Category Archives: Yoga

Top 10 Time Management Tips

Let’s face it; we’re all crazy busy these days, right? I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t succumbed to the “rat race” we call life in the 21st century. Americans especially, are overworked, overwhelmed, and out of control. It seems the more we try to make things “easier” and “more convenient,” the more complicated life becomes. Days pass at lightning speed as if time has somehow become accelerated and we are being jettisoned into the future, our hair practically on fire! PJ here, and I’d love to tell you I’m immune to such a condition, but alas, I am not. I see it barreling down like a freight train and yet I feel powerless to stop it. In spite of this stress-inducing phenomenon, I hold tightly to my belief that we are indeed still the masters of our Universe. We CAN manage our time, no matter what insanity surrounds us and tries to suck us in.

You may have heard some of these before, but here are a my TOP 10 Tips for Time Management. I hope you find them useful.

1) Regardless of what your to-do list indicates, there are only 24 hours in a day. Eight of them should be dedicated to sleep. You have control of this. Exercise it!

2) That leaves another 16 hours to do with what you will. Only eight of those hours should be dedicated to work on a daily basis. The other eight are meant for taking care of your own needs and interacting with family and friends. Unless you have a boss who is holding a gun to your head, you CAN walk away from your work after an eight hour shift. Stop letting guilt and an overdeveloped sense of responsibility rule your life! I often think about the old adage, no one on their death bed ever thinks, ‘gee I wish I’d worked more’.

3) During the eight hours you are working, divide your time between MUST do’s and WANT to do’s. Make a list each morning (or at night before you go to bed so you can sleep without the hamster wheel running you ragged in your sleep). You’re list of to-do’s can be as long as it needs to be. Write everything down that you want to accomplish in a day, but agree with yourself to do the top three MUST do’s. If you get those three done, then pick one more…then one more. Whatever doesn’t get done today will be moved to the following day. This is the magic of the proverbial “one bite at a time” trick. Ten things may seem overwhelming, but three are manageable. The to-do list will likely never go away, so chasing your tail to complete it is like rolling a boulder up a hill. Get over the need to complete everything and focus instead on completing one thing at a time. I have weekly, monthly, and quarterly to-do’s that are the action steps to meeting my goals that I set at the beginning of the year. I check in frequently to see how I’m doing, but I don’t attach myself to success or failure when it comes to getting things done. It is…or it isn’t complete. It doesn’t mean I’m a slacker. It simply means the item remains on the list.

4) Take power breaks. Chaining yourself to your desk or chair will not increase your productivity. It will more likely leave you feeling exhausted, frustrated, and resentful. Take frequent breaks. Stretch, do a few yoga poses, take a walk, get a drink of water, do a load of laundry–anything to get away from the work for ten to fifteen minutes and clear your head. 010 (2013_06_07 00_53_00 UTC)Then sit down and get back to it. I’m finding great success with working in sprints like this. I’m getting my work done, but I feel as if I have time for other things as well, which leaves me feeling energized and gives me a sense of accomplishment.

5) Delegate. I cannot stress this enough. No man (or woman) is an island. No matter how much we feel that we alone are completely responsible for our households and for keeping life running smoothly for our fellow man, that is a lie of the ego that will keep you feeling inadequate every day of your life. Until we learn to a) ask for help b) delegate responsibility or c) hire an assistant, we will always feel isolated and overwhelmed. I know that hiring someone isn’t an option for many of us, but developing a network of people in your life that you can look to for assistance is essential to your mental and physical well-being. In most cases, we resist this notion because we don’t trust others to be dependable and we believe that we are the only ones who will do the job “right”. EGO is at the crux of this problem, so my suggestion is to check it at the door and be open to help from wherever you can find it. There are many creative ways that we can lighten our load…if we are willing to let go of the illusion of control. Barter, trade, return a favor. Just don’t expect that you can do it ALL alone and remain balanced and healthy.

6) Making time to exercise four or five days a week is non-negotiable. If you are not healthy, strong, and happy, your family life will suffer and so will your work. Training to be the best you that you can be is the only way you will be successful in every area of your life. Thirty minutes a day is all it takes. No excuses!

