What Are The Odds? [REPOST]

Jill Beck Headshot - square~ By Jill Beck  What are the odds? Do you ever ask yourself this question? For me, it rears its ugly head on the days my thoughts go over to the dark side. It’s my brain’s more subtle way of saying, “This is too hard. We might as well quit.” When I first started writing, I spent a lot of time worrying and the question wore a path, pacing back and forth through my mind. “How many people are writing books? Thousands and thousands. So, what are the odds that my little book is going to go anywhere?” Writing is hard all by itself. And on top of that, there’s a lot of competition in the field. Of course, there’s competition in every other field, too. It’s never easy. If you want to accomplish something, there are going to be obstacles to overcome – many of them, large and small. But one of the things I’ve learned in these early stages of my writing career is that the odds are not fixed. They’re fluid. Like me, you may have started out with no experience and those odds may have looked like a mountain in front of you. But maybe you sat down and started brainstorming ideas. Or maybe you decided to take a couple of writing classes or join an online writing group. You just chipped away at that mountain. You wrote a first draft of your book and, boy, did it need help. Jeez, it was terrible. But you finished it. You had a couple of people read it, you made some changes and you came out the other side with a much better second draft. Once again, you’ve changed the odds. What was once a crazy longshot is now starting to look pretty possible. Obviously, you have no control over factors outside yourself. You can’t control the trends in the market. Who can predict when vampires will take off or fizzle? Who know whether contemporary or historical or paranormal will suddenly be the rage? But you do have control over your part of the equation. Keep learning. Keep evolving. Develop a greater mastery of your craft. You play a huge role in your own personal chances. You’re moving forward. You’re learning and growing. And with every step you take, you’re altering the odds. You’re controlling them – not the other way around. You set the odds. If you don’t like how they look, change them. Keep going. Keep pushing until the balance has shifted and the numbers are in your favor. I still struggle with my own internal bookie, who insists on quoting odds to me. Yeah, they might not be the best odds, but I’m going to gamble anyway. Jill Beck is a graduate of Purdue University and spent the first thirteen years of her career in manufacturing, before setting it aside to raise her children. Once the kids were in school, she opted to embark on Career 2.0 and try something more creative and intrinsically rewarding – no offense, manufacturing. Jill lives in Indiana with her three beautiful children, two awesome dogs and the most supportive husband in the universe. Jill writes new adult contemporary romance and her first novel, Legacy of the Dog, was released by Boroughs Publishing Group in October of 2015.

www.jillbeck.net || www.facebook.com/jillbeck186 || Twitter  @jillbeck18 || Tsu  @jillbeck

Do We Need to Explain Why We Write?

