Category Archives: Life

Get It Together Blog Hop (aka Managing Choke Points)

Get It Together Blog Hop Banner

Hello everyone! I’m so happy to be posting this as part of the Get It Together Blog Hop. I’m Alexis Anne and I write contemporary and erotic romances like The Storm Inside and Tease! Like many of you, my life is one of barely controlled chaos structured around schedules and lists, fueled by caffeine and determination, and laced with insanity. I’m a mother to two active soccer-playing boys, wife to a busy soccer-playing engineer, and am attempting to launch three new series in three different genres this year. Oh, and I also contribute to the First Draught Writing show and podcast (They put me in charge of podcasts!).

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So, just like all of you, I’m busy as f**** and the one thing I do that keeps things somewhat balanced and moving forward is the careful management of my choke points (aka bottlenecks), a family Google Calendar (see Lindsay Emory’s post), white boards, and more notebooks than any one person should own.

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These are ALL notebooks I actually use.

No seriously. They’re everywhere. Including my nightstand and… apparently… my drying rack, stored carefully under my hat?

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I write things down, but I don’t own a planner.

I like having goals I’m working toward, but on my own time. Writing is such a creative process that I’ve found things like to do lists, word counts, and tracking to be counterproductive to my life. Instead of focusing on my story, I’m tracking progress. Instead of creating, I’m worrying… and worrying means I’m not working.

So I write everything down. It gets it out of my head and I can reference back to it any time (without the pressure of a to do list staring me down.) As crazy as my stacks of notebooks look, it’s actually controlled chaos.

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Instead, I spend enormous amounts of time finding creative ways around my choke points and bottlenecks. This often involves looking at the situation from a new angle and figuring out how to get around it.

What is a choke point? Here’s the Merriam-Webster definition:

a strategic narrow route providing passage through or to another region

Or bottleneck:

something that slows down a process

Maybe I’m a problem solver by nature, but my mind doesn’t go to “what is my process” so much as “how can I make my process more efficient?” I do this by identifying my choke points and eliminating them. Like Michael Cena.

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Worry is a major choke point for me, which is why I like to wake up and start writing over coffee. Whether it’s a list of scenes that need to appear in the next book in my serial (explain Theo’s tattoo, establish Allison’s back story, explain Nicki’s connection to Higgins, sex scene A, sex scene B, dark moment) or writing a scene that came to me in the morning fog of sleep, that is probably my most creative time of day, so I prioritize it. If I don’t get my morning quiet time, I become a basket case and all the dominoes in my house fall down.

So I make sure everyone in my house knows this time is sacred. The kids don’t talk to me until my cup is empty (I also wake up extra early so that I have maximum time before they wake up.)

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The hubby kisses me goodbye and doesn’t take offense if I’m deep in thought instead of gushing over him 😉 And I keep a notebook on my nightstand. I write by hand as often, or more, in this morning time.

White board of my madness.

White board of my madness.

Another choke point is spending unnecessary time fretting over scenes and writing order (I’m a plotter BTW.) I usually write in order, but lately I’ve been writing critical scenes first, then filling in the others second. I prefer to write in Word, but if I need to, I import into Scrivener and use all of it’s wonderful tools to break up scenes, rearrange chapters, and keep my pre-plotted story arc in check. There’s no shame in using multiple products to get to one finished product and I’ve found that moving back and forth between the platforms is both easy and effective for producing a good product.

All the scenes I had to break up and rearrange in Tempt 2

All the scenes I had to break up and rearrange in Tempt 2 (as you can tell… this is an erom…)

My family is probably my biggest problem. I love them to pieces… and that’s exactly my problem. I can’t think (which means I can’t create) if I know we’re two weeks behind on laundry, there is no food in the fridge, and every dish we own is dirty and sitting on the counter waiting for the maid (that we don’t have) to come take care of it all.

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We had to find a way to be more efficient and effective as a family. That’s where minimalism and Amazon come in. We got rid of all the things we didn’t need. We realized we had so many things. Things that were dragging us down with extra chores, clutter, and immense feelings of guilt. So we got rid of the extra dishes, clothes, and stuff. This article was a great guide for us.

My other family choke point was the dang groceries. To keep writing we turned to eating out instead of cooking/cleaning (on top of homework and soccer practice.) Eating out is a temporary solution, not a lifestyle. It’s expensive, too. So the guilt started to get to me.

