Monday, June 28, 2010

What should come first, the nest or the egg?

The eternal question with a twist. What should a writer's priority be - writing or marketing? The obvious response is writing, of course. What's the point if you don't have a book to market?

Ahh, but what if the perfect egg is laid - I mean, perfect novel is completed - and there's no nest for it to lie in? In this competetive market, just about everyone says that a writer needs to build name recognition via social media, a website, or a blog. It's not a requirement for publication, by any means, but it certainly gives an author the edge when their book is submitted or released. There are some agents and editors who'll google an author they're interested in. Plus, name recogition builds the bread and butter of all authors - readership.

As with most things, it boils down to time management (hence the photo of my egg timer...I don't really keep it on my keyboard though). It's so easy to get swept into least for me it is. There are so many incredible and informative writing blogs and websites out there, not to mention forums where a writer can connect with others who share his/her obsession. There's even facebook, twitter, etc... A person could spend all day keeping up with it all. Is it work related? Yes. Is it sometimes procrastination? Possibly. Bottom line - it must get balanced with actual writing time.

I've recently resorted to a timer. I picked the traditional 'egg' because it symbolizes what comes first. It reminds me of what precious thing will hatch if I use my time wisely. I can time my time checking email, blogs, and forums. I don't stick to a strict schedule (ie. 15 min AM and 15 min PM) because I'm a mom and life happens. However, I am striving to stick to an overall time limit, say a total of an hour a day for all networking activities. Each person has to decide what works for them. A published author may need more time than that to accomplish their marketing goals (I wouldn't know...yet).

I can also use my egg timer to time my writing. I like to challenge myself on word count per thirty minutes. Online or public challenges are too stressful for me. I even like the 'white noise' ticking because it keeps me going...kind of like the chugging sound on The Little Engine That Could. "I think I can, I think I can..."

But, hey, not everything works for everyone. Even with excercise and diet, different gadgets and gizmos work for different folks. I'm sure there are fancy computer timers and speed writing programs out there - I've read about a few - but I like to keep things simple. I keep things boiled down to basics, if you would.

Pen. Paper. Time.

Okay, okay. I do use a computer...but it's still about the time. Please don't misunderstand. Using a timer doesn't mean I have to force myself to write. I love writing. I'm passionate about it, but when a person works from home, a timer can help delineate writing time. Time is elusive and eggs crack easily. What do you do to manage your writing vs networking time?

Monday, June 21, 2010

First day of summer

It's officially the longest day of the year! You would think that I would have managed to get some writing done, but alas, it was also my children's first Monday home from school. I spent the morning catching up on laundry and planting some herbs. After that, the kids helped me spackle, sand and paint pits in their room walls, courtesy of toys launched from home-made catapults. Boys. Argh!

With just under an hour left of the first day of summer, I did mangage to get some writing related work done. For one thing, I'm writing this post . I also read an awesome and informative interview with Harlequin Superromance Senior Editor Wanda Ottewell, posted by new author Liz Talley, at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood. It's a must read!

I'm very excited to announce that upcoming author Kaily Hart will be here on Monday, July 5th to share her experiences on the path to publication. Kaily is not only an extraordinary person and great friend, but a wonderful writer as well. Be sure to join us!

Here's to a great and productive summer!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Get off that chair!

I'm all for BICHOK (Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard). Discipline is a must, but I'll save writing discipline for another post. Today I'd like to talk about balancing BICHOK with GYBM. Notice the subliminal message, gym, in there? I mentioned, in the past, how much I hate working out at a gym. It's too public. However, there's no excuse not to GYBM. It stands for Get Your Butt Moving.

The writing profession enjoys a great deal of down time - as in sitting down, not resting. It's so important for writers to get up and move, yet so easy for us to forget. Writing a book is hard work. It's engrossing, and we can easily get lost in the task. For those with families or daytime professions, scheduling writing time is hard enough. Excercise, unfortunately, gets put on the bookshelf, or on our TBD (To Be Done) pile. I had the extraordinary opportunity to attend the Nora Roberts chat session at last year's RWA meeting, and even she stressed the importance of excercise. If the Nora Roberts, who is incredibly prolific and busy, can squeeze excercise into her routine (and she does), then we all should at least make the effort.

I'm not going to recite the medical benefits of excercise. We've all heard how it revs your metabolism, increases bone density, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, fights heart disease...oops. Sorry. I said I wasn't going to recite, there's more, but go ahead and google or grab a copy of Prevention Magazine and flip through it. Movement gets your blood flowing, and it'll probably help get your story ideas flowing too.

