Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Defining Success...One Hug At A Time (Jodi Moore)

I keep a calendar/planner book. I know it’s not “techy”. In fact, it may be downright old-fashioned, but there’s a great sense of accomplishment when I pen my “to do” list (with my favorite colorful Sharpies), and then check off each item as it’s finished.


If you ask 100 people to define the word, you’ll most likely get 100 different answers. That being said, if you ask me to define the word 100 times in that many days, you’ll probably also get 100 different answers.

You see, my perception of success is fairly fluid. It has to be…or I’m not sure I could survive. Writing is…well, hard. The publishing world is subjective. It’s filled with rejection, from industry professionals to booksellers to readers. As with most things in life, there are many variables we can’t control.

So in my humble opinion, sometimes success means simply controlling what we can…and celebrating our little accomplishments along the way. We may wonder if we're making any progress, but as my husband says, falling on your face is still a step forward.

Some days, success can be measured by the act of completing a manuscript. Other days, it’s finding one perfect word. Admittedly, many days it’s being able to forgive myself for accomplishing neither.

Sometimes, it’s sending that completed manuscript out to an agent or editor. Other times, if I receive a rejection (or the dreaded, “no response means no”), it’s managing to eat only one bowl of ice cream instead of wolfing down the entire half gallon.

Some may measure success in literary awards – which are pretty sweet indeed! – but it’s just as important, if not more so, to recognize the family, friends and writer buddies who are there to celebrate with you when you’re up…and support you when you’re down. (For instance, share some ice cream.) Here I am pictured with my bestie, the uber-talented Kimberly Sabatini upon the birth of her fantastic book, TOUCHING THE SURFACE. (I'm like a proud auntie!)

And while I wish I was independently wealthy and could write just because I love it and want to make the world a better place, there comes a time when one must consider finances. After all, writing is a business. So…on the days that I’m out of ice cream, need to pay for a conference or realize how much we still owe on our home and college loans, success means earning royalties and/or securing author visits.

(Full disclosure? We don’t really have control over earnings or even booking events…try as we may.)

But oh, those visits! This is where I get to meet, interact and connect with my readers. They fill my heart to overflowing with their smiles, energy, inspiration and hugs.

What is it they say? A picture is worth a thousand words:

How can this not be the very definition of success?

Oh, look! “Upload YAOTL blog” is on my list. * grabs purple Sharpie* Check!

Ah. Success.

Monday, February 11, 2019

What Success Looks Like (Maryanne Fantalis)

At the end of December, I finished Loving Beatrice, my second book in the Shakespeare's Women Speak series, and sent it off to my publisher.

That's success.

For some reason -- for many reasons -- I struggled to write this second book. Writers often talk about the sophomore slump: how writing the next novel, after you've gotten one published, is really, really hard. I thought the notion was ridiculous... until it happened to me.

I had always assumed that once I was published, the sheer joy of that notion would infuse my writing life with passion. Instead, the idea that people were waiting on this book -- real people, publishing people, readers -- nearly paralyzed me. For a long time, I could not write. I tinkered, I researched, I fidgeted, I pretended, but I didn't produce anything of substance. I, who had long prided myself on never getting "blocked" -- I could not write.

And so, finishing this book is what success looks like to me right now.

Overcoming the almost stultifying fear that I could not write another novel at a level I think is good enough for publication: that's success.

Reminding myself that, in fact, I did have processes in place to accomplish this task: that's success.

Rediscovering my main character's voice: that's success.

Remembering that, no, I do not have to write linearly and that when I sat for nearly SIX MONTHS in one scene, that was a really stupid thing to do and wasted a lot of time that could have been better spent writing other scenes and THAT'S a mistake I'll never make again: SUCCESS!

Figuring out that setting unrealistic deadlines and then beating yourself up when you don't reach them and then wallowing in guilt is a bad idea: that's success

Deciding to cheer yourself on when you make progress, even if it's only a hundred words or a bit of planning: also success

Jumping with glee right into the next novel within a couple of weeks after sending off the last one, feeling energized and ready to go, with a mountain of emotional baggage lifted from your shoulders...

Well, yeah. All of that is how I define success right about now. 

Friday, February 8, 2019

Success is Always Just a Word Away By: Kimberly Sabatini

Success is...
showing up to write and learn every day--
no matter how long it takes to sell another book.
But believing you will.

Success is...
finding joy in writing--
unaware of where the story will take you.
And always being surprised at the twists and turns.

Success is...
 hearing from readers who find something on your pages and between your words--
and it's changed them.
Which changes you.

Success is...
giving back to your writing community--
because you'll never forget what it felt like to put yourself out there the first time.
And being supported.

Success is...
buying more books than you could ever read--
because every book you rescue from the shelf, gives another author wings.
And teaches you many things.

Success is...
being part of the Kidlit community--
because they rise to the occasion with every natural or human-made disaster.
On multiple levels, books save lives.

