Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

"Oh come let us adore him, Christ the Lord."

Today we celebrate our Savior.

You do not ever have to feel not good enough. You aren't perfect and neither am I. God loves us exactly as we are.

Jesus came to earth to be perfect, to pay the ultimate sacrifice so we can spend eternity in Heaven. If that isn't love, I don't know what is. God loves you. Rejoice!

Merry Christmas!

I'll be off next week, but please join me bright and early on January 3, 2010 to kick off our new year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Eve's Eve

One last one-minute vacation before the holiday. Today, let's picture our 100% fantasy Christmas. I do have rules for this fantasy: 1. It must be utterly selfish and 2. It must be authentic to you.

Here's mine:

This year's fantasy Christmas keeps me home, in my own house. I wake up whenever the kids decide it's time (hint: this means opening presents time). However, before bits of wrapping paper tornado through the living room, a full pot of scrumptious coffee will be brewed and a cup will be in my hand.

Wow, I'm loving this already!

Cinnamon buns, preferably ones that taste exactly like Cinnabon's, will magically appear on the coffee table before me. My husband and children will love their gifts so much, tears will well in their eyes. I will receive a lifetime supply of Godiva chocolates--bless you, Mr. Kemerer--and a new pair of fluffy slippers.

We will lounge in our pajamas ALL DAY.

This is important.


Meals will appear, but I won't cook them. Dirty dishes will become clean, but how, you ask? I'm not really sure, but I know that I'm not cleaning them, and I'm not asking any more questions about it and neither should you.

About three o'clock, after the sixth full viewing of "A Christmas Story," I will peek out the window and smile at the fluffy snow. Then I'll turn away and recline on the couch and enjoy a guilt-free afternoon of reading, but my children will rush out for an afternoon of sledding. And you know what, I think I'm up for a bit of sledding myself, so I will join them.

As dusk falls, we sip hot chocolate and reflect on what a relaxing, magnificent Christmas it was, and we'll thank the Lord for sending us His Son.

You didn't think I'd forget the reason for the best day ever, did you? :)

Wishing you all a very BLESSED CHRISTMAS!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Not Trying to Scare You, But...

Today is December 21. You do realize there are only four days left until Christmas? Yeah. Four.

Deep breaths...

If that didn't make you ready for your one-minute vacation, I don't know what will!

When I come across a soothing site or blog, I bookmark it in my "Favorites" under a folder I created named "Inspiration." Today, I'm sharing a few favorites with you.

Over at, an online radio station,you can type in a song or artist and the site will come up with a radio station of similar music. It's fabulous! Try Stan Getz and see if your tension fades.

I like the idea of crafting; I love the idea of knitting, and I think homemade presents rock. There's a little problem: crafting, knitting, and making homemade presents take time. So, I enjoy sneaking a peak at the blog Blackberry Rambles. Scroll through these cozy ornaments. Puts a smile on my face!

Maybe you don't need music or crafts--you need a little encouragement about writing today. Check out Quotes for Writers and get renewed. Christmas may only be a few days away, and the new year will bring a fresh start.

Hope you have a jolly Monday!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mouthwatering Yum-Yums

How about a one-minute vacation from the calories spreading out of the Christmas treats? My sweet tooth is on overload, so I would love to have a vacay from the guilt of indulging.

We're having virtual candy, cupcakes, and cookies today, and there will be no diabetic explosion, no breaking of the scale, and no bursting of the pant zippers. Go ahead, drool over these, my treat!

(By the way, my friend Kat came up with the saying "mouthwatering yum-yums" and I've giggled over it enough, I figured it was time to use it!)

Cupcakes with ooey-gooey frosting, candy canes, and do I see Snickers bars? This tray should be outlawed!

Hmm...sugar drizzled over dipped sugar. Is there any other way to describe these marshmallow concoctions? If only all shish-kabobs were this delectable!

Look, this one's healthy! There's calcium in that pudding, and hello? Strawberries!

I'm not even sure what these are, but I'd bite their heads off in a heartbeat.

Godiva. 'Nuff said.

It's the LAST weekend before Christmas! I want to wish you all a very safe, relaxing weekend. Enjoy!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Favorite Mugs

I'm a creature of habit. I wake up at the same time each weekday, and the first hour I'm awake, I robot my way through a prescription of tasks. Coffee is always the highlight. As is the healthy serving of flavored cream I dump into my cup. Taking my first sip of the day never fails to thrill me. Not any old mug will do. I choose my mug with care according to my mood.

This mug says it all, and it makes me happy. I smile because it gets me.

I choose this mug when I feel down. My girlfriend Chrissy gave it to me way back when I was eighteen and having some rough times. Whenever I drink out of this Prescious Moments gem, it's as if I'm getting a hug.

My parents got me this mug a long time ago when they had to travel somewhere. It used to have the most adorable lid, but hey, I move a lot, and it's gone! This is also my mom's favorite when she comes to see me. I tend to drink out of it when I feel on top of the world, like I can slay any dragon, you know?

Another gift from my parents. I choose this when I feel kittenish. I LOVE cats!

My darling niece Ashley gave this to me for Christmas a few years ago. It's quickly become my most-used mug. Oversized with pink polka-dots--what's not to love? I like to drink tea out of it in the afternoon.

When I want to have a proper cup of tea, I use the all white cup and saucer. Elegant--plus there's a spot to cradle a cookie or two. Mmm...

I always use this mug for my "writing" coffee. My husband gave it to me. I love the color, the script, the fact my husband gave it to me, and that it holds about two cups of coffee. This one might be singlehandedly responsible for getting my books finished.

Do you make a production out of a morning ritual? Is it coffee or tea? Do you pick out a special mug?

Thanks for spending a few minutes of your Wednesday with me!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dull, gray winter? Not today!

We're smack dab in the middle of December. It's looking mighty gray where I live, and I must confess that I don't do gray. I like color. Gobs of it.

So, our one-minute vacation takes us away from the gray and into colorful flowers.
This delicate beauty made me smile and sigh. I love how the photographer captured it against a black background.

These lavender jewels stirred my senses. I'm positive I can hear bees buzzing and birds chirping. There's a gentle breeze fluttering through my hair, and the sun's warmth caresses my bare arms. Oh, summer, I miss you!

Miles and miles of red, yellow, and orange. How I'm enjoying this view!

Anyone else hit with the urge to bend and inhale these pink blossoms?

This arrangement took my breath away. The centers of the roses fascinate me, and the violet against white really pops. Gorgeous!

Thank you for running away from the gray Monday with me.
Enjoy your day!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Celebrate the Small Things

It's Friday! Wahoo!

Has the holiday season caught up with you? Are you beginning to get panicky about the lack of presents purchased, the boxes of Christmas cards unopened in the closet, or the non-existent cookies needed for the exchange?

Eh. Don't sweat it.

Why not celebrate the small things? And forget, for a minute, the big ones?

Do you have a favorite ornament? Is it on display? Congratulations--you've taken a step at bringing joy to your holidays.

Have you received a Christmas card? Sent any? Look at the postmarks on this one. It's been all over the world! I wonder if the sender ever realized it would be so well traveled. Let's celebrate this card today. It made a few detours, but it found its way home.

How do you feel about the Salvation Army kettles? The incessant dinging of the bell can wear thin on my nerves, but I'm impressed with any organization so willing to collect funds to help others. I'm not endorsing this charity, but I am holding it up as a terrific example of sharing the joy of the season by giving to those less fortunate.

This card jumped out at me. It's so easy to get wrapped up in my own concerns that I forget all of the people who help me through daily problems. Sometimes it's a friendly store clerk at the grocery store who will make all the difference in my mood. I'm celebrating all of the people who smile at strangers, who let other cars ahead of them even in heavy traffic, and who bring a ray of sunshine everywhere they go.

What small thing will you celebrate today?

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

If I could have anything today...

Do you ever finish a task and stop and wonder if you could have any random things today, what would they be? Since this is one-minute vacation month, there are rules.
1. The random things must be utterly selfish. Sure, we all want health for our loved ones and world peace; we don't have to spell those out. Today, it's all about you!
2. They can be as unrealistic as you want. Mine are all ridiculous. That may be why I love them.

What would you want? An object, an experience, or even a feeling?

Here are the things I want--and, no, I'm not going to have them today, but thinking of them puts such a huge smile on my face that it hardly matters.

