Monday, January 30, 2017

Ways to Cope When Deadlines Are Killing You

Deadline. What's your reaction to that word? Did you cringe? Curl up like a pill bug and roll into the crevice between baseboard and wall? Flail your arms and scream like your pants are on fire? There's a reason "dead" is in the word deadline. . . because it feels like when you're trying to meet one you're pretty sure you're dying in a thousand different ways.

If you've got a deadline stressing you out, you're not alone. I've got a few of 'em looming over my head like a doomsday mushroom cloud about to encase me in radioactive anxiety. How's a person to breathe, let alone be creative, when the clock is ticking down to zero hour? Never fear. Have I got a handy dandy list for you (and me).

5 Ways to Cope With a Looming Deadline

1. Set Goals
Whatever it is that you're working on, take a good, hard look at the final expected project then break it down into little, more manageable pieces. That could mean you have to write a chapter a day or a figure out X amount of plot points before dinner every night. Whatever. The point is that you will accomplish your deadline if you break it down into chunks and do a little bit every day. This removes stress by knowing that if you stick to the schedule you created, you'll hit your goal.

2. Quit Complaining
Spending time talking about what needs to get done isn't going to get the thing done. You're wasting time and frothing up negativity every time you do this.

3. Defend Your Time
I know it's more fun to go out with friends when they call. It's easier to mindlessly page through Facebook or Instagram, or skip on over to Netflix and watch an episode or two. But here's the deal . . . you've got to say no or that deadline is going to blow up in your face. AFTER your deadline there will be plenty of time to do those "fun" things (and there should be as a reward for your hard work). Make your goal a priority, not distractions.

4. Find a Cheerleader
We all need accountability partners who wear mini-skirts and flaunt their pom poms (in a PG sort of way, not R, sheesh). Get a buddy who will ask how it's going, pull you up when you're down in the dumps, kick you in the pants when you're a whiner, and be there to cheer you as you near the finish line.

5. Accept Your Limitations
You are not going to produce a perfect product by the time that deadline rolls around. You're going to produce the best possible product you can and that's all. Stop putting pressure on yourself to create a flawless piece of art because you are not flawless. It's going to have bugs. In the words of Queen Elsa, "Let it go."

It's good to care about meeting your deadlines but it's not healthy to get wonked out about them. Do your best then move on to the next project.


Announcing the winner of last week's giveaway for a free signed copy of one of my books . . . drum roll please . . . PATTI RHYNE. Woohoo! Round of applause and general squees of joy. Thanks, everyone, for entering and stay tuned . . . there will be more upcoming giveaways in the near future. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Getting Unstuck

I live in the frozen tundra of Minnesota. So do about 5 million other people. Of those millions, there are approximately twenty-three people who can actually drive in snow without getting stuck. Yeah, I know. You'd think the numbers would be higher, eh? Here's the trick: stop spinning your wheels. Stepping on the gas pedal isn't going to get you unstuck. It just digs you in deeper.

And that, my writerly friends, goes for getting you out of a writerly rut as well. Come on, admit it. We've all been there, staring at a screen with a few dismal words keyed in, clueless as to what to type next. Even the prolific author Isaac Asimov is quoted as saying,
"Frequently, when I am at work on a science-fiction novel, I find myself heartily sick of it and unable to write another word."
So what's the big secret to getting unstuck when your literary wheels are spinning? Slow down, as in walk away from the project. Put your mind on something else for awhile. Here's what worked for Asimov . . .
"I don’t stare at blank sheets of paper. I don’t spend days and nights cudgeling a head that is empty of ideas. Instead, I simply leave the novel and go on to any of the dozen other projects that are on tap. I write an editorial, or an essay, or a short story, or work on one of my nonfiction books. By the time I’ve grown tired of these things, my mind has been able to do its proper work and fill up again. I return to my novel and find myself able to write easily once more."
By putting a project on a back burner, it gives your subconscious time to work over the problem so you can come back to it with fresh eyes.

One other helpful tip is to purposely change your mindset before you go back to writing. Determine that what you put down doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be.

Tensing up about being stuck is like flooring the gas pedal. It makes the situation worse. Slow down. Take a breather. Then come back to it later.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

You Need Help

Go grab yourself a chunk of cardboard and a sharpie. In block letters write HELP WANTED. Now go hang that on your front door. Why?

