Spring Playlist

I get a lot of hits on my website for my Playlist page, which is cool. I think people are finding it because of some of the artists I mention there. I tend to get hits from all over the world for that. Anyway, it’s been a while since I posted a new playlist–which I use exclusively for dog walks, writing, and my freelance work. That’s because I stopped using You Tube because of all the ads.

Now I use Spotify, and frankly I don’t know what took me so long. Furthermore, I went Spotify premium because it’s SO GOOD. For a girl who sits at her desk all day, it’s a necessary tool.

Also, you can’t beat the playlists to embed in your website!

So here’s my Spring 2017 playlist. It’s fairly heavy on the electronica, fair warning.

P.S. For a collection of all my playlists, see here.


2017 Goal Setting: Planner Reviews!

I have never –NEVER!– set goals for the year ahead in my life. Ever! I haven’t lived my life in total darkness and I count myself as a fairly organized person BUT I also think I could probably be doing much better. Or something.

Anyway, as we faded into 2017, I was very willing to see what goal setting does for me.

Naturally I turned to help in the form of guided goal setting planners. Of course, I didn’t stop at just one because these things are a madness, and anyway I didn’t know what was out there when I started getting them, so I chose four.

As one does.

They are:

  1. My Bucket List
  2. The Rituals for Living Dreambook and Planner
  3. Your Best Life 2017 Goal Planner
  4. PowerSheets

All four are reviewed below. And yes, there was a clear winner.


1. My Bucket List

I picked up this pretty cloth-bound book (that’s fancy talk for no book jacket) at Anthropologie, because I am unable to resist that store’s frippery, and let’s face it, it’s ALL frippery there.  This book is simple and clear–it’s space for 101 bucket list items. And it has pages to journal about each of them, with guided questions. Could I do the same thing in a bullet journal? Yes! Do I want to? No!

Now, bucket lists aren’t necessarily year goal setting–it’s 5, 10, or life time goal setting, but already I found that by writing down a few –and I have only written down 16 items out of 101 — I am already focused on them. I also wrote down some that I had already accomplished this year like attending a European Champions League match. That’s huge, so it got an entry.

I think what sold me on this book was that it has inspirational stories every so often and quotes, including a story about a guy, Sebastian Terry, who created a list of 100 things, no matter how silly, that he wanted to do, and then did them. He’s a single adventurous guy (the opposite of me) and could do this, but I found that reading about crazy things helped me realize that I needn’t limit my bucket list to things that were, to me, reachable. (Check Seb out here; his thing has become a book anbd a show, etc.)

Here’s one of the pages (click for a bigger look):

So, this is a great investment in terms of long term goal setting. But not for your year.

Buy it here: 

I am not sure why the price difference is so silly.


2. The Rituals for Living Dreambook and Planner

This planner caught my eye a few months ago and I ordered one because at the time, I was looking for goal setting help and this one really seemed good, even though “rituals for living” scared me off (rituals, what?) and I had no need of a planner since I already use my Day Designer planner plus various bullet journal things. And it took two months to ship, so I was slightly annoyed. And when it did arrive I thought, ugh, that’s a LOT of reflecting and filling-in nonsense I’ve got to do.

Also, I was 100% suckered in by the name “Dreambook.”

But! It turns out, the Dreambook is actually one of the best goal workbooks. Working through thoughtful questions in six main areas of life: (1) physical wellness, (2) psychological and spiritual health, (3) creation, exploration and play, (4) community connection, (5) livelihood, career, and influence, and (6) relationship and family. With those, you really start to think about what matters to you.

Focusing on those six areas means that if you have a hard time thinking through the answers and therefore seeing the bigger picture, it’s okay– your answers start revealing patterns about what you want. For example, in the community connection section, what came up for me was that I was getting a lot of nourishment (I apologize for that goalsy word) from a certain few people and not so much from others. And that allows me to make better decisions about time and energy and people.

