My Top 5 Tips for Writing with Chronic Pain

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. With that said, I have not partnered with any of the authors or publishers for sponsorship. All recommendations and endorsements are based solely on my personal experiences.

I have arthritis. It’s osteoarthritis, and it’s in my fingers, wrists, and elbows, among other joints. Osteoarthritis comes from overuse, but it isn’t something that goes away. I’ll be dealing with this for the foreseeable future.

my-top-5-tips-for-writing-with-chronic-pain.png

Despite my chronic pain, I still make progress with my writing. It’s difficult, but I’ve found some strategies to help. If you also struggle with moving forward in your books when dealing with a flare-up, check out my top five tips for writing with chronic pain.

MY TOP 5 TIPS FOR WRITING WITH CHRONIC PAIN

  1. Take rest days. On days when the pain is too great, you might have to take some time off. And that’s okay! In my most recent newsletter, I talked about taking breaks when you’re feeling low. “The book will still be there when you're feeling better.” The same holds true for chronic pain.

  2. KT tape. My friend and fellow writer Kate Mitchell recommended this one to me. If you can’t find this tape, try compression gloves. I had mixed results with those, but they might work for you. Buy KT tape here.

  3. Writing via dictation. Text to speech is an absolute godsend. I use Google Docs in Google Chrome, so dictation is built right in. If you want to use this feature, open your document, navigate to Tools, then select Voice Typing. Note: This feature only works when using Docs in Google Chrome. If you don’t use Google Docs, try Dragon or another dictation option.

  4. Communicate. As authors, we frequently have to deal with deadlines. Since I’m self-published to this point, I don’t have to worry too much about that. However, as an editor, I juggle due dates for various clients. When I’m in the midst of a terrible flare-up (like right now), I let my clients know to expect things with a delay. When you communicate what’s going on, people tend to be understanding. If they’re not, maybe they’re not the best people for you to interact with.

  5. Prioritize quality over quantity. Marathon writing sessions are phenomenal, but they can’t happen every day. If you’re in too much pain to get a lot of writing done at once, try doing a few sprints. That way, you’re still getting words down, even if you don’t think you’re getting much done. Every little bit matters.

For more tips for managing chronic pain, check out this post with hacks for living with chronic conditions, or this one featuring tools for pain management that aren’t medications (thanks again, Kate!). Final note: I am not a medical professional. Please take all recommendations with that in mind. If you are truly having a hard time managing chronic pain, your best bet is to make an appointment with a qualified physician.

Vlog: My Writing Space (Updated)

I spend so much time at my desk that I often fail to appreciate it. My mom sanded and finished it for me, and I've had it for a few years. It's where I wrote my first novel, my first play, and my second novel. It's where I'm writing my third novel. Needless to say, I love my writing space. In this video, I'm going to share it with you.

Where do you do your writing? Describe your space in the comments! Don't forget to subscribe so you can be alerted when I post a new video!

How to Make Writing Easier with Micro Goals

Let me make the case to you for setting micro goals. Writing a book is a complicated process. Some days, 100 words are more than doable. Other days, it feels a gargantuan task. When I have days like the latter, what helps is telling myself I only have to write one sentence. It’s almost impossible not to talk myself into doing just that much. Usually, once I have that one sentence down, it’s enough to motivate me to keep going with the work.

how-to-make-writing-easier-with-micro-goals

Take this blog post, for example. I told myself I was only going to write a topic sentence. But a minute or so has gone by now, and I am still writing the post. I can’t keep this little sprint going for much longer, but it’s given me a solid start. That’s the power of micro goals.

When I'm working on a draft of a novel, I set a word count goal for 2,000 words per day. It's been like this for as long as I can remember, maybe since college. But on days when writing feels impossible, like the last thing I would ever want to do, I lower my expectations.

On days when I'm struggling, I focus on a much lower word count target, say, 500 words, or 100. Once, I even set a target for like, 50 words (a Very Bad Day). Still, it counted as writing, because I was getting words down. Even if my word count goal was lower than I wanted, I still got something done. That is the power of micro goals.

