A couple of weeks ago, I shared with you my planner setup for 2019. Well, it’s 2019 and I know we’re only a day in, but I’m already loving my planner! But, as I was setting it up and my planner was getting thicker and thicker I realized something: I needed just a little separation. 2018 brought about a lot of new things here at Casa Knight: bebe started karate, which leads to several practices each week, RadioMan started a new job that not only includes sportscasting but also running a radio group (and all the meetings, late nights, and ballgames that entails), and I started working part-time outside the home.
All of that means our family schedule is packed. It also means that, many times, our family schedule takes up space that I need to have dedicated to my writing…and when I don’t, some of the business parts of my writing can be put off or (gasp!) forgotten. Which is where Separation comes in. I decided to split out my writing from our family planning (although some of the same appointments go in both – because it never hurts to have some things in multiple places). So, I bought my first Happy Planner Mini (this one, an hourly format) that I’m not using hourly but as a workout, food, and water log, along with appointments and family things.
My main planner (a BIG sized Happy planner, in the Teacher layout will be my business planner) remains, with sections for writing, social media, planning, refilling the well, you get the idea). And, I created a project planner. This is only a planner in the loosest sense of the word – I’m using parts of a Happy Notes BIG, with sections for different writing projects (those contracted through NY and those that are INDIE), ideas for my blog and social media, and a few non-fiction ideas, too. This is one of the project pages, from my book that is coming out in March. Speaking of plans, it’s the beginning of a new month and that means it’s time for GOALS! Meanwhile, let’s recap December:
- Set a daily writing goal on Sunday of each week (Sunday is my planning day); my minimum writing goal will be 1,000 words. – CHECK
- Finalize a partial/synopsis for my agent. – CHECK
- Finalize the novella edits and formatting in preparation for the March release (I just saw the cover and I canNOT wait to share with you guys!). – CHECK
Despite the craziness of December, I did meet my three main goals, so I’m super happy about that. Now for January’s goals:
- Continue setting daily writing goals on Sunday, with a minimum goal of 1,000 on writing days
- Begin tracking my food and water intake, along with workouts, in my mini planner. Health is going on the front burner this year because…well, because it needs to. And by health I do mean physical, but I’ll be doing some mental-health things, too. Stay tuned!
- Start writing my next full length project, with a goal of pitching by the end of January. In addition, continue working on my next contemporary series idea, this one with the goal of pitching mid-February.
- Begin working on plans for my book releasing in March, including a cover reveal and creating a dedicated page for it here on my website.
If you’ve got a goal (or twelve) for January, feel free to share in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!
I adore hot chocolate. Seriously. I’m not big on coffee, and I’m really particular about teas (and actually prefer them iced – I know, I’m a Philistine!) so when I go for a hot beverage more often than not it’s hot chocolate. Which I’m also particular about because there is a difference between hot cocoa (which is fine, but not my favorite) and hot chocolate (which, when made correctly, is divine). Since we’re into the cold months, I thought I’d share my grandmother’s hot chocolate recipe. Here we go!
- 1-2 tbsp sugar – this is completely optional and is actually an estimate…I actually just use a couple of healthy pinches
- 2 cups whole milk – 2% milk will work but do not, no matter what you think, go to 1% or skim…I’m begging you
- 4 oz/1 cup dark chocolate chopped (I use my Ninja Food Prep so the bits are super fine, it makes for a smoother overall drink)
- splash of vanilla extract
- whipped cream
- peppermint stick, candy cane, or puffed peppermints if you’d like a hint of mint
First things first, the chocolate needs to be melted so pop it into a microwave safe bowl and blast it in 45 second increments, stirring between each blast, in a microwave until it’s nicely melted. While you’re melting the chocolate, it’s safe to start on the milk. Using a sauce pan over medium heat, warm the vanilla and milk until it’s at the scalding phase – you’ll know it’s at the right heat when it’s 180 degrees…or, if you don’t have a handy thermometer, when there are bubbles around the edge but it isn’t boiling. If you make a mistake and the milk boils, my suggestion is to start over because that will give the drink a grainy texture. Turn the burner to the low setting and begin to add in the melted chocolate, stirring as you do. Once the chocolate and milk are well blended, pour into mugs, top with a bit of whipped cream (the kind from the can, not Cool Whip) and add in the peppermint if you’re in a mint-chocolate mood). Serve.