So I do recommend the Dreambook. I like the quarterly reviews and the monthly and weekly goal setting. I think it’s really well-rounded for life and covers all the bases, not just work. I don’t know if I’ll stick with filling it out all year, but that’s my fault– I’m the one who got FOUR GOAL SETTING PLANNERS.

Update: it’s March and I have not stuck with this planner. Major reason: it doesn’t lay flat and it’s not pretty. It’s just black and white. See the Powersheets review below.

Here’s a look at the inside with some annotations. And for a great look at how people are using this, check Pinterest. (click image for a bigger look)

Buy it here: 


I have dug through all the stuff for you and found the price, since they hide it, and it is $48.00 Ouch.

3. Your Best Life 2017 Goal Planner

I’d seen this one on various sites. You can buy it as a binder or as a download –I bought the download and printed it, which was a lot of paper, so buy a ream! This is a great planner for an oline business but honestly it was a LOT of text and my binder has been sitting in a dusty corner since January 🙁

But there are some nice charts and at $9.00 for the download, it’s a deal. (Click image for a larger view)

But it here

Your Best Life 2017 download $9.00

Your Best Life 2017 paperback $11.00


4. Powersheets

Courtesy cultivatewhatmatters.com

The winner!

I made the investment in this after reading rave, rave reviews. And I haven’t regretted it. Of the four goal planners, this is easily the one that wins for me. I come back to it each month and I actually use it.

Here’s why I think this one wins:

  • Colorful, pretty to use
  • Quality paper, foil stamping, and nice ring binding without being too big
  • The exercises are easy and can be done in a sitting
  • Comes with some stickers
  • Has tear out sheets so it goes beyond the actual planner

It’s just simple and effective. It focuses around a yearly word, being grateful for what’s already happened, a clear action plan for goals, and gives you space to “clear the mental clutter.” Also, it allows you to decorate it any way you wish, with watercolor or paint or pens or whatever, or if you’re like me and just want to work with a black pen, that’s fine too. Best of all, Laura Casey the creator, makes it clear more than once that if you don’t fill out everything, it’s fine. It really is.

The price point is $55 which is steep but given how much I’ve already used it, it’s a decent investment if it keeps me straight on my goals. It also sells out fast but she’s addressed that with 6-month versions. (click for a bigger view)


Buy it here


That’s it! If you have used a goal planner, I’d really like to hear about it. Leave a comment and tell me!

For further reading, see this post that Roni Loren did.

Bookstores, Present and Future

Agent Laurie McLean at Fuse Literary does a Publishing Predictions post over at Anne Allen’s blog. Her 2017 predictions post is really interesting for many reasons, but I wanted to call out the predictions for physical bookstores.

It’s no secret bookstores are on the decline, or that Amazon sells most of the ebooks. When was the last time you were in a bookstore? Well, for my part, I go to my local B&N quite a lot, but only for my kids. Never for me. I wouldn’t buy an adult fiction book there because I read fiction on tablet (using the Kindle app). I do check out a lot of ebooks from my local library, or I buy them. But yeah, I’m not purchasing hard cover new releases.

This is terrible.

Laurie says that new fiction will move faster to ebook, and I think that’s correct. But here’s what I also think: there should be large bookstores devoted to picture books, MG, and YA titles.

Think about it. All the board and picture books. Regular reading hours. Puppet shows, even. Mix it with education. The line of educational books and nonfic (especially parenting nonfic) can stay. Expand the shit out of the YA sections.

Interestingly, I just got a client who is launching a YA-specific bookstore. I’m doing her logo.

This is the future of bookstores. What do you think?

Here’s a list of independent kid bookstores in San Francisco, btw.

10 Things about Sierra and 2016

Every year, I try to do these 10 things posts. For me, it’s an exercise in looking back. But I flat out failed to do on in 2015. I don’t know, I guess I didn’t think there were that many wonderful things happening. It was a pretty stressful year. And 2014’s post only had 8 things. This year, I could only come up with 5  big ones. Better 5 than none. Let’s get to it, shall we?

