Last week, I decided my office needed a little bit of a makeover. Okay, technically this is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time – I’ve had cube shelves for a while and the fabric boxes I’ve been using were getting old and a bit worn and … frankly, kind of boring. And they didn’t match how I wanted my office to look. Which led me to a Pinterest rabbit hole and then an IKEA rabbit hole and then Michaels…and you get the idea.
I liked everything I saw at IKEA and Michaels and the ideas on Pinterest were amazing as always, but there was nothing specific to my problem of the cube shelves other than *more fabric boxes* and I didn’t want fabric boxes for all of the reasons I listed above. I decided to hit Pat Catans (which is a kind of small town version of Michaels) to see what I could find.
And I hit the motherlode. Seriously. They were having a huge sale on photo storage boxes – you know, the kind that are about shoe box size? I picked up 14 of these boxes for less than $20.
My first step was to go through the fabric boxes I already had, separating and organizing the detritus of a home office. Supplies (paper clips, rubber bands, etc) in one area, extra cords in another, stationery over here, “author” stationery over there…you get the idea. Then, it was as simple as organizing how I wanted to store all the bits and bobs and labeling each of the boxes.
I think it turned out great – and I even had enough boxes left over to update bebe’s bedroom cabinet that houses her supply of hair stuffs and tween makeup and whatnot. I couldn’t be happier with how my office turned out or her cabinet – and the bonus is that now I know where everything is again!
Do you use storage boxes in your office? How do you organize your shelves?
Time for another book recommendation, and this time it’s one I’m sure y’all have heard of because a movie-based-on-the-book just came out. I watched the Netflix adaptation of The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society (henceforce simply called Guernsey in this blog) and adored it in a different way than I loved the book. I picked up the book on a whim when I caught it in the bargain bin at our local Books-a-Million. I’ve heard from people that they didn’t like the letter-and-telegram format, but that is what I really loved about the book.
I thought this format was really interesting. The movie did a good job of showing us what happened before Juliet came to the island/during the war, and digging into the depths of the islanders. But it was so…heartwrenching to read the letters of those characters. It was a kind of glimpse into what actual people might have felt during that time. For me, the letters made the book a bit more personal.
Which leads me to a few quotes, that have made it from the book into my commonplace book (a book of quotes and lyrics and other things that I love). Here are a handful.
“The first rule of snooping is to come at it sideways.”
“I don’t want to be married just to be married. I can’t think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can’t talk to, or worse, someone I can’t be silent with.” <– who can’t relate to that? I adore RadioMan, but some of my favorite times with him aren’t when we’re debating and talking but when we’re just *being* together.
“We clung to books and to our friends; they reminded us that we had another part to us.”
“All my life I thought that the story was over when the hero and heroine were safely engaged — after all, what’s good enough for Jane Austen ought to be good enough for anyone. But it’s a lie. The story is about to begin, and every day will be a new piece of the plot. ”
“I am a grown woman– mostly– and I can guzzle champagne with whomever I choose.”
“I never met a man half so true as a dog. Treat a dog right, and he’ll treat you right. He’ll keep you company, be your friend, and never ask you no questions. Cats is different, but I never held that against ’em.”
“Sorrow has rushed over the world like the waters of the Deluge, and it will take time to recede. But already, there are small islands of – hope? Happiness? Something like them, at any rate.”
And, perhaps, my very favorite –> “Is it so small a thing to have enjoyed the sun, to have lived light in the spring, to have loved, to have thought, to have done, to have advanced true friends?”
Guernsey is charming and thoughtful, and though it deals with both war and the aftermath of war where it could become heavy and hard, it instead is uplifting, although at points devastating. I think, maybe, the devastation is the point. Because war is awful, both for those fighting in battle, those waiting at home, and especially those whose homes and towns are occupied by forces on either side of the fight.
Have you read Guernsey? What did you think of the book?
Wow, it’s a new month and I’m here posting on a brand new day! There’s a reason for that: a couple of group blogs that I’m involved with are changing up their posting schedule, which prompted a change to my blog’s schedule. Starting today (and how apropos that this is actually starting on the first day of a new month?), I’ll be posting every Monday here.
Today’s post is part of my #howwedo series, in which I ask a few author friends how they approach different parts of the writing life, from brainstorming a story concept to that final round of edits. I started this series because of the most-often asked questions writers get is how do you _____. And what I’ve found over my years in publishing is that there is no one approach to anything in this business. I think it can be incredibly helpful to see the various ways that different authors approach aspects of their career because we may be able to grab a little nugget of something Writer A does and adapt it into our own processes. So, without further ado, How We Do: Self-Edits.
