dawn (another lovely saying I’m resurrecting from my childhood) but then I have two young children who like to rise with the sun. Have you ever dealt with a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old on just a few hours of sleep? I have. It’s not pretty.

My solution? I go to bed early. I give myself an hour or two after the kids fall asleep to have adult time, whether that means writing, watching a little TV with the hubby, or reading. I seldom use this time for productivity because I get very little time without my kids for me to do something I like to do uninterrupted.

Getting up early has been revolutionary for me and my day. I hated getting up early when I was young. Still kinda hate it. But it’s worth the payoff. I get up before my munchkins, have some coffee, read my Bible, and get a little writing done. It’s like I have a patience/energy tank that’s being filled up with glorious gas. (I know it’s kind of a weird metaphor. Bear with me.) Seriously though, there is a huge difference on the days I do this than on the days I don’t. I’m writing this in a silent house with a cup of hot coffee. It’s pretty much the best.

Try it. If it doesn’t work for you after a couple of weeks, then you go back to bed and enjoy that sleep. I’m going to be over here being all early birdy and gettin’ those worms!

Also you get to catch beautiful sunrises, like this one!

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2) Set a timer.

We all have things that actually have to get done. Sadly, most of us cannot afford a maid, or a personal chef or the like. We gotta do all that stuff ourselves.

I’m discovering that my parents are genius. Must call them and thank them again for teaching me these things that I’m recovering from my long-term memory archives (Inside Out anyone?). My mom taught me that if you try to race a timer you’re more likely to get more done in that time frame than if you didn’t set a timer. What, that’s silly. It’s just a timer.

Well it works. I do 15 minute increments. I’m a very competitive person, and I know I’m just racing time, or myself. (Philosophically, which would it be? Hmmmm.) But. It. Works.

Here’s what you do. Set a timer. Pick one or two tasks that needs to get done. Start the timer and GO! When the timer goes off and I get more done than I set out for myself to do, I seriously do a little victory dance! Take that time! (Or self!) Ha!

It may be silly, but whatever gets the job done, right?

3) Get organized.

Definitely cringing as I type this one. I hate to organize. I’m not an organized, or really cleanly person for that matter. My mom did her best to reform me and passed the torch on to my hubby, and he does his best but I am just kind of a mess.

I go with my dad’s method. Organized chaos. There’s a method to my madness. Seriously. There may be sloppy piles everywhere, but I know exactly what is in them. Mostly.

Recently though, I have discovered that I’m a very visual person. If things are cluttered and chaosy, (I know I’m making up words. Someone stop me.) I can’t really focus. I may sit down and start to write or read but then I feel supremely guilty. It’s mostly subconscious, so then I don’t realize I’m feeling this way and then before you know it, I’ve ruined my precious writing time and can’t figure out why.

So now I’m working on having a system. I put things in specific places. If an item doesn’t serve a purpose that I need, I donate it or throw it away depending on what it is. If it’s useful, I put it somewhere handy.

Papers get sorted into (mostly) tidy piles. Everything now has a home. And the kitchen counter and dining table are no longer homes for anything (except kitchen appliances). If it all has a place to go, it’s faster to clean it up. Duh.

This goes for my writerly things too. (I’ve always been organized with my books. I like them stacked neatly on shelves where I can admire them.) I had several different notebooks and loose papers from compiling research for my novel. It was all a little scattered. Then I got binders, and those divider things. Now it all has a home and I know exactly where to go to find different parts of my book or research. It’s lovely, and saves me time because I’m not searching for ages to find that one note I wrote down when I could be spending that time actually writing.

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4) Set a schedule.

Now this one is really hard for me. Wait, the other ones were hard for me too. Okay, all of this is hard. Adulting is hard. It’s worth it though! (I keep telling myself this. I’m actually starting to believe it.)

If you have kids, you totally get this. Try scheduling your toddler’s nap. Hahahahahaha! Some days it goes beautifully. Others, well we’ll just leave that to your imagination.

I’ve gotten to the point where I have a loose schedule for my day, because rigid schedules don’t really work for little munchkins. If you don’t have kids, then you go for it. Schedule the shit outta your day!

The loose schedule thing doesn’t always lend to creativity. But, if I have the goal of working towards giving myself creative time every day, even if it happens at different times each day, it usually happens. It’s kind of like a reward system. If I get the kitchen cleaned and I organize my desk now, then when the kids have naptime, I won’t have to do any cleaning and I can sit down and write my book! See how that works?

Now I’m not sitting here writing all of this from a sparkly, shiny perfectly clean house. As I tripped over my sons’ toys on my way to get coffee, I felt a little hypocritical for writing all of this. And as I sit here with a cluttered desk I still feel it a little.

