Friday, January 31, 2020

Anti-Flu Strategy

I live with elderly parents. Or maybe they live with me. I'm not sure how that should be phrased. What can't be denied is that my father (whose birthday is today: Happy Birthday, Dad!) is medically vulnerable at this point in his life. So for handling flu season, I turn to a strange blend of science and magic. 

Modern science provides this entire household with flu shots as soon as they are available. A single flu at this stage could take Dad out. I refuse to be the one who brings into the house. All four adults in the household get those shots every year. 

We do our best to keep the house reasonably humid which sounds funny in Florida, but this winter has been unusually dry with repeated cold air invasions from the north. Dry air allows viral particles to remain airborne longer. In higher humidity, they get weighed down and pulled to the floor or other surfaces. In dry air, we breathe the little bastages and all hell breaks loose. So in really dry weather, we'll do our best to bring up humidity in the house a little. And we step up the house-keeping routine so our food prep surfaces and the surfaces we all touch are cleaned often.

From there, I spend the entirety of the winter taking a nightly hit from a bottle of Sambucol. 10ml to prevent viral infection, and up to 40 ml per day to treat in acute situations. For years, science went back and forth about whether or not this stuff worked. First is was no. Then yes. Then pff, of course not, it's wishful thinking. Then a series of articles published the mechanism by which black elderberry worked: By blocking viral insertion into cells so the viruses can't replicate. Y'all, this stuff is basically contraception for viruses. That's some serious magic.
Articles on the effectiveness of Black Elderberry:

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Building your arsenal for flu season?

Sadly, ancient swords and plasma pistols aren’t much help in this department. There are some helpful flu-fighting posts already up this week that you should check out. Jeffe shared a great naturopathic list and like her, I’ve always got powdered Vitamin C and Oscillococcinum®. And if I can’t avoid everyone like they have the plague, I now have a hot toddy recipe! See…helpful, go check them out! 

But, no matter what you choose, when the cold or flu lays you out we all turn into listless, muddleheaded, babies. And one thing I’m sure to have handy when I’m chilled and achy: Creamy Rustic Soup.

I shared this pic about a year ago and had demands for the recipe. Unfortunately I must have some of my grandma in me because as much as I love to cook…I don’t always use a recipe. I know! I know! I’ll write it down…next time. ;)

So, this is my attempt at a recipe for what I like to call Creamy Rustic Soup because it’s...well, creamy, roughly chopped, and a soup! If you try it out, let me know what you think! Enjoy!

Creamy Rustic Soup

In a stock pot…

1 chopped onion
2-3 diced garlic cloves

Brown 1 lb ground meat (or diced chicken) and season:
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Then add the following:
5 chopped carrots (it's rustic! uneven's the name of the game!)
2 stalks celery, chopped (if you have some)
1 large rutabaga, chopped (I had rutabaga to use up, feel free to sub potatoes, my faves are Japanese sweet potatoes)
4-5 c stock (whatever kind you have, I make my own vegetable stock from leftover peelings and it turns out so lovely and dark)
1 c coconut milk (because I had some leftover to use up, but feel free to sub half and half/whole milk...think creamy decadence)

Heat to boil then simmer for ~30 min or until the veggies are fork tender.

Last, this should go without while reading a good book for maximum effect.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Happy Introvert's Guide to Flu Season

I was just reading back through the SFF Seven posts this week and taking notes. So much good advice for getting through the cold/flu season so we writers can focus on the thing that makes our magic. That would be, um, writing.

I personally am neither a medical expert nor a particularly effective home-remedy user. If my kids get sick, I take them to the doctor. If my partner gets sick, same. If I get sick... well, the world doesn't stop needing to be dropped off places, so I just plow on through and try to ride it out with a buffet of over-the-counter syrups and pills at the ready.

Wouldn't call myself a big believer in essential oils, necessarily, but inhaling the steam from a bowl of hot water and a couple drops of melaleuca oil seems to help with sinus infections and congestion. Guess you could say I recommend that?

In my ideal world, though, I would handle flu season thusly: From October to March, I would have all my groceries delivered to my home and would venture out of my house only occasionally to soak up a little sunshine in the privacy of my back yard. If you get viruses from other people, chiefly, then what better way to avoid illness than to never encounter another human?

This prescription works best for introverts.

(Like me.)

And people who work from home and live alone.

(Sadly, not me.)

(Pass the tissues? Achoo.)

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

It's Plague Season, Now Featuring "Fix It"

It's plague season. The Petri dishes are running amok, spreading their snots and coughs and general oooge throughout the realm. From the first tickle of the throat or the third successive sneeze, we all fear that realization that we too are among the doomed. All too soon we're couch-bound beneath a bankie and clutching a box of tissues. If you've succumbed, dear readers, and are not driving anywhere for 8-10 hours, then snuggle up, Dr. Feel Better is poking around the kitchen.

Some call it a Hot Toddy. Some call it Mercy in a Mug. My family calls it Fix It.

  • Honey
  • Decaf/Herbal Tea (Flavor of choice, I recommend lemon or orange. If your tummy isn't your friend, pick peppermint. Back away from the high-test stuff unless you want to stay awake, but you're sick, so sleeping is sort of the point.)
  • Hot Water (if you don't have tea concentrate)
  • Whiskey (Any member of the whiskey family to include: bourbon, rye, scotch, malt, Irish, single malt, etc.)
Make your hot tea according to your personal preferences. Pour in a mug, not a dainty cup. Add honey to just this side of too sweet. Add whiskey according to tolerance. Minimum 1shot:6oz of tea. Stir. Sip. Savor the way the honey coats your throat while the booze warms your body and numbs the irritation.