Because you, my friend, need help. We all do. It's called the human condition.

The other day I was critiquing one of my writerly buddy's chapters. Whoa, baby. Usually this author nails a book so tightly, I need to take a crowbar to it to unearth a freaking typo. Not so this time. I bled red all over that piece. I was a little nervous to send it back, but you know what? That seasoned author thanked me for it. No, really. I was bathed in gratitude because without my feedback, that chapter would've gone out into the cold, cruel world and ugly reviews and possibly dipping sales would be the result.

Lesson learned from that little story? This author not only needed but accepted help. It's a humbling thing to receive that help, but you and your art will be the better for it. Never be afraid to ask for assistance or support.

And on the flip side, never be too busy to give it.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Why Do Readers Read?

Not everyone is a reader. I know, right? What does that even mean? It's incomprehensible . . . especially to readers. A dedicated reader has TBR piles to rival Mt. Everest, a Kindle locked, loaded, and ready to fire off at a moment's notice, not to mention charge card statements where the largest slice of the pie goes to Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

As a writer, it's helpful to know exactly why people read so that you can incorporate some of those elements into your story (but not all, because some are polar opposites).

7 Reasons Why Readers Read

Some readers love unpredictability. They want plot twists that slap them upside the head and leave them laying on the floor with little stars flying overhead.

The opposite of those who love surprise are the readers who crave predictability. These are the strict genre readers who don't want their stories to vary from the formula. You know, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. That sort of thing.

Sometimes life is pure drudgery, or worse, just plain awful. These readers want to run away from reality for awhile, go to places somewhere other than the place they're stuck in. An exotic setting, a foreign country, somewhere new and different.

New ideas. Puzzling concepts. Complicated story lines. Some readers don't want the answers handed to them but rather love a great mind-bending experience.

This world has far more than enough tragedy. This kind of reader knows that and just wants a great belly laugh. Even if you're not writing a slapstick comedy, incorporating humor into your story is always a good idea for levity.

Face it. Going on a real adventure is not only expensive, it can be dangerous. But who doesn't like a thrill now and then? This reader is all about action and suspense. They want to teeter on the edge of their seat while they read.

Even in fiction, facts play a part, and it's those facts that some readers are eager to learn. What better way to learn than via story?

These seven elements are some of the most common reasons readers read -- but not the only reasons. Even so, incorporating one or two into a manuscript will endear you to a segment of the readerly population.

Personally, I love to read for education and surprise. How about you? Why do you like to read?

Friday, January 20, 2017

A Writer's Life . . . Really

There are a lot of misconceptions about a writer's life. I'm here to clear one of those up. Words do not always magically flow from the fingers into the computer. And as always, feel free to borrow or outright steal the graphic . . .

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mid-Winter Giveaway

Okay, so it's not really mid-winter. Not here in Minnesota, where winter doesn't end until July. Doesn't matter. I'm done with snow. So, what better way to live in denial and focus on something other than cold and ice than doing a giveaway?

Answer: There is no better way.
So here's your chance to win a signed copy of one of my books.

(and if contests aren't your thing, then just pop over to Amazon and cough up $0.79 for a screaming hot deal on THE CAPTIVE HEART)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, January 16, 2017

What's Your Word?

There's a trendy concept being passed around. I mean besides the throw-it-all-out-and-live-simply concept. I've got too many books that I don't want to part with to even consider that.

I'm talking about "One Word." Ever heard of it? It's kind of like a super-short New Year's resolution, or an abbreviated mission statement for the year. The idea started several years back with the book My One Word: Change Your Life With Just One Word by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen.

Here's how it works . . .

You brainstorm and choose one word that will be your focus for the next twelve months. It could be anything from encourage, to pursue, to believe. The blurb for the book is:

The concept of My One Word is simple. Lose the long list of resolutions―all your sweeping promises to change―and do something about one thing this year instead of nothing about everything. Choose just one word that represents what you most hope God will do in you, and focus on it for an entire year. This single act will force clarity and concentrate your efforts. Growth and change will result.

This idea is one worth pondering. Sharpening your focus across all the areas of your life can't help but keep you moving in a positive direction (if you choose a positive word, that is). As a writer, teacher, wife, mother, daughter, believer, sinner, craze-o-maniac choc-o-holic, my word for the year is going to be TRY.

