I’m taking a break to celebrate the holidays with my family. So, I’m sharing a blog that originally ran in 2012. I tweaked it just a bit to reflect what’s happening right now, but the message is timeless. Happy holidays, everyone!
We have nine days until Christmas. Where has the time gone? Is it just me, or has this year flown by? It feels like it shouldn’t even be Halloween yet. Probably because Halloween came and went without even a carved jack-o-lantern or toasted pumpkinseed in our household (and I love toasted pumpkin seeds…). Halloween was preempted by deadlines and obligation. There was just no time. Missing that, we held on tight as we careened into November, which is birthday season in our family; then the birthdays gave way to Thanksgiving. Now, here we are sprinting toward the end of another year.
I realized the other day, I need to slow down and smell the Christmas cookies. Actually, I need to make time to bake some. I need to make time to enjoy my family and the meaning of the season before it’s over and we’re halfway through next year.
It’s time to take a deep breath and live in the moment.
I’m reading a great book called Ten Zen Seconds by Eric Maisel. Chapter nine, Embracing The Moment, really spoke to me. It’s about the difference between “passing the time” (or in my case, racing through it) and “being present.” Living in the moment. It’s really given me pause and made me think.
How is it that we get so busy that we don’t have time to enjoy life? We get so caught up in planning and scheduling and racing from one thing to the next that we neglect to live. Events that are supposed to be fun and memorable become burdens or worse yet, they slip by because we don’t have time or we’re present in body, but not in spirit as our mind wanders, planning what’s next .
The commitments and obligations won’t evaporate – and the truth is, we probably don’t want most of them to go away. I just finished back-to-back deadlines (and thank goodness for book contracts!). I’ve barely made a dent in my Christmas list (probably good for the budget). My daughter just got home from college and my father just returned for the holidays (one of the most important events I’ve been anticipating all year. I don’t want to take for granted a single moment with my family). I am determined to slow down and savor the rest of the month.
What’s your best tip for enjoying the spirit of the season? How do you keep up with family, friends, work, housework, decorating and all those holiday concerts, pageants, and parties and keep your sanity? How do you live in the moment during the holidays?
I finished my book. No…let me state that another way: I FINISHED MY BOOK!!!! For whatever reason, this book took a lot out of me, and it took forever. So I’m doing a lot of running around and grabbing people and screaming “I FINISHED MY BOOK” until they get that wide-eyed look that says, “Let me go, or I’m calling the police.”
But here’s my new dilemma. What shall I do with all this newfound time? Remember, I have another job, and only a few days to work with! The thing about finishing a book is that there’s always another deadline to meet, and soon. So I need to make my freedom count!
Here are my top five contenders:
1) Read for fun. I always keep a notebook with me, in which I jot down book recommendations that come along. Right now, it’s jam-packed and calling my name.
2) Tear down the bathroom wallpaper. I know, I know, this sounds really boring. But I’ve been dying to do it for years. In fact, 24 hours before I finished my book, I began peeling paper, just to force myself to put this first. Now, of course, it sounds boring again….
3) Watch the great old TV series I’m behind on. I’m eager to catch up on Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle seen here in a lovely photo by Gary Bembridge), Ballykissangel, The Hollow Crown, Fringe, Arrested Development, Firefly, Scandal…and too many old Masterpiece Theater costume dramas to list.
4) Go antiquing. I don’t buy much, but I love to prowl around vintage stores and antique stores. I’m determined to start a beautiful teacup collection, but so far I have a total of one cup…and the rest exist only on my Pinterest board, and in my head.
5) Work in the yard. I think I must have a drop or two of farmer blood, because, although I approach gardening only in fits and starts—and in between times everything dies—I really do love getting my hands dirty. I especially enjoy the meditative quality of weeding. Go figure.
So, what do you think? Which one would you vote for? What do you do when you have a blissful bit of freedom, a little time all to yourself?
