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You know how sometimes random things come together in a way that makes you think of something in a different light? That’s partly a definition of creativity—seemingly disparate things/ideas being brought together to create something new. Well, yesterday I had a few things coincide that got me thinking about how I want to handle my online presence.

As many of you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about social media and distraction lately (and really for a number of years now.) Hence my 30-Day Social Media Declutter (which I wrote about here) and what I learned from it (which I wrote about here.) So this is a topic that is constantly buzzing at a low hum in my mind.

Yesterday, a few things happened that got my gears grinding about this topic again. First, I attended an online workshop about how to do social media well as an author. I enjoyed the workshop and appreciated the information. Much of it was about picking which platforms best suit you and how to be fun and on brand as an author. This can include things like posting funny memes, cute pet photos, and entertaining videos. Things many of us enjoy. Things that many authors do well.

However, when I imagined myself looking for fun cat videos to post or finding cute memes, I kind of winced inwardly because—wow, I see that distraction train roaring down the tracks straight for me. I don’t think I can trust myself to go searching for those things because a) I’ll get lost in the internet black hole (I mean, what’s more tempting than endless cute animal videos?) and b) my perfectionism will make me search endlessly for the “perfect” one to post. Plus, I don’t post photos that aren’t mine or aren’t paid for after getting sued years ago over using a photo on my blog. So, I listened to the advice but also knew that I couldn’t heed some of it. But let’s put a pin in that thought for a moment. Because…

Later that night, I was reading the essay collection On Being 40(ish). This was such a great read, and I really got a lot out of many of the essays. I know I’ll be revisiting a few of them. But one near the end called “I Don’t Have Time for This” by Sophronia Scott really resonated with me. In it, she talks about how her friend called her to be miserable about the election results together. Here’s an excerpt:

“My friend has called me to commiserate. But I’m not miserable. I haven’t given a thought to being miserable. The sun is pouring through the windows of my yellow kitchen, my family is healthy, my friend is on the phone, and I’m glad to hear her voice. So I will try to figure out how to gently put into words the overpowering feeling I have more and more as I walk through middle age: I don’t have time for this.”

She goes on to talk about how her son was a Sandy Hook student who was a few doors down from the shooting and survived and how that gave her new perspective on how precious time is and how it isn’t guaranteed. So, she chooses to focus on the joy in her life and not wallow in the misery. Not sticking her head in the sand but choosing joy in her every day life.

So what could this possibly have to do with me writing about social media? Well, here’s where my brain went. Life is precious. We get our particular amount of time on this planet and then it’s done. I’ll turn forty this year. What do I want to do with the rest of my time? How do I want to spend those limited minutes? Which led me to…

Do I want to spend my time searching for cute dog memes to post?

And secondly…

Do I want to contribute to using up YOUR minutes with trying to keep you looking at my page and distracting you from your life?

The answer felt really clear in that moment. I’m not here to distract you. I don’t want that to be part of my job. Yes, I want to write the best books I can, and some people might see reading romance as a distraction, but I see reading a good story as an experience or a chosen respite. Time reading a book rarely feels like wasted time to me—unless the book was terrible, lol. Even watching TV shows usually doesn’t feel like wasted time to me. A good story well told is something that makes me happier. But when I get lost in the internet hole of social media or random videos or top ten posts, I rarely feel better for it.

And frankly, with all my blogging about reclaiming focus and taking breaks from social media and doing device-free summers, it feels hypocritical of me to post fluff to keep algorithms fed and you seeing my page. Note: This is absolutely not a judgment of anyone who does post those things or the countless number of people who enjoy the content. My husband starts many of his days with cat videos because that gives him a happiness boost before he goes to work. There’s nothing wrong with that. This is not about what should be posted or shouldn’t. This is a personal decision about what I feel aligns with who I am and what I want to give you.

When you visit my blog or read my newsletter or see something on my Facebook page, I want you to feel like you’ve gotten something of value out of it. It doesn’t always have to be serious, of course. Despite the tone of this post, I’m not a particularly serious person. Fun and laughter have great value. But I also don’t want my contribution to be filler that I’m posting just to keep the algorithms happy and eyeballs on my sites. I want it to be things that aren’t on a million other pages. My goal for my blog is for you to walk away with something to think about or a great book recommendation or a new TV show to try out. My goal for my newsletter is to make it good enough that people would actually pay to subscribe to it (I’m not going to charge, don’t worry. But that’s how I judge how much I like a newsletter: would I pay a subscription fee for this?)

Basically, I want to add value not distract.

And yes, of course I want you to buy my books. I really, really do! :) My family likes to eat and, you know, have a roof over our heads and stuff. (So high maintenance!) But I have to believe that if I put everything I have into writing quality stories (which involves me concentrating and not spending too much time on social media either) that you will still buy my books—even if I’m not constantly in your feed reminding you that I’m alive and have something to sell.

How about this? I work to give you good things to read and aim not to waste your time. You occasionally buy one of my books and tell your friends to read them. Deal? ;)

My promise to you:

  1. I won’t blog unless I feel I have something interesting to talk about or offer you.

  2. My newsletter will remain focused on providing you with quality content. It’s full of these posts plus extra content including what I’m reading, what books I’ve bought lately, and behind the scenes photos.

  3. All book recommendations on this blog or any of my social media channels will continue to be non-sponsored content. I don’t accept books for review, so anything I recommend is being recommended because I enjoyed it.

  4. I will continue to write the best stories I can (which sometimes means being a slacker on social media.)

  5. I will do my best not to waste your time and will be grateful for any time you choose to share with me.

Thank you for being here.

And if you want to keep up with my posts along with exclusive content, sign up for my newsletter. This is, by far, the easiest way to keep up with me, no social media checking required.

Have a great weekend!

What newsletter would you pay for? I’m always looking for great new ones to check out. :)

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I know it’s going to come as no surprise that I love reading productivity books, but because I read so many, it’s often hard to find one that stands out. A lot of them are just more of the same. This is actually why I didn’t buy the book I’m recommending today when it first came out. The summary looked a lot like other books I’d read and so I passed it by. However, when I saw it recommended somewhere else, I decided to give it another look. I’m so glad I did.

Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky was a delight to read. First off, it’s just a really nice physical book. Book nerds (like me) will appreciate how thick the paper is, and the layout and design of the pages makes it super easy to read. There are also a lot of fun little illustrations. It almost feels like reading a really great blog on paper. So, though I have nothing against ebooks, you might want to spring for the hardcover on this one.

As for the content inside, the book focuses on how to make time using a simple paradigm which involves choosing a highlight for the day, learning how to laser focus on it, reflecting on how it went, and also making sure you have enough daily energy to get things done. Sounds simple enough, but what I enjoyed about the format of the book was that the authors take each of the four areas in the paradigm and give you a bunch of different tactics to choose from to help implement it.

