Monday, October 8, 2018

20 Ways To Simplify Your Life


What's the most important thing you do to "simplify" your life? Are you trying to save time? Money? Make things less complicated?

I have figured out quite a few things that help me in my quest for a kinder, gentler, more simple existence.

Hopefully some of these tips will help you, too!


PERSONAL CARE


1. CLOTHES: THE UNIFORM

This one is a no-brainer for me because I don't care about clothes. At all. For those of you who do care, you may be horrified by this suggestion, but it's one of the best parts of my own personal system.

I have a summer uniform and a winter uniform.

For winter, I wear a white T-shirt and black pants. I layer that up with hoodies, cardigans, jackets, vests, etc. But the basic uniform is white T and black pants.

When I shop, I buy a bunch of the exact same item to simplify this process. So, I have about 10 short-sleeve white T-shirts from LL Bean, and 10 black pants (half are work-out pants and the other half are easy-wear black pants from J Jill).

My summer uniform is a white T-shirt and cropped linen pants. 

That's it!

Wearing a uniform makes shopping easy and dressing easy. I can get ready in the morning in under five minutes.


2. ACCESSORIZE

If you want to jazz up the uniform, accessorize. I have fun jewelry, cardigans, hair clips, etc.


3. BEAUTY REGIME

Soap.

Hee hee. I know. Crazy! But this is pretty much the extent of my beauty routine. I wear no make-up, or just minimal make-up for a night out. It takes a couple of minutes. That's it.

My soap is lemon-scented. I love lemon!

I only buy cruelty-free products for everything. Please look for the cruelty-free mark when purchasing beauty products.


4. HAIR CARE

I use various brands of shampoo/conditioner for white/gray hair--I'm not partial to any one product. I finger-comb out the snarls in the shower. My only post-shower hair product is hair cream--also various products, whatever works. If I don't use the hair cream my big curly hair turns into a frizz-ball!

I get hair cuts a couple of times a year. No more coloring appointments. This has cut down care, cost, maintenance, etc. I have embraced the white/silver/gray hairs!

My "hair styling"--if you could call it that--is either to let my curly hair down naturally, or to wear it twisted up in a clip.

Easy. Fast. Cheap.


I'M WEARING A BLUE T-SHIRT HERE! AHHHHH!


EXERCISE


5. WALK

I don't have a gym membership. Walking is the cheapest, easiest, most flexible work-out.

It's free, you can do it anywhere. You can squeeze it into any time of the day, while you are doing errands (walk to the post office), etc.

I'm pretty much obsessed with walking.


6. INDOOR EXERCISE

Okay, this is sort of embarrassing. If the weather outside is really icy or a blizzard or a monsoon or something, I walk in the house.

No, I don't have a treadmill.

I have a loop I do inside the house, from my husband's office, through the kitchen, through the living room, down the hallway, and back again.

I listen to music while I walk. The cool thing about walking inside is that I can stop and dance (I'M A 1980s GIRL!) or do strengthening exercises any time I want to and my neighbors don't look at me like I'm a nut.

Cheap, easy, no equipment necessary!



HOME AND GARDEN CARE


7. CLEANING TIPS FOR THE KITCHEN

This is probably the easiest (and most ridiculous) thing that has improved/simplified my household chores.

Make sure to run the dishwasher at night.

(Or, clean the dishes/kitchen at night).

In the morning you wake up with a clean kitchen. De-cluttering is one of the most important things to help with your mental well-being. Studies show that being surrounded by clutter in your home can greatly impact your anxiety and depression.

Turn on the music and wash the dishes. Even if you're tired!

By running the dishwasher at night, I wake up to a clean kitchen. I unload the dishes while my daughter gets ready for school, and then the dishwasher is empty and ready to be filled up during the day. Huge improvement on having dirty dishes collect all day causing more clutter.

Such a simple thing, but it totally improved my life!

I love the lemon-scented Mrs. Meyers products. I use 
the Mrs. Meyer's multi-surface every day cleaner with the lemon verbena scent. Also, the lemon verbena hand-soap.