7) Keep a “time” diary. For one week, keep a diary of how you spend your time. Be honest. You would only be lying to yourself. If you spend four hours a night watching television, write it down. It’s a real eye-opener when the week is over and you realize how much of your life was spent watching commercials or mindlessly wasting your precious time under the guise of “relaxation” or enjoyment of “downtime”. This is equally effective when keeping a food diary for a week or two. Most of the time, we are on auto-pilot. Most of us are not aware of consciously making choices about foods we eat or how we spend our free time. Writing it down brings awareness. Don’t judge yourself too harshly…just notice, and then adjust accordingly. You have CHOICES! Take back control over those parts of your life that seem to be slipping away from you.

8) It may seem hard to believe that we actually have eight hours every day to take care of ourselves and the needs of our family and friends, but it’s true. And that time should be cherished! Find enjoyment in the little things. A short conversation with a friend, a walk with your dog, a bike ride with your kids, or hanging out with your husband and sharing the events of the day should be highlights, not stolen moments. Be willing to let go of the feeling that you should always be working. I know it’s frustrating when you’re on deadline and HAVE to get that next chapter written, but try to remember what’s really important and don’t let resentment steal your joy.

9) When people talk about time management, they often recommend that we PRIORITIZE. Well that’s easier said than done, isn’t it? When it seems like we have a thousand and one things that have to be done and they’re all hanging over our heads like a cold bucket of water just waiting to spill over if we don’t “get to it, asap,” it’s time for another “P” word…PERSPECTIVE. Try measuring everything on a brain tumor scale of life. Zero is nirvana. Everything’s coming up roses and going your way. Ten is you or someone you love having a brain tumor. If your “emergency” is less than a five on that scale, don’t sweat it. In the grand scheme of the Universe, most of our daily “emergencies” don’t rate the amount of stress we attach to them. We are simply so used to being in adrenaline overload, that every detail of life becomes a life and death situation to overcome.

10) Relax! Breathe! Be in the moment! Time is not the enemy. Experience life and all that it has to offer in each minute of every day. Don’t let stress, work, deadlines, or anything else rob you of your peace of mind. If you are unhappy with your life and feel like time has become unmanageable, take back control. There are choices to be made, and despite your current reality, you can choose how you live your life…and how you spend the time you have here on this planet. Every choice you make brings you one step closer to creating the life you want.

So there you have it, friends. These are only a few ideas. I’m sure you have plenty more! Feel free to share your best time management tips below for our readers, and if I haven’t said so recently, I appreciate you all so very much!! Thanks for taking time out of your busy day to spend a few minutes with me.

Writer’s cramp and other maladies…

Is your writing career turning into a pain in the neck? Do you experience occasional numbness and tingling in your hands? Does it feel like it’s impossible to sit up straight for any length of time at the computer? Headaches? Muscle spasms? Wrist and forearm pain? Cramps? Tendinitis? These are all symptoms of the postural imbalances that are created when we spend too much time sitting at the computer. If it feels as if gravity is winning and you are slowly shrinking into a ball of knots, consider that this post is for you.

PJ Sharon here, and after twenty years as a Physical Therapist Assistant in the field of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, and eight years as a Massage Therapist and personal trainer, I have a unique perspective on how to address these issues. I’ve come to see our current sedentary lifestyle as the “De-Evolution of man.”

Humor me when I suggest that for the past 50,000 years or so, we have walked upright for good reason. We could not have created the world we know today if this evolutionary change had not occurred. So why, in the past hundred years have we become a society of people who can’t run fast enough to save our lives, let alone catch our dinner? How have we devolved so quickly that heart disease, Diabetes, and Cancer are killing us at epidemic rates while most of us have access to the most advanced medical technologies known to mankind? So glad you asked!

I’ll leave the huge problems with our diet, pollutants, chemical toxicity, and over-dependence on sugar for another day. Today, I’ll focus on one simple fact that is at the root of many of our health issues–especially our orthopedic complaints. One fact that we can control. Our bodies are not designed for prolonged sitting—although our widening hips and increased padding may suggest otherwise. I’m sure none of us wants that to be our evolutionary norm. We may not be able to fight “progress” in the world of technology or the societal decline of a physically active lifestyle, but we can change how much WE sit. The rise in health problems coming about because of the “computer-age lifestyle” should be evidence enough that things need to change. READ this NY Times article if you think I’m exaggerating.

But change isn’t so easy, is it?

I’m a big one for focusing on what we CAN do rather than what we CAN’T. So here are a few things that may help.

1) Check your set-up (feet flat on floor, support behind your lower back, knees lower than your hips, screen directly in front of you, and mouse in close enough to keep your elbow in close to your body. Avoid reaching and make sure you have a wrist support.

