Thursday, June 30, 2011

Stress free? Not a chance.

I teach yoga and I used to be a life coach. It stands to reason that stress should be easy for me to handle. If you listen closely, you'll hear everyone who knows me laughing hysterically. I work well under pressure. I don't deal well with stress. I'm living proof that the two are not mutually exclusive. I do yoga, I try to meditate, I exercise, I eat clean and I take my vitamins. So what gives with the stress?

Part of it is the sheer volume of my workload. I'm writing a 90,000 word novel right now. It sounds doable. Except from start to finish, I'll have written a 90,000 word novel in about 45 days. A few of those days will be spent editing. At least 7 of those days will be spent editing a previous book in that series. Yet another 5 days will be spent finishing details on the first book in the series, answering emails, promotion and any other number of things. None of this includes my full-time mom gig. Or the invites, phone calls, etc., I receive. Or life in general (hello mountain of laundry). If my calculations are correct, I'll be cranking out that novel in about 30 days, give or take. Ever tried to write 3000+ words a day, every day for 30 days straight? This is why many writers are raging alcoholics.

Instead of going completely crazy, I'm looking at it like this: Every day brings a new set of opportunities and challenges. Stress is a fact of life. You'll see countless books, articles, CDs, and workshops on how to eliminate it. Eliminate it? Give me a break. Stress is necessary. I'm not talking about the disgustingly high levels of stress many of us carry around on a daily basis. *raises hand with guilt* I'm talking about the ebb and flow of good times and stressful times. It's cyclical, which gives me hope.

I don't know about any of you, but I always learn from my stressful times. I've learned a LOT over the past couple months. Including how necessary it is to take a day or two off each week. I've also learned that friends and family have a difficult time understanding when I say, "Sorry, I can't go do that because I'm working," or "I'm not answering the phone because I'm on the floor in the fetal position having waking nightmares about deadines," they don't know I mean it literally.

I love my career, stress and all. I love that I gain a clearer perspective with each stressful day. I love that I had a brief affair with coffee, but learned we just couldn't get along. I love that I have my yoga mat to go to when I need a little break. I love that my kids and husband are so understanding of my 12-17 hour days on the computer. I don't know how to live a life 100% free of stress, but I don't think that's the point. The idea is to take each day, and roll with it. Stress happens, but it doesn't have to derail you. Here's what helps me:

1) Don't forget to breathe--it's crucial for things like staying alive, but it also combats stress.
2) Don't forget to eat--proper nutrition is more than dark chocolate, coffee and more coffee.
3) Decompress with a show--my guilty pleasures are reruns of Whose Line Is It Anyway and Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
4) Exercise--this does not include walking to the coffee pot for a refill, or chasing magpies out of your garden because they keep eating the damn...*inhale, exhale* Did I mention breathing also works for anger management?
5) Sleep--I haven't mastered this one yet, but I hear it's important. If you get 8 hours a night, let me know if it helps.

What is your best stress-reducing ritual?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Happy Half New Year

We're halfway through another year. Can you believe it? I don't do the typical New Year's resolution, but I'm a big goal-setter year round. The halfway point of the year is a great time to look at what you've accomplished and what you have yet to achieve. Here are my mid-year goals:

1) Read more. I read every day, but recently that has dwindled down to a mere page or two. This is a big deal for someone who can read three single titles a day. My excuse is good--I've been busy writing. But writers are always readers first. Not to mention my TBR pile is out of control.
2) Finally submit my middle grade. This is the story nearest and dearest to my heart right now--and the one I hope will catch an agent's interest.

3) Meet my August 1st deadline for Stone Cold Destiny with a smile on my face. I've never had to write 90K in 2 months (less if you count the days I'll spend editing Stone Cold Seduction and Stone Cold Revenge). It's a beautiful opportunity to test my limits. And a learning experience that back-to-back releases aren't for the faint of heart.