Another helpful kitchen tip: I have a split sink, so I fill half the sink with soapy suds during the day. If I have pots/pans/anything that needs to soak, I throw them in there to make washing easier later. And the kitchen looks tidier without dirty pots all over the place.


Love the lemon-scented candle, too!


8. LAUNDRY

I start a load of laundry first thing in the morning before I go for my walk. It's ready for the dryer when I get home. This way, you get at least one load done per day.

Because I have back issues, I cannot carry super heavy laundry baskets. My new discovery (compliments of my college-age son) are these black collapsible bags. They hold a small load (not too heavy) and I can drag them around. 


9. BATHROOM

Have a little bucket of your cleaning products in the bathroom. Hide it in a cabinet or behind the toilet. I've found that if the cleaning stuff is where you need it when you need it, it gets used. If it's on the other side of the house in a closet, forget about it.

I have wipes, a bottle of Lysol spray, and Meyer's spray for quick cleans of sink, toilet, tub.


10. GROW USEFUL PLANTS

I highly recommend creating a kitchen garden if you have the space. I have a variety of herbs and fruits/veggies in our garden. It's wonderful to be able to step outside, trim a bunch of fresh basil, and use it while cooking dinner. We harvested bowls and bowls of fresh raspberries this summer. Having a kitchen garden simplifies your weekly shopping and opens up a whole new culinary world! 

Herbs are basically weeds. They are SUPER easy to grow. Some of my favorites include basil, mint, oregano, lemon balm, lemon verbena, edible flowers (like Johnny Jump-Ups and Nasturtiums), and chives. Favorite veggies include English peas, radishes, pumpkins, tomatoes, eggplant, and hot peppers.

My kitchen garden is very low-maintenance. I hardly ever weed and let things get a little bit wild. Everything still tastes good!


We had an early summer batch and late summer batch. Yum!


11. GROW BEAUTIFUL FLOWERS/SHRUBS/TREES

One of my favorite things is to meander around my yard and collect flowers for a lovely (free) bouquet for the house.

Favorite plants include hydrangeas, ornamental grasses, peonies, herbs, flowering trees.


Bouquet picked from my front yard!

12. WEEDING

Worst part of taking care of the garden: WEEDING. Ugh!

My way of dealing with this...relax your expectations. It's okay if you have a few weeds in the garden. No one will die.

If I have the time/inclination to weed (ha!), I pick a small chunk to work on so I am not overwhelmed. Making small goals/tasks in the garden will keep the stress down.

You can also decrease the need to weed by covering spots with ground covers, herbs, mulch, etc. Simplify your life!


ORGANIZATION


13. Daily Planner

Some folks have a planner on-line, some use a cute little journal. I have washi tape, stickers, colored markers for fun. Whatever floats your boat! I use my journal for these things:

**Daily schedule, including appointments
**Food journal
**Exercise journal
**Inspiration for writing projects
**Morning start-up routine

What is the "morning start-up routine?" At the top of each day I have these things written on the banner...

MAKE BED...PILLS...CLEAN...LAUNDRY...WALK

I check them off as they get finished. Once these things are done, I'm ready to start my day. I always feel better mentally when the bed is made (our bedroom is on the first floor, so people can see it...no hiding the messy bedroom), the kitchen and bathroom are quick-cleaned, and laundry is started. For my health, I take my heart pills and go for a walk.

Five things done each morning. This structure helps with my peace of mind immensely.





14. LISTS

Some people hate lists. It adds to their anxiety. For me, it's the opposite. I have weekly lists (goals), monthly, yearly (long-term), and sheets for each member of the family. This helps me to keep on top of medical appointments for everyone, school/camp schedules, conferences, etc.

I also do a separate sheet for writing/publishing goals and a schedule for this.

I have all the sheets in a clipboard next to my desk.

I LOVE checking things off the list. BEST FEELING EVER!


15. STRUCTURE

Having a regular schedule can be a huge stress-buster. I used to do this for weekly dinners...Monday (chicken), Tuesday (pasta), Wednesday (quesadilla), Thursday (vegetarian), Friday (soup/salad/sandwich night), etc. It made grocery-shopping easier, and evenings more relaxed. I wasn't running around like a nut trying to plan, shop, and cook meals.


