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.

Friday, January 11, 2019

I Can't... (Maryanne Fantalis)

When the theme of limits was chosen for this month, I groaned. I know I'm supposed to be all happy and upbeat and rah-rah: there are no limits, you can do anything you put your mind to, you just have to believe. Reality TV has made an industry out of this idea. Just don't give up; eventually, someone will see your gift.

And hey, it worked for me. From the time I submitted my first novel to the time Finding Kate got published I spent more than 20 years writing, getting rejections, learning the craft, doing more writing and getting more rejections. I could have given up (and for a while I kind of did, flitting between projects for several years). Getting Kate published took over 5 years all by itself.

So, yes, believing in your dream is important, but let's also acknowledge that it's exhausting to keep believing all the time. "You can do it if you just believe!" has its limits as an effective strategy. Acknowledge that. Give yourself a break from time to time.

As a person with lots of things going well, I know that most of my limits are self-imposed. Take my latest accomplishment, for instance. In December, I sent my latest MS off to my editor. Hooray, right? I should be proud and happy.

Mostly I'm feeling relieved and guilty: relieved because it's finally done, and guilty because it wasn't done sooner. I missed several self-imposed deadlines along the way, and I feel terrible about that. Sure, I was busy with my teaching obligations and shifting into the demands of a new job, but there were plenty of times when I lacked the self-discipline to make sure that the work got done when it needed to.

When it came time to write this blog post, I asked one of my writing group buddies for help. He said, "What if there were no limits?" I wanted to laugh. And maybe cry a little. So much of my life has been bounded by my perception of my own limitations: the things I can't do, or shouldn't do, or won't be allowed to do.

So what I'd like to do this year, as I begin my next novel, is allow myself to think without limits. What if, for this novel, I took baby steps towards thinking that my writing is a valuable and important part of my life? What if I demanded time for writing and took it seriously, professionally?

I'll be honest with you, just writing those words feels like a joke. That right there, those are my limits.

Any advice? Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Limitless...Mostly. by Joy Preble

LIMITLESS is the title of a picture book/gift-type book by Leah Tenari that we sold a bunch of at the bookstore this holiday season. It's a compilation of little bios and lovely drawings of 24 remarkable American women -- ranging from Sojourner Truth to Abby Wambach and a bunch of others in between. It's a fabulous, inspiring book. The basic message? We are, as women and humans, limitless in what we aspire to. We should aim high. Dream big. Don't accept constraints place on us by those who don't believe we can follow our aspirations to the stars.

I believe this. I talk a lot about how I believe this. How you are never too old or too young to follow your dreams. It's how I moved from woman who taught high school English every day and secretly wanted to be a writer to woman who has 7 plus books on shelves and hopefully more on the way. I'm the poster girl for limitless some days-- those moments I have to pinch myself to believe that I am now a person who speaks at conferences and teaches workshops to adults on writing and has actual reader fans who tell me lovely things about my work. My world has broadened exponentially since I decided not to place limits on my dreams. I am lucky and fortunate in so many ways.

But. Here's the thing.

Sometimes, limits are okay.

Sometimes you can only do so much in the hours in each day and sometimes life--jobs, health, family, just plain old exhaustion--gets in the way.

As it seems it was for lots of us, 2018 was a rough year. I was not as productive as I wanted to be, and yet when I go over what I did accomplish this year, the truth is that I was as productive as I could be given all the other things that had to take precedence. 

So. Here's what I think this morning as I realize that maybe the stretch of those limits is why this post is a day late and you, dear readers, were supposed to be pondering it yesterday:

Sometimes we need limits. Sometimes we need to say Hey. I'm pushing too hard. It will get done when it gets done or at least I will take on fewer things that need to get done. I will occasionally walk the dog without revising a chapter in my head and I will not feel like a slacker when I don't get up at 5 am to write but instead get up at 5 am because I like getting up early and this morning I am going to make 3 dozen muffins for a writing retreat and the pages will get done tomorrow. I will close my ears to the endless publishing noise of BIG ANNOUNCEMENTS and I will announce that today I have limited myself to the announcement that yes, I took out an hour to catch up with Outlander and have duly watched Roger Mac get into all sorts of trouble and woes and dear, handsome Jamie Fraser make some monumental errors in judgment. I have gone to the day job and written less than I want to and taken time to cook this really amazing turkey cutlet dish with lemons and capers. I have declared that enough.

