Adapting

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I was scheduled to go to a writer’s retreat this last week. Three days in a cabin in Glen Eyre, packed with good food, good friends, and a wonderful mentor. Long walks, gorgeous red rocks, sunsets, and laughter.

Obviously, it didn’t happen.

There are a lot of things getting canceled just now—for everybody. Flights, concerts, vacations, work trips. Just about everything. I was expecting the cancelation, but it was a bit of a blow anyway. This particular writer’s retreat has been a yearly thing, somewhere to connect with my group, love on my friends, and get a bit of fresh perspective on my writing and life in general—something I could definitely use just about now.

Unfortunately, the retreat’s been suspended until October, so I’ve got to find my own fresh perspective.

This quarantine is all about adapting.

New ways to connect.

New ways to refresh and recharge.

New ways to love on my friends.

Lately, my writer’s group and I have been adapting. We all need the connection and refreshment of a retreat, but now is not the time to be renting cabins, meeting up, or planning sleepovers. Instead, we’ve found new ways of encouraging each other. Writing exercises and challenges over text, sharing bits and pieces while we write, and meeting up through Zoom and FaceTime.

It’s not quite the same as a weekend in the mountains, but it helps. It’s a way to encourage each other, keep ideas fresh and flowing, and connect in a time when connection feels impossible and friends feel far away.

Physical distancing is important just now. But we need our friendships and all the connection we can get just now, and that means adapting. Finding new ways to relax. New ways to refresh.

We’ve been practicing our new ways this week. Connecting, making up for our missed retreat. I’m still very much looking forward to seeing everyone in October, but we’re managing for now. Life doesn’t stop because of quarantine, and friends are still friends—even if we have to find a new way to get together for the time being.

We can always adapt.

What are some ways you’re adapting to quarantine—and loving on your friends in the process? Tell me about it in the comments! I’d love a few new ideas.

Sick Days and First Drafts

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I was sick this week.

No, not with a virus.

Just a cold. I promise.

But it meant that I was out of the office on sick leave. Mostly, I just slept on the couch. And watched Toy Story. And drank way too much water and downed vitamin C’s like candy, because who has time to be sick, anyway?

Thankfully, I seem to be on the tail end of it. For which I’m grateful.

Being sick messed with my writing schedule, both at work and in my personal projects. And lately, my personal projects have been anything but perfect. See, I’m writing the first draft of a story.

And first drafts are hard.

You know why? Because I don’t know what happens in the story. I don’t know who all these characters are. I write ten chapters, then half of it gets deleted because the story took a different turn than I expected and what I wrote doesn’t fit anymore.

Characters do things I don’t expect them to do.

Things pop up in the most unexpected ways.

Settings refuse to let me see them, so I have to feel my way around in the dark and hope for the best.

It’s all very confusing.

You’d think I would be better at first drafts by this time. After all, I’m a writer. A (sort of) professional. I get paid to write stories, and every story begins with a first draft. (Unfortunately.)

So I should have the process licked by this time, right?

Right?

Well, not exactly. Because the reality is, first drafts are hard. They don’t make sense. The characters wander in and out and change as you write them, and the setting never looks quite the way you imagined it would. Some parts are wordy and boring and others happen so fast that you forget to put any emphasis on the important bits.

For goodness sakes.

But, first drafts are not supposed to be beautiful. They aren’t supposed to be put together, or comprehensive, or elegant. They are supposed to exist, inconsistent characters, choppy dialogue, major plot holes and all. So I am embracing this new story in all its messy wonder, exploring this world without worrying about the gorgeous chaos I am causing. The characters can change and the setting will grow, and I will snoop my way through all of it until I have made a lovely, glorious mess of colors and lights and words scattered across the page in a completely incomprehensible muddle.

And when the first draft is finished and the last words are written, I can start completely over and make something understandable out of it.

When I get over this cold, anyway.

What kind of things are you allowing to be messy and beautiful in your own life? Tell me about them in the comments!

Devouring Stories

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Last week we started talking about things writers can do to move their careers forward when the next step seems impossibly far off.

Sometimes ‘making it as a writer’ seems like it’s full of huge, gigantic leaps forward: finishing a book, finding an agent, getting published, working full-time as a writer, earning this award, being asked to speak there—the milestones seem impossibly far apart and way too difficult to accomplish.

So, I think it’s time to start talking about the small steps.

The little things we can do every day to deepen our understanding of this craft.

Time to pay attention to the little things, my friends, because believe it or not, those milestones aren’t the building blocks of your career. Sure, they look fancy and they’re fun plaques to have up on the wall. But there is a whole lot of in-between steps before you can reach them.

We’re here to talk about the in-between. The practical.

And today’s practical?