4) Enjoy my family. This should have gone at the top of my list. My husband has Saturdays off for the first time in a year. After I meet my deadline, I'm not going to let those August Saturdays go to waste. I might even brave an amusement park for my kids. *cringe*

5) Shop for a pair of killer heels. Superficial, yes, but something I haven't done since high school prom. Don't ask how many years ago that was. I'm ashamed to admit it out loud.

6) Chase 3 more professional opportunities that are so crazy and out of my comfort zone, I can't help but be freaked out over them. I have a few ideas, but haven't settled on how high I want to reach. I think I'll pick the most impossible, improbable goals of the bunch. Why not?

7) Take the entire month of December off (not including edits, if necessary). I'll need the down time after the busy, productive year. :)

What are some of your goals for the rest of the year?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Essential Writing Tools

Writing these days requires much more than a computer and a vivid imagination. Surprised? I was too. I began compiling a list of essential tools every writer needs to make it in this business. The real nuts and bolts of the industry, so to speak. A few items might surprise you...

1) A picture of Johnny Depp dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow (bonus points for a life size cardboard cut out). Motivation is key, as any fellow writer will tell you. Johnny Depp doesn't motivate me to write necessarily. But he's parked next to my laptop, so naturally, so am I.

2) A good thesaurus. The four inch thick kind, but not for looking up synonyms. Puh-lease. It's the perfect superlative desk accessory to make you look learned erudite AND it doubles as a great perch platform for your coffee/tea/cocoa mug to rest. Okay, maybe also for synonyms.

3) Internet access. If you can't spend countless hours on all forms of social media and email, you're not really a writer. It's not a waste of time, despite what you're thinking. We're networking, learning dialogue, and how noticing how people socialize. And...and...oh, we can also look at different pictures of Johnny Depp dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow. Yup, it's a must.

4) A stress ball. You know, one of those balls you squeeze the hell out of when you can't find more pics of your work-in-progress is frustrating you or the thesaurus doesn't have propound the right word for your scene. It's also handy when your kids/spouse/dog tries to interrupt you. Make sure your aim is good.

5) Scratch paper. Not a notebook, notepad or any other form of organized paper. I'm talking about tiny scraps of paper ripped from a magazine, notebook, checkbook or even a napkin. Writers know the best ideas come when you have nothing handy to write lots oodles of words on. Only scraps will work suffice.

6) Music. This is a biggie. Most writers I know have their favorite music they write to. Some create fussy elaborate play lists. I use it to drown out the sound of the kids fighting. It's all about concentration.

7) Coffee, tea, alcohol or your beverage of choice. A drink is super duper critical for a writer's success. Why? I have no idea. We type, we drink. It's a addiction dependence thing we writers have. Take up writing and you'll understand. It's how we cope come up with our best creative work.

8) A cell phone headset. This comes in handy when you're writing at your local coffee shop (like all cool writers do), and you get weird looks for talking to yourself. Or your characters. Ahem. When you get strange looks, point to the ear piece, smile and shrug, then resume your imaginary conversation.

Do you have any great items in your writing tool box?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Wanna Get Lucky?

Until recently, I haven't been a lucky person. I've never found a leprechaun, and I think colored rabbits' feet hanging from a key chain are nasty. I could comb through a field of clover for days and never find a four leaf clover. If I entered a giveaway that allowed unlimited entries, and I had 99 out of 100 of the entries, I'd still lose. Twice I've attended writing conferences with a table full of beautiful baskets you could enter to win. Two different friends told me with all confidence, "I always win a basket." To my disbelief, they did. Now, they might have rigged the whole thing. One of the women dropped enough money on tickets that she could have gone out and purchased half of the items she was trying to win. But that's beside the point.

They had Lady Luck on their side, along with the unwavering knowledge that they would win. It paid off. So recently I decided to give it a shot. I stopped saying "I never win anything" and changed it to, "I'm going to win something without dropping $200 or sleeping with the judge." (You have to be specific like that).

