This past weekend I attended my first ever writers’ conference. #MSCWC was a huge blast in Collierville, Tennessee.

Friday

I was a bundle of nerves at first–no surprise there–but I am so deeply glad I didn’t let that stop me. I drove down on Friday after dropping the kids off at school, which left me a few hours to relax in my hotel. I’d brought my laptop and everything I would need to do a little writing on the WIP, but I was too keyed up to focus. So instead, I flipped on the TV and painted my nails.

Tim and Al from ABC's "Home Improvement"

(Funny side note: I couldn’t figure out how to change the channel. The hotel was undergoing renovation and the floor must have just been opened back up for guests, because the remote was still in plastic packaging with no batteries. I didn’t want to call the front desk to send someone up to program the remote {because Stranger Danger… I mean, honestly. Doesn’t that sound like the beginning of a horrible story Keith Morrison would narrate?} and there only seemed to be a single power button. When I turned it on, it was tuned to CMT. So I watched two and a half hours of that old Tim the Tool-Man Taylor show. And then when I was leaving the room and trying to figure out how to turn the television back off, I discovered that the single button controlled volume and channel, too. Ay yi yi.)

The Friday evening event was a meet & greet, and the whole way there I prayed that I’d meet at least one other person who was new and nervous so we could help each other out. And isn’t God good? That’s exactly what happened. I sat with a table of ladies and as we chatted, I hit it off with a new friend who writes cozy mystery!

Cake displaying "God's Plan, My Pen" at MidSouth Christian Writers' Conference

If I go back next year, I’ll know not to eat dinner right before the meet & greet, because they had a lovely spread of food (including this beautiful cake, which had a screenprint of the theme artwork by one of the board members) and I was too stuffed to eat a bite. I’ll also try to remember to take more photos! Afterward, I went back to my hotel for that rare luxury in a busy mom’s life: peace and quiet and a full night’s sleep.

Speaking of sleep: this was so amazing. Is this everywhere now, and I just need to travel more? The hotel had a white noise machine built right in on the nightstand. Genius–especially since there was a train

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Today I’m participating in the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. Click the image below, or follow along the list at the bottom of this post, to follow other insecure writers and read their responses.

This month’s prompt asks, Whose perspective do you prefer to write from: the hero/protagonist, or the villain/antagonist?

My fiction is centered around realistic women who face everyday obstacles. So far, I’ve only written from the heroine/protagonist’s perspective — because my characters aren’t going up against actual bad guys. There are no cloaked witches or creepy villains or bands of dragons or invading hordes of aliens to defeat. Most of the women in my stories have faced their biggest antagonists in the form of circumstances to overcome and misbeliefs to correct.

Maybe someday I’ll craft a novel where the main character faces down an external antagonist, but right now I’m really enjoying exploring the ways women can be our own worst enemies.

Have you ever heard Andrew Peterson’s song, “Be Kind to Yourself?” (That song never fails to make me cry, for one thing, so go download it to your phone and add it to your Spotify playlists.)


There’s a line that asks, “How does it end when the war that you’re in is just you against you against you? You gotta learn to love, learn to love your enemies too.”

See, I think there’s something inside all of us that longs for stories about defeating lies and overcoming the circumstances that tell us we can’t or won’t or don’t measure up

That’s how my life feels. My enemy — my antagonist — isn’t a scary monster or a criminal bad guy. It’s my anxiety, my anger, or my lack of faith. It’s my fear in the face of a diagnosis or the way I react to past traumas. And I have a hunch I’m not the only one. What’s more, I have a hunch that the way I’ve battled those enemies — the lessons I’ve learned — would resonate with women all over the world.

So that’s what I write. I hope & pray that my stories, whenever they hit the wider world, will be uplifting and encouraging because of the way they speak to the “villains” we all face.

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How on earth does a gal keep a big house looking (and functioning) mostly-organized most of the time?

It’s all about rotation of effort, y’all.

If I went through my house trying to organize every nook and cranny each and every week, I’d be mad and exhausted and I’d never be done. Furthermore, I’d probably get so overwhelmed I’d run away from home, and then you know how organized my family would be? 0%.

A few years ago, I saw a blogger’s 52-week organizing challenge and the women in my small group at church all agreed to try it. For at least eight months (I think, if memory serves, we fizzled out at the end of the year) we got a weekly email and worked on the area of our home the blogger had identified, and we texted each other before & after pictures–which was hilarious and motivating, for sure.