What I’m trying to say is that I don’t have it perfect. But I’m working on it, and the more effort I put in, the more time I get back out. As soon as I post this, I’ll hit cleaning mode with my timer and tear through this house like a reverse Tasmanian Devil.

Try some of these, or all of them, and see what it does for your day and your creative time! It takes a little time and some effort to change the way we do things but it’s totally worth it if the payout is that we get more time for the things we want to do!

What things do you implement in your daily life to make time for your writing? Or reading? Or other enjoyable pastimes? Share them below, I’d love to hear your ideas!

Of Trees, Roots and Culture

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I’ve been in a bit of a writing slump this week with my novel and wondering why I haven’t felt motivated to work on it. At first I thought maybe it was because I have been really busy and a bit stressed because of big changes in my personal life. And while that may have been part of it, it wasn’t the whole picture. I realized after sitting and thinking on it a bit (and maybe after a beer or two) that my characters seem boring, flat and one dimensional. I had my outline for my story and my character profiles. I know what color their hair is and what their deepest, darkest secret is. I know where they are going next and how they are going to respond to a question that is asked of them. So what’s the problem? The problem is this. I don’t know the whys to it all. Why do they feel this way? Was it something that happened to them as a child? If so, what specifically is that thing? Why did that traumatizing, embarrassing, or exciting event happen to them? What kind of society do they live in where something like that would occur? What kind of religious practices to they engage in?

It’s important to have culture set up for your world, because it’s the little things that give life to a story. Really it needs to be to the point where you can stand there with your eyes closed and picture the tavern where the heroes are sitting and drinking a hard earned pint of ale or visualize the ritual where they stand beneath a tree to swear an oath to defend a wall in the middle of an icy wasteland. Why do they do these things? Do you feel excited for them, relieved with them, overwhelmed for them?

What kind of difficulties or excitements do they encounter other than the typical badassery of questing and such? Do they come across an entirely different race? Ents, elves, dwarves, hobbits, orcs, demons, and the like. Do they have language differences, like the between those in the Westeros and the Dothraki? Do the people they encounter engage in strange rituals like the worship of clocks? (The Claidi Collection, anyone?)

I had begun writing some ideas on how I want my world to be set up but I didn’t think I needed to figure EVERYTHING out immediately. To some extent, I’ve been able to carry on just fine without having my complex world set up completely. But then I hit a turning point and I was stumped as to why these people don’t get along, and why my main character was just being dumb. (Because literary characters DO have a mind of their own. Just ask any writer.)

I hadn’t figured out what makes my heroine’s culture different to make her so upset by the changes she encounters in the extreme one that is forced upon her.

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I love this quote I found about culture and history, mostly because it involves an analogy of tree roots. If you know me at all, you know I’m obsessed with trees. So in case you missed the point of the quote in relation to what I’m talking about here, it’s that our story needs roots. It needs the depth that comes with a rich backstory. Even if all of those details are not shared in the book, it helps to create rich characters. If there is no depth to the world around your characters, even their exciting actions and words will fall flat.

Think about some of the most epic fantasy books of our time, or really any good book of any genre for that matter and you look at the depth of the backstory. There was a whole lot of time and energy put into that, and honestly a lot of it probably didn’t even make it to the final cut of the book.

Just look at The Lord of the Rings. (Tree) Ever hear of The Silmarillion? (Roots.) If you haven’t, it’s a ridiculously detailed backstory of the history and culture of Middle Earth. It’s intense. Now, not every story needs something quite that involved but that’s just an example to show how much back story and crafting a complex world can affect how good a book or series ends up being.

As for me, a bit unfortunately at this point, I tend to most enjoy the types of books that are complex and keep you guessing. The kind that have rich backstory where they mention something in book one and in book three they’re like, remember that one thing we said? Well, BAM! Here it is, in an awesomely complex twist. Yeah, I just shocked the hell out of you! Mind blown, mission accomplished!

So I figured some of my culture and history roots out and now I’m doing a bit better, but sooner or later I’m going to have this issue with each and every character big or small in my story. I need more, a lot more to make my tree into the majestic one I envision. So it’s time to sit down and get to world crafting! (No, I don’t mean the MMORPG, although that would be fun also but a bit counter-productive to writing goals).

How much time have you put into your back story? Does it need something complex or is it one of those simply beautiful things? Where did you pull your ideas from? Please share!

(Also, photo credit goes to my awesome brother! Thanks for the amazing picture!)

5 Ways to Become a Better Writer

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In my quite limited experience, I have found these things to be a huge help to me in my quality and quantity of writing. I haven’t been writing for years and years but I think my newness has brought a level of desire to make sure that I am making my time count, so I do a lot of research and thinking about ways to help myself grow as a wordsmith.  