What is a self-edit? It’s that round of edits we do to polish our manuscripts before sending to our agent/editor/hopeful-publisher.
My approach is first a quick-hit with my grammar program because I have a serious problem with commas thanks to my years in TV journalism when we used commas to “tell” the anchors where to pause. This also helps me find obvious typos and the occasional run-on/wordy sentence. Then, I save the manuscript as a PDF and put it on my iPad Pro, so that I can read through and mark it up using my Apple Pencil. From there, it’s as simple an inputting those changes and sending off to my agent.
But you don’t just want to hear from me. Here’s what my friend, Nan Reinhardt (who happens to be a super-talented author and editor), has to say. “I start with whatever my Betas have discovered—typos, time line issues, name problems, etc. and fix those. Then I put it on my Kindle and read the whole manuscript that way, making notes the entire time. Then I run it through an editing program I have—one that I use when I’m editing other people’s work. After that, one last spell check before I finally send it off. This last time, I knew the heroine could have been fully developed, but I was running short on time, so I sent it off with a hint of doubt. Sure enough, my editor loved everything about the story, except she thought the heroine needed fleshing out. I think most writers have a gut feeling about their stories when they finish a first draft.”
Author Claire McEwen wrote for Harlequin’s Superromance line with me, and we did a fab multi-author novella collection, based on our different Superromance series. She now writes for Harlequin’s Heartwarming line and says, “If at all possible, I like to take a break from the manuscript before I try to revise or edit. It is amazing what I can see if I have a few days off from the pages! So I set my writing schedule up to accommodate this. For example, right now I’m writing the first draft of a contracted book. I plan to finish the draft in the next few weeks, then set it aside. I’ll spend the next few weeks working on a proposal for another book. Then I’ll go back to my draft and revise and edit before I send it off to the editor.”
My friend Liz Flaherty has written for Harlequin’s Special Edition as well as Heartwarming line, and her approach to editing is so on-point because Liz believes that you have to own the book and story you’re telling. “I type it as clean as I can, my friend Nan Reinhardt—who, blessedly enough, IS an editor—then gives it a read. I fix or I don’t, depending on what she tells me <g>, then it’s off to my editor. If I were newer, or not published, I’m not sure how I’d do it.”
Oh, and since it’s the first of the month, how about we do some goals? I know I am much more likely to accomplish my goals if I tell people about them. So…here we go. Kristina’s 3 October Goals:
- Track my meals Monday – Friday, and create a workout schedule. I have a plethora of workout videos, a running/interval program on my phone, and a number of WiiU fitness games. The problem is that I can sometimes put off a workout because I can’t decide what to do. So, like my buddy Jill is doing, I’m going to create a rotating schedule of Monday-Friday workouts, put them in my planner and then it’s as simple as loading the DVD (or going outside) and checking off that list item!
- Finish writing a novella for an indie-continuity project that releases early next year. The books are light-hearted, sweet romances, set in the Caribbean (y’all know how I love a beach!) and I can’t wait to share more with you.
- Create a “themed” schedule. Even though I’m a full-time writer, I don’t write from 8am – 4pm; I can’t, as much as I want to. But, I also waste some of the time I have when bebe is at school. So, I’m creating a block schedule in which certain times of the day are for writing and others are “themed” – like for professional development, content/social media creation, “me” time. You get the idea. I’ll let you know how I like this block schedule.
- Do a final revision pass once I get a project back from my agent this month. It’s something I’ve been working on for a while and I’m so excited about it but it’s been such a HARD book to write!! This is my final goal of the month because I don’t know when I’ll get her comments back and I’m not sure how many changes will be needed…so this goal may bleed into November.
Do you have a goal or two for the month?
Last week was my annual writer’s retreat in Michigan – writing and brainstorming and laughing and eating and having a ball. I miss them already! And I miss the food. I made something new-is to me this year because we have a couple of vegan/vegetarian eaters in our group. And I can sometimes be persuaded to put away the chicken or beef. Not to worry, if you need chicken and beef in your life, I’ll tell you what to add at the end of this post. In the meantime, this recipe turned out so good – you could do it as a main dish (as we did) or even as a dip on those chilly football weekends coming up this fall.
