Sunday, January 29, 2017

What can these things possibly have in common?

Word count, social media, death investigations, series Bible & inbox cleanup...they can't possibly have anything in common. Absolutely nothing, except for the fact that they have all helped me stay on task for the month of January.

The first month of the year is almost over…is it hard to believe, having flown by at a fast pace? Or has it been a long month for you? For me, I find it hard to believe the month of January is about to come to a close, but I’m okay with it because now I can look back to see how I’m doing to stay on task. As I review this first month of the year, I’m pleased with how well I’ve done with my writing schedule and my intentions to make good progress this year.

My weekly tasks involve writing, blogging and other social media updates. I’ve stayed committed with blogging, obviously; so there’s that.

I’ve shared regularly on my Facebook page, and generated some interest in fun details regarding my writing life.  

Here’s one post I shared:

And here’s another that really drew some interest:

You never know what might pique the interest of others (and that sometimes depends on what Facebook decides to let others see, which can be frustrating), but when a post results in a more engaging audience, it’s always satisfying.

I’ve also done pretty well with keeping up on my word count. I left the gate a little slow…okay, very slow, with less than 1,000 words the first week. That’s an awful result when it comes to word count, but that’s because I was working on other writing tasks, as well. My second week added just over 1,000 words to the count, but also involved a lot of editing. The third week I rocked it with just over 7,000 words for the week and this past week I’ve already reached just over 4,900 words, with time still left in the day. For the month, when my goal is an absolute minimum of 3,000 words per week, or 12,000 per month, I’ve written over 13,700 words. I’m nearing the end of my story, or I would likely have a higher word count for the month, but as I write I’m also tying up loose ends in order to wrap up the story.

I’m so close to finally completing this novel! And that, by itself, feels awesome.

In addition to my weekly to-do's, my monthly tasks are also coming along. 

We’ve already established that with regard to my total word count for the month, I’m on task, which feels good. 

I’ve been keeping up on my timeline and my series Bible as I complete the fourth book in the series. Since I don’t outline before writing, I keep a timeline as I write. This helps me track what’s happening in my story, while I keep notes on a monthly calendar and also a more detailed list in my notebook of what’s happening per chapter. This is a task I must keep up with each week and month as I write so that I don’t lose sight of what’s happening in my story and also where my story may be heading.

My research topic for this month was to delve more deeply into crime scene investigations. I've investigated cases involving deaths as a private investigator, but I needed more information from the point of view when it comes to law enforcement. I researched not only scene investigations, but also how cases are worked when a suspicious death occurs in a small town versus a larger one, and how the different jurisdictions work together when cities don’t always employ the necessary people to investigate a death. Here’s something interesting that I hadn’t realized: there truly is a difference between a medical examiner and a coroner. I think the words are often used interchangeably, since most might believe they perform the same tasks. But the differences are critical. One is usually a physician; one could just be the owner of a local feed store. One is appointed; one is elected. One is a medical doctor but may not be trained in death investigations; while the other may perform death investigations but have no medical training. One can perform autopsies; the other cannot (without the medical degree). And while one may perform the autopsy, the other will eventually determine the final cause of death. It’s all very interesting but also very helpful when trying to keep fiction closer to fact.

The only other main focus for me this month was to finally clean out my e-mail inbox. It was just crazy. After about an hour, believe it or not, I could finally read my incoming e-mails without having to scroll down the screen. My next task, I think, will be to decide which e-mail I no longer wish to subscribe to. I’ve seen a serious trend lately where many professionals I willingly offered my e-mail address to in order to receive their newsletters, updates, promo offers and the like, have turned to burying my inbox with e-mails only relating to how much I can save today by purchasing their offer of the day. Once a month might not bother me, but weekly actions to commit to save here, spend there, grab my copy or snag a spot are getting old. While everyone wants to make money on what they create, there is a balance and lately it’s been tipped much too far in one direction. 

So there it is: my January update. The first month of this New Year is just about complete and ending on a high note. How about you? How are you doing with your intentions for this year?


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Only humans can unplug to recharge

I’m having difficulty today taming the thoughts running around in my head – so much so that I have had a hard time figuring out what I’d really like to blog about today. 

