Wednesday, December 30, 2015

What's Next: Goals, But No Resolutions

I've never been much for New Year's resolutions. If in the first month I miss a few days of exercise or skip practicing piano, it’s too easy to chuck the whole thing. Also, if something truly matters to me, I’m usually already doing it. I've always loved to write. Happy or sad, depressed or excited, employed or unemployed, sick or well, I've written something, whether it’s novels, poetry, short stories, or journal entries, so I've never needed to set a resolution to write more. Likewise, if I really don't want to do something, unless I find a way to like it or to value it more highly, I don't to do it even if I set a hundred resolutions.

My high tech scheduling app for the New Year.
Still, I like the approaching New Year as a time to take stock, reflect, and plan by setting goals. Last year’s goals tell me where I’ve been and where I didn’t get to. Sometimes they surprise me. I’ve achieved goals I didn't recall setting, and I’ve forgotten goals that during the previous December seemed vital. (Which is why one of my goals for 2016 is to review my goal list once a month, probably at the same time I publish my MOST eNewsletter.)

Professional/business goals were always fairly easy for me to set as a lawyer. When I worked for a large law firm, I aimed to exceed the firm’s requirements for number of billable hours per year, pro bono work (unpaid legal work for organizations that help people of limited means), and improving my skills. In my own law practice, the goals were not that different, just focused more on the big picture—bringing in new cases or clients when I was growing, ensuring current clients were happy with my work, deciding when to outsource work or hire an assistant. These days the goals are simpler than ever, as I only handle a limited number of matters. So my goal is to give excellent service on those cases and maintain my practice at that pace so I can continue to write, publish, and teach without slighting my legal work.

With writing, setting and meeting goals has been more fluid. I have been pretty good at completing the novels I want to write. On the other hand, writing a certain number of articles and short stories is a goal that appears every year but that I often meet halfway at best. I enjoy that type of writing, but don’t love it the way I love novel writing. (See above, not doing things I'm not that interested in despite resolutions. Or goals, apparently.) Also, until very recently, writing was something I did on the side, so what time I could devote to it I wanted to spend on favorite projects.

My other struggle is with setting aspirational goals versus realistic ones. I believe people rarely exceed their goals, so setting one too realistically can become a limit rather than an inspiration. Also, it's hard to get excited about goals that are realistic. Over the past six months, during which I devoted the bulk of my work time to writing and to the business side of marketing and publishing, I doubled my book sales. I expect my split between writing, teaching, and law to be about the same in the coming year, so it would be realistic to seek to sell 2-4 times the number of books I did this year. But how exciting is that? Exponential growth, on the other hand—selling 100 times the number of books this year—now that would be exciting. But it’s highly unlikely for any author to do that, and I might be left overly discouraged if I achieved any less than that.

Mostly I solve this conflict by setting the majority of my goals in terms of what I have a reasonable amount of control over. I plan to finish and publish The Conflagration, Book 3 in my Awakening series, this coming spring. My aspirational goals are to also write and publish the final and fourth book in the series and to outline and draft the first novel in a new mystery series I’m planning. As far as sales, I’ve settled on aiming for 10 times this year’s sales. That’s high, but doable. I also have a number of flexible goals around possible non-fiction books and short stories. And I hope to significantly expand subscribers to my monthly MOST eNewsletter. If you enjoy fiction and movies in the mystery, occult, suspense, or thriller genres and you’d like to help with that goal, the link to join is below.

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In the process of setting 2016 goals, I’ve put aside one idea that’s been bouncing around in my head, which is to start a podcast. At some point, I’d like to produce a weekly 10-minute show for people dealing with loss, inspired by my parents’ deaths due to a drunk driver and my experiences with the amazing, inspiring people I’ve met through AAIM (the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists). After investigating what’s involved on the technical and production side, I realized that the significant time and energy I’d need to spend to learn how to do podcasts and then produce a show each week would make it too hard to finish the Awakening series. The podcast may very well be on my 2017 goals, though. Or, given that it matters to me, I may find myself doing it anyway sometime in the middle of the year.

