Monday, January 14, 2019

Do Your Book a Favor



The world has become rotten at waiting well. It’s as though we can no longer fathom the concept of delayed gratification. We want it, and we want it now. Over two minutes standing in line, we grow fidgety and outwardly irritated. We even resent others if their line appears to be moving faster. I witness this behavior all the time lately when I leave the house. On the roads. In stores. Even at sporting events. No one wants to wait and we’ve all seemed to lose the ability to wait well.

As an author who’s gone hard at this writing thing for over eleven years, I’ve learned there’s great value in biding time. Not only does learning to wait well serve you as a person (teaching patience, priorities, and contentment in all circumstances), it’s also invaluable for the life of a book.

So much can germinate when you grant a book time to become all it’s supposed to. Plot has the opportunity to develop. Initial pages strengthen. Characters can take center stage or die off entirely. As a prolific writer who can tackle a rough draft in three to four months, I’m always keeping this in mind—the idea of allowing a novel room and time to grow. I remind myself I’m not in a rush. The book is not in a hurry. Just the other day a new beginning to my WIP snuck up on me. Because I’ve given this book room to breathe, it’s doing exactly that—breathing. Opening me up to an enriched, textured sense of all it’s to become.

Sometimes it helps to view my role as a writer and the novel I’m working on as a cuckoo clock. The bird announces the passage of time several moments throughout the day. Those are the high points. The debut release. The day you secure an agent. But so much of a writing career and a book’s life is what happens during those other minutes—the preparation. Some cuckoo clocks have music that plays leading up to and following the bird’s appearance. Others have turning water wheels and animated figures. No matter what features a cuckoo clock may possess, the guarantee is that there’s always important work going on (hands turning) behind the scenes. A lot of good waiting. Groundwork. A scene being set. An idea fermenting. Maturity taking root. Whether it applies to your growth as an individual or the development of your book, the moment of the big reveal matters, but equally significant is what’s happening during all those other seconds.

This industry will present plenty opportunities for you to wait. Wait well, and offer your book the same gift.

Monday, January 7, 2019

I Get to Do This



New year. New goals. Same calling. Same blessed calling. If you’ve visited here before, you may have sensed I’m a little passionate about perspective. The way we approach life has the ability to influence how content we are. In recent days, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about my vocation—my stick-to-it-ness regarding writing. Glenn Close put a powerful punctuation on my thoughts with her Golden Globes award speech last night.

“I feel what I learned through this whole experience . . . we are women and nurturers . . . we have our children, and our husbands if we are lucky enough, our partners, whoever,” Close said. “But we have to find personal fulfillment. We have to follow our dreams.”

I haven’t always devoted hours a day developing characters and reimagining plot twists. I’ve waitressed, answered phones, and been responsible for planning an event where Bill Gates was the keynote speaker. I’ve strategized marketing plans, changed diapers, and managed a waterpark. I hate waterparks…not sure what I was thinking taking that job. But I can assert, without a hint of doubt, my time dedicated to writing, building stories, has been the most fulfilling.

I get to do this. I get to wake up and take care of my kids, while simultaneously working out how to strengthen my main character. I get to prepare meals and put away shoes for the one hundredth time, quickly stopping myself so I have enough time to race and jot down the running dialogue in my head. I get to invent stories. Bring people to life. Hurt and help them. Transform them. Teach through them. Learn from them.

I get to open up a world all the while understanding that world will someday soon transfer from my hands into yours. There’s nothing in the world that compares to writing for me. It regenerates me. Rejuvenates me. It reminds me I’m alive and my life has meaning.

I start 2019 dedicated to the same blessed calling and I couldn’t be any more grateful. Because of my family’s support and so much more, I get to do this.

What do you get to do?


Monday, December 10, 2018

Paper Girl



Psst…there’s something I need to tell you about. Someone, actually. Her name is Cindy Wilson and days ago her book exploded on the scene. It’s called Paper Girl. It would make a fantastic Christmas gift.

Cindy was one of my first critique partners. We’re talking over ten years ago. I knew she had a gift then, and I celebrate her gift now as her debut book finds its way into the world. I cannot wait to read Paper Girl!

Here’s the blurb:
I haven’t left my house in over a year. My doctor says it’s social anxiety, but I know the only things that are safe are made of paper. My room is paper. My world is paper. Everything outside is fire. All it would take is one spark for me to burst into flames. So I stay inside. Where nothing can touch me.
Then my mom hires a tutor. Jackson. This boy I had a crush on before the world became too terrifying to live in. Jackson’s life is the complete opposite of mine, and I can tell he’s got secrets of his own. But he makes me feel things. Makes me want to try again. Makes me want to be brave. I can almost taste the outside world. But so many things could go wrong, and all it takes is one spark for everything I love to disappear…

Hooked me instantly. I’ve had the joy of cheering on lots of authors through the years, but there’s really something special about Cindy’s debut. Her loyal friendship and encouragement has enriched my life. That’s why I found this page so endearing…




It moved me to tears. Writer friends possess a unique ability to spur me on when the going gets tough. I’m grateful to Cindy, and I really think you need to buy her book.

*On a blog break until January 7th. Happy Holidays & Happy New Year!



