Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Categorized: Organization and Productivity

It’s Cait Reynolds again, and you know what that means…muahahahahahaha

Image courtesy of memegenerator.co

Historical romance is full of strong-jawed heroes in possession of a good fortune and in want of a wife…whether they know it or not.

In fact, if you add up all the fine, vast estates throughout England, you’d probably end up with a country the size of the North American continent. Actually, better add in Central America just to make sure we have enough acreage. (Thanks to my friend Britt for pointing this out to me all those years ago.)

For every Lord So-and-So, and Duke of Blah-Blah, there is a lovely, feisty young lady who much overcome a sad lack of fortune, sudden misfortune, or the tragedy of unfortunate connections in order to save the day, the estate, and the hero…who naturally obliges by falling in love with her.

Oh, wait. Sorry. Gone off the rails there.

We’re not talking puerile plotting today (and besides, that’s Lamb’s specialty). I’m here to talk about how to write about an ingratiatingly indignant and independence-loving heroine together with her seriously sensitive and sinfully seductive hero so that they are not walking, talking anachronisms that make readers want to tear their eyes out with the pickle fork.

Before we jump in, can I just ask…does it always have to be Regency England? Really? Historical writing is hard enough without thousands of experts ready to jump in and point out any inaccuracy or anachronism. I mean, I have seen virtual fisticuffs break out among the delicately natured about the precise method of shining Hessian boots as mentioned in a particular book.

Anyway.

We have to do the research. There is no silver bullet, no short-cut. We might not be doing the world-building of fantasy, but we are re-building a world that impacts every single thing our characters will do, say, think…and eat. Yes, certain emotions and reactions are consistent across time and fundamental to human nature. However, the way our characters understand the actions and circumstances that create those emotions and the way their reactions are expressed are absolutely rooted and shaded by their contemporary context.

Let’s take a look at a sample of the areas that we need to consider when tackling historical world re-building.

Dentistry, Dandruff & Deodorant

Perfume was invented for a reason. Back in ye olde, personal hygiene was far more…shall we say…individualistic? Perhaps optional would be a better word. I’m not saying people didn’t try to wash—somewhat. But, ‘somewhat’ had very different connotations and practices in the 12th century and the 19th century.

Even nobility had issues with the stink. I mean, think about it. You try walking around on a sunny, 70-degree day in several layers of silk and linen while having your internal organs constricted by whalebone. Oh, and don’t forget the wig (and attendant weevils and other creepy crawlies that would take up residence therein).

Bathing involved servants, buckets, lots of wood or coal, and a short soak in rapidly-cooling water. We should be considerate of Sally the under housemaid when deciding that your character is going to have a bath every day. She already has a lot of work to do around the house (including emptying your chamber pot), and helping to prepare a bath for you under the watchful eye of your abigail isn’t making her job any easier.

We don’t have to write that everyone stinks or about the housekeeper’s armpit hair. But, we need to think twice and do some research before glibly tossing out that Our Heroine shampooed her hair.

Watch Your Mouth

Seriously. If I read another manuscript where the author has used words like sure/okay/all right, I am going to reach for that pickle fork. But, it’s not just use of modern slang that can jar the reader out of the story, upsetting hoop skirts everywhere.

Even the way sentences in dialogue are constructed can indicate whether a character is speaking Tudorish, Regencyish, or Victorianish.

Image courtesy of Mental Floss

Even commoners would speak more formally than we do today—and the riff-raff, beggars, and laborers would also know just enough to speak with respect to their betters.

We should not make the mistake of thinking formal means ponderous or dull, though. It’s fun to play with that stereotype here and there, especially when writing the dialogue of a pompous, hidebound old windbag. But, formality and a more extensive vocabulary doesn’t mean we can’t have witty, chatty characters that are silly, sexy, and scintillating.

Help Wanted

Elizabeth Bennet did not repine the fact she could not go to university, or become a doctor or a soldier. She operated well-within the confines of acceptable social norms and expectations, and she did so because she naturally accepted that circumscribing and did not question it.

Why would she? It simply was how things were. Yes, she challenged the status quo about marrying for love, but she never challenged marriage or denied that there were only a handful of respectable options outside of marriage for a young lady.

This brings me to something that I see over and over again in stories: the feisty heroine who dreams of becoming X (insert impossibly modern career choice here). That’s not to say that we can’t write a good, convincing story about a heroine who dreams of becoming X, but we have to take a good, long, hard look at her starting place before we do.

Image courtesy of memegenerator.net

Seraphina is bored with embroidering all day and wants to join her brother and become a knight. She’s all about how girls can fight just as well as boys, and girls should get a chance, etc. She tosses her golden hair as she fights openly with her father about wanting to learn how to use a sword.

Cue pickle fork.

Seraphina was always closest to her brother Rolf. They supported and protected each other while growing up in a difficult family situation. When Rolf is called to go serve the king in a crusade, Seraphina panics.

She doesn’t want to be left alone to deal with the difficult family situation at home. She doesn’t think she could handle waiting months or even years for Rolf to come home—if he even makes it home.

