Update on the 52-week Organizing Challenge

At the end of last year, I announced my intention to take part in the 52-Week Organizing Challenge. Today begins week 9. So far, I must say it is going well.  Some weeks have been more helpful than others and some of taken more time than others.

I wish I had thought to take some before and after shots. I will say that most weeks the organizing did prompt me to go buy something – a bin (or several bins) or a binder – to complete the work.

Here is what has been covered so far.

Week 1 – Kitchen Counters – Stuff always seems to pile up on the counters in the kitchen and I am not just talking about the dirty dishes that should have been put in the dishwasher but weren’t because the dishwasher hasn’t been emptied.

Not only did I clean off the counters, I worked on a system to ensure they don’t become cluttered again. (That means I have to actually empty the dishwasher first thing in the morning so we can fill it up as the day goes on.) So far…it is working great and even my husband loves how they look without all that clutter.

Week 2 – Kitchen Drawers and Cabinets – I have a lot of cabinets and this took a while to complete. I did not get this all done in one week but rather tackled a few of the cabinets on some of the less instense organizing weeks.

Even though it isn’t part of the challenge, I also took this time to wipe down all the cabinets and drawers. I also tried to be ruthless with getting rid of stuff that we do not use. I have a bad habit of wanting to keep things…just in case.

CIMG3610Week 3 – Pantry/Food Storage – Half of our pantry is for food and the rest holds craft stuff, pool toys, and outdoor toys for the kids. Over the years it has become very disorganized so it was nice to re-do it. CIMG3612I put all the food on one side and all the “other” stuff on the other side. This is where I had to buy the most bins.

Week 4 – Refrigerator and Freezer – An easy two day project – one day for each. And it was nice to get rid of the expired food which luckily I did have too much of. Again, this was a good time to actually clean and wipe down both the fridge and freezer.

Week 5 – Recipes – I weeded through the cookbooks and tried to purge the ones we don’t use. I also had a stack of recipes I had printed or clipped from magazines. They recommend you go through those and pull out the ones you aren’t ever going to make. The rest were put in that binder I had to go buy. But the area is much more organized.

Week 6 – Recycling/Trash cans – This was an easy week as we already have a recycling system set up – though we did decide to add a recycling bin to the office upstairs. I used this week to clean the trash cans. Yuck!

Week 7 – Coupons – Not much to do here. I don’t clip a lot of coupons as there never seem to be coupons for the products we buy.  And I already had a filing system for the few I do clip.

Week 8 – Meal Planning/Buying Groceries – Another week without much for me to do as we have a meal planning and grocery buying system in place.

So as you can see, some weeks were better than others. But I like that I get a new task to do each week. It fits in with all the other things I have to do without being overwhelming. And while there are some topics that don’t apply, I am sure the house will be more organized if I keep up with this.

Today’s Featured Author: Renee Daniel Flagler

Please welcome author Renee Daniel Flagler to my blog. She is promoting her latest release, Society Wives.

Book Blurb

society wivesMeet the Days, Howards, Madison, and Lees. Four wealthy couples obsessed with keeping up appearances. Pearson, Vonita, Nadalia and Ryan want the world to believe that they live flawlessly prosperous lives but behind the custom made doors of their elaborate mansions, lay salacious secrets that are becoming harder to hide. Pearson may be forced to choose between her husband and vodka. Vonita could be at risk of losing her lavish fairytale lifestyle but only finds out when it’s too late to do anything about it. Nadalia’s picture perfect life seems to be slowly falling apart at the seams until an ugly truth finally shatters her world. And for Ryan, living under the thumb of an A-list husband isn’t all that it is cracked up to be—especially since she doesn’t seem to know where he is half the time. Saving face may be a priority for these wives but scandal, addiction, financial ruin, and infidelity threaten to reveal their truths to the world—and worst of all, each other.

About The Author

Renee Daniel Flagler is an award-winning freelance journalist, award-nominated author, teaching artist, a seasoned marketing professional and relationship expert on Chicago radio stations, Power 92.3, Soul 106.3, and Rejoice 102. Renee has treasured the art of writing since she was a young girl and in 2004 she took her love of creative writing seriously and self-published her first novel, Mountain High, Valley Low. She later released Miss-Guided, and the highly-anticipated sequel to her first book entitled, In Her Mind. Renee’s latest novel is Raging Blue. She is currently working on her next releases, Still Raging and The Relationship Survival Guide.

