February 19, 2018

the writers write olympics

Last week I was once again invited to be an author mentor at Writers Write, a morning workshop for local eighth grade students sponsored by the Nebraska Literary Heritage Association. I participated in the program as an eighth grader, and it has been a particular honor to come back as a mentor the past three years.

Like countless others, I have Olympic Winter Games fever.

Lady Jane and I surfing the sofa and cheering on
the women's relay. Like. Bosses.

When I'm not watching the Olympics, I seem to be reading up on them. Even the book I just finished reading centered around the Olympics. When it came time to figure out the focus and theme for my break-out workshop, it hit me like Marai Nagasu landing her triple axel in the short program. I needed to celebrate the Olympics.

It was so. Much. Fun. The students--even the shy ones--seemed to get into the spirit of the whole thing. They broke out into their randomly appointed teams and seemed to create tight-knit units immediately. They brainstormed and shared and wrote some pretty spectacular pieces off the cuff.

I wanted to share the script I created as well as a few pictures from the day. (No photos of the students as I don't have their parents' permission to post them here.) I actually stuck to it pretty faithfully, because I was trying to kick a nasty cold, and it took most of my energy to stay upright and be peppy in intervals. I also had a slide show with gifs and videos, but I'll only include where necessary.

Here it is, the 2018 Writers Write Olympics . . .

[Play Olympics Theme Music]

Welcome to the inaugural Writers Write Olympics, where everyone is a fierce writer and everyone wins. I’m Laura Chapman, your master of ceremonies, coach, and biggest cheerleader. In today’s Olympic games, we’ll discuss what it takes to be a champion writer and chase writing gold for ourselves and our teams. Are you ready, writers?

You can practically see the cold medicine radiating from my pores.


Before we begin today’s games, we need to create some teams. Please select a slip of paper from the Olympic Cup and go to the table with that color of folder and star. Go ahead and introduce yourself to your team members. Share your name. Where you go to school. And the best book you’ve read this year.

[Pause for introductions]

Now it’s time to make your team stand out. Go ahead and select a name and write it down on that star. You’ll also need a motto. Write it on the Post-It note on your folder. And take that poster board and make a flag You have five minutes. Before we begin the Parade of Nations, open up your folder and pull out the single sheet of paper with word prompts. Fill those in quickly as a team, selecting nouns, adverbs, adjectives and so on. You’ll need those later.


Let’s meet our Olympic Teams. Bring everyone on up. One of you will be the flag bearer. One of you will share the name and motto.


Thank you all for representing your schools and teams. I officially declare the Writers Write Olympic Games Open. Let the games begin!


For our preliminary round, we’re going to do a team writing activity. Before we begin, let’s watch a brief clip from this year’s Olympics.

[PLAY: https://youtu.be/RvEFtNYVQVI]

That’s Mirai Nagasu, a 24-year-old from Team USA. This week she became the first American female figure skater to successfully land a triple axel at the Olympics. She’s only the third woman to do so at the games. Can you imagine what that’s like? With your teams, write what you think was gong through her mind and how she felt during these 30 seconds.

One of the slides I created under the influence of a fever and meds.

Work together to show and tell those thoughts and feelings in a short vignette. You can do this together as a team by discussing. Or you can do it Round Robin style where each team member writes one sentence and passes it on. The choice is yours, but you have five minutes. Are you ready? Begin.


Please select a member from your team to share what you’ve written.


Well done, teams. You’ve done a great job working together to fulfill your goals. Writing can often be a solitary experience, but it’s good to have a network of friends. They can help you brainstorm. They’ll keep you motivated. And sometimes you can work together to create a project. 


Now it’s time to move on to the next phase of our games, the individual competition. Please open up your folders again and remove the folded sheets of paper. When you sit down to write, you don’t need to have have an outline. But it’s beneficial to have an idea of what you will write about. It helps you be more productive and reduces stress and anxiety. Open your folded sheet of paper and look at your picture. Use it to inspire a scene or poem. You can write about the person or people it in it. Or perhaps you’re writing from the perspective of someone witnessing it. Or maybe it’s the setting or activity. It’s your choice. You’ll have two chunks of time to write. I’m going to set the time for the first one now. I’ll let you know when you have 30 seconds left. Are you ready? Go!



That’s time. We’ll get back to our writing, but first we’ll be back after a word from our sponsors. When writing, it’s a good idea to give yourself breaks. Not only is it good for your body and health to move around, but it helps stir the creative choices. Everyone stand up. Go ahead and shake it out a little. Now for our first stretches.

  • fingers 
  • wrists
  • arms (up, across, out) 
  • calf raises 

Now we’ll march in place, moving our arms like so. Does everyone feel a little more loose?

Great, let’s get back for Round 2. Again, think about what you’re writing. Think about how that person reacts to their setting. What are they feeling? How can you show it? I’ll set the timer again and let you know when we’re up to the final 30 seconds.


Okay, that’s it for this writing session. How did it feel writing in those two bits of time? Writing in short, timed writes like the ones we just did are called sprints. The idea is to set a timer for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes and take breaks between. It’s based on a productivity tool called the Pomodoro Technique. Setting out to accomplish a big goal, like writing a story or poem, can be daunting. But when you break it down into smaller chunks like that—and take breaks—it becomes more manageable. Now it’s time to share our work with each other.

Have everyone at your table go around and share your stories with each other. When you’re done, select one person who will share his or her story with the room. Ready? Go.


The "medals" I gave each student after reading. They're the colors of
the teams they'd worked with all morning.

Do we have our three representatives? Let’s go around the room and share.

[Almost everyone ended up sharing, which was awesome.]

Thank you all for representing your teams. Would you each please come up here. In recognition of your bravery and good work, please accept this medal. Please take these others back to your tables and present them to your teammates.


Thank you all for participating in the Writers Write Olympics. I hope you had fun. If you think about it, we writers have a lot in common with Olympic athletes.

For all of us, success begins when we turn our dreams into plans. It’s one thing to say we want to win the half pipe or write a story. It’s another to come up with a way to make it happen. How do we accomplish this as writers? We make outlines, develop characters, and brainstorm.

It also takes hard work and dedication. That means sitting down with a pen and paper or a computer to write. It means making time for it and committing to your words. We have to practice doing that. Like skiing down hill or skating at high speed, writing takes muscles. To get your muscles in top shape, you have to do it often and practice, practice, practice.

It can be scary to create a story or a poem then to turn around and share it with others. Just like it must be nerve-wracking to skate a routine on ice in front of fans around the world. It’s okay to be afraid. That doesn’t make you a coward or weird. We’re all scared. But we become champions when we don’t let that fear hold us back from going for what we want.

