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After returning back to Los Angeles from a long, restorative, holiday, hiatus in Michigan, I took one look at my 2018 vision board and ripped it down. Not one of the "goals and visions" I had set for last year came to fruition. Sounds desperate, right? Disappointing for sure.
But I'm not upset or disappointed that I didn't get to achieve everything on my vision board (okay getting a house would have been nice!) because 2018 was a great year with amazing adventures -- especially the ones that took me off my beaten path. One of those little beaten paths was the learning the importance of striving and pushing for goals with a proper plan in place. A plan that is grounded in routine is one that truly offers peace and satisfaction.
So as 2019 winds up, I find that I have a lot of the same goals and hopes from last year. And I'm going to lean into routines, not resolutions, to see them through!
There is comfort in implementing a doable, daily routine you can fall back on, even when you're not feeling it. Lean in to the routine! It will reward you!
We're all spinning many plates. But when you break it down, your professional lives and personal lives can be handled through project management. For the sake of this article, I'm going to focus on routines for your professional life. But you can do the same concept with goals in your personal life (i.e. running that marathon, planning that family trip, reading a book a month, finishing that ginormous puzzle!).
First, write down the work projects you have for the next 6-12 months.
Now, prioritize them. What has to be done first, second, third.... what can wait til next week? Next month? Later in the year?
Take the top ones you need to work on first and break them down into smaller time chunks and tasks.
Then, create a "to do" list for the following week. What do you need to do on each project in the next week.
When the week is over, take inventory. Did you finish? Are there things you need to carry over into the next week? Did new tasks pop up?
Start over and write down next weeks' "to do". And so on. And so on. Week after week. Soon, you've written a novel, planned a trip, launched a website, created a newsletter! You've eaten the whole elephant, one bite at a time.
Next, learn to harness your time. Use the time blocking technique. Spend 80 percent of your time on your strengths and income earning skills. Use 20 percent of your time on the other stuff you have to do keep your business running. For example, in a 40 hour work week, I should be spending 32 hours of that time on writing projects, writing meetings, and generating new projects and ideas. The remaining 8 hours of the week I use on marketing and outreach to keep my business running and generate more business.
I usually have no problem filling my 32 hours of writing and could (and do) usually put in more than 32 hours on my writing. Where I struggle-- as do most entrepreneurs-- is with the other 20 percent. That marketing beast that constantly needs to be fed!
So... let's break down that 20 percent even further with the 15 minute rule. I'm pretty useless if I don't spend a little quiet time each day before I get started. So I use 15 minutes a day for prayer/meditation/journaling. Then, I schedule 15 minutes a day on outreach/networking task. Another 15 minutes a day on marketing yourself (social media, newsletter, blog, etc). And finally, I take 15 minutes a day to track my bookkeeping. Of course, there are days when I go over the 15 minutes. That's fine, as long as I'm not spending more than 2 hours/day on these tasks. (Remember the 80/20 rule!)
Last and most importantly! Remember to schedule in "Me Blocks" of time every week. These are 2-4 hour blocks of time where you can recharge. I call them "Artist's Dates." Take yourself on a date to get a massage, a mani, see a movie, cook something new, go kayaking, take a long hike, bake a loaf of bread, read a book, or go to a museum.
I like to revisit my to do list at the beginning of each day to set my intentions and directions and make any adjustments. Life happens. Plans change. Meetings come up. Sickness befalls us. It won't run perfectly, and that's okay.
One last thing I must address is flexibility. Your goals and visions for the coming 12 months may shift, derail, or take a back seat. That's okay. Others will take their place. That's okay, too. Good news! You still have your system in place! Lean in to the routine. I think you'll also find that established routines allow you the flexibility you're going to need as your plans, goals, and visions morph during the course of a year.
I believe in living a purposeful, meaning-filled life. And I believe in having goals and visions. I have lots of them! And I believe strongly that the path to our goals and visions in set in the well-laid plans we make for them. And that those routines we set up help us implement those plans.
Have grace and patience with yourself as you get started in your new routines. Take inventory at the end of each week and each month to see how much you've accomplished of your goals. I think you'll find it inspiring!
Have a beautiful start to your 2019!
What could be merrier than taking a look at death investigation during the holidays? Here are some deadly facts sprinkled in with a few fun Christmas facts that will make you bellow, "Ho, ho, oh no!..."
1) Will you die on Christmas? Lots of people do. In fact, more people die on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day than any other days of the year. Find out why and if you or someone you love is a candidate for a holiday death.
2) Here Comes Santa Clause-- NOT! In 1932 in Mesa, AZ, Santa Claus jumped from a plane to parachute into the Christmas parade. His parachute failed to open traumatizing the town's children and parents.
