Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The End of Month Cram

I'm a goal-setter. Annual, monthly, weekly, and daily goals all fire me up. But the last week of each month usually throws me in a tizzy.

Time
Photo by alancleaver

You see, I don't just set goals--I do my best to meet them. Failing to reach my monthly goals means I'll have extra work the following month. Extra work means possibly pushing my annual goals out of reach. I won't let that happen without a fight.

Here are a few ways I rearranged my schedule this week to free up hours.

1. Went grocery shopping at night instead of first thing in the morning.
2. Took a fifteen minute walk outside on Monday to get re-energized (even if it was 30 degrees out).
3. Pushed myself to finish all the laundry Monday night so I wouldn't be distracted later in the week.
4. Planned simple meals (one in the crock pot).
5. Spent less time online.
6. Opted not to watch television, but I still read to relax.
7. Took fifteen minutes each day to work on minor goals. (Filling out bills, revising a short piece, making calls)

None of these things were difficult. They simply gave me an extra thirty minutes to an hour each day. An extra hour here or there often results in me celebrating a "win" by meeting my goals.

Do you set monthly goals? How important is it for you to meet them? Do you ever do the "last minute cram?"

Have a great day!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Ugly Sweaters

I'm wearing my ugly sweater. It's orange. At least one size too big. It's stretched out, has a stain and several snags, and the color doesn't flatter me. At least that's what Color Me Beautiful tells me. (Psst...I'm a "summer." You can find out your season HERE.)


Bright Day-Glo Vintage 80s Tacky Ugly Cosby Sweater
Photo by TheUglySweaterShop

But let's put the color analysis behind us. Why do I even own this ugly sweater? And why, when I know it's as unflattering as can be, do I insist on wearing it?

It's comfy. It hides my extra pounds. It goes with all of my jeans (since it really shouldn't be worn with anything, by default, it goes with everything) and my sweat pants (should you ever wear a sweater with sweat pants?).

I know I shouldn't wear my ugly sweater, but I can't resist.

I know when a sweater flatters me. It shows off my assets and minimizes my weak spots. The color makes my skin glow instead of washing me out. The material caresses. A scratchy sweater is not a good fit!

The same goes for my writing. I've written different genres, and some fit better than others. I spent a lot of time analyzing what genre best suits my voice. Styles come and go. Will I always write this genre? I don't know! But it's my favorite now. It shows off my assets and minimizes my weak spots. I also carefully consider a book idea for length. Will it be better suited for a category length or a full length novel? When writing and revising, I work hard to develop the theme so it caresses, leaves the reader satisfied.

We don't want to write a book because it feels comfortable. Maybe we've explored the theme in a previous book, or we've read several books with a similar plot. Comfortable isn't going to stand out. It's like the seventeenth rip-off of the Twilight series or eating eleven donuts in a row. Not very satisfying. For the writer or the reader.

Maybe it IS time to throw away my ugly old orange sweater. It's just as easy to pull on a pretty, flattering one.

Do you ever pull on an ugly sweater? Do you ever fall into these writing traps?

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!! Love you!!

Have a fabulous day!

Friday, February 22, 2013

When Bad Writing Is Good

I hopped over to Books & Such Literary Agency's blog, Between the Lines, on Wednesday, and I was delighted with agent Rachel Kent's post. She encouraged writers to leave a "bad query" in the comments for an opportunity to win a copy of Liz Johnson's, A Promise to Protect, and the winner will have his or her real query evaluated by Rachel!

It looked like so much fun, I couldn't help but join the party.

And a party it was! As of Thursday,  the post had prompted 276 comments. Can you believe it?? Many of them were responses to the bad queries. I read through almost all of them, and I laughed out loud numerous times.

I'm just going to list some of the highlights taken from the comments--the authors are listed at the end of this post!

Botched greetings:

Dear Rachelle Kent, Rach, Hark Woeful Wastrel, Dear Kent Rachel, 'Sup, Dear Lucky One...