And all of us have to ignore the haters that try to keep us from doing what we love. Sometimes they’re people who say mean things. Other times they’re the self doubt that make us question whether or not we have what it takes. Whatever they are, you have to ignore them and focus on the prize—a finished piece.

So this is my advice to you, writers:

Dream big and turn those dreams into plans.

Work hard and dedicate yourself to your craft.

Make time to write and make it a habit.

Don’t let fear bring you down.

Be fierce. Be brave. Be daring.

And ignore the haters.

Don’t let them keep you from dreaming and writing.

Thank you for being here today. Keep going and keep believing your words matter, because they do. Now, to end on the moment you’ve perhaps been curious about from the beginning. Why did you write down those random words with your teams? While you were writing away, I wrote them into a Mad Lib. Here it goes:

It actually made some kind of sense!

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

February 13, 2018

what i'm loving this february

After a month spent going to and renting movies, reading books, and basically living my best life, there are so many things I'm loving right now. It was difficult to narrow it down to a top five, but here we go.

 Right now I'm loving:

Playing Catch-Up on Hallmark movies. 

While watching TV during cardio, I discovered a couple of new favorite Hallmark movies. I apparently missed out on a lot of new flicks the last year or two. Several were charming, but my hands-down favorite was Birthday Wish. This has one of my favorite tropes: a newly 30-year-old woman makes a birthday wish and gets a glimpse at what her future looks like, and it isn't what she expected. This movie did it with a fresh take, and I found myself totally swooning for the couple and their story. I liked it enough I've already re-watched it and saved it to my DVR for another future viewing.

World War II movies and research. 

Following my now annual binge-watch of The Crown, I was particularly drawn to a couple of this year's Oscar-nominated films from just before that time period. I went to see Darkest Hour after work one evening and came home to watch Dunkirk on Prime. Both were well done, and I appreciated seeing more of what the war was like before U.S. involvement. (I admit, I knew almost nothing about the conflict before Pearl Harbor.) While reading up on World War II, I also found myself having conversations with my parents to learn more about family members who served. I channeled the former journalist who lives inside me and scrolled through digital archives to find their draft papers, and in one case POW information. Just last weekend, my mom and I looked through old family photos and materials. One of my favorite pieces is a personalized prayer book my great uncle received from the Ladies Aid at his church just before he left for training.

Victoria on Masterpiece. 

I'm behind on watching Season 2, but I've spent the past week re-watching Season 1 on Prime. And oh my goodness! I'd forgotten how dreamy Tom Hughes was. Oh me, oh my, I might have a little crush on Prince Albert. Or Tom Hughes. Or Tom Hughes playing Albert. Or all of the above. Note to self: Find out if the prince was dishy in real life.

Learning about the Plantagenets.  

I'm taking forever to read Dan Jones's book on the subject, but I'm enjoying every moment. I've only made it to King Richard returning from the Crusade to a less-than-stellar homecoming, but friends, there's so much drama. Who knew the middle ages were so compelling? Well, probably you if you've read up on the subject yourself, but isn't it fascinating. And here's a little fun fact . . . Reading this book also qualifies as research of sorts for the book I'm writing now. Tuck that little fact away for later.

Green Giant broccoli and cauliflower tots. 

Trust me, when you're watching what you eat, there are few things in the world that taste better than bits of broccoli or cauliflower mashed up into the shape of a tater tot. So. Good.

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

February 8, 2018

ready to hop?

Are you excited about Valentine's Day? The authors at Chick Lit Chat HQ are, and we know quite a bit about romance, not to mention gorgeous guys and swoonworthy storylines, which is why we've put together a fun-filled event that celebrates all these wonderful things.

That's right, book lovers, it's time for the Sweet Treats & Yummy Reads Hop! Starting February 12, 40+ Chick Lit and RomCom authors will be throwing a fabulous, Valentine-themed bash on Facebook and each of them will be offering a GIVEAWAY--books, gift cards, author swag, and lots of other wonderful prizes will be up for grabs!

(Including a little something from moi. Visit my Facebook page on February 12 for details!)

But wait, there's more! You know we have the "yummy reads" covered (this group is nothing if not crazy talented), but what about the "sweet treats?" Hold on to your hats, peeps, because CLC HQ has outdone itself this time. We'll be giving away not one, not two, but THREE Grand Prizes for this hop and each of those lucky winners will receive a 6-pack of Wicked Good Cupcakes!*

And the best news of all? You get to choose your own sinfully delicious flavors. (Commence happy dance now.)

So, what are you waiting for? Head on over to the Sweet Treats & Yummy Reads Hop on Facebook and join the group page where you can meet and chat with fellow readers, as well as some of the most popular authors in your favorite genres, plus find the lists of participating authors and enter to win one of the Grand Prizes. We look forward to seeing you there!

*Wicked Good Cupcakes only ships to destinations in the United States, so the Grand Prize portion of this hop will not be open to international entrants. However, the 40+ individual author giveaways will be open internationally.

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

February 5, 2018

my name

In the past year I've spent time with a couple of friends from my past. As we were catching up on years' worth of news and developments, talk would turn to my writing. And in a couple of situations,  I was asked the same question: Why did you choose to publish under your own name?

It's a totally legit question. In college I made no secret that I planned to be an author who potentially wrote in different genres. And if that came to be (the writing in different genres; writing in general was always a given) I knew I'd probably need a pen name or three for branding purposes. Apparently more on my game as a 21-year-old than I am now as a 32-year-old, I talked about these kinds of things at the bar and parties. (I know. I constantly prove how cool I am.) With that back story it makes even more sense why they'd raise this question.

Truth is, I'd planned to use a pen name. When I signed up for National Novel Writing Month in November 2010, I chose the username Elle.Chapman for a reason. Maybe Elle Chapman would be my pen name.

It wasn't that I hated my name. I actually have a lot of love for my name. My dad liked the name Laura, because it was his grandmother's name. And my mom liked it because, as a little girl, she remembered the most beautiful, put-together woman at her church was Laura, and the name always stuck. I don't even have qualms about my last name. Well, besides being called Laura "Chapwoman" or "Chapstick" by some of the other kids on the playground growing up. It's a perfectly good name. It just didn't (and sometimes still, to my ear, doesn't) have that star power like Nora Roberts or Agatha Christie. There's also the small fact that Laura Chapman is a fairly common name, and I knew I'd never be able to afford to buy out the domain name for laurachapman.com or any of the social media handles.