So, the next time you're struggling, lower the bar. Decrease the word count goal. This is not only good for morale, but also productivity. You'll be surprised how much progress you'll make.

As I write this, I am dictating it. I'm in the middle of a pretty bad arthritis flare-up, I have it in my hands, so it makes writing difficult. I wanted to get this blog post done, however, so I set a goal to just write the next sentence. Here we are now, at the conclusion of this post. It's going to be a short one, but I hope it helps someone as much as it's helped me to figure this out.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

My Top 5 Favorite Editing Books

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. With that said, I have not partnered with any of the authors or publishers for sponsorship. All recommendations and endorsements are based solely on my personal experiences.

As an author and freelance editor (book my services!), I’ve often been asked about my favorite editing books. I don’t necessarily reference these books every time I sit down to edit, but they definitely come in handy.

top-5-favorite-editing-books

Whether I’m editing fantasy, horror, or another genre for my clients—or my own work, for that matter—I find myself coming back to these books. I’m sharing them in hopes you’ll find them useful too.

MY TOP 5 FAVORITE EDITING BOOKS

1. SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS BY RENNI BROWNE AND DAVE KING

For anyone who wants to get better at line edits.

Line edits are my favorite stage of the editorial process. It also happens to be one of the most difficult. Luckily, books like this one help make everything easier. Although I bought this book expecting more help with developmental editing, I’m glad it’s an invaluable resource for at least one step in the editorial process.

If you like this book, make sure you leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads!

self-editing-for-fiction-writers

2. THE STORY GRID BY SHAWN COYNE

For anyone looking to make big-picture edits.

Story structure may be naturally ingrained in human thinking, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get that across on paper. With decades of experience making good books great, Coyne offers spectacular insight on fiction editing and helps you lay out your story for literary success. This isn’t my favorite book because it can be intimidating, but I can definitely understand its value to other writers and editors.

If you like this book, make sure you leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads! There’s also a podcast if you want to check that out too.

the-story-grid-editing

3. REVISION AND SELF-EDITING FOR PUBLICATION BY JAMES SCOTT BELL

For a comprehensive look at editing, geared toward those hoping for traditional publication.

I love this book because it covers almost all aspects of the revision process, with special tips for the first read-through. You'll focus on plot, characters, theme, voice, style, setting, and endings. The book also showcases innovative exercises to help you hone your craft.

If you like this book, make sure you leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads!

revision-and-self-editing

4. 2K TO 10K BY RACHEL AARON

For anyone who wants to write more books in less time, or get through first drafts faster.

This book is phenomenal because it helps you the words down faster, without sacrificing quality. She teaches you not only how to make your writing sessions more productive, but also how to plot if you hate plotting and edit if you hate editing. I LOVE THIS BOOK.

If you like this book, make sure you leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads!

2k-to-10-writing-editing

5. 5,000 WORDS PER HOUR BY CHRIS FOX

For anyone who wants to get more writing done in general.

Like the previous book, this one is chock full of tips and techniques for increasing your overall writing productivity. Fox also introduces the concept of the editing sprint, which involves working in focused bursts for short periods of time. Highly recommend.

If you like this book, make sure you leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads!

5000-words-per-hour-writing-editing

No matter how much writing and editing experience you have, these books will provide a solid foundation for any author's editing toolkit. Of course, if you're dreading diving back into your manuscript to make the necessary changes... you can always hire an editor to do the dirty work for you. ;)

REFLECTIONS Now Has a Book Trailer!

I know what you might be saying: "Briana, why create a book trailer for a novel that's been out for more than a year?" Well, because I WANT TO! Also, because I've only just gotten the hang of using iMovie, and because I think Reflections deserves love more than anything else I've written... but you know. Same thing.

Anyway, I'm thrilled to share this brand-spanking-new book trailer with you. I've never made one before, and it was a lot of fun! Let me know what you think in the comments below. What book should I give this treatment to next?