Without further ado, Vegetarian Enchilada Orzo! The ingredients:
• 1 (14.5-ounce) can fire roasted diced tomatoes
• 1 (10-ounce) mild enchilada sauce
• 1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chilies, drained (Note: for both the tomatoes and green chiles, feel free to dice them yourself from the produce aisle…or if you’re cooking on the road like I was over the weekend, use the canned version)
• 1 can vegetable broth, as needed
• 1 cup corn kernels, frozen (if you use canned, the taste will be the same just make sure you drain them)
• 1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
• 1/2 can Vegan refried beans
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• 1 Tablespoon chili powder (optional)
• 1 Tablespoon ground cumin (optional)
• 4 ounces cream cheese, cubed
• 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
• 2 cups uncooked orzo pasta
If you have all day set your crockpot to low and cook for 8 hours, but if you only have the morning, set the crockpot to high and cook for 4 hours. In the crockpot, combine the corn, black and refried beans, chiles, tomatoes, enchilada sauce, and spices. Stir and then add in the cream cheese and half the can of vegetable broth. Stir once more and then put the lid on and let the crockpot do it’s thing. About once each hour, stir again, making sure the cream cheese is melting and combining with the other ingredients. After 4 (or eight, if you have all day) give the ingredients one more stir and then add in the orzo pasta and cook for another 20-30 minutes. Once the pasta is ready, grab some bowls and serve, sprinkling the cheddar over the top to your taste.
*Recipe Notes: Total cook time is 4:30 and this recipe serves 6 people. You can substitute quinoa for the orzo if you like; for me that adds too much of a nutty flavor but I’ve heard from several people that it’s really good that way. Also, if green chiles are too spicy for you, simply leave them out or halve that part of the recipe. If you want to add meat, I suggest about 6 ounces of grilled chicken or steak, already cooked, and then either cubed or shredded and added to the mix.
Y’all know my penchant for office supplies by now – planners and pens and notebooks and folders. These are functional, basic office items. I also have a basic, functional office because it doubles as a guest room when we have friends or family come in to stay with us for a while. But, just because my office needs to function well (for me and for guests) doesn’t mean it has to be boring or ugly.
Part of what I love about office supplies is the sheer variety. Sure there are plain manila folders and basic yellow #2 pencils and you can get a 24 pack of basic black Bic’s. But, you don’t have to. When I was redoing my office a couple of years ago I looked at all the office supplies I have – a myriad of colored pens and pencils, folders with designs and images on them, notebooks repurposed from old planner pages. I wanted to give my basic, functional office pops of color so I decided to use my folders and notebooks and yes pens as part of the decor.
Today, I’m going to show you how I created a folder filing system that isn’t one of the those yucky, gray things that hang on walls in office buildings. Here’s what you need:
3-4 small easels for pictures
3-4 of your favorite folders
Find a place on your wall or the side of a bookcase (like I did!). Place 2 Command hangars side by side but about 3″ apart. Next, hang your easel upside down, so the “V” shape is ope toward the ceiling and the “lip” is pointed toward you. Go up the wall or bookcase about 6″ and repeat for the second easel and continue on like this until you’ve hanged each easel. Now put your folders there and, voila!, you have hacked your office and made your pretty folders part of the decor!
For additional functionality, you could add a pretty binder clip to the “lip” of each easel to create a label. I don’t do this because I label each of my folders, which takes care of me knowing what they’re for. Also, I keep my most urgent (as in have a deadline of 1-2 months) in the bottom easel, things that have a bit more time in the middle, and the top easel is for story ideas and future projects (things that don’t have a deadline just yet).
One more tip: I always find the best (prettiest!) folders at Target, but the easels and Command hangars I picked up at our local dollar store – for the rock-bottom price of $5 total…making this also a very economical office hack!
What do you like best about your home office?
At the beginning of the year I had a plan to read all 50 books on the 50 Best Books from Every State list. I’m going to fail that writing challenge, not because I haven’t been reading but because I’ve been reading off of my list of books to read…don’t worry, I’m still going to read all 50, but I think this is going to be a multi-year reading challenge for me. I first got off track with my reading challenge about the second week in January when, instead of James Michener’s Hawaii, I picked up Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I’m not sure why I picked it up; I’ve read that book probably five times in my life. But I was walking through the library (I’d gone there to write and had met my wordcount so of course I started wandering the stacks) and it was right there on a shelf calling to me. So I picked it up. I’ve worked my way through about 1/3 of the 50 books list.
Another book that called my name? Carol Burnett’s In Such Good Company. Y’all know my love of the memoir by now, but this book isn’t so much memoir/self-help as it is memoir/memory, and it was wonderful.
I’ve been a Carol fan since I was little, watching the reruns on Sunday afternoons on a fuzzy UHF channel with my mom. I didn’t get most of the jokes but I can still hear mom’s giggle turning into a full-blown snort-laugh in my head. I laughed at the jokes I didn’t get because her laugh was just so contagious that I couldn’t not laugh. As I got older I started getting those jokes and laughed for other reasons.
