Sunday, August 24, 2014


It started with my husband. Over an anniversary lunch, he set his plate aside with a delicious bite of his meal left conspicuously in the center of his place. We were both raised with the clean-your-plate mentality and it gave me pause.

He set his fork down and shared something that had been on his mind - the constant need to consume. By deliberately leaving that bite uneaten, he left the meal with a heart full of gratitude instead of an empty plate.

I've thought about this a lot since that meal in December. I think that's part of why I haven't blogged much this year. I'm working to find that place of gratitude instead of the constant striving and pushing and consuming.

It's in the way we order our coffee - a venti only costs a little more than a tall, but it's so much MORE. It's in the size of cars and the size of our data plans and amount of media we consume. More, more, MORE.

I don't want more. I'm tired of more. I want less. I want simple. I want gratitude.

All of these thoughts have made me change the way I think about social media. Am I consuming or am I adding value? Am I speaking good or ill into being? Am I complaining and arguing and focusing on the negative? Or am I reflecting the richness of the blessings in my life?

I am learning to be content. To work hard at the tasks before me, but not to strive. To dream and hope, but not at the cost of today. To make sure I leave more than I take. It's a lofty goal, but one worth pursuing. One I hope will not only change the way I see the world, but will in some small way change the world too.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Rest ≠ Failure

I'm about 29,000 words into a rough draft of a book. I love the characters. I know the overall story arc. I love how it's coming together. And I'm stepping away for the moment.

I've reached point in this draft where I feel like I'm banging my head against a wall. It's not that it isn't working. It's that I'm burned out. My creativity has run dry and the words I'm dragging out of myself are uninspired.

So I'm taking some time - maybe a few hours, maybe a few weeks - to take the pressure off my brain and let myself rest.

Guys, I can't stress this enough: taking a break is not the same as giving up. Rest is not failure.

Repeat after me: REST IS NOT FAILURE.

This is a lesson I'm still learning. Even after I've hit this place time after time after time, I still want to be productive every minute of every day. If I have a spare moment, I should be writing. I should be cleaning. I should be doing. Go, go, go! 

This is so, so not healthy.

Purposeful rest is probably the single most important thing you can do to boost your creativity. Get up from your desk. Walk away from your computer. Leave your house/coffee shop/office. Let your brain shut off and just breathe.

Purposeful rest is not a waste of time or a waste of potential. It's a vital part of the process. Go for a run or climb a tree or take a pen and journal and do some free writing someplace you always mean to visit but never do.

Pretend you're a tourist in your hometown. Visit a museum or eat a restaurant the locals avoid. Take the time to notice the things that make your location special.

Leave your cellphone in your bag and listen to the world around you.

Do whatever it is that make you feel alive and whole and refreshed.

Let go of the guilt, let go of the compulsion to constantly pursue productivity.

This draft isn't going anywhere. When my brain resets and inspiration strikes again (as it always does), I'll be ready to sit down and finish Abby's story, giving it the kind of focus and energy it deserves. In the meantime, I'll be giving myself and my family the kind of focus and energy we deserve because in order to be the best writer I can be, I must be the best human I can be and that requires rest.

Do you have any tips for finding rest? Any ways to let go of the guilt that comes with it? Any stories about what happens when you don't? Kick back and relax for a while in the comments!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Silk Shirts & Sweat Pants

Have you guys seen this yet? Crazy, right? What kind of novelist wears a silk shirt and a watch to write? I mean, we all wear sweats and forget to shower. These are badges of honor! Who has time to worry about fashion when we have ART to create?

That was my first reaction too. I don't think chocolate washes out of silk and I'm not sure when I'd ever have reason to wear a trench coat in real life. What were the editors thinking?

But the longer I sit with this, the more I'm convinced sweat pants shouldn't be the goal either.

I almost didn't write this post because I don't want it to come across wrong. Don't take it as an inditement of your pants-optional life style. I fully support self-expression (see last week's post) and comfort. Think of this instead as your quarterly reminder of the importance of self-care.

Over the last four years, two pregnancies, and a combined 35 months of breastfeeding, I've gained and lost 65% of my body weight. My boobs have expanded to inhuman proportions and shrunk to nothing. I've been through several clothing sizes, worn out just about everything I like to wear, and discovered my old style no longer looks right on my new body. My hair has thinned. My skin breaks out like I'm still a teenager. Showers require Herculean effort each day and often come with an audience. I get it. I want to live in yoga pants and never put on a bra again and shave my head to skip the maintenance.

