Monday, July 30, 2012

Woo-hoo! Olympics!

Confession time--I just got teary-eyed, watching the USA synchronized swimming  (edit that--synchronized diving) team win silver. Did I think a few of their jumps were scored lower than deserved? Yes. But the Chinese team certainly deserved gold, and the USA team deserved silver. What an accomplishment!

Earlier today, for the first time, I watched water polo. I found it to be kind of weird, like hockey, but underwater. I don't know--it didn't grab me--but I was happy the USA team won their match.

Highlights of table tennis amused me. Cheerleading still isn't an official varsity sport in many schools, but ping-pong is an Olympic sport? But hey, I'll be the first to admit you have to possess fierce talent to do table tennis, Olympic style!

The shock of Michael Phelps coming in fourth in one of his swimming events has gotten a ton of press. I felt bad for him, but from the newscaster reports, it sounds as if he took a few years off from training, while Ryan Lochte didn't after Beijing. I always like to see hard work rewarded. Still, I hope Michael is able to win those coveted three medals needed to be the most decorated Olympian.

I love that I always become an expert judge from my couch. Surely, I know more about how to score the balance beam than an actual judge. Watching the competitors also gives me the false feeling that I too could somehow become a beach volleyball champion, or swimmer, diver, bicyclist, sprinter--you name it. :)

More than anything, the Olympics fill me with hope, with the feeling that anything is possible. Isn't that what the Olympics is all about? Finding a way to do the impossible?

I'm so thankful for all of the athletes who are competing. They inspire me and countless others with their dedication, skill, and sheer determination.

What do you love about the Olympics?

Have a fantastic Monday!

Friday, July 27, 2012

How I Deal with Insomnia

I'm a sleeper. Always have been. Growing up, my extended family loved to socialize late into the night, and, as a kid, I would simply curl up in the pile of coats when my eyes couldn't stay open. I've slept through storms and tornadoes--even one that landed a tree on top of my Grandma's house.

Sleep and I. We go together. (Sounds like that song...)

Except when I have too much going on, sleep waves at me and says goodbye. Then I'm left tossing and turning, trying desperately to catch some zzz's. Or I fall into a coma-like sleep only to wake two hours later unable to fall back into that blissful dream-state.

Insomnia stinks. And, for me, it's like a rash--once it starts, it spreads.

Today's post is late, hours late, and one reason is because I've been fighting insomnia ever since we moved. Two nights ago, in order to get a good night's rest, I turned off Property Brothers before I found out which house they picked. And what happened? I ended up with a racing brain and no sleep for hours. The worst part? I wanted to cry that I missed Property Brothers--one of my favorite shows!

I wish I had a magic formula to eliminate insomnia, but I don't. All I can do is share my strategies on dealing with it.

First ask yourself the following questions:

1.  Is this a one-time occurence? If you normally sleep well but experience a night of little rest, try not to fret. It will clear up soon.

2. If the one night turns into a string of nights, ask yourself what is going on in your life that is stressing you out?

 For me, it's the combination of moving, remodeling, and driving my son to baseball several nights a week (it's in our old school district which adds two hours of driving time round trip).

3. Is there an end in sight for the source of stress you identified?

Our kitchen will be done within the week and I'll be able to unpack and cook again. This is the last weekend of baseball, and I'll have my evenings back. These two things will go a long way to calming me down.

Next, try these tips to survive until your sleep resumes a normal schedule.

1. If you're in bed, staring at the ceilling, try deep breathing exercises. One of my favorites? Inhale slowly and deeply as you count to six. Hold the breath as you count to four. Exhale slowly as you count to six. Repeat this until your body calms.

2. Try to stay awake. The purpose of this is to take your focus off the racetrack of jumbled thoughts and put it on keeping your eyes open. I'm usually exhausted when I have insomnia, and physically trying to keep my eyes open is hard. I often drift off.

3. Get out of bed and watch the rest of Property Brothers. What good does it do to stay awake in bed and miss your favorite show? You're up anyway! Enjoy it!

4. The next day, find pockets of time to close your eyes. I'm not talking about hours of naps; I'm talking about quiet periods of rest. You're going to be overtired if you're dealing with insomnia. Be kind to yourself.

5. Exercise. I know the last thing I want to do when I'm tired is exercise, but it truly does help me get my sleep cycles back on track. A 15 minute walk can do wonders!

6. Drink more water during the day. I get sleepy during the day, but staying hydrated helps me fight the drowsiness.

7. Last but NOT least--pray. Pray for the Lord to ease your busy mind, to take away the sources of stress, and to restore your sleep.