Renee is the founder of The Self-Publishing Symposium, a business conference for self and independent publishers, The S’Indie Awards, which honors the works and accomplishments of self and independent publishers and the Divas of Literature Tour, a multicity book tour. Renee is the founder of SheBiz.net a lifestyle blog for women pursuing their passions. Renee received an award for Excellence in Journalism by the New York Association of Black Journalists, was honored by Black Star News for her accomplishments in business for starting the Self-Publishing Symposium, and honored at the 2009 Unlock Your Dreams conference. She also received the Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2005 by C&B Books Distribution. Renee and her works have been featured in The Network Journal, Ebony Magazine, The New York Amsterdam News, Our Times, Caribbean Life, Jolie Magazine, Booking Matters, and Black Star News to name a few. She has also appeared on The Angie Le Mar Show on Choice FM, the UK’s leading Hip Hop and R&B station, WAOK Talk Radio in Atlanta and WHCR in New York City.

Renee teaches creative writing in the Arts in Education programs of the New York City and Nassau County Departments of Education. She’s also dedicated to mentoring at-risk teens and impacting literacy in inner city communities through her mentoring program, Futures by Design. Renee is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing and is a graduate of New School University with a Masters in Media Arts, and St. John’s University with a Bachelor of Science in Communications. She is a member of the New York Association of Black Journalists (NYABJ) and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Long Island Chapter Inc.

You can find out more about Renee on her website or Facebook.

You can buy Society Wives on Amazon.

How to stay motivated while writing your novel

No matter how excited you are to be writing, there will probably be a time when motivation lags. Or maybe it will hit when you are revising or editing your work. Knowing that this could happen can make it easier to combat that lack of motivation.

You need to remember that writing is a job. While it can be fun, challenging, and rewarding, it is like any other job. Sometimes it can seem like a chore. Here are some things you can do when the motivation slips.

Take a break

When motivation disappears, you may no longer feel like working on your story. Sometimes this urge to set aside your novel can be a good thing. A break from writing (or editing) can ensure that you return with “fresh eyes.” You’ve been close to the work for such a long time that a little distance can help.

Set a deadline

If you have finished the first draft of your novel, a break may be in order for the reasons stated above. But if you do so, make sure you mark on your calendar when you want to get back to it. You may want a few days off, a week’s break or maybe even a month. But just don’t make it too long, or you may find it too difficult to return to the book at all.

Re-read

When unmotivated to write, I often find it helps to go back and re-read what I have already written. Often that inspires me to keep writing. If you have already finished your first draft, then your next step (after taking a few days/weeks off) is to re-read your work. This is a good time to make a list of things you want to correct. (Don’t forget to congratulate yourself on those things that did go right.)

Woman reading book while lying down uid 1072633Read something else

Though many writers don’t like to be distracted by other books while they are writing, sometimes reading something else can spark your imagination and motivate you to keep working on your own masterpiece.

Break down what you need to do

Wooden hourglass uid 1326634Overwhelmed by revising or editing your novel? Consider breaking it down into smaller manageable steps. Or perhaps use a timer. Set it for 15 to 20 minutes and then get to work. Often you will find that once you are working, you don’t want to stop. But hey, if you do, just take a break and come back to it later.

Write something else

Maybe your creativity is at a standstill, or maybe it is that your motivation to write is just hiding. Whatever the reason, sometimes if you write something else – perhaps last night’s dream or a conversation you had with a friend – it can kick start your motivation. Try some free association or just make your own journal entry. It doesn’t matter as long as you are getting words on to paper.

Whatever method you try, just realize that all authors at one time or another feel a little less motivated to write. The main thing is to keep your goal of publishing a book in mind and work through that lack of motivation.

 

 

Two different elementary schools…

OlmosThe neighborhood was run down. The building was older, obviously built decades ago. But the children inside were exuberant and cheerful and not unlike the students at my kids’ elementary school. However, the differences are great as I learned from listening to the family specialist speak.

So many of the kids come from poor families. Many of them struggle to have enough to eat. They rely not only on the cafeteria meals but food sent home in their backpacks every weekend. Without those snacks, many of them would have nothing to eat at home.