To one poster today, I’m giving away a chance to get one of my author copies of THE RANCH SHE LEFT BEHIND, the third in my Sisters of Bell River Ranch series. It’s Penny’s book, and it’ll be out in December, so my author copies probably won’t come in until November. It’s a bit of a wait, but if you win and haven’t read the first two books in the series, I’ll send you those now!
We all lead busy lives, and there are some weeks my life is way busier than others. I’m on an early flight to the Romantic Times convention in Kansas City this morning, and I had to do some creative multi-tasking to get everything ready in time.
And just when I thought I couldn’t add even one more thing to my to-do list, my publisher sent page proofs for The Spy Wore Blue my Lord and Lady Spy novella coming out in August. They were due yesterday. It’s a novella, so I knew it wouldn’t take me as long as a full-length book, but I still had to find some time to sit and read through it, making final corrections.
I remember the days when I had hours at my disposal to dedicate to writing, proofreading, revising. Now I’m lucky if I have one hour. So I multi-task.
My daughter is three and a half, and bathroom independent. Yes! But she still likes me close by when she uses the potty. And, like any kid, she sometimes wants to sit in there and sing or tell herself stories or whatnot. She might be in there ten minutes, but I had better be close by. She will check. So what do I do. Grab my computer and sit outside the bathroom door and write.
Right now her favorite game is Hello Kitty Bingo. The game is for 2-4 players, but we usually have only three—Baby G, Mickey Mouse, and me. Like and three-year-old, she has a short attention span. She wants to play, but then she finds something more interesting and runs off to investigate for five minutes. Eventually she remembers the game and comes back to continue play. I used to sit and try to catch a few minutes’ of sleep while she read a book or colored a picture. Now I open my laptop and write a few paragraphs before she returns.
And, of course, we have a couple of activities every week. One of them is gymnastics. I love to watch her, but she’s not actually doing any gymnastics for much of the class. In the 3-4 year old class, they run around, sing songs, and learn to wait for their turn on the balance beam or bars. So while I’m waiting for her to show everyone her front support, I read a page of the novella.
And that’s how the work gets done. Anyone else a master multi-tasker?
So yesterday on my Facebook page I asked for blog topic suggestions and I got so many great ones, many of which were questions, I thought I’d just tackle them here.
Tammy asked: the ups and downs of being a mother who works from home
Well, this could clearly be it’s own blog topic and I’ve tackled some of it at my other blog, Peanut Butter on the Keyboard. I can’t speak for other working moms, but I will say that when you do something creative, like writing, that sometimes tapping into that creative energy is very challenging if I’ve had a difficult day with my kiddos. There are plenty of jobs I’ve done (when I worked full-time) that I could do while tired or drained or whatever, but writing isn’t one of them. At least not on a consistent basis. So I have to find ways to recharge myself on those tough days. Writing is similar to motherhood though in one very specific way, you’re never done. You don’t get a vacation from being a mom and though I take some days off every now and again, I don’t get time off from being a writer.
Susana asked: I’d like to read about your upcoming projects or ideas you’re mulling over or thoughts on books you’re reading.
Great question! I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire right now. My next release, A Little Bit Sinful, comes out very soon and it’s the sequel to A Little Bit Wicked. I’m working on the final book in that series right now, A Little Bit Scandalous. Those are the books in my Forbidden Love series that features three couples each with their own foray into forbidden love. It’s been a lot of fun to write because they’re books that focus more on the developing relationship than my longer historicals that have lots of meaty subplots. Then in June I have The Secrets of Mia Danvers coming out, that launches my Dangerous Liaisons series which centers around the hunt of Jack the Ripper.
Cynthia asked: I’d like to know how you overcome writing blocks. When the words just won’t come no matter what….
That happens sometimes, doesn’t it, Cynthia? Well, first I’m not a big believe it “writer’s block” though I do know that on occasion the words stall out for some reason or another. My best advice is to write anyways. That’s for the most common blocks, the I-don’t-really-want-to-write-today blahs. Then you have the stalled on a scene blocks, so sometimes I’ll try to brainstorm out the problem and if that doesn’t work, I’ll just skip that scene until later. Now when you have a real block, one that’s generally rooted in emotional stuff, that’s a little different.