~ By Marilyn Brant  Note: This post originally appeared here Writing a novel is such an emotionally intense and mentally involving task that, much of the time, we writers are so caught up in juggling the details of story structure and craft that we lose focus on the ultimate big picture: Why are we writing this book in the first place? For me, days, weeks, even months go by and I don't think about this huge, unstated question. Oh, no. I'm too busy pondering whether the point of view I'm using to narrate my latest project is, in fact, working effectively. Or wondering if the plot and turning points that I've laboriously beated out (thank you, Blake Snyder) are, actually, succeeding in escalating the conflict like they're supposed to... I spent most of the summer puzzling over the time period and the setting of my current manuscript, asking myself -- and just about anyone who stood near me long enough: "Hey, do you like this idea? Does it make sense? Is it as interesting as I hope it is?" laptop, coffee, flowerThese aren't bad questions, of course. But, at some point, isn't it more important to ask myself instead: "Who else cares about this? Why does this story matter? Will any narrative choice I make mean anything to anyone but me? Is going to all the trouble to write this book worth it?" In my opinion, there is a long and a short answer to that for each of us as we face our various projects. The long answer is undoubtedly a complicated equation involving an analysis of our writing goals, our resources, our ability to reach readers, our desire for some of the fantasies that typically come with the writing life (regardless of whether or not we end up achieving them), like being seen as famous, earning our idea of a good fortune, winning honors and awards, battling Death in our ever-present fight against our mortality, or feeling the rush we get by challenging on paper a personal fear. Essentially, by some semi-objective means, we try to determine how capable, connected, valuable and relevant our stories are in the eyes of our target audience. How meaningful our work is, at least as deemed by the society in which we live. The short answer is...I don't know. It's kind of like asking if Love is worth it. You can try to measure the quality of the relationship by whatever scale you value most (how attracted you are to that person, how smart or kind or wealthy he/she is, how often you laugh when you're with him/her, which ideals you both share, etc.), and you can answer the famous Ann Landers question -- "Are you better off with him or without him?" -- to try to get at the very core of what draws you to the relationship. But, when it comes right down to it, we all know it's still a leap of faith. That, ultimately, we have to come to terms with our own lack of absolute certainty in regards to what we hope is our Love of a Lifetime. Maybe that's why, as writers, we throw ourselves so wholeheartedly into the details of the writing craft. THAT is something we do know (or, at least, we're fairly confident people like Robert McKee and Anne Lamott have some idea ;), and it gives us hope that there are things about our calling that we can know for sure. ("Yes, third person point-of-view is definitely the way to go for this piece. No, no, don't put the first turning point in that scene...") In the end, we may or may not leave a literary legacy behind, we may or may not earn much money or many accolades for our work, and we may or may not even know all of the deep-seated reasons that drew us to writing stories in the first place, but I don't think we should have to justify our passion for writing any more than we have to justify falling in love with our spouse. Why do we do this? Why do we write? Somewhere inside of each of us, we know why. And though we may work hard to express every nuance in every sentence within our manuscripts, and we should be held accountable for those story choices by our readers, I don't believe we owe anyone an explanation about what drives us to set pen to paper in the first place. We may choose to share, of course, but I feel it's as personal a question as revealing a childhood secret. As much of an individual stamp as our writing voice. And as unique and hard-to-define as we are. What do you think? Marilyn Brant is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of contemporary women’s fiction, romantic comedy & mystery. She was named the Author of the Year (2013) by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She loves all things Jane Austen, has a passion for Sherlock Holmes, is a travel addict and a music junkie, and lives on chocolate and gelato. 

Procrastinator Support Group [REPOST]

Kim~ By Kim Relph Czerwonka Hi, my name is Kim and I’m a procrastinator. Not only am I a procrastinator but I am at wizard level. Now the basic definition of procrastination is the practice of delaying or postponing the completion of a task.   Advanced procrastinators don’t simply delay a task they often replace it with a less important activity.  This less important activity is usually something that really doesn’t need to be done and certainly not in the timeframe of this very important task that clearly has a deadline. When I was in college I am pretty sure that I had the cleanest closet during finals week at my university.  Every semester like clockwork classes would wind down and I’d find myself organizing my closet.  Of course, I always had a good reason. At the end of the fall semester I told myself that with the holidays coming I needed to get it taken care of.  Where would I hide gifts? At the end of the spring semester I justified it by reasoning that I needed to be able to find my sandals or other summer gear. It’s a problem with perfection, and it’s not that we, as procrastinators, think we are perfect or that we do things perfectly. It’s that we have illusions of grandeur. We can imagine perfection, and it looks really good. The only problem with perfection is that it’s well, perfect.  Even if we ignore the idea that different people are going to have varying ideas of what is perfect, we are setting the bar exceptionally high. As my father, all around smart guy and my junior year Honors English teacher, would tell me, “It’s hard to be perfect and on time.” At the time I just thought he was talking about me, but since then I have found that this is a universal truth for procrastinators. You start with a task that needs to be done and then you come up with this great idea and you are really psyched about it.  It’s going to be amazing, and groovy and maybe even blue and…wait.  What now? There’s a deadline. Perfection and punctuality, fantastic, two of my favorite things, really.  Awesome. Ok. At some point it turns into perfect or punctual, one or the other but not both. How do we choose? Perfection is fairly subjective, you ask a random sample of people a single question and you are going to get different answers.  I think Chris Hemsworth is pretty close to perfect but I know a few people who are not impressed at all.  Punctuality, however is definite, Thursday at noon means the same thing to everyone.  (Yes, I know there are different time zones that could cause confusion but we all knew what I meant.) Clearly, the deadline is going to win over a fleeting chance at perfection. The deadline is the deal breaker but as a procrastinator we are then obligated to justify the lack of perfection. How can we be perfect when we have had such a busy day?  And, yeah, sometimes we invent things that have to be done right now. It’s avoidance at its best, perfection takes time so we allow ourselves to be distracted by various shiny alternatives. When we triumphantly meet our deadline we can point to all of the distractions and pat ourselves on the back for doing so well in such a short amount of time. Here’s my shiny example, while writing this post I got an email letting me know that I had earned a $15 rewards certificate to a national shoe store chain.  I stopped writing to go look at shoes.  Do I need shoes right now? Nope.  It is summer and I have a plethora of sandal options to choose from.  All I thought was, “Wow, $15!” and I sprinted off to see if there was anything that I absolutely needed.  Did I find anything that I needed right now? Nope…although I did find a darling pair of slouchy pull on boots that are on clearance, the avoidance thing, it’s not always bad. Is there a cure for procrastination? If you climb a mountain in Borneo and talk to the wise man…yeah. No, there is no cure. You can only treat the symptoms.  Like perfection, treatment options vary among the procrastinator population. When it comes to writing schedules work for some people, block out the same time every day to write.  Setting a timer is another favorite, set it for an hour and keep writing until you hear the ding.  The best treatment, in my humble opinion is to drop the idea of perfect in favor of ideas like fun, inspired, heartwarming or relatable. Kim Relph Czerwonka writes contemporary romance. When not writing, she is most likely sewing themed family costumes, wrangling one of several pets or shushing people so she can finish reading one more chapter. She lives in Arizona with her husband and teen daughter, and dreams of living somewhere, anywhere at this point, with cooler summers.