So, while I wrote my first two novels and learned a bit more about the industry, I toyed around with potential names.

By the time I started querying agents a year later, I hadn't come up with a pen name I liked. And by the time I found my first publisher a few years later, I'd been blogging under my name. I didn't even think about it when I signed that contract. And so Laura Chapman's book career was born. Like many things in this world, it just happened. There's no great story, not a lot of thought. But now that it's done, I do feel a lot of pride seeing my name on a book cover. I look at it, and I know it's me.

Of course, I still fully plan to use a pen name or two down the road when I get my act together and diversify my writing. Hopefully I put a little more thought into it the next time around.

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

February 1, 2018

harper's guide to your best super bowl

Blogger's Note: Whether you're a football enthusiast or a fair-weather spectator, the Super Bowl can be a time for gathering with friends and family to scream at a TV screen. Though intended to be a day of fun, it can be beneficial to go into it with a plan to make the most of this holiday. With Super Bowl LII on the horizon, who better than the Queen of the League herself, Harper Duquaine to guide us? Please enjoy her tips and suggestions for living your best Super Bowl.

A Guide to Hosting Your Best Super Bowl

By Harper Duquaine

It's funny how something like the Super Bowl can sneak up on you. When you consider that I work, live, and (ahem) sleep with men who are obsessed with football, it seems like I should have been more on the ball about this Sunday.

(Okay, quick note. I need to point out that I'm only sleeping with ONE man. Not a group of men. This might have been unclear just now. I live with my brothers. I work with half a dozen grown children masquerading as men. And I'm romantically involved with one really good guy. None of this has anything to do with planning a Super Bowl party, but I just have to make that point clear before we continue. Got it?)

As the token woman in a fantasy football league (and one who's earned a reputation for getting shit done) it usually (more like always) falls on me to plan our weekly football watch parties. So it comes as no surprise that I've been drafted to put together a Super Bowl party for twenty people.

No problem. I could do this in my sleep. But in case you're at all worried about the upcoming Super Bowl (and, okay, I am kind of freaking out a little, and obsessing like this helps me calm down), here are my tips and best practices to help you plan your best Super Bowl party. 

#1 Decorations

You can use as many mason jars or crystal chargers to try to shabby-chic your Super Bowl watch party. But let's face it, at the end of the day, it's easier to just embrace the reality of the situation. Balloons, plastic table covers, paper plates, napkins, and cups in the team colors and so on are going to be your friend in the end. While these aren't great for the environment (Sorry, Mother Earth. Seriously.) at the end of the evening, it's so much easier to do clean-up if you aren't doing dishes.

I tend to hit-up the party stores a few days before the big game and grab utensils in the opposing team's colors. I also have some reusable plastic trays and plates for serving, which frankly matches everything better than my fancy stuff.

Try creating a photo booth with streamers and balloons as a background and props like footballs, trophies, and pom-poms. Word to the wise: Use an inflatable football. One of my friends had a few too many drinks and broke a picture frame when we used a real football last year. Yikes.

#2 Menu

Did you know the Super Bowl is one of a handful of days when calories don't count? It's true. I'm pretty sure I read or heard it somewhere (and now you're reading it here). So on this most blessed of days, channel your inner Texan and go big.

Of course there are tried and true staples, such as pizza and nachos. I suggest making at home, using frozen, or ordering carryout hours in advance to make sure you have it all on hand before kick-off. While delivery pizza is both amazing and everything, this is one of the busiest days of the year, and it might take a while for your food to come through. You also can't go wrong with opening up a bag of chips or having a meat and cheese platter so people can build their own sandwiches.

If you're like me, though, this isn't going to be enough. You're going to feel like you have something to prove. Don't worry. I have a whole list of tried-and-true dishes ready. You'll note most of these are vegetarian friendly, because I'm a pescetarian, but you can easily adjust for carnivores.

Here's the list:

These have all gone over well with my crew, and hey--you can't really do better than a Philly when you have the Eagles playing. I suppose if you wanted to represent New England, you could make some clam chowder or offer up Sam Adams beer. Which brings up the next point . . . 

For beverages, we go for a BYOB approach, but I always have plenty of bottles of water and freshly brewed ice tea for the non-drinkers. (Or the drinkers who maybe need to slow it down a little.) Consider having a few ice chests set around your living area for your guests to use. This is convenient for them and it frees up fridge space.

#3 Wardrobe

We've already established that we're going to overdo it in the food department. That's why it's absolutely imperative you wear comfy clothes with a loose waist. I'm talking leggings, sweatpants, heck, even a tutu (try this tutorial), but please, for yourself, avoid wearing skinny jeans. Or, if you're someone who feels like you have to live in khakis (I'm looking at you, Brook) make sure your top is long enough that it will cover your stomach when you inevitably undo your top button to make room for more nachos.

Here's what I suggest for a night of stylish comfort to mark the occasion:

  • Oversized football jersey (Any team will do. I'll be wearing a Packers jersey, because I'll never wear an Eagles jersey again, and I'm not cheering for the Pats. #sorrynotsorry) 
  • Leggings. Paired with the long jersey, you'll be super comfy. If you choose correctly, you can be stylish too. While it isn't totally important (but it certainly doesn't hurt) this look really seems to work for my gentleman friend.
  • Thermal socks. It's February. Even if your toes are painted cute for the occasion, it's going to get cold. Plus, let's be serious, who has time for a proper pedicure when there's so much else to do before your guests arrive?

This is one part of the evening you don't have to worry about. Choose comfort, my friends.

#4 Activities 

Okay, we're all going to step into the trust circle here. And you all absolutely have to promise not to tell my friends what I'm about to admit to you. Ready? Okay, here it goes. Sometimes, I find the Super Bowl boring. I know, I know! But, seriously, some years I don't care who wins or loses and the commercials are kind of lame.

Fortunately, my friend Amelia and I have come up with a few little games to pass the time.
  1. Place bets on which party guest will spill his beer first.
  2. Create a drinking game where you take a drink every time: a) there's a first down b) a Budweiser commercial airs c) a washed-up celebrity makes a cameo d) an announcer says "controls the line of scrimmage," "take care of the football," "deep penetration," or "ball carrier" (it's also okay to laugh like a thirteen-year-old when you hear these) e) your fellow party attendees let out a shout of disappointment. Finish your drink when the x or there's an obvious malfunction during the half-time performance. 
  3. Play "who would you rather" or F***, Marry, Kill with the starting line-up. (We're not particularly proud of this, but desperate times, you know.) 