Misspellings:

Repreesent, fickshunal novel, hawt guys,  luv, genrha...

Titles:

FROM RUMPELSTILTSKIN TO REVELATION
Hawt Amish Space Aliens Warz
FIFTY-ONE SHADES OF GREY
The Nursemaid's Caretaker
SHADES, WIZARDS, & FORKS
Harry Breaks Wind

Descriptions:

"I found in my mamas journal..."

"Lots of fighting, blood and gore, and naughty women."

"It starts out slow, but once you get past all the back story it really picks up."

"I submitted to every agent I can find and your agency is my last hope."

"Feel the colors of the rainbow, riding a unicorn across clouds spun with saccharine moonbeams."

"You have until noon to confirm you are representing my new speculative fiction-slash-medieval cookbook."

"Maybe it will be a love quadrilateral? (You help with that stuff right?)"

"Please visit this website to find out about book, bio, etc. http://www.bad-querier.com"

"It is full of plot twists like obsticals and problems."

"It’s got it all, man, I’m talkin’ a werewolf, some vampires, a nest of drug-dealin’ witches."

Comparables:

"This book would appeal to fans of Twilight, Harry Potter, Shades of Gray, Downton Abbey, and The Giving Tree."

"It’s going to be the next Harry Potter – you know, the one by JK Tolkein?"

"The movie is Jack Reacher meets Downton Abbey meets Twilight meets those elves from the Hobbit meets a bunch of chick lit writers in long dresses, with a Beethoven or Mozart (some old guys in wigs or something) soundtrack, along with a bunch of stuff about drugs and I think traffic violations, with aliens (from space and the South of the Border kind."

"It’s a cross between Leave it to Beaver and Big Bang Theory."

"This could be a classic like that one written by Harper Collins, “To Kill…er, some kind of bird. I don’t remember."

Writing Credits:

"My writing credits include a misdemeanor charge for bad checks that should be expunged before press time."

"I know that my vast experience on my high school newspaper will entice you to read my manuscript."

"Once I won the 3rd grade spelling be and a composition contest in 7th grade, that why I’m qualified tobe a writer and giveing you the honor to be my first queery letter."

"All six people I showed it to have loved the premise and say it will be a huge hit."

"I have just completed my first novel for NaNo."

Extras:

"I know we will have more than just an agent writer relationship. We will be best friends. I look forward to talking to you on the fone everyday."

"I can hear my mom coming down the stairs again, and I’d like to tell her that I have an agent so I can actually sleep past 2:00p.m. tomorrow."

"If I see you representing any novels with Revolutionary, Civil War or WWII settings, I will seek litigation against you for violating my copyright. (Notice the small symbol at the bottom of this proposal.)"

"I know you guys are very busy, so I will call you next week. If I can’t get you, I will just keep calling."

"Remember me! We meet in the bathroom a few years ago at a conference. I was the one who slid my manuscript under the stall door."

"My uncle’s dead but I know he’d love it too and so will you if you actually read it. I’m attaching a picture of my uncle so you’ll can see what a great guy he was when he wasn’t dead."

"Please call me at my boyfriend’s number 555-1234 and let me know how much money you are sending."

"P.S. Do you represent any real authors?"

"I can mail it to you if you agree to pay the postage. The package weighs about fifty pounds."

"The manuscript’s up on ebay. LET THE BIDDING WAR BEGIN!!!"

"Please excuse the notebook paper and purple crayon."

Special thanks to the following bad query contest commenters: Richard Mabry, Meghan Carver, Cynthia Green, Jennifer Major, Jana Hutcheson, Lori, Heather Day Gilbert, Larry, Amanda Dykes, Lee, Ryan LaForge, Brandi Lynch, Morgan Tarpley, Heidi Timmons, Ashley Mays, Leigh Goff, Jennifer Hallmark, Josh, Mindy, Regina Jennings, Patrice, Stacy Voss, Tanya Eavenson, Elaine Faber, Sarah Sundin, Shawn Kuhn, Lynn Johnston, Michelle Gardner, David Todd, Scott. (If I used anything from someone not listed, I'm sincerely sorry!)