A couple of notes: This makes about four servings, depending on the size of your mugs, which probably means leftovers. Yay! And, yes, you can keep this for a bit by storing whatever is left in a covered dish/mug in your fridge for up to three days. Reheat over the stove as reheating in the microwave can lead to uneven temperatures and a drink that isn’t as smooth as the original. Also: I do mean use dark chocolate (some call it bittersweet), this recipe won’t be the same (it will still be fine, but not as good in my opinion) if you use either semi-sweet or milk chocolate…if you do use either of those definitely nix the added sugar, as it won’t be needed. I keep chocolate chips on-hand in my house, Nestle’s Dark are my favorite for this recipe.
There you have it – the perfect (in my opinion) hot chocolate! Do you have a favorite cold weather hot beverage? Feel free to share!
I love this time of year, from the decorations and the music to the parties and the food. What I love most, though, is that I get to start planning for new adventures, new books, new career plans. It’s scary, but it’s also really invigorating. And, because I’m starting to get things together for 2019, I thought I’d show you guys my planner set up for the new year.
First, the basics: what I’m using! I’ve been a fan of The Happy Planner for a few years now. I didn’t think I’d like the disc format at first, because I didn’t realize how sturdy those little discs are. I have yet to lose a page from my planner even though I lug it around everywhere. I also really like the flexibility of it – want to add a page? It’s as simple as using a disc punch, and without pinching your fingers in binder rings. Want all your monthly layouts at the front? Put them all there. Want to divide your year on a quarterly basis (that’s what I do)? It’s as easy as adding in your goal pages and inserting a divider or two. This year, I’m changing one thing about my planner set-up – I’m going with a Teacher Edition from The Happy Planner line.
Why the Teacher Edition? I like the “boxed” format, even though I have to hack it just a little. Here’s what
- Putting a blank box sticker on the left where Happy Planner puts the Monday-Friday days of the week. Those boxes will now be my time blocks for different projects (literal projects like the contemporary and WF books I’m currently writing) and tasks (like social media, home stuff, bebe’s schedule). Then, I write the Monday-Sunday days of the week at the top of each page. I’m doing this because I like to plan through the weekend. If you don’t, you wouldn’t have to do that hack.
- The Teacher Planner runs August-July, not January-December. To fix that, I’m simply putting the July-December monthlies in the back of the planner, where they belong, and I’ll redate them as I need to. Sounds like a lot of work? It really isn’t, especially since I’m already re-dating the weekly pages to be Monday-Sunday.
Second, my planner set-up. I mentioned that I plan quarterly. That means I add quarterly goal sheets to my planner in January, April, July, and October. On these pages I list any deadlines I have, both for drafting and editing. I also list weekly and monthly wordcount goals, along with plans for my business as a whole. I’ll also block out vacations, snow days and “add in” time off for things like sick days. My quarterly plans might include goals for backlist promotion, new books, social media/follower goals, goals for this blog and my other social channels. This keeps the “big picture” in one place where I can track how I’m doing.
I also use Monthly Goal pages. Like the quarterly, the monthly helps me break down my writing goals, my social media/marketing goals, and other tasks that I need to accomplish. I also have a space (you can see it on the left side of the page) where I have three habit trackers – one for writing, one for health (exercise, water intake) and one for “me” time…because self-care is HUGELY important.
Seems like too much planning? Maybe, but it works for me. What I like about this kind of planning is that it helps me see not only the big picture for the quarter but what I need to accomplish each month (and week, using the weekly pages) to meet those bigger goals. It also helps me be more realistic because it’s already accounting for time off for things like vacation or when bebe is sick (or RadioMan or me, for that matter). If you’d like to give these pages a try, they’re available – and free! – over on my Printables Page. What about you? Do you have a planner system you love or have big plans for the new year? Share in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!
I am asked – often – how to deal with editor’s notes. Whether they are big-picture, copyediting notes, or a mix of both. It’s a good question, especially because the first few times through an edit can be daunting. Do you change everything the editor asks about? Nothing? Somewhere in between? How do you know how Change A will impact the midpoint of the book? What about the Black Moment?