For instance, in the Laser section, there are over 40 separate tactics they describe that can help you focus better. Things like how to make your phone screen distraction free. (I’m trying a version of this, see pic) or how to wrangle TV time or finding a soundtrack for “flow.” It’s a choose-your-own-adventure style. They’re not saying “do all these things.” They’re saying, here are a bunch of ways you might try. Experiment with combinations and see what works for you.

I found the Highlight, Laser, and Reflection sections really helpful and thought-provoking. I wasn’t as into the Energy section just because I’d rather read advice on eating, exercise, etc. from experts in those particular fields. (Though I did enjoy the tactics about caffeine.)

Overall, this was a quick read that I thoroughly enjoyed and will keep on my shelf. I love that you can just flip to a tactic for a refresh. It really is like having a helpful blog bound into a book. So if you’re looking for a productivity book that is fast-paced, fun, and helpful, you might want to give this one a try.

 

Here is the official description:

From the New York Times bestselling authors of Sprint, a simple 4-step system for improving focus, finding greater joy in your work, and getting more out of every day.

Nobody ever looked at an empty calendar and said, "The best way to spend this time is by cramming it full of meetings!" or got to work in the morning and thought, Today I'll spend hours on Facebook! Yet that's exactly what we do. Why?

In a world where information refreshes endlessly and the workday feels like a race to react to other people's priorities faster, frazzled and distracted has become our default position. But what if the exhaustion of constant busyness wasn't mandatory? What if you could step off the hamster wheel and start taking control of your time and attention? That's what this book is about.

As creators of Google Ventures' renowned "design sprint," Jake and John have helped hundreds of teams solve important problems by changing how they work. Building on the success of these sprints and their experience designing ubiquitous tech products from Gmail to YouTube, they spent years experimenting with their own habits and routines, looking for ways to help people optimize their energy, focus, and time. Now they've packaged the most effective tactics into a four-step daily framework that anyone can use to systematically design their days. Make Time is not a one-size-fits-all formula. Instead, it offers a customizable menu of bite-size tips and strategies that can be tailored to individual habits and lifestyles.

Make Time isn't about productivity, or checking off more to-dos. Nor does it propose unrealistic solutions like throwing out your smartphone or swearing off social media. Making time isn't about radically overhauling your lifestyle; it's about making small shifts in your environment to liberate yourself from constant busyness and distraction.

A must-read for anyone who has ever thought, If only there were more hours in the day..., Make Time will help you stop passively reacting to the demands of the modern world and start intentionally making time for the things that matter.

Buy the book

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When I’m at the beginning of writing a new book, I find that I need a high level of “input” to keep my creative mind churning. Often that’s a mix of novels, non-fiction books, and television. So lately I’ve been indulging in a number of shows, some old, some new. Today, I’m sharing the ones I’m enjoying the most in case you’re on the hunt for something new to watch.

The New Shrill on Hulu

This show is only 6 short episodes, so it’s an easy one to binge, and it’s just such a well done show. SNL’s Aidy Bryant stars as Annie Easton, a woman who works at an online magazine with a terrible boss and who is just trying to live her life. She’s struggling with her love life, her work life, her self-esteem, and the world for judging her for how she looks instead of who she is. The body positivity in the show is fantastic, and Annie is just plain delightful as a character. She’s smart and funny and human, but also, Aidy portrays her with such an effervescence that it just makes me smile to watch. The supporting cast is great, and there was a scene in one episode with her dog and her sort of boyfriend that I laughed so hard, I snorted my water. (If the title sounds familiar, this show is based on Lindy West’s book by the same name. Warning: This is not one to watch with kids nearby. Frank language and adult situations.)

  The Case Against Adnan Syed on HBO

I am very late to the Serial train. I listened to season one of Serial last year for the first time, but I was instantly hooked on the story. HBO and director Amy Berg have now taken the case and turned it into a four-part documentary.

If you’re not familiar with the story, this a true crime story about the murder of high school student Hae Min Lee back in 1999. Adnan Syed, her former boyfriend, was accused and convicted of the murder. Many believe he was wrongfully convicted (I am with them on that opinion) and there are lot of intricacies to this story that I won’t get into here. But so far, the documentary has been very well done. It’s almost surreal to see the faces of so many people I’ve only heard via the Serial podcast. If you haven’t listened to the Serial Season 1 podcast, I think it’s better to listen to that first and then watch the documentary. It’s not necessary per se but it will give you the full context.

As a side note, after you watch the episodes, the True Crime Obsessed podcast does a breakdown of the episodes that are worth listening to. True Crime Obsessed is a podcast that mixes true crime docs with commentary and comedy, which I know sounds weird, but I promise it’s done in an appropriate/respectful way (the people being made fun of are the bad guys.) It’s one of my favorite podcasts.

 A Few 90s/00s Throwbacks
Felicity on Hulu

For some reason, I thought I had watched Felicity back when it was on TV. However, starting recently at Season 1 Episode 1, I realized I definitely hadn’t. This show came out in 1998 when I was starting my second year of college, and I think it may have been one that was just on sometimes and I caught an episode here and there. (Because, you know, no DVRs or streaming back then so you watched whatever was on.) I think it came on after Dawson’s Creek (a show I was obsessed with) and so I probably watched the beginning of some episodes or had them on in the background while I was doing homework. So I am coming at this series mostly new.

First of all, it’s so very 90s that I just have to smile. The nineties were my high school/college decade, so I’m very fond of that time period. This show has all that nineties goodness. The pay phones, the moody intro, the muted colors of the show, and people always checking their mailboxes because they sent actual letters to people back home. I’m only a handful of episodes in, so I can’t judge the series as a whole. So far, I am a little eye-rolly about Felicity’s choices, but I’m still enjoying watching. If nothing else, it’s the perfect before bed show when you want something light and easy.

 Boy Meets World on Hulu

This was one I watched as a kid and remember fondly. I haven’t watched it since it originally aired, and I decided it could be the perfect show for me and kidlet to watch together. We usually pick one show we’re going to binge together, and we needed something after finishing all the episodes of The Middle. Even though this show is from the 90s, kidlet (who’s 11) is totally on board with it. The episodes in season one are particularly silly and heavy handed with the “learn an important message, children” themes, but kidlet giggled a lot. The second season gets a little more into boy-girl relationships since the kids move on to seventh grade, so if you haven’t had the birds and bees talk with your kid yet, hold off on this one. They handle the topics in a comedic/kid-friendly way but making out/sex/etc. is a recurring topic. Also, I still love Topanga.

  Rockstar: INXS on YouTube

This is an obscure one that probably only my rock music/guitar-playing family would be into, but I thought I’d mention it just in case. Hubs and I watched this show back in 2005 when it first aired and we loved it. It’s basically like the rock version of American Idol (mixed with a little Big Brother reality show.) INXS was in need of a new lead singer, and they created a reality show competition where a group of hopefuls competed to win the gig. A contestant was voted off by the public weekly.

