Category: Follow Your Dreams Wednesdays

20 New Habits for the New Year

January 1 is my favorite day of the year. Endless possibilities. A clean slate. Twelve months to reach those goals. I always enthusiastically make a list of resolutions, drive my family crazy trying to implement a new routine, and then after about two weeks…bleh. Mission abandoned. Something goes awry, and I can’t get back on track.

Today is January 25. Guess what? All those promises I made to myself, the new habits and routine I fleshed out?

It’s still on, baby.

I know part of the reason for this is that my kids are older now and mostly self-sufficient. I have more time for myself now than I’ve ever had in my adult life. But the other part is that I’ve finally chosen goals/habits/whatever you want to call them that are doable and are showing immediate benefits – which reinforces my motivation to do them. And let’s face it: I’m getting older, and time seems to run faster every year. I don’t want to waste a single minute.

So here are all the habits and daily tasks I’m doing right now. I hope they can provide some inspiration for you.

  1. A kiss and a cuddle with my husband. Maybe more. ūüôā Sometimes our inclination is to just drag ourselves from bed and let the other person sleep, but this is a great way to wake up.
  2. 5 minutes of prayer or gratitude. Whether you have faith or not, the key to happiness is being grateful for what you have. Thanking God or just reminding yourself how blessed you are puts you in a positive frame of mind for the day.
  3. Coffee and news with my husband. The sun’s not up. We’re in our robes. We just sit and talk about our upcoming day¬†and the dreams we had last night. We make plans, give each other reminders, and catch up on the news. Even if we don’t see each other the rest of the day, we get this bit of time to connect.
  4. A walk. On weekdays, I walk our youngest son to school. On Saturdays, I walk with a friend. The biggest benefit is the time with my walking buddy, but I also enjoy the air and the connection with our neighborhood, and it gets the blood flowing.
  5. Eat breakfast. Most of my life, I did not eat breakfast. Even as a kid, I didn’t get hungry until about 10 AM. But I’ve been forcing myself to eat something small at 8:30, the time I get home from my walk. Oatmeal. A banana. Eggs scrambled with veggies. I like not being hungry again until lunch time, and I seem to have more energy.
  6. Take my meds (Claritin and calcium). I have terrible allergies, and I’m getting old, hence the calcium. I always feel better when I take Claritin, but for some reason, I couldn’t make myself take it on a regular basis. But I realized that even if I just had a sinus headache, was that fair to my family? If I could have avoided that headache? And the calcium has been a pain because I need to take it with food, and I never ate breakfast, so the pills got missed. Not anymore.
  7. Use my “Life Apps.” I spent a lot of time last year searching for the perfect apps that would help me with different aspects of my life, and I finally found them. I use Productive on my iPhone for tracking my habits. Teamwork Projects is absolutely brilliant, and I use it both for my businesses and my family organization and communication. More info on that in an upcoming post.
  8. Review upcoming tasks and events of the day.
  9. Exercise. 45 minutes on the stationary bike, 15 minutes on the balance board. And I just added 20 minutes with a weighted hula hoop to see if it has any effect on my waistline. ūüôā The key to keeping up with this is that it has to be every day. If you only plan to work out three days a week, it’s easy to skip a day, thinking, “I’ll do it tomorrow. Plenty of time left to do my 3x/week.” But if you have to do it every day, you can’t miss.
  10. Keep my inbox as clean as possible. Try to¬†respond to email the same day. Over the holidays, I got to the point where I had 3000 emails unopened, just in one account. That’s crazy. I made myself wade through the mess and address everything. Now I just have to stay on top of it. ūüôā
  11. Limit my social media to 30 minutes.
  12. Smile.
  13. Write. I have word counts depending on deadlines I’m trying to hit, but as long as I do a little bit every day, I’m good.
  14. Hold kids accountable for their responsibilities. Do you know how many chore charts we’ve created and abandoned? Actually, my kids are decent at staying on top of their chores, but they’ll slide if they can. No more. I simply can’t do everything myself, and they need to learn that wearing five outfits in one day results in a LOT of work. I put their chores in Teamwork, and the app reminds them of each chore via SMS. So far, it’s working.
  15. Listen and be present. This is such an overused platitude, but it’s important. I’m always thinking about the next thing I have to do, the next place I have to be, the next instruction or reminder I have to give.¬†And that’s no way to live, ’cause I’m missing the things going on right in front of me.
  16. Plan meals, cook dinner most nights, and eat as a family. I use Paprika to manage my recipes and plan the meals, and it’s great. I can save any recipe I find on the web, and then I just drag and drop my meals onto a calendar, and Paprika creates a shopping list.
  17. Review monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals every morning. Just a quick peek. Helps you keep the goals in mind.
  18. Express appreciation and gratitude to my loved ones. Yeah, they know I love them. I tell them that 20 times a day. But being appreciative is different.
  19. Clean out my purse and my car.
  20. Do “5 for 5” 3x/day. That’s five chores for five minutes each. The house will be spotless if you actually do this. I usually choose five different songs, and I do one¬†chore for the length of each song.