Caution: Don't add too much booze. The point isn't to get shit-faced 'cause then you'll only feel worse; plus, puking is to be avoided at all costs. Achieving a "nice buzz" is good. Maybe it takes two mugs to get there. You're sick. When that first yawn attacks, give in. Have a good rest. You can make more Fix It tomorrow.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Dr. Money's Flu Remedies

It's Flu Season, so this week at the SFF Seven we're talking about our favorite tea, soup, or homeopathic feel-better recipe.

As you all may or may not know, I was clever enough to get myself an in-house physician. My hubs, David Money, is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine. As part of his schooling, he learned all about nutrition, herbal formulas, and various supplements.

Really, the best flu remedy is not to succumb to it in the first place. So, if I start feeling under the weather, these are my go-to home remedies.

Vitamin C and NAC

We buy Pure Vitamin C in powder form. I put a scoop of that in some filtered water and take it with NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine). I also take NAC as a daily supplement, but it's great for kicking up my immune system. The two taken together are like the wonder twins of amping up health.


If the Vitamin C + NAC isn't doing the job - especially if I'm feeling fatigued - I'll take some L-Arginine. That often does the trick to give my system the boost it needs.


Sometimes, if I'm really feeling like I'm battling a bug, I'll take the L-arginine with some
Echinacea tincture. Mine is literally homemade: I grow my own flowers, use gardening techniques to intensify the plant health, harvest at the optimum time for max potency, and brew the tincture. The stuff I have is powerful!

Gan Mao Ling

For a pre-made, store-bought herbal formula that's great for kicking the flu and other nasties, Gan Maol Ling is our go to. Really, it's great stuff that actually works.


If none of these are working, we buy some Oscillococcinum®. It's a homeopathic remedy that always does the trick for us if none of the above have worked. It's been a real rescue for me, more than once.

Stay healthy out there people!

Also, since lowering stress is part of staying healthy, I'll mention that I'm teaching a workshop on Taoism at the New England Chapter of RWA in February. Even if you're not a member, you can attend in person for only $5!

Saturday, January 25, 2020

10 Quotes About Reading


Our topic this week is our favorite quote about books and reading and why. 

Here’s the thing – quotes, like poetry, jokes and geometrical formulae, don’t stay in my head. I read them, I nod, I ‘like’ it if it’s on Facebook and I move on. You can tell me the same joke every day and I’ll laugh as if I never heard it before because my brain doesn’t retain the information. I have a prodigious memory and always have, but only for certain things.

So what I decided to do this week is go to my favorite source for quotes, BrainyQuote, and search there. I found no less than 1000 quotes about reading which they curated, so I’ve selected the first ten I found that appealed to me in some way or another.

There is creative reading as well as creative writing. Ralph Waldo Emerson
I have no idea what he was thinking but to me it points out the reader brings their own experiences to a book, a concept which I liked…

Which leads to this quote:
Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. Albert Einstein
Oh dear, I’m afraid Dr. Einstein and I would have to agree to disagree. Strenuously. But perhaps a mind such as his (which probably did retain all kinds of formulae while also making up his own) was too elevated to merely read. On a side note, I’ve eaten in the Caltech dining room where he used to sit when he lived there…

Now I do agree with this one:
Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him. Maya Angelou
I’ve always thought whatever the child wants to read, be it comics or Nancy Drew or anime or the encyclopedia or whatever, should be encouraged! Reading is reading and a child can always branch out to other material later.

A rather chilling warning here:
You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them. Ray Bradbury

I liked this one:
The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries. Rene Descartes
Of course I don’t know that people in future centuries will be reading my scifi romances but an author can always hope!

One superlatively important effect of wide reading is the enlargement of vocabulary which always accompanies it. H. P. Lovecraft
So true!

Personally, I like reading adventures which really have happened to people, because they show what kinds of things might happen to oneself, and they teach how to ‘Be Prepared’ to meet them. Robert Baden-Powell.
I definitely subscribe to this one, probably in part because of my fascination with the sinking of the Titanic, and who survived and who didn’t. I remember giving a lot of thought as a child to what I would have done and how hesitation in a crisis was a killer. My copy of A Night to Remember by Walter Lord is too dog eared to read any longer! My daughter bought me a new copy in fact. I think that entire aspect of my nature – to be prepared (not that I was ever a Boy Scout, or a Girl Scout LOL!) is an outgrowth of being determined not to be left behind when all the lifeboats are gone because I dillydallied when there was still a chance to escape. I love to read about disasters and to think through what I would have done (or not done)…Inaction can be the worst mistake.

I have never known any distress that an hour’s reading did not relieve. Montesquieu
So much this ^^^. Losing myself in a favorite book (hello Nalini Singh and Psy-Changelings) can make any day better. Or becoming engrossed in a really good new-to-me story.

We shouldn’t teach great books, we should teach a love of reading. B F Skinner
Because speaking for myself, if I hadn’t already been a voracious reader at a very early age, some of the BORING awful things we had to read in junior high and high school just because they were deemed to be CLASSICS could have turned me off books forever. (Looking at you, Charles Dickens.)

And I’ll conclude with this:
The unread story is not a story; it is black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story. Ursula K LeGuin

Happy reading!