Amazon Pantry Box

Amazon Pantry Box

Until I realized Amazon and One Pot Meals were the answer to my overworked writer-mom prayers. Between two day Prime shipping and the Prime Pantry Box, my life has been transformed. Laundry detergent arrives by magic. So do craft supplies for the school projects. All my dry goods arrive in the Pantry Box (pasta, chicken stock, canned food, cereal, toilet paper, etc), which frees us up to actually make a run to the grocery store since we now only need to run around the edges for fresh food (bread, produce, dairy, etc.)

You can check out my go-to one pot (or two pot) meals here. They’ve saved me a ton of time while getting us some decently balanced meals.

Motivation Board

Motivation Board

All of this makes my creative time as a writer possible. Without it, I was stopping. I was obsessing. I wasn’t writing… which is kind of my job. We eliminated the choke points and it freed me up to do my job. I hope this helps you find balance and productivity in your own creative endeavors!


Apps and Websites I use to manage my life:

Canva (creating book covers, teasers, and otherwise visualizing the stuff I see in my head)

Workflowy (check out Julia Kelly’s post on how to use it here.)

Feedly (an RSS feed so I can stay up to date on all my favorite blogs and websites in one place)

Buffer (scheduling my social media)


Check out all the rest of the stops on the Get it Together Blog Hop and enter the Rafflecopter here!

Technicolor Nightmares

Viginia Woolf

Writers (and artists in general) have a million quotes that all basically come down to the same thing: we feel like lightning rods for the human experience, and as such, we need to find a way to redirect all that feeling, emotion, darkness, and energy somewhere else, or we’ll explode. We live the life of everyone we talk to. We dream of worlds no one has seen. We take all of the invisible, intangible bits and try to give them shape.

Being a person who walks through life feeling this way is complicated and exhausting, mostly because the only people who truly understand what life feels like to us, is other people like us (and we tend to not spend enough time around those types of people!) This is why my life changed when I first set foot inside the hotel at my first RWA National Convention. It was like Dorothy walking into Oz and seeing the world in color for the first time. I didn’t have to explain myself to anyone. I didn’t have to make apologies for needing a few minutes to introvert. I didn’t need to explain that I love socializing and being alone. These were my people. 2,000 of them all in one place. There were other people like me in the universe (a lot of them!) who geeked out over information and reading, who believed in happily ever afters and the power of transformative experiences. These were people who could talk about hair and makeup one minute and the deep underlying meaning of racism and misogyny hidden in popular literature the next.

This is why I treasure the internet. It took me over 30 years to find other writers and artists to connect with. Without the power of the internet I wouldn’t have the network of people and support I’ve been able to gather over the last few years. The internet is amazing. Conventions where you can spend time with people who have similar interests are amazing. The world is huge and it can be very lonely, but it doesn’t have to be anymore. You can find your people.

I’m writing all of this because this weekend took a dark turn. Dark. The kind where being a lightning rod became too much and I really felt like I was on the verge of exploding. Actually, it felt more like a well of sadness so deep and strong was trying to escape from my soul that the only way out was by it spilling out of my heart like a tidal wave. That if I didn’t find a way to let it all out, that sadness would carry me away with it–because it had to get out and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

I don’t know exactly how that much sadness winds up inside me, but I suspect it comes from me being me. I pick up emotions from everyone I meet. I absorb them and take them in. Maybe I store them up so they don’t have to, or maybe I accidentally leave them lying around in a back storage room until the room is full and there’s no where else for the stuff to go. I’m really not sure.

In the past I dealt with this alone, but then I became a writer and I finally had a real outlet for this stuff. I could finally redirect all the feelings and stories I collected each day into a channel that could handle it. Along with that came finding friends who understood me and I was able to build a community of support that I’ve never had before.

And I want everyone who feels this way to know there are people like them out there, and that taking those steps to go to that convention, or meeting, or school is the right step. It can feel overwhelming, but it is worth taking the chance. Not every attempt will work out, but you have to put yourself out there in order to find the one that will. Find your art, find your people. They are out there.

Pisaro quote

The Kids Are All Right

School is back in session! This means a couple of things. Number one: I have a regular work schedule again (thank the heavens above!). Number two: I know my kiddos are in good hands for the rest of the school year. Yes, I’m happy to report three solid months of worrying who their teachers and classmates would be has resulted in good placements for both of them. (Because it is clearly a 1:1 correlation between my hours spent worrying and the results that had nothing to do with it.)