First, I'd magically appear in Paris, where my husband and I would sit at a small table and speak in French. I'm not sure what we'd talk about, but I know it would be really interesting. Does it matter that I attempted to learn French a few years ago and gave up midway through the first CD? Of course not! No need to rain on my fantasy parade.

Next up, Maine. I need a lobster, people. Doesn't this guy look yummy? I'm salivating over drawn butter, small potatoes, and a heaping helping of biscuits. I can almost feel his claw shell cracking, revealing the white, succulent flesh. Mmmm...

After lunch, I am leaping in the air, contorting my body in dance. Have I mentioned how much I adore dancing? I love the fact every muscle in my body applauds. I love that my body can bend and twist and keep a beat. I love kicking, leaping, twirling, feeling the under-thrum of each tune. Unfortunately, one must dance often or the flexibility and core strength disappear...but...enough of that! This is my vacay, and I'm a bendy ballerina in it.

But now that I've indulged in some solo-dancing, I think I'll spice it up a bit. That's right, Mama needs to Tango! First of all, I love the heels this lady is wearing. Second of all, how fun would it be to tango with my husband? All dressed up fancy, strutting our way across a hardwood dance floor? Someday, I'll wear him down about the ballroom dance lessons. Someday.

Now you know what my Wednesday fantasy involves, you know I want to hear yours! Any long-forgotten dreams? Travel destinations? Tango sessions?

Thank you very much for stopping by and indulging my daydreams!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Warm Fuzzies

Our one-minute vacation today wraps us up in softness and warmth. It's December after all. Even if you live in warm climates, the season prods you to wrap up in the softest blanket you own. I do not live in warm climates, so warm, fuzzy things are essential.

Look at this little bunny. I want to pick it up and squish it in a big hug, or at the very least, stroke its plush fur. The delicate snowflakes resting on its fur add to the serenity of the photo. I think my heart rate has actually slowed down just looking at this adorable guy!

What else do I need today to bring the warm fuzzies? This picture invites me in and makes me want to stay and relax. Let's see, snow-covered pine, fluffy comforter, and a journal with a pen? Have I died and gone to Heaven? I think I might have.

And what do we have here? A lovely, festive fireplace with candles, nutcrackers, and shelves lined with books. Our home doesn't feature a fireplace, but many area coffee shops have added them. When I need to curl up in a chair next to a warm fire, I head out.

What comforts you on cold days? Where would you spend a cozy afternoon?

Thanks for sharing this mini-vacation with me!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Twenty-One Days Left? Need a Break?

I promised a month of one-minute vacations, and I will not let you down. Well, I might let you down if you don't enjoy the same things I do!

So today we're headed to the beach, because when I think vacation, I think beach. White sand, warm sun, gentle breeze, slight sea fragrance, children laughing, and a deep sense of contentment. Ahh...I'm more relaxed already.

Look at the clear water. I can easily picture myself as one of these swimmers, and I can almost feel the water pouring over me as I doggy paddle my way around. Serious swimming is not my idea of vacation. We can add a few rafts and fruity drinks to the picture if you'd like.

Or what about this dock leading to rest? I'm positive each of those tiny huts has a king-sized bed with ultra-comfy bedding for me to snuggle into. There are no demands here, only pampering. And look, there are lots of huts, plenty for each of us.

Now that I've had my nap in my own special hut, I'm ready to venture out again. But who wants to spend a vacation alone? Consider yourself part of this group hug!

I'm so glad you stopped by to spend your one-minute vacation with me!

Have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

December: One-Minute Vacations

When I was brainstorming possible topics for December, I thought, we all just need a vacation this month. The thought of writing about craft, business, editors--any of it--made me want to take a nap.

What we really need in December is a nice break. A daily retreat, if you will. Doesn't that sound nice?

I'm dedicating myself to finding the perfect one-minute vacation each and every post this month. That's not to say I'm taking the month off from writing. I'm not. In fact, I'm writing a first draft as we speak. But we all are dealing with extra obligations, including Christmas cards, holiday baking, additional children's activities, endless shopping, and inevitable illnesses. I vowed I would not add even the tiniest weight to your already full load.

So today's one-minute vacation takes place in Richmond, Virginia. Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens hosts an incredible Christmas light display each year. To see a few photos of this lovely tradition, go to the 2008 GardenFest of Lights Images.

We attended it a few years ago and had a lovely evening. The weather was downright balmy for December, and we smiled as our children scampered along the decorated paths. Our favorites were the indoor conservatory's Christmas cottage and the maze located in the children's garden. Steaming cups of hot cocoa completed the family fun.

This year, we're planning on attending the Toledo Zoo's Lights Before Christmas display. Should be another night to remember!

Do you have a special holiday light display you attend each year?

Join me on Friday for another short break from the season's chaos!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tricks to Get to Know Your Characters

November's over already? How did all of you NaNo-ers do? I hope everyone had a terrific month! So what's on the plate for December? Do you cut back on your writing goals due to the busyness of the season? Or do you find the pace invigorating?

(All together now...awww!!)

Recently, I've learned some cool tricks to get to know your characters. Since I've spent the last two weeks pre-writing, I tried a few of them out.

Tracy Madison (author of A Taste of Magic, A Stroke of Magic, and coming soon, A Breath of Magic) gave me the tip to write a letter to yourself from your main character. (Does this make sense? Basically, it would be Dear Jill, Blah blah blah... Sincerely, Main Character.) I did this and really got a sense of what drives my characters and how they see themselves. Very illuminating.

A book I'm reading by Alicia Rasley called The Story Within recommends free writing in your main character's point of view. This would be very helpful when you're in the middle of the book and you're not certain what the character will do next. It would also be beneficial in the pre-writing stage to better flesh out your characters.

Head over to Northern Writer to read about Paul Greci's Riff Writing. I loved the concept and will definitely be trying it soon.

The next idea has been written about on several blogs, so I can't give credit to the originator. Interview your characters. I haven't tried this yet, but I'm storing it away for future use.

Do you have a cool trick to get to know your characters? I want to hear about it!

Join me on Wednesday when we'll kick off our December topic: One-Minute Vacations!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Career Preparation: Deadlines

This week, we conclude our talk about career preparation with a brief chat about a scary word: deadlines.

As an unpublished author, I think it's easy to get a rosy, unrealistic picture of what published life is like. We think, "if I just get published, everything will fall into place."

When you're unpublished, you can take as long as you want to write your book. You can work on it here or there or not at all. If it takes five years to complete, that's okay. However, when you get published, you might get a contract for more than one book. Wonderful!

Except...what if it took you two years to write book one, and your contract states you have one year to turn in book two?

No problem. I'll be motivated since I have a deadline.

Sounds good, but will you? Really? You'll be dealing with another set of deadlines at the same time: revisions of book one. You also might be scrambling to get a website published. And nothing in your life will have changed. Most people can't afford to quit their day job when they publish a book. Most stay-at-home mothers still have the same amount of responsibilities (and the same amount of children, maybe even more!).

I'm not writing this to scare anyone; in fact some of my friends are going through this very process now and handling it beautifully. I am not going through this, but I pretend I am to stay motivated. I'm weird like that.

I'd like to offer a few practical tips to set and meet deadlines. For all you writers of single title books in any genre, aim to complete your novel in one year. This includes revisions. For all of you writers of shorter books, like category novels, aim for a minimum of two books a year.

Editors often give authors a year to complete a single title book. Some publishers give less time. If you get in the practice of finishing a book in a year now, it will probably get easier to complete a book in a shorter period as you progress.

Category books are another animal. Since these are published monthly, editors are always hungry for more books from authors they trust. Get in the habit of finishing two books a year, and you might be surprised to learn you can squeeze out three--or more.

In order to complete books on a deadline, you're going to have to get out a calendar and plan.

Do you know how many words you can write in a day? A week? A month?

Don't guess. Keep a daily log and track your progress. Estimate how long it will take you to write the first draft. Mark your calendar with your target first draft completion date. Then estimate how long it will take you to revise. If you revise as you go, skip the first draft estimate and go straight to when you think you'll finish the book.

Get out your calculator. If you're writing a 95,000 word book, write the word count you should be at for each month. Example: if you start the book in January and estimate it will take six months, you'll need to write 15,900 words a month. Mark 15.9K at the end of January, 31.8K at the end of February, and so on until the end of May reads 95K. You can follow the same process with revising.