Success is...
having Indie Bookstores in your community--
and hanging out within their walls.
Books are meant to be touched.

Success is...
that quiet, stolen chunk of time--
when all the words come tumbling out--inspired.
The spark of Big Magic.

Success is...
the days when you feel anything but successful--
yet you show up to write and learn anyway.
And eat chocolate.
Success is always just a word away.

What makes you feel like a success?

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Success: I’ll Know It When I See It (Mary Strand)

This month, the blog topic is supposed to be what “success” looks like to me now.

I’m tempted to keep this short and say “Nooooo idea.”

Still, I hate to waste a perfectly good law degree — from Georgetown, no less, which had the best basketball team in the country at the time, no matter what you may say. (HOYA SAXA.)

So, in a pathetic attempt to take a wild stab at defining success, I’ll start by comparing any definition of success with Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio, in which the Supremes were asked to define hard-core pornography: “I shall not today attempt further to define [blah blah blah hard-core pornography]... But I know it when I see it.”

Yeah. Pretty much how I feel about success: I won’t attempt to define it, but I know it when I see it.

A corollary, WAY less famous because I’m the one who says it, usually to my kids: “There are pluses and minuses to everything.”

In other words, success in one thing may result in failure (or at least negatives) in other things, so, really, how can you possibly say what success is?

If I write a gazillion books and they do well, it means fame and glory and money (with any luck), but I won’t have as much time to do other things I may love as much or more: playing guitar, playing sports, listening to live music, or sneaking out with my college-age kid to share Punch Pizza’s AMAZING chocolate hazelnut panini. (Hypothetically speaking. heh heh.)
Chocolate hazelnut panini IS success. Um, I'm pretty sure.

And if, encouraged by success, I start spending all my time writing and promoting my books, will I be happy? Highly doubtful. (In my case. Your mileage may vary.)

Seriously, I have no idea how to deal with this blog topic! Make it go away!

<looks furtively in every direction for savior from this topic> <damn> <foiled again>

Since no blog-topic rescuer is in sight, so I’m indeed forced to answer this burning question, I’ll say this: to me, success isn’t one huge thing, let alone a major culmination of events or the greatest destination in the history of destinations. It’s simply a series of tiny good things that, at particular moments in my life, I think are great. Nice. Sweet.

That’s all. And it’s good enough for me.

 As a queen of lists, I’ll even list a few examples:
  • I sell a book!
  • A friend (or stranger) gives me an out-of-the-ordinary compliment
  • I conquer a guitar solo
  • I win a contest (ANY contest, with any prize)
  • I score fantastic seats to a concert or gig I really, really want to attend
  • My daughter tells me, on a day she’s pissed at me, that I’m a great writer
  • My son texts that he loves me and uses several exclamation points
  • I pop out of the water on my first waterski run of the year
  • I drive the lane on a basketball court and do a loop-de-loop up the middle
  • I write a song
  • I’m there for a friend when he or she really needs me (or vice versa)
Or maybe, late one night when I should either be sleeping or practicing guitar, success is as simple as managing to write a blog post about a topic I’m convinced I can’t possibly write about. Like, for instance, what success looks like to me now.
Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

A Writer's Moving Target: Success

by Fae Rowen

The Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus gives these synonyms for success: triumph, victory, smash hit, winner, best seller, sensation, phenomenon.

I'll take any one of those to describe my writing career. Who wouldn't?

Like most things in life, my idea of success as a writer has changed over the years. At first I just wanted to win a writing contest. Then I wanted to get an editor of a large New York publishing house to make an offer for one of my books before I signed with an agent. After that, I would sign with that golden agent everyone dreams of, you know, the one who orchestrates a huge seven-figure auction for the rights to your book. That first book would be a best seller and my agent would have to fight off Hollywood directors who wanted to make it into a movie. Yes, another auction, but I'd keep lots of rights—to be on the set, to veto any changes in the book that I didn't like in the screenplay, to help choose the actors.

Yes, I'm laughing right now. Really. I was naive, and that's being very kind.

I watched my critique partner and friend sign with an agent, then sign multi-book contracts with not one, but two, big New York houses. I was thrilled for her. I knew my time would come soon. Science fiction romance was a harder sell then. Young Adult wasn't even a category yet.

My friend treated her writing and interactions with her agent and editors as a real butt-in-seat job. She
maintained a writing schedule with a daily word count, grew her social media footprint, and wrote great books. She wasn't particularly happy with her covers, or her changing editors, who edited some stories so much they hardly resembled the original. I saw her frustration, even though she never complained and was a "good soldier"—meeting her deadlines and making the requested revisions. She wrote proposals for her agent to pitch and started teaching writing to local writing chapters and at conferences far enough away to need a plane ticket.

During those years, I found someone that I filed away as my dream editor—if I ever had a choice to work with her. I found a cover designer who understood what I wanted and delivered even more. I had a website designed and built a social media platform. I spoke at a couple of conferences. When I made the decision to self-publish, I knew it was the right one for me because I needed control over the publishing pieces that my friend doesn't have.