Why the rampant brain waves? 

I have a few ideas –

The best bet is the fact that today is my oldest son’s birthday and for the first time in his life, we aren’t able to spend it with him because he moved to Hawaii a few months ago. When your kids move out, it is an unexplainable mixed-bag of feelings, but when they move so far away that it takes time and effort just to see them, the feelings are intensified even more.

That’s one reason I’m a little distracted.

Another reason, I think I’ve figured out, is that I feel completely overwhelmed by the intensity of the drama found on social media and in the news these days. While it’s always good to understand and be aware of what’s happening locally, nationally or internationally, the negativity of it all is just a bit much sometimes and, to be honest, it’s a lot to take in and I just don’t know if what I’m reading is truth or fiction. Regardless of which it may be, social media is now ripe with a constant barrage of so-called news added to a huge helping of opinions that usually end in discord when others dare to respond with their own beliefs. Some may just agree to disagree, but those are the few who can have a grown-up conversation. Sadly, there are many who cannot.

While I know it’s not a good idea to bury my head in the sand and try to ignore what’s going on in the world around me, there are just those days when it’s an absolute necessity. We have to find the time to unwind and recharge, and funny enough, I think to do that you need to unplug. 

“Where should I go?" -Alice.
"That depends on where you want to end up." - The Cheshire Cat.” 
~Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland~

Finding time to rest and recharge is one of the to-do’s on my list of mindful intentions for this New Year. What I’ve figured out over the first few weeks of this first month of the year is that it can sometimes be very difficult to actually find the time to do so.

But there is a saying, “It’s not about having time. It’s about making time.”

We all have the same amount of time every day. However, we may have no job, one job or possibly even two; we may live in a different season when it comes to our kids, we may be single or married, healthy or sick, have many responsibilities every day, or very few. Whatever course our daily lives take, it is oftentimes very easy to not only get caught up in our own busy lives, but also in what’s happening to others around us or around the world. That can be a lot to take on for any one person in any given day.

I’ve always been a “busy” person – even when I should relax, I tend to think about what else I “should” be doing. It’s a habit I’ve had all my life, and one that is admittedly hard to break. 

“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” 
~Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland~

But I’m working on it and I’ve spent this month unwinding by writing, because that actually does relax me, as well getting out of town to visit with family, taking more photos whenever the mood strikes, getting in regular exercise, reading every day, and journaling. While blogging doesn’t define the concept of being unplugged, I am finding time today to unwind so that I can recharge for the upcoming week. For me, that involves writing – spending time with family – journaling – and then my favorite way to end the day, yoga.

However you plan to unwind before we hit the week running, I hope you find the time to enjoy it.

Have a great week!

Monday, January 16, 2017

I have to admit…change is a good thing.

Change – something I’ve always had an aversion to…and never really appreciated. I have my reasons and they are likely all textbook answers, but as the character, Popeye, is famous for saying, “I Yam What I Yam.”

There is change we can’t control – no question. But we can try to control how we react to it. What’s the saying? It’s not what happens to you, but how you respond to it that matters. Life is a river…sometimes a stream and sometimes a torrent, but it is always, without question, changing.

Butterfly enjoying the Butterfly Bush
Whether we like it or not.

Then there’s the change we can control. What our New Year’s intentions are usually all about. For me, changing my routine can be a daunting task or just plain uncomfortable, but I know I’ll regret not sticking with a plan when it’ll be good for me and I know the benefits will offer positive results.

I got to thinking how ironic it is that while I really don’t like change, I wrote a series with a character who is literally thrust into a new perspective about her life after she loses her job, moves back to her hometown, starts not one, but two new businesses, discovers revealing details and unanswered questions about her family, and meets people who are an important part of her life and her family history. Not-to-mention the dangers of dealing with others who have ulterior, ugly or evil motives.

So much change and in such a short time. It would be a lot for a real person to get through and while there are some people who deal with a ton of change all at once, it’s more likely to happen in fiction than in real life. I think we can all be grateful for that fact. 

