My muse didn’t show up to work, but I still had to.

Ever had it happen where you have the time to write, you have the inclination to write, and the words literally won’t come?

This is how it happened to me the other week.

Monday: I have a half hour, I’m going to get some writing done! Or take a nap. Whatever.

Tuesday: I have an hour before my usual bed time, and no other work! I should get some writing done. I’ll open my laptop and…. why don’t I know what to write? This is frustrating. I’ll just read instead.

Wednesday: I have some time, I’ll get that laptop open and get some writing time in. Fingers… frozen… send… help.

Thursday: All right, muse, I’ve been waiting for you all week. Where the heck are you?

Upon reflection, here’s where I might have gone wrong: 1) Since I gave myself permission not to do any writing on Monday (not even 10 minutes), that was enough to make the habit feel onerous. 2) On Tuesday and Wednesday, I let my muse dictate whether I wrote or not, and she was still mad that I’d stood her up on Monday.

Thus, on Thursday I decided it was time to change things up. No more waiting for the muse to show up and help me finish writing chapter 37. I was going to entice her to come back to me by (surprise!) writing.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes the way to get back into the flow of writing is to just do some writing.

Since chapter 37 wasn’t coming, I switched it up. I did some editing in early chapters. I moved on to a later scene that needed fixing (instead of writing from scratch). Thursday was a slog, but by the time I finished I felt so much better.

And you know what? On Friday my muse showed up and helped me finish chapter 37.

Has this ever happened to you? How did you tempt your muse to come back? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Happy writing!

Image of typewriter by Elijah O’Donell on Unsplash
Image of crumpled paper in wastebasket by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Hints and tips for attending BookCon — 2018 recap

A friend and I attended BookCon (held in New York in early June) for the first time this year, and we learned a lot. Going in, we had no idea what to expect, so I’ve created a list that may help other first timers. Hope these hints and tips help you plan for your next trip to BookCon:

Do:  Ask politely. If you’re not sure where to go, what a line is for, or whether a booth is giving something away for free, just walk up to someone and ask. I was handed so many cool books, and met lots of nice people, just by asking what was going on.

Don’t: Be a jerk about it. There were some attendees who were so persistent that they ended up annoying the poor booth workers. If someone says no, whether because you’re too late for a giveaway, because something isn’t free, or because you need to go get in a line, politely take the no and walk away. Don’t make their lives hard.

Do: Leave room in your luggage. I literally couldn’t believe the amount of free stuff, including tons of book ARCs, that I took home.

Don’t: Get angry. So you weren’t fast enough to get in the line. Or the plinko game didn’t give you the book you wanted. Remember that, if that one book is important enough to you, you’re going to read it anyway, whether someone hands it to you for free, or you buy it, or you borrow it from the library. It’s just a book.

Do: Ask to trade. If you see someone with a book you wanted and a skeptical look on their face, offer to trade. You might not be the only one whose wheel spin didn’t give them the exact book they were wishing for.

Don’t:  Decide you’re entitled. Everyone is there for the same reason. Pushing in line, cutting, trying to force a trade, or shoving someone else down to the floor (yes, we actually saw a girl with a huge gash across her leg because she had been pushed down) to get to the book you wanted is never okay. You know better than that.

Do: Make friends in line. Again, everyone is there for the same reason, and you might be surprised how much you have in common with the people in line near you!

Don’t: Miss out on the panels. We met some people who were so focused on the free books (which, let’s be honest, they’re probably not even going to read all of them) that they forget there’s more to BookCon. Namely, the amazing panels, almost all free to attend with your BookCon ticket. It was so exciting to hear some of my favorite authors talk about the interesting worlds they’d created with their stories, or about where they get ideas.

Do: Plan ahead. Someone I met in line told me about an amazing spreadsheet, created by @DailyJulianne and posted on Twitter, that gave me insight into everything happening at every hour of the day. Using her lovingly crafted spreadsheet (which she provides for free to the public) saved me SO MUCH time. If you check out her spreadsheet next May to plan for BookCon 2019, be sure to buy her a coffee through the link on her tweet. It’s so worth it.

Don’t: Forget to have fun. On the flip side of planning, be sure to give yourself the time and grace to just explore. If you’re so focused on which line to get to at which time, or busy comparing how much free stuff you got to how much someone else got, you may miss out on the experience.

Happy Reading!

Remember to have already written a post about time travel panel. Check!

I went to BookCon 2018 in New York, and attended a bunch of great panels. Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey.

“Oh, so you’ve figured out how time travel works?”

I traveled to another dimension (maybe) to sit in on a great (definitely) panel all about using time travel in writing with some of my favorite (amazing) authors in the world — Deborah Harkness, Naomi Novik, and V.E. Schwab. Talk about a dream panel to discuss time travel!

