Wednesday, January 29, 2020

What I Learned in 2019 (Brian Katcher)

I learned how to install a dishwasher. That's all. That's the only thing I learned.

Ours broke down and Lowe's didn't offer free installation. The Lowe's guy, a former student of my wife's, said it wasn't too difficult, but if I didn't want to risk it, a plumber could do it for about $100.

I decided to try it myself. And much to my utter shock, I succeeded. Totally. It runs perfectly.

So, no new book contract. No great life lessons. But I did learn to do something practical. The end.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Knowing Wrong from Write by Dean Gloster

            When I was twelve, my brothers and I would hike up a sagebrush-covered hill to Mass at the Carmelite Monastery of Reno, Nevada.

            It was very Sound of Music. A couple dozen of us locals sat in pews, while an equal number of nuns sang to guitar accompaniment, all overseen by a priest who’d done something unspecified bad enough to get reassigned to offering masses there.

            One day, at the opening of his sermon, the priest said, “We all do things we know are wrong. For example, I’m living with a woman…”

            That got my attention. Wait. What?

            We all do things we know are wrong.

            And then some of us wrestle with that, out loud, for a small audience. It was gripping, listening to priest discuss how he was conflicted. (I still remember parts of that sermon many decades later.)

Unfortunately, as those of us who write stories know, change is difficult. That’s one reason so many terrible things happen to protagonists—it takes a lot of suffering, and getting it wrong, and making wrong choices, to change in the end to make things right.

            Denial is strong. (Can we just ignore the problem? For now?) So is bargaining. (Can I change just a little bit?) In 2019, I learned two things, and they’re painful enough that I really have to change.

            First, in the category of real, physical pain, this year I have to get some parts of my lower spine removed. I’ve got a bulging disc and some spinal stenosis, and five years of serious pain has been enough.

The bad news: I need surgery. The good news:
They found a spine, so we know I’m not a Republican Senator. Whew!

            It’s mostly okay when I sit, but I used to plan scenes while walking or pacing, and that’s gotten painful. So if the surgery is a success, that may even make my writing easier.

            The other thing that’s gone wrong interferes even more with my writing. Instead of writing my current novel, I often procrastinate.

            Since November, 2016, that’s gotten worse, because I spend a lot of time on the flaming hellscape of political Twitter, jabbering away about the misdeeds of the current administration and its enablers.

            I like Twitter: I’ve always enjoyed writing jokes, and Twitter offers almost instant feedback and gratification. By contrast, as Alain de Botton pointed out, writing a book is like telling a joke and then waiting two years to find out if it’s funny.

            Writing novels is solitary, and I have some PTSD from a difficult childhood, which I’ve written about before here at YAOTL. So for me, Twitter offers a nice mix of being social with enough distance that the people I interact with don’t get close enough to be scary.

            I also treat Twitter as my personal quirky college radio station, to broadcast the weird, unasked-for things I feel like sending out—a tweet every morning about coffee, a tweet most days about writing, good night messages to people waking up in Australia, scathing political humor, and frequent current event limericks. (Yes, really. They’re my least popular tweets, but I keep doing them, anyway, because I like them.)

            And I believe that, especially in times like ours, when America is caging children of families legally seeking asylum and our institutions are under authoritarian assault, we all have duty to speak out somewhere. Particularly writers, who practice communicating clearly in a way to create a genuine emotional reaction.

We writers are told we must “create our platform.” Once we have one, though, we should also use it for more than ritual adverb sacrifices.

            All that said, we writers have our own work to do and to finish, which is different than spending hours a day on Twitter. And those of us who want to change our country for the better should spend our time doing that effectively. Liking tweets or writing anti-Trump jokes is not the same as accomplishing something in the real world, which requires things like donating money, registering voters, and going door-to-door to get out the vote.

            So for the next few months, I’ll be working hard to finish my next novel, and will be spending less time on Twitter.

            As the priest said in my youth, we all do things we know are wrong, or not, anyway, ideal for us. I hope this year to finish my current novel and to do more things right. (And write.)

Best wishes for a great 2020, and good luck to us all.

Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. 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 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.”

