5 ways to deflect distractions

This week, my focus has been on productivity – like how to keep focused on the things I need to do to move forward when there are so many shiny objects distracting me. This is not an easy task for someone like me. Even now, I have the dog barking around me, music playing through my headphones, and I just shut off Facebook to keep procrastination from breaking down my willpower.

Thing is, I have to come up with a heavy duty plan to remain focused, or all the things I want to accomplish will not happen. Here’s my hopeful goal:

Now – Sept. 11
Receive “Finding Hope” back from beta readers
Make necessary changes
Do one last read-through
Craft back cover text

Sept. 12-27
Give editor my final draft of “Finding Hope”
Twiddle my thumbs in anticipation
Edit next novel, “Come Here, Cupcake
Work with cover designer

Sept. 28-Oct. 14
Get edited “Finding Hope” back from editor
Make any necessary changes
Finalize cover
Order book postcards

Oct. 15
PUBLISH “Finding Hope”
Celebrate!

Oct. 16-31
Finish edits on “Come Here, Cupcake”
Book reading (Oct. 25th, y’all!)
Continue/schedule promotions for “Finding Hope”

Nov. 1-30
NaNoWriMo (see y’all in December!)Hand “Come Here, Cupcake” off to beta readers

Dec. 1-15
Final edits on “Come Here, Cupcake”

Dec. 16-Jan. 10
Hand “Cupcake” over to editor
Work on back cover blurb
Work on cover with designer
Eat a million cupcakes while I wait to get the book back

Jan. 11-27
Get “Cupcake” back from editor
Make final edits
Finalize cover
Order postcards

Jan. 28-Feb.1 (approximately, fingers crossed!)
PUBLISH!

And then start editing my next novel….

So yeah, I have my work cut out for me, and it’s now or never to keep myself focused and on track.

To do this, I’ve created a few guidelines for myself that will start as soon as this blog post is published.

1. Less time on social media. I guess the best way to do this is to set a timer when I first wake up so I can catch up with what’s going on. When the timer goes off, it’s time to work. Mixtus Media recently offered a free download of ways to use social media for promotional reasons in just minutes a day. For Facebook, they suggest perusing the newsfeed for only 10 minutes, respond to comments, follow other relevant FB pages, giving a shoutout to new followers, and scheduling two posts. The end. They also give tips for Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest, all within a certain time frame. I’ve been slowly trying to incorporate these guidelines in my social media habits, and have been seeing a bit of progress with my time management.

2. Non-work hours mean work email is turned off. This one is going to be a little hard, and I may break the rule to check it at least once a day. I work in a profession where everyone just kind of checks their email throughout the day, whether they’re working or not. But maybe that means instructing my managers to call me if something needs my attention instead of emailing me.

3. Checking my personal email less. Again, this is not going to be easy. Maybe I need to turn this off during the day, as well! But my plan is to set aside only two or three times a day to check email. That still sounds like a lot, I know. But when I usually check it twenty times a day, it’s really not.

4. Set non-negotiable times for book work. I’m not yet at the point where I need to wake up at 5 or earlier. That will happen in November with NaNoWriMo. For now, I think my system is working pretty well. I edit on my lunch breaks and in the evening, and buckle down on the weekends. But as deadlines loom, I may need to sacrifice some sleep to get stuff done.

5. Say no to procrastination. Every moment I waste doing stuff I should be doing takes away from reaching my goals. When I put off things like, say, cleaning or grocery shopping, I am only pushing back the time when I can work on the novel. If I were to just do everything I was supposed to as soon as it can be done, I’d be free to do the things I really want to be doing.

Beyond that, I have basically given up all TV except for in the few minutes before bed, my social life really sucks, and I carry my computer with me everywhere just in case I have a moment when I could be working on the book.

What are some ways you keep on task and deflect distractions? Have you given up social media? Have you found any cool programs? Do you sacrifice some things in favor of the project you’re working on? Leave your own tips in the comments – I want to learn from you!

Finding Hope – Beta readers wanted

Hi all! I recently finished writing and self-editing a literary fiction book called “Finding Hope,” a story about two mothers who suffer two very different tragedies, and whose lives change completely from the moment their paths cross. The book tells the story of Jill, a 35-year-old woman whose toddler son is involved in a freak accident, and Maddie, a 16-year-old girl whose parents kick her out after she tells them she’s pregnant.