Persevering in the Face of Negativity

For years, I sat in my comfortable bubble and wrote stories from my heart. I didn’t worry about sales or marketing, and if I got a review (or a sale), it made my day. I was fulfilling an inner need, relieving stress, taking some time for myself. I didn’t really care what people thought of my writing.

And then I got to the point where I wanted to write full time. But I couldn’t do that unless I could also generate a decent income. Which meant sales. Reader interaction. Providing a product that others actually want to pay for.

I’d never written to market, and my stories didn’t fit neatly in genre categories. NERVOUS SYSTEM is about a six-year-old boy who can control his autonomic nervous system. Is this science fiction? Fantasy? He explores religion, because when you’re born with an ability that’s not “natural,” you wonder why. Did God make me¬†this way? Does God even exist? So there are elements of religious fiction, even if the message is to question and not to preach. How do you sell such a book?

I did one marketing campaign back in October 2015 for NERVOUS SYSTEM. Spent almost $1000, and tripled my money in less than a week, even though I gave 40,000 copies of the book away. Readers went on to buy the rest of the series. I was grateful, and in awe. But I was still only working on my writing in stolen moments, and I didn’t really have a long-term plan. I needed one.

My mom is a huge reader. She reads widely but has a soft spot for funny, clever, steamy romance. Romance is a hot genre, and I wanted to write something for her. So I came up with the String Serial.

But you see the flaw in my plan, don’t you?

How do you sell steamy romance to readers who found you based on an out-of-the-box speculative fiction series? My current readers were less than enthused.

So I’ve had to start over, in a sense. Find a new audience. But true to my nature, the String Serial does not fit neatly into the current contemporary romance genre. No naked men on the cover. No scantily clad women. No best friends calling each other “bitch” (do real women actually speak to their friends like this???). Cliffhangers with every episode (it’s a serial, not a series). And the main character thinks and speaks as real women do, especially during sex – she uses real words for body parts, with no “love rod,” no “hot beef injection,” no “steel manhood penetrating my quivering womb.”

And I’m already getting negativity for it.

And that’s okay. The negativity is not gonna stop me.

When you create something where the value is wholly subjective, you expect some people not to like it. You have to love what you do, have faith in it, and have a thick skin. And I do. I continue to get pushback about my covers, and I already have a disheartening review on Part Two on Goodreads. But that’s part of the gig. I believe in my stories, and I just have to keep going.

Three things have helped me do just that.

One, I’ve cut down my online interaction. People seem to be the nastiest version of themselves when they can hide behind their computers, and I don’t need that. While social media can be a wonderful way to connect, it can also breed hate and jealousy and misunderstandings. And I don’t know if you’re experiencing this, but half my feeds are filled with ads and requests to join people’s marketing schemes and buy their products, books included. If I want a book, I’ll go looking for one. I don’t need to be bombarded with this crap. And if I feel this way, I imagine others are feeling this way, too.

Two, I count my blessings. Supportive, healthy family? Check. Roof over our heads? Check. Food in the pantry? Check. Nothing else really matters.

And three, I’m keeping the people who love and support me close. Recently, I was thinking about cutting back on some of my extra-curricular activities to focus more on the business of writing. But the people I interact with in these activities are a positive influence. They support me and believe in me. Why would I give that up?

I’m hoping that the String Serial finds an audience and allows me to continue doing what I love. If it doesn’t, then I put my head down and write the next story. I’m going to do this. I’m going to succeed. And no amount of negativity is going to stop me.

