How to Focus and Work Deeply

How to Focus and Work Deeply

Just a quick post today to share a book I read recently that has changed my approach a bit. It’s called Deep Work, by Cal Newport.Deep Work

The premise of the book is thus: our modern culture is inundating us with constant stimulation, shortening our attention spans, making it difficult for us to focus on complex and difficult tasks. Our brains start to crave distraction, which is why, when I sit down with the best of intentions to bang out a chapter, the lure of the internet or Facebook sometimes proves too strong. Even through time is finite, I find myself wasting it…ALL. THE. TIME. Newport explains why this is happening, and why really, if we want to succeed as a modern day “thought worker” (as he puts it,) we need to be able to sit down, focus, and perform deep and difficult thinking. I mean, yeah, it seems pretty obvious, but why is it SO damn hard to do?

The book gives specific advice on how to create fixed distraction-free periods of time to perform deep work, by eliminating what he calls shallow work (I’m looking at you, email), and then batching the remaining shallow work into chunks. He also gives advice on how to decide if you need certain tools in your life, like social media, or whether a particular task or commitment is a good use of your time. Instead of asking if you get any conceivable benefit from it, ask yourself whether it is actively furthering your core goals and values. If not, say goodbye. 

I found this book at THE right time. I was growing increasingly frustrated with how busy I always felt, but how, even when I was overwhelmed with tasks, I would find myself wasting time, or killing time on the easy stuff rather than diving into the meaty bits that actually required serious brainpower. I felt like this cycle was getting worse and it was driving me nuts. As a lawyer and an author who is basically working two jobs, productivity=sanity. Newport explained how your focus is a muscle that you have to exercise, and just like starting an exercise program, you can’t just jump into the gym and start to bench 350 pounds without really regretting it the next day. The way to increase your ability to focus and fight your brain’s desire for distraction is to constantly work at the skill on a daily basis, slowly upping the amount of time you spend doing “deep work.” 

This is all to say two things. One, if you’re feeling like your brain spins in a million different directions yet you can’t get anything done (like I did), this book might be for you too. Second, I am going to be reducing the amount of shallow work I’m doing (i.e., spending time on social media and blogging), to increase the time and energy I invest in writing and editing my books, which is really the bit I love the most. So, I’ll still be around, but maybe not as much. But, on the flip side, this will hopefully mean yours truly will be churning out better books at a faster pace. And that feels like a win to me!

2016 Year End Rundown and 2017 Goals

2016 Year End Rundown and 2017 Goals

A lot has happened in 2016! I published Moonburner and Burning Fate, edited Sunburner, and finished the first draft of a new book, The Confectioner’s Guild! I completed NaNoWriMo for the first time, produced an audiobook, teamed up with some amazing YA authors to publish That Moment When Anthology of short stories, and brought you some great giveaways too. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about writing, editing, publishing, and marketing books.

Sometimes I get a little envious of authors who write for their day job, marveling at how many books they publish each year. But when I think of what I’ve managed to do while working as a lawyer, I feel pretty good about how far I’ve come (and realize why I was felt stressed for a lot of the year)!

I’m looking forward to 2017 being even better. Overall, I want to keep learning, keep enjoying the process of writing and editing, while connecting with more authors and fans, and selling more books. Oh is that all? It’s important for me to find balance–making forward progress while still not driving myself insane with ALL the things I could be doing, because there is basically an endless amount of work that could be done.

Some specific goals for next year (because if you write them down AND share them, they’ll be much harder to ignore!)

  • Consistently get up early to do my author work before I head to work
  • Finish revising Sunburner and publish it, with a goal of a June 2017 launch
  • Start a street team to help with the Sunburner launch
  • Finish editing The Confectioner’s Guild and submit to literary agents (and hopefully get an agent!)
  • Write the first draft of the sequel to The Confectioner’s Guild in November and December
  • Work on connecting with local schools and bookstores to do some in person events
  • Connect with more writers and authors in person, though attending the PNWA Conference and PNWA and SCWBI events
  • Grow my email list to 10,000, my Facebook following to 2,000 and my Twitter following to 5,000
  • Lastly: keep learning & keep reading!