When Dean is not writing, studying Aikido, or downhill ski racing, he’s on Twitter, where--despite the limericks--he has over 136,000 followers: @deangloster

Monday, January 27, 2020

What's really important? (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

2019 reminded me, via the memorial services I attended and the cancer battles I witnessed, that life is short and unpredictable. I’ve been keeping in better touch with friends and relatives and deepening my spiritual life, and whatever else goes undone because of that, I don’t miss.

For the past few years, I’ve been finding my way back to the idea of writing what I need to say, more than what I think someone else expects or will approve of. It’s been a long slow process, but I’ve been enjoying writing more again.

Probably the question 2019 asked me, more than any other, was, “What’s really important?”

This is what I’m carrying into 2020.

Friday, January 24, 2020

First Things First (Brenda Hiatt)

My 2019 was full of disruptive changes. Last spring, my recent-retired hubby and I came to the difficult realization that Key Largo, where we’d planned to spend our golden years, wasn’t actually the best fit for us after all. Our place here is gorgeous and relaxing, but very isolated. This works well (honestly, too well) for me, because I’m such an introvert. 

While there, I can easily go weeks at a time without leaving the property or speaking to another human being, other than my husband. Good for writing, but probably not terribly healthy. My hubby, on the other hand, is an extreme extrovert and the isolation was really getting to him after a lifetime of interacting with coworkers and friends on a regular basis. Then there’s the issue of climate change and sea level rise, and the realization that in a dozen years or so we might not be able to sell the Key Largo house at all (if, say, most of the island is underwater by then). 

These epiphanies sent us on a search for alternatives and in June we bought a house in The Villages, a thriving active retirement community (a city, really) in north-central Florida. There we have activities galore to choose from, which is making my outgoing hubby very happy. I’ve started venturing out of my shell, too, and discovering fun stuff I enjoy out of the house. Along the way, we spiffed up our longtime family home in Indiana and sold it, then moved wholesale from there to The Villages. 

Needless to say, all of this impacted my writing time in a big way. I found myself increasingly frustrated and torn between all the stuff I needed and/or wanted to do and the writing I love. How to fit everything into my increasingly busy life? 

Maybe you’ve seen or heard about the illustration where you have a jar, some rocks, some pebbles, and some sand. If you put the sand in first, then the pebbles, the rocks won’t all fit in the jar. But if you put the rocks in first, then let the pebbles work their way into the gaps between the rocks, then pour the sand in to fill the remaining space between pebbles, everything fits! The rocks, of course, represent your top priorities. The pebbles are things that need to be done at some point (laundry, errands) but are hardly life-changing. And the sand is all the other “stuff” that eats up time without any measurable benefit. 

I’d seen variations on this illustration numerous times over the years but had never really managed to apply it to my life. Somehow, things like email and social media, not to mention all the distractions mentioned above, continued crowding out what could be writing time.

But in the fall of 2019 I attended two different writer conferences and the same message kept hitting me at workshop after workshop: do the important stuff first. Then I read a book by Becca Syme (one of those presenters), Dear Writer, You Need to Quit. In it, she challenged writers like me to write first thing, before anything else could claim my time. 

Girding my loins, I decided to accept that challenge. I’d forego my years-long habit of eating breakfast in front of my laptop while checking my email and social media and would instead write before going online. It was a scary concept. I could barely remember the last time I’d eaten breakfast without my laptop, except once or twice when the internet was out. By now, though, I was desperate enough to make real progress on my book to try almost anything.

And guess what? It worked! 

Not only did I start getting to my desk a full hour or two earlier than usual, I wrote more pages, faster, than I had in many months. In fact, I was easily meeting my daily page quota by noon! That meant I had the whole rest of the day to do other stuff. Fun stuff, necessary stuff, all the stuff. And lo and behold, it all fit! One unexpected benefit: without the distraction of the internet, I started eating breakfast with my husband, something we hadn’t done together since….well, ever. Already I have a feeling this new schedule will improve my marriage along with my writing productivity. 

Needless to say, this is one lesson I plan to apply not only in 2020, but well into the future!
Brenda Hiatt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty-four novels (so far), including sweet and spicy historical romance, time travel romance and, with her Starstruck series, young adult science fiction romance. 