While I focused on professional goals in this post because personal goals are, well, personal, I do set those types of goals as well. They include staying close with friends and family, travel, and health. A lot of them overlap. Most of my travel plans for the coming year include writing or readers conferences in places I also think will be interesting to visit. My main health goal, other than staying overall healthy, is to find a way to keep my neck and shoulders pain-free in between my once a month visits to a massage therapist. The more I write at my keyboard, the more I find myself popping Advil during that last week before my visit to deal with muscle pain and prevent migraines, and I’d like to avoid all of that. I’ve started setting a timer to make myself get up every twenty minutes and I'm adding stretching exercises throughout the day. I’ve also started using the dictation function on my iPhone to do first drafts of blog posts.

Most of all, though, when I consider the coming year, I hope it is a happy and healthy one, not just for me, but for everyone.

I’ve shared these goals in part because by doing so, I’m adding more accountability. I’d also love to hear about your goals, resolutions, and New Year’s thoughts below, via email, or on my Facebook author page. Best wishes for a wonderful new year!

Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the occult thrillers The Awakening and The Unbelievers, Books 1 and 2 in the Awakening series. A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. If you'd like to be notified of new releases and read reviews of M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller) books and movies, click here to join her email list and receive free a short horror story, Ninevah, published exclusively to M.O.S.T. subscribers.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

When The Holidays Are Not So Happy

Usually I love the winter holidays. I have great memories from when I was little and my brothers created present treasure hunts for me and from when my nieces and nephews were kids and presented their own original holiday plays. I find the Chicago holiday lights cheerful and a great antidote to the sometimes dreary weather. But bright lights and parties and unrelenting good cheer, in my experience, can also make a person feel that much worse if the holiday occurs after a serious loss, during a difficult personal time, or simply brings bad memories or highlights challenging family circumstances.
An ornament from my parents' Christmas tree that's now on mine.

2007 was one of the hardest holiday seasons for me. Early that year, both my parents were hit by a drunk driver and died of their injuries. Sadly, through the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists (AAIM), I also know many people whose children were killed and who struggled with the first holiday season and every one thereafter. Less tragic but still extremely difficult situations like a divorce or job loss can also make the end of the year and coming new year hard to handle. And then there are the day-to-day, year-to-year issues that cause many of us to dread holiday meals. Thanksgiving dinner can be less about gratitude and more about refighting family battles, highlighting longstanding feuds, or prompting excessive drinking and related unpleasant behavior or, worse, tragedy if drinking and driving leads to a crash.

What's important when feeling blue or more seriously depressed or anxious at the holidays is experimenting and finding what works for you regardless what tradition dictates. The most freeing thing for one of my friends was realizing there was no law requiring her to attend family holiday gatherings. From then on, her view was, “If you don’t like your family, find another one.” I've spent many holidays with friends rather than family for various reasons. Some people I know from AAIM changed holiday locations after their childrens’ deaths, choosing to travel for Christmas rather than staying home. Others invited friends for coffee and cake on Thanksgiving rather than hosting a traditional large family dinner.

Starting a personal solitary tradition can also be wonderful. A photographer I knew in my twenties found being with his parents very difficult and instead went out each Christmas morning at sunrise to take photographs of Lake Michigan. They were among the most beautiful pictures I’d ever seen, and his ritual struck me as wonderfully peaceful, sane, and happy in an often too-intense holiday season. During a few of the years after my parents’ deaths, I skipped some holiday gatherings entirely in favor or rewatching favorite movies or rereading favorite books. I found the familiarity and predictability comforting after shocking, disturbing life events, and I was freed of feeling I had to keep up a happy face. My favorite books to revisit run the gamut, including Pride and Prejudice, The Little Princess, Gone With The Wind, Atlas Shrugged, The Dead Zone, and The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe. I also like putting on a few CDs (yes, I still listen to music on CDs) and making a favorite food like Pillsbury biscuits with cinnamon and brown sugar or heating rich hot chocolate with real milk and dark chocolate shavings. I do try to avoid more than a glass or two of wine because alcohol is a depressant, and too much of it and I’ll start dwelling on people I’ve lost rather than remembering the happy times I had.