She is backed into a corner, but because of her native courage, she makes a daring choice. She convinces Rolf to let her come along in disguise as part of his retinue. Along the way, she has to practice and sharpen up her fighting skills in order to pass for his squire. It’s a different world out there, when wooden swords are replaced with cold, hard steel.

Basically, people need to stop shoving heroines with 21st century values and beliefs into ye olde days. The only way to avoid making this mistake is to read and learn about the cultural values of the period and to immerse our brains into thinking in this way so our characters will behave naturally in harmony with the times.

Not Bread and Cheese Again!

Would people please stop having their characters eat nothing but bread and cheese? There is so much bread and cheese in poorly-researched historical novels that I feel nutritionally-imbalanced just reading about it.

There is no excuse for bread and cheese. If anything, historical food is one of the easiest areas to research! Just type ’18th century English food’ into Google, and BAM! You’ve got blogs, Google Books, PDFs of actual recipe books, and even photos of meals cooked from authentic recipes.

Image courtesy of Me.Me

Also, pay attention to what your characters are drinking. Well water (hello, giardia)? Beer or ale? Possibly. You could have combination of sherry, wine, and port or brandy with dinner. Be careful of tea, coffee, and hot chocolate before the 18th century. Yes, they were around, but not universally, depending on the decade and country. And, don’t let me catch you talking about hot chocolate like it’s some Swiss Miss crap. Hot chocolate was just that. Hot. Chocolate.

So, next time you want to write food into your scene, don’t settle for Wonder Bread and Kraft Singles. Let loose with Sack posset, quail in puff pastry, Chelsea buns, turnip soup, and Portugal Cakes…with a couple bottles of good Madeira to go along with it all!

Dressing the Part

Our dear Charity has managed to get away from her odious great aunt and is at the house of her friend Isabelle, getting ready for the ball. We the readers are treated to an extensive description of fabric, décolletage, sleeves, overskirts, hems, and lace. Let’s not forget the incredible jewelry, hairstyling, and make-up.

There’s a whole other sermon I could write about the sins of describing outfits. Today, I’ll confine myself to discussing historical accuracy. We need to dress our characters according to their social position, and we know what that means (hint: it involves research). A barmaid will not have a closet full of everyday dresses. If some malmsey-nosed sot spills beer on her, she can’t go home and change. Most likely, she would go rinse out the beer from her skirt because this would be her only summer skirt, and her other outfit would be for winter. Maybe, if she was lucky, she would have one good dress for weddings and funerals, and that dress would probably have been cut down from one of her mother’s in a style of twenty years earlier.

Yes. That is me. I own a steel-boned corset, and it is damn comfortable!

Yes, almost all women who could afford them wore corsets. But, before you have our dear Charity go complain about having to wear a corset, stop. Just. Stop. That would be like complaining about wearing a bra. Yes, we all do it sometimes, and we know it’s possible to go without one. Yet, it’s not really a big deal. It’s just part of what we wear every day.

This also goes for cravats for the gents, because someone, somewhere thought it would be a marvelous little joke to make men strangle themselves every day in the name of fashion.

Clothing wasn’t so much put on as assembled onto a person, with people who couldn’t afford maids helping each other. Both sexes wore stockings (at least up until the early 19th century) with garters to hold them up. There were petticoats and felt strips, chemisettes and buckles.

Just be careful of underwear. Drawers, pantaloons, panties, and small clothes weren’t really all that commonplace until the 19th century. This means if you want to go deep POV, you could mention the occasional strategic draft…

Pickle Forks and POV

The point of all this work is to show, but not show off. Out of everything you learn, only 10% should make it into your book. Wait. Stop. There will be no flipping of tables while reading this blog! Hear me out.

It’s all about understanding POV. What is normal for the character versus what is noteworthy. Think about contemporary fiction: ‘Taylor sat down at the table and helped himself to the potatoes.’ We can easily picture this in our minds. There’s a table, chairs, a dish, a bowl with potatoes and some kind of serving utensil. This sentence could work just as well in historical fiction just as it is (assuming we are working with a time period where potatoes were part of the European diet…and knowing that Taylor as a first name really wasn’t used back then but whatevs): ‘Sir Taylor sat down at the table and helped himself to the potato and gruyere galette.’

We do not need to elaborate just to show off that you verified the status of potatoes or know how dishes were served in the 19th century. There is no real reason we should ever write: ‘Sir Taylor entered the formal dining room where even on ordinary, daily occasions, the family gathered to eat. He settled himself in an ornately carved chair and reached for the porcelain platter with the Potato and Gruyere Galette.’

Image (and RECIPE) from paperandsalt.org

Some people would snort and point out that there is nothing wrong with that sentence, that it is lovely and descriptive. Yes, it is descriptive, but would Sir Taylor really think about how interesting it was that the family used the formal dining room every day, or how ornately carved his chair was? Do we notice with mild surprise where our dining table is every time you sit down to eat? No? Then, why would Sir Taylor?

Stay focused on the character, the plot, and the action. All I had to do to evoke a fancy, historical feel to the food was to change it from potatoes to an actual recipe (one which George Sand was rather fond of). If I’ve done my job right earlier in the book/chapter/scene, I’ve already given you a feel for the manor house, its size, décor, etc., but all done in the context of dialogue and POV.