I’m busy working on TEMPT3 this week! Here is a look at the music, food, drink, and television helping me get this work done!

Music:

Music inspiration for the week comes courtesy of Imagine Dragons covering Taylor Swift’s Blank Space mashed up with Stand By Me. The singing starts around 1:30 and it is so freaking fantastic!

Food:

I’m using one of my staple go-to moves to get through the week: crock pot chicken breasts.

What is this, you ask? The simplest of hacks! I slow cook a sheet of chicken in the crockpot for about 6 hours (along with one cube of chicken bullion and 1 cup of water). When it’s done I shred the chicken and use it for: quesadillas, chicken salad sandwiches, nachos, chicken tacos, Asian chicken salad, and… chicken. I typically get 1-2 dinners and up to 2 lunches out of this (depending on how much chicken I actually cook and how much we stuff into the quesadillas). Which means that I get two days worth of cooking out of one crock pot. Winner!

Side note: this freezes very well. I divide them up into quart-sized freezer bags in the amount I need for another meal and freeze! Voila! Thaw in the microwave for quick use, or pop into the fridge the night before/morning of. Easy peasy.

Drink:

This week is brought to me by Smithwicks! I love this beer, but it’s not something I like to drink all the time. A six pack every few months satisfies my craving!

Television:

The Anne’s are binge-watching Sons of Anarchy! Yes, we’re a decade late to the game, but we are totally hooked! I was skeptical after the first couple of episodes, but DANG does this show hit its stride after that! Jax’s speech to Tara did me in and I’m so hooked it’s not even funny. The complexity of the characters is what sells this show. I’m excited that there are so many seasons to watch!

All right… I should probably finish writing this book! Thanks for stopping by!

Love and Time

This weekend is my wedding anniversary. I keep forgetting which one (it’s 12, by the way), and everyone thinks it’s pretty funny that I can’t remember. In my defense I know the date! I know what year we got married! I can do math if you give me a minute!

But here’s the thing: the wedding is just the beginning. (Well, a new beginning, anyway, because in our culture, we actually get to meet and fall in love and decide to be together before we get married.) My wedding was a lovely day and one I will always cherish because it was the day we made everything official, but it is only one day in a long line of days that are special in my relationship with my husband.

Like the day we met. I never forget that day or how long its been (partly because it was 2000 and that math is really, really easy!)

Or the song that was playing when he told me he loved me (I Can’t Help Falling in Love–the UB40 edition)

Or the day I realized that men who wear baseball caps backwards with a little scruff and a cocky grin are quite possibly the sexiest men ever. (For those of you who can’t read between the lines, that’s my husband, too!)

Or the day I gave birth to both boys (They are stories in and of themselves. I have fast labor.)

 

Or the day I was so, so sick I didn’t think it was possible to be sicker and he laid in bed next to me reading Catching Fire until I finally fell asleep.

The one thing I thought I knew (but didn’t fully understand until years later) was that marriage isn’t about falling in love and sticking together through thick and thin. That’s the superficial catchall we all hear. Marriage is much more (and so much harder) than that.

It’s really about finding a partner in life who you can stand beside for the rest of your lives, fighting together, pulling each other along, holding each other up, and holding each other accountable. Its about hating each other, but still loving each other because that’s what you vowed to do.

And in the end, these are all still just words. It’s really freaking hard to describe what it is to be with someone even when you hate them. To keep putting one foot in front of the other when you feel so low you didn’t think it was possible to get any lower, but you do it because the other person is counting on you. It’s fighting for each other even when it means fighting. It’s hard and it’s messy and there is no one perfect way to be married, just like there is no one way to love someone.

If you’ve found the right partner your love will grow and change many times over the years, just like you will.

So I usually forget how long we’ve been married because the length of time doesn’t matter. What matters is that we promised to be partners for the rest of our lives and that we’ve loved each other through everything, that we have happy memories to outshine the bad ones, and that I know we’ll only get stronger with each passing day.

It also helps that he’s super sexy and I did, in fact, fall in love at first sight. Passion and attraction are super important, too. (As you can tell by my books!)