16. PRINTABLE SHOPPING LIST

To make sure your fridge, freezer, and pantry are stocked with all your favorites and go-to products, make a master list and save it on your computer. Print up a copy each week and circle the stuff you need to purchase.

It only takes about 15 minutes to create, and it will save you time and make you less forgetful.


17. SUNDAY CATCH-UP DAY

Sunday is catch-up day and prep for the week. This simplifies your weekly schedule and combats stress.

**Try to finish up all loads laundry. It's nice to start the week with a bunch of clean clothes!

**Clean out fridge and pantry.

**Plan meals. Grocery shop for the week.

**Do some meal prep. I will hard-boil eggs, make a few containers of chopped veggies for snacks/salads. Chop up fruit in containers for my vegetarian daughter. All this stuff makes weekly mornings flow better.

**Are you on a diet? Try this! I have a shelf in my fridge filled with healthy snacks so when you find yourself totally starved, you have healthy options ready to go. This shelf includes cheese sticks, hummus, yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, containers of crunchy veggies, and buttermilk ranch dressing for dipping.


18. CASH-ONLY EXISTENCE

I've started this trend since my daughter enrolled in private school. If you attempt to use cash to pay for things (vs. credit cards), it will make you more mindful of each purchase. Do I really need this [fill-in-the-blank]? 

My husband and I are astounded by how much money we have saved this year. 

I still use my credit cards, but much more judiciously than I used to. 

Try this for a month and see what happens!


HYGGE


19. NATURE

I try to incorporate the Danish concept of "Hygge" (being cozy, happy, leading a mindful simple life) into my every day schedule. 

The  most important thing for me...nature. Favorite activity: walking in the woods. If I don't have time for this, I might collect flowers, visit a plant nursery, spend a few minutes looking at birds in the neighborhood, even weeding the garden helps! I just need to connect to nature for a few minutes to keep me in my zen place. This is simple, cheap, easy, and guaranteed to improve your emotional well-being. Those Danes know what they're talking about!




20. DAILY HYGGE

What's a simple way to ensure you are taking good care of yourself each day?

Add HYGGE onto your daily to-do list!

To combat the long to-do list filled with errands and chores, I make sure to include something on my list every day that is just for me, something that makes me happy. It can be a small and simple thing...splurging on a flower bouquet at the market, having coffee with a friend, a walk on the Audubon trail. It doesn't need to be expensive or complicated. It's simple self-care.


One thing I have noticed over the years...just when I think I have things figured out, something changes and my plans for simplification no longer work. You have to be flexible! Especially as your kids grow and change. That's the biggest adjustment.

Figuring out what works for you and maintaining a system can be a life-saver.


HAPPY SIMPLE LIVING TO ALL!

Best,

Nina

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Books on the Horizon


Some books on my to-be-read pile, with links...

LOVE LIKE SKY by Leslie C. Youngblood...middle-grade novel

SALEM'S LOT by Stephen King...horror novel (this is for my Halloween read)




I've had a hankering for books about Alaska. Here is a partial list of recommendations from a Facebook post. This list includes fiction, non-fiction, etc...

#1 Recommendation was for 
THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah



MURDER ON THE LAST FRONTIER by Cathy Pegau (this one looks very appealing to me, high up on my TBR pile)


TWO IN THE FAR NORTH by Margaret Murie


COLD STORAGE, ALASKA by John Straley





THE SNOW CHILD by Eowyn Ivey


TRAVELS IN ALASKA by John Muir


SITKA by Louis L'Amour



THE ALASKAN LAUNDRY by Brendan Jones


THIS COLD HEAVEN by Gretel Ehrlich (Greenland not Alaska, but still looks amazing)




COURAGE, AND SURVIVAL by Velma Wallis



THE SIMPLE WILD by K.A. Tucker


NORTHERN LIGHTS by Nora Roberts




I also just read a lovely ARC for a holiday romance. Will post a review soon.

Other recent reads I enjoyed...

THE POSTMAN ALWAYS DIES TWICE by Zara Keane (cozy mystery)

AROUND THE WRITER'S BLOCK by Rosanne Bane (writing manual)

TRACE by Archer Mayor (mystery)


Happy Reading To All!

xoxoxo

Nina/Penny

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Great Experiment


The Great Experiment


I would like to invite you along for the ride as I attempt my "Great Experiment!"