Sometimes we need to limit our pace. Resist the impulse to post our word counts and the list of places we are going and the many, many things we will absolutely get done this year because in listing them we convince ourselves that setting no limits makes us somehow more worthy.

And okay, yes, this weekend, I am going to finish this book, finally, months after I thought I would.
But right now, I'm watching the dog curl up on the rug in just the right patch of winter sunlight.
And pressing publish on this post.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Stretching, Limits, Balance by Kimberly Sabatini

As a dancer, runner, a mom, and a writer, I know about the power of stretching. 
Reaching for more, even when you do it in small increments can net large gains over time.

I tend to believe that reaching for the stars--extending--almost always leads to unexpected, positive surprises. 

And pride. 

But I also believe in the power of limits. 

Boundaries are sometimes just as powerful and beneficial as the breaking of glass ceilings.

It's not just about trying to stay in my own lane. 

Sometimes it's about deadlines and expectations. 

And it's about making things fit--understanding your container and not overstuffing.

And sometimes...

“Done is better than good.” 
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

But if stretching AND having limits are both really good things that have positives--how the heck is someone supposed to know when to push and when to sit back?

I think it comes down to balance.

We have to feel our way...
 and constantly reinvent ourselves in order to find our equilibrium between stretching and using limits to their best effect.

We have to be comfortable making mistakes, self-examining our choices and changing directions. 

I'm currently reading a fascinating book that is making me think deeply about these very topics and a ton more...

“Fear can be created quickly; trust can’t.” 
― Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Take all the time you need to keep discovering how stretching, limits, and balance work the best for you. And when you think you have it all figured out--be sure to remember that you've only begun to scratch the surface. You've got a lot more work ahead of you. <3

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Sky’s the Limit (Mary Strand)

Happy New Year!

This month, our blog topic is “limits”: setting them, recognizing them, dealing with them, getting around them, ignoring them, etc.  Basically, how we react to limits imposed on us by ourselves or others.

My first reaction is that I don’t believe in limits.  I definitely reject outright all limits that others try to impose on me, and I generally laugh in their face while doing so.


As I leave in the dust a really tough year, when not one but both knees utterly let me down, it occurs to me that I wound up putting limits on myself.  Sure, I didn’t tend to think of it that way.  I mostly just shook my fist at the universe or declared that I was royally screwed.  (If you spell “screwed” beginning with an “f.”)

Feeling as wrecked and hopeless as I did all year, I simply accepted that I couldn’t write.  At least, I couldn’t write funny stuff, and that’s what I write.  For a few weeks last summer, I did try.  It wasn’t funny and didn’t sound like me, so I finally gave up.  Instead, I worked on revisions to old manuscripts.  I got through two of them.  I also spent more time than usual on guitar and vocals, and I started writing songs.  I discovered that I love songwriting, and it feeds me creatively.  In a big way.

So, basically, I made some decent use of my time in 2018, but I still lost hundreds of hours to the limits imposed on me by my knees.  Which means I let myself be limited by me.

To quote the brave teenage Parkland survivors: I call bullshit on that.

Does Chris Hemsworth have anything to do with limits?
Not that I can think of.  You're welcome.

I don’t believe in limits, whether I set them myself or some jerk tries to impose them on me.  Yeah, yeah, I did let limits attach themselves to me like a psychopathic fungus in 2018, but that was soooo 2018.

In 2019, I get a do-over.  I get to reach for the stars and new book ideas and finished manuscripts and book contracts and playing sports and getting the songs I write into the right person’s hands.  I get to look for success, and find it, in every imaginable way.  I get to set goals that other people say are unrealistic or utterly outside of my control.  I get to dream.  As in, go big or go home.

In 2019, I get to be me again.  And I refuse to let any limits stop me.

Including my own.

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

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Definite Limits, Approximate Limits, Infinite Limits, and No Limits

by Fae Rowen

I have to admit that I giggled when I saw this month's topic. I mean, how can a calculus teacher not be excited about getting to blog about limits?

No worries, you won't be getting a math lesson from me today. But I have to admit that I cannot think about limits without mathematical ideas. So here we go with limits-as they apply to writing.

Definite Limit: A definite limit is an exact number, a constant.

In life, we might call it a hard limit or hard line, something you cannot cross.