Do you write every weekday? Weekends only? Three days a week? If you need to complete 15.9K words a month and you write every weekday, you should have roughly twenty days of writing. Divide the 15.9K into 20 to get 795 words a day. If you only write on weekends, you'll only have around eight days a month. You'll need to write 1988 words each of these days to stay on track.

I can't wait until each and every one of us have deadlines from our editors. Won't that be amazing? In the meantime, challenge yourself to meet your own deadlines.

Have a very happy Thanksgiving!! I will not be posting on Friday this week. For all you shopping this Black Friday--be safe and get some great deals! For everyone else, enjoy your weekend!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Career Preparation: There's More to Learn?

We're wrapping up our month of preparation. This week, we're talking about preparing for our writing career.

Are you finished learning when you get published?

Old German School Book 1899
Photo by valerianasolaris

With each book I write, I hone my craft. I learn new insights into the process, too. And I have to be vigilant about my pet problems. I believe getting published isn't a reason to get cocky. We should always be learning, always be challenging ourselves to produce the best possible book. I know my favorite authors do, and that's one of the reasons they are so successful.

However, there's more to learn than just craft. Newly published authors suddenly find themselves in a new world. Contracts, rights, title changes--all can send an already emotional writer over the edge.

Don't get too hung up on your book title or your book cover. You probably won't have much control over either. Editors change the title to make it the most marketable it can be. Accept that you aren't the only author dealing with this; trust your editor, and move on. Jody Hedlund wrote a terrific post about this last week, How Publishers Choose a Book Title.

I recommend reading about contracts now. You can get a book out of the library or go to agents' blogs. Check their blog archives or do a search of their blog for posts about contracts and rights. Also, if you know published authors, ask them questions.

If you have an opportunity to go to a conference, try to attend a workshop that focuses on the business side of writing. I mentioned this summer how terrific Stephanie Bond's class was. She made contracts, rights, and taxes make sense.

Join me on Wednesday when we'll discuss another aspect of career preparation: deadlines.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Preparing to Submit: Part Three

This week we've talked about preparing to submit our work to agents and editors. Today is the final installment, the nitty-gritty details to attend to before you send out your work.

Here are several questions to ask yourself before you submit. This is not the definitive list, but it covers the basics.

1. Is my manuscript formatted correctly? Most agents and editors expect to see it double-spaced, with one-inch margins, and in a twelve-point font such as Courier or Times New Roman. They also expect the header to include the title of your manuscript and your last name. Page numbers should be either in the header or the footer. Be sure to give each new chapter its own page.

2. Is my query personalized? Address the query to a real person. You can find the names of editors and agents through their websites or in a publication such as Writer's Market.

3. Does my query include contact information? Include your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, and your blog's URL and website's URL if you have either.

4. Am I submitting this correctly? You may have to print and send your query, or you may have to e-mail the query, depending on the agent's or editor's guidelines.

If you are sending the query through the mail, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for them to reply to you.

If you are e-mailing your query, include your name and intent in the subject line and do not send the query as an attachment. The subject might look something like Jill Kemerer: Query, or, if they've requested something, Jill Kemerer: Requested Partial and Synopsis.

Don't give them any reason to reject you before they've even read your query. Tess Hilmo recently posted about how agents and editors need a recognizable name in order to open an e-mail file. Avoid using a vague e-mail address.

5. Have I included everything? When you're submitting a query, usually the query letter is all you need. However, when someone requests a partial or a full, there are other important items to include.

I prefer to include a brief cover letter, which is a shorter version of the query. It contains the title of the book, the word count, the genre, and a brief blurb. All of my contact information is in the cover letter. Then, I include a synopsis, a cover page for the manuscript, and the requested chapters. The cover page is the title of the book, the word count, and my contact information.

Again, depending on who is requesting, I may have to send a printed out copy of all of this, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope, or I may have to e-mail it. If e-mailing, find out the person's policy--whether they want it in an attachment or not.

What do you think? Have I forgotten anything? I'm sure I have! Please let me know your tips on the nitty-gritty of preparing a submission.

Have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Preparing to Submit: Part Two

If you've ever sent a query letter to an agent or editor, you know how exciting and stressful the act is. If you haven't, I want to help you mentally prepare for the submission process.

On Monday, we talked about the basic preparations writers take when preparing to submit their work. If you've finished your book, polished it until it shines, researched agents and editors, studied their submission guidelines, and written your synopsis and query, you're ready to send that baby out.

You are...aren't you?

When I started seriously pursuing publication, I'd read many articles about how competitive the publishing business was, but it didn't really register. After all, no editor or agent had read my work. New authors' books hit store shelves all the time. Maybe my first one wouldn't sell, but surely the editor would see my potential?

Oh, those were the days. I'm still chuckling at that one.

Yeah, it didn't work out like that. I earned my college degree in science--not arts. Did I ever stop to think about that? Of course not! So I polished my book as much as my meager skills allowed, wrote a query, sent it off, and the publisher requested a partial. This was it!

Although the publisher's website clearly stated it would be six to twelve weeks before I would hear from them, I stalked the mailbox every day. A giddy expectation arose every time the postal truck chugged by.

Twelve weeks later... I opened the mailbox and it came--a form rejection. Huh? No problem. They'll love the next book.

Three books later... An entire twelve months passed between my submission of book number three and the day I received the lovely rejection on it. And the letter was lovely; I still get happy chills thinking about it. But in the meantime, a spirit of humility had spread through me. I realized my writing wasn't at a publishable level--far from it.

Why am I telling you all this? Certainly not to discourage you. I learned priceless lessons by submitting my work. Each rejection told me something, and my more recent rejections, while painful, were especially enlightening. If it's a form rejection, it might just mean it's not the right book for them, or it could mean your craft needs developing. I realized pretty quickly that my craft needed work!

Some of you are going to submit your work, and you are going to have a very short journey to publication. Some of you are going to submit and will have many rejections before an editor will take a chance on you.

Here's part two of preparing to submit:

Are you psychologically prepared to get rejected? If you get a rejection, will it destroy your confidence? Cause you to quit writing?

Rejection hurts.
But... Don't think you only have one shot at impressing an agent or an editor. That's not the case. They want talented writers, whether you submitted a less than stellar manuscript three years ago or not. In some ways, you're building a relationship with agents and editors while you're unpublished. If you continue to query each new project, they will recognize your name, so be professional. If you get rejected, don't bad-mouth the agent or editor in any form of media. Accept their decision and move on.

For all you writers who are seasoned at submitting, do you think it's important to consider the possibility of getting rejected before you submit? How do you handle rejections?

Join me on Friday when we'll discuss the nitty-gritty details of preparing to submit.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Preparing to Submit: Part One

Writers are not all on the same path. Some are published. Some have been submitting for a long time and are ready to be published. Some want to be published but aren't ready to submit their work yet, and others may not desire to be published and will never submit their work.

How do you know if you're ready to submit your work? Here are a few basic tips I've learned on my journey.

1. Complete the book. Editors and agents expect unpublished fiction authors to have a finished book before they submit. That does not mean they want to see the writer's entire book, but if they like your query and request either a partial or the full, you should have your book 100% complete.

Also, do your best to fit your word count into their requirements. Young adult books have different word counts than category romance. Single title mysteries have different word counts than single title fantasies. An agent may not request your 125,000 word romantic suspense, whereas the same agent might jump on your 125,000 word fantasy novel.

2. First drafts are just that--drafts. Get a great self-editing book, read blogs, and find every editing tip you can find. Then apply the knowledge to your book. Go over your manuscript until it shines.

When I started writing, I barely edited due to two big problems: arrogance and ignorance. The books I wrote weren't garbage, but they certainly weren't at a publishable level either. Only after I began studying the writing craft, asking for feedback from fellow writers, and entering a few contests, did I gain enough perspective to produce a good book.

3. Know the market. It's never to early to start researching agents and publishers appropriate for your writing. Create a list of possible targets and add to the list whenever you come across new possibilities.

As you get closer to submitting, check their websites to find their submission process. Many agents want e-mail queries; others only want snail mail queries. Some have a policy that no answer means they aren't interested, while others state a range of when you can expect to hear from them.