I'm really lecturing myself here. I'm terrible at sticking to a workout schedule. It's really embarassing considering that, years ago, I earned a black belt in karate and even taught it. I wouldn't consider myself fit at the moment, but I'm hell bent on getting there again. All in the privacy of my home. What I need to do is start a routine. Whether I excercise AM or PM, before or after writing, for 15 min or 30, it doesn't long as that routine is maintained. I think the key is in making sure it's doable. If I say I'm going to do an hour when I know I don't have the time, my plan will fall through. I'll be sunk before I sail. Every little bit counts. The benefits will add up. The same philosophy applies to writing. You may not have time to get 2000 words in a day, but if you can promise a steady 200 or 500 or whatever, it'll add up. You'll reach your goal.

This summer, get your BICHOK, but GYBM too! My equipment? A treadmill, excercise ball, excercise band, hand held weights, ankle weights, the staircase (actual stairs in the house), a yoga/pilates video, and my garden. I actually made use of the treadmill today! Excercise bands are awesome because they're so versatile and light (easily packed in a suitcase). The same goes for yoga/pilates take your body wherever you go :). What do you do to work excercise into your writing routine? What's your favorite at-home equipment?

Monday, June 14, 2010

On screen romances

I love curling up and watching a good movie as much as I love curling up with a good book. Specifically, romances. I do watch and appreciate the power of true stories, dramas and documentaries, in both book and film, but romances are my top pick. Let's face it, as a busy mother and writer, I rarely have time to myself. When I do get those precious few hours where I can squeeze in a movie (99% of the time on DVD or TV because it's cost and time efficient), I want to relax. I want to feel good, and romances make me feel good. I'll admit that, after reading craft books, I tend to read and watch analytically. Does that mean watching a movie qualifies as working? Okay, chill tax man. I know that's pushing it.

I have a preference for romantic comedy or anything with a happy ending, but you'll see a few tear jerkers on my list. There are several great made-for-TV romances that I've seen more than once...if only I could remember their titles right now. Oh well. Here are a few of my favorites. The ones I could watch over and over.

French Kiss
Ever After
Across the Universe
Must Love Dogs
Under the Tuscan Sun
You've Got Mail
Love Actually
Sense and Sensibility
Sweet Home Alabama
While You Were Sleeping
Titanic (1997)
The Bridges of Madison County

I know there are others that I love, but I'm in need of a memory jog. I'm betting that some of them are on your lists, so chime in. Summer is here, and there's nothing like a hot (or sweet) romance on a warm evening. What are your favorite romantic movies (TV included)?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Gluten Free/Dairy Free Brownies

Who needs retail therapy when they can have chocolate therapy? Okay. It's a trade off. One is harsh on the wallet and the other is harsh on the hips...but wait...not necessarily. Moderation is the universal rule-of-thumb for good living. I was ecstatic when studies first revealed the health benefits of dark chocolate. Lowering blood pressure, reducing risk of stroke, stimulating our endorphins (feel good chemicals) and serotonin (natural anti-depressant), are only a few of the antioxidant/flavonoid rich dark chocolate health benefits. With summer at our door, I figured I'd share my sinful recipe. Of course, it includes sugar and calories, but it is gluten and dairy free. Whether it's for The Call, a revision letter, or a rejection, chocolate should be at every writer's side.

Rula's GF/DF Brownies


*4 TBS sunflower or safflower oil  (see below)
1 1/2c sugar (substitute Xylitol if you don't want sugar, but it can cause 'bubble trouble' in some folks :))
6 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 c Hershey's Cocoa Powder

*for a richer taste, substitute 1/2 c Earth Balance Soy Free Natural Buttery Spread for oil

Optional: Purely Decadent Vanilla 'ice cream' substitute, based on coconut milk. It's to die for.


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (convection ovens will automatically adjust to 325)
2. In a large, microwave safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips for 1-2 min. If they cream up when stirred, they're ready.
3. Add sugar, oil and vanilla. Stir well.
4. Add cocoa powder and eggs. Stir well. I like to use a mixer to get rid of lumps.
5. Pour into a 9x9 silicone pan or greased cake dish and bake for 30-35 minutes.
6. Cool and enjoy plain or with Purely Decadent frozen desert.

It's that easy! All in one mixing bowl. No one would even know it was GF or DF. For those of you who, like my family, are GF/DF, stick with brands that you know are safe (I use the ones above). Due credit goes to my little sis for once giving me a recipe for flourless chocolate cake (before my dietary changes) that I was able to change into something I could enjoy.

I'm off to dig into the one I photographed above. Do you think I can burn off the calories by typing 1000 words?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Muse vs Music

I love music. I'll listen to it in the car, on the treadmill, or while cleaning the house, but I absolutely can't listen to music while I'm writing. My manuscripts are playlist deprived. That's not to say that I don't have a particular song that I associate with a manuscript. In fact, I do use music as inspiration in between manuscripts...very early on, when I'm brainstorming premise ideas. Once I'm hooked on an idea, the music has to go or my muse gets distracted.