Friday, January 24, 2020

Two For the Price of One Quotes

My favorite reading quote wasn't something I'd ever really thought about before now, so it took me a minute to find a way to put into words what I'd valued about reading all my life. It was the place I felt like I should belong, where I could be safe if only for a little while. (Not that I was ever in any kind of danger other than the sort of normal emo danger most kids are in at any time of their lives.) It's just that when it's you getting the jeers and sneers of classmates, a massive fantasy novel behind which to ignore them feels very empowering. So. My two favorite reading quotes:

I've never known any trouble than an hour's reading didn't assuage. 
Arthur Schopenhauer

My second favorite book quote:

Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend.
Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.
Groucho Marx

Thursday, January 23, 2020's elementary.

The more that you read, 
the more things you will know.
The more that you learn, 
the more places you’ll go.
~ Dr. Suess

That’s one of my favorite quotes about books. Like many of you, my love for reading started early on. *Thank You, Mom!* And I have many fond memories of wandering through the bookshelves of my elementary library, inhaling the aroma of aged pages…and the occasionally stinky feet, and to pull book after mind-challenging book down to hold in my hands.

Reading has given me so much, so much more than the oft necessary escape. It’s given me the ability to use and understand multiple perspectives, it’s given me knowledge (yes, my handsome man, even knowledge about made up magic systems counts as knowledge), and it’s given me the inspiration to dream. 

So, tell me, what’s your favorite quote about books?

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Books are practical magic

Hands down, my favorite quote about books or reading is this one from Steven Wright: "I'm writing a book. I've got the page numbers done." My second favorite is a quote from Doctor Who: "We're all stories in the end. Just make it a good one." (I have one of those inspirational cuff bracelets with this quote on it, cuz I am a hardcore fangirl like that.)

I bet you were hoping for something more profound, hmm?

Truth is, my lived experience is not all that profound. Books were sanctuary for me when I was growing up. I spent a lot of time in the public library, and then I went home and read some more. Books were instructional and safe and dependable. I guess you could say books raised me, so I think of them as a beloved granny maybe, not a magical portal or secret religion. Or, as Oprah Winfrey put it, "Books were my pass to personal freedom."

So in a sense, the truest truth would be to say that books are practical magic.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Fav Quote about Reading: There is Nothing...

"There's nothing you can't learn once you learn how to read."

I wish my search skills were strong enough to find the source of that quote. I remember it from posters in elementary school, one of those classroom signs at which you stare instead of paying attention to the lesson. There were various background illustrations and some were plain text on beige paper. My favorite was in the base library's children's section. It was a colored pencil sketch of a little brown-haired girl, sitting on the floor, huddled over a book, her face scrunched up in deep concentration.

Decades later, that quote (or some variation of it) has proved true, time and again. Recipes, foreign languages, home repair. Problem-solving, social skills, manners...empathy. That last one is where genre fiction really leads the way. The settings may be improbable, the characters simple or complex, but the interactions are relatable and in many ways prepare us for how to cope/handle/respond to a real-world situation we've never encountered. Books take us out of the echo chamber of our insulated lives and make us think, make us wonder, make us imagine what it's like to not be us.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Reading: To Enter a World

Some exciting news! Book three in the Forgotten Empires has a title!
THE ORCHID THRONE, THE FIERY CROWN (out May 26), will be followed by...


 I really love it, don't you? I recall as a kid being captivated by the title "THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING," the Arthurian retelling by T.H. White. It was one of the first times a title really piqued my interest. I feel like I'm evoking a tiny piece of that magic.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is our favorite quote about books and reading, and why.

For some odd reason, I can never think of my favorite quotes when asked the question directly. If I'm babbling on about other things, the quotes just fly into my head. But when I have to think of one out of the blue?


I blame my brain's filing system, frankly.

I know there's a quote on books and reading that I've loved for a very long time - and I was certain I could search for it and get the exact phrasing. I got out my Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. I Googled. I looked in a few other books.


I asked on Twitter and Facebook, and got lots of great suggestions that came close to the same sentiment, but the exact one nudging my memory?


The one I'm thinking of I could swear I even had on a bookplate or bookmark, once upon a time. Maybe in the late 70s or early 80s. With flowers on it? It's an interesting thing about Googling stuff - certain things have made it onto the internet in thousands of instances, sometimes with near infinite variations. Other things from BI (Before Internet) molder away on hard copy, never to be found again.

What's also amusing - and what a few people offering suggestions also noted - is that many quotes that came close were by other writers, attributed to themselves. So, I decided, what the hell? I'm going to try to recreate this quote. And if anyone knows the one I'm trying to remember, please say so!

To open a book is to open a door into another world - a very real magic spell that allows us to live as someone other than ourselves. 

~ Jeffe Kennedy, author and reader

Saturday, January 18, 2020

My Writing Schedule or Lack Thereof

Schedule! DepositPhoto

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week involves our writing schedules – what’s our most productive time of day, when do we actually write, how much time each day, week, month, etc.

When I left the day job five years ago to be a fulltime author, one of my personal vows was to never set an alarm clock again unless I had to be at an airport or in an operating room that morning. No more scheduled meetings! No more scheduled reports! Freedom! All those years of rising way early in the day to commute to the office, with a week chockfull of meetings and tasks assigned to me by other people, OVER and done. WOOT!

Now having said that, I do have a personal routine I follow. I actually am a super annoying morning person with or without a job outside the home and somewhat to my surprise I find I still tend to get up around 4:30AM. I like having the day ahead of me, I love the feeling of being one jump ahead because I’m awake and bustling around before most of the still-sleeping world (well, still sleeping in California anyway) rises…there’s also the not unimportant fact Jake the Cat was used to having his breakfast around 4:30AM. He was quite resistant to having his food-in-the-bowl time shifted to later, although now after five years he’s a bit more mellow.