#5 Conflict Resolution

It happens. Sometimes fans get a little too passionate. Maybe someone has a few too many. Perhaps your significant other says you make a better door than a window while you're trying to pick up trash, and you spend the fourth quarter passive aggressively making faces behind his back. Whatever the situation, sometimes we have to take five and get to the bottom of the issue. As quickly as possible so you don't miss any big plays or commercials.

I suggest waiting until a play is being reviewed and the commentators are yapping on about how so-and-so is a real fighter or yadda-yadda chokes under pressure to quickly resolve any issues at your party. To do this, you need to follow these five easy steps:

  1. As calmly as possible, make sure the conflicting guests mutually recognize there's a problem.
  2. Make sure both individuals agree to fix the problems.
  3. Have each person try to understand the other person's perspective.
  4. Establish what behaviors or attitudes each needs to change to prevent future altercations.
  5. Quickly hold a thumb-wrestling match, and declare one person the winner, because it looks like we're about to go to a commercial break.

Yeah, unfortunately, I don't have a ton to offer here. I just say, get through the party as best as you can, knowing it's perfectly okay for you to take as many bags of trash to the dumpster as you need to give yourself a break from the insanity. And, if you play your cards right, you must might be able to get that jerk-face significant other to put away all the leftovers and do the dishes, because he feels bad for hurting your feelings.

Hope these tips help you with your Super Bowl Party Plans. If you're hosting, be sure to share you pictures on my creator's Facebook and Twitter pages. Enjoy the game and, oh what the heck. I don't care that they're not playing. GO PACK GO!

About the Queen of the League Trilogy
When Harper Duquaine’s no-nonsense approach to work unintentionally ruffles the wrong feathers at her new job, she joins her co-workers’ fantasy football league to prove she can hang with the guys. Only problem: she doesn’t know a sleeper from a keeper (or any of the other lingo thrown her way). Follow her journey and mis-adventures through three seasons as she proves she's worthy of the championship trophy and true love.

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

January 29, 2018

january 2018: what I read (and watched)

In case I haven't said it enough, my word for the year is "Balance." Between trying to live a healthier lifestyle and honing my professional words (day job and writing), I also wanted to make sure I was taking time to do the things I love. Reading and going to the movies are two of my great loves. I love slipping into different worlds and becoming totally entranced with a story--whether it's one I hold in my hands or see on the screen. The past couple years, I've been so consumed with stressing over my own storytelling, I've missed out on these other two loves. And I think it's actually hurt my storytelling. I need to read and watch to become inspired and better at my craft.

With that in mind, two of my second tier goals were to read more and to see more movies. To keep myself honest, I'll share a recap at the end of each month. So, without further ado . . .

What I Read

Not Another Bad Date by Rachel Gibson

With a new release by Rachel Gibson on my TBR list this month (more in a moment on that), I kept thinking about scenes from one of the first RG books I read years ago during my romance renaissance (Summer 2008-Winter 2011). What started as skimming a few spots turned into me re-reading the whole book for the first time in almost 10 years. I loved this series then, and while I still enjoyed it this time around, I can definitely tell my taste in leading men has changed. I'm also beginning to think that the real reason I'll never live a real-life rom com has less to do with general plausibility and more to do with my ability to really hold a grudge.

The Art of Running in Heels by Rachel Gibson

There was a lot I liked about this book. For one, I love the idea of meeting up with the children of some of the Chinooks we met years ago. Two, the hero of this book had a fantastic back story, and was a pretty stand-up guy (all things considered). Three, I'm a fan of reality TV meets romance. (Cough, cough, The Marrying Type.) But something about this story fell a little short for me. I can't even entirely explain it. Maybe it's me and where I'm at right now in life. Or maybe I'd built it up too much. Either way, I'll try reading this one again down the road to see if maybe a change of timing adjusts my feelings for it.

Need You Now by Nicole Helm

I had a tough time getting into this one. While there was lots to like (the set-up and setting) I just didn't connect with either of the leads in this one as much as I would have liked. Again, this could be me and where I am right now as a reader. I should maybe get my head checked out.

And . . . that's it for this month. I didn't read as many books as I'd intended, but that has a lot to do with what I'm reading right now: a massive historical non-fiction. I'm really enjoying it, but at 500+ pages, it's taking me some time. I'll be back next month (I hope) with an update.

What I Watched

Darkest Hour (in theater)

I paired this viewing with a rental of Dunkirk, all in one evening, which I highly recommend. Though I've heard some say it was a little slow moving, I found the time passed quickly. I particularly appreciated how the movie was broken down by dates (which really illustrated to this American how quickly Britain went from naming Churchill prime minister to the evacuation at Dunkirk). And though Gary Oldman deserves the praise he's received for his portrayal of Churchill, I found the supporting cast equally well performed.

Dunkirk (at home)

About 15 minutes into viewing this rental at home, I regretted not making time to see it in the theater. Though there's virtually no background provided for any of the characters, this ensemble cast brought their roles to life and had me completely captivated and interested in their well-being, even though I barely knew their names, let alone anything else about them. I also appreciated the layered timeline and the attention to detail that went into creating an authentic look. When it was over, I spent much of the next week thinking about it and diving into research rabbit holes on both the Dunkirk evacuation and film. I'm also thrilled to say I'll have my chance to see this movie in theater when I go to a two-day theatrical event that plays all nine best picture movies. Score!

The Post (in theater)

With a movie starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, you really can't go wrong. With a stellar supporting cast that held their own with these two legends, I completely enjoyed this movie. The two hours flew by, and it took me back to my Mass Media Law class in college. This was another movie that sent me down a research frenzy. I actually fell asleep at my laptop reading up on the real-life people involved in the Pentagon Papers and beyond.

I, Tonya (in theater)

This movie was pretty much exactly what I imagined it would be. I clearly remember coming home to watch Hard Copy while Tonya Harting/Nancy Kerrigan drama prevailed. And it's one one of few times I remember my whole family sitting down to watch the Olympics together. Told in a campy light that was both funny and sad, I particularly appreciated how the movie's structure really pushed the point that there are no reliable narrators in most situations. Everyone has their own version and bias that they bring to the table. And, yes, Allison Janney is, and has always been, a treasure.

Hallmark Winterfest (at home) 

These Hallmark movies offered a nice break from the more serious (though entirely enjoyable) dramas I've been watching lately. My ranking for how I enjoyed these movies . . . is actually the order in which they aired.

  1. Love on the Slopes 
  2. Frozen in Love 
  3. One Winter Weekend 
  4. Winter's Dream

Plus, I checked out several Old Hollywood movies, including Bringing Up Baby, Pride & Prejudice (Laurence Olivier), Gaslight and so on.