1. I went to Spain.

This is most definitely the best thing to happen in 2016. What a trip! I fulfilled several high-end bucket list items on this trip: had press credentials for Atletico Madrid, saw a UEFA Champions League match (a semi final, no less, with my own beloved Atletico Madrid no less, against a last-ever-Pep-Guardiola-at-Bayern, no less), and visited the Prado.

It was a ridiculous trip and we had such a good time and it was definitely the highlight of an otherwise insane year.

2. I found planning nirvana.

This can’t be understated. In fall of 2015, I picked up a Day Designer at Target and my world changed. By January 2016, I had obtained a flagship Day Designer and pens and it went from there. I am now firmly rooted in the planner scene–because it works for me.



3. I opened an Etsy shop.

My Etsy shop sells stickers, mainly for planners, and definitely for writers. It’s an incredible niche market, but wow, what a great thing this has turned out to be! I had no idea it would turn into the regular business that it is, and I’m so excited to see what 2017 brings with the shop.

Visit the shop!

4. I started a newsletter.

Roni Loren, whom I blame for quite a lot of things, told me I should start a newsletter. This was shortly after I opened my Etsy shop, which now that I think about it, can be blamed on her, too. I said, Are you kidding me? Who’s going to want to hear from ME in a NEWSLETTER? She said, “You’d be surprised.” And I was. I couldn’t believe it when people started subscribing. I try to send the newsletter out once ever two weeks, and it’s been so much fun. I love putting it together. In it, I put freebies, coupons, and news of the latest stickers in the shop, plus any news with me.

Subscribe to it here.

5. I became a reader for an agent.

That means I read requested manuscripts, and I love it. You can read about some of the wisdom I’ve gained about it here.




* This post contains affiliate links. That means that I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you) if you purchase something using the links in this post. All of the affiliate links I post are for things I have used myself and adore! (Click here to read my disclosure policy.) Thank you for supporting me!

Top 10 Books I Read in 2016

I loooove looking at my reading stats for the year. Goodreads makes it easy and fun by letting you do a yearly reading challenge. You get a nice badge 🙂

Every year I set a goal of 25 books, but this year, I wanted to surpass that. And I did, by one. 🙂  This year I read some truly incredible fiction, so here are my top ten reads of 2016, in order, with number one being the best book I read this year:



10. The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

It seemed like everyone was talking about this book last year and with good reason: solid high concept with literary bent. It’s a great family dynamics story about grown siblings who have a significant financial nest waiting for them when the youngest turns 40. Except the oldest, Leo, pretty much depletes the nest with a stupid action. What ensues is a lot of resentment and trying to pin down Leo while everything deals with what the loss of the money means to them. It’s a terrific sibling plot, and one that influenced some of my own plotting quite a bit.

9. Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm

This story is really interesting because it has a completely nonredeemable, awful main character. It;s a heist story but also a psychological thriller of sorts. It’s about the truly awful Grace, who is hiding out in Paris, and who we are told right away is frightened of her husband and his best friend, who are getting out of prison after three years. She’s in love with the friend, and (from Goodreads) “both men were jailed for a crime that Grace herself planned in exacting detail. The heist went bad—but not before she was on a plane to Prague with a stolen canvas rolled in her bag. And so, in Paris, begins a cat-and-mouse waiting game as Grace’s web of deception and lies unravels—and she becomes another young woman entirely.”

Grace is never redeemed, not quite, and the end is satisfying but also not. It’s a great read precisely because it’s so different. Highly recommend.

8. The Revenant by Micheal Punke

I really enjoyed this read, but strangely, I have zero desire to see the movie. Partly this is because I have a strange and inexplicable aversion to Leonardo Dicaprio, but also I think the lush picture I got in my head of the landscape isn’t one I want to change by seeing it. So this is a great story of revenge, but let me say this: the end was not satisfying in terms of revenge. If I am reading a revenge story, I want to see the revenge. And there wasn’t any. And that was the hugest let down ever. That said, the end clearly isn’t the story — it’s the journey. I think.

7. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This is an oldie but a great. I hadn’t read it but when I saw someone tweet about it with “it’s about a boy raised by ghosts and werewolves in a graveyard” that was enough for me. WHAT! I said. (This is what you want all high concept books to do to you!) I got it and loved it. And it’s pure Gaiman.

6. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Anything by Ann Patchett is going to be great, and this was weird but good. Not all that uplifting, really, but the excellence is in the detail, not the overall story. The story is about the lives of two families that change course drastically when one wife has an affair with the other husband. They split up their families and marry each other, but the reverberations of that on the kids and spouses are lifelong. Again, the beauty is in the details of the characters and scenes.

Cover design review: this pretty much wins the year. The iconic paper oranges so accurately sum up the book’s themes that they become a logo of sorts. It’s perfect marketing.

5. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

What a wonderful discovery this author is! This novel was excellent — pure, 100%, grade A excellence — and it was made more so by the illustrations Yoon’s husband did. I would name here what Yoon’s husband’s name is, but guess what? Yoon’s website DOESN’T MENTION IT ANYWHERE. It has a link to custom notebooks that he makes (drool), but no name. NO NAME. Not even on the book page! This is a website fail, guys.

Anyway, it’s a wonderful story and a great read. I don’t read too much YA but this one had me wanting to read more of it. Highly recommend.

4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This post-apocalyptic novel about the world after a massive disease wipes out most of the population is simply excellent. I adore a good post-apocalyptic novel, with The Stand by Stephen King being one of my all time favorites. This one is a hearty entry in the category, because you can’t simply tell the story of what happens after a population wipe. You have to tell the story of people, too, and St. John Mandel does that wonderfully. But her posits about things that would happen are inventive and realistic. A great novel, a great story, and a great concept. It’s definitely one of those books you need to read to add its information to your mental library.

3. Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

A wonderfully sweet novel in the WF category that defied some conventions. A thoroughly likeable protagonist, Cornelia, thinks she’s found the perfect man, only to find that love walks in one’s life in different ways. If you love the film Love Actually, as I do, this book is perfect for you. It was a refreshing read and I wondered where de los Santos had been all my life!

2. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Oh, I loved this. It’s about Nella, a new wife for rich Amsterdam merchant Johannes Brandt in the 1600s. And oh, does she walk into a new life all right. It would be interesting enough to read about what happens to her, but enter this amazing miniature house that Johannes gives Nella as a wedding present, and this kind of creepy but intriguing miniaturist, the person making all the wee things, starts sending Nella exact replicas of people and things and it’s super weird and awesome and this was just a fantastic book that I can’t stop thinking about! The book is well-researched and quite apart from the excellent story and characters, the setting was insane. I mean, I got such a good picture of Amsterdam and not just the way it looks, but the smells and the filth on the streets. Read it! It made me wish I had the brains to write such a story.

And finally….the number one book I read in 2016 was, hands-down:

1. A Man Called Ove by Frederick Bachman

This was such a wonderful, sweet read, and so well written. Bachman wrote it originally in Swedish, so his translator is to be hugely commended for capturing all the nuances of the tone. Ove is an older gentleman totally devastated by grief and everything he does turns into a hilarious prevention of his own demise. It’s sweet, loving, and incredibly inventive and I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It was also very humorous and I walked away from the book wishing I could write like this.


Monthly Review: November

monthlyproductivityprojLet’s get into it! (If you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, see this post on my Monthly Productivity project.)

This being the first month I have been able to report on progress, I have to say…ouch. Here’s what I was supposed to do in November:

This month’s general goals

Did do:

  • Prepare Etsy store for holidays, including make new holiday sample packs
  • Take a look at newsletter, review it in terms of design and info, and make adjustments

Did NOT do:

  • Set and stick to a client tracking schedule — ummmmmm, big fail on this one. But! That’s because I didn’t find a good way to do it.

Financial goals

Did NOT do:

  • Explore teaching a class
  • Stay at a fixed grocery budget per week (with no side trips for extras!)