Here are a few of my favorite things each of them had to say:

DH: Time travel in your story shouldn’t be a straitjacket, or a narrow set of rules. It’s funny when a reader comes up to me and says, about one of my books, “But that’s not how time travel works.” I like to reply with, “Oh, so you’ve figured out how time travel works?” Your goal is to transport the reader, and time travel is another way to do that, whatever way works best for the story.

NN: People have always been people, and you can have a lot of fun when you put people in situations that are unusual to them. No matter what era you’re writing about, whether you transport someone from the present to the past or the past to the future, it’s only the context that has changed. Humans, from the things we care about, to the things that pain us, to the things we fear, are shared, and therefore relatable.

VS: Physical location may be as close as we can get to time travel. We have records of what happened, but those are a very small slice of reality. There are stories behind why some things are still standing, and why others were lost, and a gravestone, building, or artifact that still exists today can be a small way to touch a piece of that history. But there is opportunity for a new story when we bring our own interpretation, context, and lens to the information.

There was plenty more, and the panel gave me a lot to think about as I am incorporating time travel elements in my own writing.

How about you? Do you have thoughts about how time travel should (or shouldn’t) be used in a story? What’s your favorite (or least favorite) example of time travel? Please share in the comments.

Happy time traveling!

Photo of tunnel by Ghost Presenter on Stocksnap
Photo of clock face by Tuur Tisseghem on Stocksnap
Photo of historic buildings by Tim Martin on Unsplash

What karate and writing have in common

Hint: it’s not about the fancy belts.

At my kids’ karate class the other day I realized that anyone can do karate. Even small kids. However, when the sensei showed off a nunchuck kata that involved multiple backflips, I also realized that it takes a good deal of discipline to do karate really, really well. Maybe more than the amount my kids want to put in.

Options immediately began to run through my brain.

  1. They’re never going to be as great as the sensei. Pull them out immediately. (Option rejected for being reactionary.)
  2. They’re never going to be as great as the sensei. Let them do whatever they were already going to do, even if it means only practicing once per week. (Option rejected for feeling like I’m not giving my kids enough credit.)
  3. Forget how good the sensei is. My kids could be better than they are. Convince them to keep working. Add an extra practice here and there. Set a reasonable goal and work towards it, and when they reach it, set another. (We have a winner! You already knew this was where this was going, right?)

Yep, work harder. Do a little every day. See big gains from small changes. Turns out all of the advice I’ve been reading about writing (rather than actually doing the writing) also applies to karate.


A few ways writing is not like karate:

  • Fancy uniforms and cool belts (sure, you can wear them while writing, but it’s not required)
  • The amount and variety of punches (yes, sometimes writing makes me feel like punching something, but I mostly don’t)
  • There seems to be less editing in karate (though you do have to do the same thing over and over until you get it right)

A few ways writing is like karate:

  • They both require discipline
  • They both take time
  • They are both a commitment if you want to do them well

The comparison solidified for me that if you think a thing is worth doing, whether it’s a sport like karate, a passion like writing a book, a goal such as losing weight, or a long-held desire like becoming a better polka dancer, you have to spend time doing it to improve. You have to keep doing it if you’re ever going to do it better. Period.

Any thoughts on similarities and differences between writing and karate? Check in with me in the comments.

Happy [insert a hobby/goal/passion of your choice]-ing!

P.S. Yes, if you’ve been following along this whole time you know this isn’t the first post where I’ve “figured this out.” The knowledge has been in me the whole time. I just have to keep reminding myself to stay motivated. Small things. Every day. 🙂

Photo of practicing on the beach by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash
Photo of karate master wearing a black belt by Leslie Jones on Unsplash

Ten minutes a day, every day.

I keep hearing advice that I can accomplish so many things in just ten minutes per day.

“Just ten minutes a day to a better body.”

“It only takes ten minutes a day to declutter your life.”

“Write for ten minutes a day to finally finish that book.”

At the heart of it, this advice is not wrong. The key, though, is that you need to do the thing for ten minutes a day, EVERY SINGLE DAY.

I’ve been trying to form a better writing habit, and have hit a few small roadblocks:

Aside: I love that this photo was taken by someone named Jamie Street.
  • Once I’m at the computer it’s not hard to write for ten minutes, but getting myself to sit in front of the computer can sometimes be a real struggle. I’m trying to combat this by scheduling the ten minutes at a time when I don’t have any other priorities, so there’s no excuse.
  • Ten minutes per day is not the way to see quick results. And it’s so easy to get discouraged when the results aren’t obvious. My advice to myself has been to just keep at it. Be patient. Build the momentum. Keep aiming for the ten, and sometimes I might find more time.
  • Also, ten minutes per day on one thing is relatively easy to find. Ten minutes per day for each of the things is much more daunting. A writing habit would be great, but so would an exercise habit, or a decluttering habit. I’ve discovered that I have to focus on one first or else I get scattered. I decided the writing habit is most important to me right now. Once I have that down, maybe I can add another ten minute per day goal.