Devouring story.

I’m not here to tell you to read War and Peace or 100 books in a year. But as writers, we need story. Not just our own stories, because we all know how we get caught up in the complexities and frustrations of our stories, and, unfortunately, we all have our blind spots.

Writers need story. I write for a radio drama. I spent all Sunday last week binge-watching The Mandalorian. I listen to audiobooks on a regular basis, I’ve watched movies specifically for work to better understand story structure, and I have started to be able to predict what comes next in the movie theater simply because I know where we are in the story.

Writers. Need. Story.

We need to analyze story, we need to pick apart our favorite books and movies and video games and graphic novels and see what makes them tick. We need to be that irritating person in the movie theater who leans over and whispers, “Yep. ‘All is Lost’ moment. Right on cue.”

I am not a fan of dictating exactly how anyone needs to ingest story. Books, movies, TV, video games, radio. It doesn’t matter. But as a writer, you need story. Not to listen to mindlessly, but to analyze, dissect, learn from.

So next time you want to take another step and or do the next right thing, watch a favorite movie. TV show. Pick a story, and grab your notebook. Find the ‘All is Lost’ moment. The quarter mark, where the upside-down world begins. The catalyst. Pick the story to pieces and see how it works, what theme the writer used. Write a pitch for it.

The more you devour story, the better you will understand it.

What are some of your favorite stories? Tell me about them in the comments!

Dark To Dark

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Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s also a Monday.

And I get to stay home.

What a strange feeling.

I am celebrating by watching the birds come to get the birdseed I left on the porch for them. So far, there is one Steller Jay. I guess word hasn’t gotten around yet. I’m hoping for Black-Capped Chickadees and Bluejays. Maybe a Magpie too.

Since it is a Monday, I am writing today, but I am enjoying the novelty of writing in my house in the sunshine. Lately, I have discovered the downside of working full-time in town in the winter, which is that I work from dark to dark. I usually drive into town with my dad in the very, very early mornings, spend an hour or two at my gym, then am in the office by the time the sun rises.

And, you guessed it, it’s already dark by the time I get outside again.

I’ve begun to turn into a creature of the night. Like, I’ve always been fairly pale by nature, but now I’ve reached vampire status. I glow.

It’s a little scary.

I tried to offset the effects of my ‘no-sunlight-ever’ routine yesterday by sunbathing on my porch for a while. But it’s January. Which means there’s plenty of sunshine, but there’s also snow and biting cold and wind.

It lasted maybe two minutes.

I guess I’ll have to wait for summer to come around again to put some color back into my cheeks. Maybe I’ll take a vacation and go visit my sister in Virginia and lie out on the beach for a while. Sure, I may blind a few people passing by, but at least I’ll stop looking like the undead.

Maybe.

But today, I get to write at my desk at home, which means I have sunlight streaming in through my windows and the honey-colored wood in my house is glowing with sunshine and my kitty is there to hang out with me and there are birds eating from our makeshift bird feeder.

So, yes. Today is a very good day.

Maybe I’ll get some vitamin D through the windows?

What are you planning for your long weekend, and to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.? Tell me about it in the comments!

What Next Step??

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I wrote a post recently about doing the next right thing.

Since that’s my version of a New Year’s Resolution, I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot.

I also went to go see Frozen 2 over the weekend with my younger sisters. In case you were wondering, it was fabulous. I loved it. But it was also about doing the next right thing. And it started me wondering.

What is the next right thing when you’re a professional writer?

Sometimes, that can be a pretty difficult question. Especially because it varies person to person and day to day. Sometimes the next right thing is to write a page, read a new book, or spend an hour or so journaling with your characters. Other times it can be completely different: spending some time away from your computer, going for a walk, or setting up a social media page to connect with other writers and potential readers.

Unfortunately, there is no formula. Everyone is on their own journey, and no one can simply snap their fingers and say, “This is what you need to do today to take a step forward in your journey.”

If only life were that simple.

However, sometimes it really is so, so hard to know what the next right thing is supposed to be—especially when you’re a writer. Getting a book published or finding a job in your industry can seem impossibly hard, and sometimes it feels as though, instead of a long road to walk, there’s a gaping chasm that you have to (somehow) jump over. It becomes a leap of all or nothing, right now, instead of a journey with definable steps.

Writer, I promise that isn’t true.

Since it can be so hard sometimes to know what the next right things are, I’m going to devote a series on this blog to look at some of the next right things that have gotten me where I am today.

Starting with Save The Cat.

Before I started working as a full-time scriptwriter, I hadn’t read very many books on structure or style or anything else. Let’s be honest, there are about a million different books out there, everyone has their opinion on how story works. Some are great and some are not so great.

I could never figure out which was which.