4. Prepare a synopsis and query letter. There are tons of great blogs that break down how to write them. Do some research. When I found Camy Tang's blog, The Story Sensei, I devoured her tips. The Seekers blog gives great advice too. You can find samples of a synopsis and query letter at

Your query letter should not be more than one page. A good length for a synopsis is two page, double-spaced. I often write two versions: a two-page, double-spaced and a four-page, double-spaced synopsis. You may need a much longer synopsis or a chapter outline, but that depends on who you're submitting to.

These are the most basic steps of preparing to submit your work.

On a side note: a warm welcome to all the new followers!

Join me on Wednesday when we'll discuss part two of preparing to submit.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Preparing to Rewrite (and My Revision Checklist!)

Have you ever rewritten one of your books? I'm not talking about revising, but rewriting one of your manuscripts. Is there a difference?

In my opinion, revising is when you keep the basic concept of the book but tweak and polish it to be the best it can be. Rewriting, on the other hand, is performed when your book has a fatal flaw and needs a major overhaul. When you're finished with it, it is not the same book as you originally wrote.

How do you know if your book needs to be revised or rewritten?
This is where feedback comes in. Maybe you've entered your book in a contest and the judges point out a big issue. Your critique group/partner might highlight a monumental problem. A round of rejections from agents and editors could also give insight.

I recently rewrote a book of mine. The catalyst came from an editor I submitted to. If you have a dream editor/publishing house, and the editor rejects your book and gives you a reason why, pay attention. Do you have to rewrite any of your projects? Of course not! But if you want to get published with a certain publisher and they give you a reason why they are rejecting your book, it's important for you to take this advice for either your future or current project.

Jill's Preparations for Rewriting

1. Gauge my commitment level to the manuscript. I love some of the books I write more than others, and if I'm not excited about the book, I'd be better off setting it aside and writing a new one.

2. Brainstorm possible changes to make the book marketable based on the comments I've been given.

3. Go back to the pre-writing phase and create a scene list based on the new direction of the book.

In my case, the book I rewrote is vastly different from my original version. It turned into a better, more marketable book. I love it, but I also love the old version. In many ways, they are two separate books, and in the end, that's why I found the experience to be rewarding.

Have you ever rewritten a book? If yes, would you do it again? Was the experience positive and informative or was it painful and annoying?

Have you ever gotten feedback you instantly understood to be true, but you weren't certain how to apply it to your current manuscript?

Revision Checklist Alert!

On a side note, many of you expressed interest in seeing my revision checklist. I've included it in a .pdf file, which you can open here: Revision Checklist. It will also be linked at the side for future reference. Feel free to print it out.

A brief explanation of the checklist:

It's broken down into five main parts.
1. I read the draft from beginning to end without making changes. While I'm reading, I jot notes in the file using the comment feature in Microsoft Word.
2. I evaluate each chapter. Many times, I only have problems in one or two areas in each chapter, so although there's a lot in this section, it doesn't take me long to get through.
3. Next is technical issues--mainly word choices, sentence structure, and grammar.
4. The book is very polished at this point, so I feel comfortable having my critique group read through it. As they return chapters, I evaluate their comments and make necessary changes.
5. I read the entire manuscript out loud.

That's it. My revision method. It's time-consuming and a lot of work, but it meets my needs. I love my final drafts!

Have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Preparing to Revise

You've completed your first draft. You type "The End" and let out a content sigh. The hard part is over, right?

For some of you, yes. For me? No.

Unless you revise and polish your work as you're writing your first draft, you are now faced with the next portion of the writing process. Revising.

I know we talk about "plotters" and "pantsters" but does the same concept apply to revising? Do pantsters wing revisions? Do plotters have detailed methods for revisions? Do you wonder about this too?

My revising method has evolved and continues to with each book I write. Unlike my pre-writing preparations, which work beautifully for me, my revising preparations leave doubt. Will they be effective? Will I miss something important? Will the book be the best it can be when I'm finished?

I don't have the answer to that yet. I am a plotter by nature, and I rely on checklists for revising.

Jill's Preparations for Revising

1. Set the first draft aside for at least two weeks, preferably longer. Do not think about the book. Work on something new.

2. When it is time to revise, make a new copy, saving the file as a second draft. (I will have three or four drafts total when the book is complete.)

3. Print a copy of my revisions checklist. It's basically a how-to guide I've compiled so I don't miss anything.

4. Remind myself that revising takes time. By systematically attacking each item on my list, I will eventually finish.

If you're new to revising, I recommend keeping a copy of each draft you revise. If you delete a scene in your second draft and then realize it was terrific and needs to be in the book, you can easily copy and paste it back in. In this day and age of practically unlimited computer file storage, it simply doesn't make sense to delete files until the project is as done as done can be.

Do you write the first draft then revise when it's complete? Or do you revise as you go? And for all of you plotters and pantsters out there, do you wing it or do you have a plan of action?

Join me on Friday when we'll discuss preparations for rewriting a book.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

We Interrupt This Blog Schedule...

It's Tuesday, and I'm posting? Yes!

I've recently recieved two blog awards and I want to share them. One of the things I love about blogging is that when I get new followers, I find new blogs. If you're a follower and I haven't stopped by your blog, please leave your blog's URL in the comments and I will remedy that!

Steph, at Steph in the City, bestowed the Best Blog Award to my blog. Thank you Steph! If you haven't checked out her site, go over for an eclectic mix of thought provoking posts. And let's all give a round of applause for Steph; she recently landed an agent! Congratulations!

(If you are a recipient, please do not feel obligated to pass on any award I share. My sincere hope in presenting these awards is to spotlight terrific blogs, not to put added pressure on anyone.)

I'm giving the Best Blog Award to:

Romance Writers on the Journey Keli Gwyn interviews unpublished and published authors on this blog, and she is such a giving, talented woman. Her interviews are always unique.

All in a Day's Thought Wendy's blog asks tough questions, gives thoughtful insight, and has the most beautiful pictures.

Cindy R. Wilson Cindy's posts on Wednesdays, "Excerpt or Action," always whet my appetite for more.

Terri Tiffany Inspirational Writer Terri's posts are honest yet hopeful. Her optimism truly inspires.

Author, Jody Hedlund Jody's blog was the first I ever followed. This year has been a whirlwind for her. She landed an agent and a three book deal with Bethany House. Her posts over the past months offer an insider's look at a new author's publishing process. Fascinating!

Moving on... Maria, at Life Lessons, gave me the Inspirational Blog Award. Thank you Maria! Maria writes comforting, devotional posts that always leave me feeling rested and hopeful. If you haven't been to her site, hop on over.

I'm passing this award on to the following:

In Truer Ink Niki Turner writes with candor about issues many of us struggle with, and she manages to refresh my spirits with each post.

Regina Rhythm Regina offers savvy advice on writing and Internet-related promotion. I enjoy her smart posts.

Whole Latte Life Stopping by Joanne's blog is like wrapping up in a soft throw and curling up on the couch. It's restful. Try it.

Something She Wrote Janna's blog is another gem. She has a melodious, smart, mellow way of writing that I'm drawn to. Her blog never lets me down.

Through My Eyes I never know what I'm going to get when I stop by Tabitha Bird's blog. A poem, a terrific picture, or a fascinating snippet of her life--all leave me with a warm heart.

Thanks again for the awards, and if any of these blogs are new to you, go on--try them out!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mottos Update

Last week, I told you my motto: Dream Big. (Still haven't come up with a theme song...) You responded with amazing words to live by. They were so great, I had to share them!

Beth from This Mommy's Life: "Finish the drill!"
Wendy from All in a Day's Thought: "I break for nothing."
Tess from Tess Hilmo: "You are good. You can be great. I think you will be."
Erica from On the Write Path: "One bite at a time--but make it a big bite."
Em from Em-Musing: "I want it all!"
Brittany from A Penny for My Thoughts: "Prepare for the impossible because those are the dreams God brings to fruition."
Danyelle from Myth-Takes: "Keep breathing. Laugh at the mountains I'm facing and get those feet moving."
Regina from Regina Rythym: "Do what you love. Do it in excellence."

I love those mottos. Strong, inspiring, and words I can live by. Thanks for sharing them!

You also shared your goals, and I was blown away by the commitment and excitement you all poured into the comments. I've compiled the highlights from your comments. These are the goals you will complete before December 31, 2009.