I am looking for a few beta readers to read this book and give me an honest critique on what works, and what needs more work. People who would be interested in this would likely be female, enjoy reading human interest stories, and may even be mothers themselves. But men and non-mothers may like this, too. If you accept this beta reader challenge, I am trusting you are a fast reader (I’m hoping to have your story comments in a week so I can make changes then send it off to my editor), and can be trusted with not sharing this soon-to-be published novel.

Here’s a small excerpt from chapter 1. If you are interested, email me at crissi@crissilangwell.com with your email address and what kind of eReader file you would prefer (PDF, ePub/Nook or Mobi/Kindle).

Thank you in advance!

finding hope teaser

Finding Hope, Chapter 1
The Point of Impact

There was no stopping it. In one moment, Toby had been standing in the front of the shopping cart, grinning up at his mom. In the next, the cart tipped forward against his weight, sending him toward the checkered linoleum in the middle of Hal’s Market. The look of terror on her toddler’s face was etched in Jill’s mind as she saw him tumble from the cart, falling just far enough away that she knew she’d never reach him in time. But in the eternity that lay in those few seconds, she made a valiant effort, throwing her arms forward to catch nothing but air.

Toby’s head hit the slick floor first, the rest of his body crumpling down into his neck, then careening over his body like a rag doll. Jill would never forget the look in his eyes. Tearless, they reached into her, grabbing at her guilt with a firm hold while raking over her worst fears. Then they lost all recognition. Jill took in a quick breath, her heart racing as she rushed to where he lay on the ground.

“Toby,” she breathed. She wanted to reach forward and grab him, but she was afraid that any movement might break him. His olive eyes were fixed on the ceiling, the blank expression frozen on his face. But then his body relaxed into a deep and shuddering breath, followed by a scream of pain and terror. His cries were a sweet sound to Jill’s ear. She scooped her son up and held him tight against her chest.

Jill avoided the stares from the small crowd forming around her and Toby. She could feel the weight of their judgment being placed on her head, their unspoken thoughts screaming at her. How could she? What kind of mother lets that happen? She doesn’t deserve a child. Jill held her sobbing son to her chest, rocking him next to the green beans and zucchini while trying to pretend the crowd around her didn’t exist. The two of them sat until his reckless screams subsided into hiccuped breathing. Then Toby lay his curly blonde head against her blue sweater, playing with a lock of her chestnut hair as he breathed into her chest. Jill couldn’t help but see the irony in this—her injured toddler finding safety in the very person who had let him fall.

Losing a friend, gaining a life

I vaguely remember this game my friends and I used to play where we’d somehow figure out our pretend age when we’d die and the way it would happen. It was never anything boring like dying in your sleep or surrounded by family. It was more like, being eaten by sharks or by a tribe of cannibals, or something else that was equally wild and outlandish. It was totally morbid, and without any thought to what it would actually mean to die in such an unexpected way.

I was reminded of this game today when I heard of the death of one of my classmates. An avid climber, Brad had just finished climbing Cathedral Peak in Yosemite when he popped the question to his longtime girlfriend, who said yes. He told her it was the happiest day of his life. He then continued on alone to climb a nearby ridge. A few hours later, other climbers saw him fall from the rocks.

I didn’t know Brad well. But I knew him from years of sharing the same classes. And all I could think of was, he was only 36. He had his whole life ahead of him. He was preparing to marry the girl he loved. There was so much left for him to do. But with one misstep, it was over.

But those of us who lost touch with him were offered a glimpse into the life this 36-year-old man lived through the newspaper article that was written about him today. And it became apparent just how incredible his life already has been. Brad was a yoga instructor, a world traveler, a surfer, a climber… From what I can tell, Brad lived life to the fullest. And while there are things he’ll miss out on, and many more who will miss him, he is probably on the other side, looking at a life well-lived with no regrets.

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about how to live a life without regrets, and what that looks like. When it’s my turn, will I be able to look back and say that I’ve lived life to the fullest? I think we all can think of things we can trim from our lives that are getting in the way of our soul’s true potential. Are we telling the people we cherish that we love them, we’re thinking of them, we miss them? Are we spending time with them? And how about our dreams – are we doing something every day to move toward them? Are we taking time out of our day to enjoy the little things?

