TWO IMPORTANT TIMES OF DAY

How you start and end your day can make it or break it plus help you the following day.

First thing in the morning, get ready. Get dressed, get groomed, and get a good breakfast. Then check over your notes, to-do list, and your calendar and plan out your day.

Digital Display with

At the end of the day, clean up. Take about fifteen minutes to straighten your work space, your kitchen and handle emails and mail if you haven’t done so before the end of the day.

These two simple habits will make you more productive and sane.

WE HAVE A WINNER!

Happy Friday. And thanks to all of you wonderful people who participated in my poll. Your votes and your comments were wonderful.

And here’s the lucky winner picked by Random.com:

Meg Opperman

 
Meg, please get in touch with me at janchristensen@janchristensen.com about your free copy of BLACKOUT. I’ll need to know what version you would like and how to send it to you.

What I learned: First, all the blurbs were too long. The votes were about evenly divided between 2 and 3, so I’m going to go with my gut, pick the one I think is best, but shorten it. You’ll have to wait for me to get the book out there to see which one I chose. When I do, I’ll announce it at my usual social media spots and on my website so you’ll know. And of course I’ll let Meg know her copy is on its way.

Thanks again, all. You were a huge help!

VISITING THE TIKI HUT TODAY

Today I’m over at Carol Kilgore’s Tike Hut talking about, what else, how to get organized if you’re a writer. Hope everyone will stop by and let me know if my post is at all helpful to you. I will be popping in at the Hut to comment on comments as the week goes by. Oh, and there’s a giveaway of ORGANIZED TO DEATH for the commenters. So get there before Thursday, 10 p.m. to enter!

http://underthetikihut.blogspot.com/2013/07/need-time-on-your-side.html

Free drinks for all! Wear your beach hat; I did! Come on over, the weather’s fine and the water nice and warm.

CONTEST TO WIN MY UPCOMING SUSPENSE NOVEL

Today I need your help. My next book is almost ready to be published. I have written three descriptions and have to choose one for the back cover and to put up everywhere it’s needed. Because this novel, BLACKOUT, has two main characters and switches between their points of view, I wrote one from each viewpoint, and one that includes both.

COVER BY DEREK MURPHY

Please pick the one you like best and “vote” in the comments section of this blog. Cutoff is midnight Wednesday of next week. I will have a drawing for the winner, who will receive a copy of BLACKOUT as soon as it’s published. The winner can choose between a Kindle edition, a PDF file, or a trade paperback, signed copy. Check my blog next Friday to see if you’re the winner and get in touch with me privately about what version you would like and where to deliver it to.

Now for the descriptions:

1. Two VPs:

Who is Alice Strong? Even Alice doesn’t know the answer to that question. Her life seems to have begun as she walked along a dark, lonely road. She got lucky when a nice young man picked her up and delivered her to the home of a woman in Valleyview, California, who takes in lost souls. Alice knew enough to claim she’s eighteen, but for reasons unclear even to her, she won’t admit to anyone that she’s lost her memory.

Betty Cranston, director of nurses, reluctantly hires Alice to work at Merry Hills Nursing Center, only because she needs aides desperately. She’s surprised at how agitated Alice becomes when she finds a dead patient. After all, people die in nursing homes on a regular basis. But Betty doesn’t like the way the resident is posed with her hands folded on her chest, as if laid out for her funeral. When two more are discovered in the same manner, Betty is convinced someone is murdering her patients. She hates the fact she’s begun to suspect certain people, including Alice Strong. With her own mother a resident, Betty’s worries increase and a desperate measure is taken to catch the killer in action.

Bit by bit, Alice remembers pieces of her life before her blackout. As she does, the murderer makes a surprising move that puts Alice and Betty’s mother in jeopardy.  When the final memories tear into her, feelings of helplessness and sorrow become overwhelming. Will Alice have the fortitude to save both Betty’s mother and her own life?

 2.  Betty’s VP

Betty Cranston, director of nurses at Merry Hills Nursing Center, is happy with her job. She does her best to make sure the residents, including her mother, are happy and well cared for. Everything’s going great until, one after another, residents turn up dead, all posed as if laid out for a funeral.