How about you? What's your word?

Friday, January 13, 2017

Writing Encouragement During the January Blahs

It's cold. The days are short. Your pants dig in at the waistband from the pounds you gained over the holidays. Yes, indeedy. The January blahs are here. How are you going to stay motivated to pump out some writing?

Never fear, I've got a few words of encouragement for you . . .

You can do this. It doesn't need to be perfect. It just needs to be.

Don't set out to write an epic bestseller. Set out to write. Period.

Even a little writing is better than no writing.

Get your words out of the way as soon in the day as possible so no one or nothing gets in the way of your progress.

And if that's not enough to keep you going, here are a few sites for you to visit for even more inspiration.

Quotes That Will Inspire You to Write More

Encouraging Quotes for Writers

Words of Encouragement for Writers

Where to Find Inspiration: 50 Quotes for Writing

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

5 Tips for Writing an Emotional Scene ~ An Infographic

As always, feel free to borrow or outright steal. These graphics are for you!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Newsflash: Doubt Never Goes Away

Most writers are secretly worried that they're not really writers.

Hey, newbie writer. I see you there, curled up in the corner, cowering and whimpering from a doubt whoopin'. You think just because you didn't land an agent, or sign a contract, or whatever it was that kicked your heinie that you are not a for-real writer. It's also your belief that once you do accomplish those items, not only will you be legit, you'll never have to weep in that corner again.

Uhh . . . nope. Sorry to rain on your pity-parade, l'il pardner, but that just ain't so. You will always feel doubt.

And that is a very good thing.

Why? Several reasons:
  • Doubt keeps you from puffing up with pride.
  • Doubt forces you to keep trying harder.
  • Your doubt gives hope to others, because if you can deal with it in a constructive fashion, it's a model for them to be able to deal with it.
  • Doubt makes you question things, like why you're writing, which is always a good core value to reevaluate.
  • The pain of doubt often prods you to set new goals because it's a motivator.
I know lots of authors, big names, that still deal with doubt even though fame has knocked on their door. How do they deal with it? How should any of us deal with it? There are ways besides rolling over in defeat.

5 Ways to Deal with Doubt

1. Focus on the positive.
Yeah. I know. This sounds like some lame-oh Sally Sunshine type of platitude. The thing is, though, that it really works. What you allow your thoughts to dwell on directly effects your mental health. There is always something good in your life, I don't care how awful you have it. Did the sun rise today? Are you breathing? Start there and work your way up to acknowledging bigger blessings.

2. Stop comparing.
Most often the reason you (or I) feel like a loser is because we're comparing ourselves to others. Stop it. Don't make me come over there. Your writing is not at the same stage of the journey as someone else's -- and never will be. Your stories will sound like you, not Superstar New York Times Whoever.  You are not meant to write like them because you are not them. Write like you because no one else can.

3. Take a break.
Sometimes a doubt fest happens because you're burnt out. Give yourself some time and space to do other things. Experience life and love and sunshiney days. Stepping back has a way of giving you a different perspective.

4. Seek out community.
The flip side of misery loving company is that there is safety in numbers. Other writers have and are going through the same thing as you. There is counsel and comfort in the artist community. Don't shut yourself off.

5. Take baby steps.
When doubt beats you over the head and you're laying on the floor bleeding, it's not so easy to get back into the swing of things. Set small goals then reward yourself for making those goals. And what if you don't? Make the goals easier. It's okay. All you need to do is put one foot forward today. Tomorrow you can worry about another step.

You are not alone. Everyone deals with self-doubt and always will. It's part of the human condition. And remember, when all else fails, reach for the chocolate.

Also remember that this is the kick-off week for the new Writer Off the Leash schedule. I'll be posting Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Friday, January 6, 2017

What's in Store for 2017

This coming year I'll be writing more than ever . . . which means something's got to give. Don't panic. I'm not ditching Writer Off the Leash. I am, however, going to be writing fewer posts. Instead of posting every weekday, I'm slacking down to 3 times a week. Monday, Wednesday and Friday will be post days. But if that's not enough words for your daily consumption, there will be books galore to keep you entertained.


Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection
Pre-order Now
Release Date: July 2017
Journey along in nine historical romances with those who lives are transformed by the opulence, growth, and great changes taking place in America’s Gilded Age. Nine couples meet during these exhilarating times and work to build a future together through fighting for social reform, celebrating new opportunities for leisure activities, taking advantage of economic growth and new inventions, and more.