Follow Your Dreams Wednesday Blog Series: Naysayers

Follow Your Dreams Series

 

I was lucky when I started to get serious about my writing – my friends and family were encouraging. Problem was, they encouraged me to do things a certain way, which meant securing an agent and pursuing a traditional publishing deal rather than going the indie route.

I still remember my mother’s first words when I handed her the proof of my first self-created paperback: “Wow! It looks like a real book!”

Funny.

It’s hard to stay on course when you hear comments or advice, however well meant, to the contrary. But listening to everyone around you only ensures that you’re pursuing their dreams, not yours. So how do you fight off the naysayers and keep yourself going?

1. Do your research. The more you know about what you’re doing, the more confident you will be in your choices. When someone says, “You can make so much more money with a traditional publishing deal,” I don’t let this rattle me, because I know the facts about the industry. I know that the choice I’ve made is the best for me. But if I¬†hadn’t done my homework, this comment might make me waiver. Know your stuff, and others’ opinions won’t throw you off.

2. Say thank you and move on. No need to get into an argument with someone giving advice. Say thank you, maybe suggest you’ll look into it, and move on. I’ve found that it’s very difficult to change someone’s opinion without material evidence. In my case, I couldn’t argue that indie publishing produced more money than a traditional deal until I’d actually made said money. If I attempted to point out those who had made money at it, my opponent called those people “outliers.” Fine. No sense arguing.

3. Make sure you’re pursuing the dream for you. If you’re pursuing said dream just to please someone else, of course you’re going to be swayed by outside opinion. Your whole purpose is to please THEM.

One of the questions I get a lot is, How did you get your spouse on board? Because my spouse thinks that if I do this, I won’t have any time left over for him/her/family.

If your partner is the naysayer, you have more of a dilemma. Whether we like it or not, our partners must be supportive to some degree. Here are my suggestions:

1. Craft a detailed plan. Figure out what it will take to make your dream come true, in terms of time, money, and other resources. Be realistic.

2. Sit down with your partner and explain the plan. Let them know how much this means to you. And then show them exactly what it will take to achieve. Be absolutely up front about what they’ll have to do to help you (maybe extra childcare duties, extra chores, less time together, etc.).

3. Set a time limit. Ask that they go along with your plan for a set amount of time, say a year. If things aren’t working out at that point, you’ll reconsider.

4. Get them to join in. Perhaps they’d be interested in helping directly. Maybe you need a salesperson to visit galleries, or a marketing person to book ads for you. Some partners are eager to help and will feel more invested this way.

5. Ask them what their dream is. Maybe they’ve never thought about it. Maybe they just need a push. Maybe you both can work on your dreams at the same time and help each other.

6. Start off by manipulating your own time, not theirs. If you dream of being an artist, get up at 5 am and paint for two hours before everyone else gets up. Write your novel during your lunch hour, or while the baby’s napping. You may want to just quit your job and work on your dream full time, but few of us have that luxury, especially with a family. Know that if you start off small, a little at a time, that time will add up.

7. Share the little victories. When you complete a painting, make sure your partner is the first one to see it. When you complete a chapter, make sure your partner is the first one to read it. Sometimes it takes seeing things to completion for your partner to get on board. Let them know that they’re so special to you that you want to share the victories with them first.

8. Show appreciation. Every single day, thank them for being supportive. Thank them for taking out the trash, for running the kids to school, for working so hard so that you can concentrate on your dream.

Act Happy Week!

I’m a big believer in the concept that thought and emotions follow actions, so the idea of this week excites me. You want to feel like a million bucks? Act like a million bucks. You want to feel like a winner? Act like a winner? You want to be happy? Act happy.

It’s only a week. Can’t hurt to try.

Follow Your Dreams – Wednesday Blog Series: Who Are You?

Follow Your Dreams Series

 

When we set about a giant task like fulfilling our dreams, people often start with the wrong question: what makes me happy? But happiness is a mind-set and can be achieved no matter your circumstance. Poor people can be happy. Sick people can be happy. Childless people who want children can be happy.

The keys to happiness are¬†1) gratitude, and 2) no expectations. Read Dennis Prager’s excellent book, Happiness is a Serious Problem, if you want to change your mind-set.

Whether you’re happy or not (and I hope you are), you might still be searching for a greater purpose in life, something to fulfill and sustain you. Pursuing a dream can do that. But how do you know what dream to pursue?

The easiest way to be fulfilled is to know who you are.¬†You need to figure out what’s important to you, what your values and priorities are. Because when we’re doing things that support those values and priorities, it brings us inner peace. Let me give an example.