Or possibly resigned to the fact…

After breakfast I start my ‘work day’ in much the same fashion I used to follow at the old day job. I check my e mail and then I go to the internet and read certain news sites, catch up on my social media (I did not do the social media loop at the old office let me hasten to add)…and then I dive into the work. I blog on various platforms and I also do my weekly New Releases report every Wednesday, so I have tasks not related to the current creative work in progress (WIP). Most days I take care of those items before going to the WIP because they hang over my head and distract me.

When I first transitioned to this career versus the old day job, I had a hard time getting myself to see that these other tasks weren’t the actual work. They had deadlines, I owed them to people (even if only in the sense of not letting down my fellow bloggers)…so they looked more like ‘work’ to me in some sense than writing my novels did. Some of this was the lifelong fact that writing my stories was done in between everything else or after work or after the children went to bed or on a lunch hour or in study hall. So I had to overcome this unconscious perception I was carrying that the writing had to be fitted in around the other tasks.

Jake the Cat
There were a lot of things to deal with when I transitioned to fulltime author that did surprise me besides the issue of the affronted cat with an empty food dish! (Hey, he always has dry food available…)

Sometimes I prompt myself to switch my focus by reminding myself the books pay the rent. None of the other activities I might find myself doing directly contribute to paying the bills or buying the cat food. That usually helps clarify for me what I ought to be working on!

I’m organized in my own fashion – NO spreadsheets here though. Shudder. If I had to track anything to do with my writing in the form of a spreadsheet I. Would. Not. Write. That level of detail is so not me. Kudos to Jeffe, the queen of spreadsheets – I’m always in awe of her methodology but I think the idea of too much structure or tracking mechanisms applied to my own writing sends the rebel in me up the wall.

I do keep a weekly To Do list, which helps me focus on the most important non-writing tasks for the week but never when it comes to the writing. The closest I ever come to letting the To Do list touch my writing is if I need to request a new cover from the wonderful Fiona Jayde for example and I keep forgetting to search the stock photo databases for inspiration. Then I might add that as a bullet point on the messy list.

So, to circle back around to the topic at hand, the writing schedule, usually around 8:00AM I’m ready to dive into the current book. I might make a cup of tea to signal the change of pace to myself, I sit down here at the keyboard and I type.  I write until the Muse is tired, however long that may be in any given session. Sometimes it’s a few hundred words and other times it’s a few thousand. I use a timer to remind myself to take breaks because of the physical toll sitting here and typing for hours takes if I don’t.

Some days I only work on the book once. Other days I might go off and return two or three times. Some days I don’t get to the writing until the evening, if for instance I’ve gone to babysit my toddler grandson or if I had a day full of appointments or errands. Despite being a morning person to the core and winding down as the sun moves across the sky and sinks, taking my energy with it, I can do a burst of creative writing in the evening. I have to be firm with myself, come in here and sit, open the manuscript file and start typing on whatever scene comes next in the narrative, but I can do it.

The one rule I did make for myself was that I must do either one 25 minute timed session or 1000 words (which usually takes me about that much time). Last year at one point I found myself skipping days as a result of some family and health issues and I can’t afford to do that, hence the rule. Twenty five minutes slides by really fast if I’m caught up in writing and I usually end up doing more words but at least with a solid 1000 a day I’ll finish a first draft of a book in 5-7 weeks, depending on the length.

If I’m in the editing and revision phase, then obviously I don’t log too many new words, but I will enforce upon myself the 25 minute session rule to be sure I’ve made some progress for the day.

I only work on one book at a time. I may be thinking ahead a bit to the plot of the next one but I haven’t found it productive for me to try to divide my creative attention.

It’s my method, it works for me and I think it serves to illustrate that there’s no one rule for every author to follow! My output for last year was nine new novels, two re-releases and a box set, so I feel overall my system has proven itself for me.
6 of the 9 New Books I Released in 2019

Friday, January 17, 2020

Scheduling Issues

It occurs to me that I come here to the blog and say, "I don't want to be THAT person." and then I go right on ahead and make myself THAT person.

Gonna again. My Writing Schedule:

Look. I care for aging parents, cope with chronic pain issues-though I think we finally found something that might be working, praise the gods and pass the Depakote!-but when there's both the family I was born into and the family I made when I married that need managing, writing often gets slipped into the cracks. Some days there just aren't any more energy packets to be doled out. I've still discovered ways to get the Jaws of Life into those cracks and pry them open enough for me to breathe more easily.

For example, if I say, "Hey, I have an online meeting every morning at x o'clock. I'm going into my room, shutting, and locking (because one of the damned cats figured out how to open) the door." Nobody bugs me for that hour. I can concentrate. It's not actually a lie. I DO meet people online at x hour each morning. We get into a Zoom room and we all write. It's based on the personal trainer philosophy. If you know someone is waiting on you, you're more likely to get up out of bed and go work out.

The other thing that started working for me was to fling rotting word salad at before I go to bed every night. I gave myself permission to just play around in the game, learn the system and pursue some of the simpler quests. The writing was total junk. Pure mind dump stream of consciousness stuff. Until about the middle of the second week when suddenly my hero walked into the middle of my mind dump and suddenly, I was mind dumping about the WIP, the plot, the characters and what I thought needed to happen. That went on for another few days. Then suddenly, the pair of them were talking to one another and to me. The words are still ugly. I mean it's all dialogue and there aren't even any tags. I hope to all the gods I can parse it when I try to edit the MS. But in that time after everyone else in the house has settled down and the time I tip over from exhaustion, I can get 1200 words if a scene is really going. Some days it's just more rotting word salad. But it's less often. And I feel like I know more about how this book wants to flow. So I'm counting a success.