True story – two years ago, The Professor and I took in two girls from the foster-care system. We were intent on adopting them, but initially they weren’t free and clear. To say things were stressful is a colossal understatement. Toss in the fact that we’d never been parents before and suddenly we had a toddler and an infant, we were emotional strung out. Like I said above, when our emotions are under assault, it’s very hard to find the words. All I can tell you is to write as much as you can. Sometimes all you can do is write about the weather or your feelings or whatever, but eventually the words will come back and you’ll be able to get back to it.
Angela asked: Your favorite/least favorite part of writing a book.
The easy answer is, I love the book when it’s done and about to come out. I hate the book while I’m writing it. But it is often a little more complex than that. Sometimes there are some really magical moments when writing the rough drafts, most of the time though the real magic (at least for me) happens during the subsequent drafts. I like to write the parts that come out great, the parts where I know I’ve nailed the characters and the dialogue is snappy and even I’m entertained.
(Joey asked about a blog of my favorite heroes and heroines, but I have a guest blog coming about that sometime soon…)
Nicole asked: Maybe write how you cope with your stress when you are stuck on a chapter and loose sleep! What do you do to relax!
I touched on some of this in Cynthia’s question, but relaxing, yes, that’s so important. I’m trying to exercise more to relieve my stress, walking and that definitely helps. Being with The Professor chills me out pretty good, he has a way of recharging my battery (and I don’t mean that in the dirty sense. :-)) Another good thing for me to do if I’m stuck on a chapter is I brainstorm with my writer buds. Shana and Margo and Emily know more about my crazy than they probably would like too and I’m a very needy writer.
Rhianna asked: Hand-in-hand with Joey’s idea… I love to see which characters an author wishes she’d been the creator of.
Oh wow, this could be a HUGE list. Um, can I just start with all of the characters in the Harry Potter books? Pretty much all of Suzanne Enoch’s heroes. Katniss Everdeen. Yeah, I could go on with this forever.
Cherrie asked: how to get over the fear of putting your work out to a editor/publisher etc…… as in…I got my book wrote, critiqued by my writer groups, read by friends that know the subject…so Im ready to let it go…now what?
Fake it, ’till you make it. That’s really the best policy here. I’ll be really honest, writing (as in the career) is scary as hell all the time for a variety of reasons. The fear never goes away. So really you just have to learn to either cope with it, or ignore it. Sometimes it’s best to ask for help if you can’t do it yourself. I know that before Emily sold her first book, I threatened to mail her manuscript off to a certain agent if she didn’t do it. That might not work for everyone, but we’ve always had that kind of relationship. So maybe your friend needs someone to sit with her while she sends it off. Sometimes talking through the very worst thing that can happen (in this case a rejection) can help. Rejection stings, but it doesn’t kill you and just know that all your favorite authors have gotten a slew of rejections too. It’s just part of the gig.
Melissa asked: Where you get some of your ideas for your stories, When you are stuck or at a standstill what you do to get out of it. When writing your stories do they change as you are writing? Or do they go as you want them to at the beginning? Have you ever used real life situations in your stories?…those are a few off the top of my head.
My ideas come from everywhere. Sometimes I start with nothing and just brainstorm the whole thing (usually talking that out with another writer), other times I’ll start with a character and build from that. I love to bounce ideas off of other writers, it’s the best way for me to brainstorm. For whatever reason I don’t do well brainstorming alone, I need that interaction. But if I’m stuck alone I have some tricks, I do the list of twenty (make a list of 20 ideas for that particular problem and don’t stop to analyze, write everything down), I have a box of index cards with character types (think stereotypes like wallflower heroine) and plot hooks (secret baby) and complications (dead body!) and I’ll pick some at random and see what I come up with. It’s kind of a fun exercise.
I so appreciate all the questions/suggestions because sometimes (especially when I’m on deadline) I just can’t think of anything. So to all the rest of you, if you could ask a question of one of your favorite authors, what would it be?