If you start with the premise, “What Makes Me Happy?”, you might answer, “Chocolate cake.” Cake tastes good and makes you¬†feel good in the moment. But every time you eat a piece of cake, maybe the momentary pleasure is replaced with guilt. You’re trying to lose ten pounds. Your doctor wants you to cut back on sugar. You feel tired all the time and know that you need to focus on your health. So that thing that made you happy…it really didn’t.

If you start with the premise, “What’s important to me?”, you might answer, “My health.” So instead of dessert every night after dinner, you take a 20-minute walk. You might hate the walk. It might make you tired. But as you’re lying in bed at night and going over the events of the day…you smile. You made yourself walk. You made your health a priority. You have inner peace.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t have cake, even if your health is a priority. We all need rewards. But once-a-month cake (rather than nightly cake) still keeps your priorities in check.

Over the years, I’ve compiled a list of personal values. You can download it HERE – PERSONAL VALUES.XLSX spreadsheet, and use it as you see fit. Here’s a screen shot:

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 12.13.27 PM

At first glance, you might think that all of these values are important. To a certain degree, they are. But everyone is unique in their priorities and approach to life. You need to figure out what’s MOST important.

Read through the lists. Some of the words are redundant, some have subtle nuances. Some can be categorized in multiple lists. Feel free to move them around or ignore the categories entirely. The categories don’t really matter; they’re just for simplicity’s sake.

Now choose your top twenty. Whittle those twenty down to ten. Then to five. You’re going to focus on those five. And that doesn’t mean you’ll ignore the rest, but you have to start somewhere. And we’re talking about DREAMS. Dreams are pretty damn important, and should be connected to your top priorities.

Now that you’ve got your top five, you need to translate them to achievable dreams.¬†Here’s an example:

Maybe my top five personal values are FAMILY, FITNESS, KNOWLEDGE, FREEDOM, and NATURE.

Let’s start with FAMILY. How do I make FAMILY a priority? Brainstorm a few ideas and write them down. Your list might look like this:

1. Create memories.

2. Be the kind of parent my kids will want to emulate.

3. Pass on traditions and knowledge of the past. (Nicely ties in with KNOWLEDGE value.)

Now under each item, list actionable tasks that will accomplish those goals.

1. Create memories.

a. Plan an annual family vacation.

b. Visit the grandparents 3x/year.

c. Weekly game night.

d. Create a photo slide-show for their birthdays every year.

2. Be the kind of parent my kids will want to emulate.

a. Give daily praise and affection.

b. Attend all of my kids’ baseball¬†games (even the early-morning Saturday ones!).

c. Read and snuggle together every night before bed.

3. Pass on traditions and knowledge of the past.

a. Create a recipe book for each kid including Grandma’s recipes.

b. Bake cookies every holiday.

c. Start an annual pumpkin-carving party for the neighborhood.

d. Scan all of Grandma’s photos and give copies to each kid.

Now you’re thinking…this isn’t what I had in mind when I thought of FULFILLING MY DREAMS.

But actually…it is.

If your greatest priority is FAMILY, and for many of us, it is…don’t you have dreams about having the greatest family in the world? One where the kids come home from school, even the teenagers, give you a big hug, and tell you all about their day? One where your partner sings your praises and tells everyone at work how lucky they are to be married to you? One where you love each other, support each other, and communicate often and openly?

Let’s face it – those things don’t happen by accident. They take work and dedication. Those families are a dream for many of us. Don’t ignore these types of dreams in favor of things more grandiose. Because the daily, the familiar (like family, friendships, a support network) are crucial if we want to pursue anything more grandiose.

But let’s address the grandiose.

Maybe you always wanted to be a dancer. Or a singer. Or write a book. Or get your masters degree. Any one of those could fit into our top five personal values. Let’s go with the example of getting your masters degree.

In this case, it could fit into KNOWLEDGE (increasing your personal knowledge), FAMILY (it can open up job opportunities that would increase your family’s income), or FREEDOM (you just always wanted a masters, damn it, and you want to be free to get one; or, the extra money you make at work with the degree will give you more financial freedom).

But how do you know if pursuing your masters degree is really your dream?

1. There’s no right or wrong. There’s no wrong dream. But if you’re going in one direction and decide it’s not right for you, that’s fine. You can always change.