2) Stop every hour and get up, walk around, stretch and drink water.

3) Try a “stand-up desk” or a “treadmill desk.” Check out the above article for suggestions.

4) More on stretching—

a) Hold stretches and breathe deeply four or five times. Stretching should not be painful. If it hurts, stop and get proper instruction from a physical therapist or personal trainer.

b) Tip ear toward shoulder and extend opposite arm out to side to stretch the deep neck stabilizers. When these muscles are chronically tight, it weakens the neck and can also contribute to nerve impingement and carpal tunnel symptoms.

c) Stretch your forearms by extending your arm straight out in front and gently pulling your fingers down toward the floor and then up toward the sky. There are a few variations of this to stretch deeper into the forearm muscles. Wrist stretch 2wrist stretch 1
Yoga postures are great for wrist flexibility and strength.

d) Stretch your legs. Basic calf, quad, hamstring, hip flexor, and piriformis stretches can make a remarkable impact on spinal tensions that affect the neck and back. It is worth working with a certified trainer to learn proper stretching technique.

e) Get a massage on a regular basis. Once a month is recommended for maintenance. At the very least, every three months is acceptable. You probably change the oil in your car and pay your taxes that often. How much more important is it to take care of yourself?

Today’s unlocked secret: The bottom line is that we need to get off our bottoms!

A final thought—if you really are the boss, would you treat an employee the way you treat yourself, or would you insist they take care of themselves properly and encourage them to avoid overuse issues that would ultimately cost you in decreased productivity?

Okay, writers…what are you willing to change to correct this De-Evolutionary disaster waiting to happen?

PJ’s Top 10 Health Tips for 2013

Welcome! Tuesday’s Scribe here. This is an extra long post, but worth the read if you’ll bear with me. Being a Massage Therapist and personal trainer in the “real world” doesn’t exempt me from the laws of nature. That means that I am as susceptible as you are to the effects of gravity. As the image in my mirror reveals (it refuses to lie no matter how many spells I cast upon it), I can’t hide the addition of several pounds of holiday related “rolls”(ew). Yes, I too suffer from the intense attachment to chocolate that plagues even the strictest of gym rats. I’m PJ Sharon, and I, like many of you, am determined to do serious battle with my new found “writer’s bulge,” courtesy of my first year in publishing.

I know, I know…another diet, another fitness plan. Every January  the gyms are flooded with well-meaning but “weak-willed” souls who last about a month and then fall back into their old rut of unhealthy living. The truth is, living healthy is not rocket science. A healthy lifestyle is not a “diet” or an “exercise routine.” It requires a long term commitment to change. I wish I had the secret to turning on the “self-control” and “self-discipline” switches in the brain that some have and others struggle to find. There are many factors that influence us to take care of ourselves, but none is greater than healthy self-esteem. If you’ve tried and failed on your own and repeatedly lost and gained a significant amount of weight, I highly recommend you seek counseling to address the underlying issues that are keeping you stuck.

It may sound mean, but we all know when we put something in our mouth if it’s good for us or not. If you don’t know this, join Weight-Watchers and learn how to make healthier choices. Usually, we know when we are over-eating, and we definitely know when we aren’t getting enough rest (one of the leading contributors to weight gain). The trick is in catching the problems early. It’s infinitely easier to get back on track when we’ve gained only a few pounds instead of waiting until it’s ten or twenty…or fifty. It’s not hard to imagine why our clothes are fitting tighter than we like, or why we feel like crap from the sugar hangover we inflicted the night before by eating pizza, drinking that “extra” glass of wine, and then scarfing down chocolate ice cream for dessert. I’m not saying you can’t eat a piece of pizza or enjoy a glass of wine occasionally, but learn about portion sizes and find alternatives to these “fun” foods, saving the real deal for special occasions. And no…Friday night is not a special occasion. There are tons of creative ways to prepare foods that are healthy and delicious. Explore…get out of your rut!

I don’t know about you, but this being a grown up thing is a mixed blessing. Being an adult means that I can do what I want…eat what I want, right? Sure…if I want to live with the consequences. On the down side, there’s no one else to blame for my declining health or weight gain but me.  The bottom line is that I’m responsible for making good choices…about food, about my activity level, about cultivating healthy relationships, and about my work habits.