My story in this collection is A House of Secrets. Here's a blurb:
Ladies Aide Chairman, AMANDA CARSTON, resolves to clean up St. Paul’s ramshackle housing, determining to renovate the worst of the worst: a “haunted” house, but when she enlists the aide of her fiance, city attorney JOSEPH BLAKE, they uncover secrets neither expects—which may mean the end of their relationship . . . or their lives.

Release Date: September 2017
This is the first in a series of 3 tales in the Once Upon a Dickens Christmas trilogy. Here is a blurb:

Imprisoned unjustly, BENJAMIN LANE wants nothing more than freedom and a second chance to claim the woman he loves—but how can CLARA CHAPMAN possibly believe in the man who stole her family’s fortune and abandoned her at the altar? Brought together under mysterious circumstances for the Twelve Days of Christmas, each discovers that what they've been striving for isn't what ultimately matters . . . and what matters most is love.

The Regency Brides Collection
Release Date: November 2017
Love Regency? Love some awesome authors? I am honored to be in this collection. My is The Gentleman Smuggler's Lady. Here's a blurb:

When a prim and proper governess is called home to her ailing father's bedside, her ship is ravaged by smugglers and her heart captured by the leader of them all -- the local lord of the manor. It's within her power to reveal the gentleman's secret . . . and within his to cast her out of town.


The Innkeeper's Daughter
A full-length novel --and-- a sequel of sorts to Brentwood's Ward (yes, you'll hear snippets of news about Emily and Nicholas). You've also already met the hero, Alexander Moore, in Brentwood's Ward because he's one of Brentwood's sidekicks. Not sure when this one will release, but the manuscript is due in by the end of June. Here's a blurb:

Honorable ALEXANDER MOORE goes undercover as a rogue gentleman to expose a traitorous plot against the king—and a master he is with his disguise, for JOHANNA LANGLEY believes him to be quite the cad. But when Johanna is swept up in the intrigue, Alex must choose between his mission and the woman he’s come to love.

The Captured Bride
This one is a full-length novel that may or may not be part of a series (it's not actually contracted yet) but whether or not it is, this story simply must be written. Theoretically it's due by November. Here's a blurb:

A war-torn countryside is no place for a lady—but Mercy Lytton is a lady like none other. Raised amongst the Mohawks, she straddles two cultures, yet each are united in one cause . . . to defeat the French. Born with a rare gift of unusually ke
en eyesight, she is chosen as a scout to accompany a team of men on a dangerous mission. Yet it is not her life that is threatened. It is her heart.

Condemned as a traitor, Elias Dubois faces the gallows. At the last minute, he’s offered his freedom if he consents to accompany a stolen shipment of French gold to a nearby fort—but he’s the one they stole it from in the first place. It turns out that the real thief is the beguiling woman, Mercy Lytton, for she steals his every waking thought.

Can love survive divided loyalties in a backcountry wilderness?

A Teardrop for Christmas
This is the 2nd in the Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series. I'll have it finished by the end of the year for a release date of the following September (2018). I'm not entirely thrilled with the title, so
that will likely change. But in the mean time, here's a blurb:

Pleasure seeker WILLIAM BARLOW needs a wife immediately to gain his uncle’s inheritance, and MINA SCOTT is just the girl to make him look respectable—too bad she turns him down. Ought he give her a second chance?

Whew! There you have it. That ought to keep me and you ought of trouble for the rest of the year, eh?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Is Writing Fiction a Waste of Time?

"Investing life in creating fantasy 
that results in pointing real people 
in the real world 
to true hope in the true evangelium 
is not a waste 
but well done."

When I'm first introduced to people and they find out I'm an author -- and a fiction one at that -- I invariably get one of two responses . . .

Either an opportunistic quirk of the brow which is quickly followed by, "What a coincidence. I'm a writer too. Can you help me get published?"

Or more commonly I get "The Look." You know the one. The curled upper lip. A slight rearing back of the head. Sometimes a stifled gasp as if breathing the same air as me might infect the listener with some dread disease. This is most often followed by an, "Oh," and then the topic is switched at lightning speed to something more important. Like the volatility of cattle futures. Why is that?