Please, go over and read the comments from "Bad Query Contest" if you're at all laughing at these tidbits!! I am so impressed with all of the entries! Love them!!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Need Inspiration? Find Inspiring Friends!

A slump. The doldrums. Listlessness. 

You know--the middle of winter with no spring flowers in sight?

It's not easy to stay inspired.


Inspiration
Photo by photosteve101

Ever since January 1, 2013, I've been inspired and I've stayed there. No, I don't have supernatural powers. I have no exciting developments in the works. I can't even attribute the success to my usual culprits--Coke and chocolate.

When I thought about why this year was different, why this year I've managed to stay on top of my goals and not get down about where I want to be as opposed to where I am, I can attribute it to two things.

1. I'm surrounded by people who inspire me.
2. I surround myself with things that inspire me.

I've contacted several good writer friends regularly over the last six weeks, and each of them is taking on a new challenge. I love hearing the excitement in their voices. I anticipate getting e-mails on their progress. And I applaud their willingness to try something new, something a little scary, something without any guarantees.

Hearing their go-get-em attitude boosts my own. Worry disappears. That bud of an idea in my head, the one I've pooh-poohed for a few years? Maybe it's time. No, it IS time.

The negative side of me throws up objections. That's when I go beyond my friends to the things that inspire me. I listen to positive music. I read Bible passages and say affirmations. I set lofty goals each day, and I do my best to meet them.

I'm convinced worry and doubt keep us from our goals. They are killers. We allow these insecurities to dig a grave for our most precious dreams.

It doesn't have to be that way! We can fight the negativity. Ignore the doubts. Set fire to the inactivity holding us back.

Think of a friend or acquaintance who inspires you. Contact her (or him). Ask her what she's working on. Let her enthusiasm light your own. Gather a slew of tools to keep you inspired. Music, books, quotes, a pretty picture, magazines, videos, flowers--I don't care! Just make it happen!

How do you  stay inspired? Do you have a go-to person who encourages you?

Have a terrific Wednesday!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Shredded Chicken as a Meal Starter

I've been a stay-at-home-mom for years, and I've learned invaluable tips for easy, delicious, inexpensive meals. We, like any other family, are on the go a lot, so I need several go-to recipes on hand.

Four Days of Bentō
Photo by blair25

One of my favorite tricks involves bone-in chicken breasts and my crock pot. Around here, bone-in chicken breasts regularly go on sale for under $2.00 a pound, sometimes as low as $1.19 a pound. When I spot a good deal, I'll buy a family-size package. It usually contains five large breasts and costs between five and ten dollars.

I load all of the chicken in my crock pot, and I add a chicken bouillon cube, 1/4 cup of water, and a dash of salt and pepper. The chicken cooks on high all day, and later that evening, I remove the skins and all the bones before shredding the meat. Then I package the meat from each breast into an individual Ziploc baggie, and throw the baggies in the freezer. This gives me four to five meal starters.

Here are some of my favorite ways to use shredded chicken.

1. Homemade chicken noodle soup.
2. Homemade chicken pot pie (I used refrigerated pie crusts when I'm crunched for time.)
3. Chicken salad sandwiches
4. Chicken enchiladas
5. Chicken Tetrazzini
6. Chicken & stuffing casserole (This is super simple. Take a package of Stove Top stuffing mix, prepare it according to directions, stir in a can of cream of mushroom soup and a package of shredded chicken, throw the whole thing in a casserole, top with cheddar cheese, and bake at 375 for 20 minutes.)
7. Chicken over biscuits
8. Buffalo chicken dip (with tortilla chips)
9. Barbecue chicken sandwiches

It's amazing how easy it is to put dinner together when you already have cooked meat prepared!

Do you have any meal starters you can share? I'm always on the lookout for easy, inexpensive meals!