We went on an internet dig trying to find this one because my kiddo is very into rock music, plays guitar and drums, and wanted to know why they didn’t have something like American Idol for rock singers. This isn’t streaming on any of the normal services or DVD, but we did find a YouTube channel that has all the episodes. We’ve been working our way through the episodes, which is interesting doing that almost 15 years after it aired because a) we know who they pick and what happens so we see it with different eyes and b) it makes us look up all the people who didn’t win to see how their careers fared (because they had some really talented people!) Kidlet, of course, is watching it for the first time so doesn’t know what’s going to happen. BUT if you love rock music and want to see some fantastic performances of covers (and INXS songs), it’s fun to watch. Here are two of my favorite performances of the episodes we’ve re-watched so far:

Jordis Unga - Heart-Shaped Box (Rock Star INXS) - YouTube
Marty Casey - Mr Brightside - YouTube
 

All right, that’s all I have for you today. I hope you have a great weekend!

Tell me, what are you watching and loving right now? I’m always looking for new recommendations!

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A month ago, I posted here and announced that I was going on a monthlong Digital Detox/Social Media Ban. I made the decision to give it a try after reading Cal Newport’s new book Digital Minimalism. You can read the original post here if you missed it. But now I’m back with my report from the land without social media!

To be honest, I didn’t expect this experiment to be all that revelatory. I have been working on dialing back my digital distractions for about two years now. I’ve been blogging about that journey along the way. I thought a month without social media would be a good break and “detox” because I was annoyed that I was checking my phone so often again. However, it ended up being a lot more enlightening than I ever expected.

First, a play-by play
Week 1 - This is harder than it looks

I went into this way too confident, y’all. Smug, even. I got this, I thought. Ha. Week One told me to have a seat and rethink that notion. The initial week was tough! I kept picking up my phone and swiping to the screen that usually held my social media apps, and I had nothing to push because I had deleted them. The reflex was a hard one to break.

Also, I had posted about my social media break, and I wanted to see what people had to say about it, but I couldn’t. The need to get that little mental boost (aka dopamine) that people are reading your posts was real. I had to take my social media shortcuts off my desktop because I found myself too tempted to “just check.”

My Book of the Month came in the mail, and I wanted to take a pic for Instagram, and I realized I had nowhere to post it. I didn’t take a pic. (This would become a theme. I took a lot less photos in general.)

Day 5 - The Black Moment

In fiction, you eventually lead characters to the “all hope is lost” moment, which we call the black moment. My black moment on this journey hit at Day 5. I was really missing chatting with people online and checking social media. I yearned for it, lol. I felt this haze of loneliness even though I was still texting with friends and had my family around me. Day 5 made me question whether I could do it.

My guess is that when people try these social media breaks and give up, it’s probably around this day in the process. But wait! Hold out! Because…

Day 6 - Holy productivity, Batman!

The day after I was missing social media, I sat down in my office and started a stretch of days that would become some of my most productive ever. This month, I was working on putting together a new online romance writing course for beginners. In three days, I wrote 17k words of lectures. I hit a level of flow and deep work that I didn’t think I was capable of. I blogged more about that here, but I was able to manage four hours straight of focused work without any struggle. I was so excited that I was getting so much done, the yearning for social media began its rapid decline.

Week 2 - Traveling & Scandal

I put a similar background on my phone to remind me what I should be doing instead of picking it up. This one is from Austin Kleon and you can grab it here.

During week two, I traveled with my family to Florida for the Daytona 500. This meant sitting in airports, flying on planes, and then having a lot of downtime in the hotel room in between races—all with no social media. Normally, I would’ve been posting photos from the trip and scrolling through my feeds. Instead, I read in the downtime. I ended up reading one and half books on the three-day trip. Also, in some of the downtime in the room, my family and I used the Heads Up app to play the game and fill the time. We ended up laughing to the point of tears. I’m not sure I would’ve thought to bring out the game if I hadn’t been on the social media fast. I was bored. It gave me the idea to play the family game.

It was a little strange not being able to post pictures or video from the trip, but that just meant that I could keep my phone tucked in my bag for most of the trip. I did share some photos in my newsletter.

Another thing that happened in week two was a big plagiarism scandal in the romance writing community. Normally, when this kind of thing happens, all the social media networks light up with the “breaking news” and then everyone’s take on it. I have lost whole days in the past following that kind of thing. Instead, because I wasn’t on social media, I was alerted about it by a friend via text, and she sent me the link for blog posts about it after the facts were straight. It was so much calmer learning about what was going on from a well thought-out blog post rather than the 100mph feeds and noise of social media. The lesson here was that I wasn’t uninformed. I still heard about it. But I could get the information in a calmer way.

Week 3 - I’m a believer

I stopped missing social media. I honestly, truly did. I was drunk on productivity and focus, y’all. Lol. Being able to have that level of intent focus and mental flow without even trying was like playing with a new toy. It reminded me of how things used to be when I was in high school and college, when I could deep dive into projects for hours at a time. I wrote a novel when I was fifteen. There’s no way that would’ve happened if I’d grown up with Facebook in my pocket. I used to be able to concentrate. Now, I had the ability back. It felt like magic.

Week 4 - Finishing and Fear

This past week, I had days where I worked in deep work mode for 7 hours, only stopping briefly midday to eat lunch. The online class I thought would take me another 3 weeks minimum to get ready was done. Not only done, but edited, uploaded, and open for enrollment. That is crazy banana pants to me. I finished the project almost a month ahead of schedule. I know it had everything to do with this experiment.

I use the music program Focus @ Will for background music, and it tracks how long you use it. I only have it on when I’m actively working. So this is what my days started to look like. That’s 7 hours of focused work if you’re math-challenged like I am. Seven hours!

However, with that thrill of success came a hint of fear about coming back to it all. I knew from the start that I wouldn’t leave social media forever. Beyond being part of my job, I am a member of a number of author groups online that truly bring me joy. BUT I didn’t want to lose this newfound superpower. I knew I needed to figure out a way not to fall back into old habit. So that’s what I’ll be talking about in the rest of this post.

But first, a recap of what I gotten done in a month without the social media distraction:
  • Wrote 33k words of lectures for the class.

  • Edited 55k words.

  • Researched teaching platforms and learned how to use one.

  • Created worksheets for the class.

  • Blogged and wrote newsletters.

  • Created a slideshow and promo video for the class.

  • Loaded and formatted 7 weeks worth of lectures into the class platform.

  • Rebuilt the format of my author newsletter.

  • Set up text to speech on my blog (if you click the little button next to the title, it will read the post to you.)

  • Read 8 books. Eight!

  • Went on a vacation and didn’t work.

  • Opened my course for enrollment (there are still a few spots left at the beta price if you’re interested)

  • Spent more time with my family without my face in my phone

Observations
  • I took less photos (not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.)