I have goals to expand writing time and to expand daily word count to at least 2k again. But for right now, I'm writing daily. Even if it's just 500 words. Something flows. And for me, it breaks the surface tension and keeps my well from stagnating. Man. I don't even want to count the mixed metaphors.

Moral of the story: Who cares what your schedule is so long as it does the job you need it to do. So long as you're happy and reasonably healthy. Some people write a book like lightening striking. It's not wrong. And then some people, like me, write a book like they're extracting the most delicate of artifacts from the depths of the earth. One itty bitty brush stroke at a time. I just start plying that brush at 8AM every morning before the cats start bouncing off the walls wanting to play.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A schedule for writing?

Sunrise in Custer St Park
photo courtesy of @wyomingflygirl

Way back before I was a starry-eyed writer I thought…well, I thought writing a book was impossible, but I also thought that authors wrote and wrote until the book was done. Oh, what sweet innocence. 

Once I decided to attempt the impossible and write a novel I quickly found out that the book didn’t just pour out in one long chunk. There was a ton of research needed and an even more exorbitant amount of staring off into space required. But the best piece of advice I garnered was Jeffe’s advice to track your writing time

And so….spreadsheets! 

If you’re a new writer, or you have writing-time flexibility but struggle to get words down when you do sit down, I suggest trying out the Jeffe-writing-spreadsheet-method. When I did my first writing-time tracking I was still working full time and alone time with my computer was sporadic, which actually came in handy because I was able to compare all times of the day and night. 

My results: 
Creative brain power peaks between 7-11 AM. 
Editing capabilities are sustainable throughout the afternoon.
Writing after 5 PM…forget about it.  

Who out there is struggling to finish that book while holding down the 9-5? The problem with knowing that I was a morning writer was that I still had the day job M-F. To those authors working full time, I salute you and will send you all the good vibes! It’s hard, but it’s not impossible. Keep going and when you do have opportunities to shut yourself away during your peak writing-times, do it and don’t think twice! There’ll be guilt about taking the time and you’ll miss out on events and family/friends, but it’s part of the sacrifice to the end goal. 

Fast-forward a few years and now I’m blessed to have a spouse that can support our family while I’m a stay-at-home author. He’s incredible and the only reason I’m able to write during my peak hours. And it’s made a huge difference in my daily word counts and consistencies, which veers into writing routine territory. For those who have a flexible writing-schedule, once you know when your brain works best then you can move towards a writing routine. And that, that’s a whole other writing post.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Schedules aren’t for everyone

There’s really only one cardinal rule in professional writing: make decisions that are kind to you. That’s it. I mean, it’s great if you can write 2,000 words a day or keep to an intricately washi-taped planner. It’s also great if you can write seven books per year. And also it is similarly great if you can’t do either of those things.

Expert-type folks have told me that prime time for a creative brain begins at roughly 11 in the morning. Others swear by pre-dawn writing, and still others claim that the only way they can get a book done is to lock themselves in a hotel room and write for four days straight. In other words, advice for optimal scheduling of writing time is all over the place.

Which, considering that we are all different individual humans, is kind of how it should be, eh?

Me, I’m a study in chaos. If I have a deadline, I will make it happen. If I don’t... well, let’s just say that I’m easily distractible by things like taking care of my family, feeding my dogs, bathing on the regular. I know: so self-indulgent. Guess what else? My lack of discipline for Writing Every Day At The Appropriate Time bothers me not at all.

I guess someday if I am able to make a career out of this writing gig, I will attempt to create office hours and do the thing at a specific time of day. But right now, no. It isn’t feasible, and beating myself up about it changes nothing.

Writing does not rule me. I tell it when it needs to happen, and by cracky, it will obey!

Narrator: It did not, in fact, obey...

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Writing Schedule: When, How Often, How Many Lives Ended for Interrupting...

Oh, okay, maybe not that last one.

My writing schedule is "whenever my mind can settle," which is first-ish thing in the morning and again in the late afternoon/evening. There's a ritual involving dog care and coffee that has to happen before writing or I end up with 60lbs of wriggling fur all up in my personal space. I don't do late night writing sprints because my brain is pudding by then. If real-world stuff has to happen, then it has to happen before noon so I can hit the mental pocket in the second window of productivity.

I like to get my analytical stuff done in the morning (that includes editing, reviewing marketing, budgeting, etc). I do my best creative stuff in the evening (drafting, ad development, social media, etc.). I take a break every two hours at the dog's insistence (plus, it's good for that whole "don't be too sedentary lest pulmonary embolisms" thing). I do this 7-days a week, 10 months a year. Twice a year, I schedule 30-day no-writing vacations (except for this blog, obvi.).

I am a hardcore creature of habit, so anything that interrupts THE PLAN OF THE DAY will have me shifting from Smeagol to Gollum in a nanosecond.
My motto: Spontinantiy is fine, as long as it's planned.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

How I Became a Morning Writer

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week involves our writing schedules – what’s our most productive time of day, when do we actually write, how much time each day, week, month, etc.

I chose this photo I took of the moon at sunrise, because seeing amazing sights like this has become one of the great benefits of being an early riser. Who knew that catching the moon at dawn could be so very beautiful? I certainly didn't, because I was never naturally an early bird.

See, I was one of those who *loved* to sleep in. In the early days - and years - of our relationship, the hubs and I would sleep until 10 or 11am on the weekends. I'm groggy in the mornings, slow to come alert, and not particularly talkative. People ask me questions and I blink at them in incomprehension. Conversation, not so much.