How about you? Have you tried to form a habit by doing something for ten minutes a day? How’s it working out for you? Let me know in the comments.

Happy writing!

Photo of stopwatch by Agê Barros on Unsplash
Photo of road signs by Jamie Street on Unsplash

So you’ve been overrun with plot bunnies. What should you do?

I was listening to an old episode of A Way With Words, one of my favorite podcasts, and they mentioned plot bunnies.

(A quick aside: If you love words, definitions, etymology, and interesting stories, then you should definitely check out the podcast. The first time I listened to an episode I thought, “These are my people!”)

The podcast used the definition of a story that won’t go away until you write it down, and then it keeps breeding further story ideas. I’ve run across a number of slightly similar definitions for plot bunny (a story idea that gnaws at you until you write it, a story idea that keeps breeding, a story that hits you hard like a herd of wild rabbits, etc.).

What’s that, Thumper? You had a great idea? Do tell.

No matter how you define it, the a plot bunny is a really fun concept. It’s a convenient metaphor for the work your brain is always doing:  observing and thinking. Putting ideas together. Finding patterns. Taking interesting tangents.

So what do you do with your plot bunnies once they’ve begun breeding (and they’re trying to take over from the work that’s in front of you)?

  1. Many writers keep a notebook of ideas that they might use some day. From a low-tech pen and paper notebook, to a Google Doc, to an Evernote file, find a way to get those plot bunnies out of your head.
  2. When the plot bunnies begin to breed, write those down too. Whether it’s a spinoff idea, an idea for a sequel, or an idea that has very little to do with the first but is also compelling, keep it in your “notebook.”
  3. Eventually, whether it takes you a few days or a few years, get around to writing the story. It doesn’t matter if it’s for you or for publication. The key with plot bunnies is that they’ll keep gnawing until you get them completely out of your system.
  4. Understand that ideas are infinite. Someone else might “do your idea first,” (when you read Big Magic as I suggested in another post, you’ll find an amazing example of this), or you might even suggest the idea to a writer friend who might be better suited to take it on. If that exorcises that plot bunny for you, then all is well. More plot bunnies will be along if you just keep observing, thinking, and writing them down.

Here’s to hoping you have fun with your plot bunnies, but don’t let them distract you too much from your current project.

Happy writing!

Photo of fluffy bunnies by Chan Swan on Unsplash
Photo of alert rabbit by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

Why you should read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

This is not a review. It’s more like a love letter, in multiple parts, arranged like a book report. By the end, you’ll know why you should immediately read Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert’s book about creative living.

Why did I choose to spend my time on this book?

I. I have never read anything by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’m super glad Eat.Pray.Love. was a success, but it didn’t speak to me so I didn’t read it.

II. I was drawn to Big Magic because of the title (who doesn’t love magic, and if it’s big so much the better!) as well as the description. An excerpt: “With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration.”

III. I always enjoy when an author records his or her own book, and this one was read by Elizabeth Gilbert herself.

IV. Full disclosure: I was looking for something pretty quick to listen to, and this one was only about four hours worth of listening time.

Why do I think you should spend your time on the book?

I. It was totally inspiring! Yes, some parts weren’t for me (e.g. I’ve never worried about “seeming” like a writer). But I found myself wanting to get back to creating even as I listened to her talk about creating.

II. Even if you’re not a writer, she talks about creative living in general, and her examples apply to just about anything you could want to try, from getting into a new sport (even if you thought sports were just for the young), to making something with your hands, to finally finishing that novel.

III. She is no-nonsense, and funny. From stories about her ice skating friend to her lobster-costume-wearing brother, the anecdotes made her points while making me smile.

IV. She is right. We each have some kind of creativity inside of us. Something that speaks to the soul. Something that wants to be recognized just for the sake of being recognized, no matter whether it “amounts to anything.” Also, her list of the fears we all face were spot on.

V. At no time did it feel like she was preaching at me. If anything, it felt like she was on the same journey, and trying to make sense of it while accidentally helping me make sense of it by sharing.

Thus, whether you are planning a creative endeavor, feel stuck on what you’re working on, or haven’t felt creatively charged for a long time, this is a pretty quick read, and if it inspires you as much as it did me you’ll find yourself back on track.

Thanks, Elizabeth Gilbert.