The first change I’ve made in the past few months is creating time to take care of myself by designing a work schedule that I can live with. That means regular office hours set aside to run my author business, and regularly scheduled work out sessions. Whatever I don’t get done in my office on any given day/night, I choose to let go and trust that I’ve done enough for that day. I will no longer sacrifice my “Healthy Me” time for social media or other tasks that will still be there the next day calling out to me. I know we’re all struggling to find balance these days, but honestly, none of it is worth dying over.

I’ve often told my clients that a healthy lifestyle is your best tool for success. I still believe that. I’d like to share some tips that I’ll be using to get back on track. I hope you’ll join me.

1)      HYDRATE- I’m not talking about ten cups of coffee or a liter of Diet Coke. I mean good old fashioned water. A good rule is to take your weight, divide by three, and that’s how many ounces per day of water you need to drink to stay properly hydrated. (Ie: A 150 pound person should consume 50 ounces of water per day). ** Fill a large water bottle first thing in the morning and drink it throughout the day, refilling as necessary to meet your daily ounce count. Feel free to add a slice of lemon. You’ll find you have more energy, you’re less hungry, and you’ll suffer fewer headaches, leg cramps, and muscle aches if you are hydrated. Trust me; your body will thank you!

2)      BANISH THE BREAD!-No not that!!!-White breads in particular break down into simple sugars very quickly. If you are sedentary, all that sugar gets stored as fat for later. But in this line of work, later never seems to come. Avoid white, starchy foods altogether. Switch from white potatoes to sweet potatoes, white rice to brown rice, and stock up on quinoa, cous cous, beans/legumes, and taboule, adding these complex whole grains and protein/fiber rich foods to salads or serving them as side dishes. Now most of us have already switched to “whole grain” breads, but if you read the label on your bread, you’ll likely find high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and a host of other additives and preservatives. **Try Ezekiel 4:9 Bread. You can find it in the refrigerator section of your grocer or local health food store. It has no flour! Instead it’s made from sprouted live grains like wheat, barley, millet, lentils, soybeans and spelt. It packs a whopping 4grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and is sugar free and fat free, and only 80 calories per slice. It tastes great, too!

3)      WALKING MEDITATION-Meditating is one of the healthiest and most difficult practices to cultivate. Most of us can’t sit still and empty our minds for ten seconds, let alone twenty minutes. But just twenty minutes a day of meditation can be life changing. It reduces your stress level, improves your immune system, and has so many health benefits I couldn’t possibly list them all here. Ironically, twenty minutes of walking daily does much the same thing. Imagine if you combine them! I’m all for multi-tasking, even when it comes to taking time to BE PRESENT! **Take a twenty minute walk daily. It doesn’t matter what time of day or even if you break it up into two ten minute walks, but do it—every day. While you’re walking think about your breathing. Feel each heel strike. Notice your arms swinging at your sides. Be aware of your posture, tuning in your abdomen and keeping your shoulders back. This conscious awareness of your body is as much a meditation as sitting cross-legged on a mat.

4)      STRETCH-I suggest frequent stretch breaks throughout the day. If you join a yoga class and go 2-3 times a week, maybe this isn’t as important, but if you are sitting at your computer for several hours a day, it’s beneficial and takes no time at all to stop for a few minutes every hour and stretch. If you don’t know what stretches to do or have some physical limitations that prevent you from exercising, seek advice from a physical therapist or qualified trainer.IMAG0098

5)      START WITH PROTEIN and FIBER-Starting your day with carbohydrates sets you up for blood sugar spikes and dips that will have you craving a candy bar before noon. Skip the bagel or the cold cereal and opt instead for an egg white omelet with veggies or a bowl of oatmeal or multigrain hot cereal with nuts, cinnamon, and fruit. (Cinnamon is a natural anti-inflammatory). Loading your breakfast with high protein, high fiber and nutrient packed foods will keep your blood sugar levels balanced and help curb cravings. A handful of nuts or a high protein yogurt (Greek yogurt is yummy and packs about 15 grams of protein) for your mid-morning or late afternoon snack will keep you from binging at meal times.

6)      VITAMINS-Due to soil depletion, over processing of foods, and our generally poor diets, most of us are vitamin deficient and don’t know it. Fatigue, weight gain, inability to concentrate, skin conditions, joint pains, neurological symptoms…you name it, vitamin deficiencies could be the cause. A daily multi-vitamin is a must and some people could benefit from other supplements depending on your individual needs. You may have to see a nutritionist or Naturopath to address this issue. Ask your doctor if he/she can perform a blood panel to screen for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Many women in particular are lacking in Vitamin D, which can lead to a whole host of ailments including porous bones and hair loss…eeek! It’s worth a blood test.