These kids struggle with having proper clothing to wear, coming to school without jackets or with shoes falling apart. Some of them live with grandparents or there are multiple families living under one roof. A grandmother explains that she has 8 kids at her home – some her own young children and some her grandchildren.

It isn’t that I didn’t know these poorer conditions, these struggles, happen. It is more that since I don’t see it, I tend to forget these situations exist. My family lives in an upper middle-income neighborhood. We don’t struggle to put food on our table or to pay our bills. Our kids enjoy extra-curricular activities and trips to the zoo, Sea World and the beach.

But just a short 20 minute drive from our neighborhood is this other elementary school. It isn’t even in the poor south side of San Antonio. It isn’t downtown or nestled in the industrial area. It is blocks from the mall where I buy my son’s Star Wars tennis shoes.

This other elementary school at the southernmost part of our school district is the sister school to the elementary school my kids attend. And they are as different as night and day. Ninety-five percent of those at our sister school qualify for free or reduced meals. Ours is barely at 5 percent. Our students ranked first and second in the district on the benchmark testing in January. Not so for our sister school. They are among the bottom of the ranks.

The reason that I am writing about our sister school is not that I didn’t know schools like this existed. But it is one thing to read or hear about them and quite another to visit one. Our PTA board had our monthly meeting at our sister school last month. We sat with parents and grandparents who didn’t speak English. Only 3 of the 8 in attendance had any understanding of English. They were there to support their students just as we are involved in our own school for the same reason.

This meeting was also a chance for our members to see the school that we support with food and clothing drives, to see the place where the presents from our Angel tree go and to see a different side of our city. And it allowed the parents and grandparents from our sister school a chance to see how we run things. Their PTA is very small and not as active as ours.

Yes, we were a little embarrassed at the amounts we threw around when talking about our upcoming fundraisers. As treasurer, I have to give a report at each meeting about our finances. Our accounts sit at over $15,000 which to these people is way more than they could hope to have in their PTA budget.

But as difficult as these people’s lives are we shared one thing in common – our love for our students. And in an effort to help us out for all the help we have given them, they offered up cakes and tamales for our upcoming Spring Festival.

The visit was a good reminder to be thankful for what we have and a reminder to keep donating and supporting those students and families less fortunate than us.

Today’s Featured Author: Lela E. Buis

Today I welcome author Lela E. Buis to my blog. Her latest is a collection of fantasy and science fiction short stories featuring women who love women.

Interview

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Actually, this sort of crept up on me. I did fine on writing assignments in elementary and high school, which included short fiction. I’ve got high verbal ability, and I exempted most of college writing classes in the placement exams, so I got very little education on writing in college. After I graduated, I felt a need for the arts, so I signed up for creative writing classes at Brevard Community College through adult education. Well, lo and behold, the school had a literary magazine, and I ended up with my first poetry and short story publications. I was suddenly a published writer. I took that for granted, even though I had no time for serious writing for a long time. Life happens. In the late eighties, I got a computer to help with graduate school and suddenly I had an important tool. I started writing and publishing science fiction and fantasy stories. I also started some novels during this period. I got busy again and was down to writing just poetry for a while, but I’m back to writing longer pieces now. I’m working on those novels again, too. I’ve recently submitted one to Tor, and hopefully I’ll be a published novelist soon.

Do you outline your books or just start writing?

I don’t outline. However, I do need to have an idea about where I’m going before I start. That means I need to have the main characters and a general plot before I start on anything. Everything else develops as the characters try to get what they want and where they want to go.  Now and then I’ll run into a major glitch while doing this. I was working on a novel last year that was going along perfectly well, and introduced a character that suddenly changed the whole resonance of what was going on. I had to stop and regroup. I’ll have to look at the backstory for my characters and come up with a way to integrate this character. She’s very strong and totally took over what I was doing. Oops.

What fuels you as an author to continue to write?

Imagination and the idea that someone out there might like to read what I’ve written. There’s nothing like a little encouragement from editors, fans, or even random readers to keep the writing process going. Recent changes in the publishing world have opened up new opportunities to reach readers, and that has fired a real period of creativity for me. When I first started marketing the short stories, writers were confined to sending out submissions to a limited list of print magazines, waiting for months for each depressing rejection slip. Now there are all kinds of innovations, from crowd funding to cover costs to Web-only magazines and anthologies that can cut down overhead for editors. The market has exploded. I’ve had a pool of old short stories, both published and unpublished that I need to get working for me, so I’ve been looking to get these out in the form of collections. Hopefully it will help create a readership for my newer stuff.