Yes, I gave up distribution and what marketing New York gives to a debut author (not much these days), but I got to make my own production schedule and I got to work with the team of professionals I'd found. Right now, that's more important to me than large advances and royalty checks. I didn't start writing to make a fortune. I started writing for myself. That others enjoy what I have to say is profoundly gratifying.

It may take me a little longer to make a name for myself, but I still intend to attend the premiere of the movie made from one of my books. Would I sign a contract with a New York house? Maybe. If I found the right agent. But I don't need those contracts now to feel triumph and victory, or to be a smash hit or best seller.

Talking to my readers about my first book, listening to them discuss the characters, how they are waiting for the second book in the series, and hearing their conjectures on what might happen to the people they feel are real, that makes me a winner. Sharing a bit of myself and my vision of what our society might become is my victory.

My feelings about the victory define my success.

And I keep writing. To reach a bigger audience, make a bolder statement, explore more of my ideas.  Will my idea of writing success change? Probably. But that's part of growing up—or into—my new career.

I'd like to wish everyone success today, on the Lunar New Year. This is the Year of the Earth Boar (or Pig), whose motto is "I am eager." This is a year that traditionally holds success, so enjoy all it has to offer you! I wish you a year of great prosperity and happiness. Gung hay fat choy!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

How To Succeed in Writing By Really, Really Trying - Janet Raye Stevens

Hello YA-Outside-the-Liners and welcome to February! 

We’re one month closer to spring and maybe even closer than that if we take Punxsutawney Phil’s word for it (in case you were huddling in a groundhog hole for warmth yesterday and missed it, Phil didn’t see his shadow, so that means an early end to winter!).

This month’s theme is what success looks like now. I was thinking of writing about what success in my everyday life looks like but recounting my skill at successfully matching up every pair of socks I pull out of the dryer or my uncanny ability to snag the last bunch of ripe bananas at the supermarket, while riveting, seems off-topic.

So, I’ll talk about success in writing. And instead of focusing on the now, I’ll start by taking us back to yesteryear and what I thought writing, or rather publishing, success looked like then—back in the days when traditional publishing was king, queen, and emperor all rolled into one. When the big New York publishers actually promoted mid-list authors and “self-publishing” was a dirty (hyphenated) word.

Back then, success to me looked like this:
  • Big book deal with a big-time publisher
  • In-house PR department & promotion
  • Conference appearances
  • Keynote speaker opportunity
  • Book tour 
  • Book signings
  • Multiple print runs
  • Swag & free author copies to pass around
  • Books released in print (both mass-market and trade paperback size)
  • ...and of course, money

Unrealistic, I know, even back then. But when I first started writing for publication, I wanted all of that. Correction, I thought I wanted all of that. 

Since then, the industry has changed, and I’ve changed with it. We’ve both matured. We’ve both been battered by the vagaries of the market and the times that are a-changing. While Amazon and the indie-pub revolution has been chipping away at traditional publishing’s success, I’ve been traveling a convoluted route as I've striven to find my own publishing success. 

I’ve taken classes and workshops and seminars, learning my craft. I’ve sent out hundreds of queries and received an equal number of rejections in return. I had a literary agent offer to rep me and 2 days later change their mind. I’ve entered numerous contests, finalled in and even won some of them, got another agent, and yet another. I’ve been writing and writing and managed to get eight short stories published. All while hoping to eventually ink that big book deal, get that keynote speaking engagement, the multiple print runs, all the swag, and of course, the money. 

Then, one day at a conference, as I sat listening to a multi-best-selling author talk about her long and equally convoluted and Sisyphus-ian journey to success, I realized I didn’t want any of that anymore. Didn’t care about being a keynote speaker or the swag or any of the woo-woo stuff. 

I just wanted to write. And write well.

Success to me now is writing. Cooking up fun and fabulous new plots and bringing those plots to life. Diving into research of other times and places. Continuing to learn the craft and delighting in discovering new facets of my abilities. Success is meeting other authors and becoming friends. Cheering their successes and commiserating with them on their rejections or bad reviews or myriad other un-successes. And success is, of course, the money, in the form of a royalty check I just received for one of my short stories totaling an impressive $2.25.

But most of all, success is having someone tell me they loved reading something I wrote.

Janet Raye Stevens is the successful author of YA, mystery, paranormal, and contemporary romance novels and such short stories with long titles as Mrs. Featherpatch and the Case of the Skewered Ham.  

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

No Your Limits (Brian Katcher)

Mom always told me I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up, 'within reason.' When I asked her what she meant by 'within reason,' she said, 'You ask a lot of questions for a garbage man.'--Jack Handey

They say you miss 100% of the shots you don't take, and I have to agree with whatever sniper or junkie said that. Life is too short for limits, be they person, societal, or speed. One day you're going to wake up and be dead, and that's not the time you want to sit back and wish that you hadn't given up your dreams of being a one man band BUT THEN IT WILL BE TOO LATE. Because you'll be dead.