Everyone is a suspect.  It could be the husband of one of the victims, the new girl, Alice, who’s suffering from amnesia, or one of the nurses turned “angel of mercy?” Betty’s unsure of what action to take–the police don’t believe there’s a threat and the nursing home wants to keep things quiet. Terrified for her mother and her own safety, Betty only knows she’s got to get to the bottom of this horror before somebody else dies, maybe even her own mother.

3. Alice’s VP

Who is Alice Strong? Even Alice doesn’t know the answer to that question. Her life seems to have begun as she walked along a dark, lonely road. She got lucky when a nice young man picked her up and delivered her to the home of a woman in Valleyview, California, who takes in lost souls. Alice knows enough to claim she’s eighteen, but for reasons unknown even to her, she won’t admit to anyone that she’s lost her memory. Reluctantly, she accepts a job at the local nursing home, and on the second day, discovers a dead woman. She knows she over-reacts, but can’t help herself. When yet another woman dies soon after, Alice becomes aware that the Director of Nurses, Betty Cranston, believes they are being murdered and that she suspects Alice. Alice begins to wonder if she might be the killer because she’s already lost her memory once. Could she be murdering patients without remembering?

Bit by bit, Alice puts together pieces of her life before her blackout and comes to understand her past. As she does, the murderer makes a surprising move that puts Alice and Betty’s paralyzed mother in jeopardy.  When the final memories tear into her, feelings of helplessness and sorrow become overwhelming. Will Alice have the fortitude to save both Betty’s mother and herself?

Now, please vote for #1, 2 or 3! Thanks for your help with this.

START YOUR DAYS STRONG

A frequent and probably one of the most valuable tips about getting things done is to start your day with the most important tasks (especially if you’re a morning person) or the most disliked tasks.

Before you start on your tasks each day, though, it’s a good idea to check:

·       Your notes – Run through your notes. You made them for a reason, so be sure to check them every morning.  Put your appointments on your calendar, your chores on your to-do list, and your long-term goals on your bucket list.

Then check:

·       Your calendar. See what’s up for the day and for the coming week or two.

·       Your to-do list. Have tasks front and center. If you see them often, you are more likely to get them done. This list is there to remind you of what you need to do soon.

·       Your bucket list. Maybe you can do part of a project this week. If you don’t think about them they’ll never get done.

·       Your inboxes, both virtual and actual. Save them for last. A lot of them will include requests from other people, and if you handle them first, you might get lost in the forest and not get your own trees taken care of. However, if you can start your day with your inboxes empty, you’ll be ahead for the rest of the day and will be motivated to get even more done. But again, be sure not to get caught up in other things. Move chores from there to your to-do list or calendar, or take notes. But unless it’s an emergency, get going on what you had planned for the day first.

Isn’t it a great feeling to be in control and have a plan? I thought so. Enjoy your day!

HINTS FOR BETTER PLOTTING

For today’s post, I’m going to do a jumble of various ideas about plotting. As you probably know by now, I do not usually plot a whole story or novel out ahead of time. I come up with an idea, start writing, and plot as I go. This generally works well, but sometimes even I get stuck.

Those who plot ahead swear by it. At a conference I attended, one famous writer told about his advance plotting, using index cards, and never, ever beginning to write until the whole story is tightly laid out. I listened to him wide-eyed, wondering how much he enjoyed writing the actual story after all that. He writes suspense, so I can see the advantage. Plotting out a mystery with clues and suspects can be useful. Another writer I know used to be a “panster”—doing what I do by coming up with an idea, then just winging it. She is now an avid plotter. Go figure.

There are many books and articles out there about advance plotting. Since I don’t do it, I don’t have any real advice about doing it. (I know, big surprise there.)

If, like me, you’d rather be a panster, here is my jumble of thoughts about how to save a manuscript when you get stuck.