Thanks!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Things I Just Didn't Get This Week

Sunday rolled around, and I'm not going to lie, I was a bit sad football was over. *sigh*

But...the 55th Annual Grammy Awards and the mid-season premier of The Walking Dead were scheduled, so I figured I would survive.

City Paws
Photo by angela n

I didn't watch the entire Grammy Award's show, but I caught enough to think huh. And the episode of The Walking Dead? Not my favorite.

Here are some things I just didn't get.

1. Jennifer Lopez's dress. An ill-fitting, shredded Hefty bag? You can see it on this MTV link.

2. Jack White's performance. All I could think the entire time I watched it was--opium den? In a backwoods shack, perhaps?

3. Adele's dress. Yikers. You can see it on this Huffington Post link.

4. Unnecessary exposure. Katie Perry and Rihanna, please cover the girls up.

No, I'm not a grouchy old hag (well, okay, I am). There was plenty to like about the Grammy's, and Bruno Mars topped my list. He's an amazing live performer. The tribute to Dave Brubeck with "Take Five" made my night! I also thought Taylor Swift was adorable, and I loved how she sang along to all the performances. Carrie Underwood always keeps it classy in the dress department, and I hope more starlets will take their cues from her.

Moving on to The Walking Dead. (Spoiler alert!!)

5. Andrea. She's on my nerves.

6. When Rick and company went on a mission to save Glen and Maggie (previous episode), they left the prison  manned with a crippled elderly man, a middle-aged woman, a shady convict, an older teen girl, a young teen boy, and a baby? Really? You wouldn't leave one of your stronger, reliable men to help defend the prison? Okey-dokey.

7. Rick is going crazy? Again? I realize it's only been one week since Laurie died in childbirth and was eaten by a zombie, but this storyline doesn't work for me. Unless you introduce a new character who is a psychiatrist to the group, I don't get it, I probably won't get it, so let's make this storyline go away.

8. No one trusts Michonne even though she's helped them, but they trust the the new people in the prison enough to give them shovels to bury their dead? Yes. Smart move.

I miss the revelations, zombie killing, and heightened danger of the first two seasons. Yes, they are kind of safe in the prison, but the whole show has a dreary feel to it and with so few original characters left, it's hard to root for their survival. I'm glad new characters have been introduced, and I'm hoping the depressed vibe dissipates soon. I also want more answers to how the outbreak started, how long zombies can survive, and what the future holds.

So there you go. Sorry I'm such a snarky meanie sometimes. Was there anything you just didn't get this week? Please share!

Have a terrific Wednesday!



Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What Are Your Valentine's Day Plans?

Another Valentine's day is almost here. When I was young, I loved Valentine's Day. I adored the little cards and their teeny-tiny envelopes. Someone in my class always gave out cherry-flavored red heart suckers. Sometimes I would talk my mom into letting me take heart-shaped sugar cookies with strawberry frosting.

Yes, Valentine's Day was lovely back in the day.


Valentines Day Cards
Photo by Mark Gstohl

Now that I'm older, it all too often involves a round of:

- Figuring out how many after-school activities are on the schedule that night.
- Moaning about how expensive restaurants are and remembering the recent mediocre meals we paid top dollar for.
- Wondering what says "romance" to a guy on a twenty dollar budget?
- Flipping over a greeting card and gasping. They're really five bucks now?
- Coming up with alternatives to the whole thing--a nice meal at home, maybe even a romantic movie, all guys like candy, right? And he'll just throw away the card so why bother taking out a second mortgage for one...

Yes. I write romance and am romantically challenged. Romance probably should mean not looking at the price on the back of the card, not caring if the restaurant isn't worth it, going over budget on a cool gift, and just saying no to any extra-curricular activity. But I'd be lying if I said I did all that!

As I write this, I'm brainstorming a fun gift basket for my hubby. I'm planning on making a tasty meal. And--since I'm being really romantic--I'm scoping out what college basketball games are on television that night. I know the way to his heart!

What are your plans this V-Day? Is it stressful for you? Or do you love it?

