Friday, June 24, 2016

Author Self-Care Tips

I often see authors talking about depression, anxiety, and other issues they are struggling with on a daily basis.

Working at home as a writer can be really difficult. It's isolating. It can be lonely, physically exhausting, and emotionally exhausting.

I have a few personal tips that have helped me, and I thought I would discuss them today.

1. Keep the lights on!

As soon as my husband went off to work, and the kids were off to school, I used to turn out all the household lights to save on the electric bill. I only kept on my office lights. But I noticed something. The darkness was oppressive and melancholy--especially during the winter months when there was very little natural light/sunshine entering the house.

I tried a little experiment. I kept on the kitchen and living room lights. It made a huge difference in my mood. When you're trapped in the house all day writing, your space is very important. If it's cluttered, you feel unsettled. If it's dark, you feel down. I noticed right away that my mood improved when I was surrounded by light vs. darkness. That sounds melodramatic, doesn't it? Hee hee. Well, it really worked. Try it!

2. Put the food away.

If you're trying to diet/stay healthy and work from home, it's tough when the kitchen is always five steps away. Also, food can be a distraction when you're trying to get work done. My kids have bags of chips and cookies everywhere. It's way too easy to grab a handful of potato chips when the bag is lying open on the kitchen counter.

I make a point to clean up the main kitchen island. The only thing allowed on there is a bowl of fruit. All cookies, chips, and other snacks must be wrapped up and put away in the pantry. Out of sight, out of mind. No more mindless snacking.

Just because you are working at home does not mean you need to eat constantly. And when you *are* hungry, it's good to have healthy snacks ready to go. Plenty of fruits, vegetables, and good protein will keep your mood elevated. Having a shelf in the fridge with pre-cut veggies/fruits, cheese sticks, mini yogurts, and other healthy snack foods is a great idea.

3.  Add morning structure.

It can become overwhelming to have eight hours of freedom, especially if you are prone to anxiety. I have a to-do list for the morning to get me started. It includes making my bed, starting the first load of laundry, cleaning the kitchen, and walking. The two "W"s on my list are walking and writing. I walk for at least 30 minutes--which clears my head and helps me to percolate about my book--and then I come home and write for at least an hour. Usually, that turns into 2 hours, but as long as I can check off "1 HOUR WRITING" on my list, I feel like I've accomplished something.

The to-do list is really critical for folks who have trouble getting organized and staying on top of their anxiety. That structure makes you feel in control and like you are achieving your tasks. Also, by having "A WALK" on my list, I am forced to get dressed, get outside, and not hide like a hermit in my house all day. The walk is incredibly important for both physical and mental well-being. More about that later!

4. Take a social break.

Living in isolation is not good for your soul. Sometimes we need quiet time to concentrate and work. And sometimes we need to reach out and connect with people. Social media--in theory--can be a great way to accomplish this. However, more often than not, social media can be rage-inducing or depressing or horrifying. Too many disturbing news stories, animal torture pics, etc.

When you need a pat on the back or some support, make sure you have a way to connect with your friends. A private Facebook page where you can vent is fabulous. A group text where you can discuss the latest Tom Hiddleston news is also wonderful. Private emails are good, too. Just make sure you have a way to be in touch with the folks who know you, love you, support you.

One more thing...never underestimate the power of a pet connection! One hug with my dachshund Lucy can change my whole mood. There's a reason that research shows folks with pets are happier. Unconditional love and affection is everything!

5. Get outside and move.

This is a biggie for me, and probably for a lot of other writers. We all remember those deadline days when you never change out of your pajamas, you forget to eat, and you sit in a chair for ten straight hours finishing your book. That's not healthy for mind or body. And probably not that great for your book either!

I make sure to walk every morning. It makes me feel connected to my environment, my neighborhood, and to a larger world than my little office. It's great for your physical health, and it's vital for me working on my book. I walk and think!

I also try to add some errands into each day that force me to get out of the house. It could be something as simple as heading to the post office or picking up dinner at the grocery store. For folks dealing with anxiety, sometimes getting out of the house can feel daunting. Making--and achieving--little goals is a good thing.

Any other bright ideas to combat depression, anxiety, or help with at-home work?

Hope these tips help!


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

RISD Inspiration: New and Oldham

I was lucky enough to visit the RISD museum over this past weekend, and I got to meander around the incredible Todd Oldham exhibit (All of Everything: Todd Oldham Fashion).

This event runs from April 8-September 11, 2016. I HIGHLY recommend it. First of all, the RISD Museum (Providence, RI) is fabulous. Touring the museum is a refreshingly intimate experience. The Todd Oldham exhibit is stunning. From the smallest button (which he created himself)... the most glorious awe-inspiring gowns...

 ...the creations make the observer realize each and every piece in this collection is art. Oldham's sources of inspiration are sometimes geographical/ethnic, sometimes pop culture, sometimes pure fun. The piece below is made of pipe cleaners!

Everything is mixed. Patterns, fabric, accessories, inspiration. So many colors, textures, seems like it would be overwhelming, but everything works. It's delightful!

If you're looking for something fun to do this weekend, head over to Providence. You won't be sorry!

All my best,

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Penny's Top 5 Tips for Social Media Greatness!

Here we are...swimming in a sea of social media options. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Pinterest.

Here we are...bored shitless. Or offended. Or confused. Or...whatever.

People have different needs/motivations/interests in terms of social media. Got it. And I understand that many authors are using social media purely to get a sale. However, it's not going to be very effective when you're boring the bejimminies out of everyone. No one will want to buy your books.