  • The time I spent on my phone (according to Screen Time) was about 2 hours a day. This is down about an hour from usual (7 hours added to my week!) This experiment didn’t make me stop using my phone completely. Almost all time spent on it was text messaging, reading articles on Safari, and podcasts.

  • The morning was often when I missed social media the most because my husband would grab for his phone, and I’d have nothing to do for those first few minutes before I got out of bed. I ended up reading articles most of the time.

  • Sometimes it was inconvenient not to have Facebook simply for logistical purposes. Restaurants only had a FB page or I needed to access one of kidlet’s activities, but they do everything through FB.

  • When I blogged, I had no way to share my posts outside of my newsletter, so that felt a little frustrating. (I could’ve shared it remotely without actually getting on social media, but that felt like cheating.)

  • I didn’t miss anything urgent or important while I was gone. I signed on yesterday and had hundreds of notifications, but nothing was urgent. (Also I found out that Instagram only lets you look back through 2 weeks of notifications, so the other two weeks are lost unless someone tagged me.)

The biggest takeaway

This felt entirely different from the things I’ve done in the past like blocking social media for a few hours while I work or taking a digital sabbath. Those give you a break, but don’t impact the habit. I think this long of a break is much more disruptive in stopping bad patterns and clearing your mind so that you can look at social media with a more skeptical eye. You get a taste of what it’s keeping you from. For me, that was higher focus and productivity but also a sense of calm.

So if you’re thinking about doing something like this for yourself, give yourself the full month. Don’t trick yourself into thinking that quitting for the weekend is going to make any real difference. I also highly recommend reading Digital Minimalism first because Newport gives a lot of tips on how to best set yourself up for the 30 days. If you go cold turkey with no plan on what to replace that social media time with, you’re more likely to give up in that black moment.

Going Forward

Gretchen Rubin talks about in her book Better Than Before that some people are moderators and some are abstainers. Meaning, some people do better with creating a habit by completely abstaining from something: I never drink soft drinks. Others do better as moderators: I only drink soft drinks twice a week.

Most people think they’re moderators, but I have a feeling that more of us would be better as abstainers. There was relief in knowing checking social media wasn’t an option at all. There was no decision to be made. The line was clear. And really, that is how I quit soft drinks fifteen years ago. I went from a four-a-day Diet Mt. Dew habit to zero and never went back. Abstaining was the key for me.

However, with social media, abstaining isn’t realistic for me (and many of you) in the job I’m in. I also don’t want to lose the good things I enjoy about social media like my Facebook groups. But after this experiment, I know that I need to make some serious changes because I don’t want to give up the newfound focus and calm.

So, here’s my plan for how I’m going to bring social media back into my life. This will be an experiment too.
  1. Put 20 minute daily limits (via Screentime feature) on Facebook and Instagram on my phone.

    I thought that the phone would be the biggest issue for me and, for a while, planned to not put Facebook back on it. But I realized through this experiment that the phone was much less of a problem than checking on my desktop and disrupting my work day. So I have put these two back on my phone but with strict limits.

  2. Turned on the Downtime feature on my phone starting at 8pm and ending at 6am.

    This will keep my from randomly checking my phone while I’m watching TV with the fam and hanging out with them.

  3. No more social media shortcuts on my desktop.

    They are way too easy to click when I hit a hard spot in my work.

  4. I’m keeping Twitter off my phone.

    I was already doing this before and plan to continue.

  5. Only check social media on my desktop at lunch time and on weekends.

    This is the one that’s still in flux. I have also considered using my Hey Focus blocking app and blocking access to social media in the morning work zone and afternoon work zone, but I almost feel like I need to lean on that abstainer concept and make it very clear: I only check social media on my computer at lunchtime and on weekends.

I may tweak these or come up with different methods, but I’ll report back. I have a genuine worry that I’ll fall back into old patterns, and I really, really don’t want to. I have a new book to write, and I love having the focus superpower. I’m thinking of getting a cape. ;)

So…thoughts? Questions? Suggestions? Anyone else going to try their own digital declutter?

And for any writers interested in my course, here’s the video with all the details. I’ll be closing registration soon because we’re getting close to full! Course starts March 30th.

Rock That Romance Novel - The Beginner Class - YouTube
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Two and a half year ago, I blogged about reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work for the first time. At the time, I was feeling so scattered and distracted that I was legitimately concerned that I was developing some sort of memory problem or attention disorder. Reading Deep Work made me realize that it wasn’t a medical problem, it was an environmental problem. I had set up my life (as most of us have these days) with a constant flow of distractions: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email, and the endless pings of notifications.

My phone was always with me, demanding my attention with every notification ding or little red bubble. When I was working on my computer, little notification boxes appeared in the corner for every email or mention on social media. Now, I think about how things were set up, and it seems ludicrous—that I let myself be inundated like that. But at the time, it just seemed like the way of things. That state is the default these apps put me (and you) on.

Then I read Deep Work in August of 2016. That book shifted my view of the digital world dramatically, and it really sent me into a deep dive on the topic. I went on to read a stack of books about the internet, social media, video games, the brain and distraction. That eventually led to me doing things like Device-Free Summer with kidlet in the summer of 2017 (and 2018), which truly was and continues to be life-changing for my kiddo and our family. And it’s also led me down a path of dialing back my own distractions step by step.

My own journey from scattered distraction to deliberate focus has been a two and a half year process. One thing I love about blogging is that I can look back on old posts and see what I was thinking/going through in the past. Reading that 2016 post is like reading about another person. So much has changed since I wrote that initial post, but it definitely hasn’t been an overnight change.

I can’t quite remember the order of all the phases I went through, but here were some stops along the journey:

  • Turned off all sound notifications on both my phone and computer except for phone calls and texts

  • Turned off all visual pop up notifications

  • Turned off those red badge icons that tell you how many notifications you have

  • Deleted Tweetdeck which used to stay open all the time

  • Deleted Twitter from my phone

  • Basically abandoned Twitter - I just post news and blog links and respond to people who comment to me or message me directly. I no longer read my feed.

  • Unsubscribed from social media emails that notify you that someone has commented or messaged you

  • Put a message on my FB messenger letting people know that I don’t check it and to email me if you need me

  • I downloaded the Hey Focus app, which blocks the internet/social media for a set amount of time

  • Started making a conscious effort not to pick up my phone in every idle moment

  • I bought a bigger purse and a Book Beau so that I’m always carrying a book or my Kindle with me so that when I do have idle moments, I pick up a book instead of my phone

  • Moved my social media apps into a folder on my phone on the last page instead of having them quickly accessible on the first page (right now they’re deleted completely because of the social media break)

  • Moved the apps I want to be using (Kindle, podcasts, New York Times) to my first phone page.

  • Stopped watching the news (and getting news from Twitter) and subscribed to a paid, vetted news app (New York Times for me) and subscribed to a physical copy of the local newspaper.