So, now that I’ve beat sloppy historical fiction about the head and ears, I’m going to tell you about an opportunity to learn how to do sufficient and efficient research to be credible, interesting, and subtle. I’m offering an online class on Saturday, July 8, from 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST on W.A.N.A.! Information and sign up links are below.

The Class

So, you want to write historical romance. Awesome. Now, you just need to learn everything about that time period. Yay! Yay? Oh…crap.

While we don’t need a PhD in history to write historical fiction, we do need to do your research so that we can avoid the pitfalls of anachronistic language, modern Mary Sues, and the unforgivable sin of having our characters pay morning calls before one o’clock in the afternoon.

But, how do we start researching? And, when do we end? How do we know we know enough to start plotting–let alone writing? How do we keep track of everything we need to remember?

This class answers all those questions and more.

  • Get a template that guides you through all the steps of research
  • Discover the tricks of effectively and efficiently using Google and Pinterest
  • Learn how to use historical context in character development (i.e. no more Mary Sues)
  • Find out when and how to take research shortcuts…and when you have to buckle down and just slog through it all
  • Learn how to build a research reference library of your own
  • Discover how to find non-fiction books that are NOT boring
  • Develop an understanding of what kind of historical details to put into your story, and more importantly, what to leave out

Research for Historical Romance Writing – Or, How NOT to Lose Six Hours on Pinterest July 8th $35 for Basic/ $75 for GOLD / $125 for PLATINUM

Historical GOLD
You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus one hour of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story.

Historical PLATINUM
You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus two hours of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story and bonus worksheets. These worksheets will efficiently guide you through in-depth world-building and research, providing you with consistency for your writing and an excellent reference/style sheet for your editor and proofreader.

****Just FYI, in an effort to combat spammers your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Talk to me! And MAKE SURE to check out the classes below and sign up! Summer school! YAY!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES!

Obviously, I have my areas of expertise, but I’ve wanted for a long time to fill in some gaps on classes I could offer.

Cait Reynolds was my answer.

She is an unbelievable editor, mentor and teacher and a serious expert in these areas. She consults numerous very successful USA Today and NYTBS authors and I highly, highly recommend her classes.

OMG, Like How to Write Fleek YA July 7th $40 with Cait Reynolds

How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here) July 14th $40 w/ Cait Reynolds

Gaskets and Gaiters: How to Create a Compelling Steampunk World July 21st $35 w/ Cait Reynolds 

Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction 

July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125

Classes with MOI!

Plotting for Dummies July 13th $35 ($250 for GOLD)

Blogging for Authors June 29th $50 ($150 for GOLD)

Branding for Authors  July 7th $35

OTHER Classes with Cait Reynolds

Shift Your Shifter Romance into High Gear June 30th $35 Basic/ $75 GOLD/ $125 PLATINUM

Classes with Lisa Hall-Wilson

Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook June 24th $40

 

 

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of elaueverose.
Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of elaueverose.

I do a lot of stuff. Actually too much stuff but I am totally woking on that saying “No” thing. Hey, I’m getting there. Two days ago I finally earned my fourth stripe on my white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. For those who don’t know, in BJJ, you are a white belt forever. It takes anywhere from a year to a year and a half to earn a blue belt. My next level is blue belt and I am stoked. 

In BJJ, the blue belt is almost as big of a deal as black belt because most people never get that far.

My Jiu Jitsu brothers.
My Jiu Jitsu brothers.

But I constantly hear people say things like, “Oh, I’d love to write a book. I just can’t find the time.” “Wow, I’d love to do Jiu Jitsu. If I could only find the time.

I am no angel. My life gets out of control, too. But, I can say that these periods are far shorter than they used to be because I have learned solid principles that work. When my life feels like it has been tossed in a blender? It means I am no longer in the driver’s seat. I am allowing other people’s agendas to bleed into my life and I am mistaking the urgent for the important.

Here’s the deal…

We live in a society that feeds us a lot of lies. The biggest one is about TIME. Oh, if I only had more time, then I could (fill in the blank). The truth is we are all given the same amount of time—24 hours a day. Of course the next big lie that’s easy to believe (and I’ve been guilty) is Well, if I only work HARDER, that will get me where I want to be.

That’s crap.

More time doesn’t equal MORE AWESOME.

Thus, today we’re going to look at some of the lies and time-stealers and ways to be masters of time, not slaves to it. We need to be vigilant and proactive so we don’t fall into Hamster Wheel Management. We’re called to be fruitful NOT busy.

Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons
Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons

We Can’t Find Time, We Can Only SPEND Time

One of the most common phrases in the English language? “If I could only find the time…”

Okay, sorry to break the news but time isn’t hidden in the couch cushions like loose change, Cheerios and that remote control we haven’t seen in a month. We can’t find time. We’re given time. How we spend it’s our choice.

Via Flikr Creative commons, courtesy of Tax Credits.
Via Flikr Creative commons, courtesy of Tax Credits.