Thursday, January 23, 2020


By Christine Gunderson
This month we’re blogging about things we learned in 2019. This year I learned the meaning of word ‘endurance.’
            I learned it by watching a show with my kids called, I Shouldn’t be Alive.
            I Shouldn’t Be Alive features gripping stories told by people who, well, Shouldn’t Be Alive. Like the experienced outdoorsman who tipped his four-wheeler in the Yukon and was pinned underneath it for days as coyotes circled, looking for an easy meal. As the temperature dipped below zero, he had to survive the night using ingenuity and superhuman endurance. 
            Some of these stories involve “endurance athletes.” Like the marathon runner who fell into a ravine and was seriously injured in the middle of nowhere, with only her dog for company. Her leg was broken so she did sit-ups all night long to keep from falling asleep and succumbing to hypothermia. I’m not kidding. Hundreds and hundreds of sit-ups, with broken bones. She credited her survival to her training and mindset as an endurance athlete.
            Let me state for the record that I am not an endurance athlete. In fact, I the opposite of an endurance athlete. I am an I Just Spent Ten Minutes on The Peloton and Now I Am Exhausted and Need to Take A Nap and Eat A Brownie type of athlete.  So, when I watch I Shouldn’t Be Alive, I feel pretty inadequate. If I was pinned under a four-wheeler in the Yukon, the title of my episode would be, “She Fell Asleep and Was Eaten by Coyotes.”
            But I’ve been thinking about the word endurance and I’ve decided my definition is too narrow. Physical endurance is the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word, but writing a novel is also an act of endurance. 
I just spent two days alone in a hotel room for hours and hours, writing. I had seven writer friends with me at the same hotel. We socialized at dinner and breakfast, but for the most part, we parked ourselves in our rooms with our laptops and wrote. 
            Keeping your derriere in the chair, your mouth closed and the TV off when the words aren’t coming is a form of endurance. Continuing to put words on the page when you have no idea what’s going to happen next is an act of endurance. And like so many acts of endurance, it’s also an act of faith; faith that there is a reward on the other side, that your efforts will yield fruit even if you can’t see what that fruit looks like as you labor. 
            I’m also learning that endurance doesn’t have to be a hardship. I love writing more than anything in the world, but writing a good book is hard. My parents have been married happily for fifty-one years but hearing the same stories from the same person for five decades is an act of endurance. Raising kids is an act of endurance. Stop any minivan you see on the street and ask the mom inside how many miles she’s driven this month. That’s endurance.
            I also have celiac disease and ulcerative colitis, two super fun auto-immune diseases that over the course of the years have limited my diet to air and water. Those are basically the only two things I can ingest without feeling crummy. But I stick to my restrictive diet because I want to feel good more than I want a donut (though I really, really love donuts). Denying myself everything on the menu but salmon, asparagus and the fruit bowl for dessert so I can stay healthy is an act of endurance. 
(Note to people who run restaurants: a bowl of fruit is NOT dessert and you should stop pretending that food without butter, sugar or chocolate is dessert. Because IT IS NOT. Would you like a cantaloupe cake on your birthday? No. You wouldn’t. So just stop this fruit-is-a-dessert ridiculousness and serve people with celiac disease the flourless chocolate tortes they deserve). 
            In 2019 I learned to expand my definition of this word and I learned to give myself credit for having some endurance. The book I started on Martin Luther King weekend in 2019 is now on submission. And this year on Martin Luther King weekend I started a new one. I have six thousand words so far. Only about 75,000 more to write. And I’ll get there, even when it’s hard, because to my surprise I’ve learned that I too have endurance.
            Just don’t ask me to run a marathon.
            Christine Gunderson lives outside Washington, DC, with a patient and supportive husband, three kids who love Star Wars as much as she does, and two high maintenance dogs who sleep under her desk when she writes. Her hobbies include sailing the Chesapeake Bay, re-reading Persuasion, and unloading the dishwasher. 

You can contact Christine at her website:

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

This is so awkward but... (by Patty Blount)

In the interest of things I've learned, you first need some perspective. It appears... *coughs* well, I'm told... *clears throat* 



I said it. 