RELATED LINKS:

Thanks for watching! Also, keep your eyes on this space—I have some big changes coming soon!

How to Rock Character Creation in Your Novel

Hi everyone! Briana here. I'm still getting settled in my new place, so today's blog post comes from the lovely Sarina Langer, a dear friend and one of my editing clients. I'll be back with a brand-new vlog on Friday. Enjoy!

Character creation is one of my favourite parts when I plot a new WIP. It's a bit like meeting new people for the first time, wouldn't you say?

Intriguing, relatable characters ensure your readers will be invested until the very end—but how do you rock your character creation?

Today, I'll share some of my character creation secrets with you! I even brought you a present ;)

Briana Morgan - Character Creation (Banner).jpg

Strengths and Weaknesses

You've probably already heard this a hundred times, right? The reason I'm including it anyway is because it needs to be exploited until there's nothing left.

You can go easy—your MC's strength could be that she's an excellent archer, and her weakness could be spiders. (I know I relate to the latter)

Or, you can make it a little more complicated. Your MC's strength (let's call her Sara) could be unwavering loyalty to her brother and optimism even in the darkest situations.

Her weakness could be the memory of her parents dying, or a hatred for killing. Remember her strength being that she's good with a bow? A weapon? CONFLICT

The more complicated your characters are, the more your readers will fall in love. Your readers are just as complicated—all humans are—and we love seeing ourselves in fictional characters!

Wants and Fears

So, our girl Sara has seen her parents die and now hunts for dinner with a bow to keep herself and her brother alive. Losing her brother is a natural fear, but what other fears might this attachment cause?

Seeing someone else die?

Returning to her childhood home?

Losing the necklace her mother left her?

Sara's wants can be simple: survival. But what does her survival look like? Does she want to make a new life somewhere? Does she want to stay on the move? What does she want for her brother?

How does she fear she might fail?

And, now that you know all that...

Your character's knowledge vs. the reader's

It's tempting to write something like 'Karen, who was Sara's mum but died when Sara was ten, was still in Sara's memories' because the reader needs to know, right? They do, but Sara wouldn't think this. Sara knows who Karen was. Sara knows how Karen died.

She wouldn't think 'Karen, my mother who died when I was ten', she'd think 'Mum'.

So, unless someone asks her directly, she'd have no reason to be this detailed. Honestly, she'd probably try to forget about it. We've just decided she's seen her parents die, after all—pretty traumatising!

Your reader definitely needs to know, but in your character's own time. It’s whenever your character is ready—not when you are ready, or when your reader might be ready.

Take your sweet time introducing it

You don't introduce yourself to someone new by saying 'Hi, I'm Sara, I watched my parents die six years ago so I'm depressed and protect my brother because he's all I have left. I learned how to use a bow because I need to keep us fed and alive, but I kinda hate killing people and animals. I'm just trying to survive, you know?'

You'd be reserved. You'd say 'I'm Sara.' and hope this person you've just met moves on. No one ever asks if you have parents, so this new character wouldn't either unless there's a good reason—and giving your reader that information isn't it.

Feed your readers info slowly. Let them get to know your characters like they would a real person.

If in doubt, ask yourself: does my character say this to teach the reader something, or because it fits with the plot, pacing, and their personality?

Have a freebie!

Briana Morgan - Character Creation Freebie Image.jpg

To help you create believable characters, Briana and I have attached a downloadable mini character questionnaire for you. It's my own version, and I use this myself for every character I create. There's room for a picture or two of your character, and it should help you create believable characters without overdoing it (:

How do you create your characters? Do you have a method, or is there something you struggle with every time? I'll stick around for a while, so ask away!

4 Black-Authored Books to Read ASAP

Today’s post is going to be a little different. Instead of talking about writing, I’m sharing some book recommendations. February is Black History Month, and in honor of that, I’m reading books by authors of color.