The simple answer is this: every little change you make will change following aspects of the book in ways you can’t know. Some changes will improve your writing voice, some will alter the overall story, some will create stronger characterization. How you approach these edits is, of course, up to you, which is why I asked a few friends to weigh in on how they approach editor’s notes. Here we go:
I approach my editor feedback like a big girl. Usually I will read through the editing notes first. Then I’ll read through the MS and all the comments which takes me about a day. I take a day to digest it. After that, if something still doesn’t ring true to me, I’ll make my own note in the comments next to hers. I’ll try to explain, for instance, why my hero has been deeply affected by such and such. Or I’ll explain why this or that makes sense to my heroine.
Occasionally, if I’m confused by a comment, though I’m always able to email and ask, I find I usually “get it” a day later. Most of the time, my editor’s notes are spot-on! Maybe I’m lucky, I don’t know. But they always seem to pinpoint those areas where I know I need to dig deeper. Why does this matter? Why does my character care so deeply about it?
Or in the instance of my latest proposal, when my editor said: this ending doesn’t work for me! To be honest, it didn’t work for me either, so it was just confirmation I needed to re-work that ending. My Harlequin editors are wonderful. They never try to squelch my voice. They just want to make sure I’ve gone as deep as I can and they’re right most of the time.
After the initial feeling of overwhelm, I try to remember what my editor says, “Sometimes you just need to change or add a sentence or two, or even just a word or two. Turns out with the latest WIP, I ended up adding an entire chapter and an epilogue, but it did make the book better, no question.
I always find feedback a little bit terrifying. So as soon as I get it, I read through it once, then put it away. I’ll then spend a day or two just sort of processing the general ideas included in the feedback. Once I get used to them, I’ll go back through the feedback in detail and make notes about how I plan to address it.
I believe that my agent and editor know what they are doing, that they can see things I can’t because they have more distance
from the story, and that their feedback will make my story stronger. I think it’s important to let go of my ego and really take their advice with an open mind and heart. I’m saying this because I have met authors who seem very suspicious of feedback and don’t seem to want to take it.
I would offer this advice. If you don’t agree with the editor or agent’s specific suggestions, try to think about what they are saying in general. I recently had an experience where the editor wanted me to strengthen the conflict, but her ideas about how to do that just weren’t resonating with me. They were good ideas, but they didn’t speak tomy heart. It took a few days of thinking really, really hard, but then I had a big ‘aha’ moment. I changed the entire backstory of my hero and heroine and upped the conflict significantly, in a way that satisfied both the editor and me.
Here’s where I’m a Weird Person. I love the feedback even when I hate it, because then I know what he wants rather than guessing at it. If I’m hoping to sell the story, I have to be willing to share ownership of it. This isn’t always easy, and I’ve made changes that to this day I think were mistakes. However, at the end of the day, he’s the editor and I’m not, and the publisher still signs my checks.
There you have it, friends, a few new ways you can approach editor feedback – to make your book the best it can be. If you have another tip, share in the comments!
I can’t quite believe Thanksgiving hits this week here in the US. It’s early this year, which is part of it, but also it just doesn’t seem like it should be Thanksgiving. It doesn’t feel like we should be this close to 2019 or Christmas or…any of it! But I’m still really excited about the holiday – seeing our extended families, relaxing over movies and games and old stories that really don’t need to be told again. And, I’ll be doing a little writing. Which brings me to my point: the holidays can and will get stressful from time to time, no matter how hard you try to keep the stress at bay. Here are a few tips to get through the season with as little stress as possible.
First, set designated working time. It can be tempting to go have breakfast or head outside with the kiddos first thing in the morning. The problem with that is that those few minutes have a tendency to turn into a whole morning and then more activities in the afternoon and pretty soon your stressing out because you haven’t done any of the work you’d planned. Setting aside an hour or so each morning will help you meet your goals – for work and for family time!
Second, disconnect. It can be tempting to check social media or email just one more time. Don’t do it. Put your phone or tablet in another room during family time so you can soak in those moments with your kids, nieces, and nephews!
Third, get outside. Sure, it’s cold in a lot of areas. Embrace the season by getting outside. Take a walk or a hike with the kids, play football with your cousins, aunts, and uncles. Drink hot cocoa and wear layers and mittens and cute boots. We sit at our computers all the time, and that puts stress on our bodies. Getting up, getting outside helps to relieve those desk-stresses – and might also spark a few new ideas.
What about you? Do you have any tips for relieving stress during the holidays?
Hey, everyone! It’s time for another book recommendation and since I’m in full-on holiday mode – I mean, our tree isn’t up but most of the presents are bought! – it’s going to be a holiday book.