Click here to Join Lisa M. Lilly's M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller) Readers Group and receive Ninevah,
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In addition to rereading favorite novels, there are a few nonfiction books that helped me over the years, particularly at the holidays. One is Anthony Robbins’ Awaken The Giant Within. I particularly recommend his chapter on the questions we ask ourselves. It's a quick way to help yourself if you tend to get stuck mentally asking things like why something terrible happened to you or someone you love, or why your family is so difficult, or why you aren’t more successful (and I have at different times asked myself all those things, which is part of why I'm enjoying turning fifty). If you are grieving a loss or suffered another type of crises, whether recent or not, I found Living Through Personal Crisis and Coming Back: Rebuilding Lives After Crises and Loss, both by Ann Kaiser Sterns, very helpful. I don’t think the latter is in print anymore, but you can buy used copies on Amazon. And I often refer back to Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff, a book I avoided for many years because the title made me think it was about learning to be a slacker. To the contrary, it is about how to be relaxed and happy while still working hard and achieving goals—very valuable to me as for many years I bought into the idea that those two concepts simply could not coexist.

I hope some of the above thoughts are helpful if you’re struggling with the holidays this year or if the holidays are generally a challenging time for you. And to all my friends, readers, and colleagues, my best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season.


Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the occult thrillers The Awakening and The Unbelievers, Books 1 and 2 in the Awakening series. A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. If you'd like to be notified of new releases and read reviews of M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller) books and movies, click here tojoin her email list and receive free a short horror story, Ninevah, published exclusively to M.O.S.T. subscribers.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Beauty of Being Fifty

This month I am celebrating my 50th birthday, and, so far, I'm finding it to be a wonderful time of life. Below are 10 reasons I feel that way:

On a trip to Maui, relaxing after finishing latest revisions
to The Conflagration.

When I was in my late 30s, I read a book, How We Choose to Be Happy, that compiles studies on happiness. I don't remember the details, but the gist of it was that the happiest people are those who figure out for themselves what brings them joy and follow their own paths rather than trying to conform to what other people believe they should do. The book made sense to me, but I confess I sometimes worried when family members and even friends warned me that I’d “be sorry later” for not making the same choices they had made or were making. (My mother, distressed about me living with a longtime boyfriend without being married, once said, "You're not happy, you just think you are." Which could provide fodder for some interesting philosophical discussions, but that's a whole other post.) I've stopped worrying about being sorry later. Over fifty years, I’ve known enough people for enough time to see firsthand that those who are happiest are those who’ve been fortunate enough to spend much of their time doing what they enjoy, being with people they like and respect, and putting most of their effort toward goals they find meaningful, regardless of how well their lives match anyone else’s picture of what they "should" be doing.


For the first 15 years of my working life, I worked very hard and earned very little. For the next 15, I worked hard and earned enough to buy a home (and later buy and move to a different home), but I was at my office or traveling so much I often felt I was living in a hotel. It was nice, but impersonal. Over the last decade, though, I’ve managed to accumulate furniture and furnishings I love (the former from a mix of Pottery Barn, secondhand and antique stores, and family pieces, including my grandmother's Singer sewing machine) and paint colors and flooring that all actually fit together. I enjoy my surroundings at home more than I ever have. That’s especially important because I do most of my writing in my home office. So my kitchen is both my kitchen and my break room, and my living room is my living room and a second area for pacing and dictating chapters into my iPhone when I feel too cooped up in my home office.


Now that I'm near 50, fewer people ask intrusive questions about my personal life. Many women have told me that when they were pregnant, strangers would come up to them and touch their bellies and ask personal questions about how far along they were or if they were planning on natural childbirth, as if it is everyone's right to know about their reproductive choices. Likewise, as I wrote about in Goodbye Ovaries, throughout my 30s and early 40s, people took it upon themselves to ask why I hadn't had children yet and to rush to assure me that there was still time to have them, even when I said I didn't want or plan to have kids. My guess is that now people satisfy themselves by thinking, “Oh, how sad, she never had kids,” and refrain from saying anything for fear of making me feel worse. I don't feel sad at not having children, but if the idea that I might be causes others to keep their views on my choices to themselves, I’m all for it.

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Privacy (Part Two):

On a similar note, people also are less likely to ask me if I am married, divorced, or single or if I ever married. I'm guessing it’s connected to the child issue above. As with having children, I haven't noticed that marriage in general makes people happier or unhappier, but based on the questions I used to get, most people either presume that married people are happier and so want to push everyone into it or feel they personally are unhappy with being married and don’t understand why those of us who are happy being single ought to be allowed to stay that way. For whatever reason, the past five years or so I've noticed a decrease in such questions. Which is good for my reputation for being a polite, nice person, as the next time someone asked me, “Why haven’t you gotten married yet?” I was considering responding, “I don’t know. Why haven’t you gotten divorced yet?”


