July 25, 2015

Planner - Part Two

     Hello and welcome back! This is the second post on my planner planning adventure. If you missed the first one, please start here.

     Since my last visit I've been using and tweaking my new planner. I have to say that I have gotten a couple of puzzled reactions. My husband was moved to say, "Do I know you?", and then to laugh and say he loved me. When I showed my daughter what I had made she basically asked, "OCD much?" I must admit I had the same thought when I went looking for planner information. But, I have since changed my mind. It has been an eye opening experience. I learned long ago not to let anyone bring me down about my art. Although I'm certain that my husband and daughter were joking, I know that there are people out there who would be perfectly serious. My family can joke because they get what only another artist understands. There must be thousands of planner enthusiasts out there that no one gets. Well, folks, I get you!
      And so this week I'm using my planner like I never imagined I would. The first thing that I have learned is that in order to really enjoy it I have to use it. Admittedly, since I made it a bit fancy I mostly just looked at it for a couple of days. I didn't want to mess it up with any real use. I realized that I was being silly and jumped in.
     To begin with, I filled in the calendar pages with my appointments. I got out a couple of colored pens and pencils just for fun. Once I started actually using the tool I did end up making some changes from my original layout.

The original planner (the larger) and my shopping planner.

     One thing I did not do in the beginning was laminate the divider pages. I only did the dashboard page. That ended up being a good idea. The laminating makes for a fat page and the planner filled up quickly. I did however go back and laminate the tabs on the divider pages. I also only keep six months in the book at a time. My plan is to switch out calendar pages at the end of the month to keep the calendar current and the bulk down. As you can see I found that I use my planner now almost every day. What started as fun has now turned into a great scheduling tool and I go over it after lunch every day, update it as necessary and check out what's coming for the rest of the week. I have not missed a deadline or an appointment and I also find that I'm saving money.

July 2015

      Another thing I changed was the pencil bag. The homemade, duct tape bag was fun, but a bit too school-kid for my taste and I sewed up a fabric bag instead. To make it hang from the rings I sewed on jewelry rings. I like it much better and I did't need to use buttonholes or grommets. It holds four pens and a pencil.

The new, fabric pencil bag

      Also my little pearls on the dashboard front is certainly not a perfect idea, but they are just stickies and I still may pull them off. 

      So far I haven't felt the need to change out any of the categories. The original sections are working well for me. I have decided to make a planner for my daughter for Christmas this year and have set her to the task of imagining what categories she might use. She quickly said, "To-Do". No surprises there, since she always has a notebook out with a list. Another category we decided she could use would be pockets for gift cards. It seems she always has them, I buy them for her myself occasionally, but they can get easily lost and always seem to be at home while you're out shopping and could use them. I am going to make her three envelopes in a gift card category: Restaurant, Stores and General (such as Visa gift cards etc.).

     Before I began this planner I had already ordered a small one that was taking a very long time to arrive. I decided to use it just as a shopping planner and I ordered the larger one, now the main planner. The new one finally arrived. It's made of eel skin, very soft and smooth. Except that it's a bit small, I like it better than the Filofax. I carry a list (sometimes) and coupons (when I remember) with my reusable shopping bags so using a planner instead of a stack of papers seemed like a good idea. I took it shopping once I had finished it and it paid for itself.

The eel skin shopping planner

     I used the same methods I had used for the first planner, just gearing everything towards my shopping trips. I put in sections for food and household weekly shopping and am only taking the coupons I intend to use and sort them just into two categories. I tried extreme couponing once and it wasn't for me. This simple arrangement is working out well. Right before I hit the supermarket I check my cupboards, refrigerator and visit my favorite coupon site. I print out just what I plan to use that day. I have a shopping list, that I keep on the refrigerator, that gets transferred to the shopping planner right before I leave.