Or are we stuck in the day-to-day grind, busying our time with things that are only quenching our spirit?

Life is fragile. This is what’s been weighing on me ever since I heard about Brad’s death today. Life is fragile, and it can be over in a moment. But it’s also full of so much potential. Each of us have an opportunity to make a difference, experience amazing things, smile more than frown, help each other up, expand our souls, touch those around us, and make our mark on this earth. Every one of us.

I think that’s what Brad did. And I know, in a way all my own, that’s what I want to do, too.

Brad

How Trader Joe’s helped me write my latest novel

Trader Joe's to Send Part-Timers to Obama Health Exchanges

About three years ago, I was in grocery shopping in a Trader Joe’s when an accident unfolded in the middle of the store. A woman was pushing her toddler in the cart, and he was sitting in the wrong part. The cart pitched forward, and the toddler fell on the ground and became hysterical. The woman dropped everything and came to him, scooping him up and rocking him right there in the middle of the produce.

I couldn’t help but absorb what she was going through – the fear that her child was hurt, the guilt that he hadn’t been sitting properly, the embarrassment of being at the center of attention, the feelings of being judged or ridiculed for her parenting skills…

And so opens the beginning of my very next book.

That year (2011), it was that very scene that planted the stage for my NaNoWriMo novel. I played a “What if” game in my mind.

What if this woman came home, and had to face her husband about the mysterious lump on his forehead?

What if the effect of the fall had terrible consequences for the kid?

What would happen to the family after that?

I began the story this way, addressing these “What ifs” with the story of Jill, a woman who loses her son after he hits his head on the slick linoleum of the grocery store. But as I wrote fast (remember, it’s NaNoWriMo – 50K words in 30 days!), another “What if” happened.

What if, as the woman ventures out in the world following the tragedy, something bad happens again?

Enter Maddie, a 16-year-old girl who is pregnant, homeless, and needs a little cash to survive. She finds this by trying to steal Jill’s wallet, setting off a whole new direction of dilemmas and consequences that unfold in a dual story of both mothers’ lives.

I finished that book at just over 50,000 words, and then set it aside to edit later. “Later” turned into years, though the story has haunted me for just as long. So a few months ago, I set aside all my other writing projects (including a book I was in the middle of writing) and picked this book back up to polish and prepare for publication.

To give this still-to-be-named book a fresh start, I retyped the whole thing. As I typed, I added in a few parts, took out a lot more parts, and did my best to make the story a little more 3-dimensional. The process gave me about 20,000 more words to the manuscript (though really it’s more, since I took out a ton of stuff!). And yesterday, I was able to wrap a bow on the rough draft of the book, typing out the words THE END.

Those are some beautiful words, right?

Now comes the fun part – editing. Yeah, I kind of already edited as I went along. But it felt more like writing than editing. So for the next few weeks I’ll be going through it chapter by chapter, smoothing out the edges and preparing it for all of you.

And eventually I’ll even have a book title to share! (<—-Why is that always harder than writing the book itself???)

For now, here’s the rough synopsis of the book you can look forward to reading by the end of this year:

Two mothers. Two different roads in life. Two unimaginable events. This is Jill and Maddie’s story about how life’s twists and turns had an impact on their identity, their future, and the lives they unexpectedly touch in between.

P.S. I have found a name for this novel! Finding Hope. And it will be released sometime this fall. For a sneak peek at an excerpt from Chapter 1, click here.

Hair woes, “instant” success, and living in Generation NOW

I’ve been having hair indecisiveness lately. It all started last November, as I faced my 36th birthday (you know, the one that makes you in your LATE thirties instead of your EARLY thirties), when I decided I wanted to cut off ALL my hair. I wanted my hair to look like Jennifer Lawrence, even though I don’t make clumsy look cute, and I’m not in my twenties with a styling team behind me. I didn’t care. I wanted to sport the pixie, and knew I would look young and chic and sassy.

My hairdresser, however, was a little freaked out by this request. I’ve had loooong hair pretty much all my life, so going from that to a pixie was a bit of a jump. So she talked me into an a-line haircut. She trimmed the back all the way up to my neck, and the front sloped down to my shoulders. It was super cute, and I totally loved it.