When I get a friend request at Facebook, or a Twitter follow, and I'm considering..."Should I accept this? Should I follow back? Is this person worth checking out?" I consider several points. There are certain things that definitely draw my attention and make me want to read/friend/check you out.

And there are other things that make me fall asleep/leave/vow to never purchase a book from you as long as I live.

Here are some things to think about...


What does this girl have to do with my article?

Absolutely nothing. But the image got your attention, didn't it?

If you want someone to read your post, announcement, Facebook rant, you first need to capture their attention. Having a shit-ton of text, with no images, is not a good idea. Let the image grab their attention, and then follow up with some entertaining content/text.

It works!


If I check out your Twitter account, and every single tweet is BUY MY BOOK or a tweet about a review ABOUT YOUR BOOK or a retweet ABOUT YOUR BOOK, I'm out.

To be honest, I don't understand why anyone would follow someone doing that. It's like white noise. I guess they mute it.

At least take the time to interact, ask questions, chat with folks. This goes for Facebook, too. There is nothing worse than a Facebook author page that has 27 straight posts about MY BOOK MY BOOK MY BOOK.

I get it. You wrote a book. You want us to buy it.

I'm out.


I know there is a new trend going right now about "super secret identities." Here's what I think about secret identities, and shady deceptive practices, and gimmicks used to bump up sales.

I don't trust you.

If I don't know who you are--or if I find out you're someone else--I don't trust you.

Do not underestimate the power of reader trust. Be you. Be yourself. OWN YOUR SHIT. This is part of your branding...being authentic.

Gimmicks wear off and lose appeal. But you being yourself, and owning your shit, is for the long-haul.

I want to see who you really are on Twitter...posting pics of your walk around New England. And I want to hear you chatting about how your dog just had puppies on Facebook. And I want to see the picture of your perfect cocktail from the girl's night out event on your Instagram account.

These things are authentic and real and show me your true personality.


There is a fine line between keeping it real ("I had a bad day at work!") and TMI ("Here's a picture of my oozing scab that was removed at the ER!"). I don't want to see your scab or your ingrown toenail or hear about how you puked your guts out all night long after drinking too much beer.

T. M. I.

I do want to see pics of your garden, hear about your latest vacation to Aruba, and offer support when you're having a bad day because you just put down your dog. You don't always have to be happy and perky. On the other hand, some things should not be discussed on social media.

Like scabs.


Who are my favorite friends on social media? Some are authors, some are bloggers, some are readers, some are just random people I met on-line.

They entertain me.

They inspire me.

They make me laugh. They make me think. They offer support. They are thoughtful, cool, talented.

They are passionate.

They post incredible pics of their artwork. They commiserate with me about raising teenagers. They offer an excellent sangria recipe when I'm hosting a party.

When I'm having a good writing day, I'll post a snippet of my latest work-in-progress on Facebook. My friends get excited and chat with me about my book. That support keeps me going.

If you want to connect on social media, be yourself. Have fun. Be authentic.

Because, let's face it, what you're really doing is selling yourself. Are you boring? Are you funny? Are you kind? Are you snarky?

If peeps get interested in YOU, then maybe they'll be interested in what you do.

What an amazing concept!

Keeping it real in the Boston burbs,

Monday, June 6, 2016

Optimistic Fiction

Since I am approaching my 50th birthday at the end of June, I'm trying to wrap up my 6-month Professional Mid-Life Crisis.

Good luck to me! Hee hee.

I have been searching for a place for me and my writing...a community that values quality, integrity, and originality.

I tried to squeeze myself in the cozy mystery genre, but I realized that my heart wasn't in it.

I thought about mystery, horror, women's fiction.

But I keep coming back to the same issue. My "heart" wants to write love stories with happy endings. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I belong in the romance genre anymore.

So, instead of trying to squeeze my round self (extremely round...*wink*) into the square peg, I'm making up a new term for what I want to write.

Optimistic Fiction

What is it? What are the things I care about as a writer?

1. Original content.

I'm interested in original characters, storylines, concepts. No copycat books, trends, series. No bandwagon-jumping. Original, unique writing is key.

2. Character-driven fiction.

3. Hopeful themes, faith in people, inspiring characters.

I'm not interested in dark topics/themes like rape, abuse, torture, cheating, etc. I like fiction that is hopeful, inspiring, and showcases the good in people.

4. Real heroes.

That includes men, women, children, elves, dachshunds, etc. Characters who are loyal and heroic. Heroic acts are not always huge, over-the-top events. Sometimes they are small and subtle. But they're still critical.

5. Quality.

It's very important to me to produce a quality book. I hire professional editors, cover artists, and formatters. I care about grammar, craft, storytelling.

6. Love stories.

How does love affect our lives in every way? Friendship, family bonds, romantic relationships.

7. Integrity in publishing.

No manipulative stuff to make a bestseller list. My focus is creating a well-crafted book, and I'm still learning. I would rather spend my time working on craft than gaming the publishing system.

8. Stories for all ages.

Children, adults, universal themes.

9. Happy endings.

Non-negotiable. It doesn't matter if I write romance, humor, fantasy, or children's fiction. My books have a happy ending. It's a sure thing.

10. Optimistic Fiction.

When you finish the book, it makes you happy. It's a simple concept. It's the whole reason I was attracted to romance in the first place.

Now, if someone asks me what I write, I answer "Optimistic Fiction." It's a lot easier than saying love stories-and comedy-and holiday fantasy-and super heroic weenie dog tales-and over-forty romance...and...

And the best part? I don't have to worry about the person saying..."Romance? Oh! Like 50 Shades of Grey?"

No, not like that at all.

Feeling optimistic,