I'm the person who sees the negative, the cloud in every silver lining. The things my inner voice says are utterly cruel. I would NEVER speak that way to anyone – friend or enemy – so why is it okay to talk to myself like this?

Spoiler alert: It’s not.

A year or so ago, some friends told me directly that my negativity is the source of all that's wrong in my life. 

As you can imagine, that wasn't exactly music to my ears. But I heard it. One of those friends told me I'm too smart not to see that. And another handed me a gratitude journal. Each page has 3 blank lines for you to jot down what you're grateful for. 

I am ashamed to tell you how long it took me to find 3 things. So after I got over the shame, I decided to change and spent most of 2019 learning how to become my own best friend. I started therapy (highly recommend!), I began taking a more pro-active stance regarding the management of my chronic disease, and I used that journal.

At first, my entries were trite and pithy like, “I’m grateful for my husband and sons and my life.” But you know what? Those were the low-hanging fruit. The expected responses. The easy ones. I could easily have simply run that page off a copier and filled the entire journal with the same entries each day.

That would have been cheating, though. That would have been the journaling equivalent of developing a cardboard character.

So I dove deeper. I began to look for things I wish I could tell my mom, if she were still alive. Instead of listing weak blessings like “I’m grateful for my family,” I found the things that make my family –well, mine. Chris folded laundry. Or Fred read a chapter. Why am I grateful for these seemingly minor things? Because the auto-immune disease I battle makes it painful to pick up a heavy basket or climb stairs. Chris did that for me. Fred is dyslexic. Reading is painful to him. He did that for me.

These are things important to me; your mileage may vary. Over the last year, I’ve gotten so much better at seeing the good, finding the positivity, and an unexpected bonus to this has been a sort of calm, almost Zen-like attitude I never had before. I am finding it easier to cope with things like a spike in my pain or a flare-up of my disease, a crisis at work, or a scene that refuses to be written.

A year ago, when I struggled with a scene, my default response was to give up, to write something else, to just skip it because it was beyond my capabilities. Now, I'm more likely to double down and try harder simply because I've become my own cheerleader. I've learned what to say to myself that inspires and energizes and encourages rather than erodes and deflates. 

I've learned to look deeper into whatever's challenging me, be it a difficult scene or a crisis at work, and see it from a different lens. I never expected my mission to learn to love myself would also help me improve as a writer, but the truth is, it's improved ALL aspects of my life.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020


I released a couple of new indies in '19--both in the adult market: The Art of the Kiss and Sentimental Journey (Sentimental Journey is part of my ongoing Christmas at Ruby's series). Both were somewhat experimental. It's honestly what I love most about the indie world--being able to play and try new things, then take the material wide, to as many readers as possible, and find out what works, what doesn't, how I might improve, etc.

What both taught me is one of the most powerful lessons I've learned so far in writing: how to draft in a non-chronological way.

I used to think drafting a book out of order would result in the biggest pile of...well, mess. But it doesn't. At all. In fact, I'm finding it to be an easier way to draft (not a big fan of those first drafts at all), and I'm also finding it to be the quickest way to get to a finished product.

I do think (for me, at least) writing out of order works the best when I begin by outlining. In fact, I've heard plenty of other writers who claim their outline is  the first draft--which is a truly fantastic way to think of it.

Then, once the outline is done...

The fun begins.

Believe me. I've never said that about a first draft before.

I just start in. What's the chapter or section that interests me the most? It does not in any way matter what point of the story it is. I just write one scene. Then another, which may or may not be connected directly to the events of the first. I write all the most important passages. The turning points. What intrigues me. What makes my fingers itch. What's driving me to the keyboard. What I think will be the first chapter. The last.

During this kind of drafting, I feel like I have the ability to play. When things pop up, as they always do during a draft, I feel like I have the ability to stray from the story for a moment and draft a scene of nothing more than a what-if. What I discover during that straying session might be profound--might make me re-outline a whole portion of the book. Or, it might be something I trash, except for a few poetic lines I like enough to incorporate into other scenes. But I feel like it gives me the room to follow threads I might have felt obligated to ignore when drafting in a more chronological format.