7)      STRENGTHEN YOUR MIND AND BODY-Lifting light weights, swimming, yoga, cycling, or even dancing around your house with the vacuum cleaner are all ways to burn calories and strengthen your core (the muscles of your trunk that offer a stable center for your extremities to work from.) In addition to strengthening muscles and improving your posture and balance, regular exercise strengthens your heart, releases endorphins that ease pain, and improves your mental attitude/mood. When you feel strong, you are more confident. If you need another convincing tid-bit, lean muscle mass burns calories more efficiently and your clothes fit better.IMAG0091

8)      AFFIRMATIONS-I’m a consummate goal setter. Not that I achieve all of my goals, mind you, but I make them, check in on them now and then, and adjust the plan accordingly. What I do know about goal setting is that I have to be able to imagine the desired outcome before I can make it a reality. I have to believe I can achieve it, and then I have to speak it into existence by making choices that lead me in the direction of achieving my goal. Affirmations are those positive messages that I speak to make my goals come to fruition. **Start every writing session with an affirmation. Ie: “I am an excellent writer. I am a bestselling author,” etc. Start every workout with an affirmation. Ie: “I am lean, healthy, and strong. I look awesome in size eight jeans”…you get the picture. See it, believe it is possible, and speak it into existence as if it is already the reality. Over time, your brain has no choice but to comply by making it so, and eventually your body will catch on.

9)      RELATIONSHIPS-“No man (or woman) is an Island.” Or so the saying goes. I don’t know about you, but I would be nowhere without the help and friendship of other writers, friends, family, and especially my dear husband. It’s easy to become isolated when so many of our hours are spent behind a computer screen. Connecting with and showing appreciation for the people in my life is something I don’t ever want to put off until tomorrow. There comes a time in every life when tomorrow won’t come for us or a loved one. **Don’t let a day go by without showing the people in your life how much they mean to you.

10)  GRATITUDE THROUGH KINDNESS-I’m a big believer in random acts of kindness. Nothing gets you out of your own head and gives you a lift as much as showing your gratitude for all that you have in your life by paying it forward. It’s much easier to see the good in your life when you recognize a need and fill it in someone else’s life. Volunteer, reach out to help someone in need, donate your time or money to a worthy cause. Get involved. We are all intricately connected in this world and there is no reason why any of us should feel alone.

Any other tips you want to share?

Blessings in the New Year,

PJ

One Year Indie Published

Tuesday’s Child, PJ Sharon here. Thanks to all of you, I had a fun and successful launch day for Waning Moon last Friday. I can’t believe that it took publishing four books in a year for me to finally FEEL like an author. I think I needed to finally take the time to celebrate my accomplishments before I could really recognize them. Don’t get me wrong, I know I’ve worked hard this past year, but being a goal oriented person, I tend to look at all that’s ahead of me and forget to be in the moment, appreciating all the blessings along the way. As a yoga practitioner, you’d think I would be a pro at remaining present, but it’s no secret that the writer’s life is far from balanced and that none of us can be totally zen about daunting deadlines and promo pressures. So now that I’ve had my celebratory pause, and before I look forward, I thought I’d look back at the past year and see how I did on my goals.

 

In honor of my one year as an Indie-published author, I wanted to share my sales numbers. The following are close estimations as I haven’t counted venues like ARe (All Romance e-reads), Create Space, and the few hardcopies I’ve sold at signings. These are e-book sales only.

 

Heaven is for Heroes:                           On Thin Ice:                    Savage Cinderella:          

Release date: 9/24/11                            12/15/11                                3/24/12                           

Amazon US:       682                                1250                                       1526
Amazon UK:         22                                  361                                           29
Amazon Eu:         10                                       6                                             5
BN:                      116                                    33                                           28

Smashwords:       52                                    25                                           42

Total:                   872                                1675                                       1630

Free downloads: 77                                    30           37,762 (US); 1,120 (UK); 105 (Eu)

Estimated Total e-books sold: 4,177

Taking into account the difficult to decipher reports from Smashwords (which includes e-books sold through Kobo, Sony, Apple et al), and if you include hardcopy sales through Createspace, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve hit the 5,000 books sold mark. Last January when I set my goals for 2012, I stated that I wanted to sell 10,000 books in a year (looking to break into that 10K cake club my indie buddies talk about). There is a possibility I could actually meet that goal if Waning Moon takes off, but even if I don’t hit 10,000 by January, I know I’ll reach it at some point soon. I’m halfway there, right? I see the slow, steady build of readership and sales, and have faith that with diligence, numbers will continue to grow as I reach new readers. 

