Achieving F.O.C.U.S

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While journaling (and complaining) about my lack of focus, I received an email inviting me to a webinar featuring best-selling author and educator D’Vorah Lansky. Intrigued by the title—“5 Time-Generating Secrets to Get More Done and Have More Fun!”—I signed up and took notes as I watched and listened.

I paid special attention to D’Vorah’s acronym for F.O.C.U.S.

Fine Tune Your Projects List

Optimize Your Email

Concentrate on What’s Essential

Unplug and Take Time to Recharge

Streamline Your Social Media Systems

Here are D’Vorah’s suggestions:

1. Gather all To-Do lists and create a Master Projects List. Set deadlines for completion and organize the items chronologically.

2. Schedule specific email-checking times during the time. Use a timer if you are easily distracted.

3. Create folders—Receipts, Writing Ideas, Publishers—and tag each incoming email accordingly. Only emails that require immediate attention should remain in the In-Box.

4. Identify your most productive times during the day. Do not check your emails during these times.

5. Clean your desk or work area at the end of each day and make a list of the six most important things that must be completed the following day. Leave the list on your desk and discipline yourself to attend to each item.

6. Factor in “fun time” each day. It could be as simple as taking a fifteen-minute dance break, playing with your cats, or having coffee at your favorite café. Setting aside time each week for a longer activity such as a movie, lunch with a friend, or “Blow with the wind” time is also important. When we recharge regularly, we can stay energized even during the toughest of times.

7. Schedule fifteen-minute blocks of daily social networking time. On the weekends, set aside a one-hour block to roam online.

Any other tips?


Happy Serendipity Day!

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Today is Serendipity Day, an officially recognized annual event and special day to celebrate unexpected and much appreciated grace.

Here of ten of my favorite quotations about serendipitous events…

The universe is always speaking to us…sending us little messages, causing coincidences and serendipities, reminding us to stop, to look around, to believe in something else, something more. Nancy Thayer

There’ll always be serendipity involved in discovery. Jeff Bezos

Life is full of surprises and serendipity. Being open to unexpected turns on the road is an important part of success. If you try to plan every step, you may miss those wonderful twists and turns. Just find your next adventure—do it well, enjoy it—and then, not now, think about what comes next. Dr. Condoleezza Rice

Sometimes serendipity is just intention unmasked. Elizabeth Berg

Unless you leave room for Serendipity…How can the Divine enter? Joseph Campbell

History is an intricate web of timing, people, circumstances and serendipity. Don Rittner

In reality, serendipity accounts for one percent of the blessings we receive in life, work and love. The other 99 percent is due to our efforts. Peter McWilliams

Serendipity: Look for something, find something else and realize that what you’ve found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for.
Lawrence Block

What people call serendipity is just having your eyes open. Jose Manuel Barroso

If you use it intelligently, Twitter can be a form of engineered serendipity. Jason Silva


Small Doses of Inspiration

inspiration1While I enjoy attending workshops and lectures, sometimes I need inspiration in smaller doses.

During my teaching years, I would pop my head in a neighboring classroom and chat briefly between periods. Those three to five minutes of conversation would be all that I needed to receive (give) encouragement and support.

As a writer, I have to think outside the box if I want that small dose of inspiration. I could call a friend or family member, but the conversation could easily extend beyond five minutes and derail my daily writing practice.

I found the solution in the most unlikely of places—YouTube.

Continue reading on the Sisterhood of Suspense blog.


Dare to Think Big

Welcome to my Second Acts Series!

Today, we have author Nancy Raven Smith sharing her rich and varied life experiences.

Here’s Nancy!

nancyravensmithThe first stage of my adult life was all about family and animals, animals, animals. The animals included rescued racehorses, cats, and dogs. Luckily, I convinced my husband to move to a farm in rural Virginia against his wishes. At one point we had 28 rescue horses, 12 cats, 10 dogs, and a cow. And it’s not like we were rich. My husband was a Lieutenant JG in the US Navy. I was a stay at home mom raising two young kids, but I soon began running horse shows to help with our finances. We were also very fortunate to have two wonderful teenagers spend their time with us, trading babysitting for riding lessons. They quickly became part of our family.

It was a great life – kids, animals, the outdoors, and competing in area horse shows.