- finish rewriting and editing current manuscript
- finish writing first draft
- put together Christmas card before the holiday :) (Love this one!)
- finish work in progress by end of November
- complete NaNo
- polish current manuscript and send to agent
- begin new children's book, write three poems, and take on three new clients (Go! You can do it!)
- write 85K by end of year (Woo-hoo!!)
- get through edits without dissolving into tears (I know THAT feeling!)
And my favorite:
- Enjoy each and every day!

Your excitement is contagious. If your energy flags as the holidays snowball in, don't despair and don't give up. Anytime you need a "go get 'em tiger" boost or if you want to share an awesome achievement, feel free to e-mail me at We don't have to reach our goals alone!

Join me on Wednesday when we'll discuss ways to prepare for the revision stage.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mental Preparation for Writing a First Draft

When do you know you're ready to type the first words of a new book? How much preparation do you need?

We're all different, but the idea for my next book is usually circling my brain while I'm writing. My brain stirs and cooks the idea for me so when I finish the current book, I'm anxious to start piecing together the next. Then, I might spend a week plotting and filling in character charts and such.

When all of my pre-writing charts are filled, I take a day to write my synopsis. Yes, it takes a day, sometimes longer. It won't be the polished version, but I like to compare my original synopsis with the final copy, and I've found that writing one in the pre-writing phase keeps me on track. I also write a quick query letter. Nothing earth-shattering, just a solid back cover blurb within the query.

I still am not ready to write, however. The next step in my process is to get out a calendar and estimate how long the book will take me to write. It's important for me to check the calendar, because every time I write a book, a vacation pops up, or I've forgotten about the week of volunteer duties I signed up for, or some other major excitement occurs. It's important to plan around these things.

Once I have a target finish date, I'm ready. And then, joy of joys, I'm in first-draft-land, my favorite writing phase!

How do you prepare to write a first draft?

Have a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pre-Writing Preparation

Don't you love hearing other writer's pre-writing preparations? I'm in awe of anyone who says, "Oh, I just open a file and start typing. The story comes to me as I write."

That's so not me! I can actually picture myself banging my forehead against the keyboard or bursting open a leftover bag of Halloween candy like a pinata over my open mouth. To say I'm a plotter is putting it mildly.

I'm not going to bore you with all of the details of my pre-writing process, but I am going to share my favorite pre-writing method, and I hope you'll share yours too.

What's the number one tool I rely on to get ready to write a first draft?

The scene list.

Sounds scary, doesn't it? A bit intimidating, no?

At first, it is, but by the time I begin my scene list, I already know the main parts of the plot. I'm just connecting them with scenes. My scene list evolves as I find better ways to utilize it.

I type all of the scenes into an Excel spreadsheet. There are seven columns:
1. Scene Number
2. Point of View (POV)
3. Setting
4. What do they want?
5. Why can't they have it?
6. Plot points
7. Chapter

1. Scene Number--Since I usually write more than one scene per chapter, I number my scenes.

2. POV--I ask myself which character has the most to lose in this scene? This also helps me keep a good ratio of hero/heroine POV scenes. I can tell at a glance if one is overtaking the book. And yeah, I'll admit that I color code the names. The heroine is pink, and the hero is blue. Go figure!

3. Setting--I keep it simple. The place, day, time, and who is in it. Example: Pat's apt. (Fri. night, L, P) This tells me Lindsey and Patrick are at his apartment Friday night.

4. What do they want?--Since each scene should have a goal and disaster, it's important to decide ahead of time what the scene goal is. It's easier for me to think in terms of character's desires, so I reworded it from "scene goal" to "what do they want?" It could be as simple as the hero wants to get the heroine out of his apartment. (This scene would be told from the hero's POV, since he's the one with the goal.)

5. Why can't they have it?--This is the disaster portion of the scene goal/disaster. If the hero wants the heroine out of his apartment, this is why he can't get her out. It could be that she refuses to leave, or starts crying about her dead grandmother, or whatever reason works for your plot.

6. Plot Points--This is where you jot in where the scene fits into the book. I fill in the major plot points first: Hook, Catalyst (to leave ordinary world), Doorway #1 (they decide to leave ordinary world), Mid-point (false high or false low), All is Lost (Black Moment), Doorway #2 (solution to all is lost), and Finale. Then I go in and label the between scenes with what needs to be achieved in each.

7. Chapter--I type the chapter and scene number for that chapter. 14:2 signifies chapter fourteen, scene 2. I keep the amount of scenes in each chapter, three and under. So if it's a major plot point scene, the chapter may only have one.

That's it. My absolute most useful pre-writing tool.

Okay, time to pony up. What's your favorite pre-writing tool?

Join me on Friday, when we discuss mental preparation for writing a first draft.

Monday, November 2, 2009

November: A Month of Preparation

I love November's energy. The air is brisk, the leaves are almost all blown away, and as the month winds down, the first Christmas light displays twinkle. Magical. For me, November screams preparation. Of course there are the upcoming holidays, but I also prepare to meet my final writing goals of the year.

Some years are better than others. This summer, I realized I would have to drop one book I planned to write due to time constraints. Other than that, I'm on track to meet all of my 2009 writing goals. What a great feeling!

Last month, I started getting cagey. My goals were slipping away. I didn't know how I'd meet them by the end of the year. I decided I needed a motto. Maybe even a theme song. Hey, it worked for Rocky, right? What is my motto, you ask?

Dream Big.

I believe if I'm going to dream big, I have to do big things. To kick off my new motto, I wrote triple and quadruple my daily word count every day last week to finish my first draft. I'm not going to do this all the time--my head still hurts thinking about it!--but I needed a jump start, a break from my routine.

For all of you participating in NaNo this month--I salute and applaud you! You can do it! Just think how terrific you're going to feel when December first rolls around and you have 50,000 words written? Imagine!

What goals would you love to accomplish by December 31? Do you need a motto to help you achieve them? I want to hear about it!

Join me all month as we discuss preparation: to write a first draft, to revise, to submit our work, and preparation for our writing career. We have two months left of 2009--let's make them count!

Friday, October 30, 2009

October's Final Weekend

It's not possible. Simply not possible! October is almost over? Again? That means Thanksgiving and Christmas will be plowing through soon.

Do you have any plans this festive weekend? Maybe a bit of trick-or-treating with the wee ones?A harvest party? Hike through a corn maze? Costume party? Or maybe you stay in and watch spooky movies?

It's also the weekend to celebrate the Protestant Reformation. Way back on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther stuck his 95 Theses to a church door at Wittenburg, in Saxony, Germany, thus paving the way for church reform. For more interesting facts about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, here's a link to a fantastic article at Suite 101: Martin Luther and the Reformation.

Whatever you do this weekend, I hope you enjoy it and the weather holds out for you!

Have a fabulous weekend!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Writer's Time Poll Results

Last week, many of you participated in my poll. Thank you very much for taking the time to answer the questions.

I was thrilled to have twenty-five responses. Some of you gave more than one response to the question, so I based the percentages on the total number of responses. For instance, there were thirty answers given to question one. Rather than using twenty-five as the denominator, I used thirty for question one. The number of reponses per question is in parentheses next to each question. I did not include my own answers in the percentages, but you can see my responses in green at the end of each question.

Here are the results!