I’ve learned a lot in this past year—lessons I will take forward with me as I continue on this journey. In no particular order, these are my top five lessons learned this year as an Indie published author.

1) Hire help with cover art, editing, and promotion/marketing. 

2) The buying patterns of readers are changing with the wind. There will be seasonal slumps and missed opportunities. The only thing you CAN control is the quality of your content. (Three nuggets in one).

3) Basically there aren’t enough hours in a day to do all we SHOULD do, so do what you can and let the rest go. 

4) Watching trends, getting involved in networks, and creating a platform in some form of social media makes for invaluable resources. Appreciate those resources.

5) Keep writing and creating new material.

As for observations, the summer months were extremely slow all around. It’s important to note, here, that I had flipped my promotional efforts to 20% of my budgeted time, and spent 80% writing/revising/producing the book instead of the other way around. Sales dropped by 75% in June, July and August. This tells me that clearly, promotion works. But the best advice I’ve gotten from Indie published authors is to work on growing your cyber bookshelf. Most successful self-pubbers hit their stride with book number six or seven, unless they are very luck and catch the wave the first time out. It’s all about creating quality backlist and gaining a readership through social media and visibility. That takes time and consistent effort. 

With the release of Waning Moon and the next month of blog tour visits (you can follow along and find my upcoming appearances at the calendar page of my website or click on the Goddess Fish icon below), I’ll be back in promotion mode while trying to maintain some of that ever elusive balance we writers struggle with. The coming year will be much less aggressive in terms of production, so I think that will help.

I want to add that I’m sharing these numbers only to encourage other writers (or some might say depress them, depending on their expectations). If I compared my numbers with others, I might be a bit underwhelmed –I still can’t look at my hourly rate without cringing. But I also recognize that there are many Indie authors not selling nearly what I did, so I don’t compare. I’m simply grateful to be where I am…satisfied that I am on the right track.

Unlocked secret: We all measure success differently, take our own path to find our bliss, and set our own goals. To set goals, understand what you want and carve out a path to get you there. Just remember; keep your goals realistic, manageable, flexible, and measurable. They are after all, just a guideline.

How did you all do with your goals this year? Do you set ‘em and forget ‘em like the rotisserie? Or are you dogmatically holding onto them and not willing to be flexible? Have you found the balance with goal setting that allows you to reassess often and adjust as needed? I’d love to hear from you!

Retreat Recap

Tuesday’s Scribe, PJ Sharon here. I had the great pleasure of joining several CTRWA members this past weekend at the lovely Guest House Retreat Center in Chester, CT. We’ve been planning this weekend retreat for months, and no one was more excited than me to get away and share some quality writing time with my pals. I thought you all might like to hear about the highlights.

After checking in at 3:00 on Friday afternoon, we were all treated to a wonderful dinner and dessert before settling in for an evening of critiquing. We divided up into small groups, and each had the opportunity to share the first five pages of our WIP. This was immensely helpful to me personally, as my fabulous critique partners, Jane Haertel and Tracy Costa, convinced me yet again, that my short story prequel to my trilogy, to be released as part of the WG2E October Anthology, called SOUL REDEMPTION, actually started in chapter two. (Read my previous post about “The story starts here.”) I’m not sure why I haven’t quite mastered the art of where to start a story, but they were absolutely right and it will now read so much better.

Saturday morning, I rousted eight of my fellow writer friends out of their beds to join me in a 6:00 a.m. yoga class. I’ve been teaching yoga for about seven years now, and I love sharing a gentle, restorative practice with newbies and experienced yogis alike. Relaxed, refreshed, and energized, we had a hearty breakfast and then spent the next few hours working on our individual WIP’s in the comfort and solitude of the many nooks scattered about the quaint old inn.

After lunch—and I have to say here, that the food was simply outstanding—we gathered for an interactive debate with authors Kevin Symmons and Arlene Kay, who shared their humorous and spirited take on setting vs.character. Then we had more alone time before supper, where most of us made another dent in our weekend word count. I was able to finish all of my edits for WANING MOON, and I heard from Melanie Meadors that she broke her record of 5,000 words in a weekend. WTG Melanie!