1. Find the time

It is so important to find time to write. If you claim to be a writer you have to actually write stuff, yes? So how are we going to make time for that in our busy schedules? As a mom of two young boys I understand how difficult it is to find time, uninterrupted. “Me time” involves taking a trip to the bathroom alone. Thank God I have a really awesome husband who sees the importance of me getting breaks and watches the boys for me every week so I can get out of the house by myself.

But honestly, once a week is not enough. I have to carve time out of my daily schedule to write things. So I started getting up earlier. I hate to get up early, but a quiet house and a hot cup of coffee go a long way to tempt me into crawling out of bed. It doesn’t have to be ground breaking stuff, just a little time to get words on paper. The good stuff will eventually flow out. (At least, I like to think so.)

2. Set realistic goals

I made a goal to hit my word count every day. I read this amazing blog post a while back about famous authors and their word count goals. You can check that out here.

So I decided to set myself a word count goal every day (to be honest it doesn’t happen daily, but on the days I do write I usually exceed my goal). Mine is 500.

I journal and I’m quite wordy so it’s pretty easy for me to reach that goal daily. Usually I get to about 200 and then I feel like I’ve gotten all of the crap out of my system and I can actually write something good. Something worth other people reading. Which brings me to my next point.

3. Start a journal

I really believe it’s a great thing to write about yourself and your insecurities, especially before diving into something you care about. We all have that nagging voice saying we can’t do it.

I’ve been reading “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldman. Seriously guys, amazing. The chapters are really short and to the point. She gives great advice on how to get more confident in yourself as a writer.

In one of those awesome chapters she talks about having a journal. It always makes me really excited to see that I’m already doing things that famous authors recommend you do…like writing in a journal to give voice to my insecurities. Because once they have a voice, that voice gets old and then (most of the time) you feel like you can move on and write something worthwhile.

4. Create a space you love

I just recently did this and I’m finding it to be really helpful. Usually my desk is the place in the house where all of the bills, junk mail and other paraphernalia lives. I felt guilty displacing them, they looked so comfy. But I had to be brutal and take back the desk for myself, and I’ve been loving it!

I have a clipboard with inspiring quotes on it, and a few tools to help me write, colored index cards, pens, notebooks and my laptop. Otherwise it’s pretty clutter-free. Which I need, because clutter stresses me out. You wouldn’t know it to look at my house though. I am actually trying to work on that issue, but that is a topic for another day.

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5. Read, a lot!

This one used to be so easy for me. I could dust a 600-page novel in a day or two when I was in high school and college. Now, I’m lucky if I can get through a whole page without being interrupted. We’re working on family reading time, but to 3 and 1 year olds that is a little more difficult than I pictured before having kids. It’s a work in progress and I’m sure one day they will love reading as much as I do (they had better, or else! Mwahahahaha!).

The more I read though, the more my mind starts working with new ideas. I notice flaws in my writing style and discover ways to fix them. I see ideas on how to write dialogue (which I need SO much help with!). I feel inspired to write amazing, well-rounded stories with deep characters.

Also, did you know that people who read regularly are actually better at spelling than people who don’t? Why is that? Because they see the words being spelled accurately and used in proper context on a regular basis, so their minds naturally begin to do the same when you write them out! Pretty cool, huh!

So there they are. The things that I believe contribute to becoming a better writer. I hope these help you as much as they have helped me. Are there any other things that you do regularly that have helped you as a writer? Please share in the comments below!

What is Atychiphobia?

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I can’t even pronounce it, but I definitely have it. So what is it?  

Fear of Failure.

I think we all have this on some level, but maybe I’m wrong. If you don’t have it then I’m extremely jealous, but more power to you and carry on with your bad self. The rest of us who need a support group can sit here and commiserate on this.

 

So I almost didn’t start this blog, or write this post. What if I don’t have anything unique to say? What if I say the wrong thing? Freaking out about the fact that I’m not perfect and I make typos, I don't have the perfect layout and my comment button won't appear and I’m not as good at this as everybody else seems to be. (Hello, learning curve? Can you let me skip this step please?) Also, I’m busy and of course, my busy life is a very justifiable excuse to not do this, right? WRONG! Time to pull up my big girl panties and do this!

My favorite author, C.S. Lewis said, “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.”

Worry, fear, failure. Scary words. But we must face our fears as if they were demons to be slain, to attack them with all the vigor of an epic sword duel. Right? Right!

Knowing that others, famous authors even, have sat in self-doubt just like we do. The difference? They don’t (or didn’t) let their fear and insecurity win. We need use it to fuel our drive to succeed and understand that we will fail. Someone I admire once told me, “You can fail but You are never a failure.” I love that. No matter how many times we fail, it’s our choice to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again.

My mission: To not let my fears cripple me. To fight them head on and to learn new and amazing things. That’s why I’m here. I challenge you to do the same. Hope to see you on the battle lines!