Take the time I decided to be a writer. When I told my friends and family about this, they all said it would never happen and began pelting me with rotten vegetables and stones until I lay, filthy and bloody in a ditch, with dogs growling at me.

That didn't actually happen, but I think it proves my point. People are going to want you to fail. They'll try to set their limits on you, going on and on about stable income, the odds of failure, and a bunch of crap about having to show a receipt before leaving the store. 

They'll get theirs.

I'll never forget the time my neighbor got this bullshit parking ticket. And did he just roll over and pay it, because that's a limitation to living in a civilized society? Did he allow himself to be kicked by the man?

No! He went downtown and he fought it! This was a guy who wasn't going to be held back--limited--you might say, by a bunch of 'laws.' And he won! The city of Pittsburgh can shove that ticket where the sun don't shine.

And that man's name...WAS MR. ROGERS.
No. Seriously. Episode 1210. Our favorite television neighbor goes to court, and shows us it's okay to feel angry and frustrated.

"Do you know who I am? I'm Mister Gosh Durn Rogers!" 

Now if old Fred isn't going to roll over and accept societies limitations, I'll be damned if I will.

Do not go gently into that good night.

Seriously. It's like three below out there.

How they hell did I start talking about Mr. Rogers?

Monday, January 28, 2019

Limits Are Our Frenemies by Dean Gloster

               Limit—“a restriction on the size or amount of something permissible or possible.”

            This month, here on YA Outside the Lines, we’re supposed to blog about limits, and I have strong views.

            They’re not the woo-woo sparkly rainbow variety you might expect from a fiction writer in Berkeley. (“There are no limits!” He shouted mindlessly, before tripping on the curb and shattering a tibia.) They’re more complicated and perhaps more helpful.

            Limitations—constraints if you will—sometimes make your life as a creator easier, because they give you form: a sandbox with borders instead of the vast, paralyzing sea of endless possibilities.

“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations”—Orson Welles
“And yet the absence of Orson Welles hasn’t limited art much at all”—The Universe

So, for example, if someone says “stick in a poem” you might freeze up, but if they also tell you to rhyme the first, second and fifth lines with each other and the third and fourth, then a limerick pops out easily, with that little ripple of the subversive or humorous implied with the form:

There once was a writer named Dean
Who stared at a blank blog-post screen.
So he stuck in some verse,
Which might make it worse,
But less painful than writing in scenes.

            But not too many limitations. One reason I like writing fiction for young adults is that the guidelines of YA are incredibly loose: It’s a story featuring protagonists of roughly 13-18 (usually 14-17) where the protagonists have some agency and work to solve their own problems, told from the perspective of their current age (not with the benefit of a misty distance of now-that-I’m-all-grown-up-I-know-more.) Typically, the story ends with at least some note of hope or optimism. (There are exceptions. *Cough* Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War. *Cough*) 

You can write in any genre or sub-genre, from contemporary realistic to mystery to fantasy to steampunk or, really, anything. And, if in addition to writing the story, you want it published by one of the larger publishers, it typically has a romantic subplot or at least romantic rooting interest with some chemistry. (Very broadly defined to include, for example, the platonic relationship between Maddie and Verity in Elizabeth Wein’s wonderful Code Name Verity.)

You should read this book. You’re welcome.

Constraints can help you get started. Or can give you something to push against, to resist, to expand the boundaries of what’s possible. One of my favorite writers is A.S. King, who writes luminously weird, fierce, feminist, surrealistic YA books, including Please Ignore Vera Dietz, Ask the Passengers, Everyone Sees the Ants, Reality Boy, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, As I Crawl Through It, Still Life with Tornado, and Dig, which comes out in March.

            On her own blog, A.S. King wrote about how waiving her middle finger at constraints—in the endless lists of “shoulds” floating out there on the internet on how to write YA books—gave rise to her breakthrough (and Printz-award finalist) novel, Please Ignore Vera Dietz.
You should also read this book. Again, you're welcome.

Her blog, of course, is a much better read on that topic:

            Write that YA book from the perspective of your main character in her teen years? Sure. But in Vera Dietz there are also chapters in the form of flow charts from her dad, in the voice of her dead friend Charlie, and from the perspective of a pagoda-shaped building in town. (!) And in Glory O’Brien the protagonist is a teenager, but after drinking a liquified bat she gets glimpses of the future, so she also tells us how she expects to die later in life. Heck, in Still Life with Tornado, the main character’s older and younger selves show up, and she has to deal with them.

            Looking at books that ignore or subvert rules—which are usually just guidelines and sometimes inaccurate shorthand that doesn’t reflect a deeper understanding—is a great way to learn the real underlying principles of storytelling. And breaking rules yourself is a great way to learn the real limits. You learn them in your bones, and you pick up some mad skills by compensating for doing things the hard way. 