The older I am, the more I realize how privileged and fortunate I am to have always had a home, enough food to eat, and people around me who care about me, as well as people who have helped me reach my goals. Each morning, I say out loud three things from the last twenty-four hours for which I’m grateful and say how specifically they have made my life better. And then I feel grateful that I can always think of three things.


I'm excited to be living at a time where technology has opened so many ways of connecting with people and conducting business. The two ways I make my living now, writing and law, changed dramatically in the past decade. As a solo lawyer, I can work with clients all over the world on the same basis as do lawyers in very large firms, as the technology to do so is inexpensive and easily accessible. As an author, I can run my own publishing business and sell my work directly to readers, without being limited by what large publishing houses believe will be popular. Also, through social media, I’ve found communities of writers, artists, and readers all over the world whom I never would have met a decade or two ago. I found the story editor for Book 3 in my Awakening series, The Conflagration, because I listened to him on Storywonk podcasts about Buffy, Pride & Prejudice, and writing. Through the editor, I also found two beta readers, one of whom lives in Australia. With a click of a button, I sent her the manuscript to read. Likewise, I can keep in touch with friends and family all over the world as inexpensively as I can with someone who lives next door.

No More Working "For the Experience":

I no longer need to do work I dislike simply to get experience or build my resume. I've gained valuable skills and learned a great deal at every job I've held. Many had tasks I didn't enjoy or actively hated, and I persisted to build a reputation or gain skills or add to my resume. Those are all good reasons for doing work that you don't particularly like (earning money is a really good reason too), but it's wonderful to be at a stage of life where how much I enjoy doing something is as important, if not more important, when I'm deciding what work to do. Recently, to celebrate my 50th birthday, I spent a week in my favorite place, Maui (see photo). I've been there several times before. While I had just as good a time as always, and I knew I was returning to Chicago in winter time, for the first time at the end of the trip I felt ready to come home. That's because I really enjoy almost every aspect of my work life, so returning to work is a happy thought.

Doing What I Like To Do For The Experience:

On the flipside, everything I do now is for the experience, in a different sense of the word. I take a trip or read a non-fiction book or introduce myself to somebody new simply because I want to, regardless whether it fits neatly within whatever professional or personal goals I’m pursuing. I've written enough novels and seen enough litigation to conclusion that I know it's okay to take time to simply enjoy an activity for its own sake. How much fun is that?


I’m more aware of and comfortable with my strengths and weaknesses, and I've realized how to best use my strengths rather than trying to be everything to everyone. When I was a new lawyer, people outside of law often told me I was "too nice" to be a lawyer. I recognized that this had more to do with the television and movie depictions of lawyers being, at best, overly aggressive and, at worst, underhanded, nasty, and unethical, but it still worried me that I might not seem tough enough to be a real lawyer. Over the decades, happily, I’ve discovered that being civil and treating people respectfully is an advantage 99 times out of 100, and when I need to be more aggressive, I’ve learned how to do that effectively. But I don’t try to change who I am to fit other people’s ideas about what a hard-driving, pound-the-table attorney looks like. Similarly, I know my books aren’t for everyone. If I get a good or bad review that is detailed and specific enough to draw my attention, I look to see what other books that reviewer likes and doesn’t like. If someone loved Rosemary’s Baby and The Da Vinci Code, I’ll consider the comments, positive or negative, when writing my next book. On the other hand, if the reviewer prefers literary fiction with chapters of lyrical prose where nothing happens and no one speaks, I’m less inclined to take that reviewer’s view of plot and character development to heart.


I have friends and colleagues I've met during all different phases of my life so far. Some I met at my early jobs throughout and soon after college, others I met in school, others when I became a lawyer, others at writing conferences, and more through on line communities and other activities I've enjoyed over the years. Yes, I had friends and acquaintances in my 20s and 30s, but not nearly as many, and it was harder to keep in touch. Now I spend nearly all my time interacting with people I like, admire, and respect. I can't think of anything better to be able to say about life than that.

How do you feel about different milestones in life? And what do you think are the most important factors in how happy you are? Feel free to comment.

Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the occult thrillers TheAwakening and The Unbelievers, Books 1 and 2 in the Awakening series. A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears andTwo Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. If you'd like to be notified of new releases and read reviews of M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller) books and movies, click here to join her email list and receive free a short horror story, Ninevah, published exclusively to M.O.S.T. subscribers.