I get it.

But this is a lesson I learned in college (basically the most disheartening, depressing time in my life):
How you care for yourself is how you see yourself.

What do I mean by that? When I would skip showers to avoid the bathroom rush (yay dorm living) and wear dirty clothes so I wouldn't need to wash laundry, I started to see myself as scuzzy. I felt lazy. My self worth tanked and so did my creative output.

There is a time and a place for comfort. Abso-friggin-lutely. I still look forward to the end of the day when I can trade in denim for flannel. But there's also a place to feel good about yourself. And my guess is that if you're really honest, you feel better when you take care of yourself.

Maybe sweatpants and snarled ponytails are the official uniform of brilliant, unmaterialistic writers. But maybe it shouldn't be. Maybe we should stop viewing our bodies as a hassle. Maybe we should stop viewing showers as something to get in the way of our writing. Maybe we should put a little more care into how we look so we can feel a little better about ourselves.

We all know the magic of fancy underwear, right? You've got on jeans and a tee, but underneath, you know you're sexy. It's a good feeling! Same thing applies here. Doesn't matter if anyone else sees you. YOU see you and you are worth a little care.

Silk shirts with impractical sleeves might be overkill, but try putting on something that makes you feel good, whatever that might look like. See if you don't sit up straighter, feel a little more capable, approach your work with a little more zest.

Don't ditch your comfort clothes. But show your body a little love and it might just show you a little love back.

I love you guys. You're all gorgeous, no matter what you wear.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Girls Like Me

There was never a time when I wasn't aware of my identity as Other. Homeschooler, Christian, artist. Fan of punk, hardcore, and Celtic folk. Too much or not enough to fit into convenient lables.

Senior portrait, featuring men's khakis, kid's shirt & paint

It wasn't until my late 20s that my baby sister showed me everyone feels this way. She's 11 years younger and doesn't remember when I wore combat boots and fishnets to school or how I struggled to find a place between my fellow art students and the students who shared my faith. What she remembers is that I graduated college and that I'm happily married and that I live in Los Angeles.

Normal behavior when hanging unsupervised in a boy's room. Right?

But when she looked at me and said "You're so normal" I nearly burst out laughing.

Me? Normal? NEVER.

And thus I discovered an almost universal truth: we all feel like outsiders.

Yet despite that, I saw very few girls like me in books, movies, or even real life. The girls I read about were either popular or wanted to be popular. I embraced my outsider status, deliberately upping my weird factor for effect. I didn't see many grown women like me either. They all seemed to have some secret knowledge that let them fit into the molds society built for them. I wanted more. I wanted permission to grow up to be weird (and mad props to my parents for being okay with that).

(I say girls because to date, all my POV characters save one have been girls, but all this applies to boys too.) 

14th birthday hijinks. I'm hiding behind Big Foot.

This is where I came to love fantasy. Be it Lucy Pevensie or Meg Murry or Alanna of Trebond, I found girls who resonated with me. Still, no matter how much I loved their bravery, intelligence, and strength, their experiences and their worlds were so far outside of my own. I still didn't see a road map for how to live my ordinary life.

There is power in reading something that reminds us that, outsiders or not, we are not alone. When we see characters who validate our experiences, it sends a message that we're okay. So when I began writing with the aim of publication, I knew I wanted to write about girls like me

Girls who dye their hair black or pink or purple. Girls who wear Chuck Taylor's and leather jackets. Girls who aren't afraid of a mosh pit. Or even if they are, rush the stage anyway because when you feel the bass in your bones, it doesn't matter if you get kicked in the shin or take an elbow to the face because it hurts so good. Girls who are totally unathletic or rock at sports and feel like a freak either way. Girls whose bodies are beautiful even though they don't fit societal expectations. Girls who read the dictionary and quote Joss Weadon or Nietzsche or G. K. Chesterton. Girls who wear contacts so no one knows they need glasses and girls who wear fake glasses because they like the look. Girls with deep faith and deep doubts and deep friendships. Girls who know they're misfits and choose to celebrate the things that make them unique. Girls who love and hate and feel everything.