            When I was in my early 40s, I took up ski racing, and for a while I was spectacularly terrible at it. I made all the usual mistakes, plus some that no one else had even considered. (Of my helmet-gate-clear technique in GS, one guy said, “I’ve coached at every level from kids to the World Cup, and I’ve never seen anyone ski like that.” He didn’t mean it in a good way.)
What, me worry?

            But I learned from the many equipment-flinging collisions between my ideas and the real world.

I now race in something much closer to the mainstream template of fast, but I also have crazy recovery skills you only get from having used them on great regularity at high speed because of prior bad habits.

            That is, however, the long way, and you do spend a lot of extra time bouncing on ice crystals.

            I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I’m having trouble with the current novel I’m writing, which is completely different than my debut—different point of view, different main character gender, different genre within YA, different almost everything. It’s teaching me, because I’ve made the conscious choice not to lead with what I’m best at, so I have to use some different muscles. But there are some things that have to be there for it to work—the protagonist has to want something (desire, goal) for important reasons (stakes) and encounter opposition and difficulties (conflict.) I’m still working on that, and I’ll let you know later this year if I can make it work, because—well, sometimes you need a time limit.

May we always have something to push against. 

Dean Gloster received an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in July 2017. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Dean’s novel in progress is about a 16-year-old boy reeling after the unexpected death of his older brother, who gets a sketchy summer internship, only to find that it’s with Death herself.
Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Accepting limits (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

There’s plenty of advice out there about overcoming limits that are unfair, arbitrary, or illusory. We are challenged to hurdle them, or push against them, or circumvent them. To prove we have what it takes, to keep reaching for the dream. Reaching for goals we’re not completely sure we can reach keeps us growing.

And yet there’s another side to the story of limits. Sometimes we reach a limit whose best purpose is to send us in another direction.

I reach limits with my writing all the time. This novel ran out of steam. There’s nowhere else to send that short story; time to put it aside. I may have exhausted this genre; time to try another. I can’t write this story now. I can’t fix this book.

I reach limits with book promotion. I can’t handle the travel for that event. I don’t have the energy. I cannot add one more thing to my plate. I love that event but I’ve already been there three times and I have nothing new. This event is never going to take my application. Is this swag really worth the money and trouble?

I can tell when acceptance, rather than forging ahead, is the right approach for a given limit. If the thought of acceptance fills me with relief, it’s time to stop knocking on the closed door and turn my attention elsewhere.

I can always try again later. Many of my successful stories were those that I gave up on for a while, returning years later with new experiences and insights and skills under my belt.

And I can try something different right now. There are open doors, as I discover when I step back from the closed one.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Limits Are Okay With Me (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

The thing about limits is this: it's okay to have them. It's even desirable to have them. The word for healthy limits is boundaries. Knowing your own limits might be one indication of having good self-awareness. And if we want to talk about the external limits the world imposes on each of us—because it does, in one way or another—well, knowing what they are is just smart. That's the only way we'll ever push past them, if we decide it's worth it to try.

I am never going to be an author who publishes four books a year. I don't have four books a year in me, and honestly, I no longer want to. That's not for me. Even if I were single and childfree and had some kind of independent wealth that also came with health insurance so I wouldn't have to work just for the insurance, I wouldn't write four books a year. (Please note that I am not saying there is anything wrong with writing four books a year. It's just not something I am capable of, and I accept that about myself.)

I put limits on my writing life, life puts limits on my writing life. And that's all okay with me, because, to paraphrase Louisa May Alcott, "The books don't love you back." So there are many things besides writing on which I choose to spend my time.

That's okay. It's not failure or laziness to choose not to devote my entire self to writing. It's knowing what I need and want in my life. It's understanding the nature of limits and the healthiness of boundaries.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Pushing the Limits (Brenda Hiatt)

So, this month we’re writing about “limits.” For a lot of people, that word has negative connotations but I’ll argue that some limits are not only good, but necessary. Long before I had aspirations of becoming A Writer, I discovered that too much freedom tended to limit my creativity. In high school poetry assignments, for example, I found free verse way too loosey-goosey for my taste. In fact, given a choice of form, I’d go for a sonnet every time. That rigid structure (anyone remember? ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG—all in iambic pentameter) narrowed my choices enough that I felt free to create within it. Similarly, when I first tried my wings at novel writing, I chose a traditional Regency romance as my first effort. Like sonnets, those followed a relatively strict format: set between 1810 and 1820, the hero and heroine always met early, romantic interactions were constrained by the rigid societal conventions of the time, sensuality was limited to yearning and perhaps a few chaste kisses, they declared their love near the end of the story, then they lived happily ever after. 

