Are You Done?

I have a really bad habit. It’s one that encourages exactly the opposite behaviors of the prolific, productive writer/human I want to be. I focus on what I haven’t gotten done, instead of focusing on what’s on my schedule, what I have time for, or what I’ve already accomplished. The spotlight only shines on What I Haven’t Done… That’s so sad. How often do we do this to ourselves? I’ll never build energy to move forward by beating myself up over the unfinished items in my wake. And that’s what I need—energy and momentum to go forth and conquer. (one of my life mottos!) This year I’ve begun working with a Kanban board, which has seriously helped my productivity and attitude. In January, when I was taking the items down to start on February’s tasks, I automatically carried all the old sticky notes to the trash can. After all, I didn’t need them anymore, right? Wrong! At the last minute, I paused. In my hand were over a dozen things I had done in January. I HAD ACCOMPLISHED these things. And let me tell ya, over the last year, I’ve been pretty paralyzed, especially in the marketing arena. Getting these things done was a huge step for me and something I should acknowledge. Hell, celebrate even! Rather than throw them away like trash, I took these precious reminders of my forward momentum and put them in this simple basket. Then I marked them as DONE. To others, this might not be important or necessary, but for me its becoming more important on a daily basis to STOP beating myself up over what I didn’t do, ant START acknowledging the things I did do, did make time for, did accomplish. Because those things are damn hard in my busy world, and that makes me a kick-ass author and person! How do you celebrate your DONE?   Dani

Reading Goals, Anyone?

I have a confession to make: I’m not a reader. Let me clarify: I used to be a reader. But between the day job, struggling to get words, and overwhelming stress, I lost my love of it somewhere. Every time I thought about picking up a book, I just turned away. Reading Then I took a class called Write Better Faster by Becca Syme in an attempt to break through my writer’s block. There I learned about my top 5 Strengths (Clifton Strengths testing). Lo and behold—all of them had to do with INPUT. Basically, my brain runs off of learning things. I have a craving for knowledge and am rejuvenated by the learning process. Except I’d stopped that process in its tracks by not reading much at all. The occasional non-fiction book or magazine was the only exception. No wonder my brain has basically stopped working! Books, Reader goal After taking Becca’s class, I started making an effort to read more, but it was haphazard. I would start fiction books, but not be able to finish them, no matter how interesting they were. I had better luck with non-fiction, which I could let sit for a few days, then come back to them and eventually finish. I’m not entirely sure why this was so hard, but I have a few suspicions.
  1. The issues going on in my brain related to the writer’s block made it extremely difficult to focus. What little “focus power” I had went to my day job and writing tasks, so there wasn’t much left for something I viewed as less important: the reading (boy, did I have that backwards).
  2. There is an idea I’ve been dedicated to for years: refilling the well. But until this very stressful time, I didn’t put it into practice with as much dedication as I should have. Then again, I didn’t know that part of what I needed to fill that well was knowledge! We often think of refilling our wells, or “self-care”, as things like taking baths and having our nails done. But our strengths give us certain needs that, when fulfilled, renew our energy and our enthusiasm far faster than anything else could. I’ve experienced this first hand!
Slowly working on this issue has helped, and I can feel that as I “input” information through reading, my brain actually loosens up and works better, ideas flow more freely. This is me working with my strengths and giving my brain the type of “food” it wants. But I’ve decided for this year to dedicate myself to this process even more. I’ve given myself a reading goal for this year. One non-fiction book and one fiction story every month. Compared to the several books a week I used to read just a couple of years ago, it doesn’t seem like much, but I’m working within a much busier life than I was then. And lingering issues from my struggles with writer’s block. Mostly, I know myself. If I don’t give myself some kind of goal, it will never happen. Productivity, Reading I’ve started my non-fiction goal with Paused to Prolific by K Webster. This is a new release that dovetails nicely with my own focus issues. It is designed to help you “write faster, stay focused, and avoid burnout”. I found it very easy to digest because the chapters are short and tightly focused, with a “coffee break” at the end to help brainstorm ideas for taking the information and putting it into practice. Webster has a conversational, humorous style that helped me relate well to the information, and I’ll never look at a squirrel the same again! What kind of reading goals do you set for yourself? Are they formal goals, or just lists of books you’d like to read? Dani