Have you ever dealt with insomnia? Do you have any tricks you'd like to share?

Have an amazing weekend!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Scared of the DMV?

I'll admit it. I'm scared of the BMV (Bureau of Motor Vehicles). You may have a DMV. We've had those too. They aren't any better.

Since moving in early July, we put off getting our new drivers licenses, new plates, and new vehicle registrations as long as we could, but the time had come to do it.

First, I had to locate the nearest agency, find directions, and figure out what documents we would need. This alone caused shallow breathing. I've had more than one rough experience at the BMV--if it isn't getting into the wrong, endless line and having to start over in another endless line, it's not having the proper documents and having to come back.

Thinking I might need a paper bag to avoid hyperventilation, I printed out the locations and stepped away from the computer. Just finding this info took 15 minutes. By the time I clicked throught the various links to figure out what to bring, I needed a break. A three-day break.

So, here's a question for you--do you know where all of your birth certificates, social security cards, marriage certificate, vehicle titles, vehicle loan contracts, registrations, proofs of insurance, and proof of residency documents are located? No? Yes? Well, you're going to have to find them. Because the clerk will NEED THEM ALL.

When I'd tracked all of these down along with a few vials of blood (just in case), we headed to the strip mall across town and got in line. Naturally, we chose the wrong line, but we were blessed. The place hadn't filled up yet. However, things were about to get weird.

We were informed since we were from out of state, we would need to take a written test. Written test?? My palms grew clammy, and I squeaked out, "Are you serious?"

Yes. She was.

I haven't taken a written test since...well, probably since I was fifteen years old. So my husband and I took our matching driver's training booklets, sat in chairs, and proceeded to skim the 85 page manual for the next 20 minutes. Finally, I grew agitated, slapped the booklet shut, and announced I was taking my chances.

We entered the other line. And found out we had to take vision tests too. I fidgeted, wondering if my blurry vision from seasonal allergies would fail me. Luckily, the tester was really nice, and we flew through the test in no time at all.

Then, we each were assigned a station to take the written test. I thought the set-up was pretty cool. Touchscreens gave clear directions and even let you know if your answer was correct. I got a bit worried at a few questions, but managed to pass that bad boy. Score!

Next up? More waiting. We had to get back into the original line to actually get our new licenses. We filled out more paperwork, paid the lady, took our pictures, and sat back down to wait for the new cards.

One step down! So I look sunburned and frightened in my picture--at least I have a valid ID. :)
After this phase, our clerk did a quick inspection of our vehicles, wrote up some paperwork, and sent us three doors down to get new titles. Once completed, we headed back to the BMV and got to the final portion of our trip--the new registrations and plates. When we exited the building, we both sighed in relief, feeling a bit drained.

Let's tally the numbers: Prep work--1.5 hours (researching BMV stuff, finding documents, etc...), heart palpatations and sweat attacks--12 (finding out I might not have the proper proof of residency started them and finding out about the written test didn't help!), actual time at BMV--2 hours, number of checks written--3, feelings of satisfaction that I don't have to go through that for a long, long time--countless!!

Do you fear the department of motor vehicles? Tell me I'm not the only one!

Have a great day!

Monday, July 23, 2012

WSG 18: Evaluating Ideas for Books

Writer's Survival Guide 18: Evaluating Ideas for Books

Writers work in cycles. We're either writing a book, revising one, or coming up with the idea for our next book. Sometimes we're doing all three at once!

But eventually, our work-in-progress actually does come to an end. We feel a little sad at saying goodbye to beloved characters. We might be secretly thrilled to be rid of them (revising can be a bear). We can't help but feel the jolt of excitement when we realize it's time to come up with our next project.

Where do we find the idea for our next book? I discussed my method in a previous post, "The Idea Journal," which is linked if you're interested. I usually am thinking of my next book while I'm working on my current book. But in the rare case I'm not sure what my next book will be, I get out my Idea Journal, and I start evaluating.

First, I want to emphasize that I believe writers should write what's from the heart. My agent has reminded me of this more than once, which is one of the reasons I'm so blessed to have her. Some ideas will hook you and not leave you alone. Those are keepers. But even the "keeper" ideas need to be evaluated if you're writing with the intent to get published.

Why evaluate an idea?

1. To verify you're not writing something that is already oversaturated on the market.
2. To hone the idea to be as unique as possible.
3. To give yourself confidence that your idea is good.