What have you been watching lately? 

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

January 25, 2018

reasons i don't write

Sometimes, in my experience as a writer, the words fly out of my head and onto the page. I can't type fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. But also in my experience, those times are fewer and far between than the alternative: sludge writing. For me, sludge writing is when I really have to force myself to sit down and write. Kind of like when it's snowed several inches, but you really have to get out to your car so you can drive to the store to buy cat food, so you wade through the sludge, clawing and scraping along the way until you reach your destination.

Sounds pretty cute and fun, huh? I can't speak on behalf of all writers, but I'm pretty sure most of us have been there, or at least in that state of mind. And it's why being a writer (or creator in general) can be tricky. It's why writing, while wonderful, is work. So we push through until we get the words, fully knowing that some of them will be crap we have to edit later.

Even that's better than the alternative: not writing. Despite my goal of writing every day this (I was even counting on 1,000 words a day), I've fallen super short on my goal. On the one hand, I'm a little annoyed at myself. I know I can push myself to write if I really wanted. On the other, I'm feeling pretty content and happy with how I'm progressing in other parts of my world, so I wonder if I should really push myself to do too much. The reality of the situation, like so many others in the world, probably falls somewhere in between. (This reminds me: My word of the year is BALANCE. I should probably remember that.) And while I know all this, it's really easy for me to make excuses for why I'm neglecting one part of my life right now.

I've practically turned making excuses for my low word counts and skipped days of writing into an art form. Here's a list of my most frequent excuses I make for why I don't write:

1. The muses aren't speaking to me.

This is the main excuse I use, and it's also total B.S. Unlike Ana Steele of Fifty Shades fame, I don't have an inner goddess doing backflips and panting while I go about my day. Sure, I have a wild imagination and bursts of inspiration, but you can't rely on them if you want to be productive. Don't get me wrong, I totally take advantage when they strike, but most of the time, it's all about showing up and doing. So blaming lack of writing on the muses is a really lame excuse for me to make.

2. I really need to focus on (insert aspect of my life). 

This one is a little more fair, but still just an excuse. This month, I have put a lot of energy into making lifestyle changes. Longtime readers of the blog will know I have done this intermittently through the years. I'll work out. I'll meal plan. I'll lose weight. Then something will happen and I'll gain it all back (and even then some). I spent my 20s and the first two years of my 30s ballooning and enough is enough. I'm doing 30 minutes of cardio most days of the week. I'm counting my calories to lose weight in a steady, healthy way. I'm choosing foods that are full of nutrients and will leave me feeling satisfied and well rather than gross. I'm drinking water like it's my job. I'm also taking time to watch movies and read. I'm trying to stay in better touch with my friends and family. These are all great, wonderful things, and I should make time for them. But what about the writing? Isn't that important too? Like with how I'm adjusting my mind-set with eating and being active (which is still so new, I should probably brag about it a little less), I should really carve time out of my day for words. Even 15 to 30 minutes a day would make a huge difference, just like my time on the treadmill. Balance, Laura. It's all about balance.

3. I'm too tired.

This is probably the excuse I make most after the whole muse-situation. A bad night of sleep, a bug, or even just feeling drained can leave me foggy in the head. When that happens, I give myself a free pass on writing. "I couldn't possibly write when my brain is working this poorly," I'll say to myself. "I'll just wait until I feel better. Then I'll write." It makes total sense to me at the time, but as I write it now and look at those words, I have to roll my eyes. If I waited until I felt perfect to do anything (go to my day job, make lunch, brush my teeth, etc.) I wouldn't do anything. Then again, it's also a sign that maybe it is important to take better care of myself so I have fewer days where I feel gross. And, actually, so far this month, I really have felt better. Even on days when sleep wasn't perfect, I still felt pretty okay as long as I kept drinking my water and eating my veggies.

4. I'll write tomorrow.

Okay, Scarlett O'Hara, you go ahead and think about your writing tomorrow and see if that really works out for you. Procrastination is real and it's dangerous. I've always been a bit of one, particularly when it comes to writing. It dates back to my high school and college days when I figured out I could start a paper the night before it was due and turn in something sufficient enough to earn a decent grade. I look back at this and feel a bit embarrassed. Sure, I was producing adequate (and in some cases good) work. But think of how much better it could have been if I wouldn't have waited until the last minute. How much less stressed I would've felt. How much better I could have felt about my work. How proud. This was a really bad habit to create, and it's one I really need to get over.

5. No one cares.

This is the most pitiful--and dramatic--of my excuses. In this age of social media and sharing (which I love, so this isn't hate) it's way too easy to take a look at other authors and writers and feel jealous. "So and so is selling books like crazy. People love her." "So and so has a super engaged reader base. They can't wait for her next book." And while that jealousy can be motivating, it can also be debilitating, especially when it turns into envy. It's also possible (for me, at least) to look at other people's success and feel both proud of them and sad for me. That's when I start in with the "woe is me, no one cares about my story anyhow" attitude, and I hit "next episode" on Netflix. Pitiful and dramatic, right? And rationally speaking, I know this isn't true. And even if it was, it's super silly of me to get fixated on. But, by this point I think we've established that in my attempts to rationalize lack of writing, I end up being pretty irrational.

So now I've let you in to see a few of my little monsters. I'm not particularly proud of any of them, but I also know they're flaws that make me human and who I am. That doesn't mean I shouldn't do my best to channel my inner Will Byers and fight off the monsters trying to win. (Any Stranger Things fans out there?) Maybe by acknowledging these excuses I make, I can learn to stop using them as crutches. It's a start, at least.

Do any of you make excuses for why you don't do what you know you should?

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

January 23, 2018

my kitchen adventures this january

This Monday's post is coming to you on a Tuesday, because . . . well, life. I don't really have an excuse better than that.

As previously mentioned, one of my top three goals this year is to reach a healthier weight. My plan to fulfill that goal (thus far) has been to be more active and to eat better foods in more reasonable portions. (Basically, I'm counting calories, but I'm finding the best ways to use those calories so I can feel full and well.) In an attempt to do that, I'm trying lots of new recipes. Some are ones I found on Pinterest and pinned to a board months (or years) ago. Others are clipped from magazines or found online.

I've been lucky so far not to have any big misses, and today I wanted to share a few of my favorite recipes to date. I'll include links to the original recipes and mention any modifications I made for full disclosure.

Wildtree Quick White Pizza

Pizza is one of my greatest loves, but also one of my big trigger foods. This light and yummy pizza was a great alternative. It was as quick as the name suggests and super yummy.