Dashboard and sticky papers in the shopping planner

The grocery section

    Besides the food shopping categories and two pockets for coupons I added other categories as well, a wish list for myself and a section for gift ideas. I have kept a gift list for years, usually by jotting down any ideas I have all year and sticking them to December on the calendar. When the holidays roll around I compile the list. It's great to give a gift that someone forgot they wanted. In the personal wish list section I  list items I often buy that I need to remember which colors or sizes I need, like what ink fits in my printer and the color of my favorite lipstick. The wish list makes me focus on what I need or really want and cuts down on impulse buying.

      I make no excuses for my pretty and efficient planners. They are helping me get my books out to my dear readers and making my life less hectic and more relaxing. The fact that they are pretty helps too. They make me feel accomplished and put a smile on my face and take over remembering things for me. I know that my planners are there to take the responsibility of what time I need to be where and when or I have a bill to pay or a royalty check coming in. I don't need to keep it all in my mind. And, they give me peace of mind in a beautiful and artistic way.

      I hope you have a lovely and inspiring week and you create something beautiful every day! Thank you for visiting!

July 18, 2015

The Best Laid Planners

     Hello, and welcome! It's July, always a busy month. It's that month that's filled with vacations and traveling and the time of the year where the garden is in full bloom. It's what we were dreaming about in January and February and March. Summer has arrived and if you're like me you're packing in the activities.
     This is also the time of year I'm always making a mess of my calendars. There are appointments and events scrolled onto datebooks with notes and addresses and directions. There's lists of projects I want to get to in the garden and around the house. I am also brimming with ideas and make myself notes for future novels as well as shopping lists. And I don't want to forget that this is the time of year I imagined would be perfect for putting my feet up and enjoying a good book on a warm summer afternoon. This is when my method of keeping a planner always seems to break down.

     I am fussy over handbags, anyone who knows me is aware that I have spent years trying to find that right purse. My requirement list is extensive and it has only been recently that I have found one that satisfies all of my needs. Even if I switch out to another bag for an evening, I have the one that is my "purse home base". I have learned this week that the pursuit for the perfect day planner is much the same for many people.

 Planners of past years

     I keep a planner, I've had several, but usually one at a time. They vary from those tiny checkbook sized date books that the banks used to give away, more years ago than I want to recall, to the monster I use today. When I opened my cleaning business the tiny one had to go. Keeping appointments and the other requirements of a schedule-based business is far too complicated to rely on a tiny day timer. Not only does my business planner require constant organization it also needs to take a beating. It gets wet and tossed into cleaning caddies and is stuffed with an unusual collection of items. It must hold a page at least the size of a half sheet of paper. I leave a checklist for each customer and it has to be stored clean and flat. The planner has to zip closed, not only to keep the contents clean and dry but because it is where I put the checks from my customers, that day's customer records and keys to their houses. A lost key or check spells disaster. I have customers who trust me and I take that very seriously.

 My Business Planner

     However, that same planner does not fit into any other aspect of my life. For one it's ugly and, because it has sensitive business information, I don't ever leave it in my car. It's huge. I like a big handbag but not quite that big. So, over time I found I kept my cleaning planner and another for my private life. Again that personal one fell to the little checkbook sized date book or whatever looked pretty on the shelves when I needed one. When my life got busier, the planning got more complicated. Last week I decided to get serious about buying a personal planner. And, with the internet to give me a fire hose of information I started my research.
     Wow! I never imagined that there was a kind of a cult of planner enthusiasts, and I mean that in the kindest way! Until I began this project I did not know there were so many people in the world who took this subject so seriously. I was annoyed by the planners I had been using. I found that I am not alone. Putting together the ultimate planner is evidently an art.

     Over the next couple of weeks I am going to share my experiences with this project. I will share links to some of the planner artists I have discovered along the way. I am far from being an expert on this but I have put together my own planner and I have every confidence, alright, every hope, it will work for me. I genuinely hope you enjoy the journey.

My current planner disaster. It is embarrassing inside. 