Saturday night after a tasty Salmon dinner and blueberry cobbler—seriously, did anyone else gain five pounds this weekend—we got together for a fun-filled evening of Plotting Playoffs with our hostess diva, Jamie Pope, aka. Sugar Jamison. Our illustrious Prez, Jennifer Fusco won the big honor of the night and was rewarded with the coveted tierra, boa, and pink girly gloves—not to mention the best writer on earth certificate.

I’d like to personally thank the brilliant Jane Haertel, aka Suze Hardy, for helping me plot out Book Two of my trilogy, WESTERN DESERT. It’s going to be awesome, but I may need another retreat in the spring!

Much wine was consumed, laughs were shared, and in my opinion, the best line of the weekend came from Jennifer Yakely, another CTRWA contracted and soon-to-be published author, who said, “Historical romances are all about balls and Duke screwing.” I love writers! Don’t you?

Top Three Reasons to Take and Teach Workshops

How is it Tuesday already? PJ Sharon here, bringing to you my top three reasons to both take writing workshops and give them. Of course my main reason is that I’m a firm believer in lifelong learning.

I also think we owe it to ourselves and others to pay it forward when we learn something useful. After all, sharing ideas is the reason we write.

I just finished taking an online workshop called YA Heroes Journey, offered by my YARWA buddies Jennifer McAndrews and Linda Gerber. It was excellent! I loved how they were able to give me immediate feedback on my WIP and help me to improve my grasp of plot, character archetypes, and the deeper motivations of my hero and heroine.

Over the past six years, I have taken dozens of online workshops through RWA’s individual chapters, Savvy Authors, and YARWA (young adult chapter of RWA), and have never been disappointed. In addition to these online workshops, I’ve had the privilege of attending the RWA National convention five times, CT Fiction Fest four times, and a Romantic Times Booklovers Convention for the first time this year. All of these venues offer incredible workshops and endless opportunities for networking—not to mention tons of fun!

 Here are my top three reasons why you should take writing workshops:

1)      To hone your craft. When I began writing down the crazy stories in my head, I had no idea there were so many rules to writing. From point of view and plot, to balancing dialogue and narrative, I felt as if I could study the craft for the rest of my life and barely scratch the surface of all there is to know. I make it a point to take workshops as often as I possibly can.

2)      Feedback on your WIP. This is probably one of the most valuable parts of taking a workshop. So many times, we struggle through the rough patches of our stories and suffer alone, feeling as if we can’t see our work objectively or find the forest through the trees. It’s great to have critique partners, but it’s also good to have objective individuals give you a fresh perspective on your work.

3)      Affordable and focused education. It takes about $30,000 and more than a couple of years of your time to obtain an MFA. During that time, you spend a considerable amount of energy focusing on literary critique of published works, reading and writing poetry, and working to earn grades rather than working on your own projects. Not that this is entirely a bad thing, but if you are planning to write genre fiction, it might not be the best use of your time and resources. The workshops I’ve taken range from $10-$25, are taught by talented and dedicated writers and published authors, and last anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month. A very wise and doable investment in my opinion. You can take the workshops you need, when you need them, and take them for a fraction of the cost of college courses.

In addition to all of this fabulous learning, I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of teaching. Over the years I’ve taught ice skating and yoga classes, done personal training with individuals and groups, and given workshops on health and fitness related topics. I’ve hesitated to jump into the arena of teaching writing workshops, mainly because I still feel like a newbie in so many ways. It probably doesn’t help that I teach a monthly writing class to a group of teens who constantly make me aware that they are much smarter than I am.

 But after doing a craft corner last year for the CTRWA group about writing fight scenes, I realized that indeed I do have something to offer by way of workshops. I know about martial arts, I know what makes a good fight scene, and I’ve taken a few workshops on the topic. So by popular demand, I’ll be offering my very first workshop, “Fun with Fight Scenes,” at the upcoming CT Fiction Fest conference on May 12th. Other presenters include Kristan Higgins, Jessica Andersen, Toni Andrews, and Jennifer Fusco, just to name a few. We also have the fabulous Sherry Thomas as our keynote speaker. Incidentally, there will be plenty of opportunities to pitch your story to some of the best agents and editors in the business. You won’t want to miss it! 