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Guest Post from Mr. Anne

If you read my previous post, you already know that I’m away on a writer’s retreat weekend with Julia Kelly and Mary Chris Escobar. While I was away, I got an email in my inbox from Mr. Anne with a surprisingly passionate post about what I want to call, “Manning Up”, but he calls it “Being a Feminist”. He wanted me to share it with all of you, and so I am (with a couple of edits to tone down his enthusiasm (he got a bit heavy on the expletives at the end). I should note that when we first started dating Mr. Anne thought “feminist” was a dirty word that only crazy women bent on hating men and ruling the world used. He now understands that feminism is actually about equality in opportunity in rights for men and women, but I think his post also points out that there should be equality in recognition and appreciation as well. So, here you go, a guest post from Mr. Anne:


 

Why my husband is a Feminist and yours should be too.

This is Mr. Anne and I have been called a feminist by my wonderful wife more than once.  I feel compelled to write this post as I lay here in a partial exhaustion coma, which was onset by solo parenting our two amazing boys today.

Let me start by setting the scene of today.  My wife does so much for us, and has for so long, that I decided to surprise her with a weekend away.  I flew her to Richmond to hang with her two amazing CP’s who helped me set this up.  Today was nothing special, an ordinary Friday of school and soccer practice.

So, back to the reason I came here.  I am amazed every time I am in this position; the solo parenting thing.  I’ve done it before, will do it again, and honestly I am capable and love doing it.  Our two boys are a blessing, and watching them grow every day is a treat.  Unfortunately, they both seem to be at a stage where they just soak up attention like a dry sponge, pulling it towards them with unseen, but amazingly strong force.  I am in the last two semesters of school for Engineering and I work a fulltime job as well.  That means my sexy Mrs. Anne does a LOT of solo parenting.  Not only does she pull that off LIKE A BOSS, she also writes those amazing stories you all love so much.  Every day she is writing, editing, marketing, mailing, planning, and pushing to be a successful self-published author.  A task at which she is absolutely succeeding.  She is my hero.  Period.  Not only that, but she deserves the recognition for those things.

When I put her on her flight today I decided one thing.  No shortcuts.  I am going to pull off this weekend with flying colors.  Laundry, cleaning, giant group project due Monday, “guys weekend” with my kids, keep the animals alive, keep the kids dressed, happy, and fed.  I am going to do it all.  All the things she does.  I refuse to have her amazing weekend away ruined by coming home to a mountain of work Sunday night.

So, here I am.  10:30pm on Friday night.  The kids finally are asleep after a monster night of soccer.  I just ate dinner.  I am exhausted.  I know you are asking yourself, “Why in God’s name are you writing this right now??”  Because it matters that much.

Every mother or caretaker out there needs recognition.  You ladies bust your ass, day in and day out, to make our houses run.  You deserve so much credit, so much appreciation, and truckloads of love.

I challenge every man out there to give the lady in your life a weekend off.  No shortcuts.  Everything that needs to get done, gets done.  Do the chores, feed the kids, reset for the next week of school, git ‘r done like she does.  Because on Monday we get to go back to the office, or at least most of us do anyway.  It’s hard to understand, but my wife looks at my job as a getaway, a warm inviting environment where I get to do my work without kids pulling me away from the one damned thing that I’ve been trying to get done for the last freaking two hours!!  It’s no wonder why I feel like she’s gone off the deep end when I get home on some of these days.  Those kiddos are intense!!!

There are a plethora of reasons why the world needs more feminists in it.  There are many things that my wife faces on a daily basis that enrage me–she can’t even go get groceries without being accosted in one way or another.  And I know she isn’t alone.  It’s an epidemic.

So ask yourself, why in the hell wouldn’t we hold women as equals?  Why wouldn’t we give them the credit for the work they put in day in and day out?  I will tell you one reason why…because you have no idea what they do.  Walk a mile or two.  Walk a weekend for goodness sake.  Its only two days.  Two days will change your perspective if you do it all the way.  NO SHORTCUTS.

So here it is.  I’m a feminist. You should be too.  Every one of you.

 


I should note that I actually don’t keep the kids clothed everyday. They get home from school and the clothes usually come off. So if Mr. Anne was able to keep them clothed the whole time I was gone, then I’m very impressed and need to learn his secrets! I’m on my layover on the way home to my family, exhausted but totally rejuvenated. I can’t wait to tackle the next step on my books, plunge back into the crazy and distracting schedule of working from home and solo parenting. I think what Mr. Anne is trying to say the loudest in this post is that we all do a heck of a lot of work and the last thing women, especially moms, need is a lack of respect for the work and effort we put in each day. Sometimes you need a break, and sometimes the loved ones in your life need to walk a mile in your shoes to properly understand the finer details of the daily struggle. So thank you Mr. Anne for my weekend to work with my partners in crime, and thank you to Julia and Mary Chris for helping him to arrange it. I appreciate you all so much! xoxo

Planes, Trains, and a Surprise Adventure!