But when I started my job, my manager had some very defined tasks for me to develop my writing skills. One of those tasks was to read Save The Cat, by Blake Snyder.

I still have that book on my desk. As well as the two followup books.

And yes, I still pick them up when I’m stuck and need inspiration, instruction, and a direction for my scattered thoughts.

It is a detailed, understandable guide to structure and story, written by a screenwriter who worked in Hollywood for many years and made more money in this industry than I will ever manage. His writing is clear and concise, and his advice is solid good sense.

So when I’m stuck, and I don’t know what the next right thing could possibly be, I reach for Save The Cat, and give my understanding of structure a boost, because I know that will do nothing but move me forward.

What is one thing you do for your writing when you’re not sure how to move forward? Tell me about it in the comments!

The First Of The Year

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The first book, that is.

That’s right! My book list for this year is up and running. I have two books on it so far. A Map Of Days, and The Hygge Life. Thankfully, I’ve had a bit of time to read and relax this weekend, because the last few weeks have been crazy and hectic and busy, and my books got the worst of it.

I didn’t pick them up. For days.

But I’m back into the regular swing of things, and the age-old question that every bookworm/adult asks is now knocking at my door.

“How in the name of bookmarks and sanity am I supposed to find time to read as an adult?”

What a great question!

I have no idea how to answer it.

Obviously, there must be an answer. I know amazing, fantastic adults who tackle so much more than I could ever dream of doing who read. And not just read, but read a lot. It is possible.

And now that I am entering a new year with a new set of pressures and deadlines and expectations, I am determined that I am going to find my own answer to this question. Because, of course, every adult who faces this question has to find their own answer.

Unfortunately, there is no universal key.

No one-size-fits-all.

No secret formula.

For me personally, I know already that a good deal of whatever books I plow through this year are going to have to be audiobooks. I have an hour’s ride to work in the morning and an hour home, and it’s amazing how many audiobooks I can devour with that time. For the rest—I’ll have to catch them in minutes. In the last half-hour before bed. During my lunch break—when I’m not trying to be social and have friends.

I am still convinced that bookmarks are the adult reader’s best friends.

I don’t have anything even remotely similar to a ‘to-be-read’ list for this year, but a few that will hopefully feature on my ‘read’ list are . . .

Nicholas Nickleby

Les Miserables

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

The Lord of the Rings

The Girl in Cabin 10 (which I am reading now)

and Garden City.

I like to scatter old and new books through my list. Old favorites and new experiences. Since I always choose my books by what I feel like reading at the moment, none of these are certain. But at least I will have tried!

What’s on your to-be-read list this year? Tell me about it in the comments! And I’d love suggestions for my own list as well!

Christmas Parties

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I am not generally a ‘party’ kind of person.

Honestly, if you know anything about me, you know this. I spent my childhood hiding from parties. In my room, in the woods, in books, and in stories out of my own head.

Once, I hid in a rabbit hutch.

Someone found me.

I’m still bitter about it, if you were wondering. I think I should have been safe in a rabbit hutch.

But now that I’m pretending to be an adult, I go to parties. Apparently, that’s part of the deal. Of course, I’m still an introvert who needs time to recharge and hide away with my books, but when a party comes up, I don’t run. Usually.

This year, I hosted a Christmas party.

I was so proud of myself.

My writers’ group had our first ever Christmas party together this weekend. We ate awesome food, drank sparkling cider, exchanged gifts, and talked about books. It was lovely. These girls are my best friends, my mostly companions, and my support group. They understand my strange rants, support my flashes of inspiration, and keep me centered.

I love them.

I was also apparently preoccupied completely with our party when it happened, because I didn’t take a single picture. Not even one, although I meant to take a few, just to prove that I can, in fact, throw a party.

Oh well.

Next time.

I also had a work Christmas party this week. We played Whirlyball. Which is basically lacrosse with bumper cars. Since I’m not competitive, coordinated, or athletic AT ALL, I was a little worried that it would turn out to be an embarrassing experience. But bumper cars tend to level the playing field, and I had so much more fun than I expected.

Neither of these parties called for high extroversion or meeting a lot of strangers, but I’ve decided to count them as my quota this year. I have one more Christmas party with some younger siblings planned, then this introvert is going back into hiding. Until then . . . Merry Christmas!

Do you have any Christmas events planned? Tell me about them in the comments!

Growing Roots

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I have three trees growing in my house.

And a handful of acorns in the back of my fridge, ready for the spring.

So, of course, yesterday I found pine seeds scattered all over my porch from the wind and couldn’t help myself. Now they’re in my fridge, sealed in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel until they germinate.

I’m going to need a lot of pots when spring comes.

Like, a lot of pots.