Write a Clear Mission Statement of What We WANT

Feel free to have multiple mission statements: Faith/Spiritual, Family, Health, Finances, Work (Writing). For templates of how to do this, I recommend Habits of Highly Effective People.

Mission statements are a lot like the log-lines for our novels. No log-line for a novel—ONE sentence that clearly states what our book is ABOUT? Easy to drift off down a bazillion rabbit-trails because every wild idea that pops in our brain seems worth giving a try. In the end, we’re more likely to end up with a mess than a masterpiece.

Same in life.

Without a clear picture of what we want, it’s impossible to spot the time-wasters versus the sound investments.

Make at Least TWO Lists

We’ve talked before about the Pareto Principle, also known as The 80/20 rule. Twenty percent of all our decisions will have 80% of the most return. This is a fairly universal rule. If you have employees, 20% will produce 80% of the output. If you run a volunteer organization, 20% will do 80% of the work.

Conversely, 20% of employees (customers, friends, volunteers, family members) can create 80% of our headaches. Limit time with psychic vampires and focus more on spending time with those who add value. Even being alone is better than leaking 80% of our time on stressful, counterproductive people/activities.

With the 80/20 Rule in mind…

List #1—The Boulders

The boulders are the BIG stuff. These are the actions that will make 80% of positive impact. Being a career author (need a finished novel). Becoming debt-free (need a budget). Possessing a healthy spirit, family, mind, and body (need boundaries and rest).

With a clear action plan, anything that gets in the way of these big goals can be easily spotted, rerouted or removed. No plan? We are reactive, wasteful and spend most of our time treading water.

No item on the BIG LIST can be done in one day, but we can write out steps that get us closer to that BIG goal every day. Remember, small actions over time add up. Those steps to our BIG GOAL are what we tackle FIRST.

Every day, I have a list of 2-6 BIG things that need doing, often stuff I dread. But the day isn’t complete until these items are knocked out (so many pages of research, writing so many words, writing a critical e-mail, creating a spreadsheet, etc).

In the meantime…

List #2—The Pebbles

The BIG LIST are boulders. They will take steady chipping away over time. Between time? Pebbles are easy. Too many people focus all their time on pebbles—which NEVER go away—at the expense of a few whacks on the boulder. Or they focus all on the boulder, then wear themselves out and become overwhelmed and discouraged because they’re buried in ignored pebbles.

Or they ignore/avoid the boulders AND the pebbles with useless activities that will never bear fruit.

Pebbles are small, worthwhile tasks that take less than 20 minutes to complete (most about 5).

Every day, when my main blog is finished, I call my mother and close friends. I believe in healthy relationships. But, while on the phone, I tackle a bucket of pebbles (stuff on my #2 List).

I sort laundry (5 minutes), empty the dishwasher (5 minutes), put a chicken in the crock pot for dinner (15 minutes), tidy the silverware drawer (5 minutes), sweep (5 minutes), or wipe down a counter or two (5 minutes), and have great company while I work.

If I have to pay a bill and they put me on hold? I read research, fill the cat bowl, or jot down ideas for blogs. I know I can’t write 12 hours a day and that being active keeps the tendonitis away. So, I take Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with Spawn. We get a good workout and Mommy-Kiddo time.

5 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 30 hours a year

10 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 60 hours a year

15 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 90 hours a year

30 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 120 hours a year

60 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 340 hours a year

It’s easy to waste an hour a day 5 minutes at a time. Take those minutes back, and we can add 31.6 eight-hour workdays to our lives (Via The Art of Getting It DONE). And all this time we wondered where our vacation time went? 😉 It’s leaking away unless we are proactive at plugging holes.

I’m not here to make you guys multi-tasking robots. I’m here to help you invest in the future you want.

Time with family, naps, relaxation, downtime, vacations and rest are essential for genuine success (the kind that doesn’t have us living off energy drinks, Xanax and screaming at the kids). If we’re conscious to be fruitful instead of busy, we’ll find we accomplish far more with less effort.

Focus increases confidence, offers a sense of authentic accomplishment and relieves anxiety. Focus will also free up time for more fun stuff (and more writing). Activity can be diffused like white light, or it can be a laser.

Do you feel eaten alive by your life? Is your To Do List a Frankenstein monster wrecking your life? Do you feel discouraged and overwhelmed? Have you learned to prioritize and set boundaries? What are some tips that have helped you regain control?

Announcements:

Before we go, my log-line class will be TONIGHT  Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line . This class will include me gutting your log-line in class (or via e-mail if you’re shy) to make it agent ready. We should be able to tell others what our story is about in one sentence or odds are we have a big problem. Class is recorded and the recording and shredding are included.

Also, due to popular demand, I am rerunning my Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages at the end of the month and I am doing something different. Gold Level includes me looking (and shredding your first five) but I have added in some higher levels and will look at up to 20 pages. This can be really useful if you’re stuck. I can help you diagnose the problems. It’s also a great deal if you have to submit to an agent and want to make your work the best it can be.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). 

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 10.33.50 AM

I know people are being polite when they begin messages/conversations with, “Kristen, I know you have been busy but…” Lord, I work hard not to be busy. I don’t believe humans are called to be busy, rather we’re called to be fruitful. 