3) Hey, Rudolph, aren't you cold driving Santa's sleigh? Apparently not. Reindeer from Lapland, Finland are uniquely adapted to survive the brutal winters. They have a thick winter coat made of hollow hairs. The air inside and between each hair super insulates the reindeer from the harsh cold. (Courtesy of Frederick Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids, MI)
4) O Tannenbaum, O Tannebaum... your branches green... are on fire?! Between 2012-2016, U.S. fire departments responded to an average 170 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year. These fires caused an average of 4 deaths, 15 injuries, and $12 million in direct property damage annually. Keep your fire in the fireplace, please!
5) Seasonal stress, poor diet, increased alcohol are contributing factors to why more people die of heart problems during the holidays. If you want to eat, drink and be merry, beware: it may just kill you!
6) During the Middle Ages in the Middle East, rosemary was spread on the floor at midnight on Christmas Eve so as people walked on it, the fragrance would fill the air. The belief was that those who smelled the rosemary on Christmas Eve would have a healthy and happy new year. (Courtesy of Frederick Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids, MI)
7) It is believed that the San Bernardino terror attack of 2016 was triggered by a company Christmas party that the shooter, a Muslim, was mandated to attend.
8) In Spain, children are taught that it's the Three Wise men who bring them gifts, not Santa Claus. These Wise Men fill their shoes with gifts on the Eve of Epiphany, January 5. So, does that mean, the bigger the feet the better the gift?
9) Pot for Christmas? Deputies in California confiscated 60 pounds of marijuana from an elderly couple, who told investigators the large stash was intended to be divided up and given away as Christmas presents. This sheds a whole new light on "being merry."
10) Yearning for simpler holiday traditions? In early Victorian times people trimmed their trees with walnuts, pine cones, little pouches for secret gifts, paper cornucopias filled with sugared almonds, fruits, and popcorn. Yummy, eatable ornaments!!
Thank you for being a part of this community. Wishing you a Christmas season of hope, joy, peace, and love. See you in 2019!
I’ve been writing professionally (meaning I got a pay check to write!) since I was 19. Like any woman who lives in Hollywood, I’m not gonna reveal my true age, but lemme just say that age 19 was many projects ago.
People who see my perseverance often ask, what do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing? Well, it didn’t have to do with craft. Craft is easy to learn and easy to practice. What I wish I had known was…
1. … just how long it takes to make headway as a writer! I know there are some lucky writers who hit it big on their first project or first writing gig (ugh, we all roll our eyes and secretly wish to be you). But for most of us, that’s not the case. I wish I had started out with more patience. I still get impatient and anxious at time and that leads to discouragement and despair because I want things to happen sooner, faster, better. A huge part of the writer’s life is just slogging away at pages every day and learning how to foster positivity. I have a good many encouragement mentors… two of my new favs is anything from Marianne Williamson. And DeVon Franklin’s The Hollywood Commandments.
2. I wish I had known not to be so hard on myself, but I guess that's human nature and my stubborn work ethic. It’s okay to push. You have to push. You won’t succeed if you don’t set daily and weekly and monthly goals. You won’t get anywhere if you don’t write pages. But you also have to play. Which I actually had to learn how to do. I come from a workaholic home. I am still learning how to “be still” and trust the process and the journey. I was guided in this by The Aristist’s Way by Julia Cameron.
3. I wish I had known how to be more thankful at first! I spent a good many years dwelling on the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s—which is negative and basically a huge waste of time and energy. Having a daily gratefulness practice and keeping a gratitude journal fosters goodness and kindness and creativity—not just in myself, but in how I can positively shape the world and the people I see every day. Doing little things every day with love and thankfulness is upper level living. Gratitude attracts opportunity. Gratitude rewires the brain to accept and receive. Gratitude keeps you sane when the rejections come. Gratitude is a form of seeing and expressing truth, goodness and beauty. Who doesn’t need more daily doses of that? One of my favorite books on gratitude is One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.
7 Ways To Step Up Your Writing Game!
Happy NaNoWriMo Month! Are you writing?! I hope so! I'm sort of writing... I just finished a novel and a TV pilot so I'm actually using NaNoWriMo month to brainstorm my next project.
In that spirit, I thought I'd share some of my gold tips for surviving the daily grind of being a content creator and getting IT done. Here are seven simple ways to foster a creative and sustainable life as a crime and mystery writer.
1. Read, watch, and listen to crime stories. Duh. I know it’s obvious, but a small diet of crime stories keep the wheels oiled. Don’t worry about being the most current. I almost never am. I feel like I’m always behind reading and viewing trends. I don’t layer too much guilt over this fact. The point is to gorge on what you like and what you find an interest in.