Planning My Life Away

#PlannerAddict #authorcats #planneraddict I didn’t realize until recently that this was a thing… I’ve been a planner, a creator of To Do, lists my entire life. I’ve enjoyed videos by Sara Cannon on Heart Breathings (check out her YouTube channel!) about her planners and use of the Kanban board, which I’ve recently adopted in a modified form. I also look through Passion Planner videos, as that is the type of planner I use. I think planning people have a compulsion to write things down. I used to think this was because I was a writer. Now I know that it’s three-fold: both the writing aspect and the control aspect and the brain-dump aspect. Shocking! (not for anyone who knows me personally…) I’m never without a pen and paper; this is always the first thing I reach for when I need to remember something. Typing doesn’t do it for me. Physically writing things down seems to cement them in my brain for some reason. Instead of reaching for that ephemeral thought, it’s like being able to easily find the place I stored it and revisit it (anyone seen the movie Dreamcatcher?). So using a computer or electronic calendar doesn’t really help me as much as creating a physical plan. I only use the calendar in my phone so that it will send me alerts for appointments…shameful in this day and age, I know! Kanban board, Planner My husband will attest to the fact that I’m a control freak…with a little more enthusiasm than I am comfortable with.  😊  Just like the compulsion to plan out my books to ensure I don’t forget something, I need to plan out my life to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. It still happens, but I feel much more comfortable knowing that I at least tried. Which leads to the next part: I’m juggling a full-time day job, a husband on a retail schedule for his job, two teenagers with their own activities, and a writing career (and extended family, friends, chores… it never ends). That’s an overwhelming amount of minutiae to keep up with. And while some might say that’s not completely my job, my personality won’t let me delegate it to someone else. I’m a control-freak, as I established above…but I simply can’t keep it all stuffed in my brain. The busier we are and the older I get, the more things that fall by the wayside. I do my best to simplify and oust unnecessary time wasters so we can meet our obligations and still have down time, but frankly, my brain has more important things to do than keeping up with when my next doctor’s appointment is. I’d rather write it down and forget about it until it shows up on my planner. Most recently, I discovered something new about planning: it can be pretty and fun! Before I was a writer, and no longer had time for many hobbies, I used to scrapbook. I really enjoyed it, but was overwhelmed by the years of pictures that I couldn’t keep up with. But I’ve found that I can use my planner to do something similar. I can decorate it with pretty and inspirational stickers. Instead of writing down a doctor’s appointment, I can put a pretty tag there. I can indulge my pen obsession by trying out different colors and types. But I can also fill in gratitude lists…memories from special days…photos of special events…and quotes that inspire me. On days when I’m discouraged over my word count, I can look back over my progress the last few months. I mark down each marketing task I complete so I remember that I’ve done something towards connecting with my readers. I go back and notate sick days so I don’t think all those blank hours were because I was just flaky…no, I had a reason I couldn’t do anything today (it’s easy to forget and blame ourselves, right?). #planneraddict So, even though being a #PlannerAddict might seem like a trendy thing, I’m finding it essential to not just productivity and planning, but for my own positive mental health. What about you? Do you use a planner? Apps? How do you keep up with life? Dani

Gettin’ My Groove On

Proposal is IN! It’s Party Time! Just kidding! Last week, I finished my proposal for Zach and Sadie (Mill Town Millionaires Book 4) and got it sent to Awesome Editor. Next in the pipeline is Small Town Secrets Book 2, before Zach and Sadie’s full is due later this year. DSCN0675 But before that, I get to take a week off from writing. I try to do that between projects to “refill my well”. I still do lots of business stuff, but creatively I let myself off the hook. What do I replace it with? Oh, exciting stuff like cleaning house (it gets really messy on deadline) and watching TV/Movies. I also go on the hunt for new music. As you know if you’ve read my blog for long, music is a powerful fuel for my creativity and each of my characters have “theme” songs. But after a while, I get tired of what I’ve been listening to and need fresh tunes! So I fill up an iTunes card and go hunting… iTunes card, music, refill the well, While I’m refilling the coffers, I’d love for y’all to share some of your favorite music (new or old) with me! I’ll pick 1 commenter to WIN an iTunes card by Friday. Dani