I love a holiday romance. Contemporary, historical, suspense, paranormal. You name it, if there is a holiday theme – and maybe a little bit of redemption and definitely a lot of heart – I’m going to pick it up. I have a lot of holiday favorites from childhood books like Jingle to fictionalized-biographies like The Real Story of Santa Claus.
This recommendation is one of those favorites. A book I pick up just about every year. It’s Johanna Lindsey’s The Present, and is part of her Mallory series. The book tells the story of the family’s great-grandfather, who married a gypsy (maybe), and as the story develops, long-held secrets from the current generations are told. Assumptions are reconsidered and (just maybe) minds are opened to other possibilities.
What I love about this book is what I love about all Lindsey books: there is a lot of heart, the family dynamics are incredibly realistic, and the love story is just…swoon-worthy. It’s easy to see the people in the story, to feel the cold of a British winter a couple of hundred years ago, and to wonder just how the family will come together in the face of this new obstacle. It’s family saga at its best. If you’re looking for a fun, rompy, holiday read that will take you back in time this is definitely a book to check out.
What about you? Do you have a favorite holiday read (or re-read)? Share below!
When November rolled around last Thursday I was floored. I mean, how did it get to be November already? And what happened to my October goals? And how am I going to get through the rush of the holiday season with my sanity – and my deadlines! – intact? Seriously, these questions stressed me out for almost a full day before I got hold of them, and my calendar, and came up with a plan. Before we get to the plan, though, how about a goals recap. For October, my four goals were:
- Track my meals and workouts – I’ll count this as half a point because I did track my workouts – and averaged 5/week, yay! – but I wasn’t so great at tracking my meals/calorie intake.
- Finish an indie novella for a project that is releasing in March – This is not even half a point, because I didn’t finish by October 31, it took until November 2. But, the project is now with my proofer and editing will commence in a couple of weeks.
- Themed planning days – this is a full checkmark! I started block-scheduling my days in October and I really like how that is working for me, although it also caused a planner hiccup which I’ll explain in another blog. What I like about block scheduling is that every task (errands, appoints, emails/social media, writing, etc) has it’s own box (or “theme”, which actually allows for more freedom with writing time. Block scheduling will continue!
- Finish revisions: also a full checkmark. I sent revisions for a brand new project to my agent mid-October and am waiting for her feedback and a final polish before sending that project out into the world.
All in all, October wasn’t horrible. I give myself 3.5 out of 4 checkmarks, which I think is totally great! For November, my goals will be a little different because, lets face it, Thanksgiving will eat into writing/editing/authoring time, as will preps for December. Here we go with that list:
- Edit and format the novella to prep for publication; start an initial publicity plan.
- Do any last minute touches to the with-the-agent project before it goes out into the world.
- Prep and send 2 proposals to the agent for new projects that I’m super excited about <– this is my NANO project. I know, NANO is for writing a book in a month, but that doesn’t work for me so I use it in a different way.
- Continue with block/theme scheduling my days because that is really helping me to be more productive – and happier, too!
- Track meals Monday – Friday and track workouts Monday – Friday, too.
What about you? Do you have a goal or two for November? Share in the comments and we’ll keep one another accountable!
Oh, and Through Thanksgiving, some author friends and I are hosting a really fun event – filled with books and games and maybe even a holiday recipe or two. It’s happening over at our Facebook Group: Coffee, Cupcakes & Contemporaries. Stop in, join the group and see what we’re up to – I’m hosting on November 10 – that’s this Saturday! – and I have some fun stuff in the works.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about productivity. Every year about this time, I start looking ahead to the next year. I begin to cull through my potential Word of the Year List and reflect on my word for this year. I look at my goals for the year and come up with a plan to make it through the holiday season with my goals still intact.
I like to be productive. I’m happier when I’ve checked off my to-do lists, when I have a plan for the day (or week or month or, heck, year). I feel better, not just in my headspace, but physically when I’m meeting my health goals and I feel better in my headspace when I’m making time for creative outlets. But it’s hard to be productive all the time – some days, no matter how many things are on my to-do, I just don’t feel like it. I don’t want to write or read or finish that craft or make those phone calls or pay those bills or fold that last load of laundry. I just flat-out don’t want to.