Graduation day with my pet freshman

I wrote Bria in THE ART OF FALLING almost as a love letter to those girls, hoping to celebrate the things that make them so special. I wrote her so that maybe another girl would feel less alone. I wrote her so that girls like me could see that I grew up to be me and that's awesome. Three months after publication, not everyone loves Bria. But that's okay. I didn't write her for everyone. I wrote her for everyone who feels like an outsider.

Maybe my kids will grow up to feel like they fit in. Maybe they'll be popular and traditionally attractive and good at all the things they're supposed to be good at. It seems unlikely as I watch my son twirl in a tutu and my daughter body surf down the hills in the park, and, honestly, I think I'd be a little disappointed if they did. I want my kids to grow up confident enough to embrace their weirdness and celebrate the things that make them uniquely who they are.

To that end, I will keep writing about girls like me. Not everyone will like my heroines. Not everyone will relate to their struggles or understand their choices. But I don't write to make people like me. I write to be honest and to tell stories I think need to be told. And hopefully give my readers the courage to be themselves.

So cheers to all the other outsiders. To the girls like me. May your freak flags wave forever proud.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Dreaded Query

I've spent months writing my Summer Story, agonizing over bits of dialog and plot and character development. I've played with half a dozen titles (I'm currently calling it THE TRICK TO LANDING), created a Pinterest board, and built a playlist. I've drafted and refined and polished until it's very near to something I'm proud of. I seriously love this book.

All of that? That was the easy part. NOW I have to somehow take those months of work, those 52,000 or so words, and condense them into a 250 word query letter that entices the reader, summarizes the story, and somehow does justice to the character's I've created.

This book has been hard to write and even harder to summarize. I've technically been working on a query since before I started writing - and I'm still unhappy with it. I've basically forgotten everything I learned about query writing prior to signing my publishing deal.

But wait! Published authors need to write queries?

In a word, yes. I have to give my editor something to describe the book I've written. Publishing is a business and my publisher has the right to either take this book on or not. A query letter is part of that. It can also be part of the cover copy. If you look at the book description for FALLING on Amazon or another bookseller, that is 90% word-for-word from my query.

There's never really a time when you won't need to succinctly describe your book. It's definitely not my favorite part of the process, but it's important. I'm going back to the three Cs - character, conflict, crisis - and examining my story with new eyes. If I can't break it down into those elements, there's something wrong with the book and that means it isn't read for a query anyway.

In the interest of transparency, here's what I've got so far. It's a work in progress and still so rough. But everything starts somewhere and here's my start :)

Sixteen-year-old skater Summer O’Neill wants to forget her past on the half pipe, blazing new trails in a sport that doesn’t exactly welcome girls. After a gnarly wipeout destroyed her chance for a spot in the X Games, it’s been one mistake after another, culminating in a DUI and a move halfway down the coast to tiny Oceanside, California. Life in Oceanside is a chance for redemption – on a board and off – but it also means adjusting to life with a mother she hardly knows, navigating new friendships, and redefining who she thinks she is. 

The very last thing Summer is looking for is a boyfriend, at least until she meets Sebastian Vega. Steady, unassuming, and sensitive, he’s everything she’d not. Before long, she’s sneaking out for midnight sandcastle building excursions and trading in her art class for private photography lessons in the darkroom with Bastian.

But Summer’s past isn’t finished and Bastian has problems of his own – including a bleeding disorder that shapes every aspect of his life. As he fights against the very restrictions she needs to make up for her past, their issues collide in a perfect storm of failure. Now Summer must let go of her past and embrace the moment if she has any chance at a future with Bastian.

I'd love to hear your thoughts! Any brilliant query advice you have for me? Any tips for keeping sane while shrinking a beloved story into a tiny description? Good luck to all writing the dreaded query.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Evernote to Word Workaround

I write a ridiculous amount on my phone, mostly using Evernote. It's a great app for syncing between my phone and my laptop, but the formatting comes through rather wonky when I paste into Word. This two step workaround has saved me a ton of time and frustration.

Step 1: AutoFormat

After pasting & selecting all the text, select AutoFormat... from the Format dropdown menu.

The defaults should be "AutoFormat now" and document type "General document"

This will change everything to your "normal" template

Step 2: Apply Style

I created a "novel" style template with all of my spacing, font, etc preferences

Select your style and it should all be correctly formatted and ready to go

Monday, January 6, 2014


Don't let the cuteness fool you!