But that’s what fiction is all about, the excessiveness of what we deal with in real life squeezed into the pages of a novel. Otherwise, reading would be a very boring ordeal. The overwhelming details about the lives of our characters help us relate to them, but may also make us feel just a bit better that our own lives aren’t quite that bad. We can relate and feel thankful at the same time.

Fiction is wonderful that way – we can love, or hate, a character. We can follow them through thick and thin. We can watch them as they falter or are fortified, find trouble or solutions, and change in good ways or bad. We can pretend to know what we might do in the same situation, or maybe we do know and through the characters we imagine how our experience may have gone differently if we’d only done this or that.

It’s possible I enjoy writing because with characters, I can play with change in ways that I get to control…somewhat. The characters do tend to take over when I’m in the middle of writing, so I guess it’s something I get to pretend to have control over. Either way, I enjoy coming up with ideas that will mix up the character’s day, add more mystery to the mystery, make up characters to assist or hinder progress, include tidbits to create more questions or provide answers, and then try to tie it all together at the end. That process is a challenge, and a challenge is something I enjoy. 

Regardless of what I personally feel about change, one thing writing has taught me is that if change results in a challenge I can enjoy (and grow and learn from), then change is admittedly a good thing.

We’re only two full weeks into the New Year and I can say I’ve already learned my first lesson.

We’re off to a good start!


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Who are you going to be this year?

Play time in Monterey, CA
The first full week of this New Year is coming to a close – how did the beginning of the New Year start out for you?  Did you run at full steam, fresh out of the gate, ready to take on the world?  Did you take your time, carefully mapping out your new routine, thoughts and ideas you hope will garner victory with your goals?  Or did you decide to tuck yourself in and hibernate just one more week before you hit the ground running?

Whatever your process, we now have 51 weeks left of this year…still plenty of time to reach those goals, make those changes, find more time to do what makes us happy and whole.

My New Year began fairly well - while I was not quite running at full steam, and there were days when I just wanted to hibernate for awhile longer (it’s been so cold!), for the most part I went through the process of mapping out what I need to do to keep myself on track and I was able to make some good headway on what I expect from my author self, including some good time spent working on the fourth book in my series.

I have a new writing planner all ready to go – where I can track my status as I write, as I research and learn, as I market, promote, blog and otherwise work on my author platform.  It helps me keep myself accountable when I can see at a glance what I’ve accomplished in any given week or over a whole month.

I have my weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly to-do lists all compiled and ready to complete and check off as each month passes by.

I have inspirational quotes and photos in my new planner, on my desk and in my office.  Here are a few of my favorites from my 2016 planner: 

“Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working.” ~Pablo Picasso~ 

“Don’t worry about failures, worry about the chances you miss when you don’t even try.” 
~Jack Canfield~

 “Surprise yourself every day with your own courage.”  ~Denholm Elliott~

“When something goes wrong in your life just yell ‘plot twist!’ and move on.”

The last one is my favorite, because it’s humorous but it’s probably the hardest to attempt considering all the ‘plot twists’ I’ve dealt with the past two years.  I’ll likely get back to posting positive quotes on my Facebook page on a semi-regular basis…they help me as much as anyone who might see them on any given day.

In addition to preparations made to hit the stride I need to move on in full force, I had to ask myself this question: who are you going to be this year?

I know how I could be described…there are the obvious labels like, mother, wife, daughter, employee, friend, business owner, dog lover.  I could also be described as curious and creative, confident and organized, sincere and trustworthy. 

But what changes do I have to make to become who I want to be? 

To reach my goals?  

To live a balanced and creative life?  

To be able to do what makes me happy and whole?

Who I want to be would include my good attributes, but to succeed in life I need to water down those that hold me back, such as fear of change, hidden insecurities or the craving to remain in my comfort zone.  I want to be passionate, motivated and have a strong belief in myself, but the person I want to be would also include being open to change, an inspiration to others, determined, energetic and fearless. 

So there you go – I’m a work in progress, just like the books I’m currently working on, but with positive change the results will be improvement and momentum.