Have a terrific weekend!



Monday, February 11, 2013

My Blog's Greatest Hits!

Guess what? This is my 637th post! Can you believe it?

Yes, I started blogging way back in August 2008, and I've had so much fun along the way. On a whim the other night, I skimmed through the titles of my old posts, and I realized how many of them are still relevant. So I selected my favorite--and most popular--posts and created a Best Of List. It's on my Articles Page, and I will continue to add to it throughout the year.


Cherry Blossoms and Apple Blossoms
Photo by sandraleeschubert

I'm fascinated by what topics cause readers to read my blog. Based on number of pageviews, here are my most popular posts.

1. Vision Boards  (03/24/2010)

One of the reasons this post became popular is that it caught attention on social media sites, and many people who don't normally read my blog stopped by. Unfortunately, someone pirated it and I had to send a cease and desist letter. With the good comes bad. :)

2. 3 Topics For Writers To Avoid on Social Networks  (01/14/11)

I wrote this at a peak time in social networking. Many writers were getting their feet wet on Twitter and in Facebook, and this post wasn't your typical "don't talk politics and religion" advice.

3. 17 Simple Steps to Build a Fiction Platform  (06/06/11)

The title sums it up. In 2011, agents and editors started really changing their tune about writers needing an Internet presence. Writers who had successfully avoided marketing themselves online realized they needed to build a platform or get left behind. All of my posts on social networking did, and continue to do, well.

For easy access to the complete linked list of my most popular posts, head to my Articles Page, which can always be found from the Extras Page. This is a permanent feature in my website, so please stop by anytime! You'll also find links to all of my videos, a page of resource links, and information about my speaking topics in the Extras.

If you're a blogger, do you know what your most popular posts are? Did the topics surprise you? Care to share?

Have a terrific Monday!


Friday, February 8, 2013

Why I Recommend the Frasier Contest

Last year I was polishing a manuscript, and I noticed the announcement that The Frasier Contest was open. Several friends were members of My Book Therapy, the Craft and Coaching Community for Novelists founded by Susan May Warren, and they always had wonderful things to say about it.

fireworks
Photo by ronan.odonohue

I read through the Frasier guidelines, saw the terrific line-up of final judges, and figured I might as well enter. If I made it to the final round, I'd be a clear winner since I would get feedback from Susan May Warren, a top agent, and a top editor. Expert advice isn't easy to come by in this business.

Last year was pretty rough on me, but entering this contest was a bright spot, because on the day they announced the finalists, I got a message on my answering machine--from Susan May Warren herself!

I quickly made a house rule--no one deletes the message from Susie. No one! (Yes, I listened to it many times in the upcoming months!)

The winner would be announced during the MBT Pizza Party at the ACFW National conference, and I was actually attending the conference for the first time.

Did I win? No, but I truly was not disappointed. For me, being one of the final five was winning.

Not long after, I received all of my score sheets. When I read through the comments of the final judges, I was filled with gratitude. They all gave great suggestions and were very kind and encouraging. I reworked the opening 100 pages as a result!

Besides the great advice, I benefited in a few other ways. As a finalist, I had the opportunity to write an article for the now-retired e-zine, Voices. My Book Therapy also pays to advertise the finalists of The Frasier in the ACFW conference program, and several people I'd never met congratulated me. Ego boost! The pizza party gathered a small army of writers, and Susan herself made a point to encourage each finalist. This woman's generosity amazes me!!

I have been writing full-time for six years. There has never been a time that I didn't welcome expert advise. I still need it. I'll always need it. This kind of knowledge is precious.

What are you waiting for? The Frasier Contest can only help your writing!

***

Entries for the 2013 MBT Frasier Contest for unpublished novelists will be accepted through Saturday, March 31, at 11:59 p.m. The contest is open to Voices members. The winner will receive a scholarship to a My Book Therapy coaching retreat ($500 value). Final round judges are award-winning author Susan May Warren; literary agent Steve Laube and a TBD fiction acquisitions editor. For more information, FAQs and to enter, visit www.mybooktherapy.com. 