That's great and all, but how do I evaluate an idea?

Well, it's up to you. I can't speak for all writers, but I will share my own criteria.

How to evaluate an idea:

Ask yourself the following questions.

1. What genre is this idea best suited for?

     I write romance novels for the Christian market. If my idea involves paranormal creatures erupting from the earth on Halloween night, I need to decide if I am willing to switch markets and genres to pursue this project.

     *Tip: Get familiar with books similar to yours. Mark the genre they're in. Keep tabs on the types of plots currently being published.

2. Is the basic set-up fresh? Or overdone?

     This is why I think it's so important to read a lot of books in your genre. You'll be able to pick up on overused occupations, names, and all kinds of other details. I've eliminated names and occupations based on this before. Really, it's not that big a deal to change a Katie to a Cassidy before you write the book. After? You're attached to the name, and it's harder.

     *Tip: If you've recently read one or more books with similar set-ups as your idea, you should consider going a different route.

3  Is the idea strong enough to sustain a full length novel?

     This is where brainstorming possible major plot points comes in handy. Think of the initial bud of the idea and mentally explore where the story could go. You're not settling on a plot at this point--you're just checking out the possibilities. If you can come up with a beginning, middle, and end, and you're still excited, you probably have a solid idea.

     *Tip: It doesn't matter if you're a plotter or pantster, you'll save yourself a lot of frustration by honing your initial idea into a solid story base from the start.

If your idea has made it through this inquisition, go forward with your book!

Do you evaluate your ideas before you begin writing? Or do you assume your idea passes the test?

Have a lovely Monday!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Oh, the Warped Mind of a Writer

I've been reading the tabloids about Katie Holmes asking for a divorce from Tom Cruise. Naturally, my big mouth starts yammering away with a few girlfriends, and instead of putting the best construction on the situation, I jump to the worst.

Honestly, it's the writer in me. I'll think good, positive thoughts about people in my life all the live-long day, but celebrities? No way!

We're sitting on blankets on the grass behind the fence of the baseball field. It's gorgeous weather--80's, a breeze, and a caravan of puffy clouds chugging through the sky.
"I think he's going to try to have her killed," I say, nodding with my I-know-what-I'm talking-about face on.

"What? He's giving her divorce without a fight." My more sane friend throws her hands in the air.

I shrug. "Of course he'll give her a divorce. He has a multi-million dollar reputation to protect. Why would he fight her about it?" I flick my magazine page to the next article.

"You're crazy," another pipes in. "They grew apart. He's giving in gracefully."

"He's considered god-like in Scientology," I add. I had read this in my UsWeekly--the source for all things celebrity related. "Guys like that don't just 'give in gracefully.'"

"What are you saying?"

"I'm saying if Katie dies in the next year, we know who to point the finger at."

We all laugh, enjoying the bit of silliness on a blah afternoon.

Do I really believe Tom will try to have Katie killed? No!


Why would she use disposable cell phones to communicate about the divorce (article linked here)? Someone's paranoid. For good reason? I don't know. But, since I'm a writer, I assume I do know. Yes. She has a reason. A reason to be afraid.
And let's not forget the headline from People Magazine the other day, "Katie Holmes & Suri's Car Hit by Garbage Truck." The article goes on to say, "This is the second time their car has been hit in four days."

Second time in four days!!

I rest my case. *wink, wink*

Do you jump to the worst conclusions about celebrities? Or do you not care about them either way?

Have a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My Tips for a Smooth Move

Two weeks ago we moved during the hottest ten days of the summer. Loading a U-Haul, unloading a U-Haul, and unpacking, painting, and remodeling during 100-102 degree heat (don't get me started on the obnoxious humidity!!) does not make for a smooth move! However, we worked hard to make our transition as easy as possible.

My Tips for a Smooth Move

1. Put your real life on hold for at least a week.
If you're working, take vacation time. If you have small children, spend some money on new toys/books/activities to keep them occupied, or, better yet, have someone watch them. You might not have phone service, Internet, or a television for several days. Just remind yourself it won't last forever. Life will be normal again!

2. Get the beds set up ASAP! You can live among boxes for a long time, but everyone gets grumpy without a good night's sleep.

3. If you're without phone, Internet, or television service, make appointments to get them installed. I actually had Internet and satellite television installed the day before we moved. Sure, I had to sit in an empty house for 4 hours, but it gave me time to clean. :)

4. Take an hour to check out the new neighborhood/town. We moved across the state line to an adorable town. While we haven't had time to visit the shops yet, we have walked the neighborhood and checked out the new schools.

