Category Archives: Success

The Power of Being (I’m not procrastinating…I’m preparing)

Hello Scribes friends,

PJ Sharon here. Some of you may not know this about me, but I can be a bit lazy. I know—you’re thinking, “No way, PJ. Not you! You’re so motivated and productive!” Um…not really. Looking at the big picture, I do seem to manage to keep a pretty steady schedule, meet my goals on a regular basis, and take care of my daily responsibilities while maintaining a fairly decent attitude, so I guess I’m not a total slacker. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that anything I do accomplish is because I know myself well enough to make my goals achievable and realistic, I accept my limitations as an imperfect human being, and I plan accordingly. Being a natural multi-tasker and somewhat disciplined helps too, but these days, I’m less rigid and a much nicer boss to work for.

With my writing, I try to push new limits, set appropriate deadlines,  and stay challenged–since I know these are what motivate me to stay on task–but it would be foolish and self-defeating to expect more from myself than I want to give. You have to want success…and you have to want it bad! And you need to ask yourself, “What am I willing to give up to achieve it?”

Admittedly, I’ve given up a lot to get where I am. But certain things–like time with my granddaughter and at least one day off a week, are now higher on my priorities list. What I also won’t compromise on is exercise. I commit myself to doing 30 minutes a day, five days a week because I know the payoff is totally worth it! When I’m strong, fit, and happy, I feel like I can handle anything that comes my way. If my schedule gets crazy, I let myself off the hook for a day or two, but then I’m back at it. The same applies to diet and nutrition. I’m not as rigid as I once was, but I try to eat high quality, nutrient dense foods that properly fuel my body. I like chocolate and pie as much as the next girl, but I believe in the 80/20 approach to everything. If I’m doing the right thing 80% of the time, I can slack off 20% of the time and I’ll probably be okay. Yay…pie!

For me, first and foremost, my mental and physical well-being are my priorities, and stressing out about what I’m NOT accomplishing only serves to make me feel overwhelmed and down on myself. It has become clear to me that my to-do list will never be done and that if I want to keep my sanity, I have to focus on just a few daily tasks that keep me moving toward my overall goals. It might take me longer to get there, but it’s not a race for me anymore. I’m in it for the long haul, so pacing myself is key to staying the course.

If goal setting isn’t your strong suit, here’s a great article to help you get on track and stay there.

Could I accomplish way more if I didn’t watch twenty hours of television per week or spend time gazing out the window at the lilac buds sprouting? scent of spring Maybe I could shave ten or fifteen minutes off my overly-lengthy shower time, or possibly I could sleep less. It seems changing even a few of these “recreational” behaviors would lead to a tremendous increase in my productivity. Then, maybe I could write five books in a year or spend another twenty hours a week promoting my butt off. After all, I do understand that the success of my business depends on me and how hard I’m willing to work. But how hard I’m willing to work today may be different from what it was two years ago, and will likely be different again a month from now. We each have to decide what’s important to us.

It comes down to perspective and priorities. In my opinion, none of those “recreational” activities are a total waste of my time. One could even argue that I am more productive because I’m living a balanced lifestyle. A full night’s sleep–when I can get it–is an essential tool for weight management, stress reduction, and overall health. I need at least 6-8 hours a night to remain productive and happy. Staying up late to write that blog that’s due in the morning, or waking at the crack of dawn to sneak in some “quality” writing time may help me check off a few to-do’s, but it’s going to leave me cranky and tired, and increase my susceptibility to illness. That’s not worth the trade for me at this point in life. Maybe some of you can live on five hours of sleep, but I’m betting it catches up with you eventually.

As for the apparent television addiction, I do try to limit my viewing to “must see” shows that give me the most enjoyment. I’m not a total hedonist! I TiVo my favorites and dole them out throughout the week as reward for accomplishing my tasks for the day. Getting lost in my favorite shows not only helps me decompress after a full day of massage work or long hours at the computer, it activates my creative brain. I’m constantly analyzing and deconstructing what I watch. I’m looking at story structure, dialogue, characterization, metaphor, etc. My mind is being entertained, but I’m also in my writer’s brain and learning.

The long hot showers, which some may argue are a luxury and a waste of not only water and resources, but are a self-indulgence. I assure you, they are a necessity for me. There are many challenges in daily life, and few “inexpensive” luxuries for most of us. If spending a half hour in the shower (where I do a stretching routine to treat my arthritic neck and back) relaxes me and reduces my pain, then so be it. I’ll take every little bit of relief I can get. Besides, my shower time is the most creative and productive time of my day as far as I’m concerned. It’s like a cup of tea, a soothing massage, and an opportunity to let my thoughts flow freely without my internal editor alarms ringing, all rolled into one.  My best ideas and snappiest lines of dialogue come to me while standing under a piping hot shower. I’ve also been known to belt out a few tunes while I’m there. Singing elevates my mood, clears my lungs, and centers me. It helps me shift from my right sided “business” brain to my left sided “creative” brain so I can get those 1,000 words on the page. The long hot shower is staying!