What is "The Great Experiment?"

Well, first a little background for those of you who don't know me.

The most important things to me as an author are writing unique, one-of-a-kind fiction--the quirkier the better--and trying new things creatively. I like to set up writing challenges for myself as I embark on each new project. 

They are craft-related goals.

I'll try writing a different genre, experimenting with a new format, change up POVs, blend storylines in a novel. I try to do something totally different creatively and push myself as a writer.

Example: A few years ago, I decided to write a romance with characters in their late 50s/early 60s--not common at that time, and in fact the characters were considered way too old and not appropriate for romance. That was a challenge I couldn't pass up. I also made the couple fairly unlikable characters, and attempted a short-format as an added test. Could I make readers root for this couple by the end of the book? Believe their love story? And accomplish that with 21,000-words?

Could I do it?

I really had no idea, but the challenge was worth the risk and fun to boot.

Shockingly, APPLES SHOULD BE RED did extremely well. It's not for everyone, but the unexpected aspect got it attention and it received many excellent reviews, awards, even a potential film deal, etc.

That was an experiment with a happy ending. (In the matter of complete transparency, I've attempted many projects that failed and have ended up in the trash bin. As one does).

My outside-the-box thinking also applies to marketing/promotion. I am not interested in "playing the game" as far as typical promotion/marketing/branding. Believe me, as an introvert extraordinaire, if I could reinvigorate the "Hermit Model for Authors"--living alone in a shack in the woods--I would be all over that. 

As I came to terms with these truths about my own personality, I realized that the "stuff authors should do"--at least for genre fiction--is not a good fit for me. Most of these things make me uncomfortable.

The list includes aggressive promotion, writing-to-market, joining secret author groups that offer the "holy grail" (HOW TO MAKE A BESTSELLER LIST), attending huge reader events, and so on.

I decided I wanted to make a new publishing model for myself that focused on personal connections with other authors and readers, in smaller, more intimate groups. Not based on the need to sell/make money, but for authentic friendships to form. I also wanted to make connections with a more eclectic group of people, including scientists, artists, musicians. Creative and curious people in all different types of professions/with various interests.

I know, this strategy is sucky if you're trying to make tons of money. But if you're just trying to be happy and creatively fulfilled--which are my personal goals--it's a good plan. 

What I'm wondering now is this...if you don't "play the game" and follow these lists, if you try something totally outside-of-the-box, can you still find an audience and a modicum of success?


Here is my overall game plan for this publishing experiment...


1. Minimal social media accounts.

2. No street team. 

3. Speaking engagements: yes (especially small groups...super fun for me). Book readings: Yes (that's my favorite). Huge reader events: No.

4. Focus on unique fiction, original material.

5. Focus on stand-alone books.

6. No writing groups/loops focused on marketing/promotion.

7. "Small Batch Whiskey" model for sales/branding. High quality, small batch, unique one-of-a-kind product, and focus on connecting with small groups not massive followings.

8. Home-grown website.

9. Authentic branding.

10. No author/reader groups.


Yes, I'm an introvert. WHY DID HERMIT WRITERS GO OUT OF STYLE?


Don't bother me...I'm in my shell!

Current goals...

1. Finish BLUE, which is so far out of the box it probably needs a new galaxy.

2. Upon completion of book...Query agents/publishers. I had a small publisher when I first started writing, then branched into self-publishing. I think this book would do well with a more traditional approach. Worth a try, and if not, I can self-pub it.

3. I have a very unique plan for promotion, which I'll discuss as it happens. 

4. Continue to do things that make me happy...give workshops about self-care for authors, craft, etc. Travel. Meet new people.

5. FLEXIBILITY in terms of work/life balance. If my family needs me, they come first.  

So, this is the experiment. I made up my own rules of engagement. Will this work?

I have no freakin' idea, but it's worth a try.

For those of you playing at home, you can follow me on this blog/website for updates. I'll try to post on Mondays with an update for the week. I also have wonderful interactions on Facebook, pretty much the last-man-standing for my social media accounts. Friend me there if you're so inclined.