BUT... I can write.

I discovered that mornings are my most productive time of day when that was the ONLY time of day I could consistently write. Those first few years after I committed to being a writer, I struggled - as many newbies do - to actually produce work. I had a busy life - a full-time career in science, two young stepchildren, debt we were determined to pay off (and did!), classes in the evenings (both taking and teaching) - and not a lot of "free" time. Waiting for that time to write to fall into my lap definitely wasn't working. Sandwiching in a bit of writing before I went to bed - delaying sleep when I was already exhausted - meant I got nothing done, very little done, or what I wrote was utter drivel.

I finally too the advice to write every day at the same time. I resisted that for years, but ultimately I knew I had to do SOMETHING different. So, I tried that, and it worked for me.

That meant, however, rising very early in the morning, because those dawn hours were the only ones when I had nothing else booked. I could write for an hour or two in the pre-dawn darkness, before anything else kicked in. That meant rising at 4 or 5am for a few years there. Some of the stuff I wrote then is pretty wild, but I built the writing habit, and it's stuck.

Now that I have the luxury of writing full time, I don't set an alarm. I get up when I wake up - usually after lying there for a while gazing dreamily out the window - and that's done wonders for me being actually alert when I'm on my feet. (I think when I made myself get up at a particular time, I wasn't always fully awake - thus my inability to process much in the way of conscious thought. I was upright, but I wasn't AWAKE.) I wake up between 5 and 7am, and mornings are devoted to writing, for the most part.

I find that if I can get my 3K words/day done by early afternoon, that's ideal. Generally I work in 1-hour sessions, with about a 30-minute break between. I'm not always good about keeping the breaks short, which I'd like to get better about in the new year. Most days I write 4-6 hours, with 3 hours of that actual fingers tapping on keyboard.

I'd really like to consistently get that down to 4 hours total, saving the time-sinks of chatting, social media, email, etc., for after the words are down. That's one of my goals for this year, so we'll see how I do!

Saturday, January 11, 2020

There Was An Actual Well


Our topic this week: "Refilling the well – what do you do to nourish your creative self, long term and in an emergency?"

The best part of my childhood was when we lived in an old house way out in upstate New York, in what was then dairy country. We had an actual well at the side of house. I remember my father telling me once it was 32’ deep, which seemed very impressive, and it was fed by a spring. Now our well never went dry but in the hot, dry summers we did have to exercise caution not to do too many loads of laundry in one day or wash the car or anything else too major that required water because it was a very real possibility the well would run dry. In fact, one of our neighbors had that happen and it was a near catastrophe, requiring a new well to be dug on their farm as I recall.

They even had a water dowser come out to tell them where to dig, which of course was my favorite part of the whole sequence of events.

At any rate, I learned at an early age to tend the well and avoid drawing on it so much that the resource becomes exhausted. Our spring faithfully refilled the well if we waited long enough but there was always the dreaded possibility of the whole thing drying up. There was also the possibility of falling in and drowning of course, which utterly terrified me as a child, although there’s no way I ever could have shifted the enormous stone cap covering the shaft.  Nor was I ever tempted!

My ‘well’ of creativity and energy and whatever else pretty much refills itself overnight, much as the spring used to replenish our water supply every day. I wake up in the mornings ready to go and if I was feeling too tired or at a standstill on my writing or anything else the night before, matters are always better looking to me in the morning. Yes, I’m a morning person through and through. Lark here, who runs out of all kinds of energy as the day goes on.

I will say I’m fortunate enough to be a fulltime author now, with an empty nest aside from Jake the Cat, so many of the pressures I used to deal with as a single mother with a high pressure job at NASA/JPL have gone away.

If there is a reason during the day for me to need to disengage, stop thinking, de-stress, whatever, I:

Work on what I call a ‘mindless task’ away from the computer, by which I mean something well defined, fairly rote in nature like washing the dishes or doing the laundry, which allows my mind to disengage from whatever had it running like a hamster on a wheel and relax…

Meditate for ten or fifteen minutes. I visualize the cabin my grandparents owned at the local lake where we lived during that golden age of my childhood (as I remember it to be LOL). I can still recall with great clarity my favorite paths through the woods, as well as the lake itself, where I used to be allowed to take the rowboat my grandfather built and go roam, to read or fish or whatever I wanted to do. So if I meditate, I place myself back in that scene and ‘walk’ one of the paths, or ‘take the boat out’…the effort at detailed visualization and the happiness I associate with that time spent at the lake do wonders to reduce my tension, lower my heart rate and clear the air for me to move forward. I probably ought to do it every day as a regular thing but I don’t. I save it for when I really need it!

Go for a drive on the freeway and blast my music. Golden oldies work best for me…I like to sing along…when I did have the day job, I had quite a commute from home to work and that was my time for working out plot ideas and issues with stories and characters…

Go outside and garden a bit…

Take a walk…

Pet the cat (but this requires Jake the Cat to be in the mood to function as a furry tranquilizer and to not be asleep at the top of his cat treehouse).

Go play with my toddler grandson…

Later, after I’ve relaxed or de-stressed, I might read a favorite book or watch a movie or binge on a TV show but I have to have that peaceful activity first, that enables me to break my connection to whatever was bothering me or getting me wrapped around the axle. I don’t go back to whatever activity triggered me in the first place, but wait confidently for the next day, after the overnight cleaning and refilling process my mind faithfully executes.