It leads, in my opinion, to a better book.

Also--this is something of a bonus point, but worth mentioning--when I was drafting chronologically, I often wrote unnecessary chapters, just trying to get to the next big scene. But when I write out of order, I tend not to write all those unnecessary sections. Which means I don't spend oodles of time composing chapters that I then have to spend time cutting back out when I'm in the midst of tightening the manuscript. So really, while writing out of order helps take the sting out of drafting, its benefits can also reach well into the revising process!

I'm using this out-of-order technique on all my books in 2020...well, all my new books.

**I'm also thrilled to announce that I'll be re-releasing my YA Playing Hurt and its sequel Play It Again this year! Playing Hurt has been given an update and has several new will also release as a contemporary adult romance, rather than YA. Please subscribe to my Steamy Romance newsletter, for the official release date and other Playing Hurt news!

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Plans Can Change (Alissa Grosso)

I had big plans for 2019. I was going to write my first book series, a planned crime thriller trilogy. But things didn't quite go as planned.

In real life, I'm not a huge fan of plans. They stress me out, and I've found there's more joy in just letting the pieces fall where they may, but when it comes to writing, I've found that plans are a huge help to me. A one-time pantser, I've come full circle to be a true plotter.

So, I had a plan for the three books I wanted to write this year, and things were moving along pretty smoothly, albeit at a slower pace than I had estimated, but that's not surprise since I also tend to be overly optimistic about how long things will take.

Then I got to book three, what was to be my final book in my trilogy, and everything went off the rails. The book kicked my butt. I was struggling and struggling with it--trying to cram everything in it that needed to be there to wrap up the series and also make it into a coherent and enjoyable novel. It just wasn't happening. The book was a mess.

So, I took a step back from it, and that's when I had an epiphany. Maybe this series didn't need to be three books long. Maybe it was meant to be four books long.

Plans are a nice thing to have, but rigid adherence to them doesn't always work. Much as I've come to love outlines, deviating from them is sometimes a necessary thing. Being flexible in life as well as writing is sometimes the best course of action.

Technically, I've written those three books I meant to write. Well, I didn't complete the third until this month, but we can chalk that up to that eternal optimism of mine. But, I've yet to complete my first series. That won't happen until I write that fourth book.

So . . . 2020 is going to be the year I complete my first series. That's my plan, and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Confessions of a Floptimist by Jodi Moore

Not gonna lie. This past year was rough.

I lost my dad December 2018, so 2019 was a year of difficult ‘firsts’: the first New Year’s Day I wasn’t able to share my silly resolutions with him. The first birthday of his I wasn’t able to call him on the phone to say, “I love you.” The first birthday of mine I wasn’t able to hear him say that to me.

Full disclosure? I told him anyway. Yep. I talk to him all the time. About my day. About our family. About my fears. About my dreams. Sometimes, I feel his hug. Other times, I can hear him roll his eyes. Both make me smile. (Okay, since I’m in full disclosure mode, both have prompted tears as well.)

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself this year, it’s that I’m a ‘floptimist’. You know, that tenuous soft spot between optimist and pessimist, that fragile balance between “if it’s not okay, it’s not the end” and full-on dystopia? In other words, if you evaluate my emotion on a scale of 1 to 100 Acre Wood, I’m a total mashup of Tigger and Eeyore.

A floptimist is someone who believes in oneself fully and unconditionally, except when one hits a bump in the road (a.k.a. "flops".) A floptimist will then cry or rant, but ultimately understands that a rejection, diversion, or even an overwhelming loss, however painful, can eventually be redirected, revised or crafted into something positive and/or inspiring. We acknowledge it hurts, but also recognize it promotes growth.

It’s a useful tool for me as a writer.

This past year, I found it a lifeline as a daughter. I wanted to create a scrapbook to honor my dad’s memory, to honor his legacy, to help us heal. But my Eeyore was in full swing. Like many families, ours had suffered some dark times, where there were limited photographs to commemorate birthdays, anniversaries and graduations. What’s more, the current politics were inflicting even more cracks. How could I do this? Where could I even start? Thankfully, Tigger bounced in right when I needed him most.