     So, firstly, I have established that I did not have much of a handle on planners. I knew a couple of things. They are not cheap, and if I tried to buy a new one every year it was wasteful and I would go broke. It made sense to buy a good basic one and make it my own. After my research I decided to buy a Filofax Saffiano Personal planner. These bad boys come in many shapes and sizes ranging from about the size of a lady's clutch wallet to something more like a desk sized binder. Like people, planners suit everyone from the minimalist to the avid journalist. I found I fell somewhere in between. I needed more than a slim wallet sized planner, but I was not moved or motivated to keep diaries and art-filled illustrations. The planner I bought also comes in a version that is the same basic dimensions but has larger rings to hold more pages. I wondered at one point if I should have bought the fatter planner but this one has made me think a bit more about what I am carrying with me and what I toss into my handbag.

     They come in a beautiful rainbow of colors. Like all artists I have "periods" of color. Pink has always made me happy, but in recent years a pretty peacock makes me feel inspired so I chose the teal. While I waited for it to arrive I planned and plotted filling it with dividers and pages and tools.

     Online I learned there seems to be some standards on how these delightful books work, although the contents can vary greatly depending on your personal needs. One basic is the "dashboard" page. It is, as you might imagine, the front page which is usually plastic or laminated. It is a protection page and is often used as a place to stick a post-it note. Some people write on the dashboard page with markers that can then be wiped away. Clever. So I planned a dashboard page. I was very undecided about using a pretty cover style page or a stunning painting by Robert Hagan, a favorite impressionist of mine. When the planner arrived, and I found it had a clingy sheet of plastic inside I used both. Maybe I'll call the second page the "glove compartment".

The dashboard

Up close

Page two

     Then I needed dividers. Searching online led me to many Etsy pages where you can buy beautiful, laminated dividers in a wide array of colors and designs. They were very inspirational. Since I do a lot of paper crafts I took a trip to my craft room and sorted through my collection. I have several books of lovely card-stock prints and I chose some coordinating colors, got a box of laminating sheets, a regular hole puncher, scissors, my paper cutter and a pencil.
     I started by making a template of the page size using one of the dividers that came in the planner. They also had tabs that ran down the side and were spaced evenly. I used them as well to put tabs in my dividers. The categories I am using are:

Novel Ideas

 Divider Pages - The originals and my new ones

Categorized Divider Pages

     Although the inserts and pages that came with the Filofax are very nice, in the process I ended up using few of them and eventually put together a little box just for planner supplies to store the ones I did not use. One of the things inside I didn't use were the calendar pages. They are laid out one day at a time and I much prefer a monthly calendar view. In my wanderings I found this great site where you can download insert pages free for your planner and I printed my own. I like the idea that next year I won't be searching the planet for the exact pages to fit my planner.

Month pages

     Since I like a daily to-do list I am using a sticky list on the front of my planner that gets changed out as the list gets completed. In the pocket of the planner I put other sticky papers for notes and highlighting and made a pair of pretty paperclips.  In the front slots are my personal and author business cards, things which I find I'm often looking for in a hurry.

To-do Pad

     Lastly I made a pencil pouch following the clever design located here with a Ziplock bag and duct tape. It's light, and pretty and does the job.

  Duct tape pencil bag

 The planner ready for planning

     I had originally thought I'd add "shopping" as a category in this planner and in the process decided to leave that out. Instead I'm going to make a separate shopping planner. Since I like to use my own bags when I shop and often carry coupons I am going to make a planner that is dedicated for coupons, with categories of the things I need and want to buy and toss that in with my shopping bags. Once I have put that one together I will post on that experience as well.

     I have yet to transfer my schedule into my new planner and will do that this week. Next week I will post more shots of how I am using this method of organization and how it helps manage my scheduling.

Thank you so much for visiting. Please come again!


July 11, 2015

Tears and flying manuscripts

  The original painting for the cover of Whetstone

It's been a busy week in my household. For most of the country it's vacation week and the time I do my most intense work. It's the time that I am either editing wholeheartedly or have just completed publishing a new novel. This year I have just finished book two of a three part series and, as usual, it has been intense. Until I had one of my books published I never imagined what was involved in putting out a novel. 

