Category Archives: Writing


I Am Only a Conduit

I keep a series of sketchbooks as my writer’s notebooks, where I jot down thoughts and ideas and quotes. I have just a few more pages of notebook #8 before I’ll be breaking in a new book. One of the first things I write in each book is this summary of The Four Agreements.


It may not seem like a set of quotes related to writing, but for me this is fundamental. Decreasing the background baggage and learning to communicate more clearly makes it easier to be a better writer.

With regards to number 2, Don’t Take Anything Personally, I learned that one best from a sketch artist in the book An Illustrated Life (I can’t remember which artist in particular, but I loved that book!). He told a story about sharing his sketchbooks with anyone who asked to see them. Every person he ever shared with would look at his sketches, and then find a way to talk about themselves. He said he realized that people bring so much of themselves to the art that it’s not really “his” art once it’s done. I try to keep that in mind when I’m writing. I may be expressing one aspect of myself and my interests, but anyone who reads it is going to take what they need from it and ignore the rest.

I’m nothing more than a conduit.


When the Package is the Message

A family member called me today with a special request: she wanted to buy a copy of my book and have me autograph and send it to someone. I was more than happy to oblige, of course, so I wrote a short note in one of the books and was preparing to package it up. Then I wondered if I should also send a separate letter of some sort, something to encourage this person or say something extra. My husband walked in while I was pondering this, and after a moment, he started laughing.

“You don’t need to write a separate letter. You already wrote the letter. The letter is 200 pages long!”

I never really thought about my book that way, but I like it. I’ve always liked writing ridiculously long letters.


Beginning Again

I’m back to the fuss of a first draft again. It’s funny, because I have a little déjà vu about all the weird feelings I get when I start something new. I know I’ve felt exactly this anxious before, but that doesn’t mean I’m not feeling it again.

I do have one great thing going for me this time: I know what my different drafts feel like. I’ve been through it enough times to know that I probably won’t have an actual structure until the third rewrite. Ugh. That sounds like so much work! Why can’t it be perfect the first time I write it?

At the same time, it’s fun right now. The first draft is so fun. There’s no voice to stick to, no locked-down POV, no chronological structure to limit my scenes. I can write about a thing that happened five years ago or something that will happen in two weeks. So what? I can describe a place that may or may not even show up in this book, just because the act of writing about it helps me see the world a little better. I can spend half the first draft with a character that doesn’t have a name, or a character that doesn’t even belong in this book.

I know it’s going to be like this in a few months when it’s time for the rewrite:

by Yusuf Toropov


… but for now, I’m having fun with it. It’s fun to be in a fantasy world again. I’ve been writing non-fiction for almost two years, so my only real fantasies were that I brushed my hair every day. Ha. Now, I get to talk to imaginary friends and travel a new world and find out all the secrets that only the characters know.

Have I mentioned it’s fun?

Ask me again in two weeks and I’ll tell you it’s a slog and that I want to tear my own eyes out. I know how this goes. I’ve done this before.

I found this quote in one of my writing/sketchbooks today. I thought it was apropos:

Todd Henry quote



What are you working on these days? Anything new and exciting?



The Weight is Lifted

Five years ago, I watched a friend struggle with self-doubt and fear. She had written a novel. A good novel. She had edited that novel several times. She had been to workshops and conferences. She had an author website. But she never actually sent the manuscript to anyone.

There was a group of us, a “Creative Cluster” if you will, who met to talk about our projects and get encouraged and inspired. We started setting goals together. This friend set a deadline for herself to send the manuscript to an agent. She knew which agent. She had the manuscript. But somehow, she never sent it.

It’s five years later and she still never sent it.

Watching her go through that, I made a promise to myself: I would put a book out by the age of 35. I would not be in my late 40s, still wanting to be an author but too afraid to take the baby steps necessary.

That promise proved a heavy weight.



For the next three years, I wrote religiously. I wrote and read and studied and practiced. I wrote several novels, a few screenplays, a dozen short stories, and hundreds of pieces of flash fiction, but I didn’t feel like I was getting there. I had a few pieces published, and a lot more of them rejected, but I didn’t have a great novel in me.