If you, like me, want to celebrate talented people who aren’t often celebrated by mainstream media outlets, check out some of these book recommendations.

32075671.jpg

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Young Adult Contemporary

Goodreads summary:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

My reaction: This book made me feel a million different things, and I bawled like a baby. Please read this book.

undergound-railroad.jpg

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Adult Historical Fiction

Goodreads summary:

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood - where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead's ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor - engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar's first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven - but the city's placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

My reaction: I love, love, love this novel. Colson Whitehead is going places. Read this book right now.

32920226.jpg

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Adult Literary Fiction

Goodreads summary:

An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power – and limitations – of family bonds. 

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children’s father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother, but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. 

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love. 

Rich with Ward’s distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first century America. It is a majestic new work from an extraordinary and singular author.

My reaction: Confession time: I have yet to read this book. Nevertheless, it’s at the top of my list.

18713041.jpg

Endangered by Lamar Giles
YA Mystery

Goodreads summary:

The one secret she cares about keeping—her identity—is about to be exposed. Unless Lauren "Panda" Daniels—an anonymous photoblogger who specializes in busting classmates and teachers in compromising positions—plays along with her blackmailer's little game of Dare or . . . Dare.

But when the game turns deadly, Panda doesn't know what to do. And she may need to step out of the shadows to save herself . . . and everyone else on the Admirer's hit list.

My reaction: I couldn’t put this book down, and it kept me guessing the whole way through. If you like mysteries too, you don’t want to miss this one.

Of course, these are just some of the many fantastic books by black authors out there that deserve your consideration. For more books by authors of color, check out this list on Buzzfeed and this one from The Root.

What are your favorite black-authored books? 

Tweet tweet:

What are your favorite black-authored books? Check out some recs from @brimorganbooks. (Click to tweet)

Moving On

 Photo credit:  Monika  on Flickr

Photo credit: Monika on Flickr

Quick life update blog post because next weekend I’ll be moving into my own place. I’ve been living with my parents and am looking forward to being independent once again. There’s nothing quite like having your own space to decorate and do with as you please.

I’m also looking forward to having full control over my schedule. Being able to come home and write or edit without other people around will be nice. I love people, but sometimes I need solitude to work. If I can get into a good routine in my new place, I know I can thrive.

I'm so thankful for the writing community on Twitter and the internet in general. I'd never be where I am as a writer without the encouragement of my online friends. I'm also thankful for my critique partner Amanda—who is a phenomenal writer in her own right. We're putting out a horror anthology this year about the seven deadly sins and seven heavenly virtues. Look out for that if you like spooky things! Also, we're recording a vlog about our friendship and collaboration!

I am so excited to be moving on to this next phase in my life, and I can't wait to share the journey with you. Also, if we're friends and you'd like to send me a card or anything, email me or drop me a DM on Twitter, and I'll give you my address! I want to fill this new home with love and light and positive energy, and I can't do that on my own.

What are you excited for right now?

Tweet tweet:

What's next for author @brimorganbooks? A move, and other changes. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: My Struggle with Anxiety

So uploading this video... made me kinda anxious??? Anyway, here it is. To everyone who asked for this, I hope it helps you somehow. Remember: you're stronger than you think. Go easy on yourself. And I promise you're never, ever alone.

RELATED LINKS:

  • Crisis text line: Text HELP to 741-741 if you don't feel comfortable calling someone.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Two Techniques for Building Realistic Characters

 Photo credit:  Gianfranco Goria  on Flickr

Photo credit: Gianfranco Goria on Flickr

My biggest focus for this round of WIP edits has been characterization. I’m immensely thankful for my friend and editor Coryl’s insight on this topic—when I asked them for resources, they were more than happy to provide.

One of the places they directed me was author K. M. Weiland’s website. For those of you who aren’t familiar with her website, you need to check it out immediately. She not only offers information about her books, but also tips, tricks, and advice for writers of all skill levels. Naturally, I was most drawn to her posts about character-building. According to Weiland, most of what makes a good character arc in a story can be summed up as follows: What lie does the character believe about themself?