Guess what? In the last month alone, I won a gift basket at a conference, recent releases for the entire month of June from one of my favorite publishers, AND a year's supply of chick feed and accessories. Don't laugh--we raise the most awesome chickens you'll ever meet. Seriously, how can you not love a chicken that looks like this:

Sorry, I'm easily distracted...getting back on track... My point is, when I changed the way I thought about it, I started winning (though I haven't managed to nail the winning Lotto numbers yet). Wayne Dyer said, "If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." I believe it. This has been a year full of huge, fantastic changes for me. It's the combination of serious, hard work and the belief that Lady Luck will shine down on me. You might have a different name for it, and it doesn't really matter. The main idea is to believe that it's possible. Now, I wasn't all that attached to winning chicken supplies, but it was still a fun prize. I also wasn't specific about what I would win, just that I would win. And I'm thankful for it.

Think about an area of your life that could use a little luck, and believe it can happen. Be specific (especially if you don't want a bunch of chicken supplies). Or don't be specific and simply imagine that something--anything--amazing will happen.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear about how you want to get lucky. If you've already had a streak of luck, what was it?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Top 10 Reasons Why I Write

At the urging of my fab writing partner, I've compiled my top 10 reasons why I write to show you why I do what I do. Please seek the advice of your physician before attempting to recreate any of the following suggestions. Side effects may include dizziness, nausea, confusion, irritation, and a sequin allergy.

I write because...

1) It's the perfect cover for being crazy. If you say "I hear voices in my head" followed quickly by "because I'm a writer," it's a green light to be crazy. In fact, you can even...shh...they're talking, hang on a second...

2) I get to read as much as I want and pretend I'm doing research. Same goes for covers with bare-chested men in the name of creating cover art. Ahem. But back to research; I can write off some of these books on my taxes. This is a no-brainer, people.
3) I love that people think you're a "world famous author" if you've published a book. I rarely bother to correct them. Hey, I'm famous in the world where I live with me, myself and I.

4) It's perfect if you're anti-social, which sadly, I am. I can avoid makeup, people and traffic. That's my ideal day.
5) It beats a regular 9-5 job. I've tried a number of them, and have come to the conclusion it's better if I'm the boss. Being the Queen of Everyone makes it difficult to take orders with any kind of grace.

6) I can get out of housework by pretending to log working long hours on the laptop.

7) It beats running for office. I'm not good with cheating, taking pictures of myself or rewriting history. I'll leave that to the experts.

8) I would rather deal with fictional drama, than the BS of real life any day. Plus, anyone who irritates me enough gets an instant cameo in one of my books. You have been warned.

9) My career as a Vegas showgirl and Rockette never panned out. All of those beautiful sequined outfits, wasted...

10) Last but not least, I love it. I love creating characters and letting them unfold in all of their imperfect glory. I love late nights writing (most of the time). I love typing The End. I love the sending the last set of revisions off. I love the whole messy, brilliant, agonizing, heart-wrenching process. Even if no one gets to see my high kick.

What do you love about writing?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Writer's Struggles

Writing is my passion and my career, and I love, love, LOVE it. But as every artist will tell you, the creative process holds it's fair share of agony. For me, the writing part is easy. I even hold a certain fondness for the editing process. But putting myself out there via the world wide web? Not so much. In fact, the thought of promoting myself keeps me up into the wee hours of the morning. mind racing with anxiety.

So I've decided to come clean about my struggles.

I love public speaking and plan on doing a few video blogs in the near future. If you put me in front of 10,000 people to give an impromptu speech on tighty-whities versus boxers, I'll wing it and probably enjoy myself. If you ask me to sit in front of 3 people and tell them why they should buy my book, I might have a panic attack. Seems ridiculous, doesn't it?

My writing is personal. I believe that's true for every writer. We write from our soul, regardless of the genre. This fuels some writers to a place where promoting themselves is a no-brainer. They believe in their work so much, that spreading the word is effortless. A labor of love, but a fun one. I'm at the opposite end of the spectrum. I joke about world domination and tiaras as a way to poke fun at the ego. I have a strong personality, which sometimes translates as being arrogant. I believe in my writing, but I never know if readers will too. I can't tell you how you're going to react to my book, which is, in essence, an extension of me. Self-doubt is an insidious, ever-present energy in my life. Far more so than arrogance.