Now, I’ll warn you. The world will relentlessly preach the opposite—namely because the world has something to sell to make us “more productive”…and then, when we have a nervous breakdown from doing a thousand things at one time, there are meds, vacations and Snuggies for sale.

The Hard “Science”

Laundry multiplies when left alone too long. My inside sources (The Dust Bunnies) tell me the dirty laundry, when left too long to their own devices start forming cults, particularly “The Whites.” According to The Bunnies, laundry apparently must sacrifice a sock to their god—Dry-Ur—every load so Dry-Ur will not smite them.

Um what else did you think Dry-Ur lint was made from?

With the proper sacrifice, the laundry can be fruitful and multiply. “The Reds” have been known to give a blood sacrifice on occasion. Yes, your husband’s undershirts will be pink, but the laundry is then blessed with more generations of progeny.

The Dust Bunnies swear on their lives this is true, so they’ve bought a little time. That and the vengeful monster-god Vah-COOM has been satiated with enough sacrifices of left earrings and Cheerios that he told me to take a day off.

Aside from the occult activities happening in your hamper and under your couch, there are a lot of other distractions in life. Namely? LIFE.

No one gets out alive.

Don’t you have days that you’re simply exhausted? You’ve been running, running, running all day, but feel you have nothing to show for it? There’s a difference between busy and fruitful. Here’s some tips for being fruitful.

Multi-Tasking vs. Multi-Focusing

“Experts” claim people can’t multitask. That’s bunk or no infant or husband would have survived the first generation of humans.

I do a lot of multi-tasking, but it needs to be one “thinking activity” and one “mindless.” We can multi-task. We cannot multi-focus.

I make the beds and pick up toys while checking in with my mother each morning. Relationships take effort, and so does keeping the bottoms of our feet from being shredded from matchbox cars and Legos. This is being fruitful. Listening to a sermon or self-help podcast while dusting? Fruitful. Folding laundry while watching movies (good for writers–clean clothes and stories)? Fruitful.

When I get into trouble is when I try and do two “thinking” activities.

I once accidentally drove to Missouri. TRUE STORY.

I was in sales, and I did a lot of driving, about 1500-3000 miles a week. I had a nine-state territory and Northern Mexico, meaning I drove to Mexico about every six weeks. So I was on the road most of the time, and often quite tired (and bored). I had certain “routes” I drove. I’d drive to Wichita, Kansas, then work my way down. Next day Tulsa, next day OKC, then back to Dallas.

This particular day, I finished my morning appointment in Kansas and then my late afternoon appointment in Tulsa and ate dinner. By seven I was on the road. I was really fatigued, but I wanted to get to OKC by around nine so I could pass out and be rested for my early morning meeting.

Ah, add in a cell phone.

A customer called as I was headed for the Interstate and instead of waiting? I answered and was handling business questions while navigating. Once on the highway, I knew I was in for a long stretch of NOTHING, so after I hung up with my client, I called Mom. Unbeknownst to me, during that first critical interruption, I’d gotten on the turnpike going north instead of south. So I’m talking away for mile after mile then finally I see a sign, “Joplin 20 Miles.”

Joplin? Joplin, Oklahoma? That doesn’t sound right.

Since I was really tired, I said to my Mom, “Joplin? Joplin’s not in Oklahoma.”

“Baby, you’re in Missouri.” *head desk* #epicfail

I finally made it to OKC at 2:00 in the morning, since I had to drive all the way to Joplin to escape the turnpike and turn around, then drive from Missouri back to OKC.

Yes, I have peeled the banana, kept the peel and tossed the banana. I’ve put my cell phone in the freezer, my keys in the fridge. But accidentally driving to Missouri? I think I get bonus idiot points for that.

Multi-tasking is fine. Listen to music on a long drive. Muti-focusing? For the most part, it can just make a mess. So, yeah, fold towels while talking to loved ones…just don’t put the towels away. They could end up in the garage.

Make Lists

Write out a list of the most important things you need to accomplish. Lists help us focus. They also help us see the most efficient way of doing things. Can we pick up the cleaning on the way to pick up kid from school, then stop by pharmacy on the way to the grocery store, then swing by the post office on the way home?

Fruitful.

….And Goals

If we sit down and just write, that’s good, but word count or page count goals are better.

Set a Routine and GET SLEEP

When I get out of my routine, everything just seems to go sideways. I write at the same time every day. I find when I don’t stop working by a certain time, it affects my sleep. I refuse to look at e-mail after 5:00 P.M.

If I stick to my routine, I wake up refreshed. If I don’t?

This stuff happens.

I lost the nacho chips. Why didn't I think to look in the REFRIGERATOR?
I lost the nacho chips. Why didn’t I think to look in the REFRIGERATOR?

So WANA MAMA Says…

Eat good stuff, drink water, get enough sleep, multi-task away (but multi-focus at your own risk). Make lists so it’s easier to be efficient and prioritize. Otherwise, life will feel like you are strapped to Hell’s Tilt-A Whirl.

What about you guys? What are some of your multi-focusing mishaps? Bet you can’t beat accidentally driving to MISSOURI. What tools do you use to be productive instead of just busy?