That group of friends wasn’t up for repeating the challenge, but I’ve stuck with that strategy ever since.

At the start of the year, I brainstorm a list of fifty spaces in our house that need to be overhauled. Yours will be unique because our homes and families are all so different, but here are mine in 2019:

    laundry area
    craft area/supplies
    wrapping paper
    cubbies
    my desk
    guest room closet
    pantry
    fridge & freezer
    kitchen: wall cabinets
    kitchen: island cabinets
    pets
    great room: drawers
    great room: bookshelves
    under-stairs closet
    buffet
    master bathroom cabinets
    first aid/medicines
    makeup/cosmetics
    my closet
    my dresser
    my shoes
    jewelry/accessories
    purses & luggage
    upstairs hall closet
    Susannah’s toys
    Susannah’s closet
    Abigail’s Toys
    Abigail’s Closet
    Jonas’ Room
    Jonas’ Closet
    rec room: books
    rec room: movies
    homework nook
    upstairs bathrooms
    garage: niche
    garage: shelves
    workout area
    emergency preparedness
    holiday decorations
    home inventory
    recipes
    phone storage
    annual family album
    wills/legal docs
    addresses & contacts
    filing cabinets
    home inventory
    family calendar
    back to school
    Abigail’s baby book

So, a few things might have jumped out at you. Some of these are going to be QUICK & EASY. It should take me 20 minutes, maybe 30, to use a critical eye on my shoes and donate the ones that I’m not wearing anymore. Some of these make sense in certain seasons of the year (for example: the holiday decorations get organized as I use them; the address books gets updated when I send Christmas cards).

And did ya notice that my 7-year-old STILL has an incomplete baby book? Ahem. Yeah. She’s noticed, too. (It is true, that thing they tell you about how you’ll overdo it with your first baby and then perhaps fall a teensy bit behind with your third baby. TRUE as can be!)

The fact that it’s STILL on this list should make it clear that this is a tool, but it’s not magic. Every year, some of these are easy for me and some fall off the beam.

I copy this list onto small stickers, and then each week when I’m planning, I choose one organizational area to focus on for the coming week. If

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In my last installment of #OrganizeMe, I shared the way I block off my time each week to have the best chance at accomplishing all I want to. It’s the only way I’ve found to “fit it all in,” and even then –sometimes life happens, and it doesn’t “all” get done.

If you’re single, that might be all you need to get organized since once you master your own time, you’re set. But if you live with others –whether roommates or family– odds are, a big aspect of organizing your time revolves around coordinating the schedules of multiple people.

There are apps that some folks love for keeping a husband and wife (and even their kids, if they’re tech-connected as well) on the same digital page. If that’s the approach you’re looking for… sorry, you’ve landed in the wrong place.

I know, I know — we are each walking around with a computer in our pocket that has more power than what used to take up a while building. I hear you. I adore my phone’s GPS feature and even though I still break out my DSLR for special occasions, my phone’s camera has become my BFF❤️. HOWEVER, using the phone’s calendar/notifications/calendar-linking-apps just doesn’t work for me. My brain literally just loses information I type into my phone calendar.

But I have three kids (in 8th, 4th, and 1st grades this year) and three dogs and one general surgeon husband. We have plenty of appointments, activities, and obligations to keep track of. This is what works for me:

An Erin Condren Life Planner open to February 2019 is shown above a large wall calendar open to February 2019.

The open spiral-bound book is my Erin Condren Life Planner. (I’ve written about those before.) During the last week of the month, I sit down with my ECLP and a large wall calendar. This one is a 2018-2019 academic year that I ordered online. (Here’s a similar calendar.)

I carry my ECLP with me everywhere when I make appointments, sign the kids up for lessons or teams, buy entertainments tickets, and everything else that needs a date and time in our lives, so it’s chock-full of information about the upcoming month. If you’re comfortable setting appointments and reminders on your phone, you could use your phone calendar for this step of the process.

I transfer everything to the large wall calendar. Now the caveat: I like stickers. And I like to color-code with pens (orange for me, blue for Chris, green for Jonas, purple for Susannah, pink for Abigail, gray or black for whole-family). But hear me: you do not have to do anything cutesy to make organization work for you. Use a plain black ball-point pen if that’s more your style! The key to making this work is simply to put every time obligation in one place.