So, what about the inordinate amount of time I spend staring out the window, walking around my yard to see what’s coming into bloom, or simply sitting on my front porch with a hot cup of tea, paying attention to my breathing for a few minutes and taking time to be grateful for the multitude of gifts I have in my life? Am I procrastinating?

Maybe, but these moments too, are priceless. When I’m not actually writing, I’m usually preparing to write. I’m processing my next scene or coming up with some brilliant twist to my plot. As a writer, my brain is always processing some bit of information that will ultimately lead me to where I need to be on the page.

What it comes down to for me is that I’m a human being first, and a writer second. I NEED to stay connected to my higher self–the part of me that knows how to live in the moment and appreciates the power of just being.teens prayers5 (2013_02_16 17_00_55 UTC) That’s the part of me that inspired me to write in the first place and continues to be the well from which I draw my best work. Whether it’s called prayer or meditation…or just plain daydreaming, we all need it on some level.

I know that nothing can substitute for diligence, consistency in getting those daily word counts on the page, or putting in the overtime, but these quiet moments of stillness and reflection are essential to my sanity and well-being. I know this to be true about myself. Perhaps it’s just an excuse to be lazy or to procrastinate, but I prefer to think of it as “preparing” the soil. The fertile ground of productivity is only as good as what you feed into it. So next time you start to feel guilty for daydreaming instead of writing, or taking a day off to hit the beach, don’t look at it as “slacking”. Consider it part of the process. Tomorrow is another day and there is always more work to be done. Today, take a moment to reconnect to what nurtures and feeds your soul. You may be slightly less productive on paper, but you’ll be happier and more balanced in the long run.

Namaste!

PJ

What are your best “self-care” indulgences? What fuels your muse? What have you done for you lately?

My Three-Year Journey to the 10K Cake Club

spice-cake-su-1673099-lIf you’ve never heard of the 10K Cake Club, it’s the name given to that elusive group of authors who reach the milestone of selling 10,000 copies of their book(s). Now, given that statistically, most authors will never sell more than a hundred copies (no kidding), reaching this milestone is an amazing feat. But we all know how numbers and milestones are relative, and our own expectations can often derail even the most wonderful achievements.

PJ Sharon here, celebrating with you, my dear friends, my three years as an independently published author. I released my debut novel, HEAVEN is for HEROES in September of 2011. (In celebration, I’m giving away an audiobook copy of HIFH over on my website blog. Stop by and leave a comment to enter and feel free to share the post with friends on FB or Twitter. Contest ends September 30th at midnight. )HIFH_audiobookcover (2013_06_07 00_53_00 UTC)

Now, I recall being asked, while on a panel of Indie authors, what my sales goals were as a newly self-published author. At the time, self-publishing was on the rise, Indies were on fire, and sales were through the roof for newcomers. Being the ambitious and overachieving sort, I replied with confidence that I wanted to sell 10,000 copies a year, netting me about a $20,000 dollar a year paycheck from my writing–what I saw as realistic and an amount that would make all the hard work worth the effort.

This was a reasonable goal, but one that I soon found was more or less beyond my control to achieve. I did not foresee the effects of market saturation, the need for endless promotion, or the ever-changing Amazon algorithms that would make it nearly impossible to gain traction on the discoverability front. Basically, I could not have predicted the “luck” factor.

When, in the first year, I sold over 5,000 books (I had three titles out by then), I was not unhappy with my results. After all, goals are merely guidelines…a star to shoot for. But in the second year, when I had the brilliant idea to switch from Contemporary YA to writing a Dystopian trilogy, and sales dipped to half of what they did the first year, let’s just say I was less than thrilled with the results of my ongoing efforts. I shuddered to consider my hourly wage as a writer and decided it was best to stop looking at daily sales reports, screaming into the wind about my books, and beating my head against a wall trying to figure out what the heck the secret to success actually was.

My third year hasn’t been any more profitable than the previous two, despite the fact that I–at the suggestion of Indie superstar Bella Andre no less– went back and wrote another Contemporary YA. In fact, I’ve spent more on covers, editing and formatting on PIECES of LOVE than I have on any of my others simply because I’m trying to compete in the market and feel that others do a better job of these things than I can do myself. Added in is the cost of producing a theme song for POL (thinking that this might be a novel idea and help with sales, but has as yet, not appeared to make any difference at all). With production costs up and sales down (thanks to Kindle Unlimited and the insane amount of new product coming into the market), I’ll be lucky to recoup my costs over the next year.