Oh, and meet Vah-COOM…(there are kittens involved).

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Back to School!

Upcoming Classes: NEW!!! Going Pro Series

 Going Pro Craft is CLOSED, but with the bundle you will get the recoding and notes in On-Demand format, then Going Pro SocialMedia/Branding ALSO CLOSED but also offered on-demand, and TOMORROW EVENING Going Pro Business September 10th, Going Pro All the Way! (ALL THREE). Use WANA15 for $15 off individual classes.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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The weird thing about the new paradigm of publishing is the Digital Age Author is a very different creature. She might be a single mom trying to squeeze in a couple hundred words before the kids wake up or a husband struggling to fit in a writing burst during a lunch break. It can be a dad striving to finish his book while still caring for his family. Maybe it’s a retired person balancing FINALLY pursuing that dream of writing…while caring for grandkids.

Which is to say that a lot of part and full-time writers are also caregivers. Many of us wrestle with guilt. I do. I love writing SO MUCH and it is SO FUN.  But if I write instead of finishing laundry I am “bad” 🙁 .

I’ve learned a rather weird lesson lately and I believe it’s worth pondering. We talked about workaholics the other day. It is no great feat for us workhorses to take on MORE WORK. The true challenge is when we’re given the choice of a great opportunity and a nap and we are directed to take the NAP.

AAAAGHHHHH!!!!!

I am learning the same thing with givers. WANA is truly unique and I don’t say this because I started it (because frankly, I didn’t). WANA was actually birthed by people who took my classes. They were natural givers. The only “special” thing I did was spot this phenomena and then nurture it. WANAs are SO generous and kind and supportive and it is the greatest collection of amazing individuals one can find.

But lately I’m starting to see the dark side to giving. Every strength has a blind spot. Remember this when creating characters 😉 .

And the easy blind spot for givers is that we overdo it and wear ourselves out. Yeah, I saw that too. But one that snuck by me is that giving is not always good. NOT GIVING can be the greater gift.

I grew up with a Scandinavian mom and Norway is the motherland of OCD. Work was what we did and we made it fun. But I recall being 4 and making my bed. Mom would praise me, then remake my bed so it didn’t have all the lumps and the bedspread was even. Later, when I was 8, I loaded the dishwasher. Mom would thank me…then rearrange the dishes to wash more efficiently. I’d organize a closet and she’d be THRILLED…then redo it. Finally, in 2009 I made a Christmas dinner and Mom tasted it, and then reasoned everything and I snapped.

Why must you redo everything I do? Why isn’t what I do ever good enough?

My mom was speechless (which she’s like me so that’s actually a HUGE deal). In her mind, she’d been “helping” me.

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I have family and friends who are in real rough spots these days, people I sacrificed A LOT to “help.” In retrospect, I should have left it alone. By helping, I didn’t allow them to fail and learn lessons when the lessons were far smaller and the consequences for failure far less painful. I also stole the possible victory they might have enjoyed if they’d accomplished “whatever” on their own.

I didn’t mean to. I was “helping.”

So what I’m challenging all of us to do is to look for ways to give by NOT GIVING. Write the book. Don’t “fix.” Don’t “do” beyond the writing. Once the words are down, have at it.

The other day, I sent Hubby to the store instead of doing it myself. Did he shop the way I would have shopped? No. I can make a penny scream. Hubby pays retail *twitches* But he did it and I kept my mouth shut when I SO wanted to tell him how he could have saved money by doing this or that or go to this store instead of that one and NEVER THAT one, they gouge!

I also asked Hubby to help Spawn with his martial arts in the evening so I can write. And this is excruciating because I taught martial arts for years. I need to mentally duct tape my mouth shut and not correct how Hubby’s teaching him and show a “better or easier way.”

Me doing everything is not a gift. It’s control. It can disempower others. It also steals the joy of contribution and the thrill of accomplishment.

When a friend has a problem, resist the urge to fix. Instead, say, “Wow, that’s a huge challenge, but I know you can figure this out. You can do it!”

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This morning, I let Spawn make his own PBJ sandwich instead of making the “perfect” sandwich served on an adorable clean plate with decorative garnish. I even said nothing when he piled on half a jar of jelly. I merely smiled and exclaimed, “Great job!” ….then walked away before I scraped most of the jelly lump back in the jar.

Writers crumble at building a brand or doing social media and writing. Why? We fail to see we have help. Outsource. Maybe see if there are ways that we can make our family part of our publishing team. Let the teenagers find the funny memes or videos to use on a blog. Let them be part of the success instead of shouldering everything alone. Let Hubby go check out book covers and see which ones catch his eye. Maybe let a family member do some research for you. Also, let them know that when they leave you to write, they are helping write the book. They are helping the creation process.

This is a lot to ask. Of you of me…and OH DEAR GOD SPAWN IS NOW MAKING A JELLY SANDWICH WITH NO PEANUT BUTTER! HOLD ON! ….*breathes* I’m cool. Still here.

