Monday, November 5, 2018

10 Non-Writing Things You Can Do To Improve Your Writing

It’s National Novel Writing Month. Do you know where your brain children are? For novelists this can either prove to be a thrilling time of year or a daunting season. Whether you’re tackling your first novel this month or working on your fifteenth, it’s good to be reminded that becoming a better writing doesn’t always have to do with what we put on the page.

If you take a holistic and comprehensive approach to the task of writing, the results may pleasantly surprise you.

With that, here are 10 non-writing ways to strengthen your craft—to bring out the brain children.

Take a Hike
I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a million times, fresh air does more than merely invigorate. Nature has an unparalleled ability to recharge us, to reintroduce us our glorious surroundings, thereby reacquainting us with some excellent material.

When you’re a writer you have permission. And I’m not just talking about visiting coffee shops. Sure, you’ll glean some good tidbits there, but I’ve picked up dialogue at soccer games, outdoor concerts, even at the grocery store.

Read, Read, Read
No-brainer, right? Of course, consume novels. Books in the genre you write. But also read marketing materials, magazine articles, advertisements, flash fiction, memoir, non-fiction . . . you name it, get your hands on it and soak it up with your eyes. Absorb it all.

“Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.” Lisa See

Get Artsy
Paint. Knit. Garden. Find another way to get your juices flowing. There have been studies done that show the benefits of toying with new creative outlets. Brain activity increases. And who wouldn’t want more brain activity? Especially when it comes to brainstorming an ideal ending or adding a phenomenal character. So, go artsy. For novel’s sake.

Keep a Notebook Handy
I’ve crashed out of the shower in order to get my thoughts down on paper. I’ll never forget the advice a guest shared in one of my college writing classes (but I did forget his name). “Always keep a pen and paper nearby. You don’t want to risk losing precious material.” I carry a journal with me, along with the book I’m reading. A pen and paper are stationed on my bedside table. I haven’t figured out the whole transcribing in the shower thing yet. (This one isn’t writing-free, but it’s something that can be done besides actual work on the novel. Take notes about anything that grabs your attention in life—anything that strikes you.)

Become More Self-Aware
This’ll do more than improve your writing. It’s good life stuff. Learn how to say sorry after you screw up. Be honest about your imperfections. Laugh at yourself. Reflect. Take responsibility for your life. Let go of the unnecessary. Why does any of this matter? You’ll do your characters a favor. What you imbue into them will be an extension of what you’ve learned in your own life.

I spend a lot of time on Google. And I Google some pretty strange things. I also talk to people, professionals and slackers. I study people. Everything from the gestures they make to how they speak to things they choose not to share. I turn life and all of my surroundings into research. It has a way of making life infinitely more interesting.

Connect with Other Readers
I’m talking book clubs, baby! Fellow readers are invaluable. It’s in these environments that I learn from audiences what works and what doesn’t, what attracts a reader and what turns them off. I’ve lived here in CA for less than six months and I’ve already started up a book club of bright, engaging women. I made it a priority, and I’m so grateful for the group coming together.

Ask Questions & Stay Curious
I’ve said this before, too (that’s what ten years of blogging does) stay curious, my friends! People are wonderful teachers. You won’t ever fully know what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, but if you ask deep and thoughtful questions, you can have a better understanding. You could gain empathy and God knows, our world needs more of that + more active listeners. Not only is investing in others good for your novel, it’s good for the world.

Squelch Judgment
I’ll end on this note. So, you’ve grown more empathetic. Excellent. That’s only going to flesh out your characters more—give them permission to make big mistakes and to heal properly. One more step. Shut down the temptation to judge. How would this improve your writing? Characterization 101. Characters need your permission as their creator to fail. And fail in massive ways. They need to get hurt. They need to grow. They can’t grow if you are forcing them to be perfect from page one. Write honestly, but with a solid understanding that we all, characters and authors alike, desperately need to grow.

Good luck to all the novel writers out there. I’m rooting for you. Live a full life + get the words on the page.

*Be back on the 19th.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Going the Way of Climbing Bougainvillea

I’m worn thin. Bone dry. Hollowed out. Aching for our world. And I’m a mother of teenagers.

Every day I’m challenged to shift my way of thinking, to wind my thoughts around all that takes me toward the light. All that heals. Replenishes. And stretches me toward the hopeful.

Because moment by moment, I brush up against the broken and the brittle. We’re all so frayed and broken. Wilted. Withered. More than ever it seems the perverse is omnipresent. In my face. In your face. Glaring.

I take a deep breath, then another, and climb for the nourishing truth, sturdy-petals of promise, rising higher.

Like the bougainvillea, I need to train my focus and my thoughts, or else they’ll end up a drooping blob dusting the dirt. Second by second, I remind myself to attach to things worthy of my time.

Most days I want to hide my petals. I want to collapse to the ground in exhaustion, or raging protest, disenchanted and discouraged. I’d be lying if I said the way up were the easy path. But light is light. The sun draws me heavenward with its invisible strands of goodness. I go because there is no better alternative. On my way up I entwine with other flowers on the vine. Comforted in these times of chaos that we are—all of us—more alike than we are different.

I refuse to relinquish hope. I grow and push toward the light for this very reason. Because even in my brokenness and during my most inadequate seasons, I am not alone in this. The hard ascension. The light can be trusted above all else.

*Happy Birthday to my sister, Holly!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Books Are Better Shared

I felt absolutely spoiled attending a Books Are Better Shared event this past weekend. Not only did I glean from renowned authors, I also met a kindred spirit at the book event.

During his opening speech, James Mustich, author of 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die, shared that “a good book is the opposite of a selfie” in that books help us to better understand the world around us.