(Note: I found this t-shirt advertised on Etsy. It’s by Miko Tees. And now I want it, lol!)

Sure, there were things that had tried – and still aim – to tear us apart. But there was a lot more that we shared, that connected us, that bonded us: our love of music, of art, of sportsmanship. Our love of dancing, of parties, of food. Our love of holidays, of animals, of each other.

Our love.

Because ultimately, that’s what matters.

At least to this floptimist.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Attending My First Conference in Years by Sydney Salter

The year 2019 reminded me about the importance of connecting with other writers and learning new work strategies at writing conferences. I attended the Women Writing The West conference in San Antonio, Texas - what a great group of writers! The group is super welcoming, supports professional writers with great prizes and marketing opportunities, plus their conferences include really fun field trips - missions, museums, The Alamo.

I used to attend ALL of the local writing conferences, plus the two big SCBWI conferences, and I hosted two conferences in Salt Lake City, Utah and Boise, Idaho as the area's Regional Advisor, not to mention several smaller retreats and meetings.

After seven years I burned out. Running conferences turned from a joy to a chore as I found myself sandwiched between launching my children into the world and caring for my mother and mother-in-law who both had catastrophic life-changing events within two weeks of each other, which resulted in both of them living in my basement for a few months (along with a spare brother-in-law).

I should have contacted a Reality TV producer. But I was--
Freaked Out.

I managed to eke out some writing, slowly, painfully over those years. But connecting with the writing community? Aside from a monthly dinner with fellow writing friends (which I often skipped), I didn't have it in me. I hunkered down for intense care-giving.

Things eased in 2019 as I adjusted to all the various forms of loss. And even with one mother left in the basement, I felt like I returned to myself a bit more. A more "experienced" me (is that a nice way to say it?). I signed up for a writing conference in San Antonio, a city I'd always wanted to visit. I read a book about The Alamo. I entered the group's short story contest. I signed up for a pitch session.

What a lovely weekend of making new writing friends. Oh, the joy of talking to writers who are the only people who really get me (I wasn't the only one who'd read a book about The Alamo to prepare for the field trip). I felt like a "real" writer for the first time in a long time.

The best part? I came home from the conference so motivated to Get To Work!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

BOOM! The Writer Who Lived--by Kimberly Sabatini

This month we're talking about what we learned in 2019 and how we are applying it to our writing. Ironically, my 2019 writing take-away is in stark contrast with what I've learned in previous years.

In the past, it's become obvious to me that learning to plot and NOT be a complete pantster would be a huge game changer for me. 

It's exploded my previous notions on how to be a good writer.

I've studied books on the topic, taken online classes, explored the topic at conferences and I've done dives into the work of writers I admire--to see how they made it work. 
And I've clearly come out the better for having blown up my previous way of thinking. 

And then there was this year's lesson...


Despite all the planning and prepping and box checking I did along the way for my work-in-progress, SLICE, things happened in my manuscript that I couldn't prepare for. 

I lived.

The very act of living in a world that has given me so much to think about--both good and bad-- has changed the trajectory of my story.

I'm not sure how other people work, but I write fiction because I'm too much of a coward to keep a journal. The very thought of writing down my uncensored feelings feels quite dangerous to me--someone might read them. 

But when I write fiction, all those same thoughts and questions can be on the page in a less recognizable way. That's not to say that my writing doesn't clearly hold my unique finger print. I'm confident you can see threads of me woven through the whole thing. But if you knew what was in my head most of the time--you'd know this feels like it's the balance between authentic and private that I need.

But back to the mind-blowing lesson of 2019. 

Despite all my best laid plans--I evolved and continue to evolve and change and that keeps showing  up in the choices I make for my writing. 
I see it in unconscious decisions when I look back at my themes and choices.
I see it in the ah-ha moments that make me go...but what if instead of this I do that?

And while this personal evolution can wreak havoc with my best laid, pre-made plans, I also know that the work is better and way more interesting because I'm a writer who lived and let my life find its way onto the page.

What piece of your life has blasted its way into your writing or another creative avenue in your life and changed how you see things?