What I liked best about the book were the stories behind the scenes – how Vicki Lawrence became a cast member, how Carol nearly fired one of the cast after a particularly bad show. Those were things I didn’t know. I didn’t know that she fought hard to have her own variety show in a time when male studio heads didn’t think women should. I didn’t know that she ran that show, every aspect of it, in a time when women just didn’t do that. And my biggest takeaway from the book that is more memory than self-help is this: You have to fight for the things that you want in life. Carol fought for her show. She fought for the actors and performers on her show. She fought for certain skits and writers. She knew what her vision was for the show and she fought hard to make that vision a reality.
My favorite quote from the book sums up what I think is her true legacy – aside from the laughs on the show! – that you have to be present and embrace your life, and fight for the things you believe in: Fifty years have passed since we “pushed the button” to do the show. Sure, I’d like to be younger, but then I could never do today what we did back then. Sadly, variety shows like ours have gone the way of the dodo bird. A variety show today can never duplicate what we did. Why? Money. The cost of clearing the songs and music alone would sink the Titanic. Sixty to seventy costumes a week? No way. A twenty-eight-piece orchestra? Twelve dancers? A rep company of five? Six to eight sketches a show? Major guest stars? Block the entire show and rehearse with the orchestra in one day? The following day tape the whole shebang in two hours? Dream on. We all get older, if we’re lucky. So, if I had to choose, I’m happy I was there at that time…to have a laugh or sing a song.
If you have the chance, definitely pick up the book – I think you’ll love it! What are you reading now?
I get asked a lot about my writing process, and while we all have our processes and most writers are cool sharing what works and what doesn’t, I think the real value in knowing how other writers write is in knowing that there are so many different ways to write a book. There is no singular right way. You look at what is working for you and you adjust accordingly. My process isn’t the same even from book to book. Some books I write beginning to end. Some books I write out of order. Some books I turn in and realize that I need to rearrange a few key areas. Books are beautiful, frustrating, really weird things. But.
You knew there was going to be a but.
But, there is one thing that stays true with my process: my WIP Notebook/Project Planner. So I thought I’d share that part of my writing process with you guys this week because it might help you, too. My WIP notebook becomes a kind of catch-all for each book. It has details like drafting/editing deadline, series name/information, and detailed plot and character notes. I love it because having all the details in one spot makes it easy to double-check a character’s eye color or change names when you realize every.single.name begins with “M” or to fill in the “blah blah make this funnier” notes we leave in our WIPs while we’re fast-drafting.
Here’s how my WIP notebook works for me:
The brain dump: The brain dump is exactly what it sounds like: a dump of information. I write everything I think I know about the book, characters, and backstory on these pages. Things I think might happen, things from the past, where my characters are emotionally at the beginning of the book, where they are at the end, what the romantic storyline is, what the personal storyline is. It takes up the bulk of the notebook and is usually four of five pages of…stuff. Stuff that I need to get out of my head before I can actually start parsing through to see what works and (more importantly) what doesn’t.
The Plot Worksheet: After I’ve written down the pertinent backstory stuff, character stuff, maybe even opening or closing scene details, it’s time to start parsing through that to create an actual sort-of plot. That’s where my plot worksheet comes in. Here I’ll list the tropes for the book, the series (if it’s part of a series), title and length details. But, the real work is in the scene listing. I’ll write out scene ideas for the different acts of the book – some will make it in and some won’t, but having the scene ideas written down is very helpful in create an actual outline.
The “W” sheet: From that dump of information and general scene listing comes some actual outline information. I’m a fan of the “W” plot and I kind of integrate it with a three-act structure to create my outline – and for those of you who think this is too rigid, just know that I go into every outline knowing that once the draft is finished I’ll probably move at least 2-3 scenes around in the book. Back to my worksheet. So we have the highs and lows of the initial trigger and problem, the first turning point, a second triggering moment, a deepening of the conflict, and so on. Some of these moments will be in my brain dump of information. Some in the plot worksheet. It’s why I do a brain dump, a plot worksheet, and then a W sheet – because genre romance is all about certain moments happening at certain times. By winnowing all.the.details. into specific.plot.ideas. and then into an outline form I get a clearer vision of the conflict. Conflict, as we all know, comes from the past. Something bad happens as a child. Something bad happens as an adult that confirms to the character that they are not worthy of whatever it is they want/have/need. It’s conflict math. 1+1=2 or Incident+Incident=Confirmation. For me BrainDump+Plot Workheet=Solid W plot-plan.