The number one question I get when I talk about my writing it how I manage to write books (I'm starting #7 right now) with two small children at home. The truth of the matter is that I'm not entirely sure myself. There's a lot of juggling involved and prioritizing my various roles in life. Some days, I do a pretty good job of keeping snotty noses wiped and sandwich crusts cut off and favorite outfits clean. Other days, not so much. What I'm saying is that I am totally unqualified to tell ANYONE how to parent or write or anything really. But what I can do is tell you some of the things that have worked for me.

They're crazy!

First, nap time is sacred. Could by 3.5-year-old give up the afternoon nap? Maybe. Would he sleep better at night if he did? Probably. But I am not functional in the morning and my nights are when I get to see my husband, fold laundry and occasionally watch a few minutes of TV (more on that later). Nap time is when I do the vast majority of my writing. I am incredibly rigid about the kids going down. We don't go out when it will keep them from napping. We turn off phones and shut off the lights and close the blackout curtains. I can usually guarantee at least 30 minutes with them both sleeping, so once they're out, it's go time. I'd like to say I'm disciplined enough to write a couple hundred words a day, but sometimes I'm just not. On a good day, I can write 400-600 words in 30 minutes. On a bad day, it's closer to 100. But I always write.

And then sometimes they'll only sleep on me...

Downtime is opportunity time. My daughter is (still) breastfed and my son has a hard time falling asleep, so I spend a lot of time in the rocking chair in their room. A supermom might spend that time enjoying her wee ones and lovingly gazing into their eyes. I write. Maybe I'm a terrible mom for that, but I tend to fall asleep if I don't do something to keep my brain awake and I've discovered they go to sleep faster if I ignore them. Cruel? Maybe, but I give them my attention at other times. Sitting in the dark at 3am, whispering "hush" for the millionth time, I don't think they care what I'm doing. I brainstorm, I make notes in Evernote on my phone, I do research, I keep up with social media. It's not my best writing time as I think better when I can type with both hands, but it gets me more time than I've have otherwise. Basically, if I'm sitting, I'm writing, tweeting, answering emails, or something related to my career as a writer.


Free time? What free time? Aside from the usual wife/mom/homemaker duties, I also work from home as a grant writer and am actively involved with my church and neighborhood moms group. My husband works 50 hour+ a week and is usually gone until after 8pm. Aside from my sister (who is totally awesome by the way and makes the best doughnuts EVER), I have no family in the state, so I am on my own. I'm busy, even without the writing career. To make it all fit, I seldom go out. Now, I'm an introvert, so this works for me. My more social counterparts really should not attempt this. Anyway, I don't go out with girl friends. I don't go to movies. I've been on a couple dates with my husband recently, but those are rare. I watch so little TV that I haven't stayed current with a single show this season. My DVR is full, but it's not something I make time for because that would mean something else would have to go and usually that thing is my writing. Frankly, I love writing more than going out, watching TV or going to the movies. I'm weird like that.


Never underestimate the power of purposeful rest. There are days (usually when the kids have been up all night) when I know it's better if I don't write. It's a conscious decision I make to preserve my own mental health. I aim to write every day to keep the habit going, but when I know I'm stretched too thin, I rest. I missed a lot of days in December thanks to the extra holiday stress, but I came back swinging and have written more in the last few days than I have in weeks. My brain is fresh and my writing is recharged. When I force it on days I don't feel okay, I end up burnt out and hating my WiP. When I give myself permission to rest, my creativity and enjoyment skyrocket. I wrote all of FALLING after an extended break from writing. I finished my first draft on top of the world. I don't think I could have written it without that break.

But I think I'll keep them :)

Find what works for you. I know one writer who gets up before 4am to write before her children get up. I know another who is always up past 2am. There is no right or wrong way to make time for writing, just like there's no one way to be a good parent. Some mommas (and dads for that matter) can write while their kids are awake. Some can put their kids to bed and be done with parenting until morning. I can't do either one, so I've made things work for me. Armed with a smart phone, I can (and do) take my writing everywhere. I love writing. I love telling stories and creating worlds and bringing characters to life. I love cuddling my babies and teaching them new things and watching them grow. For me, writer/momma isn't a divide. It's just who I am and who I want to be.

Any tips or tricks you've picked up to squeeze in writing (or another creative pursuit) around the stress and struggles of daily life?