I’m hopeful that once I finish the Dystopian trilogy, add a boxed set or two to my cybershelf, and get back on the promotional wagon in 2015, that I might see some real return on my investment.

Lest you think that any of this is sour grapes on my part, think again.

I went into this with eyes open that it would be a LOT of hard work, gave myself five years to turn a consistent profit (this is typical for any new business), and expected that there would be a steep–and ever-changing–learning curve. I’ve had to adjust my expectations for financial success, but am hopeful that with perseverance, the pay-off will be worth the continued effort. This is, after all, my retirement plan, and being that I have another fifteen years until retirement, I’ve got plenty of time to make it happen, right?

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that success is measured in many ways. Positive reviews and happy readers who are excitedly awaiting my next release are priceless in the grand scheme of things. Knowing that over two and a half million readers have enjoyed SAVAGE CINDERELLA on Wattpad thrills me beyond words. And the awards and accolades for my books tell me that I’m doing something right. Reader reviews continue to average 4.5 stars across the board.

Another important lesson for me–one that continues to be challenged daily–is about finding balance. I worked around the clock that first year and a half, typically putting in 80 hours a week between my two jobs. I finally decided this past year to set myself a schedule. Knowing that I need to work my day job at least 20-30 hours a week to earn a  guaranteed paycheck to cover expenses, I set a limit on my writing/publishing time to 25-30 hours a week. Perhaps that’s partially to blame for the decrease in sales numbers, but I will say, I’m much happier and healthier these days. Time with family and time to take care of myself are far more important to me than sales figures and financial gain. If I’m in this for the long haul, that’s the way it has to be. I’m good with that.

It’s taken me three times longer than expected–and I’ve stopped comparing myself to others who have done it seemingly effortlessly–but I’ve finally made it into the 10K Cake Club.

Cake and ice cream all around! And perhaps a bottle or two of wine…

What milestone can you celebrate today? I hate to eat cake alone.

Harlequin’s Search for a Killer Voice

Announcing! The Search for a Killer Voice!

This is Katy Lee, and as many of you know, I sold to Love Inspired Suspense on one of their pitch contests. I have since gone on to sell two more books and hopefully many, many more to come. Seeing as I am a “success” with these contests, I can’t help but be a cheerleader for the latest and greatest contest, The Search for the Killer Voice. If you are an Inspirational Romantic Suspense writer, I do hope you will give it a shot and send your first page in.

Now, here are the details:

The Search for a Killer Voice photo

Love Inspired Suspense is on the search for some new superstar authors, and we want you! If you think you’ve got the chops to wow us with your high intensity, fast paced inspirational romantic suspense manuscript, we encourage you to pitch it to us in The Search for a Killer Voice!

For this pitch opportunity, Love Inspired Suspense editors Emily RodmellElizabeth MazerShana AsaroGiselle Regus and Emily Krupin will be on the lookout for fresh talent. We invite you to show us that you’re the total package in these four stages:

1. Voice—Demonstrate that you’ve got the voice to keep readers on the edge of their seats by submitting your first page. Authors who wow us will move on to Stage 2.
2. Plot—Show us that your plotting skills are as strong as your voice by submitting your synopsis. Authors that have an amazing plot and conflict will move on to Stage 3.
3. Substance—Prove that the first page wasn’t a fluke by offering us a bit more of what you got and submitting three chapters. Authors who keep the story racing along will move on to Stage 4.
4. Full package—Convince us you’re the real deal by submitting your full manuscript. The sky’s the limit for these authors. A contract could be within your reach if you bring it all together into a rockin’ Love Inspired Suspense manuscript.

If you make it through, you could be the next contracted author for Love Inspired Suspense. But we won’t leave you to do it all on your own. We’ll be sharing helpful master class blog posts along the way telling you exactly what is required in a “killer” Love Inspired Suspense manuscript. And once we decide who will be getting a synopsis request, each editor will choose a team of authors. So you’ll know exactly who is looking at your book throughout the stages, and you can ask questions on our individual bio threads. Every author who makes it to stage 4 will receive an initial decision (contract, reject or revision request) on their submissions by August 8.

Here’s our timeline: 
ROUND ONE
February 12
 – START WITH A BANG round. Submit the first page of your inspirational romantic suspense manuscript targeted toward Love Inspired Suspense to LISPitch2014@harlequin.ca from today until March 14.
March 14 – All first pages must be in house. Editorial team will review the entries over the next 2 weeks and choose the most exciting voices to move on to the next stage.