This single question changed my whole approach to character development and helped me come up with more well-rounded characters. In my novel Reflections, for example, Rama believes that she isn’t good for anything after her assault, and that she’ll never see her body the same way again. Without giving too much away, that’s all proven false by the end of the novel.

Another tactic that changed my character-building for the better is author and YouTuber Jenna Moreci’s character templates. For some reason or other, most character worksheets don’t help me. They’re almost always far too detailed, and then I get distracted. After watching this video, I gave Jenna’s method a shot. It’s still a decent bit of work, but nowhere near as complicated as it used to be. Now, there’s also the added bonus of viewing my characters as full-fledged individuals with goals, histories, secrets, and complicated relationships.

If you’re struggling to develop fully formed characters, give one (or both) of these two different strategies a try. Also, if you have any tips for building characters, feel free to share them with me!

What do you think of these character-building tips? What advice do you have for creating realistic characters?

Tweet tweet:

“What lie does your character believe about themself?” (Click to tweet)

My Goals for 2018

 Photo credit:  Manu Dreil  on Flickr

Photo credit: Manu Dreil on Flickr

How wild is it that it’s 2018 now? (And honestly, praise be.) I’d planned to do this post in January, but now is so much better. At the beginning of every year, I try to come up with a list of things to check off in the new year. Right now, that means strengthening my self-discipline as an artist.

Whether you’re a writer or a lawyer or something else, I'll bet you've made some new year’s resolutions. Like me, you might have some negative associations with the concept. Instead of using “resolution,” why not give “goal” a try? Personally, I have a few goals this year:

  1. Finish Girls’ School. I’m still on the second draft, and I really think I want to query this one. That terrifies me, but we’ll see what happens. I don’t want to do this all on my own anymore.

  2. Move into my new apartment. February 17! (If we talk to each other a lot and you’d like my mailing address, feel free to reach out.)

  3. List the Reflections audiobook. After having (finally!) found a great narrator, I’m thrilled to say that this audiobook should be available by summer.

  4. Query Girls’ School. Just "query." Focusing on the only part of the process within my control. After writing the query letter and sending the MS to agents, it’s out of my hands.

  5. Read 1-2 books per week. I want to become a better writer, so I’m going to read more books. Also, books are neato.

  6. Determine a consistent posting schedule. Not only for this blog, but also for YouTube and my newsletter. I’m busy, but not too busy to connect with friends and readers.

  7. Draft a new project. Not quite sure which one yet, but I’m thinking it’ll be a YA thriller or horror novel.

  8. Publish horror anthology with my critique partner. Sorry, Amanda! We’re still doing this! I’m just not sure of the timeline right now.

  9. Audition for a theatrical production. I miss the theatre like crazy. I’m putting myself out there this year and going out for more auditions.

  10. Learn to make bath bombs. Because I love bath bombs. Also because selling them could be a new side hustle.

Most of my goals relate to writing, but that’s because I’m trying to make more room in my life for the work that most fuels me. This year I’m making my art my big focus. I encourage you to do the same.

What are some of your goals for this year? I’d love to hear from you!

Tweet tweet:

What goals have you set for 2018? Author @brimorganbooks is sharing some of hers. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: The Enfield Poltergeist

This video is the first of (hopefully) many spooky ones to come. Today, I’m going to tell you a little about the Enfield poltergeist, and why it’s one of the most controversial paranormal cases to date.

What true crime case, unsolved mystery, or paranormal event should I cover next?

Vlog: Recap: TOUCH and Attending a Performance

I got to watch people performing my play! I still can't believe that happened, y'all. You should also watch this video if you either a) haven't read my play or b) don't know what it's about.

RELATED LINKS:

Have you read or seen Touch? What did you think?