  • Made extensive email rules to farm out non-urgent, distracting emails/newsletters into folders so that I can choose when I go through them.

  • Most recently, I’m in the middle of a 30-Day Social Media break after reading Cal’s newest book Digital Minimalism. I’m a little over two weeks into no social media at all, and I’ll update at the end of the 30-days how that experiences has been.

 

So those are some of the things I’ve done. Each one has brought me a step closer to reclaiming my ability to focus. But the reason why I’m writing about this today is because I had a bit of an epiphany yesterday. Yesterday afternoon, I was hard at work on writing lectures for the online writing classes I’m about to launch. I had designated the afternoon for writing because that’s when I tend to do my best work. So after lunch, I put on my Focus @ Will music (that link will get you a 20 dollar credit to try it out if you’re interested) and got to work. Normal day. However, when I was done, I looked up and realized I’d written 5600 words and had been working for four hours straight with only a brief bathroom and coffee refill break. I’d been in a mental “flow” state for hours.

This has happened on occasion, of course. There are great writing days, good ones, and bad ones. However, lately, particularly during the two weeks of this social media fast, this is becoming the norm and not the anomaly. The week of the 11th, I wrote almost 18k words in four days. I am not a fast writer, y’all. A great week for me is 10k words. But that week, I basically wrote off the high word count as a quirk. Yesterday it finally hit me that—wait, it wasn’t a quirk. I’m doing it.

What is it? Well, in my initial post about Deep Work, I mentioned this point:

Deep focus can generally only be maintained for a certain amount of time - The author suggest that those just starting out, an hour a day of deep work might be all they can manage. But with practice, he said that people can do 3-4 hours of deep work in a day--which means that you're still going to have time to get the shallow stuff done.

At the time of that post, I was aiming for that one hour. I used to set my Hey Focus app for 25 minute bursts. Newport had suggested that 4 hours is about the limit for deep work before our brains are worn out, so I wasn’t even considering that amount of time. Focusing for four hours straight seemed a near impossible feat. But now, I’m doing it. Regularly. I’m not even using the Hey Focus app anymore. I don’t have to block the internet or my access to anything. My brain just knows once I start my Focus @ Will music, okay, now it’s time to work.

I think my last hurdle was the social media thing because even though I had turned off all notifications, I still would hop over to Facebook groups and such when I hit a snag in my writing or got stuck. While on this social media break, I don’t have that option, so there’s nowhere to go if I hit a snag. I either have to work through it or get up and walk around for a little while to think. Now, I don’t plan to quit social media for good, but after this experiment, I’m going to make some big changes, which I’ll discuss in a future post when I’m done with the 30-day fast/digital declutter.

My main point is that, yes, you can retrain your distracted brain (that is, assuming you don’t have a legitimate attention disorder or medical condition.) This was not a quick fix, and it wasn’t easy because breaking habits/distraction addiction is serious business. (I definitely felt this the first week of this social media fast. The lack of regular dopamine hits is real.) This was a step by step journey over 2.5 years. And I don’t doubt that I still have more to do on this road. However, I find it super exciting and empowering that we can take our brains back. Focusing really can be a superpower, especially in our current world where we’re all battling unprecedented levels of distraction.

So if you’re feeling like I was back in 2016, make a plan to wrestle back your focus. You can use some of the techniques I’ve listed above. I also highly recommend you read Deep Work and/or Digital Minimalism.

The first step in this process is getting over the resistance that’s going to crop up in the form of arguments as to why you are different from all these other people dialing back their online/social media time and can’t possibly dial things back. Here are some things your “don’t take away my fix” reflex may argue:

  • I would do this, but I can’t not check my Facebook throughout the day because it’s part of my job. (It’s part of my job too, but I can corral it into a time slot. You have a job to do, and unless you’re a social media manager, you job is not “be available 24/7 on FB or Twitter.”)

  • If I’m not on Twitter, I won’t be up to date on the news. (Breaking news has caused a lot of trouble over the last few years. Find a news source you respect and trust and get the well thought-out take after the actual facts have been gathered, which means you don’t need to check it more than once a day.)

  • If I don’t get pop up notifications, I’ll miss something important. (Keep notifications on phone calls and texts from family and such. Those are where the emergencies will come in. Everything else can be checked on a schedule, including email. If you have a boss you have to respond to immediately on email, give them a notification sound but leave the others silent. Or make a schedule to check your email at the end of each work hour.)

  • If I’m not on every social platform, I’ll be behind. (Doing them all well is nearly impossible. Focus on the one or two that you like.)

  • If I don’t respond to someone within 5 seconds, they’ll be mad. (You teach people how to treat you. I have taught people that I’m not immediately available unless it’s an emergency or something truly urgent. If I respect my time, other people will too.)

  • If I don’t post on Instagram (or insert favorite social media) every day, people will wonder where I’m at. (None of us are that important. People will survive if we don’t post every day.)

  • Facebook is how I keep in touch my family and friends who I don’t see. (Totally cool. That doesn’t mean you have to be available to them 24 hours a day. Check it in the morning and in the evening in a time-limited way.)

My friend (and writing process guru), Becca Syme, has a saying she throws at us all the time: Question the premise. She usually means that in reference to writing advice people give you. However, it applies here as well. If those excuses above or others crop up, question the premise. Is that really true? Is there really no way around that distraction? Is there really no way to change that situation to where it benefits my focus? I promise that if you really want to make a change and improve things, you can. There’s a way.

I will step off my soapbox now, but I hope you’ve found some of this helpful. I’m only this passionate about this topic because I’ve seen it work—both for me and my kidlet. It’s life-changing stuff! : )

Let me know if you’re struggling with distractions or if you’ve tried anything to improve your focus. I’d love to hear! Leave your thoughts in the comments. (If you leave them on my social media, I won’t see them until the end of the fast, lol.)

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If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you know that one of my favorite topics to explore and evaluate is our relationship with devices, the internet, and social media. For two summers, we’ve done device-free summer with kidlet and have had a lot of success with that (he even requested to have one last summer when I wasn’t planning on it.) It truly changed my kid. I realized today I don’t even know where his Ipad went. I haven’t seen it in almost a year. He used to be attached to that thing. And video games, which had hooked him hard, are now played as an afterthought and for hardly any time at all. He now complains to me that all the kids at school want to talk about is Fortnight—a game he’s never played and has no interest in playing. So I’m a believer in the digital detox or break, or in this case, declutter.

Unlike kidlet, I haven’t gone device-free, but I’ve done a number of things over the years to curtail my constant need to check my phone and other things on the internet so that I can focus and get my writing (aka deep work) done. I’m constantly refining my process. So when I heard Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, was coming out with a new book called Digital Minimalism, you know I was pre-ordering that thing as fast I could click. The book released this week, and I’m almost all the way through it. I’ll probably give a more thorough review once I’m done, but it’s already inspired me to try his method of a 30-Day Digital Declutter.

