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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!

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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!

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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

Things that almost happened

My grandmother once saw a large moose while she was waiting outside of a gas station. She’d just done her necessary business, and was stretching her legs a bit. Soon, her family would join her and they would continue the road to wherever it was they were going.

But in that brief, beautiful moment, she spotted a moose. She was amazed. And, as luck would have it, she had her camera. In preparing the camera to capture the moment (this was back when you had to take off the lens cap), the moose trotted away.

Rather than waste the preparation – it took a while to properly focus the camera, after all – she took a picture of the scenery. When she was showing the pictures later, it came to be known as “the picture of where the moose used to be.”

I don’t have the actual photo, but it was something like this. A barren stretch, maybe with some trees, but definitely no moose.

This is legend within our family. Maybe I’m not telling all of the details exactly right, but ask anyone on my mom’s side about where the moose was, and they all know about the picture. It’s almost a picture of a moose, but you wouldn’t know it without the back story. It’s the story that makes the picture worthwhile.

It is possible that there are an infinite number of missed moments like this. We walk past a park bench where two people almost got engaged. We drive past a bridge that a truck almost crashed into (I actually saw this “almost” the other day, and was so glad it didn’t happen). We look into the woods and see a place where a deer was just standing a moment ago, before it ran away.

Stories are generally about things that actually happen. Yes, the people who were on the Titanic experienced a great tragedy, but what about the person who missed the boat? There’s a story there, too. Today, I’m taking my inspiration from all of the “might have beens,” “almost happeneds”, and “could still bes” to see where my imagination can take me. I’m looking for just the right missed moment that makes a compelling story.

What almost happened to you today? To your characters? And what might — or might not — happen next?

Happy writing!

Photo of moose by Steve on stocksnap.io
Photo of gas station by Mahkeo on Unsplash

My New Year’s Revolutions

Happy 2018!

No, the title of this post is not a typo. The other day, in the serious way of the very young, my 6-year-old asked me what my New Year’s revolutions were going to be. We had a good chuckle and a quick explanation of the difference between “revolution” and “resolution.”

I explained that I normally don’t set resolutions. This is for many reasons, not least of which that it feels like setting myself up for failure.

Do I have to fail? Nope.

Would a good action plan help? Almost certainly.

But the cultural norm is to laugh about resolutions. To make a joke of them before they even start. (I can’t be the only one who is astounded by the number of people whose automatic response to hearing you’re going to do something new is to say something like, “Do you know what percentage of resolutions fail within the first month?” How is that supposed to be helpful?!)

So, most years I just choose not to set a resolution. I begin the year the way I mean to go on, and I don’t think too much more about it.

But my conversation with my son got me thinking. Upon reflecting on the way that each year is a revolution of the Earth around the sun, and each day is a small piece of that revolution with the Earth twirling itself around, we decided that “revolutions” might be a fitting name for those things I’d like to take on in the new year after all.

Therefore, I’m going to use the days of 2018 to make some revolutions of my own.

  1. I’m going to revolve the way I think about cooking dinner. It’s not usually my job, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy doing it once in a while. I have a new wok (the only Christmas present I asked for), and I’m going to learn to use it. Not a resolution, but it could be revolutionary to our meal planning.
  2. I’m going to revolve the way I think about Saturday mornings. Every Saturday, I drive my daughter an hour each way to fencing class, and sit, trying to work for the two hours of class, but really watching the fencers. I’m already there. Why shouldn’t I try something new and get some exercise at the same time? I’m now a beginner fencer, and learning the moves and steps has already begun to been revolutionary for my muscle groups.
  3. I’m going to revolve the way I’m thinking about writing my book. I’ve been treating it like a chore. It’s not under deadline by some other entity. It’s up to me — do I want to finish telling this story or not? If I do, I’d better make a plan to get it done. For real this time. Finally getting my book done will be revolutionary after sitting on it for so long.

In what ways are you going to revolve your thinking this year? I’d love to hear more about it in the comments!

Happy revolving!

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