I'm a daydreamer. A typical Pisces. Music gets me dreaming up scenarios, but it also takes me off on wild tangents. I'm one of those people who can't get a song out of their head for the life of them. When I'm working on the first draft of a manuscript (or even revisions, depending on how involved they are), I don't listen to music at all. I would completely lose my focus. When I'm writing, silence helps me hear the conversations in my head. It helps me to concentrate on my internal noise, or what some may call their muse.

If I need a break from working on a manuscript or a way to refresh my muse, I opt for a good book or a romantic movie. I'm very visual, so having an inspirational photo of my hero or heroine is much more effective than listening to music. As for books and movies, they're more concrete for me. Once I reach the end, I can put them aside and refocus on my own story. I may watch or read them again, but I have more mental control over when that will be. Songs, on the other hand, seem to get lost in the labyrinth of my ear and can't find their way out.

That's just the way I work. Different methods work for different people. Are you a playlist writer?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I'm an acronym for work stress!

A few days ago, I decided to google my know...just in case I'd magically become famous and didn't know it. Lo and behold, I discovered that my name is an acronym! Two actually. RULA stands for Restricted Use License Agreement, but more interestingly it stands for Rapid Upper Limb Assessment. No, this has nothing to do with how your romance hero checks out your heroine.

RULA is a tool, developed by Drs. Lynn McAtamney and E. Nigel Corlett, to evaluate a worker's risk for job related injury based on their physical position on the job. They even came up with a worksheet that's used for the evaluation. It's all about ergonomics (like those specially designed chairs), and given that we writers spend endless hours at our computers, it quite important to us. I'm sure at least some of you are familiar with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, back pain, neck pain, or headaches, but what about Computer Fatigue Syndrome?

Computer Fatigue Syndrome isn't some excuse for your muse not cooperating or your characters eloping on you. It's very real, and it's symptoms can include burning/watery eyes, headaches, eyestrain, neck/back pain, and blurred vision.

Neck or back pain is primarily caused by sitting in the wrong position. The popularity of laptops and hand helds complicates matters because people can now lie down or curl up with their computers. Ideally, when sitting at your computer, you shouldn't be cranking your neck back in order to look up at the screen (check out the RULA link above for diagrams). Your neck should be in straight alignment with your spine, and the computer screen should be about 15 degrees below your horizontal line of sight. The screen should also be about 20-28 inches away from your face.

Burning or watery eyes result from a reduced blink rate. Studies have shown that when we work at a computer, or even read for that matter, our blink frequency is reduced. This basically means that we stare, and staring makes our eyes dry out. Burning or stinging can be a symptom of dry eyes. Whoa! Wait a minute! How can dry eyes be watery? I know it sounds paradoxical, but it's because of reflex tearing. We gush out more tears than our lids can hold in order to compensate for the dryness, hence overflow.  Remedies include consiously remembering to blink a the first sign of symptoms, keeping a bottle of preservative-free artificial tears by your work station, taking breaks and wearing the right glasses (we'll get to those next).

Eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision result from a number of things. Glare from windows and overhead lights is a big culprit. Just think about how much harder it is to see through your car windshield with raindrops and headlight glare in your way. Try not to sit with your back to a window, or at least close the blinds. Also, adjust your screen brightness to your comfort level. Overhead fluorescents are a bugger, but if you can't do anything about them, try an anti-glare screen (clip-ons used to be available...not sure now) or adjust your screen angle a bit.

Wearing the proper glasses prescription (if needed) is a must. Pixels are a lot harder for the human eye to focus on than regular print. Our eyes have to work a lot harder to maintain proper focus at a computer. As a result, we can develop pseudomyopia (BTW, this can occur with any near work in some folks). This is where our eye muscles work so hard to focus up close, that they cramp or get stuck. When we look up at a distance, everything is blurred because our eye muscles need time to relax and refocus for far away. It's kind of like sitting with your legs tucked under you for too long and then not being able to stand on them for a few minutes. Taking a 15 sec to a minute break to focus on a distant object every 30 minutes or so, helps a lot. Consider it a moment to reflect out the window or to gaze at your inspirational adonis pin-up across the room. A pair of computer glasses could help take some of the load off your eyes too. An eye exam would determine if you need them or not. For those of you wearing trifocals or progressives, that proper sitting postion I talked about earlier will be extra important.

I know I'm gearing this toward writers, but don't forget about your kids. Ever see them rubbing their eyes or looking like they've just woken up when they finally put their PSP down? They need breaks and/or eye exams too!

Happy tapping!