I shifted gears to work on a project for a friend: I’d been mentoring several friends through the process of beginning homeschooling. Kind of a niche subject, but definitely a pet topic of mine. I started gathering all the essays I’d written and all my best advice to write a short book for my friend.

Within a few months, it became obvious that this little side project was going to get bigger. It had to be done right. I had to make it real. It was weird to me that I was writing nonfiction (and about homeschooling! Come on! I’m a spec fic writer!). But I kept keeping on.

While writing the 3rd draft, I turned 35. This was not supposed to happen. I was supposed to be a famous author by then! But I knew I was getting close, so I kept working. I hired an editor, which gave me a clear deadline. I started talking openly about working on the book with friends, who took it on themselves to watch my children so I could work. This was awesome.

Then I set to work on the self-publishing process. It took about 6 weeks, from edit to finish, but it felt like years. It was hard. I cried a lot. I got frustrated. I doubted myself. I loved myself. I hated the book. People read the book and loved the book, so I loved the book.

I’ve had no energy the last few weeks. I’ve felt clogged, honestly, like my brain wasn’t working right. I couldn’t sleep. I’d get up in the middle of the night to work on formatting or cover work or category research. I was ill. I didn’t care about food. I just obsessively worked at getting this freaking book out into the world.

Yesterday, I launched the book.

me with my book!


The most amazing thing of this whole process? I almost immediately felt human again. I had forgotten I’d been carrying the weight of that promise for five years. FIVE YEARS! And it’s over now. Yes, I have more books planned (specifically a middle-grade sci-fi that’s been on hold the last few months). But I’m really going to enjoy just being a person for a few months.

So, that’s my story. It was hard and scary and it sucked sometimes, but I can honestly say I did the best I was capable of at the time, and that’s a big thing to be able to say. So… yay me! That is all.


How I Fight the Creative Resistance

The closer I get to finishing my book, the stronger the resistance gets. I am Frodo, crawling up Mount Doom, the weight of my precious book dragging on the ground beneath me.

I’ve been working on writing the ending. I’ve been saying this for the last several weeks. I’ve been saying it since the edited portion of the book was sitting at around 30,000 words, and now I have 50,000 words that are completely locked down. I honestly think I have 5,000 or less to go. I’m nearly done.

And when I’m done, I’m going to burn it.



This is the most common thought I hear whispered in my mind. Burn it. This voice has progressed in violence over the course of the 18 months I’ve been working on this thing. It started by letting me know the book probably wouldn’t get finished, but that was okay. Then it let me know that writing a book was really hard, and maybe I wasn’t cut out for it. Then it started in on some character defamation: Who are you to write this book? Why would anyone want to read something you wrote? And now, as I near the end of it, the voice is starting to have a high-pitched panic to it. When you finish it, you must destroy it.

I know I’m not crazy. I know this is all part of the whole creating gig. I know it’s because I’m afraid. I’m afraid people will hate my book. I’m afraid people will love my book. I’m afraid I wasted my time writing it. I’m afraid that it will get big enough that I’ll have to devote more time to it after publishing it. There’s a lot of fear in this thing. But that doesn’t mean I’m weak or helpless, because I also know that when the fears are big, my courage is big. So I keep hitting the page. I keep putting words, one in front of another, into the places they belong. And I’ve hidden all the matches in the house.

In case you might be in the same place on a project you’re working on, here are a few things that have helped me keep pushing to the end:

1. Make a Promise to Someone You Care About

I wouldn’t have started this book if not for half a dozen friends who asked me to write it. One of them has continued asking about it every few months during this whole process. I keep her updated on my slow progress. As I’ve continued working, more friends have learned about this project. Now I have several people asking me about it. “How’s the writing coming?” If they ask in a large group of people, I’m suddenly the local celebrity who is working on a book, and now I have an extra dozen people waiting for it. Still, when it comes to writing the end, it’s because of my friend Sarah. It’s because she wants the book. Maybe she even needs it. I don’t know, but I’m writing it because I promised her I would.

2. Have Someone Else Set a Deadline for You

In my last post, I talked about the reasons to hire an editor. One of the best things that has come out of this decision for me is the deadline.