I made this recipe as described. Next time, I'd like to try adding some mushrooms or fresh basil. I bet shrimp would be pretty delicious too.

Wildtree Bang Bang Cauliflower

This might be my most favorite dish from this month. Fact: I ate some of the leftovers last night after two rounds of blizzard shoveling, and it really hit the spot. If you're a fan of the delicious, but not-so-healthy fried and breaded dishes at Chinese restaurants (think sweet and sour shrimp) than I think you'll really like this lighter, but flavorful option. I just ate this and my mouth is watering again. Good thing I have the last of the leftovers to enjoy tonight. Yum.

I used wheat bread crumbs and whole grain rice, because that's what I have in my pantry.

Clean Eating Creamy Cashew Mushroom Stroganoff

I always love an excuse to break out my food processor. This really hit the spot during some of our coldest nights this winter. (And it has been cold in Nebraska.)

I used 4 cups of baby portabella mushrooms to make this dish, because they were what I could find in my local grocery store. (I didn't have the patience to run around, because, like I said, freezing outside.) I don't feel like I lost anything with this super beefy variety. I also skipped the tomato paste, because this was my only recipe at the time that called for it, and I didn't feel like wasting the rest. Again, I don't think this suffered.

I'm definitely adding this to my "cook it again, Laura" list.

Wildtree Salmon Burgers with Lemon Dill Sauce

By now you've noticed I have used a lot of Wildtree recipes this month. One of my good friends is a sales rep and over the holidays, I decided to stock up on some of the seasonings and other products to give them a try. As you can tell, I'm enjoying them a lot.

I made this dish true to recipe, only I didn't serve with a bun to cut a few calories. Instead, I had some Green Giant broccoli and cheese tots. These tots have become one of my favorite things. Bonus: These salmon burgers freeze and reheat well.

Garlic Cauliflower Mac

I don't have a link to this one, because I created it myself. And, oh boy, it is delicious. Coming in at right about 200 calories and 12 grams of protein, this definitely fit the bill of being a healthy alternative to one of my favorite comfort foods. Luckily, I'm tracking my calories, so I actually wrote down the recipe and can share it with you.

7.5 cups frozen cauliflower
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1 cup almond milk
1 cup vegetable broth
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon Wildtree garlic and herb blend (you could go a smidge lighter)
1/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Defrost cauliflower. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour, stirring to create a roux. Add milk, broth, and all but 1/2 cup of the mozzarella cheese a bit at a time, stirring until you create a sauce. Add garlic and herb blend. Place cauliflower in a 13 x 9 baking dish and cover with sauce. Sprinkle remaining cheese and bread crumbs over top. Bake for 30 minutes, broiling for 2 minutes to brown the top layer.

So there you have it--my favorite dishes so far this year. Have you tried any new recipes lately? 

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

January 18, 2018

how i'm writing this book

Since starting my first novel in November 2010, I've taken several approaches to writing each of my novels after. They always involve some research, character development, and outlining, but how those come about vary each time. I've learned some short cuts. I've learned more about craft. Like my stories, my process is a work in progress.

With the evolution of my writing in mind (and because I needed to keep my focus on the current project giving me fits) today I wanted to share what guides, techniques, and so on I'm using to craft Book 8.

Series Bible

I've written about this a bit before, but basically (thanks to my friends in Romance Authors of the Heartland) I created a series bible to help me keep track of the persons, places, and things that will carry through my series for continuity purposes. This includes digital and physical components, such as maps, descriptions, and so on. And it's something I really need to review when I go back and edit these stories to ensure I'm being consistent.

GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon

When writing, I never seem to have a problem figuring out who my characters are and what they like. On a basic level. But so often I struggle with working out how to make their story sing, particularly with conflict. Enter the Bible on developing character struggles: Debra Dixon's GMC.  Not only does this book break down and help us understand what GMC are, but she illustrates why it's so important.

I've created GMC charts for my main and supporting characters, and wow, they have really helped. Whenever I'm imagining a scene, I pause to consider how that plays into my characters' GMCs and whether or not it fits.

Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes

After taking an online class from Gwen Hayes via Romance Authors of the Heartland, I learned more about story beats in romances and how I could apply that to my own works. While I (like I imagine plenty of other writers) had followed some of them instinctively (and by learning from how plot moves in our favorite books), it was nice to finally have a name for them. As a bonus, she also provided worksheets (which you can also find by ordering her book, which I highly recommend) that you can use (and I have) to outline your story.

I used it for plotting my last book (the first in a new series, I'm now writing the second book), and it has really helped me with pacing my stories. Of course, it also has me overthinking the pacing, but it's better to do it now, before I screw everything up and have to delete massive amounts of pages. Again. (Sigh)

Plotting Board

Fellow RAH member Sherri Shackelford shared this with our group last November. She learned about it from Erica Vetsch who, I'm told, found it from another author. So it's very sisterhood of the traveling plotting board, which I love. Now I'm hooked. Basically, it's a tri-fold board where you can track your plot's progress (using Post-It notes) as a visual for yourself as you go. I use different colors for each character and notes for major plot points. And look, there's even a place for me to track my GMC.

What sorts of tools/resources/techniques do you use to write your books?

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

January 15, 2018

january me

I was wrapping up a meeting for the day job last week. It was on the eve of a winter storm front that had been hyped up as being a thick coat of ice followed by up to six inches of snow overnight and into the next morning rush hour. Even though I was probably jinxing myself, I had visions of snow days running through my head. I'd sleep in past my usual 5:30 wake time. I'd binge-watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I'd even pour the last of my holiday Bailey's into my coffee. I wouldn't worry about the troubles I'm having with my book. I wouldn't check my work email. I'd just be, because that's what snow days are about. They're free days. A chance to just live.

While I'm mentally planning a pretty spectacular day, my colleague was cringing thinking about the huge drop in temperature that would be coming overnight. (I suppose I forgot to mention, it was 50 degrees outside during this meeting, and the forecast called for a drop to below zero within 12 hours. All the more reason to stay inside in my mind.)

"I hate January," he said.

I began to agree with him, but froze. He had a point, January in Nebraska can be rough weather-wise, especially if you don't have the promise of a snow day. It makes getting around difficult and uncomfortable. That's not so fun. But I don't hate Januarys.

"I actually like January."

This earned an eyebrow raise. "You like the cold."

"No, not really. It's complicated." I paused again, trying to figure out exactly how to put it. "I like who I am in January."

Forever a dreamer and a New Year's Resolution-maker and goal-setter, January means a fresh beginning for me. I'm somehow able to mentally shake off the blues from the year before and declare that this will be my year. I envision my best life, and I try to live it.