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Every year for the last several, I’ve kept a log of the books I read in my planner. I started tracking them one January when Abigail was a preschooler and I realized that I hadn’t read ANYTHING for fun in ages. I was in a rut — I read parenting books and breastfeeding books (I was a peer counselor for nursing mothers at the time) and Bible study books and that was it. I made myself a goal to read one fiction book per month that year. Not only did I hit that goal, but I got my reading mojo back!

As a kid, I used to check out book stacks as high as my little arms could stretch, pinning the top book with my chin on the walk out to our car. I’d devour them in a few days and beg my mom to go back to the library. (And repeat, ad nauseam.) After that first year making myself a reading goal, I was back, Jack.

Nowadays, I regularly read 60+ books per year. Some of those are parenting, Bible study or spiritual formation still. (I’m no longer a peer breastfeeding counselor, so that topic is off my shelf for now.) Some are craft books, as I try to expand my understanding and skill as a fiction writer. Some are fiction, some are nonfiction. I try to hit multiple genres and revisit old favorites for re-reads.

One of the awesome things to come from tracking the books I’ve completed is that it facilitates making book recommendations to friends. I love being able to tell someone to check out certain titles or authors — and before, I was prone to forgetting names. (It isn’t helpful to say, “Oh, Jane, you’d love this book I read last summer! It was about a woman. And there’s a dog in it. And, um, the cover is green. Good luck tracking that down!”)

Here are a few of my favorite reads so far this year, in no particular order. (There’s still a stack about 24″ high on my nightstand, and I usually get several books finished during the lazy days of Christmas break. I guess I’ll have to add those to next year’s list.)

1. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This author is a masterful at creating characters you’ll love –or at least, won’t be able to look away from, even when they’re making cringe-worthy choices. Evelyn is a glamorous, old-Hollywood star; the character conjured up images of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. There’s a bit of steamy scandal in this one, so if you prefer your books squeaky clean you might want to skip it. But if you do, go check out some of Reid’s other titles – they’re all pretty fabulous.

2. The Hideaway, by Lauren K. Denton

Ahhh. This book is sweet and Southern and full of family drama. I loved the setting, which is practically a character in its own right, and the intergenerational viewpoints are a blast to

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I wanted to share one of my favorite tools for organizing life as a mom: time-blocking. This approach has worked for me in so many stages of life – when I was a new stay-at-home with little kids, when I was homeschooling, and now as a stay-at-home mom with school-aged kids who are away from the house for a few hours each day.

Time-blocking is a way to give yourself a routine that includes plans for all the major things you need to get done every week – without setting a rigid, minute-by-minute schedule. Here’s my current time-block layout for this school year:

YES, I know: I’m an ultra-nerd who likes color coding and owns a lot of pens and highlighters. You can do this with pencil and the back of your kids’ school newsletter, though. (Well, maybe keep the school newsletter on the fridge so you won’t miss the Book Fair. But you know what I’m saying. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Use what you have.)

I like using a legal pad because I can do 3o-minute time slots from the time I wake up until my kids’ bedtime. I write times down the left margin and the five weekdays across the top. (I don’t currently time-block our weekends, but you could if that fits your family!)

The first thing I write in is school drop off and pick up. These are the rails on the road of my kid-free time, so I need to respect the time they take. Next, I put in two hard and fast time commitments: my volunteer afternoon at my kids’ school, and the Ladies’ Bible study I joined in the fall.

Then I considered time for fitness. I have been attending a group fitness class, so it went on the weekly grid, and then I added two days to run and one day to bike.

On Wednesday, I typically try to schedule errands and appointments in the morning while our housecleaners are here working their deep-scrubbing magic. I like seeing them and chatting each week, but then I try to get out of their hair because they work as a great team and I don’t want to disrupt their flow. When I get home, the lovely clean house makes me want to tackle my chores – I stumbled across an Instagram friend who calls the day she manages all the home stuff that tends to pile up her “lady of the house” day. It cracked me up and I borrowed it!

That left me with Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons wide open. Thursday is Chris’ day off, and we don’t get hang out and go on dates every week – but I like reminding myself of the opportunity. So it’s penciled in for day dates! Then I have blocks on Tuesdays & Fridays I labeled for chore catchup (’cause let’s be honest, there’s always a few more chores to tackle!), hobbies, projects,

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Meet the author

MICHELLE NEBEL

I write uplifting women’s fiction woven with threads of faith, grace, and Southern hospitality. My blog is where I share a glimpse of my life, and I hope you’ll find the thoughts here encouraging!

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