But then came the day that the kids all grew up and we arrived at empty nest syndrome. The fun went out of the animals, the farm and the competitions. I struggled to keep it going, but it wasn’t the same. It all came to an abrupt end when our oldest daughter and I went to a horse show on one of her college breaks. We were warming our horses up for the show when one of us said to the other, “Are we having fun anymore?” It was a shocking question because the answer was no. To this day we don’t remember which of us asked it, but the realization was gut-wrenching. It was the last time we showed our horses.

Our daughter went back to school. I was left with no idea what to do with my life.

So I cried for a year – in grief for the loss of a life I loved, and in fear of an empty future with nothing to replace it. My family was supportive and put up with me. For that year, I kept asking myself, what can I do with my life? I like being passionate and challenged daily, but I had no training for anything specific. Finally at the end of that year, I reversed the question I was asking myself. Instead of “What can I do,” I flipped it to, “If I could do anything in the world I wanted, what would I do?”

With the change in the question, all sorts of possibilities started popping up. The craziest of which was work in film, not as an actor, but behind the scenes. I knew absolutely nothing about how one worked on a film, so I bought books and read avidly. There wasn’t any film work locally, so I fixated on going to Los Angeles. My husband was about to retire, and the change to California mildly interested him. I heard all the “you’re too old to be hired,” (late forties), “you’re crazy,” and from my own mother, “I hope you’ll fail, so you’ll come back to Virginia.” My husband and kids weren’t sure about the move either, but they gave me the encouragement to go for it.

Relocated in LA, I did temp work at first and took film production classes at UCLA. Within a couple weeks I was applying for film jobs. Then I landed one as a production assistant which had over 100 applicants for a nonpaying position. The job got my foot in the door, and I was soon hired on with a salary. It turned out that my running of horse shows as events correlated directly to working on a film. I had had no idea. Other jobs came rapidly after the first one. And then one day I picked up a script and read it. I had always been an avid reader, never considered myself as a writer, but something about the screenplay writing pulled me. I had to face another choice. Go to school to learn screenwriting or continue working on film as a production coordinator. Film projects are demanding. Eighteen to twenty hours a day are not uncommon. If I tried to do both, I would miss the majority of any classes I tried to attend. I could only do one. The writing won. There was something about it that pulled me.

It was back to office temp jobs that were nine to five and let me attend UCLA Extension nightly. I studied, I wrote, I won awards, my screenplays were optioned, but none produced yet. And then came another turning point. My writing mentor from Women in Film suggested I write one idea as a novel. I was starting to feel like I should ask UCLA for a discount, but it was back to school for more classes on novel writing. It was fortunate there was a large amount of crossover between screenplays and books.

What followed was Land Sharks – A Swindle in Sumatra (a mystery/romantic suspense) and The Reluctant Farmer of Whimsey Hill (a family memoir about life on our farm). What also happened was that I found that writing books was the place I wanted to be. The authors I met were great people and truly supportive. I had found my creative happy place. This was where all my steps had brought me and this is where I’m staying.

And my very special family? My husband and oldest daughter have both become writers and our youngest daughter is our greatest supporter.

My advice for those reaching their Second Stages – Dare to think big!

Nancy’s Books

LandSharks-200x314 (2)A fall from grace costs Lexi a position at a top New York financial institution. She ends up in a job at a small private bank in Beverly Hills. But that’s okay, she still gets to work in her favorite field – catching white collar crooks. At least that’s what she tells herself. But when Karista, the daughter of one of the bank’s principal investors, runs into danger while traveling in Indonesia, Lexi’s job comes to depend on her ability to save her. Even worse, Lexi will have to baby sit Steve, her boss’ well-meaning but spoiled son, while going undercover to reach the heiress. Lexi’s cushy tropical assignment soon spirals into chaos as she has to outrun fashion-forward Batak natives, outwit an arrogant FBI agent, help Steve find his stolen Air Yeezy sneakers, and figure out why her ardent former lover and debonair gentleman thief, Andre, is staying at the same resort. Lexi will have to be very good or very lucky to survive it all.

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reluctantfarmerIn The Reluctant Farmer of Whimsey Hill, opposites attract; for better or for worse. That is what troubles animal-phobic, robotics engineer Smith who just got married. He learns that his bride’s dream is to have a farm where there are lots of animals and she can rescue ex-race horses to retrain and find them new homes. But according to a Meyers-Briggs Personality Test that they took for fun, their marriage is doomed. There is only one problem: the newlyweds took the test after the wedding.