And that’s what I’m looking for this year, so I’m on the right track!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

December Resolutions Update – Phase 4: Resolutions

The DAY is here…the day when we move into another New Year with high expectations that this next year can be better than the last. Whether you already had a good year and just want to improve on it, or whether you had a full year of crap and desperately wish to move away from the stink, we all only wish for a better year.

The wish for a better year is very true for this writer, and rather than tempt fate by assuming I’m due for one, I’m going to continue with my plan to focus on what I can do to make 2017 a better year.

First, I’ve reflected on the past twelve months, a difficult task but necessary. Next, I focused on the idea of believing, not only in myself but also in possibilities, and how to formulate a plan I can stick with in order to reach my goals. Implementing that plan is what will help me progress and continue with forward movement.       

This leads me to the last to-do for this resolution month, the task of making resolutions…or what I’d prefer to call mindful intentions. 

What will be included in my list of mindful intentions? Can I actually make a list that I can really stick to? I really don’t like making “resolutions” – putting together a list as if I’m making out a grocery or to-do list. Don’t get me wrong, I like to-do lists; but in relation to specific tasks or projects, not in relation to how I would like to live or enjoy the next year of my life.

When I think of the year 2017, these are the words that come to me:  balance, growth, focus, read, write, be present, have fun, find beauty, laugh, create, strength, gratitude, recharge, movement, less clutter, less chaos, contentment, family, be brave, travel, adventure, reflection, forgiveness, more sleep, less stress, be mindful, dream, let go.

It would be a great accomplishment to make the above list the true definition of 2017 at the end of the year, but I’ll have to stay focused in order to make it a possibility. My focus this next year is personal growth and professional momentum. I wish to obtain a work-life balance while I live a creative life. In order to make 2017 a better year, I will resolve to commit to the following intentions:

Writing – complete and publish the fourth book in the Jorja Matthews’ mystery series, complete and publish my young adult book, and unless another book idea takes priority, I will begin the prequel to my series.  I’ll continue to blog, learn more about the craft and work on my author platform.  In order to complete each project or task, especially with regard to each book, I’ll break down what I need to do each month and each week in order to make good on my intentions.

Health – it goes without saying we all can do a better job when it comes to taking care of ourselves – I just want to focus more on what it takes to stay active and energized. This would involve some sort of exercise even if it’s just walking, as well as yoga, an adequate amount of sleep, and regular intake of water and healthier foods. I’m not going on a diet, and I’m not trying to lose weight; I just know I can have a more mindful approach when it comes to what I’m eating. 

Self-care – this is beyond physical health, as it also deals with the emotional and mental being.  In order to do this I have to carve out some regular me-time so that I can work on this area. My main focus when it comes to me-time will be with journaling, but also some form of meditation. Too often we let days roll by at break-neck speed and we barely register our emotions or make sense of why we react to things the way we do. A regular routine involving daily intentions and practicing gratitude in the mornings, recharging with meditation and breathing or a quick walk in the afternoons and reflecting on each day in the evenings will not only begin the day with contentment, but end each day on a positive note if I’m able to acknowledge and let go of negative energy.

Rest, relaxation, family and fun – this is a given.  We all need to find time to rest, relax and recharge; and there are so many options: read a book, check out local sights, binge on Netflix, completely unplug for a day, color with a young child (or by yourself), nap in a hammock, go on a day trip, make time for your favorite hobby...whatever takes your mind away from the heaviness of being a grown up. And we all need to spend time with our families and should take part in fun activities together whenever possible. I’m already making plans in this area and have much to look forward to, which gives me a head start in the book of feeling grateful. 

My list of mindful intentions aren’t out of the realm of possibility. They are all achievable. Besides, who wants to begin the New Year with a list of projects or ideas that seem almost impossible? 

We know how resolutions usually begin, with the best of intentions to stick to them, but eventually something happens a few months into the year to cause us to steer off course. And then suddenly we’re looking at the end of another year, wondering how we lost all that time and why we couldn’t stick to our projected plans.

I really don’t want that to happen this time next year.

So I guess the short version of my 2017 “resolutions” would be this: stay focused, remain positive, work on your goals and make it happen!

Whatever your New Year’s resolutions may be, I hope they help you pave the way to a year that’s positive and purposeful.

Happy New Year!