I love deadlines. I thrive on them. Rather than sending me into a swirling panic, they give me a laser-sharp focus. I know exactly what I have to do to meet this deadline. However, if I try to set my own deadlines, they don’t work. Last Fall, I told myself I would have the book finished by the end of the year. Did I? Nope. I did get the third draft done around that time, so it wasn’t all bad. My next deadline was in April. I was going to have it published. Did I? Nope. Not even close. Now, I have to have this book to my editor on October 1 to squeeze it into her busy calendar. Am I going to finish it? You bet your sorry deadline-avoiding tail I am. I wouldn’t let my editor down.

I’ve discovered there’s a trick to this: you have to be more afraid to fail the deadline than you are afraid of the book. And if you’re not afraid of the book, what in the world are you writing it for?

3. Celebrate Early

Now, this may not work for everyone, but I have this psychological thing about making stuff even. I don’t like to do things if I haven’t earned them (which explains a whole lot of my issues, but that’s a post for another day). I tend to be stingy with myself. However, I decided several months back that when I published my first book, I would get a tattoo.

That might not be what everyone else plans to do, but I had a little stick figure tattoo that I got during college that has needed to be covered up with something lovely. I had it in my head that I’d publish the book, I’d go out to celebrate, I’d have a drink or two, and I’d get some fresh ink. I’d even started asking around to find out where I might get it done locally.

Then an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime thing happened. A tattoo artist was coming to visit a friend of mine and had agreed to set up a private tattoo session. He only had a few openings, so if I wanted one, I had to get on the list, fast. This was a month or so ago. It was one of those moments, similar to the one when I booked my editor. “This is it. You have to take this opportunity.”

I got that tattoo done last Sunday. It’s beautiful. The artist was amazing. He gave me a full color rendition of the owl and feather quill my brother had designed for me. It’s a tattoo that declares I am a writer, and it’s big, and it’s colorful, and it’s not going away.

It’s also the tattoo I was supposed to get after I finished this book. So now I have this debt weighing over me, and it’s visible (and kind of itchy and peely at the moment). I have not finished the book, but I already accepted my reward. The world is out of balance. I must rectify this. I have to finish.

4. Tell Everyone You Know

This goes along with the first tip, but it’s a little different. The first one is about someone who actually wants to read my book. This tip is about all my friends and family who probably won’t read it, but love cheering me on anyway.

I hate being embarrassed. I know there are a lot of writers out there who don’t deliver. I know there are a lot of times I haven’t delivered. How many times have I told people I’m writing a novel or a screenplay? And I was! I wasn’t lying. But for the first time, when someone asks what my book is about, I can tell them. I can pitch it to them in a few sentences, answer any questions they have about it, and then accept any of their ideas or criticisms without feeling like I’m being a total poser.

This is the thought that keeps me away from lighters in the house. Because I know, thanks to the huge number of people that I’ve talked to, that this is a good idea. It’s a good book. It’s something people want. It’s something people might need. It’s from a perspective that’s a little different. And the more I talk to all of them, the more courageous I get about it.

So when I hear that voice telling me to burn it, I think about my friend, and I think about the fantastic editor I have waiting for me, and I look at that tattoo I got in advance of all of it, and I tell that voice to suck it. Because this book is going to be finished within the next week and then put out into the world where I’ll have no control over it anymore. I hope it helps people.

Really? Wouldn’t you rather play video games today?

Shut up, Resistance. You’re dumb.



Five (Psychological) Reasons to Hire an Editor



Look at that red pen for a moment. Does the sight of it make you squirm? Are you having flashbacks to junior high, when a teacher handed you back the best paper you’d ever written with a hundred illegible scribbles all over it? Does the idea of red ink give you anxiety attacks?

Some writers see the word “editor” and freak out.

But if you are planning to make it as a writer, especially in the current publishing climate, I highly recommend hiring an editor. I’m not going to tell you all the great benefits of having your work edited. I’m sure you already know how typos and poor sentence structure can turn your 5-star plot into a 2-star dud on Amazon. I’m sure you understand that having someone else read your work can help you spot errors you couldn’t see, no matter how much you like correcting the grammar of others.

Today, I’m going to tell you why your writing will improve from hiring an editor before the editor ever touches your work.