Whether Smith is chasing a cow named Pork Chop through the woods with a rope, getting locked in a tack room by the family pony, being snubbed by his wife’s dog, or unsuccessfully trying to modernize their barn using the latest technology, the odds are stacked against him. It seems like everything with four legs is out to get him. Will the animals win, forcing Smith to admit defeat, or will he fight to keep his family and the farm together?

Enjoy the true, warm, and frequently hilarious stories of Smith’s journey along the bumpy road from his urban robotics lab to a new life on a rural Virginia farm.

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Where to find Nancy…

Website | Facebook

Joanne here!

Nancy, thanks for sharing your inspiring journey. How wonderful to live, study and work in L.A. Best of luck with all your future endeavors.


Spotlight on Cerian Hebert

I’m happy to feature Soul Mate author Cerian Hebert’s writing journey.

Here’s Cerian!

cerian61516sm (2)I’m sure my journey to become an author is similar to many writers. I was twelve, living in the country, always looking for some kind of adventure with my friends. My first story came to me while exploring an unoccupied property in the neighborhood. We were certain it was haunted, and when gusts of snowy wind seemed to follow us wherever we went, it only reinforced our beliefs. What a great idea for a book series—three kids who solved mysteries and battled ghosts and ghouls.

It helped that I had an author in the family. Well, not a fiction writer. My father published a book about hood ornaments for classic cars. But I figured, as a twelve-year-old would, I had connections. My dad’s publisher would definitely work with me. Ah, the naivety of youth.

As I got older I left the mystery solving kids behind because I had discovered BOYS and horses. I started reading Harlequins and Bertrice Small bodice rippers, so that’s where my writing took me. My best friend and I—a fellow horse nut—worked together to write our first horse story, even after she moved down to Louisiana from New Hampshire. This was over a decade before the internet and email. We’d have to mail the story back and forth to each other so we could add to the story.

All the stories I wrote in those early teen years still sit in notebooks stored away in bins. They might never see the light of day, but they’re all a part of my journey and I won’t give them up.

When the internet became a thing I finally started writing for real, as often as I could. By then I was a wife and mother and I had a mundane job, so I had to steal writing whenever I could. My first published book came out in 2007 when I was in my forties. It was actually a book I’d started when I was sixteen. My characters changed a bit since the original, but Finally Home was a romance revolving around horses, and was always a favorite.

I still write about horses, and small town romance, whether it be in New Hampshire or South Dakota, but I’ve also written stories about ghosts and goddesses, and I’ve dipped my toe into erotic romance with a still unpublished book that won first place in a writing contest earlier this year. My dream and ultimate goal is to write a fantasy romance with plenty of magic, and mythical creatures.

I now have ten books published, and I have many many more in various stages of completion. Several of my books have sequels, and I hope one day I’ll actually finish them. Everyone loves a book series. My latest release, The Staying Kind, combines romance with horses and small town heroes and heroines.

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Blurb

Rio Presley isn’t looking for a place to fit in when she finds a job at a stable in New Hampshire. Travis Lithgow isn’t expecting to discover a drifter taking up residence in his hunting cabin and working for his aunt. Just back from a tour in the Middle East, he’s rebuilding his relationship with his rebellious teenage daughter. He’s sure Rio’s presence in their lives won’t make things easier, but he admires Rio’s strength facing the adversities in her life.

As Rio fights the urge to get back on the road before she becomes too comfortable with her newfound love of horses, her feelings for Travis become stronger than the need to flee. Both he and his aunt are offering Rio everything she’s ever been afraid to want, but staying could bring her past crashing into the happy life she’s begun to build.

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Where to find Cerian…

Website | Facebook | Twitter


Happy Birthday Dalai Lama!

Today, the Dalai Lama celebrates his 81st birthday. The recipient of numerous awards, among them the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, he continues to inspire us with messages of non-violence and universal compassion.

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Here are ten of my favorite quotes from His Holiness…

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.

Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.

We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.

In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.

Someone else’s action should not determine your response.

Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.

Anger or hatred is like a fisherman’s hook. It is very important for us to ensure that we are not caught by it.

I always say that people should not rush to change religions. There is real value in finding the spiritual resources you need in your home religion.