Here are a couple of my favs right now.
Books: The Yard, Devil in the White City, Killer of Little Shepherds, Big Little Lies
TV Series: Ozark, The Alienist, Angie Tribeca, Brooklyn Nine-9, Sharper Objects
Podcast: Small Town Murder. Beware: Highly explicit content. Disclaimer: My views usually do not reflect those of the hosts. But they’re funny and honest and they do an awesome job researching and presenting cases!
2. Figure out which story type of crime fiction best suits you. Or try on a new brand if things are getting stale. Some examples: medical mystery, true crime, amateur detective, action/thriller, psychological profiler, or caper.
3. Keep a journal or file of interesting cases you want to explore in your writing. I put the electronic ones bookmarked in my web library. Or, I often print them from the web because for me, outta sight is outta mind. I put the paper ones from newspapers or magazines in a big box under my desk. Sometimes these ideas come as full-blown books that I want to read. So, I buy the book on the spot (thank you Amazon Prime) slip it on my bookshelf and and make the read when I’m ready to tackle a new project.
4. Keep a list of interesting, dynamic antagonists that you glean from true crime stories. And dig into their WHY! The best stories hinge on why-dunnit! What is the emotional, internal motivation that caused these killers to kill? This is the fear that freaks us out and keep us awake at night! And it will do the same for your readers! (By the way, this is also the reason I can not watch or read crimes stories before bed.)
5. Take a writer’s retreat. I think writer’s retreats are especially helpful if you’re having trouble starting that project or finishing it. Get away and GET IT DONE! Depending on how much time you can set away, make your goals REASONABLE so that you exit the retreat feeling accomplishment! The above picture is from my favorite writing retreat location!
6. Bounce things off people when you get stuck or don’t know. I know it sounds obvious, but it’s also easy for us writers to get a little too comfortable on our little writing islands. A writer’s group is great for tossing around ideas. Even just one or two writers you really trust is enough. Professionals or retired professionals in the field you are writing about are super helpful in this area, as well. They often have the solutions to the problems I spend way too much time fussing over and researching. Their on-the-street experience is better than Google search every single time. And let’s give them the credit they deserve. They’re the ones fighting real crime. We just do it from a couch cushion.
7. Subscribe to off the beaten path publications as fodder for your imagination. My top three:
1) Hometown newspapers. I still read mine. Mom sends me the electronic version every week. Every now and then something quirky jumps out at me that I can use in my next project.
2) Regional magazines. I’ve been a big reader of LA Magazine and Texas Monthly that often feature highly researched, in depth true crime stories.
3) Forensic Magazine online. www.forensicmag.com The daily newsletter sends me a flood of articles that keep up with current cases and crime solving technology.
Are these rocket science? No.
Do these seem obvious. Probably.
Are you doing all of these? Yes- then Bravo!
No? Revisit the list and resolve to start one new practice to step up you writing game!
How will you improve your game this week?
Have other game-changing practices? Share them with us now!
Here’s a glimpse into my new film that released September 7th in theaters across the U.S. and Canada! Enjoy "never seen before" pics from the set and learn a little bit about how GBBR got onto the big screen! 5% proceeds from the film will go to support veterans at the DAV.
Find show times and tickets below:
Send a veteran to dinner & the movie!
A Little About GBBR On the Big Screen
1. What inspired you to write this film & novel?
God Bless the Broken Road (GBBR) actually began as a feature film script four years ago. My friend and director, Harold Cronk, who is best known for the God’s Not Dead movies, called me one fine summer evening. He pitched me the seed of the idea and asked what I thought? I said I thought it sounded like a solid story. And then he asked if I wanted to write it with him. Of course, I said yes.
We finished the first draft of the script on Christmas Eve, 2014. Over the course of the next year we refined it while the producers rallied the funds. In the spring of 2016 Harold shot God Bless the Broken Road in Manistee, Michigan.
A few months earlier, as we finished the script version, I talked with the producers about penning a novel version. They thought it would be a great idea. So my agent put a pitch together and while we were filming I quickly wrote the first three chapters. Within two weeks my agent had procured a couple contracts. We happily chose Simon & Schuster.
2. What do you hope your viewers and readers take away from this story?
First, that God is always with us, even if we don’t feel like He is or aren’t seeking Him actively. He is always there and He is always providing us with amazing blessings, even when/if we don’t acknowledge them. One of the keys to healing and hope on our broken roads are to turn our gaze to Him so that we can start to recognize Him along the path. When we turn to Him and humble ourselves, He can start to guide us and shape our brokenness into blessing.