Writer's Time Poll

1. What time of day do you write? (30 responses)
37% (a) morning (11)
13% (b) afternoon (4)
10% (c) evening (3)
40% (d) Any time I can fit writing in (12)
Jill's answer: a

2. Would you prefer to write at a different time of day but your schedule doesn't allow it? (25)
36% (a) yes (9)
32% (b) no (8)
32% (c) sometimes (8)
Jill's answer: c

3. If you could write whenever you want to, what time of day would you pick? (27)
78% (a) morning (21)
19% (b) afternoon (5)
3% (c) evening (1)
Jill's answer: c

4. What do you aim for when writing? (26)
50% (a) A certain word count (13)
4% (b) A certain number of pages (1)
11% (c) A certain amount of time (3)
24% (d) No goals, just whatever comes out (6)
11% (e) other New category written in! (3)
Jill's answer: a

5. How often do you write? (25)
4% (a) 7 days a week (1)
60% (b) 4-6 days a week (15)
24% (c) 1-3 days a week (6)
8% (d) sporadically (2)
4% (e) all New category written in! (1)
Jill's answer: b

6. Would you like more time to write? (25)
80% (a) yes (20)
4% (b) no (1)
16% (c) sometimes (4)
Jill's answer: a

7. If you could ditch one of your biggest time commitments (like your full-time job) to gain more writing time, would you want to? I realize most of us can't ditch our big time commitments--it's just a fantasy question! (25)
64% (a) yes (16)
24% (b) no (6)
12% (c) maybe in the future (3)
Jill's answer: b

8. Is writing a top priority commitment in your life, meaning you'll give up other activities before you give up your writing time? (25)
60% (a) yes (15)
4% (b) no (1)
36% (c) sometimes (9)
Jill's answer: a

9. A genie offers you one thing to help your writing career. Of the following, which would you pick? (25)
36% (a) More time (9)
16% (b) More motivation (4)
44% (c) More skill (11)
4% (d) More ideas (1)
Jill's answer: a

Did the results surprise you? It didn't come as a shock that 80% of you want more time to write. It did come as a shock that 78% would pick mornings to write if you had the choice. I'm a night-owl at heart, although my life does not allow it. So I would pick night if I had all the freedom in the world!

The one clear message I got from this quiz is that all of you are dedicated to your writing. Whether you write in the morning or evening, one day a week or seven, you're devoted. Talk about inspiring!

Thank you so much for taking this quiz. I had fun making it up and really enjoyed tallying the diverse results!

Join me this Friday--the final Friday in October!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Finding Balance When Life's Upside Down

Although this month has been all about balance, I've purposely tip-toed around the Sasquatch in the room. I'm referring to the upside down economy. I've relied on the stability of the American economy almost my entire life, and the last few years have shaken one of my core feelings of safety.

I realize the economy is only one of the safety nets we rely on without thought, but it's a big one.

This economy has affected almost everyone I know. Since I've recently read another blog describing how a spouse has lost a job, I feel compelled to address this topic.

How can we keep living our lives when one of our basic securities has been upset?

It's hard to meet basic needs when worried about money. Sleep becomes disrupted and elusive. You become tense and difficult to be around. No matter how many times you tell yourself it will all be fine and God will see you through, you can't help but wish times were better. That you didn't have to worry about things you may have never worried about before--like paying your mortgage, purchasing clothes for your kids, or having health insurance.

The hard part for many people is that there's no end in sight. Many have been dealing with reduced pay, reduced benefits, or worse, unemployment, for years now. And the old wisdom, move away to find a different job, doesn't work for people who live in a devastated local economy because they have no chance of selling their home even if they want to.

Look at this statistic: Of 913 home sales in Detroit in July, 2009, 802 of those were
foreclosures. That means only 12% of the homes sold were NOT foreclosures. I will not give the median price of these homes because it is too depressing. (Statistics from Money Magazine, November 2009.)

Here in Michigan, unemployment is at 15.3%--the worst in the country. (For a great article on the current unemployment situation, check out State Jobless Picture Brighten's a Little. ) Obviously, Michigan is affected by the big three automakers, but its housing, construction, and financial markets have been devastated also. And Michigan is by no means alone in this. Look at housing starts in Florida, Las Vegas, and Northern Virginia--we are talking about a collapse of an industry. And when one industry collapses, others are affected. Sorry for the analytical detour. Let's get back...

Life is easier to take when we know something is temporary. Skip restaurant meals for three months to pay down a credit card? No problem. Skimp on groceries for two months to buy Christmas presents? Piece of cake. But for those of you who have cut back on every area, still don't have enough money, and have no idea when you will--that's when life gets hard.

If you're in this boat, I want to reassure you that you are not alone. I'm very sorry you're having to deal with this right now. My heart goes out to anyone struggling to find a job, sell a house, or make ends meet. Do not feel for one minute that you are cosmically being singled out. All you have to do is talk to five random people on the street to realize the majority of people are struggling with the same issues you are.

If you or your spouse recently lost your job, or maybe your house went into foreclosure, please take a few minutes each day to support each other. You may feel as if you have nothing to give, but simple gestures add up to big results. A hug, a few minutes listening, or even a cup of coffee together can make the difference between feeling positive or feeling like the world is coming to an end.

Maybe this isn't the time to find balance. Maybe this is the time to do what you can to get through it. Be kind to yourself and your loved ones. Nothing lasts forever, including the hard times.

Join me on Wednesday for the results of last week's poll.

Friday, October 23, 2009

How to Unbalance Your Life

I've yammered on and on about balance. Here are my top tips to unbalance your life.

Accident is going to happen
Photo by gravestone

1. Say yes to everything!
Sew three costumes by this weekend? Sure!
You need eighty-five and a half cupcakes tomorrow? No problem!
Pick up Aunt Bertha from Tennessee even though I'm nine hours away? Will do!

2. Justify an Internet, videogame, Lifetime Television addiction as necessary
"Mom? We haven't eaten all week, we're hungry!"
"Hang on, I need to catch the end of "Mother, Run Away from Danger in the form of Tori Spelling."
"Honey? I haven't seen you in seven days. You alright?"
"Bowser isn't going to win Mario Kart himself--give me a minute!"
"Missy, it's Christmas morning. Aren't you gonna open presents?"
"Let me check Facebook one more time!"

3. Under no circumstances do anything nice for yourself
I could read one chapter... How dare you! When there's a pile of dishes in the sink.
I could go shopping with Jennie for an hour... Blast it woman! You don't deserve it.
I could listen to music and eat a scone... Or you could get your buns downstairs and pay bills.

4. Do everything for your family, even if they're capable and have time to do it themselves
Oh that Johnny. Tsk, tsk. Fourteen is too young to put clothes in the hamper...
Candy wrappers? On every step? Hmm... Must have been a candy bandit. I'll pick them up.
Gotta run! Drats. Garbage night. "Kids, don't get up from the couch--I'll take the trash out."

5. Procrastinate!

I really should write a few pages tonight. Right after I watch this rerun of Alf.
I could do a few sit-ups. But I ate three hours ago and it might upset my stomach.
The planets aligned and I have six hours to write! Or nap, or pick lint off my sweater, or...

Have a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Writer's Time Poll

Since I'm usually hunting for tips on managing my writing responsibilities with the rest of my life, I'm thrilled to have all of your brains to pick. Today, I want to know your secrets to making it all work.

Cornish time 2.0
Photo by crazyeddie

I've created a poll and if you are interested in taking it, you can leave your answers in the comments or, if you'd like to keep your answers private, you can e-mail me at Any results e-mailed will be treated as confidential.

The results will be posted in percentages next week. Yes, I know many of you are gagging at the thought of a percentage-based results poll, but come on, I love crunching numbers!

Writer's Time Poll

1. What time of day do you write?

(a) morning
(b) afternoon
(c) evening
(d) Any time I can fit writing in

2. Would you prefer to write at a different time of day but your schedule doesn't allow it?

(a) yes
(b) no
(c) sometimes

3. If you could write whenever you want to, what time of day would you pick?

(a) morning
(b) afternoon
(c) evening

4. What do you aim for when writing?

(a) A certain word count
(b) A certain number of pages
(c) A certain amount of time
(d) No goals, just whatever comes out

5. How often do you write?

(a) 7 days a week
(b) 4-6 days a week
(c) 1-3 days a week
(d) sporadically

6. Would you like more time to write?

(a) yes
(b) no
(c) sometimes

7. If you could ditch one of your biggest time commitments (like your full-time job) to gain more writing time, would you want to? I realize most of us can't ditch our big time commitments--it's just a fantasy question!

(a) yes
(b) no
(c) maybe in the future

8. Is writing a top priority commitment in your life, meaning you'll give up other activities before you give up your writing time?

(a) yes
(b) no
(c) sometimes

9. A genie offers you one thing to help your writing career. Of the following, which would you pick?

(a) More time
(b) More motivation
(c) More skill
(d) More ideas

Thanks so much for participating in this poll! I'm always curious how other writers feel about these things. Watch next week for the results!

Join me on Friday for my tongue-in-cheek look at how to unbalance your life.

Monday, October 19, 2009


I've always enjoyed patterns. I think it's fun to decipher a code or secret message. Even tangled necklaces are challenges I welcome. Most tangles take time and a degree of patience to unravel. Codes and secret messages rank higher on the excitement list. Patterns, though, are tricky. Why? I can't always see the pattern.