What to do when you’re too tired to think… [REPOST]

Susan-Meier~ By Susan Meier

Note: This post originally appeared here

I have two proposals due this month, a story to write and … well, there’s a major holiday in here too. So as I mentioned last week, I skimmed all my blogs and came up with some short, but helpful things I’d said this year that bear repeating… When you are too tired to think, you can do your manuscript a great disservice. You can delete good stuff and keep bad stuff…and not even know you’re doing it. So what do you do when you’re too tired to think? 1. Step away. Get so far away from the computer that you can’t even see it! Don’t tempt yourself to work when you’re too tired. 2. Give yourself options of ways to rest your brain. Normally housekeeping is my go-to mundane activity to heal my brain. Yesterday, it wasn’t cutting it. Why? I think because it was still part of a routine. And my brain wanted something different. My something different and your something different could be two totally different things. Some people like bubble baths. Some people shop. Some people eat out. There are lots of things you can do to rest your brain. Write a list of 20, give yourself choices so you really will rest your brain. 3. Once you’ve decided what you’re going to do…throw yourself into it. Forget your book. (Buy the popcorn!) 4. Remember to move. My trainer is a very smart woman. She can take one look at me and know when I need to push physically to help myself mentally. If you don’t belong to a gym and/or don’t have lots of workout tapes, ride your bike, take a walk, run up and down your stairs! LOL Do something to get the blood flowing. And most of all #5…don’t be mad at yourself for needing a day off. I usually work six days a week. Lately, I’ve been working seven. How fair is that to my poor brain? Taking a day off rather than pushing can usually reap the reward of a fully cooperative brain the next morning. It worked for me. :) Don’t push yourself so much that you hit that wall that totally stops you…maybe for a long time. Happy reading…
Susan Meier is the author of over 60 books for Harlequin and Silhouette, Entangled Indulgence, Red Hot Bliss and Bliss and one of Guideposts’ Grace Chapel Inn series books, THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS. In 2013 she lived one of her career-long dreams. Her book, THE TYCOON’S SECRET DAUGHER was a finalist for RWA’s highest honor, the Rita. The same year NANNY FOR THE MILLIONAIRE’S TWINS was a National Reader’s Choice finalist and won the Book Buyer’s Best Award.Susan is married with three children and is one of eleven children, which is why love and family are always part of her stories.

My Writing Survival List

~ By Jade Chandler Please stand up now, raise your right hand and repeat. Writing is a solitary art. But that doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. One of many things I hear about writing is that it is for loners, that it’s all about the muse waking up full of ideas, and that with just a bit more time we’d all be done with that insert troublesome project. So I call bullsh*t on those, and for me, I see each as a challenge to embrace and find a way to work through, over, under or around it. And that is what my survival list is all about! visualVisual stimulation. And for me that means lots of mostly naked, hot men do are or could one day represent my main characters. When I need a specific image of a scene, a dress, a detail of any kind, I find it and pin it to Pinterest. This way my poor Swiss cheese brain doesn’t have to work too hard.      