Blessings Reminder

For some reason, this blog disappeared from my site during the night, so here's Take 2:   Have you ever felt like your life was on fast forward somehow-run to the grocery store, run to the school, run to work, run to karate class…And then one moment, you finally pause, and realize you haven’t talked to your friends in a while? That’s what happened to me this week! I’ve sure been missing all of my online friends! I’ve been working on a deadline for a month to turn in Zach and Sadie’s proposal (Mill Town Millionaires 4). Despite many setbacks, I was able to turn it in this past weekend. I can’t tell you how excited I am for this book! Fingers crossed Awesome Editor feels the same! The rest of the time, I’ve been focused on home and family. Recently my husband got pretty sick and had to go through a series of tests. He’s a pretty tough guy, so watching him suffer was hard. I also realized something very important—I rely on my husband A LOT. I like to think of myself as a capable person who gets things accomplished. I’m frequently emotional and often overwhelmed, but shit gets done.  J  Only now do I see how much of that is thanks to my husband. He’s often behind the scenes, keeping the kids and pets on track despite his own day job, so I can focus on writing as much as possible. I’m very lucky to have a spouse that supports my artistic and business endeavors. You’d be surprised how many aren’t. I’m not always quick to see the good that’s happening (glass half empty kind of girl). But even though it wasn’t fun, I’m glad for the reminder of how blessed I am. Twenty years ago, he had no idea what he was getting into, but he’s never looked at me and said, “I don’t think so.” I only hope I’m somehow repaying the favor. Now, I know there’s a reason all of my heroes have a touch of him in there somewhere… What blessings have you discovered recently? Dani

First Day of School

This year, our school system moved up our start time to make way for a fall break. I love fall break, but starting school so early is a bit strange.  :)  Still, we packed our lunch boxes and backpacks and sent the kids out the door yesterday to begin their new year of school. Maybe this is why fall feels like such a new beginning for me every year. This milestone means new teachers, new classrooms (and new school supplies!!!). Yes, I'm an office supply junkie, so I love back-to-school shopping. It's also a great time to start a new project! And that's exactly what I'm doing this year. I've started writing Zachary Gatlin's book, which will be a fourth in the Mill Town Millionaires series for Harlequin Desire. I've discovered that Zachary is very strong and almost stern. His heroine, Kenna, is also strong, but in her own quiet way. I love learning all the nuances of new characters! I hope I can share more of them with you soon. What about you? Are your kids still in the cycle of school starts? Or is fall simply another season for you? For those of you who are overseas, when do your children begin their new school years? Dani

Mondays…

Mondays are not my favorite day. I know a lot of you are the same. After all, weekends are a chance to catch up, unwind, have fun without watching the clock, and for me, write. Mondays mean back to the tough schedule of a day job, kids activities, and still, write. :) There are some precious moments during the week, but its hard, so let's have some funnies to add a smile to the day! Mondays   Mondays   Mondays Yep, coffee always helps! What's your favorite way to get through a Monday? Dani P.S. Don't forget to check out the A to Z blog challenge going on over at the Nice Girls Writing Naughty blog! Lots of fun during the whole month of April.

Author’s Getaway

A couple of weeks ago, I packed my bags and headed out of town. No hubby or kids. No girlfriends. No fellow authors. Just me, my computer, and my characters for 4 days. Like a writing retreat, but solo. At first, it always feels a little weird. But I've spent so many years writing out by myself or with author Ella Sheridan than I'm used to it. To feel the complete silence of the hotel room, and know that I wouldn't be interrupted was a relief. I've been pushing pretty hard over the past year, through working with kids in the room, scribbling notes at the day job, pushing through to write in short periods of time where its hard to immerse myself in my characters. Yeah, relief was an understatement. photo (24) I took Nate and Sara's novella with me. My goal was to finish it, which I didn't. But I made really good progress. Even more important, I was able to sink into the characters and reacquaint myself with them. Spend time thinking about what they would do and say, without the pressure to finish before someone needed something. I think this is a great way to refill our creative well. I talk often about "refilling the well" in terms of renewing our energy, etc., but this is about the creative part of our lives. It reminded me to find ways to reconnect with this part of my life also, which will improve my writing, and also my enjoyment of my writing. That was a happy thing! [caption id="attachment_1061" align="alignleft" width="150"]I wish this was my hotel room. Wouldn't that have been atmospheric? I wish this was my hotel room. Wouldn't that have been atmospheric?[/caption] Another happy thing is going on today! I'm sharing on 2 other blogs and I hope you will join me. I'm over with the Nice Girls talking about, guess what, refilling the well.  :) And my latest hero, Jacob Blackstone (The Blackstone Heir), is being featured on the USA Today Happily Ever After blog with some other chivalrous heroes. What's your happy thing today? Dani