Reason #1: It’s a Confidence Booster


I hired an editor in mid-June. I had been waffling about the idea for months. I knew what editor I wanted. I had been following her for some time on Google+ and knew that she worked on books similar to mine. She has a great reputation in the editing world. She’s the type of editor who sleeps next to the Chicago Manual of Style and geeks out about etymology. For many months, I knew that if I was going to hire an editor, she would be the one I wanted to work with.

For all those months I wished she was my editor, I never felt that I was good enough to be one of her clients.

One day, I saw a post by her that said she only had  two open slots left for all of 2014. This was back in June, when there was still half a year left to go. I knew I wanted to get my book finished by the end of the year. Suddenly, I had a choice to make. If I was going to have her as my editor, I needed to book one of those slots, and I had to do it fast.

When I contacted her, she seemed just as excited to work with me as I was to work with her. She had been following my progress, knew I was working on a non-fiction book, and said she looked forward to working with me. Well, then. That’s nice, isn’t it?

If you have an editor in mind to work with, don’t be shy about contacting them. They might be looking forward to working with you, too.


Reason #2: You Get a Built-In Deadline

I’ve been working on this book for 18 months. I have friends who expected a copy last summer, then at Christmas, then in the spring. But all you writers know what it’s like. I’ll write a book! Sure! Then you get sucked in to the black hole of YouTube, and you haven’t written a word for weeks.

catmarshy (1)


Maybe you’re more disciplined than I am. Well, good for you. I freely admit to needing some outside assistance.

Since my editor is booked through the end of this year and into the spring, I know my October 1 deadline is fixed. I know I don’t get to smudge this one. I know this is my one shot for this editor for this book. And you better believe I’ve spent every free moment working on my book since then. Well, beyond writing blog posts and dorking around on the internet for breaks, I’ve been working.


Reason #3: It’s Proof You’re a Real Writer

Up until now, you’ve told people, “I’m working on a book.” Neighbor kids think that’s the coolest thing ever (until you tell them what the book is about). Some of your friends might think it’s nice that you’re working on a book. But if you live in Southern California, like I do, and you tell people, “I’m a writer,” they say, “Oh, me too!” Everyone is a writer. It’s kind of nice, really. But at the same time, there’s this longing to be “a real writer.” Sure, I have some short stories published (doesn’t everyone?), but that’s as far as those conversations usually go.

But in this case, I have an editor for a specific project that I am completing in less than a month. And for some reason, I feel less defensive about trying to convince myself that I’m a writer now. Your threshhold for being a “real writer” might vary from mine, but being able to mention “my editor” in a conversation is just the kind of name-dropping I need to feel validated. Is that evil? Possibly.


Reason #4: You Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

willyWonka (1)

I’ve been writing as a serious hobby for over five years now. I’ve written four rough drafts of novels, three screenplays, hundreds of flash fiction pieces, and a dozen short stories. Some of them have been published. But I still feel weird when I talk to anyone who says, “I’m writing a book.” See #3. Sure you are. We all are.

By hiring an editor, I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I’m saying, “Not only am I writing a book, but I’m finishing a book, paying someone to help me clean it up, and then publishing it.”

This is the furthest I’ve been on this journey so far. It’s a stretch. I was happy to just be writing a book for all those years before. Now, I want people to be reading the book. Hiring an editor is the next step on that journey.


Reason #5: You Have to Step Up Your Game

Before I even considered hiring an editor, I was halfway through the 4th draft of my book. It started as a mush of disconnected thoughts that became coherent over two complete rewrites. I knew this would be one of my final drafts when I came to it, and I’ve been working on it with a polished final draft in mind.

However, knowing the caliber of editor I’ve hired and the other clients she works with, I realized I needed to step it up. Good enough isn’t good enough anymore. This better be my best, right now. For me, that’s not a paralyzing feeling but an encouraging one. I know I can do better. I know that I was slacking a bit before I hired her. I also know what I’m doing now is the best I can do right now. And I’m excited to see how my editor will help my work become even better.


There you have it. Five reasons to hire an editor. I still have a month left to finish this book and get it to my editor, but my work and my confidence levels have already improved just from making the step to hire her.

If you’re nearing the point of needing an editor for your work, and you have someone in mind, I highly recommend you contact them to talk about how you can work together. And if you’re not quite there yet, I bet you will be if you keep working. Happy writing!