***

Have you entered The Frasier contest? Are you considering entering this year? I'd love to cheer you on!

Have a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How I Multi-Task My Writing

I have big plans for the next two months, and it means being very specific with my time.
In order to achieve my writing goals, I decided to work on more than one project at once. Yes, I'm multi-tasking, and yes, I'm enjoying it!


5 Folders
Photo by ukeig

When faced with a towering to-do list, I always take twenty minutes to plan what I can delete from the list and how I'll get the remainder done.

First, I determined what would feel like a win each day, and I knew without a doubt that making progress on my most pressing project, we'll call it Book A, would give me that boost. Since I want this done soon, I'm devoting the bulk of my hours to it.

Here's the thing, if I don't make progress early in the day, my mood sours, I inhale chocolate, and I mentally beat myself up. Then the procrastination sets in, and Facebook becomes much more important than work. Oh, and Book A? Grows into a big, ugly bear--one I know I can't defeat.

The solution? Rules!

Here is my list of rules for the next two months. (I'll reevaluate my goals in early April and make a new set of rules then.)

1. After a short session of checking in social media sites and reading e-mail, I block off a large chunk of time for Book A. I also set a deadline for each phase to stay on track and prevent myself from quitting early.

2. Twice a week, I work on my Extra Projects. I set aside thirty minutes to an hour to research, write, or edit these.

3. Late in the afternoon or in the evening, I spend an hour working on Book B, which is in the early stages. Right now I'm working on pre-writing tasks, but soon, I'll be writing the first draft.

4. When Book A is finished later this month, I'll bump Book B to top priority, continue setting aside time for the extra projects, and I'll throw revising Book C into my late afternoon, evening spot.

Honestly, I can achieve more when I make smart decisions. If I only worked on Book A, I would be short-changing myself.  Switching gears helps me stay fresh, and I find I'm not as mentally tired at the end of the day because I've challenged myself on different levels.

Do you work on more than one writing project at once? Or does your brain work better with one at a time?

Have a fabulous Wednesday!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Our Guinea Pig

We got home from church yesterday, and before I changed into sweat pants or made lunch, I went downstairs to feed our geriatric guinea pig. Domino has been with us for seven years. In fact, Saturday was his "birthday," which was really the anniversary of the day we bought him. He spent the afternoon relaxing on a rug on the floor next to our sliding glass window. That chubby black and white guy loved soaking up the sun.

A birthday celebration a few years ago with Domino!

Our mini-dachshund even managed to climb into the cage with him and gave him several Happy Birthday licks. :)

So when I went downstairs and Domino didn't scurry out of his house to greet me, I knew something was wrong. I peeked in--his little body wasn't moving. I made my husband check on him.

He'd passed away sometime that morning, and by the looks of it, he went peacefully. He was curled up with his paw under his chin.

I've joked often over the years about how old he was getting and weren't they supposed to have a short life span? But Domino was a sweet fellow, always happy and squeaking. We'll miss him.

(I won't miss changing the bedding. Keeping it real, people!)

Have you had to say goodbye to a pet recently?

Have a wonderful Monday!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Sketching: 2 Minute Resolution Vlog

As many eight-year-olds do, I announced I would be an artist when I grew up. I smile thinking of all the hours I spent trying to sketch the perfect zebra. Let's just say a lack of formal training didn't dampen my enthusiasm!

As an adult I've spent time here and there sketching and making crafts, but I find myself missing the routine of regular art time. It became the perfect resolution for February. A chance find at the library, The Sketchbook Challenge by Sue Bleiweiss, gave me some great ideas. In fact, my youngest eagerly agreed to join me. Every weeknight we spend a minimum of fifteen minutes adding to our sketchbooks.

It's fun!

Here are some tips on keeping a sketch journal:




Do you love to draw? Is there a hobby calling you to devote regular time to it? What can you do to make that happen?

Have a lovely weekend!!