Within those limits, I wrote, sold and published half a dozen such novels before the market for traditional Regencies dried up completely in the late 90s. That forced me to venture out of my relatively narrow comfort zone if I wanted to keep selling. On the advice of Mary Jo Putney, I wrote a single title historical romance (though still in my beloved Regency period) that incorporated more history, more plot, and (horrors!) actual sex scenes. And what do you know? It was fun! I went on to write and publish eight historical romances for HarperCollins/Avon within my new, much-expanded limits. One limit that didn’t change was the requisite Happy Ending…and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. In my opinion (which is just that, my opinion), real life already has too much ugliness, tragedy and injustice. When I escape into fiction, as a reader or a writer, I crave uplifting stories that affirm justice, hope and love. 

When I moved on to writing young adult fiction, that last limit was really the only one I brought with me. No matter what trials and tribulations I put my characters through, I want my readers to feel secure in the knowledge that they’ll come out on the other side better, stronger and happier than they went in. Just as I want that as a reader (or moviegoer), it’s what I want for my characters. Sure, in the real world life isn’t always fair. Good doesn’t always triumph over evil and love doesn’t always conquer all. But by golly, I can insist on that in my fictional worlds!  

Now, none of this is to say that there aren’t limits we need to push beyond! Over the years, and especially as I’ve grown older, I’ve done my best to push against lots of limits in my own life. Stepping out of comfort zones is a great way to grow and discover strengths, abilities and other facets of myself I never would have suspected. 

That’s why I started hiking in the Smoky Mountains in my thirties, learned to scuba dive in my forties, and took up Taekwondo after I turned fifty. (Oops, did I just admit my age here? Ack! Another comfort zone left behind!) Oh, and one of my limit-stretching goals for 2019 is to learn German, which I’m already discovering is not an easy language. 

As I move into this new year, and the next year, and the next, I plan to keep pushing my limits whether they’re physical, mental or emotional. (I’m a fairly extreme introvert, so an ongoing limit-stretching goal is to get out and make more friends!) Sure, I’ll come up against limits I can't push through. We all do. But we never know how far we can push until we try. 

So that’s my exhortation to you for 2019: push some of those limits you may be taking for granted. You just might surprise yourself!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Learning to Love my Limitations By Christine Gunderson

I’ve never been big on inspirational sayings, Like Reach for the Stars or Believe in Your Dreams. 

If I designed an inspirational poster, it would feature a unicorn in black leather with an eye patch standing in a hurricane with the caption:

Suck it up. Stop Whining. Try harder.

Mary Englebrecht I am not.

Now, if you’re training to be a Navy Seal, or climb Mt. Everest, a motto like this might be helpful. But I’ve finally realized that as a life philosophy, this a flawed and unhelpful way to look at the world. 

Why? Because we all have limitations. 

Last year I picked A Word for the Year, as so many of my writer friends do. But by February I’d forgotten it. 

This year however, my word sits in a frame in my office where I am forced to look at it every day. That word is:


I have only a nodding acquaintance with patience. We are not close. If patience were calories, I’d be a size 00 petite.

This lack of patience impacts the way I look at my limitations. I don’t have any patience for my limitations, and deep inside I think of them as excuses. I refuse to admit that my limitations are real and valid.

But a few months ago, I took a wonderful online class on productivity and it changed my perspective on limitations. 

I realized that being frustrated by my limitations is like being frustrated that I haven’t won the lottery. Or that I can’t sing like Beyoncé. My limitations are REAL and refusing to accept them just makes me frustrated with a universe I can’t change or control. 

So, this year instead of raging against my limitations, I’m going to try and ACCEPT them. Radical, right?

In that productivity class, I saw many authors who struggle with eliminating distractions to get words on the page.

My struggle is different. I have no trouble starting. My problem is stopping. Writing is the thing that distracts me from doing all the other things I should be doing. 

Like, you know, feeding my children. And taking them to school and bringing them home again. 

It drives me nuts to get into that beautiful, magical zone where the words are flowing, and I’m fully immersed in a world I’ve created and then…Alexa reminds me that it’s time to take someone to the orthodontist.

I love my children, but they are a limitation. And I need to accept that. Instead, I’m constantly looking for ways to squeeze more writing time into my day. Get up earlier, stay up later, don’t eat lunch. 

But the reality is that I’m already up early. I’m already making maximum use of the time I have available to write. 

I don’t think it’s enough time. But guess what? My time is LIMITED, and I have to accept that, instead of raging against the clock.

I need to remind myself that EVERY WRITER has limitations. The universe hasn’t singled me out for some unique form of torture. Some writers have health issues, or financial burdens, or loved ones who need far more care than my three healthy children. 

My limitations are blessings. If I didn’t have them, I wouldn’t be a mother or a wife or a daughter or a friend. I wouldn’t live in a community filled with people and activities where everyone pitches in to coach or organize or chaperone as their time and talents allow. In other words, my limitations are the direct result of a full and happy existence.

It’s time to stop resenting the many blessings that make me a multi-dimensional person with an interesting life. It’s time to approach my limitations with patience and gratitude. It’s time to learn how to love my limitations.

Christine Gunderson is a former television anchor and former House and Senate aide who lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, children and Star, the Wonder Dog.  When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasion or unloading the dishwasher. 