Here are my top three reasons to give a workshop:

1)      Share knowledge with other writers. If you’ve been working to hone your craft for a few years and have worked hard to complete a few novels, you know a little something about writing. Even if you don’t feel up to the task of teaching “on writing,” I’d bet  there is some area of expertise you could share with your fellow writers that would give them a leg up on their WIP.

2)      Networking. There is no better way to get exposure to new people than to teach a workshop at a conference or online. Getting our faces and our talents in front of industry professionals is an incredible marketing opportunity. If you are in the “business” of writing, setting yourself apart as an expert or authority on a sought after topic is a great way to get some notice.

3)      Public speaking experience. Again, if you are planning a career as a writer, there will be many occasions where you will be required to present yourself publically. Whether it’s pitching your story to an agent or editor, or doing a radio or TV interview, the more experience you have with public speaking, the better prepared you’ll be for whatever opportunities come your way.

 If you haven’t been to a conference in a while (or ever), there is still time to sign up for CT Fiction Fest. I’d love to see you there!

 What was the last workshop you took? Have you ever taught one? I’d love some tips on how to make mine stand out.

Beating the Stress Monster

 

           Mr. Webster says that the word stress is defined as “pressure; mental or emotional strain.” Most of us think of stress as an event that causes our adrenalin to spike, our anxiety level to rise, and our emotions to run-amok. In reality, stress is not an event—it’s our response to an event.

Being creatures of habit, we cling to routine. Any change in the status quo can bring about a stress response. Weddings and funerals, the birth of a baby, starting or ending a job, moving, going to a new school—what these stress inducing events have in common is “change.” Good or bad—the constant state of change and dealing with the excessive minutia of life can be overwhelming.

Stress Monster

Today’s lightning speed lifestyle doesn’t help. Technology is progressing at an incredible rate and the world is changing so fast that even a flux capacitor couldn’t handle the time-warp we’re in. Whether you are a freshman in high school dealing with tests, homework, book reports, and being shoved through the halls from class to class, or a newly published author swimming through the quagmire of promotion to put your debut novel on the Kindle Top 100 list—we are all moving at warp speed. The bottom line is that life is stressing us out. We aren’t equipped to deal with the speed at which the world is changing.

So what’s the answer, you ask?

            I might suggest being more organized, eating right, getting enough sleep, doing some yoga, and meditating—all helpful in maintaining balance and helping us cope with the stresses in our lives. But beyond that, I think the most helpful advice I’ve found is from the wisdom of Deepak Chopra. He says, “Detach from the outcome.” What does that mean? It means that when we attach expectations to an outcome (like passing a test or achieving bestseller status), we set in motion that stress response. Our instinctual fear of the unknown kicks in, adrenalin floods our system, and we are set on the emotional roller coaster that comes with the possibility of dashed expectations. With all the uncontrollable variables and constant motion of life, none of us can guarantee what the future will bring—no matter how much we plot and plan. Whether it’s a by-product of our society or self-imposed expectation, we all inherently fear the unknown and dread failure. It’s simply part of being human.

            My understanding of “detachment from the outcome” requires that I stay present in the moment. I need to take time to enjoy my successes when they come, learn from my failures, and detach from the expectation that an event will go exactly as I had planned. This is the only way I can overcome the stress monster. I know that this is easier said than done and I assure you, it takes daily practice.

 There was a time when this had become second nature to me. I knew to breathe, live, and have my being in the moment. I had created a lifestyle that was conducive to maintaining balance. But somewhere between my decision to self-publish and diving into the sea of details required to accomplish that task, I lost sight of my ability to stay peaceful amid chaos.

So now I’ll take a breath and get back on track with taking care of myself—a necessary part of staying strong enough to beat the stress monster. I’ll do my best to eat healthy, exercise, and sleep more. But most of all, I will get back to that philosophy of detachment from the outcome. Does that mean I won’t be checking on sales reports or making lists, setting goals, or working on getting that next book out? Nope. But I will remind myself daily that NOW is all I have and I can’t get it back once it’s gone, so worrying about the outcome of things that are beyond my control will never make me happy, healthy, or sane. I’ll remind myself to breathe as often as is necessary and I’ll attack my lists one thing–one moment at a time.

Stress monster, look out!

What do you do to beat the stress monster?

Gerri Brousseau was randomly chosen as the winner of a free e-book copy of Heaven is for Heroes. Thanks you Gerri for commenting on both my posts last week here on the Scribes site and over at Market or Die.