Writing friends.

FriendsSo my husband was tapped out before I ended book one, and my vanilla friends (non-writers) are supportive but clueless. So I joined RWA, which you probably are too if you are reading this blog. Then I joined my local chapter, online chapters and a few other groups. I found critique groups and critique partners to share my journey with, and I connected with classmates from craft classes. Writers, especially romance writers, are generally very supportive. Find your people and embrace them! It gives you so much—accountability, advice, and encouragement to name a few.

reading   Reading: rose in bookSo I became a writer because I love books, really love books, and at some point, I became more interested in the stories in my head than the ones I was reading.  But after obsessing in my writing pool a few months, I missed books. Sometimes I can’t read romance, other times I read romance for a publisher I’m trying to snag. But I read, no less than a book a week. I “read” by listening via audible.com. For me it makes driving, housework and all my tedious chores more fun.   Balance. pond with water lilliesSo like any newly-converted fan, I obsessed about writing at first, ignoring most things that didn’t pay the bills or bleed. But that was short-lived as my husband and kids staged an intervention (kidding about that intervention). I realized I was living with all my eggs in a single basket. Not healthy. And then there was guilt. I’m not a guilt-ridden person by default, but I knew I wasn’t doing the balancing thing. So now, I spend time playing games, hanging out, cooking, seeing vanilla friends, and I write in 30 minute chunks. I can find four to five of those chunks in my day instead of one long two-hour, don’t-interrupt-me, stretch. Find your balance, which could mean more writing time or less. loserfreezone   Loser-free Zone: I kicked out all the losers who took up space inside my head, and they can’t come back.
  • The Muse: She demanded I write on her schedule and didn’t give a diddly-damn about my schedule or my family. And I write without her, just as well, maybe better.
  • The Critic: She was haughty, skeptical and laughed at every mistake. That bitch is now out and gone.
  • The Doubter: This mousy girl liked to point out how she liked our writing but no one else would, ever.
  • The Yes-Woman: She is the hardest to get rid of as I like to say yes to things. I like to think I’ve turned her into a Meh Woman.
So my challenge to you as you start the New Year is identify your writer survival list and come up with one or two ways you can strengthen that, or add to the list. I want to add exercising to my survival list, but right now that would be fiction. We’ll see if it can make the list by 2017. Go forth and conquer, or you know, search the internet for hot guys and cute cats. Jade Chandler is a new author who lives in Kansas City Missouri, with a hubby surrounded by a house full of girls–two daughters, a dog and a cat. A life-long lover of romance, she decided to write romance in 2014. Her first book in the Jericho Brotherhood MC series will be released Summer 2016 by Carina Press.