In Which I Realize the Importance of My Writing by Losing It All

I just had quite the scare.
I was going to gather together a couple of my flash fiction pieces for a submissions call, so I opened up my Writing folder on my computer.
There’s only one item in it — the book I’m currently working on.

I searched through my other folders and all four of my drives. Nothing. I have an entire folder full of prepared manuscripts that I’ve submitted — my best stories. I search for it by name. No results found.

I start retracing my steps. My husband built my desktop as a Christmas present. Shortly after that, we started preparing for our 1,000 mile move across the country. My old computer had a failing hard drive, so I pulled everything off from it in a rush. Obviously, I failed to retrieve my writing folder.

Cue existential crisis. Five years of writing. Gone. Thankfully, I love paper, so my best short stories are printed and in a folder. But not my flash fiction. Only one of my novels. None of my screenplays.

Maybe I’m okay with that. I felt that all that work was practice, after all. I know I’m a better writer now. But hell if the thought of losing ALL of that isn’t extremely painful. Besides, the work I did last November was good and I was planning on getting back to it when I finish Blueprint Homeschooling.

Then I remembered that I used to do most of my writing on my netbook. I also kept my writing folder backed up there so I could work anywhere. I fished the netbook out of the closet and loaded it up, praying the whole time. I couldn’t remember if I’d accessed my writing via the network or if I really had duplicate copies shared across my systems.

I may have felt like crying when I saw it was all there. Not deleted. Not gone forever. All my craptastic writing still exists to remind me how far I’ve come. I’m relieved. And slightly mortified. Now this means I have to do things with those old stories.

I hope you all have backup systems in place, writerly people. And I hope you take better care of your stories than I do. I keep mine locked up in a cage in the basement, when they should be allowed to run free in the wild. Poor stories. I will make it up to them. I will love them and care for them and find readers to adopt them.

Do you have back ups in place? I’m certainly glad I was using Windows Live Mesh before it went defunct. I’ll be adopting better systems in the future!


Acceptable Encouragement

A few days ago, I was paid one of the highest compliments I’ve ever heard in my life. A writer who I respect and admire read through some of my work and then said, “I hate you. You’re too talented and you should have released a book already.”

That seems backward, I know, but it was big for me. And it started me thinking: why do I accept some forms of encouragement but not others? Why do I look at things like this ecard and think, “this is relevant to my experience”? 



I have a few extended family members who have always seemed to be encouraging. I always hear about them bragging about me. Usually, they’ve exaggerated my talents and they’re quite fond of introducing me to people with those talents attached. “Let me introduce you to this fabulous person. She’s a concert pianist. She’s also a published author.”

Now, I PLAY the piano, and I’ve had a few pieces of flash fiction published, but I’m already uncomfortable at an introduction like that, because it’s dishonest in its intent. And here’s the thing I’ve realized about it: it’s all about the person introducing me. I have become an object at that point — a talented freak to be flouted at dinner parties. Have these people heard me play the piano? Probably. Have they read any of my work? Probably not. And now I have the uncomfortable job of letting them all down lightly. “No, I’m not a bestselling author. No, you’ve never heard of me. No, you’ve never read anything I’ve written. No, I’m really not that special.”

The most humiliating berating I ever got was at the hands of one of those family members. After hearing I had changed majors in college, he told me, “You are a failure to this family. You have made a liar out of me. I’ve been telling all my friends that you would be a famous composer.” Well, no, you made a liar out of yourself by trying to predict the future. But do you hear what’s at the heart of it? This person couldn’t care less about me. All he cared about was that he could somehow attach himself to my possible success. He was already profiting from it by bragging to all his friends about how special and amazing I was. Was it nice that he had confidence in my talents? Maybe. Maybe not.

That particular brand of encouragement, repeatedly consistently over my lifetime, has been more harmful than good. I consider it discouragement, really. I tend to feel uncomfortable around the people doing it, and inside I’m usually thinking, “I am not your performing monkey.” I often do less work after that, rather than more. I don’t want that kind of attention.

So now, when someone compliments me, I tend to shy away from it. I might say thank you, but inside, I’m suffering an odd mix of emotions. I don’t know your intentions. If you tell me I’m good, I know I could be better. If you look at me with those “Wow, you’re so talented!” eyes, I feel like a freak of nature. I don’t know if you’re going to start inviting me to parties just so you can introduce me as “this woman who does those amazing things I was telling you about.” I’d much rather hear that you like my work or that it inspired something in you. Better yet, talk to me about your own work or process, and we can build each other up to do our best.