I feel like I won the lottery. Right now I’m sitting in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport on my way to Richmond, Virginia. Because my sweet, sweet husband and two of my very best friends, Julia Kelly and Mary Chris Escobar did a sneaky, sneaky thing. They planned a weekend behind my back. My husband, in collusion with my First Draught partners in crime, set a date, booked flights, and ironed out all the details of a three day, two night stay with Mary Chris in her super hip town of Richmond. I found out about it Saturday night.

So I’m flying up the eastern seaboard, alone and without kids, while Julia is on a train, racing south. I am so excited I can’t stand it! Not only because I get to spend the weekend with my friends, talking about writing and publishing, but because I am so happy to be where I am.

Life hasn’t always been easy. There have been some very heart breaking things in my life. Two of those things are the very reason I asked my husband (a year ago) to plan something for me to do this week, to keep my mind off the memories and out of the shadows. And while it may seem a bit contradictory that the very event that is supposed to be distracting me is also making me think about it, it is for a much better reason than in the past.

I am so very grateful to be a working writer. I am even more grateful to have finally found so many women, near and far, who are so amazing and incredible. I’m also pretty grateful to have survived (and I mean that word specifically) marriage with my soul mate. Loving and living with someone as passionate as I am is sometimes challenging.

So right now, sitting in an airport alone, I have never felt less alone or more grateful to have the life that I have. It was so much work to get here, and I’m sure at some point some memories will make me cry, but I’m really very, very happy and so, so grateful.


Like to follow along? Instagram is my favorite place to hang out. It’s like telling stories without words (which is a nice change of pace for a writer!) You can follow me here: http://instagram.com/alexisanneauthor

 

 

 

Wonderful Wednesday: How to Pack Like a Pro

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DUDE! In two weeks we will be in San Antonio! RWA is right around the corner and packing is kind of important unless you want to walk around naked for five days. I mean, I wouldn’t mind… and probably most of us would use you as a case study for our next book, but… yeah, probably not the best plan.

So that brings us to two fundamental questions: what do you need to bring and how are you getting it there. Last year I packed everything in a carry-on. It worked, but left me little room to bring anything home. If you are packing light, remember to bring a pre-paid USPS “If it fits it ships” box for your swag and books. You can also ship home from the conference (but check prices, it can get expensive!), so no need to worry about fitting fifty shiny new books and swag into your little suitcase!

You can fit five days worth of conference gear into one little suitcase (I promise!). If you need video assistance on how to do this, please visit this link and watch Erin Knightley do it with style!

What do you need?

  • Business casual clothes for three days. This can be anything from comfortable work clothes to suits. You will see it all at RWA! Since so many of us spend our days in pajamas and workout clothes, RWA kind of becomes an opportunity to dress up and get fancy. Personally, I wear pencil skirts, colorful blouses, and low heels all week. They are comfortable (to me) but also pretty and fun. You can get away with jeans, if that’s your style. If you prefer comfortable shoes or sneakers, go for it! The reality is that you will be spending a huge chunk of your time sitting quietly in packed rooms while listening to speakers. Dress however makes you feel professional and comfortable!
  • A cocktail dress. Even if you don’t know a soul or have a single plan outside of workshops, bring a dress just in case. There are lots of parties and you never know when you might find one to join. If you don’t, sit in the hotel bar and have a drink! It’s a great time to strike up a conversation with another writer.
  • RITA dress. The RITA’s are a chance to get as fancy as you want. This year we’re getting super fancy and wearing evening gowns, but a nice dress is more than enough. There is a lot of sitting and clapping and then drinks and socializing afterward.
  • Clothes for any special events or sight seeing you have planned.
  • Pajamas
  • Comfortable shoes
  • A sweater (some workshops get cold!)
  • Underwear (you know it is easy to forget in the shuffle!)
  • A pair of emergency cold-feet socks

Other items to bring:

  • Notebook and pen/iPad/note taking apparatus
  • business cards
  • cash (tips and emergencies)
  • power cords

Things I worried about last year:

  • Breakfast. The continental breakfast wasn’t much. If you need food to start your day (like me!) then plan on eating elsewhere. The free breakfast is great for killing time before the first workshop, getting an extra jolt of coffee and a danish, or meeting someone. But a substantive start to your day? Not so much
  • Lunch. The way the day is structured this year may make it difficult to stop and eat. Make sure you have snack food on you in case the day gets away from you. Scout out places nearby, or in the hotel shop, that you can grab a quick lunch.
  • Dinner. I was totally freaked out be the idea of dinner last year! I didn’t know anybody. What if I ate alone every meal? Well, guess what? I never ate alone. Not once. For one lunch I joined a group of complete strangers and we got to know each other. It was fun! (SIDE HINT for NEWBIES: all RWA ladies will stand out like a sore thumb. We have badges, bags, and more that identify us from a block away. Don’t be afraid to walk up to someone, or a group of someone’s, and introduce yourself.) The nice lady I met at the First Timer Orientation and then accidentally ate lunch with the next day? She texted me asked if I had dinner plans. She’s now one of my very best friends! So the bottom line? Dinner (and any meal) is a great excuse to make connections and get to know new people. Take people up on their invitations and if you don’t get one, invite someone else to join you. We’re all writers just there to talk about writing!
  • After hours socializing. Again, I didn’t know anybody. I was really worried about sitting in my hotel room from 5pm-7am alone every night. The hotel bar is a great place to socialize (even if you don’t drink anything but water!) It will probably be packed at all times with writers. If I sat alone someone usually came over to say hi. One time I sat at the bar and got to know a librarian who looked like she was about on her last leg, just like me. We commiserated over exhaustion and overload. It was nice. Another time I accidentally wound up in a conversation with two RITA nominee’s about the future of publishing. Put yourself out there, it really is worth it at an event like this.
  • Making it count. I just spent all this money on the conference, a plane ticket, a hotel room, business cards…I needed to make it count. I worried about making connections and learning. I think worrying is helpful up to a certain point, but too much worrying is counterproductive. This conference is worth it. Whether you are going for the workshops, the appointments, or to find your people and make business contacts, it is an event packed with opportunity for writers at all stages of their career.  Don’t worry about making it count.
  • Supplies. It is a convention hotel–they’ve got this covered. There are also plenty of shops nearby. Don’t feel the need to pack everything. You can always buy something if you need it. You aren’t stranded alone on a desert island. I promise.
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Write Club eating lunch before a workshop

Things I didn’t expect and wish I’d known about:

  • There are fifty-gajillion books for free at RWA. All those book signings on the agenda? Free books. All you have to do is show up and ask the author to sign it. Some will be paperbacks, some will be cards with codes for downloading later. But there will be books everywhere if you want them! (I will be at the Indie book signing with a mix of both. Come see me!)
  • Goodie Room. It’s actually pretty cool. There is a mix of all kinds of stuff from paperbacks and samplers to bookmarks and business cards. There are lip balms, coozies, rubber bracelet thingies, luggage tags, key chains, and anything else these creative ladies came up with to give away for free. Be careful though. A few things here and there add up quickly. Make sure you are planning to pack and/or ship home accordingly!
  • Conference recordings. Many of the workshops are actually recorded! The recordings are available for purchase. It sounded weird and expensive to me last year but if you have a track you are following and some important workshops you really wanted to attend are at the same time, or overlap something you can’t cancel, get the recordings. It can invaluable. I’ve heard they make great listening in the car and in the background while working. The investment is something that feels like too much at the time, but it extends the value of the conference and it is something you get to keep and listen to whenever you need it! Pretty cool.

Pack accordingly! At the end of the day it isn’t about the clothes you wore or how you took notes, it’s about the things you learned and the connections you made. Check out our First Draught Google On Air chat about RWA here. And check back on Tuesday when First Draught will have a Google Hangout on Air all about packing and getting ready for San Antonio! You can RSVP here and leave questions for us to answer!

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Write Club before the RITA’s!

Wonderful Wednesday: Swag and Business Cards

Conventions, conferences, walking down the street…if you are in business for yourself (as all writers are) then you need junk to hand people when they ask who you are and what you do. So, with our biggest convention of the year less than three weeks away, it is time to make sure my swag is ready to go.