ROUND TWO
March 28
 – HOLD ON TIGHT round. Editors will announce which entries will be moving on to the next round. Chosen entries will be selected by the 5 editors to form our teams. The authors on the teams will be invited to submit their synopsis by April 7 to the email box.
April 7 – All synopses must be in house. Editors will review the submissions from their team over the next 3 weeks and choose the ones whose plots back up the potential in their voice to move on to the next stage.

ROUND THREE
April 28
 – REEL US IN round. Editors will review the synopses and announce which authors on our teams will be going to the next round. Qualifying authors will be invited to submit their first three chapters.
May 8 – All entries of the first three chapters must be in house. Editors will review the submissions from their team over the next 3 weeks and narrow down the ones that maintain the intensity we saw in the first page to move on to the final stage.

ROUND FOUR
May 29
 – SEAL THE DEAL round. Editors will announce which of our team members will be going on to the final round. Qualifying authors will be invited to submit their complete manuscript. Authors who are not moving on will privately receive personalized feedback. Authors who are moving on will have until June 9 to submit their full manuscripts.
June 9 – All full manuscripts must be in house. Editors will review the submissions from their team and decide next steps. During the next 60 days, decisions will be made to contract, send a revision letter, or reject each of the stories. All authors who submit full manuscripts will receive notification of our decision within this time frame.

FINAL RESULTS!!
August 8
 – We will announce the results of the pitch in a blog post that wraps up the pitch, shares our thoughts on the highs and lows, highlights any sales and gives stats on the results for the full manuscript submissions.

Sound exciting? If you think you could rock this pitch, get ready to show us your stuff. Read our team bios, the info on formatting guidelines, and the blog on an amazing first page, then start those books. Be sure to follow the guidelines for Love Inspired Suspense. Only one entry per author, please. Deadlines are tight, so keep writing while you’re waiting to hear back. And if your book is complete now, don’t forget to tell us in your email. You never know. We might want to pounce on your killer voice right away.  Ready, set, GO!

Tough Love

Hello, Scribes Readers, PJ Sharon here, and today I’m talking about tough love. This is the time of year that many of us are setting goals, working on business plans, re-evaluating our marketing strategies and generally attempting to lasso and tame this wild thing we call the “writer’s life”. Even with the best of intentions, most of the resolutions we make fall by the wayside and our ambitious goal setting can make us feel overwhelmed rather than hopeful for the new year.

Don’t get me wrong. I love goal setting, and my plate is as full of to-do’s as it ever has been, but instead of sharing my lofty aspirations with you all, I’d rather discuss how we go about sticking to our plan and meeting those goals. You’ve probably read a ton of blogs on goal setting, with such advice as making them manageable, measurable, and achievable. Great advice, for sure. But for today, I’d like to offer some coaching advice from an expert–no, not me.

Jillian Michaels (2013_06_02 01_59_31 UTC)My girl, Jillian Michaels, is one of the best motivators I’ve ever come across. I don’t often watch The Biggest Loser, but I know from personal experience that her training methods are effective. Through her 90 Day Body Revolution DVD set–which I bought last year around this time in hopes of shedding the weight I’d gained living the writer’s life–I was able to drop twenty-five pounds in about five months. Yes, I had to eat healthier and the workouts are brutal, but they’re only thirty minutes a day, five days a week…a small price to pay for a strong, healthy body, in my opinion. I figured I could do anything for thirty minutes a day and I knew the pay-off would be worth it. I reminded myself that I was worth it!

As a personal trainer myself, I quickly learned to appreciate Jillian’s tough love approach. Even when I want to swear at the TV, her passion and positive messages of encouragement continue to push me through every workout. Statements like, “Do your best,” “Just try one,” “Don’t you quit on me–don’t you quit on yourself,” “I know you can do this,” “Dig deep and find the strength you never knew you had,” and my favorite, “Focus on the why–why are you doing this?” She lists the common reasons why people want to be more fit, such as better health, longevity, skinny jeans, and sex with the light on, but the bottom line is that we all have a “why” when it comes to being driven toward a goal. If you focus on the “why”, you will tolerate any amount of torturous “how”.

Last week’s guest, Amy Denim, author of THE COFFEE BREAK BUSINESS PLAN for WRITERS, talked about creating a muse statement, a positive affirmation that sums up who you are and what you want for your writing career. (Here’s the link to the post if you missed it). I highly recommend that you start your new year by doing just that, and when you’re writing that statement, think about your “why”. Why do you write? What do you want to accomplish in your writing career? Why do you want it? How important is it to you? And what are you willing to do to get it?

Today’s Unlocked Secret: When you start to feel overwhelmed by the tasks at hand or are questioning if the time and work you’re investing in your writing life is worth it, read your muse statement and remember your “why”. Then, dig deep and find the strength you never knew you had, and tackle that next goal.

What motivates you to keep going when the going gets tough?

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.