Like many aspiring writers I imagined that the real work of a novel was the heartfelt words that an impassioned author put to paper. How romantic. There, in the dark of night or tucked away in a cozy cafe, all that was needed was plenty of inspiration and a decent laptop. Not quite.

Without that author there would certainly not be a book, but now I see that when I pick up a novel there is much, much more in my hand. I think of it as something akin to a fresh green bean upon my dinner plate. In today's world we take a ride to the supermarket, grab a bag of fresh vegetables and, after some simple preparation, serve it on a plate to be quickly gobbled up or pushed aside. But for a moment stop and think about all the time and effort spent planting, growing and pruning that bean before it hit the market shelves. Before a book is in your hand, it too has been loved and cared for, groomed and cultivated.

Somewhere in the mind of the writer is that first idea. Like a tiny seed, it needs good soil. Sometimes it dies, and sometimes it continues to grow. It must soften, like the bean. The idea must take shape and definition before it begins to sprout. After being soaked in the dark of the mind and enriched carefully in a sea of imagination, it begins to send out a tendril. It might linger in the darkness, soaking for a few minutes or for a lifetime, but until the moment that the pen hits the paper it remains no more than a concept, a tiny bean that has yet to break through to the sunlight.

It begins with one word, and then a sentence. Sometimes it pours out, sending out stems and leaves rapidly. Other times it creeps forward cautiously, laying out its tale slowly. In the mind of the writer it grows in three dimensions. It becomes alive, independent, an entity unto itself. In the average novel there are 500,000 words. That's a lot of beans. They can't be scattered willy-nilly across the page. Grammar has rules that have to be followed which is not always an easy task while your imagination is shooting out words and ideas, caught up in the emotion of the moment. Words may pour out like gibberish in an anxious rush to "get it on paper", but at some point they must make sense to a potential reader.

Once it's written, every word must be read. And reread. And reread again. I read them while I write them, and again right after I have written them. And then I reread them yet again if I step away, to remind myself where I am in my story and then again to settle back into my writing pace. If I make changes I read the words again. Once I type "The End" I read every word again three to five times, tweaking and arranging all the time. And then the actual editing begins.

Now is the time to put on my big girl panties and maybe a bit of armor. My publisher asked me once if I cried while I write and truthfully, I often do. He told me a good writer cries twice: once when writing and once while editing. He also said editors frequently quit and walk off the job. If it's done right, editing is brutal. There can be no nice guy holding the red pen.

That lovely sprout of words, so perfectly eloquent, written with heart and soul, when read by another person suddenly sounds awkward and nonsensical. Now all of those words that once made beautiful and perfect sense leave you scratching your head. We read what we think we see, but when an editor sits down with your words he reads what's really there. He catches the second "the" in "Paris in the the spring". My editor now reads my work out loud. It's the way we hear repetitive words, awkward phrasing and things that sound, well, just plain bad. I can hear, when read aloud by another person, when my stories sound maudlin, slow or just plain stupid. When that happens, and it does, I have to let go of my sweet tender bean plant, to tolerate the pruning and endure the shears. When I wrote only for my own eyes I'd be proud and full of myself, even imagining the compliments of friends were true reviews. Now that I write for the world it is a very different story.

I know I am not alone. Mark Twain, Capote and many other well known authors have groaned about editing. Editors and publishers worldwide tell familiar stories of writers having thrown their manuscripts out the window under the duress of editing. I had never before imagined the impact and the work involved.

The original painting for the cover of  A Winter at Whetstone

But then, when that little bean emerges from the twining, twisting, arranging and pruning, it can be a work of art. Done well it tells the story plainly and speaks to the reader clearly. It's no longer bogged down with good intentions and eloquent, but non-nonsensical rambling. It simply says what it always meant to say. Now the words are ready for the world.

And then comes the packaging. You may not, as they say, be able to tell a book by its cover, but it sure helps. I am fortunate to have a cover designer that knows my mind and is brimming with ideas. But for myself, I have one real rule. When I see my book would I buy it? Is it like a thousand others. or does it say "me" and stand out? If the cover would not tempt me to pick it up off the shelf it doesn't go onto my book.