Last night First Draught sat down and did a quick 40 minute rundown on last year’s conference in Atlanta, what we got out of it, and why we’re returning to San Antonio this year. There is a hilarious giggling fit at the very end you simply cannot miss. You can check it out here:

So, what are the must have items to take with you? Business cards of course! The more unique to you, the better. They are your calling card. When people try to remember your name and what you do hours or days later, you want something that left an impression. It can be anything from colors to the material of the card.

My card printer of choice is Moo. They make a really high quality card that feels different to the touch and stands out in a stack of cards. And you can print different images on one side (meaning for an author, you can make one business card, but put a different book cover on each one). Here are my cards from this year (top) and last year (bottom).

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This year I have all three of my book covers on one side and my contact info and a picture on the other. One thing to keep in mind at massive conferences like RWA is that there are a lot of people. Your picture can help them remember who you are versus the other two hundred people they met that day. Also include your Twitter handle since so many writers live and die by the Tweets. Many attendees will sit in their room at night and go through their stack of cards “liking” and “following” everyone they met that day, then toss the cards. If you don’t have that info on your card, you may get passed over.

Last year I didn’t have any books out. So I picked sayings and meme’s that exemplified the type of stories I was writing. I included a saying and my contact info on the back. It worked out well. So no matter what stage of your writing career, get some cards and make them stand out!

Other options to consider (especially if you have books to promote!) are bookmarks, rack cards, lip balm, USB sticks, bags, nail files, makeup bags, key chains, and luggage tags. Keep in mind that most people are flying in to this conference and don’t want large or junkie things to lug back home. If you are going to spend money on swag, make it count. I couldn’t zip my luggage last year and left a pile of swag behind on my hotel bed.

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The only things that made the trip home with me were the things I loved. Like this amazing lip balm I kept all year. I liked it so much that I ordered some for me this year from WithLogos.com!

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In the past I’ve ordered bookmarks from Next Day Flyers and business cards (that I use as info cards) from Uprinting.com. I also plan on ordering foam posterboards of my covers from Uprinting for my reader-cons and signings later this year. I need/want to order rack cards for the signing at RWA but I haven’t made up my mind what I want them to look like yet.

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One last thing to think about. You can hire someone to design all of this stuff for you or you can design it yourself. The trick to the DIY is being able to create the images in the correct dimensions. You can use something like Powerpoint (which is how I created the back of my current business cards that have my picture on them) by going into the slide size and adjusting it to the size specifications of the cards you are making. The dimensions and bleeds will be in the information for every card you are designing, regardless of the website. You can also use Paint to resize existing images (like book covers) to the correct dimensions.

Another amazing option is Canva. Click on the “Use Custom Dimensions” in the top right corner and plug in size of the card you are creating, then start designing! They also have pre-made templates for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, business cards, promotional items, and even book covers! If you haven’t checked on Canva yet, do it! They are invaluable!

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What other options are out there, guys? What else can we recommend to future conference goers? Let’s do this!

Why “How I Met Your Mother” is One of the Best Romances on Television

You know what the most romantic love story of all time is? The one where a man tells the story of how he fell in love.

How I Met Your Mother is a television show. It is a comedy. And yet, it is one of the most romantic things I’ve ever seen–for so many reasons. For nine seasons we’ve heard a man tell his children the hilarious, touching, and life changing story of how he met (and fell in love) with their mother. It involves all the friendships and failures that brought him to that moment. The moment that changes everything.

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I write romance for a living and I am constantly struck, as I’ve watched this show over the years, how touching and eloquent it could be about life and love. I appreciate the different storytelling devices the writers use (my favorite is starting the show at the end, then going back and telling us how it happened).

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I also love the recurring themes: the goat, the slap bet, the Bro code… the list goes on. It creates a sense of anticipation and satisfaction, yet does it subtly and with very little effort. It is almost built into the fabric of the show itself.

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I relate to this show for so many reasons. I’m approximately the same age as the characters, I went to college at the same time, had similar experiences, and met similar people. I fell in love with my husband in college and our best friend is still our best friend. (Sometimes seeing Mark and Nate together is so eerily similar to Ted and Marshall it scares me). We’ve been through the same heartbreaks, career changes, pregnancies, and weddings.

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I sometimes feel like this show is my own life.

But it’s more than that. Sure the ’90’s references, flashbacks, and Legend-wait for it!-dary exploits are all oddly familiar, but there is more to the show than references and cultural symbolism. It is about life and relationships. The kind of stuff that is universal.

  • The friend who you are bonded to for life because of an experience words will never be able to adequately explain. The “you had to be there” moment.
  • The lover who somehow becomes your best friend.
  • The love you feel for your children.
  • The love you feel for your significant other.