Like a deadline for taxes or a job application. Or delivering a book to an editor.

In writing, it's the requirements of genre writing, like the HEA in a romance or red herrings in a mystery. Your publisher expects a clean copy of your manuscript, with zero typos and zero grammatical errors. I have a friend who writes for a New York publisher who requires her to have exactly twenty-two chapters in every book. Not twenty-three, not twenty-one.

As writers, we all have our definite limits about certain words we will not put on the page or types of scenes we will not write. These are all non-negotiable.

Approximate Limit: An approximate limit is the limiting factor in a situation. Let's say you are at the fifty-yard line on a football field, pointed toward your goal. For your first play, you run half the distance to the goal line. Your second play you run half the remaining distance to the goal line. You continue running half the distance to the goal line for as long as you're willing to run. Soon, you're within an eyelash of the goal line, but when you take your next move, you will be half the most recent distance to the goal. You will never reach the goal line, although you will be painfully close to it. Your limit is the goal line.

An example of an approximate limit in writing is the page or word count a publishing house requires. Eighty-five thousand words is a target. A little above or a little below is fine. No one expects you to turn in a book with exactly eighty-five thousand words. If you're writing a thriller, your main character encounters danger and suspense close to the first page. Some set-up may be allowed, but your readers must be on the edge of their seats by the end of the first chapter, which becomes your approximate limit.

Infinite limit: A strict mathematical definition of infinite limit is something (a function) increasing, or decreasing, without bound. In other words, something gets bigger and bigger and never levels off or gets smaller. Wouldn't it be nice if your bank account had an infinite upper bound, and just kept getting bigger and bigger, even if by just a small amount? (Note: Technically, an infinite limit means the limits does not exist, however, that is the mathematical purist view.)

As a writer, I think of the emotion in my story as an infinite limit. It doesn't matter what the emotion is—fear, love, or something else—but everything my characters think, do, say or experience should ratchet up that emotion until the end of the book. Readers read fiction to feel emotion, to make a connection. It is my job to take them deeper and farther along that journey to a satisfying ending, so they can continue feeling and thinking about the story after the last word. They may not remember the plot in two years, but if they remember the way they felt during reading the novel and afterward, I've done my job.

When a reader encounters this infinite limit, they tell others about your books, they put your next book on pre-order.

No Limit or A Limit Does Not Exist: This one sounds scary, particularly if you've ever lived with a teen. It simply means that when you approach a problem from two opposite directions, you do not end up at the same place. Yes, it's like your best argument for your teen to do something turned around to come at the issue from the opposite direction and get an entirely different result.

This is frustrating, even dangerous in real life. It's dangerous as a writer, too, because this is the place that readers talk about throwing the book at the wall. Our logic, our genre promise, our characters, must follow rules—either society's, someone they love (or hate or work for) or their own.

Be very careful in no limit territory in your writing.

But in your writing life, remember that there are no limits. None at all. Whether you're just starting out, ready to begin the submitting process, starting publishing, or continuing an established writing career, you are the sculptor of that career. If you need to learn more about the craft, take classes, read articles and books. If you haven't finished a book yet, finish it this year. If you don't know how to market, attend a conference, talk to other authors and learn how to market your work and yourself. If you can't bear to write one more romance and want to ditch your successful career, decide how you can change things up by putting a twist on your romance idea and write that story in a different genre.

The only way you fail as a writer is to quit writing. That's a definite limit.

How can you remove some of the limits you've put on yourself? 
Do you have someone you can ask for support when necessary?


Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules. P.R.I.S.M., Fae's debut book, a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, and love is now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

New Year, New You, No Limits - Janet Raye Stevens

Hello, YA Outside the Liners, and happy 2019! Like a gazillion other people, I celebrated New Year’s Eve by gathering with family and friends. And also like a gazillion other people, I ordered Chinese takeout. The evening ended in the usual way, with cheers, toasts, and drinking a cup of kindness for auld lang syne. The takeout meal ended in the usual way too, with a fortune cookie.

“A goal is a dream with a deadline,” my fortune read. 

Appropriate for a writer, huh? Especially with the new year upon us and many new goals being set. I’m pretty sure I can achieve that ‘dream with a deadline’ if I just get my butt in the chair, put my hands on my keyboard, and get to work. Oh, and not get waylaid by one of the words I dread most… limits.