@jadechandlerrom || Jadechandler.com || 14jadechandler@gmail.com

8 things about Garth Brooks that might change the way you write

Susan-Meier ~ By Susan Meier Note: This post originally appeared here.  This is a blog I posted about a year ago...I read it (to remind myself of a few things) and realized this was some perfect "new year/new start" advice... Happy New Year! Enjoy! ... A few weeks ago, I had a bad cold and spent a Saturday and Sunday in bed. If you know anything about weekend TV, you know I was bored to the point of tears and ended up watching a "special" about Garth Brooks. But, man, am I ever glad I did. The show was designed so that Garth himself didn't do much talking. His friends talked about him, his work ethic, etc. After a while I started making notes. :) And here they are ... 8 things about Garth Brooks that might change the way you write. 1. He loves music and wants everybody to love music. That sounds pretty simple, until you really think it through. Because he loves music he promotes well...but he also writes, produces and sings the best songs. The best songs. And what does that mean for his audience? He doesn't shortchange them. They always get the best. So...If you really, really, really love WRITING and your genre, you should be looking for the best ideas. You should be doing YOUR best when you write. Your love of writing (or your genre) should shine through your work. 2. He has respect for other musicians and songwriters. You have to have a healthy respect for what you do and everyone who does it in order to be your best. If you only half-heartedly love romance, I genuinely believe it shows in your work. If you're working hard, if it takes you months to write a book, if you study writing, if you tear your scenes apart again and again to make them perfect...So are your peers. Lots of people are working full-time jobs and writing. Lots are caring for kids, elderly parents or disabled adult children. We should never, ever, ever discount the trials and tribulations of other writers. It just plain makes us better people to be kind to each other. And God likes that. :) 3.  He has a good range. Garth might be a country singer, but his songs transcend the genre.  Because of #4... 4.  He loves telling a good story. That's so true. His music is all about storytelling. And he does it well. He picks subjects that resonate, and he makes them vibrate with reality and emotion. Literally. LOL I heard Elton John talk about storytelling and music once and it totally changed the way I looked at music. He said smart songwriters tell a story because people love stories. Well, lucky us! That's our business. But that takes us back to not shortchanging your audience (something I talked about a few weeks ago in the Hybrids blog), to figuring out what they like to hear, to learning to write well...so your story is the best it can be. 5. He is an entertainer. And so should we be. People get a show when they go to see Garth. People want to be entertained when they read our books. So many times we get caught up in word counts and craft that we forget we're entertainers. Nora Roberts wasn't afraid to break a few rules. Suzanne Brockman took regular romance "hook" or trope stories and turned them  on their ears. Laura Kaye's writing vibrates with sensuality, even as her characters charm you to death. LOL When I pick up a book, I want to be swept away. And it took me a few books (like 20 -- sometimes I make my younger self sound like a real idiot) before I realized, as a reader, I wasn't special. All readers were like me. A book doesn't have to have tons of action or ideas that transcend the norm. The writer simply has to take her genre or subgenre's conventions and use them to entertain readers. We are entertainers. So...entertain. :) 6.  He has a respect for his audience (very much, his friends said, like another successful guy...Frank Sinatra) The pundits  used to tell us our audience was bored housewives. We now know that's not true. Our audience is lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers, secretaries, nurses, business owners...Everybody.  You should appreciate the fact that a reader picked up your book. You should give her her money's worth. But most of all, you can't talk down to her. Readers are very smart. If you write poorly, they will spot it. If you don't research, they will know. If you don't like what you're doing and "phone in" your book, they'll see it. And they won't come back. So even your books with the tightest deadlines have to be your best work. (I'm talking to myself here because I'm a week late and tempted to write fast and get this turkey in. Instead, I slowed down...God help me...to make sure the book is the best it can be.) 7. He's never afraid to be passionate. And don't we love that? Being passionate, I think, is part of being a good entertainer. And we're all in the entertainment industry. I love category romance. :) I love the point in the story when the tension is so tight you know it could snap. The story could change. The characters could do something they regret. It puts me on the edge of my seat. That's what I want to see in books I read. That's what I want to get into my stories when I write. Granted, I'm not always successful...but I'm not afraid of that passion. Not afraid to confront it. In fact, smart romance writers use it! We are, after all, in the passion business! LOL 8. Even with success he remained a nice guy. :) Ah, would that we all could be. Sometimes I think it's easy for the uber successful to be nice guys. Let's face it. They're making the money. Readers are stroking their egos. Their Facebook fan page numbers are through the roof. Amazon loves them. Agents call them out of the blue. Editors call their agents and ask them to write something for them... Sigh. I could be nice if I were on top! That's what we all think. But the funny part of it is, the people on top have greater struggles than those of us hovering in the middle. There's constant expectation. Not just from their publishers, but from readers...AND THEMSELVES. When you are on top, you want to stay on top and there are thousands of wannabes nipping at your heels. So whether you're on the top or in the middle or just starting out, know this: You're going to have bad days. There will always be somebody who is doing better than you are. You will question your talent. There will never be enough hours in a day or days in a deadline... That does not give you license to be mean. In fact, given that we're all in this together, being nice to people is a way to form support groups, critique groups, lifeboat groups and make the friends who may someday save you. :) But being nice is just plain the right thing to do. Jealousy, meanness and condescension only make you sadder than you already are. In other words, you're hurting yourself. So grab your talent by the handle and get going. Don't worry about what anybody else is doing. Don't think you're better than anybody else. Don't worry that you're not getting the recognition you deserve. Just write your best book. Enjoy the process. And be a well rounded person. Enjoy your family. Love your spouse. Go fishing (or swimming or bingo playing or shopping). Have other passions aside from writing. Because nobody's ever clearly the best. Rankings change. Genres go in and out of style. Things like Facebook get invented and change everything. :) Don't be so one-dimensional that you can't be happy unless you're the best. :) And think of Garth Brooks. :) Be passionate, love your industry, love your audience, love your craft, love your peers, be a storyteller. A great storyteller. Be proud of yourself. :) As a special treat, we'll leave you with one of Garth Brooks' best "story-telling" songs:

 Are there any songs that have taught you about craft and story-telling? Leave a comment and let us know! 