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

She Believed She Could...So She Did by Patty Blount

“Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”  — Joshua J. Marine
“Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.” — William Ellery Channing

Throughout January, we're discussing LIMITS. For many of us, limit is a dirty word, one that tells you NO.

When I first flirted with the idea -- the dream -- of becoming an author, my mother talked me out of it. She said writers were a dime a dozen and earning a living at word-slinging would be next to impossible. So I sought out more pragmatic career choices, giving nursing school a shot before finally finishing college with a degree in computer science.

But the dream endured.

Eventually, in my late 30's, that dream simply refused to sit on the sidelines any longer. I began writing in earnest, finishing first a mystery and then a romantic suspense in my spare time, time spent waiting for my son to finish hockey practice or the hours after my shift-working husband left the house. Writing was a way to fight boredom but it ignited a spark in me that was probably there since birth.

Finishing Penalty Killer and Postpartum Deception showed me I could be a writer, that I had what it takes to develop characters, to plot, to revise, to deliver. That's great but to call myself an author?

That required publication -- something I long considered a limit.

*Note to self-published authors: For me, traditional publication had always been the dream. I mean no disrespect.

For me, publication was the limit on my dream of becoming an author. What hope did I have of getting published? I was a middle-aged woman trying to write fiction for teens, I never completed an MFA and the only professional writing I'd ever done was technical manuals. It seemed like the end of the road to me until I began reading paths to publication from authors I admire. I discovered many lacked the same credentials I thought were essential...yet still were published. My kids were the ones who said, "You don't know unless you try."

So I converted this limit into a challenge and approached it as I did any other challenge... through learning and practice and hopefully....eventually....mastery, though that word sounds egotistical. Our minds are marvelous contraptions. It's easy to fool ourselves -- far easier than I expected. By simply changing how I perceived this limit -- not as a negative, but as a positive -- a goal or an opportunity -- I was able to dive straight in to learning the publication process -- writing a query letter, finding an agent, selling a story, etc. I took workshops and webinars. I checked books out of the library. I joined a professional organization (RWA). I wrote countless drafts of a query letter. I researched agents in the mystery and romance sub-genres and began sending out the query letter version I thought worked best. I even got some interest.

It took years. In fact, it took writing another novel, a young adult novel I called SEND.

And in 2010, it happened. A query letter intrigued a literary agent who offered representation. In 2011, SEND sold to Sourcebooks Fire in a two-book contract.

I'd done it. I'd made a dream come true. But with the realization of that dream came additional limits. Book 2 in the contract was due in six months and I hadn't written it yet. It took me years to write the first one. Could I possibly do that in mere months and still hold on to my fulltime job?

Spoiler alert: yes.

I wrote during lunch breaks and whenever I had to wait for my sons at some practice or another. I wrote on weekends and after work. I wrote whenever and wherever I had a chunk of time. I used to wish for the day when I could quit my day job and just write full time. I'd be able to churn out 3 or 4 books a year if I could spend all day writing.


In 2015, I lost my job. We weren't in a position to go without my salary so I made a plan to spend all morning job-searching and all afternoon writing. I finished a full-length novel in 6 weeks! But you know what happened?

I was bored!

The writing process grew into a chore instead of a fun and creative escape from chores. When I had 5 or 6 hours to stare at my computer screen, I became blocked instead of more prolific. The limits on my time were, in fact, responsible for fueling my creativity. That was an eye-opening realization. I took a good long look at other aspects of my life that were limited and discovered similar characteristics. I was my own limit.

Travel: All my life, my movement and travel has been limited due to FEAR. I get lost easily so I was always afraid to go anywhere alone. If I couldn't travel with a friend, I simply didn't go. Then, technology improved and tools like map sites and GPS devices freed me from my self-imposed limits. Today, I can travel anywhere I need to go, alone.

Health: Like Mary, who wrote that her knees limited her, I'm dealing with a disease that can rob me of my mobility. I can't run, I can't wear heels, I can't climb stairs...yada, yada, yada. I started doing yoga and to my shock, I can once again reach my own toes.

The lesson here is not to look at limits as CAN'TS and DON'TS any more. Instead, look at them as opportunities to surprise yourself with what IS possible. For example, I still get lost and my health is still an issue. But it is possible for me to travel and it is possible for me to be active provided I use my personal limitations as guidelines, create a plan for moving within and then beyond those guidelines.

When I succeed -- and I almost always do -- the self-satisfaction is sweeter than I can ever describe.

Monday, January 21, 2019


Pushing the limit feels good. I’ll admit. Because we love to surprise ourselves. We love not knowing for certain if something can be done and then actually accomplishing the feat.

Maybe that’s a crazy word-count goal. I’ve made many (hello, 5,000-word-a-day goals). Maybe it’s a publishing goal (yes, even this year, I plan to publish 4 new books). It’s a little like running a marathon (or so I hear). At the end, there’s supposedly this euphoria of having crossed the finish line. That’s what makes people run another marathon.