Monday, December 3, 2018

Which Lie is Your Precious?




This time of year we entertain all kinds of frenzied thoughts. We reflect. We spend time being grateful. But we’re likely to do something far less noteworthy as well.

We lie to ourselves.

This isn’t news. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of self-help books addressing the lies we buy into, the fears we face, and ways to conquer the beasts within. Have you ever given much thought to the superiority of the lies we tell ourselves?

Much like Gollum and his precious ring, we hold one lie above all others. And you alone are able to identify which one that is.

Worthless. Incompetent. Unable to belong. Weak. Forever alone. Tainted. Ruined. Unlovable. Not enough.

Ugly little critters with bite. But there’s one you’re constantly drawn to. One that marks you. That follows you. That teases and tempts you to believe it’s more significant and truer than all the others.

Your precious. The golden lie.

I don’t know what it is about the holidays that emboldens this lie, but it glimmers brightest this season. Maybe it’s being around family. Or wanting everything to go impossibly perfect. Or the temptation to compare with everyone else. Maybe it’s because loneliness creeps in. Longing. An overwhelming reminder that nothing on earth is as it should be. And instead of feeling hopeful, we feel dispirited.

It’s important to identify your precious. Because now is when your lie does its best to dress up, to lure, to fool you into believing it’s not actually a lie at all.

Be mindful and intolerant of this precious lie this season. Stifle it before its shine deceptively seduces. Your sanity and your spirit will thank you.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Stretching Selections



Have I told you how much I love book clubs before? I know. I know. I gush. But there’s a reason for it. More than one. Dozens, actually. My latest spark of elation is steeped in the diverse book choices members opt to read.

People, I’m being stretched. And I love it.

Someday I’ll tell you how my current book club got piecemealed together. We’ve started strong and I’m seriously excited to sit down with the women to discuss one member’s first selection: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin. In full disclosure, I’m not sure it’s a book I would have picked. I love the concept. A mystical woman shares the dates four young siblings will die. Told from all four perspectives, we encounter how each sibling wrestles with this heavy information as they age. I’ve entertained the idea of writing a novel with a similar premise before. Some of the perspectives take me out of my comfort zone. But something kept happening as I got deeper into the pages. I kept wanting to talk about it. I babbled to my mom about it. I broached the theme of the book with my husband, which launched an intriguing conversation.

This book is masterfully written and it is an excellent book club selection. Why? Because I’m dying to talk about it—to discuss the tension between nature vs. nurture, fate vs. free will. I’m eager to hear what the other members of my book club think about the characters, their decisions, and how their lives unfolded.

The Immortalists might not have been the first book I’d gravitate toward when it comes to choosing our next read, but I’m so glad it was someone else’s first go-to. Because it’s doing what all my favorite books do—it’s growing me. I think of life differently because of this read. And that is just one of the bounties of book club.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Permission



Tis the season for giving myself permission. Permission to let go, to relax, to unplug, to rearrange and reorder my thoughts . . . permission to surrender. When my heart is invested in something I have a tendency to be freakishly disciplined. Though not a perfectionist, I can be ruthlessly hard on myself. With my bent toward intense commitment, I’ve had to teach myself there’ll be times, seasons even, when I need to pull back, reassess, moments to catch a breather.

Here are just a few things I’ve intentionally chilled out about in the past in order to maintain my sanity.

Leave the dishes for morning (when I have more energy anyway).
Dry shampoo is my friend.
Shop online.
Turn off the news.
Drastically cut down on social media time.
Step back from writing in order to plot & brainstorm.
Allow my kids to take occasional breaks from activities. Encourage unplugged downtime.
Write out my priorities.
Dust? What’s dusting?
Skipping an occasional blog post.
I don’t go nuts with Christmas d├ęcor. 
Wear my pajamas all day.
Wear the same outfit multiple days in a row.
I take at least one or two days each year to shut out the world and get lost in Netflix shows/or movies.
I read between chores.
I’m inconsistent with sending Christmas cards. Some years I send them. Some years I don’t.

Who are the Joneses anyway? The only comparing I want to do is with who I was a year ago, ten years ago. My hope is to constantly strive toward becoming a more loving and understanding individual. Checking boxes and keeping a jealous eye on my neighbor or that certain online account won’t get me there. There’s infinite freedom in letting go. In taking the chokehold off life, inviting in the wonders of a life lived untethered to comparisons.

I’ve moved to two new states in the past few years. I’ve come to respect the wonderful blessings that result when I give myself permission to go easy. I’m endlessly going hard after the things I love. In this stretch of life this mostly encompasses taking care of my family and working on my craft. It’s a treat to take a step back from the pressures I’ve built in my mind of how all is supposed to look. Images of a perfectly dressed holiday table with the dog pleasantly seated beside. As opposed to a throw together hodgepodge of traditional family dishes and random foods I know my kids will eat, as the dog is two seconds from devouring a turkey leg.

When I go easy, I allow life to remind me of how simple and sweet it can be.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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.

Eavesdrop
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.

Research
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.

Do Your Book a Favor

The world has become rotten at waiting well. It’s as though we can no longer fathom the concept of delayed gratification. We want it, ...