Susan Meier is the author of over 60 books for Harlequin and Silhouette, Entangled Indulgence, Red Hot Bliss and Bliss and one of Guideposts’ Grace Chapel Inn series books, THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS. In 2013 she lived one of her career-long dreams. Her book, THE TYCOON’S SECRET DAUGHER was a finalist for RWA’s highest honor, the Rita. The same year NANNY FOR THE MILLIONAIRE’S TWINS was a National Reader’s Choice finalist and won the Book Buyer’s Best Award.Susan is married with three children and is one of eleven children, which is why love and family are always part of her stories.

Fitness for Writers: Learning Fitness Forgiveness [REPOST]

lisa~ By Lisa Siefert How many articles have you read in your lifetime on fitness and weight-loss? I’m 41 and have been reading women’s fashion and fitness magazines since I was ten. After three decades of being constantly bombarded with tips, tricks and fitness plans, I can confirm that to this day, I have not been able to consistently follow any of those helpful habits. Not one. Sometimes, I manage to get in one or two here or there but have I ever managed to eat 5-6 servings of fruits and veggies everyday followed by a 20-minute cardio session at 60 percent of my target max heart rate? Um, no. And I’m here to tell you, that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. Life happens, deadlines pop up or even better, sometimes you just don’t feel like it. The key isn’t admonishing your shortfalls with some mean girl inner dialogue bullying and then promising yourself that you’ll do better the next day. The answer is learning to forgive and let go. The media already places a tremendous amount of body shaming on us to last a few lifetimes. Why add to it? According to Dove, there were over 5 million negative body image tweets last year alone. As appalled as we all are at outrageous statements like the CEO of Lululemon, the popular fitness clothing brand, declaring that women’s inner thighs shouldn’t touch, I bet the things we say to ourselves are far worse. I’m here to declare a Fitness Forgiveness Revolution. Accept where you are, love the person and the body you have today because I can guarantee that hating yourself towards being more fit and healthy does not work. We all need to be kinder to ourselves when it comes to a missed workout or overindulging in a treat here and there. Life is meant for living and not for punishing ourselves over imperfections. That means, not punishing yourself by signing up for a Juice Cleanse as a quick-fix to the extra dessert you indulged in yesterday. Or declaring that you need to do 2 hours on the treadmill today to make up for yesterday’s missed workout. And most of all, not missing out on life because you don’t think you’re thin enough, fit enough or skinny enough to be seen at an event, in public or at the beach. Be nicer to yourself. Everyday for me isn’t perfect but I’m still trying. I’m not beating myself up over it. I simply wake up the next day and decide tomorrow will be another opportunity to try it again. I think too many of us, especially women, label ourselves as failures for not being perfect in our fitness endeavors, how our bodies look and well, pretty much everything else. And that’s really the #1 reason adopting new, healthier fitness habits fail. We’re too busy punishing ourselves to focus on the small achievements we do accomplish. Instead, declare that tomorrow is another day and another chance to try it again. Don’t give up! Keep going because everyday is a fresh opportunity to try it all over again. Lisa is an aspiring contemporary romance writer in San Diego, CA. She has been teaching group exercise classes since college and wants to share her love of health and fitness with other writers over at Fit & Wordy Girl. (Coming August 2015) RWA 2015 Annual Conference: Join her for your early morning workouts in New York. She will be teaching Pilates each day at 6:30am. All fitness levels welcome!

New Year, New Goals [REPOST]