These types of love aren’t unique to a specific person. Our individual experiences, our ups and downs, those are unique. But the kind of love is universal. Anyone can have that friend or lover.

The story of falling in love is timeless. They stick with us because it is the feeling, not the context, that matters. I know by heart the story of my Mimi and Papa meeting and falling in love. I will always remember my dad talking about the day he met my mom (they were in high school and she was wearing “shiny tights”). I tell the story of the day I met Nate over and over. Sure we talk about the clothes and friends and food, but it’s how they made us feel: like we weren’t alone, how our hearts began racing, how everything about our lives changed that day. It is one of those experiences we all want to have.

And that is why, as I watch these last episodes of How I Met Your Mother, I am struck so hard by how romantic this show is. We were promised in the first episode the story of how Ted met his wife. The writers have diligently worked hard to fulfill that promise. This season they have wrapped up nearly every story line, question, and character they introduced. As a writer, I am in awe of what they have accomplished. And on television? It is almost never done. The fulfillment of the promise of seeing Ted meet and fall in love is one of the most satisfying love stories I’ve ever read or watched. It will go down in my personal history of one of my all time favorites.

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Copious tissues will be needed to get me through this last episode. I hope that it is everything I am wishing for in a finale. (I’m a little worried by rumors I’ve heard about the story line in this last episode, and yet I feel like even if they are true, I will still love the way they do it.)

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Thank you Carter Bays and Craig Thomas for an amazing show, and thanks to all the actors and actresses who brought these characters to life. You’ve made a permanent mark on my heart. I don’t know what I’m going to do without this show!

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The slap bet is one of my favorite recurring themes on the show. I would get so excited when I knew a Slaptastic episode was coming, I’d actually start vibrating. The anticipation of how and when it was going to go down was so fun! Plus, I think the magical combination of Marshall’s stoic commitment and that secret (not-so-secret) belief we all have that Barney kind of needs these slaps, made it even more hilarious than it already was.

Then there’s the goat, the doppelgangers, Barney’s theories…. the list is so long! What were some of your favorites to look forward to each week?

Sharing is Caring Part 2: Websites I Follow

Today I want to share with all of you some of the amazing sites I’ve stumbled onto lately. Because sharing is caring.

1) One of my goals this year was to spearhead some sort of positive movement online, and “Operation Nice” to combat all the negative (see AL Parks recent post on negativity and author branding). As I looked more into the idea I discovered someone else was already doing it. Not only were the doing it, they were kicking ass as it. At first I was a little sad that I hadn’t done it first…but then I was excited because Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls is so much more than I could have done on my own. She has the resources, the support, and the celebrity to help make this everything it needs to be.

I follow their Facebook page and smile every time the page comes up in my feed. Every post contains a celebration of women and girls doing amazing things in our world. They promote positive behavior and give prompts for positive posts on social media. Not only that, but they create their own original content, series, and videos. Please, please check out Smart Girls! It rocks, I promise you!

2) About the same time I found Smart Girls, I found A Mighty Girl. This website is focused on books for younger girls, but it posts and promotes topics of all kinds related to women and girls. The books they sell on their website all contain female protagonists and empowering and educational stories about girls and women. It is another incredibly positive and enjoyable page to follow.

3) And don’t forget about the Kindness movement!

4) Another site I’m excited to tell you about is one I am part of. Raising Awareness of Women in Writing (RAWW) is off the ground! We share stories and news relating to writing, publishing, and female characters in fiction, plus we have original content coming later this year. Our goal is to be a resource for information and a place for people to connect and interact.

5) I really Enjoy the A.V. Club and all their articles. It covers all the media from books to movies to tv shows. Lots of thoughtful content on what going on in the media, including women’s issues.

6) VlogBrothers. I’m kind of a nut for the entire Nerd Fighter, DFTBA, Crash Course, Mental Floss, Art Project, etc, etc, etc, empire brother John and Hank Green have created. It is all over YouTube, Tumblr, and Twitter and almost all of it focuses on being nice to each other, sharing information, growing knowledge, and helping those in need. It is an awesome community (haha, Don’t Forget To Be Awesome) and I love watching all of their videos.

So, these are some of the people and blogs I follow for news, inspiration, and general entertainment. I hope you find something new to enjoy and please feel free to suggest other for us to try!

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