Writing all this down is strangely therapeutic. I’m chuckling when I realize I’ve come to the conclusion that the highest form of encouragement for me is to inspire jealous hatred in the people I admire. Whatever. I’m just happy I found something that works. 

What encourages you? Do you remember a time when someone said or did something that greatly encouraged you?


Creative Ebbs and Flows

Hello (hello)… Is there anybody out there?

Several years ago, I decided that I would have a book published by the time I turned 35.

In April, that date came and went, and still I have no book.

Sometimes I set goals that seem to make sense at the time. They seem to be far away. They seem to allow enough time to do everything that needs to be done. But they don’t account for real life.

I like to imagine that if I were a full-time writer, I’d have all my ducks in a row. I’d leave the house, go to my creatively decorated shed (like Roald Dahl’s), and spend the day coming up with awesome things that would be loved by people around the world. However, when I have two hours free, and I know I should be writing, I do chores. I don’t know why. If I’ve decided I won’t write, I at least play video games or do something fun. But if I think I should be working, then I’m reorganizing junk in my apartment. I think it’s a form of self-torture by procrastination.

I’m on the 4th draft of a book now. I have beta readers sending me messages and asking when the book will be ready. This is a good place to be. But those last steps, which seemed so small a few months ago, are SO BIG right now. When in the world am I going to do all of this? I need a cover (I have a cover). I need multiple different formats for epublishing (once I get it typed in, I can do this with a few clicks). I need a website (got one), and a blog (started one), and a platform (got that, too), and, and, and, and…

What I really need to do is keep getting the book typed in. (I wrote draft #3 by hand.) But when I look at the notebooks filled with my chunky scrawl, it doesn’t seem that easy. Forget that I’ve been working on this book for over a year now. Forget that I’ve diligently written 3 complete drafts of it now, and it really is almost finished. Forget that I’ve put in over 150,000 words on it. It still feels hard right now.

I’m tagging this post naval-gazing. I apologize that you had to read it, but I really had to write it.


A Dangerous Man

I found this story lurking in one of my writing books, and did a little polishing to get it here. This is for #FridayFlash. I hope you enjoy reading it!


image by code1name at

Carl Murphy looked harmless, with his white socks pulled halfway up his shins and one hand in the pocket of his plaid shorts. Not even the well-worn Metallica t-shirt gave any indication of his true danger. When he walked into the dilapidated house, several people looked up to smile and wave. 

“Yo, it’s Murphy! What took you so long?” A man with stringy blond hair walked up and gave him half a hug, holding his cigarette at arm’s length.

Carl nodded a greeting. He didn’t even need to talk anymore. His strength was in being both charming and vague, attaching a wisp of personality to his constantly changing face.

“Here, man,” said another guy, this one sporting a well-trimmed goatee and a pair of greasy cargo pants. “We saved this one for you.” Goatee held out a small roll of paper, a fresh joint.

Carl took it with a smile. “Thanks, man,” he said. No one ever used names. It was part of the scene. In his mind, they were Goatee and the Scruff, but ‘man’ and ‘dude’ tended to get the job done. 

Carl took a moment to glance at the crowd. He recognized a few faces from previous gatherings, but not all. He wouldn’t feel bad for any of them, except maybe a few of the girls. The girls looked young, too young to be here, but old enough to know better. 

The Scruff shoved a purple lighter in Carl’s face. Carl smelled stale cigarettes and saw the yellow stains on Scruff’s fingers. They matched the yellow stains on the man’s teeth. 

“Fire it up.”

Carl looked at it, feigning suspicion. The Scruff leaned in close and half-whispered, half-shouted the words Carl was waiting for. 

“White Widow, man! There’s more where that came from.” Scruff lowered his voice slightly. “Pierce scored three pounds today. We’re gonna be rich!” He broke into a chortling laugh that ended in a painful-sounding cough.

Carl grinned, but not for the reason Scruff intended. Carl avoided looking at the door and kept his anticipation secret. As he waited for the imminent raid, he fingered his police badge quietly in his pocket.