annekemp~ By Anne Kemp Note: This was posted one year ago, but the message will always be relevant.  Happy 2015! Here’s to the New Year… It’s a time to reflect, take a look at what did and didn’t work last year and a good time to set new intentions for the year to come. Personally, I love taking the first week of the January (yes, I give myself a week to figure it out) to focus on my goals, both professional and personal, and what I really want to accomplish in the next 365 days. For many of us writer-types, we may decide to set a daily word count we’ll strive to hit or maybe a goal is to be more proactive on our social media (and not wait until we need to promote something before posting!). Some of us will be making it a goal to finish that work in progress and others will be just getting started with their first book – so exciting!! No matter where you are in the writing process, a new year can be like rewriting our own stories…and why not? Each year, I take a small chalkboard and write down in very specific details everything I want to accomplish. When it’s all done, I put that board on my desk so every time I sit down to work, play or just scroll online I see it. If I feel lazy and don’t want to write, I’ll see that spot on the board where I penciled in “Write 1500 words a day!!” and I’ll know it must be done. (Sigh….I will do it. Even though everything in me wants to curl up and watch Criminal Minds or Scandal. And the dog needs a walk. Then there’s my laundry….) For some of us, the art of making a resolution seems daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! There truly are no rules, just the ones we’ve made for ourselves. Did you make any resolutions or set any goals for the New Year? Feel free to share ‘em in the comments! Here’s to our best year of writing yet!!! Anne Kemp is an Amazon Best-Selling Author who writes contemporary romance from her office in Wellington, New Zealand – a far cry from her former life in Los Angeles, California! Anne loves chatting with fellow authors and fans on her Facebook page or you can find her on Twitter @MissAnneKemp

Happy New Year! Now What?

 Sherrie - Author - retouched~By Sherrie Hansen The excitement and bright lights of the holiday season have come and gone, and for me, the temptation to hunker down, eat a lot of fattening food, and hibernate for the rest of the winter is strong. If I’m not careful, dreary winter days, void of sunshine, can lull me into a lazy, lackadaisical mode that can last half the year. So I’m here today to challenge you – and me, too. There’s a rhythm to writing, and it’s time to get in sync! Because I live in the upper Midwest, my New Year starts out much like the Wizard of Oz – in black and white. Long nights, winter snow, fog, and ice, and shades of gray, overcast skies dominate our landscape. But the flipside is, the slow, boring days of January are a great time to start a new book or finish editing your old one. Like Dorothy, I spend my days dreaming of colorful characters and enchanted places, typing black words on a white screen to create worlds where flowers are blooming and the sunshine is golden. February is a time of romance. At my B&B, we lavish our customers with red strawberries dipped in chocolate fondue, seafood served in scallop shells on puff pastry hearts, and steaks topped with herbs de Provence and Roquefort cream. Yes, romance. You know what to do. Take a long soak in a bubble bath, let yourself dream a little, and start writing. March brings the winds of change. March is a time of new life – daffodils, kites and newborn lambs. But March is full of false starts and hopes dashed - thin crusts of ice with rushing water underneath, Easter snowstorms, cuteness and treachery all rolled into one. Sounds like the perfect time to hatch a plot, doesn’t it? With April showers and May flowers, come refreshment and a rainbow of colors. Rinse the cobwebs out of your mind and let yourself participate in the rebirth of the earth. Write with newly kindled passion. Step back, let go, and allow your characters to spring to life. Follow them and see where they take you. June and July are colored with the vibrant greens, pinks, purples, and yellows of summer. Hot and steamy, summer is filled with fireworks and fizzled relationships and a heightened sense of being. Let the hazy, lazy days of summer infuse your novel with short-term craziness. No need to commit to a specific plot. Just run with it. Feel the cool breezes – really feel them. Let yourself get a little sultry. Depending on where you live, August or September is a time of re-structuring. We’re forced to buckle down, go back to our studies, and get serious about finishing our summer projects. September is a month when forced disciplines and alarm clocks dominate out lives. What better time to start out fresh, wake up early and get an extra hour of writing worked into the schedule? The brilliant reds and oranges of October are a last hurrah that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Get your fill of color – and write – all you can. For the past several years, I’ve tried to have my novel half done by the end of October in hopes of being able to finish the rough draft during NaNoWriMo. Because my goal is to release one book a year, I have the first 10 months of the year to write the first half of the book. The end of the year is drawing near. Let October’s brilliance propel you into high gear. Do whatever you need to do to stay on track. By the time November rolls around, I’m ready for the challenge of writing 1667 words a day to write 50,000 words in November. I wrote large portions of Love Notes, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, and Shy Violet in November because of NaNoWriMo. There’s no time to edit, rewrite or perfect. Just get the words on the paper. No matter how crazy or erratic your schedule, just get it done. There's plenty of time to get picky come December or January. December is a prelude to winter, a time to tie up loose ends. Give your readers the gift of yourself, shining through the pages of your novel. December can be exhilarating, or for some, a downer. But there's no need to drown in the dismal, sometimes depressing days. Let your writing be your Star in the East. Save on therapy sessions and write your heart out. Take those horrid or hilarious family gatherings and craft them into a scene. Make lemonade. And then, because you’re in the groove, the rhythm repeats. You get with the beat. Yes, Virginia, there is a time for every season. I do my edits and rewrites in December, January and February so I can send my manuscript to my publisher in March. They typically have it ready for release in July. For me, it's a good rhythm. Write no matter what’s going on around you, and in a matter of time, the cycle of writing will come full circle. Twenty-four years ago, Sherrie Hansen rescued a dilapidated Victorian house from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a B&B and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. Sherrie and her husband, Mark, who is a pastor, live in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart. Sherrie writes murder mysteries and novels whenever she’s not working at her B&B or trying to be a good pastor’s wife. Her contemporary romantic suspense novels include Night and Day, Love Notes, and Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, and Shy Violet, her Wildflowers of Scotland novels. You can see what’s she’s up to at: 