Second, this is a story about community. We don’t have to travel our broken roads alone. God has given us friends and family to lean for support and encouragement. This can make a huge difference when we are going through trying times. I think so many people suffer from depression and suicide because they think they are alone. Mother Theresa said the greatest poverty we have today is the poverty of loneliness because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
So many people feel like this. They feel alone. The feel that no one understands or cares what they are going through. What a travesty. It’s so simple to be there for someone. You don’t have to be a professional counselor or therapist to help someone heal from a wounding. Sometimes the very best thing is to just to take a moment from your day to pause, listen, and lend a hug or word of encouragement.
On the flip side, if you are traveling a broken road it can be difficult to let people into your pain. We see this in GBBR in the character of Amber, who lost her husband in Afghanistan. It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable and ask for help. But here’s the secret… people love you and want to help you and be there for you. Amber eventually hits bottom in order to find this out and finally surrenders. It’s at that moment when her life starts to really find hope and redemption.
Needing to be loved and cared for is not a sign of weakness, it’s the way we humans need to relate to one another to build real and lasting communities. By the way, building community this deep requires that you get off social media, look up from your phone and have actual human contact! Just sayin’….
Click below to order the novel version and the soundtrack of God Bless The Broken Road!
Why is The Coroner set in a small town? What can we expect to see in the second of the series? How does TV inaccurately portray coroners? Answers to these questions and more… in this month’s Author Q&A!
1. Obviously being the daughter of a medical examiner had a big influence on you. Did you ever want to follow in your father’s footsteps?
As a teenager, I was rather grossed out and embarrassed about what my father’s job at M.E. These were the days before CSI and Forensic Files made death investigation exciting and cool. When my friends found out my dad did this, they took great interest, so that lessened the embarrassment on my part. And while I do love the sciences, I always knew my calling was to be on the storytelling side of crime solving.
2. You’re also the author of an inspirational novel and feature film about an Army widow, and a nonfiction book about the science of forensic investigation and crime dramas. How did writing a mystery differ?
Storytelling is storytelling no matter the genre. All genres follow the same story rules and arcs. I find it takes the same amount of time, effort, thought, energy, and research to develop a story whether its for book or screen. Creating a screenplay requires the same amount of story work as it does for a novel. The only difference is that I can write a screenplay in a fraction of the time it takes me to write a novel because most of the backstory and ground work never shows up as words on the page. Non-fiction is a whole different ball game. It requires a lot less emotional energy. And in that sense, it feels less exhaustive. I love the challenge and results of all of them.
3. Did you plan out the mystery before you started or did you see where you writing took you?
I’m a plotter. That comes from my screenwriting training. When I start a new mystery I pretend I’m the investigator and I create a case file for my “case.” From there I create a rough skeleton outline of the mystery plot. After that I flesh out the character’s arcs and emotional journeys, and B, C, and D stories surrounding the case. Then, I create a treatment. Workshop it. Then, a first draft. More workshopping. I’m a collaborative writer. It’s more fun, makes the project stronger, and gets the project done faster.
4. What is something that you frequently see the media portraying incorrectly in regards to forensics?
I have my top ten and they all have pet names. One of my favorites is what I call, “Sex Appeal.” You see this a lot on television. The good-looking, well-dressed investigators show up in heels, skirts, or suit to a crime scene investigation. Their hair and make-up are perfectly done. They are fresh and well-rested. A lot of times they aren’t wearing any proper protective gear. It’s not a criticism. I understand it why they do this. Shows want to portray a certain sex appeal from their actors. But it’s not a reflection of how real life investigators show up to crime scenes.
5. Why did you decided to set most of the book in a small town?
The Coroner harkens to my experiences growing up in a small town and seeing how death investigation works in a rural area. I like to expose the reality that resources in rural areas are often limited and different than they are in big cities. I’m not saying they are not professional. They are. But the elements of staffing, equipment, education, experience, and budget all factor in and vary vastly from county to county. Secondly, I think it’s interesting to explore how small communities react when one of their own is taken from them. No one remains anonymous in small towns. Everyone plays a role. Everyone is affected. Everyone has an opinion and a stake.
6. The cliffhanger leads me to think we’ll be seeing more of these characters – can you tell us anything about their futures?
We’ll be continuing the journey of Dr. Emily Hartford as Coroner. Her love life becomes more complicated as she struggles with calling off her engagement, tests the dating waters, and explores any remaining sparks with Nick. And she will be have to solve a brutal cold case murder… much darker than the first book… with Nick as a key suspect.
People often ask me, how much of your characters are like your real life as a coroner’s daughter?Read More
A shot of downtown Fremont, Michigan, which inspired the fictional county of Freeport.Read More