I try new recipes. Already this month I've tried six or seven new-to-me dishes; recipes I've saved during the past year, but never come around to making.

I read. Half-way into January, and I'm through three books. That's not a personal best, but it's a lot better than I did much of last year and the year before and the year before.

I stay philosophical about my writing progress (or in most cases, lack of writing). I remind myself that even if I'm not logging big word counts, I will. And it will all come together.

I drink more water. This year I'm also more than three months off of drinking diet soda and moderating my general caffeine intake.

I make time for what I enjoy. I have dinner and lunch with friends. I go see and rent movies. Add in that this year I'm doing an average of 30 minutes of cardio every day on top of monitoring what I'm eating, and I'm feeling pretty amazing.

It's not perfect. I still get crabby if I don't sleep. I still get colds. I still run out of patience. But I rebound from my mistakes more quickly and make amends. I left the house wearing slippers a week ago and had to turn back. Instead of berating myself for being an idiot or clueless, I laughed and said, "Well, at least I can keep myself humble."

Something happens to me later in the year. I lose track of my goals and dreams. I lose my hope and belief that things will work out. I stop taking care of myself, and I don't feel happy. I can't pinpoint the exact moment this happens or why or how. But it does.

I love who I am in January. Maybe now that I've realized that, I can remember it in April or June or October when I'm feeling panicked about something that's really not the end of the world.

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

January 11, 2018

what i'm loving this january

It's winter in Nebraska, and that has meant super low temperatures and even lower wind chills. Thankfully, I have THINGS and ENTERTAINMENT to bring some sunshine into my world. (Oh, boy. That sounded super lame, but I can't come up with anything more clever, so moving on . . .)

Disclaimer: I am not receiving any compensation for any of the products mentioned below. I just really love them and wanted to share the recommendations with you in case you might love them too!

Here's what I'm loving this January:

AHAVA Mineral Hand Cream
An oversized bottle of this came in my inaugural Fab Fit Fun box, and I am a fan. Winter hit Nebraska hard just in time for the holidays, and this has saved my hands from drying out and cracking (which they were in real danger of doing). It has a nice, clean, basically odorless scent and makes my hands feel like heaven. I'd fill my bathtub with this stuff if I had enough to spare.

Crafting with Feminism: 25 Girl-Powered Projects to Smash the Patriarchy by Bonnie Burton
This was one of those presents I never expected, but it immediately became one of my all-time favorites when my sister gave this to me for Christmas. While we earned an eye-roll from one of my brothers, this book combines two of my great loves: crafting and smashing the patriarchy. I'm already dreaming up making my own "cats against catcalls" needlepoint, bra pocket, and a Ruth Bader Ginsburg puppet.

Stranger Things 2
I'm super late to the party on this one, but I finally binge-watched the second season of Stranger Things during winter break, and oh my goodness! Somehow, the creators managed to do the nearly impossible: they created a follow-up that met (and maybe even exceeded) the high expectations I had following the stellar first season. I love how this show blends nostalgia for the 80s with an intriguing storyline and compelling characters to produce a show that keeps him hitting "next episode" until I run out.

Hotel Quality Pillows
After years of wishing I had pillows as fabulous as the ones you get in swanky hotels, I received not one but two pairs of these puppies for Christmas. My life has changed. For the better. In ways I can't really explain. I'll just say that when I curled up with these for the first time, I sang a rendition of "At Last" that would have done Ella Fitzgerald proud. Don't be surprised if next year's Christmas card has a picture of me and these pillows with the words "We're Engaged" printed across them. If you think I'm exaggerating, trust me, I'm not. My life is better because these pillows are in it.

Sheba Meaty Tender Sticks
Not since the invention of yarn balls or laser pointers has there been something that so completely unites Jane and Bingley. Technically, this isn't something I personally use, but Jane and Bingley love them. Another gift from my sister, the cats perk up every time I open any kind of package in hopes I'm about to give them one of these sticks. There are so few things that both Jane and Bing enjoy, it makes me so happy to see them so happy.

That's it for this month. What are you loving?

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

January 8, 2018

reading in the kitchen - salmon salad from 'the marrying type'

In the middle of her busiest time of year, made even busier by trying to save her family's business, Elliot Lynch, The Marrying Type's heroine, takes a break to make sure her father gets a proper meal. What could be better than a fresh bed of vegetables topped by a heart healthy piece of salmon?

Here's how it plays out in the story:
Walter ambushed Elliot while she diced tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions for their lunch salad.  
“Where are we on the Dalrymple business?”  
Sliding the vegetables into the bowl, she tossed them with the mix of spinach and arugula. “You should ask Libby. I haven’t been involved with any of your matchmaking plans to win their business.”  
Walter peered over her shoulder and sniffed at the salmon salad in progress. At his last physical, the doctor said he was at risk for high blood pressure. While Walter wanted to settle the issue by taking a pill every day, Elliot was doing her part by making healthier foods. He’d almost cried the night she’d served whole wheat rigatoni instead of the cheese-stuffed tortellini he favored.  
She didn’t let his whining deter her. She would make sure her father ate healthy and lived a long life if it killed him.  
Plucking a tomato slice from the bowl, he leaned against the counter to watch her work. “What do you have going on today?”  
“Sadie Warner, the bride in the Warner-Crawford wedding, invited me to their house-warming party.”  
“We’re coordinating another party for them?” He frowned at the tomato slice and took a bite. “I didn’t realize they’d hired us for more than the wedding.”  
“We aren’t. It’s a small-ish party at the bride and groom’s house.”  
“They’re throwing it themselves? And you’re going?”  
She focused her attention on plating the salad and salmon instead of her father’s ferocious frown. “They invited me to go as a guest. It seemed like a good opportunity to get a better idea of who will be at the wedding.”  
“Who will be there?”  
“I’m not sure. Friends. Family. The usual.”  
He nodded absently, turning his attention to the salad in front of him. “I suppose it’s a vote of confidence from them to you. They wouldn’t want you there unless they liked you. That’s good for business.” He took a bite of the salmon and chewed it thoroughly before swallowing. She held her breath as he ate another piece, picking up some lettuce with this forkful. “Not bad.”

From Walt, both comments were high praise. Maybe with a little more time she’d actually earn a “good job” or “we couldn’t have done this without you.” But for today, she’d settle for “not bad.”

I hope you enjoy what I imagine to be the recipe featured in Chapter Thirteen of The Marrying Type.