2. Work backwards. A masters degree is typically a means to an end – more knowledge, a better job, greater income. (Yes, some people want an advanced degree for its own sake, but that’s not what I’m talking about). So it’s easier to look at your life and priorities and think, “What is the outcome I want?” than to first think, “How do I get there?” You need to know where you’re going first.¬†Then you can figure out the best steps to take to make it happen.

3. What do you want to be remembered for? When you’re dead and gone, what do you want your partner to think about you? What do you want your kids to tell their grandkids about you? What legacy do you want to leave?

4. What can you live with? We all have regrets – anyone who says they don’t is lying to themselves. (But we can turn those regrets into learning experiences, and we don’t have to dwell on them.) Still…live with the fewest regrets possible. Are you going to look back one year, ten years, twenty years from now and say, “I should have done that!”? Then that’s the thing you need to do.

5. Dreams take effort and time and energy. They take us away from other things. That’s why it’s so crucial to have your priorities in order. Don’t let your dream of being a rock star kill your dream of being a good parent. You might regret that.

6. Re-evaluate your list of personal values every year or so. Priorities change. Circumstances change. Be flexible.

This is just a start, a way to get you thinking about what’s important to you. Making the dream a reality is the tough part, and we’ll talk about that as this series progresses. But for now, grab a journal or open a new Word doc and just think. Brainstorm. Figure out who you are and what you want. Dream.

Follow Your Dreams – Wednesday Blog Series: How I Got My Start

Follow Your Dreams Series

 

It sounds trite, I know. And we’ve heard it a thousand times: Follow Your Dreams! As if it were easy.

Every Wednesday, I’m going to blog about this topic, because it has changed my life. At 38, I decided to stop wishing and hoping, and I started doing. I’m finally living my dream of being an author.

But following the dream isn’t all umbrella drinks and sunshine days. Quite the opposite, in fact. And even though it stresses me out sometimes and keeps me¬†ridiculously busy,¬†I wouldn’t trade one minute of it. The innate joy it has brought me is immeasurable. So I’m gonna start this series off by telling you how I got my start.

I’ve always written, but the stories were just for me. I had a husband, four kids, a small business, I tutored in my spare time for extra money, and coached high school tennis – I had no time for a dream.

My grandfather was in a nursing home after a series of strokes that left him physically fine but mentally deteriorating. He couldn’t care for himself, mostly because he forgot to. And the strokes left him with dementia, which made him belligerent and difficult to communicate with. I visited him often, and I noticed the home wasn’t keeping up with his personal hygiene. The nurses said that he wouldn’t let them bathe him.

So Grandpa moved in with my parents, who had built their home with this in mind. He lasted two weeks there. He wouldn’t let my parents care for him, either.

That left me.

My wonderful husband agreed to let Grandpa move in. I became his full-time caregiver. And while that time was the most rewarding of my life, it was also the hardest. I spent most nights crying into my pillow. And I took up writing in earnest.

I needed a break. I needed an escape. So after I tucked Grandpa into bed and turned on his baby monitor, I set the receiver next to my laptop and I wrote. And wrote. Somewhere along the line, I got serious about it. I realized I could really do this.

Looking back, it’s funny, because my life was busier and more stressful than it had ever been. If someone had told me that I could fit my DREAM in there somewhere, I would have laughed in their face. But the reason I was able to fit it in was because I needed it. I needed something bright and positive, I needed a creative outlet, so I made it a priority. It was really that simple: if you want something badly enough, you will make it a priority.

Before I spent my nights writing, what did I do to fill my time? Television, Internet surfing, working, laundry, sleep. Basically, nothing important. Sure, I still do all those things, sometimes, but the dream was/is more important. It’s amazing how much crap you can fit into a day and not even realize how much time you’ve lost.

Grandpa has now passed away, and my kids are now much older and more self-sufficient, but I still write every evening after everyone’s in bed. That’s my writing time. And something major has to be going on for me to give it up and do something else.

Of course, there’s a lot more to it, and we’ll explore it in future posts. But I hope I’ve got you thinking: how much time do I spend on things that don’t really matter? No one’s gonna be talking at your funeral about how many episodes of The Walking Dead you managed to watch, or how many funny videos you shared on Facebook. Don’t you want them to talk instead about your indomitable spirit, your drive, your courage in the face of insurmountable obstacles?