Ouch! I didn’t do any of these! I think for December I need to calibrate my financial goals a bit.

Social media goals

Did do:

  • MSWL Academy free panel: Writers who Read for Agents – this was a huge success! I am so thankful this happened.

Did NOT do:

  • La Liga podcast – not my fault though
  • Publish 3 posts on the blog here – I posted one. ONE. Ouch.
  • Publish 2 posts on the Atmosphere blog – I posted NONE. Ouch.
  • Instagram: do #Rockyourhandwriting every day in November – I did most of these but missed a ton of days. That’s okay. I forgive me.
  • Instagram: do #Planwithmechallenge every day in November – flat out just didn’t do this after the first two days.

Here’s what I learned: don’t make myself do too much, or at least tie it to financial goals because otherwise, I’m just not going to do it. I’m too busy.

This month’s daily habit

Did NOT do:

  • Sugar reduction

Wow, yeah, I didn’t do this at ALL. Daily Habit fail!

Books to read

  • The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington – Read it!
  • The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling – Did not finish as library loan expired but I WILL FINISH!
  • Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – Read it! Loved it!!

I also read:

  • The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton and OMG it was FABULOUS!! This was an incredibly lovely read. Really delightful. Also! I hit my 25 book a year reading target! And I’m still reading! Yay!


Here’s what I listened to a lot in November:


December Goals


  • Christmas prep (cards, party, breakfast)
  • Do not DIY anything this year
  • Find time for myself and take a break from the madness
  • Find and stick to a client tracking schedule (notice this is carried over from November)


  • 4 goals that I’m omitting here but wrote down elsewhere

Social Media

  • Post about goal setting
  • Post December review
  • Post 10 things about Sierra annual post
  • Create freebies for newsletter

Daily Habit

  • Walk 5 times a week at least (this is a cheater one because I got a dog, so I have to BUT I feel like it’s still valid?)
  • Maybe just commit to stretching each day for 10 mins.

Books to read

  • The Secret Wife by Gill Paul
  • Clean Gut by Alejandro Junger MD


Dream Journals

dreamournalIt’s been a while since I did one of these Monday Planning Sesh posts, and I thought I’d share one of my newest planning uses: a dream journal.

After reading Arianna Huffington’s The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time and really starting to gain an understanding of the value of sleep in our lives, and especially for me, I wanted to start keeping a dream journal and I knew immediately I wanted to hand write it. I haven’t done that in years.

Ouch. Sleep 🙁

First, let me back up and say that all my life, sleep has been a slight enemy. I knew I loved it and needed it, but I never got enough because I was simply too busy thinking. Then children came along and I think anyone who has had a baby will empathize that no sleep is had whatsoever then. That was a long period of years without quality sleep.

But hand in hand with sleep is dreaming, and I’ve always been a very vivid dreamer. I got great story ideas from dreams, I’ve solved problems from dreams, and I’ve learned valuable things about myself from dreams. Arianna Huffington wrote, “Through our dreams, sleep opens up a pathway to other dimensions, other times, other parts of ourselves, and to deeper insights that lie beyond the reach of our waking consciousness.”

As well, she notes that our culture dismisses dreams as faff and unimportant–almost ridiculous. I know dreams can help you process negative emotions, and when you’re tuned into them and can identify what your brain is telling you through dreams, you can reduce anxiety.

When and how to keep a dream journal

There really isn’t a when or a how, although you’ll find plenty of that stuff out there. I simply started with my favorite journal, a Leuchtturm1917. I love these journals because of the fine paper, the feel of the covers, that the pages are numbered, and they lie flat. My current favorite are dotted journals — especially this one in berry — but I like the blank ones, too.

You can keep your journal however you like, though.  I find that because dreams fade, I need to write them down quickly and that’s usually just having my journal handy and a good pen. (I’m currently in love with Pilot G2 pens).