I 86-ed the tomatoes on mine, because I'm not a fan of raw tomatoes.

Salmon Salad for Two

4 cups of fresh spinach, rinsed
4 cups of fresh arugula, rinsed
1 tomato, diced
1 cucumber, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
8 ounces of salmon
3 tablespoons olive oil (split)
juice from one lemon (split)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
seasoning for salmon (I used Wildtree's seafood seasoning, but lemon juice, garlic, and pepper can make a great blend too)
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons of unsalted pecans or walnuts
cooking spray
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray foil with non-stick cooking spray. Place two salmon filets on pan and cover with 1 tablespoon olive oil, juice from one lemon (minus 1 tablespoon), and seasoning of choice. Wrap foil and place directly on rack. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until cooked as desired.

In a bowl, toss rinsed spinach and arugula. Dice one tomato, one cucumber, and 1/2 red onion and toss together with the greens.

In a separate bowl, mix together the ingredients for the dressing, including 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of honey, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss in with the salad and top with fresh-from-the oven salmon. Sprinkle chopped pecans or walnuts to add some crunch.

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

January 4, 2018

designing 2018

Based on the goal-setting and year-in-review posts I did for 2017, and years before, I'm great at setting goals. I'm not so good at follow-through. Why? Because I don't look back at my goals until the end of the year rolls around and I wonder, "Wait, what were my goals again?" I'm determined to change that this time around.

In the interest of getting results this year, I decided I needed some help. I found my goal-setting solution in the form of Lauren Layne's Life by Design. The workbook focuses on reflection and dreaming to create the life you want. More about lifestyle changes than setting goals or resolutions alone, the workbook helped me figure out what matters most to me at this point in my life. From there, I was able to break it down more to figure out reasonable ways of making it happen.

Most importantly, it guided me in finding motivation and accountability to achieve these goals.

Here's an example of one area of motivation: the computer desktop background I created:

It includes my word of the year, the title I'd like this year to have if it was a book, and my top three goals.

As for accountability, that's where this post and you readers come into play. In addition to sharing my goals and plans (in the form of Google Docs and Sheets) with a friend who will be my accountability partner, I've set alerts in my calendar so I'll check where I am each month and quarter. But I also need your help. I need you to be my bonus accountability buddies. When I do my quarterly review, I'll share my analysis here and my plan of attack for attack here on the blog. And you can keep me honest.

So in that spirit, let's get into those goals and my vision for the first quarter.

My 2018 Bucket List
  1. Be present
  2. Write every day (including books, journal, and blog)
  3. Reach a healthier weight

While brainstorming, and ultimately coming up with that top three, I had to come up with a top ten list. I'm going to work on those, too, but am keeping them private for the moment while I figure out how they work into 2018.

But I pretty much have the top three goals figured out. Here's how they breaks down for first quarter and this first month, and how I've already put some of this into action:

Goal #1: Be Present
  • Stay off phone before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. daily  - sleep setting adjusted to reflect this on phone
  • Have one “treat yo’ self’ evening a week (scheduled for Thursdays)
  • Schedule one social activity a week (can include family and friends and be coffees, lunches, dinners, movie nights, etc.) 

Goal #2: Write Every Day - all added to calendar
  • Wake-up at 5:30 a.m. and be at computer by 6 every weekday (set aside 1 to 2 hours each Saturday and Sunday and move schedule up half an hour when it physically feels right)
  • Go to Starbucks by 6 a.m. one morning each week for two-hour writing session
  • Hold one writing adventure each month 

Goal #3: Reach Healthier Weight
  • Do 30 minutes of cardio five days a week - added to calendar
  • Drink 100 to 200 ounces of water daily - will track in planner
  • Follow a meal plan (meal prep on Sundays) - weekly grocery shopping and meal prep added to calendar + created a Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/lmchap614/healthy-eating-in-2018/
BONUS: Weigh self at same time and date once a week (maybe twice, but no more than) and track in planner.

Ways of Tracking
Will Conduct Self-Evaluation on a Monthly Basis on January 31, February 28, and March 31 (notifications added to calendar with a review checklist)

Priorities for January 2018
  • Focus on Hydration
  • Near completion on a first draft of Book 2 in new series
  • Exercise five times weekly
  • Eat Well
  • Treat Yo’ Self
  • Be a Friend

So that's a look at my plan for 2018, and I'm feeling good and optimistic about it. I hope to have good news to report when we check in at the end of the first quarter.

What are your goals for this year?

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

January 1, 2018

2018: the year of balance

Happy New Year! I'm so ready to turn a leaf and say good-bye to the old and hello to the new. I know the world doesn't magically change at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, but what can I say? I have a good feeling about 2018. That's a better attitude, and a better state of mind, than I've had the past few years, so cheers to that.

I have big dreams for 2018. I want to grow my writing and writing career. I want to explore new places. I want to be healthier and take better care of myself. I'll delve more into those goals and dreams on Thursday, but when I think about what I most want this year, it's balance. That's going to be my word of the year.

In 2016, I was struggling with having faith in myself and others, so I picked believe as my word. Last year, I felt like I'd made it through a storm and was barely hanging on. I needed to persevere.

Between my day job, writing career, and life, I often feel overwhelmed. While I have so many blessings and so much to be thankful for, I tend to overdo one area of my life and ignore the others. I go and do and move and push until I burn-out and crash. I imagine that won't ever completely change. (I'm definitely the type of person Netflix and binge-watching was created to appease.) It's possible obsessing and burning fast and bright might always be my MO. Still, I'd like to pursue my bouts of productivity, creativity, and leisure all without putting myself on a collision course. I'd like to move away from those extremes and absolutes and inch closer to the middle. To find balance.

I looked up the definition to make sure I'd chosen correctly. And while the noun and verb are comparable in meaning, I selected the verb as a reminder that this is a plan of action for my part on how I should guide myself through the year. It goes:

to keep or put (something) in a steady position so that it does not fall

That's me and my life. I need to keep myself in an upright and steady position so I don't fall. After years of struggling with anxiety and panic attacks that lead to bouts of depression, I recognize the importance of taking care of myself so I don't slip into one of my dark times.

There's a second definition for the verb, and it's equally important as a one-word mission statement for my year:

offset or compare the value of (one thing) with another

That's what I was talking about earlier--about making time to focus on all areas of my life and treat each one like it's as important as the other. Because each one matters.

With that word in mind, I've set goals and put plans into motion for the year. I'll share more about those on Thursday. Until then, here's a look at my new necklace from The Giving Keys, made especially as a reminder for myself through the year.

Do you have a word of the year? What's yours?

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