Take my schedule, for example. Life zooms along fine, and I feel confident and in charge. I can handle another commitment, so I add it. Then someone asks for something else, so I justify adding that too. And life continues until one day--wham! It all falls apart.

My confidence disappears. I realize my schedule no longer works. I'm rushed, tired, ornery, and no fun to be around. The meltdown could have been avoided, of course.

If I only would have noticed the pattern.

The pattern? Yes. You see, I add things--worthwhile things--to my schedule, but something has to drop off to accommodate them. What's the first thing to go? Any activity that makes me, and only me, happy.

Frivolous pursuits, time wasters, happy minutes puttering. They get dropped out of my life one by one until the joy is sucked out of each day and I snap.

It truly is a pattern.

Smooth sailing = schedule works and I make time for myself.
Gentle waves = schedule is adjusted to fit another need in, maybe a volunteer opportunity or another writing commitment.
Rough waters = schedule is crowded with things I've said "yes" to and there's no room left for mindless fun.
Shipwreck = schedule is so jam-packed, I no longer exercise, read, or do anything nice for myself.

I will probably always battle keeping the right ratio of should-do's with want-to-do's, but here is something I try to keep in mind.

I need cushions in my life. When I take fifteen minutes to leaf through a cookbook, spend a few hours at a museum, or waste six minutes reacquainting myself with the treasures in my top desk drawer, I'm telling myself that my needs are just as important as everyone else's. And that motivates me to do other things important to me, like write an extra page in my novel or walk twenty minutes on the treadmill.

If you don't treat your needs (no matter how silly they appear to others) as important, no one else will either.

What are your cushions? The little things you do that seem piddly and unnecessary but that actually support you?

If you don't have any cushions, do you resent it? Is there a way you could find ten minutes today to do something for yourself? I'm talking about something as small as doodling or listening to a favorite song.

Find ten minutes. Do something just for you!

Join me on Wednesday. I'm taking a poll and can't wait to read your answers!

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Human Value of Social Networks

Do you ever feel guilty about the time you spend reading blogs, checking your own blog, logging into Facebook, or tweeting a post on Twitter? Do you think, I shouldn't be spending so much time online--I should be writing, cooking, playing with my kids, reading a book, and so on?

I'm not going to discuss why social networks are good for your writing career (although I believe they are), but I do want to bring up an often overlooked aspect of social networks.

Online social networks fulfill a basic need.

Basic need? Yes. Humans have always had social networks in one way or another. The venue changes as time progresses. And we've been extremely creative in how we fit our craving for human contact into our busy lives.

Think about the following--yesteryear's tradition of afternoon tea in England, the American housewives' coffee cliques in the fifties and sixties, or even the watercooler in our current workplaces. We need to discuss the minutiae of our lives.

We need small talk on a daily basis.
I think that's the main reason Facebook and Twitter are currently so popular among adults and teenagers. Standing around gabbing is frowned upon in many businesses to make way for productivity. Stay at home mothers can no longer justify daily coffee gabfests, so we've renamed them playdates. Our kids need to socialize, right? (Yes! And we grown-ups do too.)

American society tends to disdain leisure. This attitude has seeped into our social lives. The only way we can rationalize taking a much-needed daily break is to check our online social networks at short intervals.

Facebook and Twitter have millions of users. They're obviously filling a need, and they're doing it well. I love that I'm finally keeping in touch with my college roommate and my cousins who live far away. Sure, it's only a few words here or there, but those words keep me connected.

What does this have to do with balance?

The more involved I've become with various social networks, the more time it takes to keep up with them. Facebook and Twitter do not take up much of my time but following blogs does. I know many of you struggle with this issue too.

How can we maintain our social networks without sacrificing a good portion of our day?

When one aspect of life begins edging out others, I often feel twinges of guilt. When that happens, I stop and listen. It's the same as when I've been eating too many brownies and not enough apples. My conscience is doing its job--protecting me.

For me, it boils down to one thing. Priorities.

My number one priority for my writing career is to finish books.

Since it only takes me twenty minutes to check e-mails, read my blog's comments, update my Facebook status, and post on Twitter, I start my day off with those. But I lose track of time when I'm reading blogs, so I don't allow myself to read any until I've met my daily word count or revision goal. I have to get my writing done during the day, so it's important for me to use the time wisely. However, we're all different, with different schedules and different tastes, so don't take this as advice. Your approach will depend on your life.

I've gone loosey-goosey in the past and read blogs first. Guess what? I lost so much time, I could barely make half of my word count. I recognize that my personality gets caught up in blogs. It's hard for me to set limits. That's why I write first.

Also, when you follow many, many blogs, it's difficult to keep track of them all. Google Reader helps, but I've taken steps to manage my blog reading in a different way. My goal is to hit each of my faves at least once a week. Since I consistently follow over fifty blogs, I've bookmarked the sites and divided them up into days. I have a Monday folder, Tuesday folder, and so on. Sometimes I have more time and can read them more than once a week, but if not, at least the blog's author knows I still care. (And for the record, I usually skip book reviews. My to-be-read pile is a nightmare as it is!)

What are your strategies for managing the blogs you follow? Or do you have Facebook or Twitter addiction you've taken steps to manage? I'd love to hear your tips! Even with my current system, I struggle sometimes.

Have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Secondary Things We Balance

I've read many amusing posts lately about bad days. You know, the day when everything goes wrong; you have too much to do and no time to do it.

I think we tend to underestimate many things in our lives. We underestimate how much we spend on Christmas presents, how much we have in our checking accounts, how much our VISA bill adds up to. We underestimate how much of our day is spent eating and preparing meals. Even if we decide to pick up dinner in a drive-through, it takes time, maybe even twenty minutes.

We underestimate how much we eat. I had one smallish piece of cake, but I had three blueberries, and...wait a minute, half a bag of Doritos. How much is a serving size anyhow? Seventy-six chips? Well, than I'm good! Oh wait. Fifteen chips. Seriously?! Who can eat only fifteen chips?? Is it a serving for the Keebler Elf? I'll round down...

We underestimate how long it will take us to run an errand. How much time we spend commuting. How much time we spend watching television.

Then we feel guilty, angry, or defensive when we don't have enough money in our account, or we gain three pounds, or we're late for work. It's hard to balance when we don't have an accurate tally of what we're balancing.

Think of all the things you do in a day. You probably have the basics: sleeping, grooming, preparing meals, eating, driving, working, housecleaning, exercising, relaxing. But what about the other things that crop up? The occasional hair appointment, the long phone call to Mom, the pet explosion in the living room, the endless errands for piddly things, the lawn care, the purchase of gifts for every occasion, the pile of bills, the urge to dance a silly jig to a favorite tune.
Did that list exhaust you? We do so many things we never give ourselves credit for. Go ahead and pat yourself on the back for all you do. Today, you do not need to feel guilty about anything. You accomplished enough.

On a side note, the fabulous Angie Ledbetter of Gumbo Writer has invited us all to an open house. If you have a chance, stop by!

You are cordially invited to attend an "open house" beginning Wednesday, October 14, in honor of the newly renovated Rose &Thorn Journal.

Drop by, sign up for the newsletter, check out the new digs (and blog!), follow us on Twitter and Facebook, leave us your comments/thoughts, and wish us well.

Rose &Thorn is a quarterly literary journal featuring the voices of emerging and established authors, poets and artists. Now...go enjoy the open bar and appetizer spread!

Angie Ledbetter &Kathryn
MagendieCo-Editor/PublishersRose & Thorn

Join me on Friday when we'll discuss why social networks aren't just time wasters and how we can balance our use of them.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Upside to a Busy Life

I'd finished putting all the groceries away, started a batch of buttermilk biscuits, thrown a package of chicken breasts in the crock-pot, and had started placing a dozen eggs in a pan to hard boil when it occurred to me how fortunate I am.

See, I've been thinking about balance a lot lately, and that particular morning had been rushed. Monday mornings always are. I'd been mentally lamenting all that I still needed to do. As flour poofed on me from stirring the biscuit batter, a memory of my deceased grandmother flashed to me.

I gained perspective in an instant. Didn't even have to think about it.