Happy Creating!

Photo of reading in a coffeeshop by Freely Photos on stocksnap.io

What’s in a (nick)name?

How many people do you know who go by the name their parents put on their birth certificate?

Okay, probably at least a few, but do you know anyone who ALWAYS goes by that name? And if you do know one or two who do, what does that choice mean?

Why did Madeline L’Engle have everyone call the little brother Charles Wallace even though the sister was Meg (short for Megan)? Does it mean something about Charles Wallace, or about the way the rest of the world interacts with him? Or both?

I’ve been thinking a lot about nicknames. When people know each other well, they often naturally come up with something to call the other that usually isn’t their exact birth name.  Someone named Charles (or Charlotte, for that matter) could be Charlie, Chuck, Chewie, Duck, or something else entirely, depending on how they got their nickname and who is speaking to them.

And the way a person says another’s name, or which name or nickname they use, means something as well. For example, when parents call out to their children, the number of names and the formality generally says something about how much trouble they’re in.

This got me to thinking about what my characters call each other. For the most part, they’ve been using their actual names. Therefore, I’ve begun creating possible nickname lists and backstories as to how they got that nickname. (Though, I honestly still don’t know where Duck came from; maybe one of his friends thought it was funny to call him that because it rhymes with Chuck?)

How do you use nicknames in your writing? How often do your characters call each other by their actual names? Do you create backstories for where the nicknames came from?

I’d love to hear more about your process in the comments below.

Happy writing!

Photo of name badges by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
Photo of George by George Becker on Stocksnap.io

The number one thing every writer needs

I’ve been reading a lot of posts about writing lately. I’ve also been listening to podcasts, attending webinars and seminars, reading books, filling out worksheets, and taking notes, notes, and more notes. I have a notebook full of notes.

The best way to build suspense…

The top ten list to create likable characters…

The three things you must do today to build your author platform…

The number one tool that’s going to help you sell more books…

In essence, I’ve been trying to cover up my writing lull by doing a lot of other writing-adjacent activities. I have had the revelation (many times, now) that these things aren’t actually helping me write. They’re interesting. I am learning from them. But there’s only one real ‘cure,’ one ‘magic bullet,’ one solution to getting out of my writing lull:

Writing.

Yep. It’s that easy (and that difficult). To get out of this slump, I have to write my way out. The more I’ve looked (and I’ve looked in plenty of places over the past few months), the more convinced I have become that (don’t be too shocked, now) the way to be a writer is to write.

I’ve got to engage in the type of butt-in-seat, willing-to-give-up-other-pleasures, taking-the-time-to-do-it-even-when-the-sink-is-full-of-dirty-dishes writing that finishes books. I need to take time for the turn-off-email, log-out-of-facebook, write-until-you’re-unstuck, and then write-until-you-write-until-you-can’t-write-anymore kind of writing.

And I need to do it consistently. If it doesn’t become a habit, the next writing lull will be waiting in the wings to break concentration and destroy momentum.

So, after all of the webinars, seminars, books, blogs, and podcasts, the one takeaway that’s a sure-fire win is to actually, positively, sit down and write.

TL;DR: if you’re going to call yourself a writer, you need to be writing.

Now it’s time for me to take some of my own advice.  🙂

Happy writing!

Photo of laptop by JESHOOTS on stocksnap.io
Photo of pencil and notebook by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash

Weasley is our king, and other writing inspiration.

On a road trip with the kids over the weekend, we listened to the fifth Harry Potter book (The Order of the Phoenix). It was the first time the kids had read that one, and I warned them ahead of time about some of the things that might be frustrating about the book. I remembered it as one of my least favorite because Harry is so moody the whole time. Oh, and don’t get me started on Dolores Umbridge… grrrrr.

But as we listened I found myself laughing out loud much more often than I’d expected. I forgot all of the lovely, funny quips and comments that J.K. Rowling peppers throughout her books, and Order of the Phoenix has so many of these. Also, Rowling knows how to write characters you care about (or love to hate), and storylines where you can’t wait to find out what happens.

Plus, the song. I had completely forgotten about the song. (“…he always lets the quaffle in…”)

I was inspired! I’ve been on a bit of a break from my own writing, but listening to Harry Potter made me want to pick it back up. And so, as Dolores Umbridge might say…

I must make writing a daily habit.
I must make writing a daily habit.
I must make writing a daily habit.
I must make writing a daily habit.
I must make writing a daily habit.
I must make writing a daily habit.
I must make writing a daily habit.
I must make writing a daily habit…

Happy writing!

Image of crown by Ryan McGuire on Stocksnap.io
Image of pen and paper by Aaron Burden on Stocksnap.io