I would love to hear about your goals, achievements, and progress. Join me here to share. Are you creating a tailor-made plan for you? Are you following a more traditional path on your writing/publication journey? Let's chat. 

Share your weekly goals and let us know how you're doing, what's working/not working. WHAT'S YOUR EXPERIMENT?

Thanks for following along...

Nina


P.S. First Week of Updates

1. Status of BLUE: at approximately 10,500 words

2. Work on edits for existing sections, add new section switching POV from boy to girl. 

3. For folks interested in a sneak peek at BLUE, here's a link.

4. Hygge goal for the week: Make miniature terrariums with ferns/moss donated by neighbor.

GOOD LUCK TO EVERYONE WITH CREATIVE GOALS, PROJECTS, AND LIFE! xoxoxoxo



Saturday, September 15, 2018

Overcoming Professional Jealousy


Here's a topic that is uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing and can be utterly debilitating.

It's also something that is widely prevalent in publishing although seldom spoken about.

Unless you are living the existence of a "hermit" writer--perhaps living in a shack in the woods with no Internet service, maybe a small herb garden, and perhaps a couple of wiener dogs...

(Sorry, I got side-tracked by my fantasy life!)

...you are aware of other authors.

In fact, once you get going with marketing/promotion you realize that comparing yourself to others is actually part of the process.

Who are your "comps?"

That's how publishing companies market you. They compare you to similar authors and market you accordingly.

The downside of this is that you are in danger of having your ego crushed when you discover that similar authors sell more/have better reviews/win awards/[FILL IN THE BLANK ABOUT ANYTHING THAT MAKES YOU FEEL BADLY ABOUT YOURSELF]. 

This is professional jealousy.

This can affect your motivation to write.

Or even to continue with this career.

This is especially an issue in romance publishing where everyone is writing the same themes/tropes, copying each other, jumping on trends. Writing "unique" fiction is not the end-game, which was explained to me in condescending fashion by an agent many years ago.

It's all about the comps.

So, what to do?

First of all, don't feel guilty. It's natural to compare yourself to others, and it's normal to sometimes feel envious of other peoples' success.

But this is the thing you have to remember...

Other people may write the same genre, or have similar interests/branding/series, etc., but no one else can write your book but you.

That's what you have.


YOU ARE THE ONLY PERSON WHO CAN WRITE YOUR BOOK.

THE ONLY ONE.

That's it. That's what you own. Your story. Other authors might write similar things, even the exact same topic, but only YOU can write YOUR story.

No one else is you. Want to be yourself, not others. Want to write YOUR stories, not someone else's.

Your story is your power. Don't give it up.

Wise words from an old hermit writer...

xoxoxo

Nina

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

New Ruts in the Road


I realized something this summer.

Writing romance is a default setting for me.

What does this mean?

It means that it has become a habit. When I start writing, I easily slip into alternating hero POV/heroine POV, banter/dialogue, focusing on their relationship. Creating setting as texture. The writing flows easily. It's second nature, uncomplicated, effortless.

The writing has always been the easy part for me.

It's the thinking/planning that's tough.

Writing romance is painless. I've been doing it for twenty years, and so yes...it's easy. It's habit. It's my default setting.

I spent months and months working on my current WIP--which is NOT romance--and it became a hellacious struggle.

I couldn't figure out why. Writing the words is usually not such a challenge. But the structure for this book is different, the themes are more subtle. I have a lot more decisions to make. Those decisions were taken out of my hands when I wrote romance.

This summer when I attempted to work on a romance story...voilà! 4000 words popped right out without a sweat.

Forming a 20-year habit means that I have brain pathways that have become extremely ingrained. They are ruts in the road. 

It's tough to make a new path when ruts are already there.

It's also tough to figure out a new writing process when one is already in place.

I'm 52-years-old. I'm forcing myself to make new pathways. I'm forcing myself to find a new process. I'm working on a totally different type of fiction, and there is no default setting for this.

It's all new.

Some days I think about how easy it would be to just chuck this project and go back to romance.

Pop out that word count without batting an eyelash.

But this challenge is good for me as a writer. It's also good for my brain.