This isn’t a detox per se. It’s more of a swipe the slate clean of all your social media (and other digital distractions that may suck up your time like video games or too much TV streaming), see how you feel for 30 days. And then, after thirty days, scrutinize each app or service carefully to decide whether or not you want to add it back into your life.

I don’t anticipate that I will give up all social media after this. For one, it’s part of my job. However, I am looking forward to breaking my cycle of check, check, checking my phone in the bored moments or when I first wake up. I had already deleted Twitter off of my phone a few months ago and haven’t felt the need to add it back. For this thirty day stretch, I’m deleting Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest off my phone as well. I also won’t be checking these sites on my desktop. No social media. Period.

My plan is to post the graphic at the top of this post on all my social media channels, letting people know why I’m not responding, and then will step fully away for the month. During this time, I plan to continue to blog and send out my newsletter, so I’m not going off the grid, just social media.

I’m interested to see how my attention shifts during the month and how this will all make me feel. Will I have the itch to check? Will I feel calmer because I don’t have to check? Will I feel out of the loop? Will I get more work done? Will I fill that time with something better or something equally as distracting? I love an experiment, so I’m looking forward to finding out!

As always, I’ll report how things went after the month is up (or maybe even along the way). And if anyone is interested in doing something similar, you can check out the details of the Digital Declutter in Digital Minimalism.

Interested in this topic?

Here’s a list of other posts I’ve done about devices and digital distractions:

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I haven’t been doing a lot of book recommendations lately because it’s RiTA award judging season. That means I have seven books to read and judge in the span of about six weeks, and I’m not allowed to share what they are. So, I’ve been reading, but I haven’t been able to talk about what I’m reading, which is hard! : )

However, I took a break from RITA books this week and picked up one of my recent Book of the Month Club books. I chose No Exit by Taylor Adams because it’s winter, and a thriller set in a snowed in rest stop seemed to be the perfect pick.

This book is billed as a thriller because I think “horror” is not as marketable a word for books these days unless you’re Stephen King. However, I feel like this book is solidly horror. There is no supernatural evil, but if this were made into a movie, it would be a horror movie. It has a lot of the tropes I love in horror. The tough, resourceful, pissed off heroine. The relentless villain. The over the top clashing of the two. The claustrophobic, trapped feeling.

So, before I get to far along in this review, here’s the official description:

A kidnapped little girl locked in a stranger’s van. No help for miles. What would you do?

On her way to Utah to see her dying mother, college student Darby Thorne gets caught in a fierce blizzard in the mountains of Colorado. With the roads impassable, she’s forced to wait out the storm at a remote highway rest stop. Inside are some vending machines, a coffee maker, and four complete strangers. 

Desperate to find a signal to call home, Darby goes back out into the storm . . . and makes a horrifying discovery. In the back of the van parked next to her car, a little girl is locked in an animal crate. 

Who is the child? Why has she been taken? And how can Darby save her?

There is no cell phone reception, no telephone, and no way out. One of her fellow travelers is a kidnapper. But which one? 

Trapped in an increasingly dangerous situation, with a child’s life and her own on the line, Darby must find a way to break the girl out of the van and escape. 

But who can she trust? 

With exquisitely controlled pacing, Taylor Adams diabolically ratchets up the tension with every page. Full of terrifying twists and hairpin turns, No Exit will have you on the edge of your seat and leave you breathless.


There are twists and misdirection in this story, some I saw coming, some I didn’t. But if you’re expecting a super-layered, multiple subplot type thriller, this is not it. It’s not supposed to be. The entire book takes place over the course of about ten hours, and it has a relentless pace. That’s why I think the horror movie analogy is more apt.

I looked at some of the negative reviews on Amazon, and the people who didn’t like it seemed to be people who were looking for a more traditional thriller. Lucky for me, I tend to prefer horror to thriller. The best way I can describe this book is take the claustrophobic, trapped feeling of The Shining (minus the supernatural) and mix it with a villain who just won’t stop like Michael Myers in the Halloween movies, and this is what you get. It requires some suspension of disbelief because it’s over the top. I also laughed a few times because there were moments of dark humor, which I love in this kind of story. And if you’re easily grossed out, maybe pass on this one because it has some brutal parts. But, if you’re a horror movie fan, give this one a try!

Buy the book: Amazon | B&N | Apple | Kobo


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If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you know that I love a self-improvement book. I feel like life is an ongoing science experiment, and there are always ways to tweak or improve things. And one of my go to experts in the self-improvement space is Gretchen Rubin. I’ve loved her books The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, and Better than Before, and I’m a regular listener to her podcast.

So when she announced that she would be having a year long Happiness Project course (no link because enrollment is closed), I was excited to sign up. Each month she tackles one area/topic, and there are assignments to do. In January, one of the assignments was to come up with your personal commandments. I can’t remember which of her books she tackled this in, but I think it was The Happiness Project.

The basic premise is that as we go through life, we learn certain truths about ourselves. We learn what works for us and what doesn’t. We make mistakes and have victories and gain insight from both. But often, we just kind of let those truths hover in the background, often not even recognizing them. However, Gretchen Rubin has an exercise that brings those truths to the forefront—the personal commandments.

Your personal commandments are those truths you’ve learned about yourself that make your life better if you stick to them. She suggest making a list of them because it helps remind you what you should do. This can be a really helpful list to have on hand when you’re feeling chaotic or like you’ve gotten off track. It can also help if you’re having trouble making a decision. These commandments can serve as easy-to-remember life mottos personalized to you.

I did the exercise last month, and I’m finding it really helpful. I printed out my list and have tucked it into my planner so that each week, I’m prompted to review them. Even after just a month, most of them are already ingrained in my brain now.

So, if you want to see what the personal commandments can look like, I’m sharing mine today. I encourage you to come up with your own because it’s been surprisingly helpful to have these on hand. Some of mine might apply to you as well, but I suggest you dig deep and look at what works best for your personality. What works best for me may not be a fit for you. What has history taught you? What lessons have you learned? What do you already know about yourself? Start there.

But first, here are mine…

My Personal Commandments

1. Be Prepared

No, I’m not a Boy Scout, but this is one I’ve learned time and again. I get anxious when I’m not prepared. I could probably change this to Be Over-Prepared, and it would be more accurate. I function best when I’ve taken my time to prepare for something. I’ve mapped out directions (and printed them in case the GPS freezes up). I’ve made notes to refer to for a presentation in case the power point projector at the venue doesn’t work (something that’s happened before.) I bring snacks if there’s a chance I could get delayed somewhere. I am not a spontaneous, on-the-fly person. That is a personal truth I’ve learned and accepted.