It’s what makes people want to create another crazy goal. It's addictive.

I’ll probably never hit a time when I DON’T have some crazy goal hovering out there in the distance.

I’m also recognizing the importance of work that gets done that’s not quantifiable. There’s a ton of it, when the work is creative. Figuring out plot problems. Finding the right voice for a narrator. That doesn’t necessarily involve a ton of new words. Or you might need to spend a few hours figuring out a new program. OR (this one’s really horrible): You might cut 10K out of the project. Is that a step back?

No. It’s not. It’s progress.

Here’s the thing I’m coming to terms with: Making crazy goals and pushing your own limit AND recognizing the value of non-quantifiable work days are not mutually exclusive. Crazy goals are also not all-or-nothing. You tell yourself you’re going to get a book completely finished by the end of January. On the 20th, you have an ah-ha! moment that means you make one of those 10k-word cuts. Does that mean you failed and the crazy goal is abandoned completely?

Nope. It means you look at what now needs to be done. You make a revised crazy goal: mid-February. It’s two weeks later than originally planned, but it’s JUST two weeks. It’s my experience that if I don’t give myself another deadline / goal, it can really fall apart. Suddenly, it’s mid-March, and the thing isn’t completely done yet.

So right now, for me, pushing the limits means to make goals (AND maintain the willingness to revise those goals), recognize the importance of all kinds of work, and to always, always, always KEEP GOING.

Friday, January 18, 2019

I'm Going to Write and Publish Three Books This Year (Alissa Grosso)

It's January, which is a time for making New Year's resolutions and setting goals. I've set a goal for myself that is at once terrifying and exciting.

I plan on writing and publishing three books this year. I actually did publish three books last year, but two of them were sort of already written. So, this year's goal is a big step up for me.

I've been cautioned by a few people who probably think they're being sensible and realistic, that this goal might not be an attainable one. I'll admit I've even had a few doubts myself.

But that sort of thinking is a sure way to limit oneself. January's not over yet and the first draft of the first book is more than halfway done. I've got eleven more months ahead of me and I plan on using my time wisely.

Don't limit yourself by what others think is realistic and attainable, and don't let limiting beliefs stop you from achieving all that you want to do. So, with that in mind what is your big, limit-crushing goal this year?

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Limiting the Limits (Jodi Moore)

We are Cirque-a-holics in our family. From our first experience years ago with Cirque du Soleil’s LOVE (a tribute to the Beatles), we were hooked. The artistry, athletic skill and inspiration filled our minds, hearts and souls to overflowing.

The T-shirts in the gift shop were more than mere souvenirs. The words splashed across them allowed us to take a little piece of it home, to embrace the spirit:

I am ready. The sky is not the limit.

That line spoke to us. Motivated us. It compelled each one of us to move out of our comfort zones, to burst forward, upward! To fulfill our dreams.

Nothing would hem us in. Nothing.

For a long time, I’ve believed that.

I still do.

However, there’s a difference between believing there are no limits and defining your own.

Too often, we make the mistake of boxing ourselves in. Sometimes (for multiple reasons), we accept the limits others have set for us. Other times, a lack of confidence on our part determines the weight of the restraints.

To this, I say…toss that box! Break it down. FLY. The sky is not the limit!

(I know, easier said than done.)

Of course, sometimes limits are important. For example, we need to follow speed limits or risk getting a ticket.

It’s also important to note that sometimes we need to place limits on ourselves for our own health and sanity. For example, I should limit myself to three cookies instead of eating the entire plate. I should limit my screen time to maximize my writing efforts. I should/must limit the amount of energy I spend on toxic people.

Finally, there are variables in this world outside of our control. What became achingly clear to me last month is that the biggest limit imposed upon us is Time.

I’m not talking about Age. As my husband says, “I can’t change age, but I can change attitudes.” Our younger son started studying magic at the age of 4, performing professionally at 12 and won “Best Newcomer/Magicians’ Alliance of the Eastern States” at 15 (incidentally, he’s the one who introduced us to Cirque.) I didn’t get my first picture book contract until I was 50. And the hubby who came up with that fantastic motto? He's entering his fifth decade of providing music by request as a disc-jockey. (And a totally awesome one at that!)

Age does not need to limit anyone.

I’m talking about time itself. The tick, tick, tick of the clock. The rapid turn of each page of our calendars. The amount of time – however its determined – that we, and those we love, spend on this earth.

Last month, I lost my dad. And suddenly, the limits that time imposes upon us hit me like a tsunami. This wasn’t a limit I’d set or could somehow overcome. I couldn’t stop it, swim through it or surf over it.

It just crashed over me.

Our family and friends huddled tight. At first, we cried with shared grief. But then, as we began to share memories, we smiled. We laughed at the funny anecdotes and held the pictures close to our hearts.

You see, it's these memories that keep our precious ones alive.

And so, I shall write the stories…because if there’s anything in this world that’s truly limitless, it’s love.