What inspired you to write this book?

An opportunity for a sure sale. I had sold several stories to an editor in the early nineties and one day he sent me an email saying, “Could you write me a lesbian story? I need one for an anthology I’m doing.” How could I turn down a commission? The story was a success, which led to a few more. I ended up with a stock of stories with lesbian characters—enough to make a short collection. That’s what Competitive Fauna is about. It’s a collection of fantasy and science fiction stories about women with ordinary needs, concerns and desires—and troubles, too. It’s been very well received. It’s gotten five star reviews so far, and I’ve got to thank the fans for being so positive about it. I’m glad people are enjoying the stories.

If you could meet two authors, who would you pick and why?

Roger Zelazny. Of course, that won’t work for me because he’s been dead for a while. The man had such a way with metaphor. I’ve always loved literary writing and subtexts that blossom into second and third layer meanings as you read. His work was an inspiration for my early writing efforts, and I miss having new work from him.

C.J. Cherryh. Okay, I’ve got a taste for action-adventure. Is that juvenile? Maybe so, but if I ever grow out of it, I’ll figure I’ve really gotten old. Besides that, you can’t beat her development of cultural details and alien environments. It all just feels so real…

Thanks for the interview!

Book Blurb

competitive FaunaLela Buis present a collection of fantasy and science fiction short stories featuring women who love women. These stories vary from the sensual to erotic, and include characters who face life’s problems with strength and intelligence. Includes mild violence and sexual situations.

About the Author

LelaRight now, I’m mainly a speculative fiction short story writer. I was born in Middlesboro, Kentucky, and lived in Florida for a long time, where I worked at Kennedy Space Center and at different teaching jobs. I’ve been publishing in magazines and anthologies for a long time, and besides the Knoxville Writer’s Guild, I’m also a member of the SFWA and SFPA. I’ve recently had four collections of short stories and poetry published by That Ridge press that you can find online. Watch for me to publish some novels in the near future!

You can find out more about Lela on her website or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

You can purchase Competitive Fauna on Amazon.

Starting a novel…

So you have decided to write a novel. Before you sits a blank screen. For some that brings excitement at the unlimited possibilities but for others it can be intimidating. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task at hand.

I decided to post on this topic as I just published my latest work – The Heir to Alexandria – last month, and now I too am at this point. I am ready to begin my next novel.

Cartoon Characters uid 950048Now before you start typing your novel, you will need to do some planning. I am not saying you need to figure everything out but without a plan, your characters will just meander around.

You need a direction. Your characters need a direction.

Without a goal in mind, a plot becomes just a haphazard series of events with no meaning or purpose – one that will leave the reader wondering, “What was the point of that story?” (Or perhaps you will spend additional hours editing and cutting out all those scenes that didn’t actually add to your story.)

Before you begin to write even one word, I suggest you consider working on these three topics at a minimum.

Conflict/Plot – Basically, you will need to decide what your story is about. Conflict is what drives your story. You should be able to write down the conflict in just one sentence. (For more on conflict, check out my post on the seven types of conflict.) You also need to consider whether your plot idea has what it takes to last through the length of a whole novel. Not every idea will be worthy of a full-length novel or even a short story.

Setting/World – You need to know where this story is going to take place. If it takes place in the past, you will need to research not only the location but customs and styles of that time. If it takes place in a fictional world, you will need to spend some time developing this world. Even if you are writing a story that takes place in your hometown, you need to make sure you have planned out where everything will take place and know all the details of those locations. It is knowledge of these details, whether they make it into your story or not, that will allow you to bring the reader into your character’s world.

Characters – Don’t just give your characters a name and start writing. You need to get to know them. You need to know their history, their personality quirks, you need to know what motivates them. This is a must for your main characters, but you should develop at least some basic knowledge for the supporting cast too. Again, this development of characters will show in your writing.

As I said, I am currently starting my next novel. I am working on the overall plot/conflict right now. I want a strong storyline before I develop my world or continue developing the characters I already have begun. (Right now I just have the basics of two main characters.)

All of this may seem like a lot of work. And it can be a daunting task to start a new novel. But with planning – the laying down of a foundation – you will have a better chance of following through with writing a publishable novel.