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The Essential Key to Reaching Your Goals: Just Say No

Milou Koenings~ By Milou Koenings A few years ago, I was clearing out piles of papers on my desk. Note: This is a recurring goal of mine. I have fantasies of clear, minimalist workspaces. These are tempered by facts – studies prove people are more creative in messy spaces and I am very, very creative. Back to point. I was clearing out piles of papers on my desk. It was part of my New Year's Resolutions. Right there, number three on the list: Clear Off Desk!!! One particular piece of paper caught my eye because it was a hand-scribbled list that, like the one on my mind at the time, was titled: New Year's Resolutions. Double underline, plus a year – three years prior. Huh. Guess I hadn't made it to number three that year. I paused to see what else was on that old list. And that's when I pretty much gave up on New Year's Resolutions forever. Because except for the order in which some items appeared on it, it was exactly the same as the new list. Sleep more. Exercise more. Write more. Publish more. Eat more healthy foods. Eat less chocolate. Clear Off Desk!!! Right.  So if New Year's Resolutions didn't help me improve, what would? Surely, I was not doomed to live in a den of disappointments with no hope of a better me, was I? I chucked the resolutions and that was actually a transformative year for me. Many things happened that I can only liken to an earthquake shaking up my prior existence. Here's what I learned: Just Do It may work for Nike, but it didn't work for me. Setting more and more goals didn't help me accomplish more. It only grew my stress and disappointment. What I needed was this: Just Say No. Great ideas for novels sometimes come a dozen at a time.  Nora Roberts may be able to publish a dozen books in as many months (and leave me begging for more), but I am not. Pick three (two, one ... one half ...). And say no to all the others. Blog posts, short stories, articles, group projects – they're wonderful. So much fun. They could do such great things for my career!  Pick one, pick two. Say no to all the others. Social Media. Facebook fifteen times a day, Pinterest three hours a day, Twitter every thirty seconds ... Excuse me, who has time to write a book?  Make a plan, write it down and stick to it. And then say no to all the rest. All those papers on my desk?  Still too many, I'm afraid, but before they even land there... if they don't need to be there, just say no. It isn't the most sophisticated goal-setting program I've ever seen, perhaps not even a very inspiring one. But saying no helped me hit that year, for the first time, all the major professional milestones I had hoped for, whereas I'd managed, with a whole lot of work, blood, sweat and tears, to publish precisely zip in the eighteen months before that. And it keeps on working. I thought I'd reinvented the wheel. I was sure I was going to publish a book about this epiphany of mine. I already could picture my best-selling book cover: Just Say NO! Then a friend burst my bubble by sending me the following quote from Steve Jobs. Not only did Jobs beat me to it, he did so more eloquently:
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done.”
Guess I'll be saying no to that particular book idea, then, so I can say yes to the contemporary romances I really want to write. Yes, to the books that are close to my heart. And yes, to more chocolate, sleep and exercise. Celery sticks ... meh ... Milou Koenings is an award-winning USA Today bestselling author who writes romance because, like chocolate, stories with happy endings bring joy to the world and so make it a better place. She's lived all over the world, working as a freelance travel and technology writer, but loves to stay home with her family more than anything. You can join her newsletter at www.miloukoenings.com Milou's a proud member of Sweet Romance Reads, where she blogs monthly every 21st of the month, and you can also get to know her better here:

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