Casey Gerald and Lisa Brennan-Jobs discussed memoir writing on a morning “personal perspective” panel. Gerald explained his approach while detailing his friend’s story in his book. He felt it was imperative to consider capturing his story as a sacred text, to “use a scalpel, not a sledgehammer.” Brennan-Jobs said that she “needed fixed bones to hang her lyricism on.” It was thrilling to hear other authors explain why they do what they do. And how they go about it. I chatted with Brennan-Jobs at lunch about the complexity of writing memoir, in which she revealed how she didn’t really want to write a memoir, she was doing everything to avoid it.

The afternoon “social perspective” panel featured more acclaimed authors. Stephen Markley said that while writing his novel, Ohio, from four unique perspectives, he “wanted to imbue into each character all the humanity people give to you.” James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, and his latest, Katerina, stated that he wanted to write a book people could lose themselves in. I could relate one hundred percent when he told the audience he aimed to write books he wished other people would write, books that make him feel. Shobha Rao, author of Girls Burn Brighter, touched upon something that also resonated with me. She said, “As I’m writing, the only responsibility I feel is to myself. Once the book is public, Rao explained how there’s a shift and at that point the book now enters a public conversation.

I told a woman I saw in the hall (it was the restroom, actually) that my brain felt happy.

I go at this writing thing for hours every day. It’s a solitary task. To be around such esteemed and well-spoken authors who are also committed to going hard at the craft was a thrill to say the least. The combination of smartly prepared panel discussions, potential for author interactions, the appreciation and celebration of book clubs and book club reads, and finally meeting a new book friend made this event a complete win.

I’m going again next year and I even signed up to volunteer. Because talking books and being around people who enjoy discussing books has a way of invigorating me like little else can.

*Be back Oct. 29th

Monday, October 8, 2018


I’m deeply entrenched in editing one book, while writing another. These past few days I’ve found it difficult to put my thoughts to words.

I’ve decided to post a song that stirs up a lot of emotions I’ve been working through.

Look out for one another.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Talking to a Survivor of Sexual Assault

If someone trusts you enough to bravely confide in you about a sexual assault, your reaction matters.

I’ve been sickened in recent days, witnessing the great divide in our country, as well as some incredibly callous responses to women who’ve chosen to come forward about crimes done to them.

We can learn from these days. How we treat people always has and always will matter. This is not a political post. This is a post reminding people to tap into the dignity of what it means to be human—thoughtful beings on this earth.

I’ve gleaned the following from articles and from trying to live as empathetic and nonjudgmental life as possible.

Suggestions for When Someone Chooses to Share Their Abuse with You
  • Listen. In our share-all-opinions culture it may feel tempting to spout off the first thing that comes to mind. A story about your niece being attacked. Your opinion of the current President. Even linking their story to recent news stories. Don’t. Sit quietly and listen.
  • Don’t Question. Do not question whether they are telling the truth. And please, don’t ask “blaming” questions, i.e. what were you wearing, why were you out so late…? You are not the police. You are a safe person they chose to tell.
  • Acknowledge. That you see them. Look them in the eye (as comfortable for them). Assure them that you hear them.
  • Refrain from Judging. Validate their experience. Mentally put yourself in their shoes, but know you will never fully understand what it is to be them, to have gone through what they did.
  • Don’t Try to Fix Things. You cannot fix it. You will want to. You’ll be tempted to find ways to make it better for them, searching for words that will help. Kind and loving words may help, but you cannot fix the past.
  • Don’t Avoid Them. They chose you and this moment. Please don’t brush them off, avoid the topic, make light of what they’ve shared, or send them to someone else. You’re it. I can’t state this enough: how you react matters to them.
  • Support. Offer to report the offense together. Make it clear that you will remain a steady support.
  • Keep Confidences. But if they’re not ready to share the offense with anyone else, keep what they’ve shared safe. Do not gossip about what they’ve told you. This is their truth and they’ve trusted you with it. Prove to them that you’re trustworthy.
  • Share a Glimpse of Hope. During a low time in my life I heard the acronym for H.O.P.E. Hang. On. Pain. Ends. In as loving a way as possible, extend a seed of hope. Pain feels excruciating and hovers near unbearable at times. They will get through this. They will work through healing.

If I’m being fully transparent, I wanted to spend the past few days lighting a holy fire into some of the heartless things I encountered on social media. Insensitivity. Light it up. Chauvinist ideology. Light it up. Divisiveness. Light it up. Misguided ignorance. Fan the flames.

But I decided to spend my time privately reaching out to, thinking about, praying for, and investing in those I thought might be re-traumatized by recent events in the news. I let my healing friends know how much I love them.

We have a lot of choices to make about how we spend our short time here on earth. I devoted my time in recent days to speaking love into the lives of some of the bravest women I know.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Which Kind of Flower?

The other day I had fun contemplating which type of flower I’d choose to be . . .

A flower in all its burgeoning glory, blossoming with vibrant petals.

                       (from our yard in CT) 

 (from our yard in CA)


A flower or its petals pressed between the pages of a favorite book, enduring with significance.

I decided on the one closest to the words.

How about you? Which type of flower would you choose to be?

Monday, September 17, 2018

Drawn to This

I'm excited to begin edits on one book as I continue to write the first draft of another. Needless to say, I have my hands full. So does this guy. Check out this video my mom sent me recently. I have such a rich appreciation for people who see potential where it's often easily missed.


10 Non-Writing Things You Can Do To Improve Your Writing

It’s National Novel Writing Month. Do you know where your brain children are? For novelists this can either prove to be a thrilling time o...