What are your thoughts? Do you suffer from Compulsive Helping Disorder? Are you struggling to let others help YOU, to ask for help? GASP! Did you ever think your helping could be hurting? I didn’t until recently so it’s okay. We are all friends here and I have jelly in my curtains and I am OK with that.

****Please pray for me *head desk*

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Will announce July’s winner later this week.

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

I have a new class series GOING PRO—Craft, Business and Brand. Take one or all three for a discount. Also use WANA15 for $15 off. Each class discusses the CORE ESSENTIALS. What is the essence of great writing? What is the heart of a brand/social media? What are the basics of publishing when so many options are available?

Image via "Fight Club"
Quote via “Fight Club”

This post is not a Plate of Cupcake Lessons. It’s a Bowl of Spinach and Kale Lessons. These lessons/habits are probably going to feel very un-fun for a while, but they’re essential for any kind of success. So many want to make success more palatable with sugar-coating and sprinkles. We live in a world of “effort-free, guilt-free, payment-plan options that require no work or pain on our part.”

And like P.T. Barnum once said, There’s a sucker born every minute. 

First, we need to define a few key ideas before we dig in.

What is Our Definition of Success?

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Before we can apply any “lessons” we have to accept a castor oil spoon of TRUTH. If we don’t make our own decision, we’ve still made a decision by abdicating making our own decision. If we don’t define success or happiness or what’s important, we leave a vacuum that other people and things will fill and they’ll be happy to define what our success should be.

A common result of abdication is we end up “living by default” which generates stress because it’s coming from a place of perceived powerlessness.

“Success” is all around us. We see it in magazines, television, on-line. We have more choices than any other time in human history (*cough* publishing). One of the reasons I hate going to Central Market is I can’t just buy SALT. There’s Himalayan Pink Salt, and Grey Celtic Salt, and Hawaiian Black Volcanic Salt, and White Truffle Oil Salt and…*head explodes*. While it IS a blessing to have a lot of choices (especially if one has as many food allergies as I do), all these options can put our brains in a knot.

On top of the plethora of choices, there’s another factor many of us might not appreciate. Due to the interconnectedness of our world, there is far more peer opinion about our choices. Peer pressure is at an all-time high.

The same factor that can be a positive force for selling books can be the same force that keeps us from finishing them, too 😉 .

Back to success. What does it mean to YOU? What does it look like? In fact, in my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, I spend an entire section having readers succinctly define what their success would be. Your vision of success is as unique as you are. Being specific in our goals is what’s going to make building a brand simple.

Remember Our Definition of Success Can Be Malleable and SHOULD Be

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Baby Spawn. Cutest priority EVER.

Life situations change. We go through seasons of growing and seasons of drought and seasons where it seems that life is trying to KILL US.

Before I was a wife and mom, being a NYTBSA was the epitome of success. That goal stayed paramount for a long time. Then Hubby had orders to deploy to Afghanistan and we would be without his income. Starting a small business took priority over being a NYTBSA. But, The Spawn was in nursery school six hours a day so this was doable.

Now that I’m homeschooling? I have to revisit “success” yet again. For me, there is NO SUCCESS that can take precedent over my mental, physical and emotional health. PEACE, for me, is paramount. If I cannot have peace, then everything will fall.

I’ve lost sight of this in the last 18 months, largely because of a lack of rest which will scramble discernment. When we aren’t rested, we’re reactionary. I’ve been trying to do what I did back before other responsibilities were on my plate. This is akin to trying to weed 1000 acres of an industrial farm using a garden hoe because, “Well, it worked fine in my backyard’s tomato garden.”

This is why it is so vital for all of us to clearly define success. Then we can more easily define priorities, which makes it simpler to discern when to say yes and when to say no. Also revisit those goals. They will evolve. And when life stacks more on top of us, we can give ourselves more grace because we’re viewing life from the appropriate lens.

I’m not a failure because I’m no longer writing 4000 words every day. Life is different. I’m no longer single and writing full-time. I’m a Mom with a high-energy child and a small business. And maybe I can still get in 1000-2000 words a day, but where am I willing to sacrifice?

Ah, sacrifice, that dirty word. Yep, despite what Madison Avenue says, we cannot have it all.

Choices

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I have a nice home, but many of the rooms still need to be painted and bear murals done by Baby Spawn. My furniture is old and my clothes are tattered and mostly from Walmart. I cook almost all our meals and “eating out” is usually a trip to In-N-Out Burger or maybe a pizza. It’s hard sometimes when I go to church in pregnancy pants under a nice top, when I’m surrounded by so many women who look like they fell out of a North Dallas boutique.

But, we have very little debt. Very little (and I am working on NO debt). We work hard to pay cash for everything or simply learn to do without. The only extra expenses we’ve been willing to take on cost far less than Spawn’s Pre-K tuition and they are only activities that will strengthen us as a family. Martial arts and the gym.

We have a neighborhood directly behind us. HUGE, GORGEOUS homes with unbelievable landscaping and back yards straight out of magazines. Deliveries from high-end furniture stores are the norm. It’s easy to feel the niggle of jealousy, but I have to remember…

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Funny thing is that often Pippa will wake me at three in the morning because she has to go outside to go pee. There are at least four homes behind us where it is extremely common to hear knock-down-drag-out fights until the wee hours of the morning, which saddens me greatly.