5. Tackle the chaos one box at a time. Normally when we move, the first room I unpack is the kitchen. I cook most of our meals, and the kitchen always has the most to unpack. Besides, I love having an organized kitchen. The more boxes I can empty and break down, the better. However, our kitchen won't be fully functioning until the end of July, so we moved all of the kitchen boxes to the basement. In the meantime, we unpacked the bathrooms, organized bedroom closets, and dealt with my office.

6. Realize every home will have ongoing projects. We love our new house, but we have so many plans for it, we couldn't possibly get them all done soon. By prioritizing our most important projects, we can relax about the ones that won't get done until this fall, winter, and next year.

7. Celebrate! I bought a bottle of champagne the day we loaded the truck. We were going to toast our new digs when we arrived that night. Unfortunately, the bottle fell out of my hands in our old driveway and shattered everywhere. That's okay--life isn't perfect!

I always forget how many things are involved with a move. Changing the address on all of our accounts, signing up for new library cards, ordering new checks--all of these things take time. I just do a little each day, and eventually, everything is transferred.

I've missed you! How is your summer going? Anything new you'd like to share?

Have a wonderful day!

Monday, July 16, 2012

WSG 17: Stamina

Writer's Survival Guide 17: Stamina

When I hear the word stamina, I think of the movie Rocky and the famous training montage. The image of Rocky (in his super cool sweatsuit!) pumping his fists on the top of the stairs sums it up for me.

Of course, as a writer, I'm not pushing my body to its limits. Instead, I'm pushing my shedule, my time constraints, and my mental capacity to its limits. Sometimes I'm pushing my family's sanity too!

I haven't been shy about what a strange year this has been for me. At the beginning of July, we moved! We're remodeling--yes, it's going well, thank you!--and we're signing our kids up for new schools, new activities, and trying to make new friends. We have a lot of "new" this year, and sometimes that's a great thing. We certainly miss our "old," but so far the new has been fabulous.

With all the new, though, comes insecurity and shedule disruptions. I purposely took the last two weeks off of all writing activities to concentrate on unpacking, painting, and dealing with the moving responsibilities. Let me tell you, taking time off does not feel very good. I've been absent from blogs for the last few months, and I miss everyone. Plus, my annual goals have slipped, and one of my goals will have to be postponed until next year.

There are a lot of things I'm not proud of this year. I've had many, many bouts of emotional weakness over the last six months, but 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV) assures us, "'But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'" I believe it. As my outer life has changed, my inner life steadies me. That's the power of the Holy Spirit.

It's easy to get lost in our own abilities. When things are going well, we pat ourselves on the back. After all, we worked hard to get where we're at. When things slip away, we wonder what we did wrong--how can we make it right?

But these are illusions too.

We really don't have as much control over everything as we think we do.

I believe writers have control over the following:

- How often we write
- How seriously we take the craft of writing
- How many words we put on the page
- How many books we write in a year
- What types of books/stories we write
- How much marketing/promo we (even as unpublished writers) are willing to do
- If we want to self-publish or try the traditional route
- What tools we decide to use for our writing

We don't have control over these factors:

- How many people will buy our books, regardless of how they're published
- If going the traditional route, when or what agent/editor will sign us
- How well our books are received
- If a genre is hot or cold
- If our personal life twists and disrupts our equilibrium
- How well our marketing/promo efforts succeed

In order to have stamina, we have to continue working on the things in our control and not worry about the others.

I believe writers should set a weekly schedule with a clear goal at the end. We should keep up with the latest publishing news as best we can. We need to be kind to ourselves when life gets messy. We have to prioritize our writing.

Athletes get to the top of their game by sustained effort. They take few days off. They push their bodies to the limit. They have a clear goal feeding their practice.

Writers are not guaranteed a NY Times Bestseller spot if we "work hard." But by treating our writing like an elite athletic event, we gain confidence, we launch our skills higher, and we position ourselves to accept any opportunities that come our way.

With sustained effort, we build stamina. Stamina builds confidence. Confidence produces grit for the days we don't think we can do it.

Stamina keeps us from quitting when life gets rough.

How do you build stamina?

Have a fantastic Monday!

My old charter e-mail addy didn't make the move. If you need to contact me, please use either jill(at)jillkemerer(dot)com or jrkemer(at)yahoo(dot)com. Thanks!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Bloggy Break

I'm taking the week off!

Hope you all have a wonderful first week of July, and catch some fireworks, okay?

See you next week!