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


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.

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.

Taking Time

college applications                 homecoming                            flag football                basketball             SATs   ...