2. Take time to think

This is one that has been a huge revelation in my writing life over the past year or two (one I discovered taking Becca Syme’s classes). I took the Strengthsfinder test, and one of my top 5 strengths is called Intellection. It means I like to think A LOT, and I need to have time to think. This is true in all aspects of my life, but is particularly important in my writing because when I rush the thinking (by charging ahead and trying to hit a word count), I end up hitting a block or going in the wrong direction. Thinking time needs to count as work time for me. If I hit a point in the story where I’m not sure what happens next or something feels off, I need to give myself time and space to think on it without feeling guilty for not getting words on the page. I used this method writing the last book and hit no writer’s block for the first time in at least ten books. A revelation!

3. Input Input Input

This is another discovery from the Strengthsfinder test. My number 2 strength is called Input, which means I need to take in a TON of information in order to be happy and creative. So if I get too busy and stop reading, watching interesting TV shows, reading articles, and learning things, I get stuck creatively. The tank is empty, and I get stressed and overwhelmed. So this commandment it to remind me that taking in all that information is a vital part of the creative process for me. It does not mean I’m wasting time or slacking.

4. Achievement is the reward

In the past, I’ve never been able to figure out why I wasn’t motivated by a reward structure. I’d hear writers say “If I write this many words this week, I get to go shopping at X place or I’ll treat myself to a nice dinner.” That doesn’t work for me at all. It doesn’t motivate me. However, I’m motivated by writing my word count on a wall calendar. What the hell is that about? Well, I’ve figured out that the achievement is the reward for me. I didn’t get straight As as a kid because my parents gave me money for a good report card. I got the As because I wanted the As. That was the reward. Knowing this about myself helps me structure my goal-setting in more effective ways. For instance, I’m using Sarra Cannon’s kanban board method for 90-day planning, and I’m super motivated by moving a sticky note from the To Do section to the Done section. That’s the reward for me. It’s working.

5. If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no

I didn’t make up this saying, but I’ve been using it as a mental go-to for a couple of years now. At one point, I had it on a sticky note stuck to my monitor because I’d found myself saying yes to too many things. And saying yes to the wrong things means saying no to the things I actually want/need to be doing. It leads to overwhelm and takes away focus from my important goals and life stuff. If I say yes to traveling to every writer or reader conference or book signing, I’m saying no to my writing time and time with my family. So I’ve become super selective about the things I say yes to. I just got back from a signing with Nora Roberts at her bookstore in Maryland. That was a hell yes! But I’ve said no to many things in between because I just can’t do them all and still accomplish what I want to accomplish.

6. Honor the cycles

Over time, we all find patterns and cycles in our lives. For me, this simply means to be aware that there are cycles and to work with that. Monthly cycles, seasonal cycles, business cycles, etc. For instance, I’ve learned the months I get the most work done and the ones that inevitably are difficult, so I plan accordingly now. I almost always get sick some time in December or January. It’s a pattern I need to be aware of because that means I’ll need a week off somewhere in that zone.

7. Take vitamins

This one is self-explanatory, but as someone who has suffered with a Vitamin D deficiency, I need to keep this on my radar always.

8. Movement makes me feel better

I am not a person who loves exercise. This has been a lifelong battle. When I was a kid, I played three sports. I got exercise without knowing it. But since them, it’s been a struggle. However, I like yoga and I feel better when I’m doing it consistently. But man, can I find one hundred other things to do instead. So this commandment is to remind me of the outcome. If I do yoga, I have less muscle aches and feel stronger. I want to feel that way, so I try to use this as motivation to roll out that yoga mat.

9. Trust my instincts

I’ve learned that I’m a pretty intuitive person. When I go against my gut instinct, it usually doesn’t go well. So this is a simple one to remind me to trust myself, my instincts, and my impressions of people.

10. Start small but START

This is my anti-procrastination commandment. I’ve learned that once I start, even the tiniest step, I’m over the biggest hurdle in getting going. (Oh, inertia.) For instance, if I’m dithering and need to be writing, if I just open the doc and put on my writing music, I’m probably going to start writing. If I lay out my yoga mat, I’m going to do yoga. So if I’m dragging my feet with something and know I need to get started, I’ll just tell myself, “Just do this one little thing. That’s all you need to do right now.” And it’s a mental trick. I’m not committing to “writing the next chapter”, I’m just committing to “opening the document and turning on the music.” I used it today to start writing this blog post. I was feeling lazy, so I told myself just to open the doc and type up the headings.

11. Outer order = Inner calm

This is lifted directly from the title of Gretchen Rubin’s next book, but it fits for me. I am more calm if my desk is organized and my house is clean. If I’m feeling scattered, I know that if I organize or clean up some things, it will help calm me.

12. Shopping = avoidance

This isn’t always the case, but if I find myself shopping online, it often means I’m avoiding something. I’m not a clothes shopper, but books, planner supplies, online classes, etc. are my go to shopping drug of choice. So if Amazon packages start showing up every day, it probably means I’m procrastinating on some difficult project or am stuck in my writing. I made this a commandment so that I can catch myself when I’m in that loop.

13. Don’t let yourself get too hungry

When I’m too hungry, I make bad food choices. My self-control goes out the window. I also get hangry and am not pleasant to be around. So this commandment is for my health but also the safety of those around me. ;)

14. You’re usually happy you went

This is one I need to repeat to myself often. If left to my own devices, I’d be a hermit. I like being home. My introverted self is happy not going out and socializing. Also, I get anxious anticipating an event, particularly if it involves travel and being “author me" (which requires a lot of extroverting.) That often makes me not want to go. However, I’ve learned that most of the time, once I go to these things, I have a great time and am happy I went. If I’d let my introverted self have its way, I’d have missed out on some pretty amazing life events and memories. For instance, this past weekend with the book signing at Turn the Page with Nora Roberts, I had to use this commandment. Before the trip, I was stressed out about the weather (southerners don’t know how to drive/deal with snow and single digit temperatures). I was stressed out about travel. I was nervous to meet Nora. However, I kept reminding myself “you’re usually happy you went”. Sure enough, I’m SO thrilled I went, met some great people, and now I have memories that I’ll hold onto for a lifetime.

Me trying to look totally calm with Nora Roberts

My signing buddies authors Lucy Score and Darynda Jones

So those are my commandments. I’ll continue to tweak, add, and edit them, but I’ve found that putting these to paper has been enormously helpful. I highly recommend giving this exercise a try and making your own list!

Do you have any personal commandments? Do any of mine fit for you? What would be some of your commandments? I’d love to hear some of yours!

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As a writer, I consider watching quality (and sometimes not-so-quality) television as part of my job. Yes, I do it for fun, too, but great television shows can also fill the creative well and offer a lot of inspiration. That’s why I’m glad I live in the time of streaming TV. I love being able to focus on just a handful of shows and watch them in close enough succession to see the story and character arcs in all their glory.

However, sometimes I don’t know which show to pick. There are so many now! In fact, one of these shows was selected for me by my reader group The Fearless Romantics when I went to them for suggestions. (And they were totally spot on!) So in case you suffer from the same affliction, I’m sharing some of the ones I’ve been loving lately and who I think they’d be a good fit for.