Because there are judgmental people out there who think writing fiction is a complete waste of a life.

Is it?

I would argue that it is not, for many, many reasons. Here are four:

1. Writing fiction connects the author to the Creator in a way that is sacred.
Granted, this could be construed as kind of nebulous, but for writers who work out their theology via the medium of story, it's a very tangible reason. Sometimes it takes make-believe to understand a world that often makes no sense whatsoever. There is something deeply spiritual about language, for it is the way we connect with the Creator of that language. In this sense, for some, writing fiction is an act of worship.

2. Fiction communicates truth in a non-threatening format.
No one likes to be preached at. It's uncomfortable at best. But who doesn't turn their head to listen to a tale that captures their imagination? Fiction is a great way to get into someone's brain with their permission and possibly expand or change their mind on wrong thinking.

3. It makes the author a better person.
Writers must meditate. Calm down. I'm not talking monotone chanting while sitting in a lotus position. Considering how to take complex moral issues and break them down into bite-size story nuggets uses a lot of thought. It's that thought, that consideration, that changes an author himself.

4. It makes the reader a better person.
There are studies galore on how reading fiction affects the brain of a reader--in good ways. It creates a compassion, an empathy toward the characters, which in turn transfers over to real life in small but very good ways. Here is just one of them.

Jesus was the greatest storyteller of all, often teaching with fictional stories. Would you say he wasted his life?

What we need, in short, are stories.
~ J.R.R. Tolkien

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


It's a fresh calendar year. What kind of choices are you going to make for the next twelve months? If you fail to plan, you plan to fail, so now's the time to think about intentional choices for 2017. Here are some questions to ask yourself . . .

Will you:
- take tangible steps to pursue one of your dreams?
- make time to do what's important to you?
- mentor someone who's lagging behind you on the artistic journey?
- show gratitude to others via email or snail mail or text?
- put good things into your body, be it in your mouth, eyes or ears?

Or will you not?

Resolutions are controversial. Thinking about how you want to spend your time isn't. We're only allotted so many breaths, and no one knows exactly how many. Make each one count.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Good Writers are Good Readers

"If you don't have time to read
you don't have the time
(or the tools)
to write."
~ author Stephen King

If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times . . . "I don't have time to read."

To which I say, "Really? Do you have time to breathe? Because they're pretty much the same -- especially if you're a writer. Good writers read."

I'm not saying you need to devote hours a day to parking your rear on the couch for reading. Snatching bits here and there works out just as well, and as a bonus you don't feel as guilty for "wasting" time. But there are other benefits . . .

- reading gives you a sense of the possibilities of expanding your writing by seeing the other
  creativity that's out there in the realm of fiction

- it improves your written (and spoken) vocabulary and your writing will be the richer for it

- reading across different genres can spark your imagination in your chosen genre

- while the comparison game can be deadly, reading other authors can show you where
  you're on track with your own writing -- and where you're slipping off the rails

- it gives you ideas for your own plot and structure (remember, good artists copy but great
  artists steal)

Why you read or what you read isn't as important as that you read so don't get all bent out of shape about the details. Just read.

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year's Pep Talk

It's always a bit daunting to start a new year. There are so many possibilities -- and so so many areas that could possibly go haywire.

And that's how it feels to sit down and write a book . . . which is exactly what I'm doing today.

Never fear, though, because I've got a handy dandy pep talk for you (and for me).

Just Write
Forget about writing an epic. Just tell the best story you possibly can because honestly, that's all you can do.

Ditch Perfection
Newsflash: your words aren't going to be perfect. Neither are your characters or theme or anything, actually. You're not perfect, either, so open up your fingers and let go of that myth.

Realize You're Not Alone
There are plenty of other artists out there creating art. Writers writing. Painters painting. Dancers dancing. They all struggle with the same sense of doubt and fear that you do. You are not alone in this land of inadequacy.

You Do You
It's okay to write like you do. You don't have to tell a story like your favorite authors because you are not them. Pound out your words because that's what the world needs to hear.

Cherish the Journey
No matter where you're at on the writerly journey, from pre-pub to multi-contracted author, be thankful for where you're at right now. It might be different 6 months from now, for better or for worse, so live in this moment. It's the only one you're guaranteed.

This year make it your goal to be an encourager to someone else, not a degrader of self.
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