When those days hit, there are two choices: 1) don’t do anything and feel even worse the next day or 2) fight back against the don’t-wannas with a few tricks. Here are five ways I push through those blah days:
- I use a focus app called Tide: I’ve been using focusing apps for a long time, but I switched over to this app in the spring and I am in serious love with it. There are several different settings (nap, meditation, focus, etc), with different timing options starting at 15 minutes. I usually set it for 45 minute writing sessions: write for 45, take a short break to fold that load of laundry or get a drink of water or play ball with Hazel-the-pup, then it’s back at my desk for another session.
- Put the phone in another room: This seems like a given but for a long time, I was working with my phone right next to me. Email would bleep or someone would call and wham! I’m out of my zone and distracted again. Putting the phone in another room (and turning off the notifications for my watch) is key to keeping my focus where it needs to be. Going along with this one: turn off the internet! Seriously, disconnect from wi-fi and if you need to check “just one thing” online, make a note in your WIP or on a piece of paper and keep pushing forward. Check that one thing during your morning routine or after you’ve met your word count for the day.
- Use a paper planner: There are a lot of digital options for planning and I think they’re great. For me, though, a paper planner is the best option (the Happy Planner is my jam! Love the flexibility/customization options of the disc system). My planner holds daily to-do lists (like cleaning and appointments) but it also houses my business plan, deadlines, quarterly goals (including action steps to meet said goals). Plus, there are stickers and stickers make everything better! There are a couple of different studies that have shown the physical act of writing down a goal or appointment helps us meet those goals. I’m a firm believer in paper planners for accountability and goal setting.
- Make a date with yourself: have lunch with girlfriends, go for a walk in the botanical gardens, or just head to the mall to people-watch. I like taking my writing notebook with me. Sometimes I brainstorm book/character ideas, sometimes I write down blog/social media post ideas and sometimes I just bring dump a lot of the stuff in my head or doodle. Here’s the thing: as much as I love planning, there are times that I plan too much for too long. Being unable to focus on my work can sometimes mean that I haven’t made time for *me*. When that happens, stepping away from my computer is crucial, even if it’s only for an hour. Creative dates help me clear my head so I can focus again.
- Sleep: I don’t mean a nap in the middle of the day (although a good 20 minute power nap can be ahhhh-mazing!). I mean getting a full 8 hours of sleep. Having a set bedtime and sticking to it. Along with eating healthy and drinking water, the best thing I can do for my focus is to make sure I’m getting enough sleep. Being rested is crucial for me to feel good, to feel like working, and to be able to focus on my work.
When I’m having one of those days when I just can’t focus, I’ll think about what I’ve been eating/drinking, the sleep I’ve been getting or the schedule I’ve been keeping…if I need it, I’ll take an hour or so for me, and then I’ll go back to the basics of turning on my focus app, turning off the internet, and getting back to work.
What about you? How do you focus when your focus is gone?
It’s still slightly green here on the NorthCoast, but fall definitely blew in over the weekend. It was blustery and grey and cloudy and there were little flakes of…not really snow, but also not rain. I don’t have a good word for it. What I do have? A favorite fall recipe that I’m so glad I dug out for the weekend. Knowing it would be blustery and cold, I knew it was going to be a soup kind of a weekend. So I headed to my trusty recipe binder and pulled out a favorite: Wisconsin Cheese Soup.
This is the perfect soup for a chilly day. It’s warm, it’s filling, it’s got all these tastes. It just makes you feel warm and cozy from the inside out. Here’s my recipe:
- 1/4 cup butter or margarine
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2-1/2 cups milk
- 1 cup beer or water
- 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1-1/2 tsp. dry mustard
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 2 cups (8 oz.) Sargento® Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese – Traditional Cut
- Garlic or herbed croutons (optional)
Melt the butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. From here, you have two choices: continue on the cooktop or transfer to the crockpot. Cooktop Method: Stir in milk, beer, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt and pepper. Continue heating to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in cheese until
melted. Ladle soup into bowls. If desired, serve with croutons or oyster crackers. The cooktop method takes about 30-45 minutes. The Crockpot Method: Once the flour and butter are cooked/combined, transfer them to the crockpot and turn it on low. Stir in milk and beer, keep stirring for maybe 2-3 minutes, just until the flour and butter are combined. This is what thickens the soup, after all. Next, add in the Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt and pepper. Give it a final stir and then cook for 4 hours. Serve with croutons or oyster crackers.