 If you’re like me and missed the Buffy the Vampire Slayer phenomenon…

This was the show that my reader group overwhelmingly voted to be my next binge watch. Now, I obviously was aware of the show and had probably seen a few episodes randomly here and there back in the day. But season 1 premiered in March of 1997. That was two months before I graduated high school. I had so much going on during that time that I wasn’t in a place to pick up new TV shows. So I missed the train.

However, I’m so glad that I’m no longer out of that loop. I started watching season one in October 2018 and got through all 144 episodes this past Wednesday. That is a LOT of episodes, y’all, especially considering I only watched TV at night because I was drafting a book at the same time. But once I started, I couldn’t stop. The characters, the humor, the horror, and romance were all like TV crack to me. I should’ve known. I’ve always appreciated a good vampire story. I loved the True Blood series and the first few seasons of The Vampire Diaries (I still have seasons to catch up with on that one.) But I didn’t expect to get through these that quickly and to grow so attached.

That’s why I got enormously excited this week when I was browsing in a Barnes and Noble and randomly spotted the new Kiersten White book Slayer, which just came out and takes place in the Buffy universe. That came home with me.

So most of you are probably like, wow, how have you never watched this before? But if you’re like me and missed it, it’s a good one to dive into if you like supernatural shows. Some seasons are stronger than others, and don’t judge it by the first short season. I don’t think Joss Whedon took more control until the very end of season one. Things picked up after that.

My favorite seasons were seasons 2 and 3. I really loved season 6, too, until late in the season when they had a scene with my favorite character, Spike, acting in a way that didn’t make since for his character or the story arc. That pissed me off. I still loved the season, but that put a damper on it. The last season was just meh for me but still worth watching.

I’m now moving onto Angel, the spinoff, which has five seasons for me to enjoy. :)

Where to stream: Hulu

 If you’re into snarky serial killers who think they’re in their own rom com movie…

The show YOU is based on a book of the same name by Caroline Kepnes, and I’m not sure how I first heard about it, but I’m glad I found it. Joe is a bookstore owner and seems to outsiders like an every day nice guy. He could be the Tom Hanks character in a rom com. That is, until you hear his inner thoughts, which are done voiceover style in the show, and he starts stalking a woman he’s interested in. Joe is a sociopath, but the beauty of this show/book is that he’s so snarky and smug (and kind to children), that he’s oddly likable. The female lead, on the other hand, isn’t all that likable so you kind of understand why Joe has issues with some of her actions. (Not that it justifies his behavior of course, lol.)

The show can be over the top and don’t watch with your kids nearby because it’s explicit, but it’s a compelling ride with a lot of tension and dark humor. I found that the middle of the season slowed a bit because it ventured a little too far into the over the top territory, but it picked up again toward the end. There will be a second season, but until then, I’ve picked up book 2 on audiobook.

Where to stream: I started watching YOU when it was streaming on Lifetime, but it has recently moved to Netflix, so it’s easy to access.

 If you’re into edgy and smart yet endearing shows about the messiness of being a teenager…

Sex Education is a new show that just premiered on Netflix last week. I’ve already watched 6 of the 8 episode season if that tells you anything about how much I’m enjoying it. This is considered a “dramedy” and I’d say that’s an apt description but leans more to comedy. I’ve laughed out loud a lot for this one. It follows Otis, a teen whose mother is a sex therapist (played by Gillian Anderson.) He pairs up with the edgy outcast girl at his high school and they start charging other teens for sex therapy. Otis is awkward and adorable and earnest. You can’t help but be endeared. And his best friend and the female lead are equally as compelling. This kind of feels like if John Hughes movies had been explicit. It has that nostalgic quality, too, even though it’s set in present day. The show captures the awkwardness of being a teen full of hormones, insecurity, and angst. Warning: this show is explicit with nudity, sex, and language. Also, it’s British, so the accents can be a little bit of a challenge. My American ear needs to put on subtitles for this one to help. But I love this show and hope that it continues for many more seasons.

Where to stream: Netflix

 If you need something that the whole family can enjoy…

My son and I always pick one or two sitcoms to watch together. It’s our thing. We started with The Goldbergs about two years ago, and when we caught up, we needed another one to binge together. It’s surprisingly hard to find sitcoms that are appropriate for an 11-year old and are also not “kid” shows that I won’t be into. The Middle has been the perfect choice post-Goldbergs. I missed this show during it’s regular run, but kidlet and I have been working our way through the seasons over the past year and we’ve reached the final season. We’re still in the beginning of season 9, but already I’m feeling sad that we’re getting to the end. This show has stayed consistently good through nine seasons, and you really do grow attached to the family. So if you’re looking for something the whole family can enjoy, this is a funny and heartwarming show that hits the spot.

Where to stream: Unfortunately this one isn’t on any subscription streaming service, though I think you can get some on ABC’s website.. You can set up to record reruns which I believe play on Freeform. But we ended up buying most of the seasons on Amazon. For some reason, Amazon didn’t have the last season so we had to buy it on VUDU.

 

So, that’s what I’m watching. What have you watched lately that you’d recommend? Anyone else watching any of the above?

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Happy New Year!

I’m celebrating a new year and a new book! The One You Fight For, book 3 in my The Ones Who Got Away series, is out today!

I’m really excited to share this one with you. It was the hardest book I’ve ever had to write, but I’m really proud of this story. You don’t have to have read the previous two books to jump in here but reading them in order can enhance the experience.

I wrote this one because I really wanted to explore the school shooting tragedy from an angle I (and I think a lot of other people) don’t often think about. What happens to the people in the perpetrators family? How do they go on with their lives after their loved one did something so horrible and so public?

The hero, Shaw Miller, is the older brother of one of the shooters. Taryn, the heroine, survived the shooting but lost her sister in the tragedy. Bringing the two of these two people together was an emotional journey, but I hope you’ll go along with them and see them through to their happy ending.

Here are the official details about the book:

How hard would you fight for the one you love?

Taryn Landry was there that awful night fourteen years ago when Long Acre changed from the name of a town to the title of a national tragedy. Everyone knows she lost her younger sister. No one knows it was her fault. Since then, psychology professor Taryn has dedicated her life’s work to preventing something like that from ever happening again. Falling in love was never part of the plan…

 Shaw Miller has spent more than a decade dealing with the fallout of his brother’s horrific actions. After losing everything—his chance at Olympic gold, his family, almost his sanity—he’s changed his name, his look, and he’s finally starting a new life. As long as he keeps a low profile and his identity secret, everything will be okay, right? 

When the world and everyone you know defines you by one catastrophic tragedy…

How do you find your happy ending?

Buy the book:  Amazon B&N | iBooks | KoboIndiebound | Books-A-Million | Google Play

Also available in audiobook: Recorded Books | Audible


I hope you enjoy this one and have a fantastic 2019 full of happy reading!

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