She would have loved to have my life.
Don't get me wrong, my grandmother was content, but I'd had enough discussions with her over the years to know she'd had dreams of her own but hadn't lived in a nourishing environment, probably hadn't even solidified her dreams. She'd been proud of her days as a working gal until she got married and had to quit. Then her life had sped by in a blur of babies, farm work, cooking, cleaning, and coping.

She'd never had the opportunities I have, and they wouldn't have been acceptable in her social circle regardless.

We live in an exciting time. A fast-paced time. An era where women and men are urged to go after their dreams.

I might have to balance household, family, and my career, but how blessed am I that I have the three to balance? A few generations ago, I probably would only have had two to balance.

Technology and progress have brought many downsides to life, including a fast pace, but they've also brought some wonderful things.

What are some of the blessings progress has brought to your life?

Join me on Wednesday when we'll discuss the endless list of things we balance.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Balance: Like the Food Pyramid

Balance does not mean giving equal time to each area in our lives. We all have oodles of obligations each day, but some tasks are done in fifteen minutes, whereas others require hours of our time.

How do we determine if we're allocating our time properly?

We could look at it as scales where one side is weighed with family, work, and free time and the other is weighed with writing tasks. But the two will never be equal, so I don't like that picture.

I think of it more as the Food Pyramid. Each layer represents what I spend my time doing. The bottom layer is where I spend the brunt of my hours. The layer above it would be my next biggest time commitment, and so on.

Everyone's bottom layer will be different. Look at how your hours fill up. Put the activity you spend the most time at (besides sleep!) in this slot. Examples: work full time, homeschool your children, volunteer every day, write full time, or if you're a student, attend classes and study.

The next layer? Maybe this is where you put your writing, spending time with family, volunteering, driving the family carpool, or household management.

The middle layer might be your free time or anything else you spend a good chunk of time at each day. It's easy to think we have no free time, but is that really true? I have a few hours every night,and I've learned to give my brain a break during them. No, those hours aren't productive, but they are free.

The top layers are smaller tasks. Housecleaning, paying bills, writing-related activities that aren't huge time-wasters, keeping in touch with loved ones, running errands, and socializing.

If you aren't sure where your writing fits, keep a log for a week on how much time you spend at every activity. A typical day might look something like this.

Monday: 1 hour--getting ready, 9 hours--work, 1 hour--chores/dinner, 1 hour--helping Johnny with homework, 30 minutes--writing, 2 hours--television/Internet.
Your pyramid would be: bottom layer--work, next layer--family/chores, middle layer--relaxation/television, top layer--writing.
By looking at this, you might think, "Oh, I only wrote for 30 minutes." But how much free time did you have? Two and a half hours. Thirty minutes is 20% of your free time.

Sure, your writing is the smallest chunk of your day, but you're still making progress. Could you really squeeze more in without having your brain explode? And would you want to? Blech!

By the way, I can hear you laughing at that schedule. Where's the trip to the grocery store to pick up food for dinner, the lost fifteen minutes looking for Johnny's permission slip, the "quick" call to Aunt Lucy that turned into a half hour, the smelly cat litter which begged to be cleaned, the traffic jam on the way home, and the seventy-three loads of laundry? I know, I know!

Try not to feel discouraged if your life isn't allocated the way you want. No one's life is ideal. We have to work with what we have to find our own right balance.

Have a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Moods and Balance

Have you ever felt uneasy about something--maybe an unexpected bill came in or a friend made a rude comment--and you suddenly decided your stomach was huge and you needed to start a diet immediately?

Our moods affect our actions. When I feel blue, I want the feeling to go away so I can feel happy. However, I can't always change what's causing me to feel down, so I fix something else--something I can control.

As an unpublished author, I've had some really great "up" periods. I can't remember ever searching for balance during those times. Yet, when a rejection tosses me to the ground and presses its knee into on my back, I look anywhere but at the beast sitting there. I instantly try to fix my unpublished state by blaming it on lack of balance.
If I promote my blog more, get another craft book, spend less time doing this, more time doing that, write faster, write slower, get some publishing credits, find an agent...

These thoughts only distract me from reality: I'm not published yet and don't know when I will be. But I convince myself that if I can balance my life just so, all of my dreams will come true.

I think we all know what a big, fat lie that is!

Some writers spend hours and hours every day writing. Some writers spend one hour every day writing. Yet both are published. Some writers have blogs; some do not. Yet both are selling their books. Some writers have extensive family obligations. Others have extensive work obligations. These writers have found a balance that works for them.

We must too. Maybe what we're doing right now is exactly what we're supposed to be doing. Isn't that a comforting thought?

Do you ever try to fix the wrong problem when you're in a blue mood?

Join me on Friday when we'll discuss how balance is like the food pyramid.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Are We Mistaking Balance for Perfection?

Whenever I see a blog post about balance, I rub my hands in anticipation and devour the words. I guess I'm hoping someone has the secret to it--the secret to finding balance. I want a magic formula. Something like: if I spend X amount of time on W, Y, and Z, life somehow will fall into place just the way I want it.

Maybe there is an intricate equation, and maybe there isn't.

It makes me wonder if I'm not saying one thing and meaning another. Aren't I really saying, I want life to be perfect? Except it sounds better as "I want to find balance."

Is there anything wrong with desiring perfection? No. But perfection on earth isn't possible. Even if I excavated a magical equation to find balance, I could not maintain it every day. I couldn't. No one can.

One of the reasons I read the Bible every day is because I need to hear not only am I not perfect, I don't have to be. God loves me just the way I am, flaws and all. In fact, that's why he sent His Son to die for me--so I don't have to be perfect.

Don't get me wrong, finding balance in our lives is a noble pursuit. If I'm wasting all of my free time and it's hurting my family, I'm glad my conscience kicks in. But if I've written all morning and met my daily goals, I refuse to feel guilty for spending an hour reading my friends' blogs. That's misplaced guilt--and I don't have room in my life for it.

What do you think? Are we too hard on ourselves? Do we unintentionally strive for perfection in the name of finding balance?

Join me on Wednesday when we'll discuss how our moods affect our life's balance.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October: Balance? Is It Possible?

Ahh...October. Harvest time. Cider time. Curl up on the couch with a good book time.

This month we're going to be discussing balance. Is it even possible? I'm not sure, but I constantly strive to not let one aspect of my life overcrowd the others. I'm not always successful. It's hard.

I'm hoping this month we can celebrate our successes finding balance and also moan about our less than successful efforts. Some of the posts will challenge the idea of balance, while others will give tips on managing our time wisely.

I'm also hoping we can share strategies to better balance our writing with our family, hobbies, exercise, and the million other things we juggle every single day.

Have a terrific weekend and join me on Monday to get this discussion started!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Online Writing Classes

Have you taken any online writing classes? I've taken several. The courses offered through RWA chapters are inexpensive, flexible, and perfect for anyone who is time-challenged. However, not all classes are equal. Some have great titles but fail to deliver what they offer, while others deliver all that and then some.

Most classes offered through RWA chapters cost between fifteen and thirty dollars. They usually are scheduled to last a month. All classes take place through a Loop, usually Yahoo! Groups. You get the assignment delivered to your e-mail, and you can ask the instructor questions and interact with other students on the Loop.

I have mixed emotions about the classes I've taken. I believe the class's effectiveness rests on one thing: the teacher.

The teacher needs to spend time coming up with focused assignments relavent to the course's title. If she gives assignments on a regular basis, makes it clear when they're due, and responds to students' work, the class is a success. But if she fails to regularly hand out assignments and none of them relate to the course's title, the class will not be a success.

Also, if a teacher doesn't respond to homework, students should be upset. How can you possibly learn if you have zero feedback?

Two wonderful resources for free--yes, free!--online courses are through RWA's PRO-Class Loop, and ACFW's course archives. To access RWA's Loop, you have to be an RWA PRO member. To access ACFW's course archives, you need to be a member of ACFW. RWA's PRO-Class Loop offers classes several times a year and each lasts a week or two. ACFW offers courses every month. Past courses can be accessed through ACFW's archives also.

There are also many writing courses available from other sites, and colleges offer online classes too.

As far as what classes are more valuable than others, I think it depends on the writer. Are you struggling with craft issues? Would you like to learn basic HTML codes? Are you dying to add more conflict to your books? There are classes for almost any topic related to your writing career.

Have you taken any online courses? What did you think--waste of time or totally worth it?

Happy Writing!