I think that will be plenty to keep me busy throughout next year.

Thanks for following and reading!

Seven Ways to Snag Free Books

Seven Ways to Snag Free Books

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. There are a ton of free books out there! So if you love a deal or just can’t wait to get until your library holds come in, this list is for you.

  1. Bookbub and Book-bub wannabes

Bookbub Free Books

There are a ton of websites out there that specialize in delivering free or reduced priced e-books right to your inbox. Readers love it, because they can pick up great books for cheap or free, and authors love it because they get new readers for their discount books or later books in their series (if they are giving away a first book for free). Bookbub is the biggest player in the market, but there are a ton of other options, too!

2. Netgalley

Netgalley ARC copies

Netgalley is a website that allows you to sign up for Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) of upcoming releases, in exchange for providing a review of the book. Pretty much every major and minor publisher uses this site to distribute their ARCs. You ask publishers to provide you an ARC, and the publisher can accept or reject your request. This website is tailored for professional reviewers down to hobby bloggers, but publishers will be more likely to send you an ARC if you have some sort of website. But, saying you’ll post your review on Goodreads and Amazon is likely good enough for some publishers!

3. Library Thing

Library thing

If Goodreads and Netgalley had a baby, it would be this website. This site allows you to post reviews and share book recommendations, but also has two features that give away books: the Early Reviewers option and Member Giveaways. The Early Reviewers option is like Netgalley in that authors and publishers give away ARCs in exchange for a review, while the Member Giveaway feature is just authors giving away copies. Both are pretty easy to get books through, even if you don’t have a blog or website.

4. Shelf Awareness & Publisher’s Weekly

Shelf Awareness ARC copies

Shelf Awareness & Publisher’s Weekly are both publishing industry publications that have email newsletters. If you sign up for both (select the pro version of Shelf Awareness), you end up with a fair amount of information about the industry in your inbox (which I happen to find interesting), but also opportunities to request or enter to win ARC copies of new books. These are the real deal, paperbacks delivered right to your mailbox! I enjoy getting free physical books more than ebooks, so when one of these arrives, it is extra exciting.

5. Goodreads

Goodreads Giveaways

Goodreads provides authors with an easy way to give away print or e-copies of their books. When you give away a copy, people add your book to their “To Be Read” stack, so these giveaways help authors gain visibility. If you have a book in your To Be Read stack, you will get email updates about a new giveaway for that book. Or, you can peruse the giveaway section of the website to find books that look interesting to you!

Goodreads also has groups where you can sign up to beta read, or get free copies of books in exchange for reviews. Authors post blurbs of their stories and you can offer to read the ones that seem interesting to you! You can ever get audiobooks for free in these group sometimes!

6. Author Email Lists

Author newsletter

Sign-up page for one of my fav authors, Leigh Bardugo!

Authors these days, especially self-published authors, are connecting with readers through their e-mail lists. Email lists are a great way for authors to give you up to date info about new releases, but they are constantly wanting to share fresh and relevant content with readers to keep them engaged. By signing up for the email list of your favorite authors, you will gain the inside scoop for new releases, which often includes an opportunity to beta read for the author or read ARC copies. Authors will also share when their books go on sale, when they have a giveaway, or when their authors friends are having discounts or giveaways.

7. Wattpad

Wattpad

Wattpad is a social networking site that allows people to post and read stories and books for free. There are a lot of amateur writers getting their feet wet on Wattpad (which is great!) but there are also a lot of professional writers who share their stories on the site to connect with new readers. Wattpad allows you to read chapter by chapter in your browser or on your phone, and then like or comment on each chapter. You can interact directly with the author, which is pretty cool. With 45 million members, there are more stories and books on this site than you will EVER have time for.


So there you have it. More free books than you will ever have time to read! Two caveats. If you get a book for free in exchange for a review…write the review. It should absolutely be an honest review, and if you hated the book and quit 20 pages in, write that review too. We call those Do Not Finish (DNF) reviews, and that’s ok. Try to be objective (and not cruel) in explaining why the book wasn’t for you…if it might be in someone else’s wheelhouse though, say that!