Haha, bet you thought I was going to say “slacks” or “albeit,” two words that make me gnash my teeth in annoyance (seriously, no one under the age of 85 wears slacks and unless you’re penning your doctoral thesis in microbiology or something, never, ever use the word albeit). 

No, the word that makes me cringe is limit, as in things we writers face that limits us reaching our goals. The word that stops us from taking that risk, or turning that small step of an idea into a giant leap. 

The list of limits stopping us is long—here are only a few:
  • time limits (what do you mean one must stop to eat and/or sleep?)
  • family & domestic needs (those dishes aren’t going to wash themselves)
  • physical limits (banging on the keyboard for 8 hours straight may induce oh-my-aching-back syndrome)
  • hitting a creative wall (when you find yourself writing yet another love triangle for your heroine because you’ve run out of other ideas, just stop)
  • and my old friend, procrastination (hmm, when was the last time I dusted the top of the refrigerator? Oh well, can’t hurt to do it again now).

But I find there is no limit more insidious, more efficient at stopping a writer than the Borg queen of all limiting limits: Self-Doubt. That nattering nabob of negativism inside me that says you can’t write that. You’ll fail. You don’t know anything about XYZ. 

That’s the limit I’m constantly battling, and, I suspect, what a lot of writers are battling. 

For instance, I’d always told myself I couldn’t write short, and thus would never be able to write short stories. Truth is, I’d never tried to do it. My internal editor was setting a limit before I could even undertake the task. It was a long battle to overcome that self-doubting inner voice before I could sit down and write my first short story. The result? Nine mystery and romance stories published over eight years. 

Yet I still had trouble calling myself “published.” They’re only short stories, not novels, that limiting voice inside me said. I’ve had to train myself—and dope slap that inner critic more than once—to see the shorts for what they are: a successful forward movement in my publishing journey.

Another example... I’m a dedicated genre-hopper, writing YA, sci-fi, mystery and paranormal. There’s usually a romantic sub-plot in each of my stories, but I always told myself I couldn’t write a real romance, where the love story is the story. 

Until two years ago. 

I had an idea for a contemporary romance, specifically a Christmas romance. Totally not your schtick, my inner voice said. So what if contemporary romance is the most popular sub-genre of the best-selling fiction genre (romance--nearly $1.5 billion in sales for both traditional & indie romances in 2017)? So what if Christmas romances are the hottest selling sub-sub-genre of the contemporary sub-genre of the romance genre? 

I couldn’t write it. 

Or so I thought. I drafted up a two-page synopsis just to get the idea on paper and went back to my revisions on another story. The idea wouldn’t go away, so I sat down and wrote a solid first three chapters, followed by a loose draft that ended up being around 26,000 words. I then returned to tweaking my YA Sci-Fi so I could enter it into the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart contest for unpubbed romance. 

As I prepped my YA, I waffled about tossing my silly little Christmas story in there too. The pro side of the waffle: the story was perfect for the short contemporary category—romance-y, Christmas-y, sweet, and set in current day and on this planet. The con side of the waffle? At 26,000 words, the story was too short. Not to mention incomplete and as messy as a first draft has every right to be. 

Here’s where the self-doubt and limits came in again. I had one month until the deadline. Though contest entrants are only judged on the first 50 pages, the manuscript has to be complete, and for the short contemporary category, at least 50,000 words. I told myself I’d never make the deadline. It’d be impossible to polish up the entry pages while banging out another 25,000 words, and write a synopsis to boot. 

Then I told that inner voice to quit it. To stop limiting myself and just do it. So I did. The final product was messy but a complete story and I literally typed THE END and submitted the whole shebang five minutes before the deadline. The rest? Well, the manuscript made the finals then won its category, which helped me land an agent who is very excited to get the story out on submission. 

COLE FOR CHRISTMAS goes out to editors in a few weeks. 

Moral of the story—if I’d given into the doubts and fears trying to limit me, I would never have been able to move forward. So whatever idea you have in mind, whatever it is you want to do, my advice is don’t say I can’t. Tell your inner limiter to button its self-doubting lip and say yes

Here’s to a new year of hopes and resolutions fulfilled, challenges accepted and won, new goals, new dreams—and no limits (er, except maybe lay off using the word 'slacks').

So very groovy!