Recipe: Warm Up With White Chili

As you all know, we've had some unusually wintry weather here in the southern US this year. And we're moving into our spring season, which always brings a ton of rainy days. There's nothing I love better on a cold, wet day than soup of some kind. Something about soups and stews warms me from the inside out. Comfort food. Green Onions, food, white chicken chili A friend recently raved about a chicken chili recipe she regularly made for family and after trying it myself, she should rave some more! This recipe made a full big crockpot for less than $20, not including spices – most of which I had on hand already. There was enough soup for me to feed two families and send leftovers home with everyone. In addition to the toppings listed, we served chips and salsa, and cornbread – this is the south, after all. Add a crockpot bags, and clean it was a breeze. I hope you enjoy. cornbread, food, white chicken chili   WHITE CHICKEN CHILI 8 cans White Northern beans 1.5 quarts chicken broth 2 to 3 onions, chopped 3 teaspoons garlic salt 8 oz. green chilies, chopped 3 teaspoons each ground cumin, oregano, coriander Pinch each of ground cloves and cayenne pepper Half teaspoon creole seasoning 10 chicken breasts (boneless, skinless, cooked and diced—I just put in a whole package, which was about 6 large) Shredded Monterey Jack cheese and green onions, chopped Combine beans, broth, garlic and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Heat oil in skillet; add onions and cook until clear. Add chilies and spices, mixing thoroughly. Cook 20 minutes more, then add to bean mixture. Add chicken. Simmer another 20 minutes. Spoon into bowls and sprinkle with cheese and green onions (or whatever toppings you prefer).      
Photos used with permission from Wikimedia
Onion photo from Jonathunder

Snow Days

We have some unusual weather here in the southern US recently. Our winter storms usually consist of 1 to 2 inches of snow that shut the city roads down for a day or so. This past week we got 8 inches of snow! Once it started coming down, roads were impassable in about an hour. Schools closed – even my evil day job closed (which never happens). Was I excited? Yes! About the snow? Well, it was pretty, so yes. But I was more excited about the time off. Snow Days, time off, evil day job Now, I know moms and dads in different circumstances weren’t as happy. My hubby, who has days off during the week, wasn't nearly as thrilled about more time spent with family. Poor thing, he's born the brunt of bad weather and sick children lately. But to me, the snow days were a gift. Here's why: 1. First and foremost, I hate driving in bad conditions. Closing everything down removes the worry that I would miss any more work because I was afraid to drive on the snowy roads. Not good, for my nerves, or for surrounding vehicles. (Aside rant: People who complain about Southerners not driving in snow should be thanking their lucky stars instead! Do they really want to be on the icy roads with someone that inexperienced and scared?) snowy road, time off, evil day job, walk in the snow 2. I get some unexpected SPACE to play with my writing. Whether it's catching up on words or just thinking, brainstorming, I can do it. Without guilt. Guilt comes in all forms and from all sources – evil day job, kids, hubby, family, etc. even from a dirty house. 3. It serves as a reminder to do fun things with my kids. We don't do a lot of “playing”. Most days, I work; they play. But with this unhindered time, I do extra things like take a long walk in the snow with my daughter, or build a horrible rendition of a snowman with my family. [caption id="attachment_1029" align="aligncenter" width="225"]snowman, evil day job, snow days It's a Reader Snowman![/caption] That's just a few of my southern writerly thoughts on Snow Days. What about you? Yay! Or boo! Dani