  • Make notes as you go, even for a short story. List your characters, their ages, description, occupation, and anything else you think is important when you first put them into the story. I do this by having an open document called <Title> notes.doc. Also put in place names for spelling purposes and other details such as the car someone is driving, with the year, if applicable, and all such details. If you don’t want to interrupt your flow while writing, when you’re done for the day, pick those details out and get them (by copying and pasting) into that notes file.
  • If it’s a novel, when you’re done for the day, do a timeline (day of week, time of day) and a short description of each day’s work. If you get interrupted in the middle of writing the novel, this will be very useful to get you back on track. Also, there’s not much of anything harder to do than fix a bolloxed-up timeline after the novel is written.
  • Be aware as you write about setting each scene, having conflict in the scene, and ending with a small cliffhanger. Read your favorite author of mystery and suspense and see how this works.
  • If you get stuck, simply throw something interesting into the mix. Or ask yourself what if? Or what could possibly happen next? List ideas, then pick the most surprising, weirdest or interesting one and go with it.
  • Trust yourself. Let your subconscious take over. You know, that part of you that has strange dreams. The only time I try to force anything is when I’m stuck. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen to me very often. I believe that’s because I trust my subconscious to come up with something.
  • If all else fails, do what is called an overlay outline of someone else’s book. Take a novel you think is one of the best or the best you have ever read. Put down how it starts (probably not with someone alone, getting up in the morning, unless a bomb has gone off). What about the first few paragraphs draws you in? Write it down. Next put down the inciting incident. What page did that happen on? Outline the whole book or story, scene by scene. Then use that framework for your work. This is particularly useful if you’re a beginning writer. And even more useful if you do it with several books/stories. Then try it with one you didn’t like very much. Can you see differences and patterns? I bet you will.

So, those are my tips for the day. Good luck. Anyone have other tricks to get themselves going when they’re stuck?

OBSESSED OR BALANCED?

There are currently at least two ideas about living a good life by accomplishing all your goals.

Probably the most common is aiming for a “balanced life.” With this plan, you set out your goals and you work on each one, or most of them, every day. Like the steady drip of water, you wear away all obstacles and achieve all your goals, as long as you stick to them long enough.

Another, maybe newer, idea is to alternate your obsessions—pick one to concentrate on for several weeks or months at a time, then go on to something else. For example, writers might write as much and quickly as we can on a novel to get the first draft done, cutting way down or eliminating marketing, editing other work, and certain things in private life (your pick) to get that draft done. Then we might obsess about editing that book. Then marketing it.

Which is more appealing to you? I suggest you try both, if you haven’t so far. I’ve been doing the balanced life idea for many years now. How’s it working out for me? I’m not so sure. I feel I’ve accomplished a lot, but I’m wondering if I’d been more obsessive about certain projects I might not have done them better and even quicker. And had more enjoyment, as well.

It’s like when you move into a new house. Generally, your focus in on getting everything set up as fast as you can. And then, in six months to a year, it’s pretty much done. But you could stretch it out over several years if you also tried to write a new novel and edit an old one plus do some marketing every day. Or if you decided to start a new business, train for a marathon, and take a college course or two.

My final thought is that the best of all worlds is to combine these ideas. Use a period of obsession to get something that is vitally important to you done. Then take some down time to catch up with the rest of the people and things in your life. During that downtime, have a more varied schedule. But I do need to try out the obsessive idea because I’ve rarely, if ever, done it. Unless we moved into a new house or I decided to only edit a whole novel as fast as I could. Those are the only two things I can think of that I ever did obsessively. The rest of the time I was a drip.

Slow and steady or fast and furious, that is the question. Here are a couple of links with more information about both ways to live your life:

Balanced: At MOM MD a pretty complete overview here: http://www.mommd.com/canyouhaveitall.shtml

Obsessed: Scott H. Young’s idea at http://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/2011/07/13/obsession/

Now I’m off to obsess about something or other.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED IN CRITIQUE GROUPS

Besides some basics, such as “show, don’t tell,” stay in point of view, eliminate passive language and voice, and watch out for too many modifiers, I also learned the following:

How to listen with an open mind, knowing you can always decide against making the particular change suggested.