Tweet tweet:

Author and playwright @brimorganbooks got to see her play performed, and she had a lot of feelings. (Click to tweet)

Follow the Little Voice

Hi everyone, it's Briana! I've had a hectic month, so today's post is from Richard Moore, and it's about doing the things that fuel your creative soul. I'll have a brand-new post for you sometime next week!

Guest Post_ Follow the Little Voice.png

When I was 14 I remember I would spend my lunchtimes rebuilding old PCs so I could try and sell them. I also programmed my own (rather average) operating system. I'm glad I followed what I was interested in, rather than what others suggested I should be doing. I was often called a geek but I remember it as such a fulfilling time.

Later, when I started selling, I spent money and time at weekends on courses and guidance to improve myself. Again, I got a weird reception on this and it was suggested I should just be chilling at home on the weekends rather than out learning. I thought about it but usually I just didn't want to. So I didn't.

Now, if I'm into something I dive deep into it and make that interest into something that can improve my world. There is belief that we should "do" a certain thing—something that fits in.

But if you let the voice within speak up a little, you often find there is great fulfillment in something completely different.

Whatever that is, run with it.

Richard Moore

Richard Moore originally worked 60 hour weeks in the City of London, before deciding to build his own businesses and help others do the same.

After building companies from the trenches up, by taking ownership of sales teams, coaching leadership roles and consulting with multi-hundred million pound organisations, Richard created his own company to help others get massive traction as they launched their businesses.

As he did this, Richard invested in many of the companies he helped to create and shared with the world his views on business, through the weekly live Q&A‘s he runs online, to speaking gigs in front of business owners in his space and his weekly blog. Richard also created products such as the EightStepStartup course, the Basics of Sales course and direct mentoring of established businesses.

How to Survive a Transition Period

We've all been through periods in life where everything is up in the air, for the most part. You might be between jobs right now, or maybe you're looking for a new apartment or a new relationship. Whatever the case, you might be feeling lost, helpless, and confused. But I want you to know this: you are not alone.

I'm not where I thought I'd be three months ago. Sometimes that terrifies me. Other times, it's exciting. My mood shifts every day. As a perfectionist and a self-professed control freak, this is difficult for me. Nothing is going the way I planned, and sometimes, I feel stuck, unmotivated, and anxious about my current situation.

How to Survive a Transition Period

In moments of helplessness, you might feel as though you'll never get "unstuck," or that you'll be where you are for the rest of your life. Of course, that's not the case. No matter how confused, anxious, or lost you may be feeling right now, you are not alone, and this transition period will end. Nothing lasts forever, after all.

But while you're in the midst of a difficult phase, there are some things you can do to make your life a little easier. Here are a few strategies I've discovered for how to survive a transition period in life.

1. LIST YOUR STRESSES

The next time you feel anxious or upset about the course your life has taken, sit down and make a list (bonus points for writing it out on paper) of all your current stressors. An example from my own life might say, "Not enough writing time, don't have my own apartment, live far from friends" and things of that nature. No matter how silly or small what's stressing you out seems, I want you to write it down. Once you've got your list, it's time to move on to...

2. CIRCLE EVERYTHING YOU CAN CHANGE

Chances are, there are several things on your list that are outside your control, such as the deteriorating health of a loved one, suffering from a chronic illness, or anything like that. For this exercise, I want you to try to ignore those points. We're only going to focus on what's within our power to change. Let's look at my examples: writing time, apartment, and distance from friends. These are all within my power to change, regardless of how hard it might be to do so. After you've figured out what you can change, feel free to...

3. LIST POTENTIAL NEXT STEPS

When you've figured out what you can change, you should decide how exactly you want it to change. For me, with writing time, I want to write more. If I make that goal more specific, it means I want to edit or draft at least 1,000 words each day, regardless of the project I have going at the moment. Some next steps toward that goal would be analyzing my time, determining what can be cut, tracking my writing progress, telling friends and loved ones, and perhaps outsourcing some tasks. When you know what all you need to do, go ahead and...