Since my house is very small and there is a limit to how many trees I can plant inside it before my sister goes crazy and kicks me and my trees out, I am looking at building a greenhouse. With counter space. And a lot of pots. So I can experiment with some different species and try to grow some that I haven’t had the guts to try until now. Like maple trees. And spruce.

I’m excited.

Okay, I definitely understand that growing trees inside my house is a little weird. I mean, who has an oak tree growing on top of their bookshelves? But I love things that last. That grow slowly. That take time to get anywhere, because when they do start growing finally, it means more because of how much time and energy was put into waiting for them.

It helps me remember that all the work and effort and time I put into my books and my career as a writer isn’t wasted. That growth comes in cycles, and all the growth that happens on the surface has to be balanced out by long, long periods of seeming stasis to let the roots catch up.

And, most of all, that the things that take a long, long time to grow will be the ones that last.

So when I’m frustrated with myself and my writing and can’t seem to get my stories right, I can go back to my trees and remember that I have to let the roots catch up. I have had so much rapid growth in the last five months, and now it’s time to pause. And settle. To embrace the hard things, and not worry that the growth I would love to see isn’t there. The roots are catching up, and the cycle is starting again. When the roots are ready, the growth will come.

So, writers, if you haven’t seen the growth you’re looking for, remember to check under the surface too. Today, you may be growing the roots you need.

What is growing in your life lately? Tell me about it in the comments!

FREE BOOKS!

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It’s MONDAY!

Is anyone else ready for this week? Because I’m totally ready. I spent all last night prepping food for my week, which mostly meant making hummus, frying way more bacon than was strictly necessary, and dancing around my kitchen to celebrate the fact that I finally, finally have an oven again and can actually BAKE things! What an amazing feeling!

But, despite being so ready, I have a killer of a week ahead of me. So, since I won’t be around HALF as much as I would like to, I have a present for you all!

Not a Christmas present, though. Because Christmas is so, so far away.

And I have NOT been listening to Christmas music already. No way. Totally would be so crazy if I was.

Haha.

Ahem.

So! I have THREE FREE BOOKS for you all! Just because I love you!

The Birdwoman, a collection of short stories for all ages, is FREE on AMAZON until TOMORROW NIGHT! Which means if you want a copy, you’d better grab it quick!

Of Mice and Fairies, the first book in my fairytale series, is FREE on AMAZON until TOMORROW NIGHT! Which also means if you want a copy, you’d better hurry!

And finally . . . 

My newest book, Of Bullfrogs and Snapdragons, a charming, cozy story of a forest witch and a gnome and the trouble they get into when a snapdragon moves into their hollow, is FREE on AMAZON ALL WEEK! Which means you have until SUNDAY NIGHT to snag a copy!

I hope you love the gifts, reader! Enjoy them, and have a cup of tea for me when you sit down to read!

Wait… HOLLYWOOD??

Well, sort of.

This has been the craziest month for me, and the last week has reached new heights of surreality. I’m running on low sleep and lower caffeine, so bear with me while I try to make sense of everything that’s happened, okay?

Great. Thanks.

So . . . a week ago, I drove into work with a suitcase and got on a plane with my manager, my boss, and a coworker, and flew to California.

I have never been to California.

It is apparently very hot in California.

Who knew?

So, while it snowed in Colorado, I relaxed in a hotel room in California and took in the sights.

Ha!

That was a good joke.

Actually, I spent four consecutive days going to ten-hour-long seminars on story structure, plot, character design, and scriptwriting. By the time it was over, I had been screaming on mute for three days, had almost fifty pages of notes, and could see sounds. I was also molded into the shape of my chair.

But! I learned so, so much, and I’m excited to get back to Colorado (hopefully) today and begin to apply what I learned. If I make it through the snow and actually get home, which we are definitely rooting for!

Besides going to the seminar, which was a whirlwind and definitely adventure enough for little homebody me, I also had the chance to attend a session at the recording studio in Burbank and watch an episode of the radio drama I write for be recorded. I met some of the actors involved, watched another of the writers direct, and had the chance to start up a discussion with one of the original creators of the show.

So, yeah, I learned a lot. And it was very exciting.

After six days of nonstop rushing, however, I am ready to be home. I’m typing this in an airport in Las Vegas, NV, and my flight should (again, hopefully) be taking off in the next half an hour or so.

So wish me luck! Send up a prayer if you think of it! I’m excited to get home and hoping to beat a snowstorm back to my cozy cabin in the woods, where I will immediately curl up with some hot chocolate, my kitty (who I have missed excruciatingly), and my sister (who I have also missed excruciatingly). Colorado, here I come!

I have been so out of commission this week! What did I miss? Tell me about what’s been happening to you lately?