I recognize that promotion might never be a strength of mine. Publishing isn't a solitary journey. Each author has a team who works their butts off to make a book the best it can be (a fact I'm eternally grateful for). Does that make promotion easier knowing I have so many amazing people on this journey with me? No. It freaks me out. What if I let them down? What if I let readers down? What if, what if, what if?

Damn that self-doubt.

One of these days, I'll figure out how to tweet effectively. I'll learn how to blog better. I'll engage readers and create a strong web presence. Maybe I'll even find someone who can give me a tutorial for dummies. But for now I'll stress. I'll worry and wonder. And I'll write every day, hoping it will be enough to make up for my fear of putting my books out there. I'll face it all head on, hoping it will work out beautifully. At the end of the day, I'm still a writer. My fear of promotion gives me the neurotic edge I need to fit in with the writing crowd. ;)

As a writer, what's your #1 struggle?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Writing Is For Mad Scientists

I'm often asked about writing formulas. It never fails to make me smile. What you might not realize is that writers are actually mad scientists in disguise. There's an art to it that requires a heap of crazy, a dash of lucidity, and a whole lot of stubbornness. Here are a few of my ingredient lists. Keep in mind, I take a minimalist yet haphazard approach to writing. I never measure, I never plan, I just toss it all into my head, shake it around, and then see what happens.

* The (Im)Perfect Writing Recipe*
-Caffeine. Any kind will do, but fully loaded keeps creativity running at optimum levels. Acceptable substitutions include alcohol and hot chocolate.
-A great idea. Run this by a trusted friend first. It doesn't always sound great once it's out of your mouth. I speak from experience.
-Music (optional). I have a thing for Maroon 5 and old school hip hop. Sir Mix-a-lot was a lyrical genius.
-Time. Yes, I realize this is laughable. Who has time? Alas, you must hoard this coveted, mystical ingredient. You don't have to travel far, but it will require stealth, sacrifice and a barricaded door.
-Talent. This is debatable, but I do think a modicum of talent goes a long way toward a tasty result.
Mix these ingredients together and shake well. Add a pinch of humor and a dash of determination until you're satisfied with the finished product. Find multiple taste testers. Expect sour faces and bad feedback. If any taste testers require medical intervention due to a bad reaction, please toss it all and start again.

*The Editing Recipe*
-A thick skin. Alligator skin is not a viable substitution. It's all mental, making it nearly impossible to find.
-Time. I recommend keeping extra time around. You'll need it.
-Caffeine (see Writing Recipe for appropriate substitutions).
-A large cache of curse words, tissues and a pillow to scream into.
-Paper bag for hyperventilating is optional.
Read thoroughly, and then grab the pillow. Curse. Repeat as often as needed. Find your thick skin and keep it in place. Add generous amounts of time and caffeine. Pray your editor will be happy with the result. Curl up in the fetal position and cry if needed.

*The Character Creation Recipe*
-Go to your nearest mall, park, and/or family reunion. Take notes on every batshit crazy person you see.
-A baby name book or telephone book. Chose names.
-Read Frankenstein.
After taking notes and choosing names, piece together your masterpiece, limb by limb. Think flawed. Apply the electric shock of creativity to bring your characters to life. Reattach traits and limbs as needed. Drink more caffeine. Note--Don't create a story with characters who are all beautiful, wealthy, perfect, etc. This creates nausea in many readers.

Disclaimer: Do not attempt these recipes unless you're under the watchful eye of a trained, jaded writing mentor.

Another disclaimer: This is ALL tongue-in-cheek humor. I've been told that some people aren't sure if I'm serious or joking. I'm rarely serious because it's not as entertaining.

What are your crazy writing recipes?