*this was originally posted on my person blog, but it seemed appropriate to share it here today. Written for aspiring authors, but can certainly fit anyone struggling to make a goal a priority
One of the most challenging aspects of becoming a writer is actually writing. It seems like it should be natural. We WANT to write, but actually writing is a whole ‘nother ball of string. Making writing a priority is a must because no matter how many classes you take and how many how-to books you read you can’t learn how to write unless you plant your butt in the chair and put your fingers to keyboard. That’s the big secret, by the way, the secret handshake that new writers want from published writers – you get to be published by writing.
It’s really that simple.
But lets consider that it’s often way more fun to talk about writing than it is to actually write. So in order to get to that writing habit, we have to trick ourselves. Offer incentives, set the stage, get yourself primed and ready, bribe yourself if you have to.
How many of you didn’t set writing goals this year? And how many of you set goals, but had forgotten about them by the second week of February?
I think the problem with most goal-setting scenarios is that we’re too kind with ourselves. I mean let’s say you set a goal and then you don’t achieve it. What happens to you? Um…nothing. I mean you probably aren’t even that embarrassed because no one knows you set the goal. What would happen if you proclaimed to everyone you knew and saw on a daily basis that you were on a diet and you were going to exercise everyday and lose 50 pounds by the end of the year? I’ll tell you what, those people would be pestering you and eyeing you while you pop that donut in your mouth.
With writing, there really isn’t a lot of accountability when it comes to setting goals. We waffle a lot, we set airy-fairy goals that don’t really mean much of anything and we’re too forgiving of ourselves when we do fail to meet any goal we might have set. There are RWA members across this country who have been members for years and are still struggling to finish their first book – I know several of them. They’re bright, intelligent, gifted women, but they just haven’t been able to make that commitment.
Once you’ve written a few pages, you quickly realize that writing isn’t easy. For whatever reason we tend to expect it to be easy because we’re excited and because the idea is bursting in our imaginations. But when it comes to putting it on paper, it becomes painful and frankly not fun at all. And we do anything and everything to avoid writing. For me it was studying craft. I used that excuse for a long time…well, I can’t write yet because I haven’t mastered scene and sequel yet. Okay…well, here’s a tip from me, you can read every book written on the craft of writing, but until you actually write you’ll never master any of it.
Another reason…well, fear is a big one for a lot of us. Fear of success. Fear of failure. Fear of exposing too much of our true selves to the general public. Writers are a neurotic bunch and we’re afraid of a lot.
I could go on and list a few more and I’m sure some of you could make suggestions, but whatever your reason is, whatever excuse you have slinking through your mind that you think makes you special or excuses you, get over it. Are you ready for some tough love? How many of you want to make it in this business?
Now I’m not talking money I’m just talking about walking into your local bookstore and seeing your book on the shelf? Anybody want that? Okay, now I don’t say this to be pious because it wasn’t too long ago I sat where you are right now and I haven’t forgotten where I came from. I also didn’t get here overnight (in fact it too me seven years and five manuscripts before I sold). But I didn’t get here making excuses either. It’s time to let the excuses die. It’s time to put your big-girl panties on and quit your whining.
What are you willing to do to make this dream happen? What are you willing to sacrifice? There will be some things you can do without (TV) and stuff you aren’t willing to part with (time with your kids) and that’s all okay, just know it now. Writing is a journey of self discovery and now’s the time to get really acquainted with yourself, to find out what you are and aren’t willing to do to see your dream of publication come to fruition. So I ask you now…how badly do you want it?
But you say, writing is hard. Well guess what, it’s hard for all of us. Get on Twitter or Facebook and follow your favorite authors and you’ll eventually see them mention a struggle or two with their current manuscript. If anyone tells you writing is easy for them, they’re either lying or they’re not working hard enough. How badly do you want it?
You’re busy, you say. Well, you’re not the only person who’s tried to balance writing with a full-time day job or a house full of kids or a sick parent or whatever if is that competes for your time. How badly do you want it?