What each particular critiquer brings to the table because of different backgrounds and sets of knowledge. Find out what that knowledge consists of and use it to help your own writing. There’s the one who knows about grammar and punctuation, and is always right about that. The police officer who can make sure you’ve got your facts straight about procedure. The gun expert who can help you with selecting the best guns to put in your story. And so on.

That each critiquer has a strong suit about the writing itself. One will point out the grammar errors, one will point out when you stepped out of point of view. Another will show you where it would be a good idea to put in what the character is thinking and/or feeling. Yet another will suggest you haven’t nailed the setting or your transitions are weak. And so on.

Each critiquer probably has a weak spot. Some will insert commas that are not needed. Some will have a list of items he wants to see at the beginning of each new submission such as setting, description of characters, whether the character is male or female, even the weather because he doesn’t like learning later that he’s wrong about any of those. The problem with this is if you do that every time, it becomes boring and most likely will slow down the story. And you might have two people disagreeing about what they want to see in the beginning. Do what works for your story and you.

Each group will have a set of rules made by consensus, perhaps long before you joined;  for example, no semicolons in fiction. Groups often label “bad” words, which can include: “was,” “walk,” “went,” “got,” all words ending in “ly,” and so on. Generally, it’s best to follow these “rules,” but not slavishly. Sometimes it’s better to use a modifier. Sometimes a “was” gets the job done the quickest and best way. And so on.

You can learn how to be a good critiquer yourself–what to look for in other people’s work, and then apply it to your own so it becomes part of your tool kit for writing well.

To listen even if you don’t like the person doing the critique. And not to give undue attention to someone else because you like her so much. In other words, while being critiqued, only concentrate on what the critiquer is saying, not whether you like her as a person or not. Even a person you almost hate may say just the right thing to take your story from good to fabulous.

Realize that if you have to explain what you wrote, you need to fix what you wrote. If your story is published, you won’t be around to sit at the reader’s shoulder and explain what you meant. It has to be on the page.

If more than one person mentions the same problem, pay particular attention. If three or more mention something, you’d better fix it, even if you don’t totally agree. There is usually a way to fix it that will make both you and everyone else happy.

Learn to separate yourself emotionally from the piece being critiqued. You must learn how to do this. The critiquer is not trying to put you down, he is trying to help make your piece better. (Unless he’s just a jerk, but remember, even jerks have their good days.)

When you get home, go over all of your piece, word by word, with the critiquers’ notes in front of you. I like having them all printed out. Then I staple all the pages of the critiques together page by page. In other words, all the Page Ones are stapled together, and I look at my Page One draft and make changes, line by line.

As a critiquer, be kind. Some folks are quite sensitive about their writing and need a more gentle touch. Others seem to welcome a harsh critique–it gives them something to work with later. A good rule is to start off by saying something positive, then give the changes you think are needed, then end by saying something else positive. I’ve never seen any piece of writing that didn’t have something good in it to compliment the writer about. Usually, more than one thing.

Learn to enjoy the process. It’s exhilarating getting that first draft done and ready to be read by others. But editing what you wrote is just as important. It’s a four-part operation. First, get that draft down and completed to the end. Second, edit it, either with others, or by yourself. Third, submit it. Fourth, when it’s published, publicize it. In today’s world, if you skip any of those steps, you won’t get as far as you might like. So, it’s best to enjoy doing it all.

 

TOP TEN DAILY WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR LIFE

Just do these, and your life will be fantastic!

  1. Eat well, and if needed, figure out what you’re not getting from food and take supplements. And be sure to drink enough fluids.
  2.  Exercise every day, at least by stretching. Twenty minutes is ideal, more if you need to lose weight.
  3. Have a plan. Then use it. Put the top three items you want to do at the top of your daily to-do list, and do them first.
  4.  Spend time with your family and friends.
  5. Have a job you love. If you don’t love it, find one you will.
  6. Take breaks. Don’t work while eating meals, and if you’ve been sitting for an hour, stand up and move around for several minutes.
  7. Spend some time in nature.
  8. Laugh.
  9. Hug someone.
  10. Count your blessings every night before bed. And be sure to get enough sleep.