I’m not sure we’re really addressing longer term creativity here this week but as for me, I read voraciously, all the time, on a huge variety of topics, as well as fiction of all kinds (but primarily the romance genres). I was that kid who would read the cereal box at breakfast if there wasn’t anything else at hand. I have to have things to read. I think my subconscious (or my Muse, which is the way I like to think of it) sifts through all the  input, takes a snip there and a fragment here and stitches together intriguing story or plot ideas and lets them float up into my consciousness. I always have many more plot ideas than I could ever write. Like many authors, I gravitate to the newer, shinier ones!

I watch a lot of movies and documentaries, as well as binge watching certain shows and series…

I try to sit with my eyes closed and listen to music on my iPod for the last hour of the day because I find that frees my mind up to work on plot tangles or story ideas in a natural flow, without my consciously focusing on the issues and stressing. I have this huge playlist with a mix of golden oldies, show tunes, country music, bagpipes, etc.

I do a lot of research into ancient Egypt particularly, just for the sheer pleasure of it – I’m so fascinated by the Ancient World – and come across any number of interesting facts that give rise to plots or plot twists…

If we’re not tired of the well analogy yet, all of the above activity is like the winter snow or the Spring rain, which would replenish the spring and contribute to filling that 32’ foot well in the side yard when I was a kid…

Author's own photo - the house in the country with the well

Friday, January 10, 2020

Healing Burnout

Burn out is a special kind of exhaustion. It surpasses physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual exhaustion. It encompasses all of them at once and then adds in some special extra dimension that's a little like a million tiny kitten claws climbing your nerves all the time. You're so tired you could cry, except you can't cry. Nor can you sleep.

What to do?

Anything. Anything that's not in front of a screen. Get out and get your hands in the dirt - plenty of scientific articles talk about the benefits of microbes in the soil, especially for the treatment of depressive issues.

Get bored. Go on a screen fast just to sit in the sunshine and watch the clouds go by. Does anything sound like fun? Do that thing. If nothing does, do nothing.

For me, the issue is that burn out is a progressive state that creeps up on you. It isn't something most of us notice until we're so deep in the choke hold that it feels like it's going to take moving to a new country under a new name to solve. I suggest you can untangle the skein if you're willing to rest long enough to reset your central nervous system. When I managed to trip and give myself a concussion, the doctor said, "Aim for zero sensory input. It allows your brain tissues to heal." Burn out is very much the same. Turn down the input. Hibernate if you have to. Anything to remember how to relax, to sink into the grass or the floor or a chair. Anything to let the noise of your mind drain, quiet, and finally drift to silence. Is it easy? No. Especially not with the demands of families and work. But very much like airplanes. You do have to put on your mask before you can help anyone else with theirs.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

It takes more than a thimble to refill the well.

Everyone’s hit it, 
though some deny it, 
and once you’ve been bit, 
you won’t care a wit.

I saw it in corporate healthcare and I see it in my fellow creatives: BURNOUT. 

Burnout became the it word a few years ago and then quickly following came self-care. I saw it in corporate healthcare and I see it in creatives. No matter who’s experiencing it, it’s a hard thing to climb out of. Even for those of us who know what we have to do.

That thimble thing I put in the title? That’s real life right there. I’ve been through burnout that was compounded by my chronic illness. And I climbed out. It took a lot longer than I wanted it to, though now I know a few things NOT to do. 

I’ve done the relaxing. Check. But as Jeffe pointed out on Sunday, you can’t relax when you’re multitasking. Uncheck. 

Google burnout and you’ll find suggestions to read. Reading! Yay, my favorite pastime! Check. But, what do you do when your body is out of whack and you’re depressed? Depression robs the joy from the even the simplest things. Uncheck. 

Then, how about unplugging? Check. 

I’m not going to uncheck that one because I’ve learned that what I need when I’m at the bottom is to seriously unplug. When my well is bone-dry, I need to walk away from all the voices and opinions floating around the social. If I’m going to have a chance at a bucket, or even a cup, rather than a thimble…I need to get out where I can breathe and the only voice I hear is in the wind. 

To my fellow chronic disease sufferers, I know there are days where getting outside in the fresh air is insurmountable. I’m blessed to have a furry companion that pushes me, but there are still days it doesn’t happen. And that’s okay. If I beat myself up over it I’m going the wrong way. But, if I let it happen and just breathe, then I’ll get out the next day.

That’s how I start, by filling a thimble. I find some snow, or sunshine, or raindrops splashing into a puddle to stare at. And before I know it I’m listening to the birds and imagining what they’d be saying if there were fae walking beneath the branches.

Maybe this is why writing fantasy, in which there are always powerful trees, seems to come from my soul whereas writing science fiction is all brain-power entertainment. 

That’s how I keep going and how my thimble amount grows into a cup and then a bucket. Nothing fancy and it’s often frustrating and humbling, but that’s how life is. So, dear reader, how do you bounce back when your emotional/mental/physical well is empty? 

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

When the well is too deep to fill

As writers, we talk a lot about refilling the well, and I bet some folks are going to give lots of excellent suggestions here on SFF Seven for doing just that. (Hint: Some already have. Go back and read their posts, which are excellent. Go on. I'll wait. ... Done? Good.) Other creatives also share this need to cycle, to lean into the work for a time and then take a step back, breathe, and refocus. Zone out. Soak in.

But... what if when you look down at that deep, empty well, you see that it has no bottom? And no matter what you toss into it, it has never and will never fill up enough for you to even notice. That might be the moment when the panic sets in, because right then, looking over the lip of the well, you can feel pressure behind you, a monster named deadline and goals and sales and dreams and expectations, and nothing would bring that monster more joy than to push you in.