You can’t write unless you have it all plotted out/unless you have a 5-hour block of time/or unless its raining outside and approximately 56.7 degrees. Well, you need to either be writing literary fiction that affords you 5 years in between books or you need some yoga classes to teach you a little flexibility. How badly do you want it?
Okay so y’all get the picture. This is the year. No more excuses. Tack that up above your computer. I don’t care what your excuse is, if you want to write, if you want to make a go at this, you’ll get it done. You’ll make the time, you’ll learn your craft, you’ll do what it takes to succeed.
Alright now that I’ve yelled at you ☺, I’ll give you some quick tips on how to get it done. First of all you need to set big goals and then break them down into bite-sized pieces. Let’s say you want to write a brand-new single-title this year. That’s between 360-400 pages of writing, not including any prewriting or revision time. And let’s say you have a full-time job and two kids at home. So you can really only get 15-20 new pages done a week (that’s an average of 2-4 pages a day depending on if you write 5 or 7 days a week) that comes out to about 24-26 weeks to get your first draft done. Then if you revise 2-3 chapters a week you can be done revising in 6-10 weeks. That’s a total of 36 weeks on the long end of things to write a 400 page book. That leaves you with 16 weeks left over to do whatever you want with.
So you see how that works? You find your big goal and you figure out what you need to do in pieces to get there. Just like a book is made up of chapters and chapters are made of scenes and scenes are made up of paragraphs and paragraphs are made up of words, goals work just that way. Start big and work down.
Okay you have your goals, write them down and then share them with someone. Designate someone to be your goals keeper, preferably someone mean and scary who will give you that look if you lag behind.
All right so here are some tools that I’ve found particularly helpful over the years.
Find a writing zone: not everyone can have an actual home office for our own writing so you might have to get creative. If you don’t have an established desk for your work, then perhaps you can get yourself a nice new lapdesk for your laptop. Or if you have a desktop, then you can get yourself a special mouse pad and pen holder, anything that can anchor your area and remind you that it’s your writing area.
Or maybe you write away from home, during lunch at your day job or at your local Starbucks. One of the things that I do when I’m writing, that I started out of necessity from writing at coffee shops, is wearing earbuds and listening to instrumental movie soundtracks. Putting those earbuds in puts me right in the “mood” for writing, I know what I’m supposed to be doing. Even when I’m at home now writing, I still put them in my ears, even if alone where I could play the music out loud, the earbuds go in and I can hit my stride.
Make a date: If finding a writing time is challenging for you, then put it on your schedule. Just like you would a lunch date with a friend or a doctor’s appointment, put down your writing time. You’ll be far more likely to keep it if it’s already established. And your family will be more understanding too. Remember your family and friends will take your writing only as serious as you do – they’ll use your attitude as a guide.
100 words/100 days: Way back before I had sold my first book when I was struggling to make writing a daily habit, I joined an on-line challenge. The goal was to write 100 words for 100 consecutive days. I learned several things about myself but primarily I learned that I could write anywhere. Before the challenge I had firmly believed that I could *only* write when I had large chunks of time or at a certain time of day or when it was completely quiet. But none of that was true. Sure those might be prime conditions for writing, but who has that all of the time. Not me. Some days all I did was write exactly 100 words, but more often than not I wrote more. The story would take hold of me and I’d rock along and get 1000 words or 2000 words and before I knew it that book was done. The other thing I learned was that because I was writing consistently the book wrote better. I won’t say easier because I don’t think writing is ever easy. But the writing flowed more because I was in the story, in the characters and it just seemed to work. And you know what? That’s the book of mine that sold, that went on to become Courting Claudia. Author James Scott Bell has a great blog with several other tips and tricks you can use to help with this.
Setting deadlines: If you want to be a published author you might as well learn now what it’s like to work to a deadline. Set one for yourself. Figure out how many words you need to write to finish the book/story, then break it into smaller pieces. Now set a deadline for that ultimate goal and work daily to meet your smaller goals so you can achieve it. A writer should always know how quickly they can write. When you get those contracts, you pick your own deadlines so you need ot know what you’re capable of.
How do you set yourself up to succeed in something you want?