When it started to get long again, I went back in to get the same cut. I expected the same bit of sass to come out of her scissors. What I ended up with, however, was a MOM cut. I looked older than my age. I didn’t even want to look my age, let alone older! After going home and doing my best to style it, I realized that this was NOT the cut I had originally gotten. And it just wasn’t working. I called my hairdresser the next day, and she promised to fix it when she had an opening at the end of the week.

Of course, a funny thing happened by the time Friday came. My hair looked fine. But I was not going to be the one to say it. I let her trim things up and work her magic, and I came away with a great haircut that looked even better after a few days had passed.

Three days ago, I went back in for a haircut. This time, I cheated on my hairdresser with a cheaper salon. And I told the lady I wanted it short, short, short. But I didn’t want it to do the weird flippy thing it was doing. She talked me into longer layers to go with the short do, and had her way with my hair.

Now, dang it, I am not a person who speaks up in disappointment. If I did, it would be interrupted by my lame tears, because I pretty much cry whenever I feel strongly about something. So when I looked in the mirror and saw RAMONA QUIMBY looking back at me, I wanted to wither and die. I wanted to leave the salon with a bag over my head. I wanted to do everything in my power to make myself invisible. Instead, I smiled at the lady, thanked her, and gave her a 20% tip. Because that’s the ridiculous person I am.

My husband could see the disappointment in my eyes. Worse, he could see the haircut. Worsest, I could see that HE didn’t like it.

“It’s cute,” he lied, and then he avoided looking at me all night long. I’m not making this up. For two days, he avoided eye contact with me.

Then a few funny things happened. First, my hair relaxed into the haircut. Second, I began playing around with it, learning the ways that it looked best. Third, it started to look cute. I mean, really cute.

“Wow, your hair,” my husband said to me yesterday. I had clipped it back in small french braids so that it hung in the back but away from my face. And I felt pretty adorable. Then today, I received several compliments about the scrunched look I gave my hair.

“How did you get your hair to do that?” my coworker asked me. And I could tell that in the moment she was actually jealous of my hair – the same hair that I wanted to hide under a bag only days before.

There’s a lesson in this, and it has to do with instant gratification, as well as high expectations.

Just like with my hair, I expected extremely great things for my first book, A Symphony of Cicadas. Not that it would make me look young and sassy, but that people would read it and be changed forever. Back in March of 2013, I published that book, hearing the warnings that no first-time author hits it big on the very first try. I heard it, but I didn’t listen. The first few months, the sales trickled in. And by trickling in, I mean I was selling only 1-6 copies most days.

Oh, how naive I was to believe that was BAD, that ANY number of sales could be bad.

After the newness of the book wore off, the sales tapered down as well. I published my poetry book and a book of parenting essays to try to grab the attention of the crowd again. But nothing was happening.

Then this last March, I published Forever Thirteen, the follow-up novel to A Symphony of Cicadas. This time, I put a marketing plan in place. It wasn’t a huge plan, but it was something. And I fully expected the numbers to roll on in. And they did…just a little bit smaller than I expected.

We live in a culture of right here, right now. On Facebook, we post photos and then feel disappointed when someone doesn’t comment on them right away. We email our coworkers and then walk over to their desk to ask if they go it (not me, this drives me crazy!). We send out a Tweet, and if it doesn’t get retweeted, we tweet it again. We go on a diet, then give up when we don’t lose weight within the first two days. We can’t live in the moment, but have to take photos of it and share it across various forms of social media. We even laugh at the graduates who think they deserve a high paying job right off the bat, but then we do the same thing by expecting instant success with our first attempt at greatness.

I expected to be discovered as an author, for my book to be picked up as a movie, for me to be moving into my mansion and deciding how to spend my JK Rowling fortune. Sixteen months into this, I am still working my day job, fighting to find time to write my novel, and spending more money on everything it takes to publish it then I’ll see from sales.

Thing is, I make peace with this constantly. I mean, I grapple with low sales and the yearning to be discovered. But I also hold on to the fact that I am doing it – I’m doing what I’ve always dreamed of doing. I’m writing books. Can’t that be enough? At least for now?

Last night, the trailer for If I Stay came on. My husband hadn’t heard of it before, and I watched the look of shock cross his face as he watched it. The premise was on the same plane as A Symphony of Cicadas. Except my book isn’t some soon-to-be blockbuster hit.