Lastly, free books are great. Everyone loves a deal, and it gets people introduced to new authors all the time. But authors work really, really hard to write those books. And the average e-book costs $2-5. That’s less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks, and I know you don’t think twice about indulging in one of those every once and a while (or every day). So if you loved that first book in the series, buy the next one!

Moonburner Launch Party Success!

Moonburner Launch Party Success!

It has been a whirlwind of a week since Moonburner launched last Tuesday and I have been seriously overwhelmed and touched by the support of my friends, family, and colleagues!

Writing has been a largely solitary endeavor for me. For the first year or so only my close friends and family knew that I was even trying to write a novel. Since then, I have connected with a few other writers online, and I worked with an editor through my publisher, but for the most part, it’s just been me. On the one hand, I feel proud of having manhandled a novel into being through sheer force of my own will. On the other hand, it can be a tad lonely.

So, it felt a little new and strange last week to be talking to everyone and their mom about Moonburner! I had a launch party at work on Thursday (uh, yeah, I work at a seriously awesome law firm with seriously awesome co-workers that threw me a book launch party), and then a party with friends and family on Saturday. I was blown away by how supportive everyone was,  by people lined up to buy the book and get it signed, by how genuinely curious everyone was about the book and the process. The launch has been so much more rewarding than I ever imagined it would be. *Tear.* Seriously. I love you guys.

Here are a few pics from the party, special thanks to my girl Tara at Tara Brown Photography for bringing her camera along with her!

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Me and the #1 fan hubby

 

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Me and my sister

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Grinning like a fool (still not used to signing autographs yet!)

 

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Nature as Therapy: also known as, the secret to getting it all done

Nature as Therapy: also known as, the secret to getting it all done

I was pretty stressed last week. My workload at the office went from a nice moderate pace to drinking from a firehose about 10 days ago. Plus, I am stressing myself out over all of the things I have to do to ready my book for launch on June 14. Update my website; set up author pages on Goodreads and Amazon; plan my book launch party; order bookmarks and business cards; arrange a blog tour; find reviewers; and on and on. And then there is the novella I am trying to edit before Moonburner launches, and then there is Sunburner, my sequel novel, that has been sitting in a half-edited Frankenstein state since January. So yeah. I’m feeling stressed.

So, it wasn’t great timing that last weekend was totally booked with our first annual women attorney glamping trip out to the Washington coast. I knew that I would enjoy myself if I could just get my brain to stop reminding me of all the things I should be doing instead. Even as we made the four-hour drive out to La Push, Washington, my colleague and I joked that maybe next year we should pick a spot closer to town.

But as soon as the trees gave way to the brilliant blue sky and the haystack rocks of the Washington coast, we knew we would be coming back here. Every. Single. Year. It was as if the majesty of the ocean just melted the stress away. It was impossible to be consumed with the minutiae of my to-do list in the face of such astounding beauty. (The great company and free-flowing wine didn’t hurt either!)

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The end of First Beach, Quileute Oceanside Resort, La Push

Sunday morning I took my coffee and walked alone along the beach, sitting for a while on a piece of driftwood, just looking out at the waves. The peace of that moment is something that I can’t duplicate or manufacture no matter how hard I try–it only comes from being in a natural setting. In moments like that I remember that nature is my therapy.

There are plenty of studies out there demonstrating the benefits of spending time outside, like those summarized in this article from the Huffington Post, This is Your Brain on Nature. Being outside has a measurable impact on your brain chemistry, from decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, to increased focus and creativity. I get more benefits from a morning spent killing time outside than 12 hours diligently checking items off my to-do list.

My colleague surfing in the morning

My colleague surfing in the morning

I am filled with gratitude to live in the Pacific Northwest, with a myriad of outdoor options at my fingertips. Our best weekends are those where we pack the dogs into the car, head out to the Cascades and hit the trail by 7, summit by 10, back home by 1. The whole weekend unfolds before us and we are buzzing with joy and endorphins.

And so, I will sign off this post to ride my bike down to the shores of Lake Washington to sit in the sun. Because you see, it’s an 80 degree day, and I’ve remembered that the secret to getting it all done is to let some of it go.