My carefully crafted bean stalk needs to be packaged and formatted, then converted and formatted again. Yes, we live in a modern age where novels no longer must be typed from handwritten pages and corrected with white-out, but plenty of work still remains. Even in a quickly-moving, technological world each novel still needs layout work. Each cover design must fit. And, there must always be room for that UPC label.

And then it arrives. In a heavy box on the hefty shoulder of the delivery man is that first box of books. It makes no difference if it is my first novel or the tenth, it is my book. My tiny seed that started in my imagination has grown and thrived, and finally has blossomed. It is a collection of my words, my experiences, my research and my heart.

You know what? I'm going outside now to put up my feet and read a good book. 
           The original painting for the cover of The Wells of Whetstone

July 4, 2015

Signing and Writing


     When I began this blog I wanted it to be a place to put the words that were not in my novels. I imagined it to be my personal side. When I look back at my earliest postings I see them as a little tentative and not terribly focused. Now I find that writing here each week is a wonderful opportunity, even more than I once thought. It’s a chance to communicate with you, my readers, in a much more personal and developed way rather than a quick update on social media. I would like to think that here, in this blog, you can get to know me a little bit better.
      By writing here, I get personal and heartfelt emails and messages. I have made new friends and been able to share more about my novels. I love having the chance to do that and I often feel humbled by the honest communication I receive from all of you. Each word inspires and motivates me to continue to write. I thank every one of you for that opportunity.

The Whetstone series

      And so I have finished yet another story, told in three novels, Whetstone, A Winter at Whetstone and The Wells of Whetstone. Many of you have openly requested that I write another saga and I enjoyed writing this one. Sometimes I feel as if I am many different women and I like to incorporate all of those aspects of my imagination into my novels. I loved writing the splendor of Stavewood and all of the characters that made up the land as well. From the heartbreak of the American Civil War in Sweet New England to the adventures of claiming land in the Oklahoma Land Rush in Piecrust Promise, I embark on each adventure reliving the history of the period. In The Matter with Margaret I imagined my home in 1920 and the people who may have lived in it once. I can feel how they would have loved it and the Pennsylvania town of Drexel Hill where it was built. I have stood on the battlefields of France in WW1, reading the letters of a heartbroken young wife left behind in Selective Service. I have visited all of these places, in my mind and in my heart, because of your support, my beloved readers, who travel with me on my journeys.
       In our most recent voyage, this time to the legendary Catskills of upstate New York, we can once again travel back in time. There we'll find a lonely farmer, a serious man, in love with his land who sends for a mail order bride to help him run his farm. We're able to get to know the lovely and creative young woman who answers his request to find a better life. What better way to show a quiet and reserved man than for him to be a "stoner", a man who sharpens hardened steel, not unlike the way he shapes the lives of the people around him. Timothy Elgerson of Stavewood is a man of the woods, a logger in love with life. Everett Braun of Whetstone is a different man and so Whetstone is its own adventure.
      While writing this saga I learned that the finest whetstones come from the east and were treasured and handed down from generation to generation. Stoners often lived a vagabond life, pulling the heavy wheel from farm to farm to earn a living. I learned that the art of Claude Monet was a new form of art at that time and that his impressionist works were a fresh and previously unknown perspective of the beauty of the world. I learned that it was considered "unladylike" for women to paint and that much of their works were only seen by the world when presented as done by men. I learned about the amazing water that is produced by rare artesian wells and what makes it naturally carbonated and incredibly pure. The old wells were drilled with rigging and a draft horse. Whetstone is a thoughtful story and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

      It seems that as soon as I finish one story, another begins to form and so I am once again brewing up yet another adventure. Snake Oil will be a fun and sexy romp. I am doing my research now into what I hope and plan to be a fast-paced adventure, once again, back into history.

      A huge thank you to those who attended my book signing in the Books-For-Less store in the Montgomery Mall in North Wales, Pa yesterday. A special thanks to my new friend, Dorothy, who was a great sport, posing for this picture with me.