I recommend writing your dream down as soon as you wake up, but it all depends on how you sleep and what kind of chaos you wake up to. I often wake up to two shouting little boys, and sadly by the time I get my coffee and a moment to myself, the dream is gone. Nevertheless, that’s life, and I still write them down when I can.

If you keep a dream journal, I’d love to know about it, plus how it’s working for you.


* This post contains affiliate links. That means that I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you) if you purchase something using the links in this post. All of the affiliate links I post are for things I have used myself and adore! (Click here to read my disclosure policy.) Thank you for supporting me!

Monthly Productivity Project: November

monthlyproductivityprojA few days ago I posted about Belle Cooper’s Monthly Productivity Project, which is basically naming and organizing your month and then doing a check up on it. The blog is a good place to do this.

So without further ado, here are my goals for November, slightly generalized for public consumption:

This month’s general goals

  • Prepare Etsy store for holidays, including make new holiday sample packs
  • Set and stick to a client tracking schedule
  • Take a look at newsletter, review it in terms of design and info, and make adjustments

Financial goals

  • Explore teaching a class
  • Stay at a fixed grocery budget per week (with no side trips for extras!)

Social media goals

  • MSWL Academy free panel: Writers who Read for Agents
  • La Liga podcast
  • Publish 3 posts on the blog here
  • Publish 2 posts on the Atmosphere blog
  • Instagram: do #Rockyourhandwriting every day in November
  • Instagram: do #Planwithmechallenge every day in November

This month’s daily habit

  • Sugar reduction, somehow. Dude, the big holidays are coming and I am sugared out. It is SO bad for me and I need to get a hold of it before I put on 25 pounds by January!

Books to read

  • The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington
  • The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
  • Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Once I have more than one month under my belt, I’ll add the next month’s goals, but those don’t yet exist as I’m trying out this system.

Monthly Productivity Project

monthlyproductivityprojI have to say, I’ve been enamored of lists and charts from a very young age. One of the best Christmas presents I ever got was my very own set of office supplies, so I didn’t keep stealing my dad’s. That being said, I didn’t know a heck of a lot about the best ways to be productive.

I’ve certainly come a long way since starting to use paper planners. But another area where I wasn’t quite up to speed was the client organization department. I felt like I had to keep everything in one binder, everywhere, and partly that was because I had a very small office–just a nook in the kitchen. But now, I have a larger office with actual bookshelves and I can spread out to do what I want.

And what I want includes all kinds of wonderful productivity tools, like the Monthly Productivity Project started by Belle Cooper.

Here’s what it is: a personal monthly review, often public, that helps you set goals and then keep on track with them. Or just report them.

Belle, whose September review is a great example, has the following sections:

  • This month’s general goals
  • This month’s daily habit
  • Time Spent Coding (Belle is a coder)
  • Most Played Music (I love this one)
  • Books Read (squee!)
  • Theatre and Movies (good for non-hermits, which I am not)
  • Goals for the next month
  • Next month’s daily habit focus

All of these things are good. I think the concept of taking these public is what’s particularly great, but here on my blog, I like to do recaps for myself because sadly I’ll forget otherwise. A look at my categories for the “each month” tag reveals that I stopped using that in 2014. Gah!!

I think I was just waiting for a better system for which to capture this information (this is the case with much of Belle’s tips– she’s got terrific organization systems!) I could write these monthly goals down, too, in a bullet journal, and I might just do that as well.

I’m going to start with October — posting that next week.

What do you think about this?

You can join Belle’s mailing list for this specific purpose, and see what other people are doing. If this monthly productivity project is something you think you could do, let me know! I’d like to follow along. Leave a comment with your blog!


What I learned being an agent’s reader


Today my quarterly post at Writers in the Storm is up: 3 reasons your manuscript gets rejected by agents.

In it, I talk about what I’ve learned being a reader for an agent!

Also, if you’re here because of that post, hi! Hello! Hej! I have a few gifts for you — the following free plotting worksheets (PDFs):

savethecatbsthumb  5stepfinalethumb