I am forcing myself to make new ruts in the road, bushwhacking a new path.

I can do it. But damn, it's hard.

Using this Stephen King quote as inspiration right now...


In the meantime, I did a little re-write for Henry Miller's Daily Program and 11 Commandments. I adjusted it for a mom with kids.

Here's my personal take on his approach...


Henry Miller Daily Program

Mornings: 

Henry Miller: If groggy, type notes and allocate. If in fine fettle, write.

Me: Get daughter up and drive her to bus stop.

Get organized for the day: make bed, clean kitchen, start laundry, etc.

Walk. Think about work-in-progress while walking. Make plans for next section. BRAIN-STORM! Walk Time = Brainstorm Time.

Write FRESH WORDS. Aim for 1-2 hours of fresh writing. (This is my best time of day for brain to work creatively).

Afternoon:

Henry Miller: Work on section at hand, no intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.

What I like about HM's approach...I also like finishing one section at a time before I move on. I need that part settled and fairly well-edited before I can move on to the next section.

However, my brain is not always up for FRESH WORDS in the afternoon...

Me: Do low-brain-capacity errands/chores. Go to post office, pay bills, fold laundry, shop/prep/cook dinner.

For writing: Re-read morning section, do edits, take notes. Possibly work on alternate WIP if I need a creative bump.

MAKE PLAN FOR NEXT DAY WRITING. Think of next scene, section. Do edits/clean up writing. Take notes for next section.

Pick up daughter at bus stop.

Evenings:

Henry Miller: See friends, read, explore, bicycle. Write if you're in the mood. Paint, make notes, corrections.

His extra note: Make time to visit museums, bike rides, sketch, library once a week for research, CUT OUT MOVIES. (hee hee! I think movie-watching was his weakness)

What I like about this: I think it's CRUCIAL to have a life and do things that spur on creativity. Like seeing people, enjoying art/engaging in other creative outlets, travel, trying new things. YES TO ALL OF THIS!

Me: Evening is for family, down-time.

Have dinner, finish household chores. Read, walk again. Walk dog if she's willing. Socialize with friends. Sleep early if possible.


Henry Miller 11 Commandments

1. HM: Work on one thing at a time until it's finished.

Me: I've discovered that working on a secondary WIP in the afternoon is a good break/reinvigorates my creative well. 

2. HM: Don't start a new book.

Me: Agree. I am trying to focus on primary WIP, and back-up project only as needed.

3. HM: Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.

Me: I LOVE EVERY BIT OF THIS ADVICE. THE BEST!

4. HM: Work on program, not according to mood. Stop at appointed time.

Me: Disagree with this. If you have a family, it's almost impossible. Be flexible. If family needs/health needs crop up, that's okay. If you're exhausted, the words aren't flowing, that's okay. Do other things. If the words are flowing, keep going.

5. HM: When you can't create, you can work.

Me: Excellent advice. Yes. You can still take notes, do research, work on promo, etc.

6. HM: Cement a little every day, rather than adding new fertilizers.

Me: I like this. Tighten up your manuscript/edit as you go along instead of adding tons of new raw words. I like this a lot because it means your manuscript is in fairly decent shape at the end instead of needing tons of edits/revisions.

7. HM: Keep human. See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.

Me: YES YES YES. Drink beer on weekends.

8. HM: Don't be a draught-horse. Work with pleasure only.

Me: This is so true for me. The magic happens with joyful writing not forced word count.

9. HM: Discard program when you feel like it, but go back the next day. 

Me: Good advice.

10. HM: Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.

Me: Slightly disagree. If you have creative inspiration for something, take notes and keep a file folder for later on.

11. HM: Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, come later.

Me: I don't completely agree with this. Sometimes you need these things to replenish the creative well and then the writing flows better. Trying to force words when they're not happening is like lying in bed trying to force yourself to sleep when you have insomnia. Sometimes it's just not happening. That's okay. Do something else for a bit.


I would love to hear from all of you! What do you think about Henry Miller's advice? Is it important to stay a bit flexible?

Have any of you worked on establishing new brain pathways for your writing?

Let's chat!

xoxoxo

Nina/Penny