 

 

 

The Power of Our Words

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So I was thinking about St. Patrick’s Day today, naturally. It’s a big deal for me as I am Irish-American (okay so I’m probably a lot more American than Irish but I love my roots no matter how far back they go). I started prepping our Guinness-soaked Corned Beef and looking for my Irish Soda Bread recipe when I had a thought about Irish proverbs and sayings. I knew there was one about words but I couldn’t exactly remember what it said, so I hopped on good ole Pinterest.

I came out with this gem.

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I continued thinking as I got ready for my day (listening to some Irish music, duh) to head over to my family’s house to eat together and then go watch my brother and sister-in-law play some fantastic music at a local Pub. (Seriously, check them out.)

I started thinking about holidays and their meanings and how things get lost in translation so easily.

Take today, for example. It’s a holiday to celebrate a saint who was a missionary for the Catholic Church. And what do most people do to celebrate? Wear green, eat preserved brisket and cabbage and drink a lot of Guinness (or Killian’s Irish Red in my case). I get the progression based on history, don’t get me wrong but it’s interesting to think about how things evolve over time. Kind of like how our thoughts go on tangents.

That’s why I love the written word so well. Our words have value, and quite often we just say way too much. When I’m writing, I have the opportunity to think, to write my thoughts down, to filter and add and subtract where needed, or to even walk away and come back at another time to finish what I’m going to share. (Which is what I did just now.)

Our words, spoken and written, are powerful. They are just as capable of tearing people down, making them feel low and alone as they are of making people feel loved, needed, respected and inspired.

Writing has helped me so much with this. I am known for being very blunt and I quite often speak before I think, which leads to a lot of hurt feelings. Being able to think about what I want to say before I write it all down has really helped me tone back some of the bite to what I have to say. I’m still honest, which I feel is extremely important, but the harsh edges are sanded down just a little bit.

In a day and age where people can say anything they want behind the anonymity of a computer screen, we actually have opportunity to check our words before we push send. Yet we don’t. (I’m talking to you, trolls.)

We humans are far from perfect. I’m right in there with ya. I’m still going to slip up and hurt someone’s feelings. I’m going to let a swear word (or five) slip from time to time. Yet I think, if we all try to use our words to inspire, educate, empower, to share mercy, grace and love we’re all going to be a lot happier people.

What does this have to do with writing fiction? Even though we create make believe worlds, we are still imparting wisdom, morals, a lesson, and the joy of learning and imagination. We were given all of these things for a reason. Let’s use our words to do just that! Sláinte!

 

A Book Is Cooking: An Introduction

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It’s probably not a far reach to guess what I’m going to talk about here. I’m cooking a book. In my brain. It’s one of those low and slow kind of things. Like a good pot roast. I’ve been sort of working on this idea in my head (off and on) for a few years now. In December I decided to try writing more in general, so I started journaling. Which I actually used to do when I was younger and always found it therapeutic. But I didn’t even consider writing more seriously for myself because I wasn’t the “writer” of the family. I was the “reader.” And you can’t be both, right? That would just be silly. Seriously.

That leads me to January, when I decided to actually put those words on paper. I threw my pot roast in the pan for a good sear!

Then, a dream that was sitting, neglected in the recesses of my brain gained life! Since then I have been eating, breathing, dreaming about writing and all it entails. Which has been tiring, yet fun!

So what are you doing here? Besides hanging on my every word because you’re dying to hear about my dreams and goals. (No? Well maybe just pretend.) Okay, I actually like to think it’s because you might have a similar goal.

Perhaps you’re a lot like me and you didn’t know or couldn’t admit to yourself that you wanted to write. So you have a lot of demons (real or imaginary) to deal with in gaining confidence and momentum to do just that.

Maybe you know that you want to write that novel about alien ants that live on a farm but you just need to know that there are other weird people out there like you that are writing these insanely awesome ideas down! (Seriously though, the farm of alien ants has already been done, even if it’s not a book. Maybe pick a new idea.)

Or maybe you could even have been a writer for a while but you’re all about learning more about the technicalities behind it. Writing styles and plot formation and other fancy writerly things.

While I obviously am no expert, I am dedicated to figuring this stuff out! The more people who write about their methods of research and their trials and successes and failures, the more people out there like you and me that have more resources to make our novels happen! So we begin to learn as our tasty little hunks of meat cook all slow to be tasty and melty and perfect. (Can you tell I’m hungry?)

In case you aren’t good with metaphors, we don’t want our books to be literally eaten or to melt. But we most certainly want them to be perfect, to be devoured by other’s minds and to be satisfying to their souls.

I’m looking forward to this new, albeit slightly scary endeavor and cannot wait to share what I learn with you!