I have no idea what the fighting is all about, but I find it tragic that these families aren’t even enjoying a home most of us would love to have.

There Will Be Trade-Offs and Pain

One lesson I’m learning is to “count the cost.” Yes, I can press on and become the biggest NYTBSA EVER, but if I do this at the expense of my relationships, health and peace? Is it worth it? To me? No. My child living in a peaceful home with love and play and joy is a bigger priority. To warn you, this is NOT easy. I love to write. I could stay at a computer for hours, but now I have to work on being more fruitful with less time.

This morning, I told Spawn to let me get my work finished by X time and then I would take him to the pool. I hold to my word even when it hurts. But the pain of not finishing a chapter is less than the pain of Spawn being neglected.

There Will Be Push-Back

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Boundaries are really tough these days. We’ve been trained to be people-pleasers. Standing up for ourselves is “being mean.” I’ve learned the hard way to just put down boundaries early. There is no winning with toxic people, so save the energy.

Cases in Point…

I remember being in a writing group many years ago and no one was attending. I believed that by being president I could change things and make the group stronger. It was a nightmare. I had entire folders of hate mail. Never once in e-mail or person did I respond emotionally or even hatefully to the constant attacks. I simply set boundaries. I had people in meetings scream some of the most cruel and vicious things about me and to me, and I never responded in kind. I think once I cried and left the room (and resigned soon after).

But, when I no longer wanted to be president because the constant mental abuse was too much? I was “mean” for quitting. When I didn’t want to keep driving 90 minutes both ways every single Saturday for 95% of the group to no-show? I was mean.

I had the same thing happen in a community service group where (again) I was made president. *rolls eyes* Yay.

Though our membership had dropped so low we almost lost our charter, I received nothing but venomous e-mails calling me everything but Kristen. Often they attacked me in person and in front of guests and speakers. And while it seems I was a glutton for punishment (and perhaps I was), I’m grateful for those experiences.

These tough times honed my ability to remain professional when I was crumbling inside. To maintain peace. To stick to something even when it was extremely uncomfortable until my term was up.

As the saying goes, A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.

Anyone can quit when things aren’t fun. Pros keep their word. If I signed up for a year, then a year was how long I would remain. On the other side of that coin? If things don’t change, let go. If the horse is dead? Dismount.

Most importantly, these experiences helped me hone discernment. Just because someone asks us to be in charge, doesn’t mean we should say “yes.”

Most People Want it ALL and DO NOT WANT Change or Sacrifice

Image via Wikimedia Commons
Image via Wikimedia Commons

If we accept this reality, relationships and boundaries become simpler. Reality dictates we can’t have or do everything, but plenty of people will be there to tell us we can.

When it came to the civic group, our membership numbers had dropped off a cliff because we’d been meeting in a hospital conference room for roughly ten years. Originally, the room was easy to access until a major hospital remodel.

Then guests needed a team of sherpas and a GPS to find the room. Membership plummeted from about 45 to around 12. If I suggested moving? I was a jerk. If I made ways we could stay? I was a jerk.

If I said no to 20 different projects we’d once done and tried to pare it down to 5? I was a jerk and a dictator. No one wanted to give up doing what had once been done with 45 members and accept we only had 12. We could do A LOT of things poorly or a few things well. Again, I spent another year filling my folder with hate mail and eventually left an organization I once loved dearly….and was a jerk for leaving.

Why was I a “jerk” in these groups? No one wanted boundaries. They didn’t want trade-offs.

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They couldn’t understand that if they wanted the writing group to continue, we needed people to attend. If they wanted this civic organization to regain members, we had to move. 

Toxic People Use Guilt

When we decide to become writers, we must 1) define success 2) set priorities, then 3) enforce boundaries. All three of these work together. If one falls the others do too. While most humans shy away from change and sacrifice, toxic people do this to extremes. This said, when you decide to make writing your main work priority, you will get grief when you set a boundary. Stand your ground and feel good about your choice. You aren’t being mean, you are being a professional.

If your critics eventually understand and respect your decision, they’re worth having in your sphere. If they’re bitter and hateful and still resent you five years later? Dead weight. Be happy that setting that boundary early culled them out before they could do more damage.

You matter. Your dreams matter. Your peace matters.

And notice I used the word simple through this post, not easy. Simple is NOT easy.  It can, however, become easier with practice.

What are your thoughts?

Do you find yourself chasing your own butt only to realize you haven’t rested? That maybe you need to take some time to redefine priorities? Are you struggling with learning to set boundaries? Are you learning to say “NO”? Are you struggling with feeling guilty that you can’t be and do everything? Have you been through some tough and toxic times where you learned to let go sooner?

Is it tough to not be jealous when you see others who look like they have it all?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Will announce July’s winner later this week.

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

I have a new class series GOING PRO—Craft, Business and Brand. Take one or all three for a discount. Also use WANA15 for $15 off. Each class discusses the CORE ESSENTIALS. What is the essence of great writing? What is the heart of a brand/social media? What are the basics of publishing when so many options are available?