Character Sheets: Then come the character sheets. Each character gets a main sheet with details about their physical features, their home, their family, their wants/needs, job information, hopes/dreams, nicknames. Why they have what they have and don’t deserve what they want…all that good, emotional stuff.
Setting Sheet: Keeping track of business names and locations, seasonal details, big events, even the town layout and a timeline of events can be hard in a single book…its even harder when you write a series. Having a setting worksheet keeps all those minute details in one place so that I can refer back to find that I called the local bar Shorty’s in book one (or, heck, chapter one) and Logan’s in another book/chapter.
If you like these pages, I have printable versions that you can print and use for your WIP notebooks. Do you use a WIP notebook (either online or offline!) to help your plotting?
One of our favorite things to do in the summer is grill. Heck, one of our favorite things to do year-round (hence the grill not only in the backyard but also in the garage) is grill. Burgers, chicken, brats, steaks, kabobs. You name the meat and we’ve probably grilled it. The last time we were in the Caribbean (Jamaica) part of our stop was a beach day with a barbecue – and they included a pineapple grilled salsa as part of the condiments for the burgers. OMG, y’all, it was the best.thing.ever. This weekend, we’re recreating that and I can’t wait. If you’re looking for something a little new to go with the same-old Labor Day barbecue try this recipe, I think you’ll like it!
Pineapple Salsa Recipe
- 1/2 fresh pineapple – peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
- Tin foil
- cooking spray (I like Pam, use whatever you like)
- Pinch of ground black pepper, to taste
Heat your grill to medium heat. Once prepped, spray your sheet of tin foil with cooking spray. Side note: you can grill the pineapple directly on the grill grate but I have a tendency to lose the pineapple *in* the grill when I do that. The tin foil keeps the pineapple from falling through and it doesn’t change the taste. If you’re a better griller than me, feel free to skip the tin foil and simply spray the grill grate with cooking spray and put the pineapple directly on it. You’ll cook the pineapple for about 7 minutes; you know it’s ready when it’s lightly brown and caramelized. Remove it from the grill and allow to cool. Use your food processor to chop and dice the sweet online, jalapeño, bell pepper, and garlic. I love my Ninja Master Prep for this step, makes it so simple! Combine all these ingredients, along with the cooled pineapple, lime juice, sugar, salt, and pepper in a serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour; this will allow the flavors to blend.
Top your burgers or chicken with this salsa or, heck, eat it right out of the bowl with some tortilla chips – you’re choice! Enjoy!
Do you have a favorite holiday grill recipe? Share in the comments!
Habit. It kind of sounds like a bad word…probably because for most of our lives we’re told we need to “break that bad habit”. Be that habit smoking or drinking too much soda or indulging in a candy bar once too often.
One thing I’ve learned over time: it’s much easier to learn a bad habit than it is a good one. I think because the bad habits can be so fun – I mean, who doesn’t want to spend a day in the pool rather than at the office? Who doesn’t want another slice of Chocolate Decadance or one more drink of that mojito? We’re human. We like the things that, in many cases, aren’t great for us.
According to Mr. Webster, an habit is “a behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary”. In other words, a habit is a learned behavior, and it doesn’t have to be a bad learned behavior.
I think the key to creating any habit is to begin by looking at it as a positive rather than a negative. Instead of “I can never eat chocolate again” look at it as “I’m going to enjoy one slice of the best chocolate cake ever and I’m going to enjoy every second of it”. Instead of “I can never laze in the pool on a hot summer day!” think “I’m going to meet __(goal)__ before I laze in the pool this afternoon”.
Y’all know I love my planner – it’s so much easier to have a list of to-dos and deadlines and expectations and family events all in one place that I can keep track of. But, another thing I do is track my habits – the good and the bad. Up above you’ll see the habit tracker I created for 2018 (feel free to download my Habit Tracker and other printables for writers here). I don’t fill it out every month, but I do find it helpful to use it every couple of months, just to make sure I’m doing the things I need to be doing – like exercise, like drinking enough water, like making my bed time. I’m happier, in general, when those things are going well, and I’m more likely to follow through on work goals when I’m also meeting my personal/health goals.
Here’s a copy of the tracker so far for August. Making those checkmarks is very satisfying…and as you can see, I’m not perfect. I haven’t been tracking my meals like I should (which is probably why, even though I’m hitting my bed time goal, I’m still feeling a little tired and “off”). But, now I can see where I’m not being the best me I can be (as bebe’s teacher liked to say in 4th grade), and I know how I can make a small change to start feeling better, in general.
Have you tried tracking your habits? Did it work for you? Share in the comments!