4. DETERMINE ORDER AND PRIORITY

Now that you have your next steps, what needs to be done first? Let's go again with my writing example. I need to track my time and determine what can be cut from my life to make time for writing. I need to outsource some tasks to make more time for writing, and tell friends and loved ones that I'm taking time for myself each day, so they'll know not to disturb me. I also need to track my progress once I'm writing regularly, to make sure my system is as efficient as possible. So, my order and priority list might look something like this:

  1. Track time spent every hour of every day.
  2. Analyze time, determine what can be cut or outsourced.
  3. Cut any distractions or necessary tasks, outsource others.
  4. Determine writing schedule and block off time.
  5. Tell loved ones of my time block.
  6. Write!
  7. Keep track of writing progress and analyze to determine maximum efficiency.

Not too shabby, right? As soon as you've listed everything out, you can always break it down into smaller steps too, if need be. But when you've written out your list, it's time to...

5. ATTACK THE LIST

From here, all you have to do is tackle each item on the list, one at a time, until you accomplish your goal. That's not so bad now, is it? If you want extra productivity and goal-setting points, you can also add self-imposed deadlines. So for me, let's say I want to track all my time every day this week, and start my analysis on Saturday. Self-imposed deadlines are a great way to help you stay motivated and on track.

Pro tip: Tackle one goal at a time! Although it might be thrilling to try to change everything at once, you're much more likely to see success through building habits one by one. Wait until you reach one goal before rushing on to the next one. :)

I also recommend writing your goals out, including the order and priority of your next steps, and keeping them somewhere you can see them every day. That way, you can be constantly reminded where you might be heading, instead of where you are.

What are your tips for staying focused on your goals?

Film Review: MOMMY DEAD AND DEAREST

MOMMY DEAD AND DEAREST.png

The date is June 14, 2015. A young woman diagnosed with over a dozen serious medical condition goes missing after the violent, unexpected death of her mother, and an explicit Facebook status. As police and media scramble to figure out what went wrong, reports come flooding in—the girl is safe… but nothing here is as it seems. The girl is much older than her mother claimed, she does not suffer from any of the ailments listed on her records, and she can walk without assistance. What’s more, as the lies unfold, police suspect she may have more to do with the murder than they first thought.

About the Murder

The story of Claudinnea “Dee Dee” and Gypsy Rose Blancharde is one of the most shocking true-crime events in recent memory. I first learned of the murder in a Sword & Scale episode (if you’re not listening to this podcast, you should be). In a classic yet severe case of “Munchausen by Proxy” Syndrome, perpetuated by a narcissist, Dee Dee lied about Gypsy’s health, inventing chronic and sometimes terminal illnesses to garner sympathy, attention, and monetary gifts. Gypsy’s “conditions” also allowed the family to receive complimentary trips to Disney World, free flights all over the country, and a no-strings-attached Habitat for Humanity house. The rabbit hole goes much further down, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll end it there. If you want a more in-depth exploration, I recommend you listen to the podcast episode or watch the documentary, which I thought was excellent.

My Review

The film garnered some criticism for its “late-night investigation expose” approach, but I’m not sure that’s warranted. On the whole, I thought the documentary did an excellent job not only illustrating the systematic abuse that led Gypsy Rose and her boyfriend to commit murder, but also reporting on the extent of the crime and how it has affected the lives of the people involved. Though the film did paint Gypsy in a sympathetic light at times, it never excused or condoned her actions.

If you’re interested in true crime, and especially the Gypsy Rose Blancharde case, this is one documentary worth streaming this weekend. Want even more spooky things in your life? Sign up for my newsletter for writing progress updates, and check back on the blog each week for more horror, true crime, writing, and unsolved mystery posts.

Mommy Dead and Dearest is available on HBO Go and HBO Now.

What do you think about this case? What are your favorite crime documentaries?

7 Horror Movies that Terrified Me

When it  comes to horror movies, I have discerning tastes. I'm not a huge fan of slasher films, and I prefer suspense, slow builds, and overall eerie atmosphere to gore and jump scares. Horror is one of my favorite genres to consume, in all its various forms. That said, I do have my favorites. Here are seven (fairly) recent horror films that scared the pants off me.