“That should be your book,” he said. Yeah, but it’s not. And I have work to do if I want it to get there. And it’s not going to happen overnight. But if I keep doing what I’m doing, and striving to move forward, my books could be on your TV screen as a movie trailer, too.

P.S. If I Stay was written in 2009. That means it took 5 years for it to hit the big screen and become a “runaway success.” Just an FYI. :-)

P.P.S. A pixie cut is still not out of the question. :-D

CrissiHair

YA paranormal ‘Forever Thirteen’ is only 99 cents!

Sorry for my absence here. I’ve been living in my writing cave lately, pounding out my latest novel that’s shaping up quite nicely (if I do say so myself!). Some things have been placed on the back burner, and this blog, unfortunately, is one of them. But I promise you all a more worthy blog post, and eventually (eek!) some sneak peeks into my work in progress.

However, I do have a little bit of news now. My newest novel, Forever Thirteen, is available for only 99 cents for Kindle readers! A discount on this book is rare, so it’s kind of a big deal. If you’re interested, go check it out now. After this week, it goes back up to $3.99.

Book link: http://amzn.to/1o6hMwL

That’s all for now. Hope you’re having a fabulous week!

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5 books with dead main characters – and an #IAD giveaway!

international authors day banner

Happy International Authors’ Day! To celebrate, I am taking part in a special blog hop tour with many other authors, and will be hosting a giveaway, which you can read about at the end of this blog post. If you’d like to read other authors’ blogs and win some cool stuff, be sure to check out the International Authors’ Day Facebook page, or check #IAD on Facebook and Twitter to see who else is taking part.

For my blog, I thought I’d talk about some of my favorite books that are told from the point of view of someone who has died, mainly because the narrators of my books A Symphony of Cicadas and Forever Thirteen are on the other side of life. Some of these I have read, and some I hope to read. But I’m also hoping to get a few suggestions for other books with ghostly narrators or main characters from you. See details at the end of this post.

The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold1. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
This is one of my absolute favorite books of all time. The movie? Not so much. But the book! Author Alice Sebold writes in such a way, it’s like the words are singing. It’s like they have this life all their own, and each one is lovingly placed in such strange and wonderful ways. She writes passages like this:
“Now I am in the place I call this wide wide Heaven because it includes all my simplest desires but also the most humble and grand. The word my grandfather uses is comfort.
So there are cakes and pillows and colors galore, but underneath this more obvious patchwork quilt are places like a quiet room where you can go and hold someone’s hand and not have to say anything. Give no story. Make no claim. Where you can live at the edge of your skin for as long as you wish. This wide wide Heaven is about flathead nails and the soft down of new leaves, wide roller coaster rides and escaped marbles that fall then hang then take you somewhere you could never have imagined in your small-heaven dreams.”
I could live in this book. Truly.

Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver2. Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver
I just recently read this book when a reader suggested it to me after reading A Symphony of Cicadas. It’s about a popular girl named Samantha who dies in a car accident, but must live that one day over and over again, each time learning something new. It’s been compared as a Mean Girls meets Groundhogs Day kind of story, and I could totally see why. Samantha starts out in this clique of girls who are at the top of the school, and learns things about herself and her friends that begin to not sit well with her. It’s definitely a page turner.

Books I haven’t read, but have on my to-be-read list

 

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher

3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
My daughter read this book a year or so ago, and can’t say enough good things about it. It’s about a girl who commits suicide. Then friends, enemies, and teachers each receive one of 13 tapes she recorded beforehand that explain why she did it, and how they contributed to her decision. For my daughter, the main impact of the story was seeing how the narrator viewed this girl’s death, and how he grew as he learned more about her decision.

 

 

If I Stay, by Gayle Forman4. If I Stay, by Gayle Forman
I don’t know much about this, except that it sounds a little like Before I Fall. It’s about a girl who gets into a car accident, and is faced with some hard choices that will decide her fate. A definite must on my TBR list.

 

 

 

 

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak5. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
I didn’t know this, but the book is narrated by Death himself. It already looked interesting enough to me, but that just added a whole other layer of intrigue.

 

 

 

 

GIVEAWAY!

Forever ThirteenWhat other books are there? Leave a comment by the end of Friday, July 18th, telling your favorite book with a dead narrator or main character – either one of these or a different one that you love – and you could win a free signed copy of my book, Forever Thirteen.