This is what writing was like before I realized I was depressed.

I'd do all those things that were supposed to clear my mind, and boy would they clear my mind. I'd go full zombie, walking around like I wasn't even conscious, wasn't even living, so zoned out I no longer cared about anything and mostly just wanted to sleep.

For a depressed person, reading and watching TV and taking long walks are too much. Too much effort, too much self-indulgence. My well had no bottom, and it just kept eating whatever I tossed into it.

Medication and therapy have helped me get a handle on my bleak brain, but I'm still coming to terms with that metaphorical well. I find I don't enjoy reading as much as I used to, so even sitting in a bubble bath with a book isn't exactly relaxing. Reading fiction becomes work--deconstructing the story, trying to suss out why readers adored this book as much as they did, feeling hopeless that I could ever do what that author did. Walks and music help a little. Reading nonfiction sometimes sparks an idea or a desire to turn fact into speculative froth.

But you know what works more than anything, what makes me want to write all the words ever worded?

Writing the first one.

Like, literally sitting down and writing one word, and then another. One baby step at a time. The first one is the hardest, and then they start spilling in faster and faster, filling up a page, a story, a void.

A well.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

When You've Got Plenty O' [Creative] Nuttin'

Happy 2020, Dear Readers!

Did you write down your Determinations for the year? Do any of them involve creative pursuits? Are you staring at the beginning, wondering if your abundant creativity went the way of 2019?

It happens to all of us! As professional authors, we often find ourselves feeling like we've drained the creative well. Each of us has our own way of refilling it. Jeffe's great suggestions kicked off the week, and each of your friendly SFF Seven bloggers will offer their ways of gettin' their giggity back.

Me? I binge watch TV and read/whittle down my TBR pile, particularly genres from which I drift away while I'm writing. When I'm writing, I exist in the bubble of my fictional world, so when that bubble's a blessing.

Bonus that I discovered over the winter holiday: my eldest nibling has reached the tweenage years (that's no kindness, my sister assures me) and said nibling has developed a keen interest in animae. I hate to admit, it's been decades a few years since I let my animae addiction run wild, but now that I have a young whippersnapper to make recommendations, I'm fluffing the pillows, grabbing the snuggy, and settling in for a winter binge-fest.

Bring on the weird! I need a creativity refill!

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Emergency Refilling of the Well

For a lot of us - especially Romance writers - the stress of the last few weeks has been at best distracting and at worst devastating. That kind of emotional stress, on top of the holiday season, which can be emotionally draining for many people, can leave us with empty wells. So what do you do when you need to be creative, but the well is dry?

In other words, how do you even when you can't even?

Our quite timely topic at the SFF Seven this week (thanks to KA Krantz for creating the new topic calendar!) is "Refilling the well – what do you do to nourish your creative self, long term and in an emergency?"

Just Don't.

When you can't even, not trying to is a great option.

I'm always amused when self-care articles include taking a hot bath. Doesn't it seem like EVERY SINGLE ONE DOES??? And yet, the theory behind this is what counts. In the bathtub we are typically alone - usually you can even lock the door and there's the whole bathroom = privacy thing - and so we get expectation-free time. We can nap, read, count the tiles - I have one friend who has a TV over her tub where she watches Downton Abbey - or simply stare into space.

The point is taking time to do "nothing" is great for refilling the well. We're geared that way. So whether it's yoga (which allows thinking to bleed away), meditating (like yoga that way), tile-counting (a kind of meditation), taking a long walk (same), or whatever allows your mind to go blank, do that thing.

Read, Watch Movies, Listen to Music, Look at Art - One at a Time

When was the last time you listened to music and did *nothing* else? What's the longest time recently that you've read without stopping to do something else, like check your phone or the time? When you watch movies or binge a show, do you also check Twitter or do some sort of other task simultaneously? Try doing just the one thing and nothing else. If you are happier doing something with your hands, mindless tasks like knitting or needlework don't count as distractions. Just try practicing doing only one thing. I remember being a teenager and lying there just listening to an entire album. The closest I've come since is when I'm driving.

Studies have shown that when we multitask, we're actually rapidly switching our attention from one thing to the next, which is draining. It's not good for our mental health. So consume that favorite media - and do ONLY that. Going to a movie in a movie theater can be great for that, as you *can't* do anything else but watch the movie. (Seriously, you shouldn't be looking at your phone - it lights up and annoys everyone else.)

I'm lucky enough to live in a place with a vibrant art scene. Walking around galleries and looking at art is something that makes it difficult for me to multitask - especially if I keep my phone in my bag! - and it fills my personal creative well. Museums are great for this, too, or even art books with wonderful paintings and photographs.


It's okay to walk away from the Internet. The FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) can be strong, but time away can really help to cool the fires of urgency. In many ways, social media has become like the 24/7 news shows - after about thirty minutes, everything has been said and goes on repeat. It's almost impossible these days to really miss out on anything because someone is always out there ready to rehash and analyze. Go unplug. This comes back to the Just Don't. Go to a lake with no cell service, or take a walk and leave your phone behind. Set aside one day a week where you don't turn on the computer and you turn off your data plan.

These are all great for long-term maintenance, and all things that I do. But what about in an emergency, when things hit a crisis point?

I do these things too, just more consciously. I make myself turn things off and I walk away. Looking at pretty pictures or nature goes a long way toward grounding myself again.

But if you all have suggestions for emergency well-refilling/stress chilling, I'd love to hear suggestions!