Paranormal Activity (2007)
Directed by Oren Peli

Summary:

After a young, middle class couple moves into a suburban 'starter' tract house, they become increasingly disturbed by a presence that may or may not be somehow demonic but is certainly most active in the middle of the night. Especially when they sleep. Or try to.

What got me most: I have a soft spot for found footage, and this one scared my pants off. I had to fall asleep watching cartoons.

Last Shift (2014)
Directed by Anthony DiBlasi

Summary:

From director Anthony DiBlasi comes a Manson inspired horror film centering around a transitioning police station. Officer Jessica Loren has been assigned to wait for a Hazmat team to pick up bio-hazardous waste from the station's armory. But unbeknownst to Jessica, cult Leader John Michael Paymon has haunted the department ever since he and two of this followers committed suicide a year ago to date. And now, Jessica is about to find out how dangerous they can be when she's left alone on this Last Shift.

What got me most: I wasn't expecting this movie to scare me. I also don't remember any movie scaring me as badly as this one did. I'm not sure what happened, but I think you should watch it. With the lights off. By yourself.

The Conjuring (2013)
Directed by James Wan

Summary:

In 1971, Carolyn and Roger Perron move their family into a dilapidated Rhode Island farm house and soon strange things start happening around it with escalating nightmarish terror. In desperation, Carolyn contacts the noted paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, to examine the house. What the Warrens discover is a whole area steeped in a satanic haunting that is now targeting the Perron family wherever they go. To stop this evil, the Warrens will have to call upon all their skills and spiritual strength to defeat this spectral menace at its source that threatens to destroy everyone involved.

What got me most: "Based on a true story." No. Thank. You.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Directed by Daniel MyrickEduardo Sánchez

Summary:

Three film students travel to Maryland to make a student film about a local urban legend... The Blair Witch. The three went into the woods on a two day hike to find the Blair Witch, and never came back. One year later, the students film and video were found in the woods. The footage was compiled and made into a movie. The Blair Witch Project.

What got me most: Arguably the most iconic found-footage horror film ever, this movie scared the pants off me because it felt so real. Kids running scared in the middle of the woods? Yeah, that kind of thing could happen. No thanks.

Sinister (2012)
Directed by Scott Derrickson

Summary:

True-crime writer Ellison Oswalt moves himself and his family into a house where a horrific crime took place earlier, but his family doesn't know. He begins researching the crime so that he can write a new book about it to help his flailing career. He uses some "snuff" film footage he finds in the house to help him in his research, but he soon finds more than he bargained for. There is a figure in each of the films but who or what is it? As a result, his family start to suffer (as does he) and things take a turn for the worse. Will they survive?

What got me most: Scott Derrickson can fight me. Home videos? Lawn mower? Nope and nope.

The Orphanage (2007)
Directed by J. A. Bayona

Summary:

A woman brings her family back to her childhood home, which used to be an orphanage for handicapped children. Before long, her son starts to communicate with an invisible new friend.

What got me most: Creepy little children. And that ending? What the hell? Pro tip: watch it in Spanish with English subtitles. So much better than the dubbed version.

It Follows (2014)
Directed by David Robert Mitchell

Summary:

For nineteen-year-old Jay, Autumn should be about school, boys and week-ends out at the lake. But after a seemingly innocent sexual encounter, she finds herself plagued by strange visions and the inescapable sense that someone, something, is following her. Faced with this burden, Jay and her friends must find a way to escape the horrors, that seem to be only a few steps behind.

What got me most: It can be anyone. Anywhere. And it moves so slowly, but it's terrifying.

If you're looking for a fierce, frightening flick, check out one of my picks. Want even more spooky things in your life? Sign up for my newsletter for writing progress updates, and check back on the blog each week for more horror, true crime, and unsolved mystery posts.

Tell me, what are some of your favorite horror films?