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

It's Easy to Forget to Be Proud of Yourself: A Lesson from 2019 & Little Women by Joy Preble

There's this moment in Greta Gerwig's new version of Little Women where Jo has stopped writing. Life and family have gotten in the way. So have negative comments from editors (well, one editor but that's enough) who want to re-form Jo's stories into what they perceive as reader expectation. The heroine needs to get married at the end... or die. Even headstrong, brilliant, talented Jo March seems to forget how much she's accomplished, how proud she should be of all that she's done.

If there's one thing I've learned in 2019 that I am now bringing to the table each day I sit down to write, it's that I am worthy of that writer's chair. It's easy to forget. Someone always seems quicker and newer and louder and shinier. It's easy to forget my own shine. Easy to forget how proud I should be of seven books published when there's always someone on Twitter going on and on about dozens of projects and months of touring and oh how rough it all is to be so wonderful and hit all those word counts. All that shiny nonsense about how you have to write a book before this age or that age or you have to be on this list or that list or whatever.... It's so easy to give in to all that silly noise.

2019 taught me that sometimes, it's enough to be less. To step back. To make it about someone else. To let it go. (with all due respects to that song from Frozen)

2020 is time to take it back.

Always since I was eight and first read the book, the scene that made me cry in Little Women was Beth's death. If you don't know the story-- as I discovered the other that one of our bookstore customers did not and ruined it for her--forget I said that last part. If you do know that story, please know that at eight I never even finished the book for years after Alcott took Beth away from me.

In Gerwig's version, that's not what made me weep. Oh, it was sad, but inevitable. Instead, I came undone as Jo watches her book (these stories of domestic life and struggle that become Little Women)  being made. From the printing press letters locking into place to the pages being sewn together to the hide tanned into leather for a cover, to holding it in her hands and knowing its hers. That she wrote it, owned it, fought for its existence. Most reviewers don't even mention this. But most every writer I know, found it deeply moving.

So here you go: I am someone who had a large life before I decided I was supposed to be writing. Teaching and mothering and doing so many things. Then I fought for this new thing, this writing thing, because I knew it was part of my most authentic, deepest self. My people were there waiting for me. My words were waiting. But I had to put things on pause for a bit to remember that this, too, was me.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Never Give Up! Never Surrender! (Mary Strand)

This month, we’re blogging about what we learned in 2019 that we’re applying to our writing in 2020. For me?

Don’t. Give. Up.
"Never give up!
Never Surrender!"

This shouldn’t be something new that I learned in 2019. I practiced law for 16 years. I’ve played intense sports almost since birth. As a result, I’m extremely disciplined. I work hard. I meet deadlines. I’m pretty fearless.

But my knees conspired against me in 2018 and 2019, and depression ensued, and I went a total of 17 months without writing new words. I tried, briefly, but it didn’t work, so I finally gave up. At the same time, I made brief and infrequent forays into the world of querying. But I mostly gave up on that, too.

Okay, I didn’t give up entirely. While I was avoiding new words and agent queries, I wound up revising three manuscripts. No, it shouldn’t take 17 months (for me) to revise three manuscripts, but life was U-G-L-Y. (Still is. The knees still kill me.) I counted those three manuscripts, which now look pretty damned good, as a win. I also wrote a few songs. They weren’t novels, but I counted them as a minor win.

MOVIES: one thing
I do when not writing
Then came November 2019.

November is known widely to writers as NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. If you follow the rules of it, which I occasionally do, you try to write at least 50,000 words on a new novel during the month of November.

Obviously, after writing zero new words in the prior 17 months, I wasn’t stupid enough to try writing 50,000 words in a single month. That would be like trying to run a marathon after going 17 months without going for a jog. But I decided to go with the SPIRIT of NaNoWriMo and try writing again. Goal: write an average of at least 2 pages per day every weekday in November, which would be 42 pages. I lost a few days to figuring out where I was going on the book in question, two or three days to sickness, four days to a last-minute jaunt to Florida (although I wrote on one of those days), and a couple of days to Thanksgiving. But I wound up with 45 pages in November.

Forty-five pages of writing in a month is nothing to write home about. (So to speak.) But it was 45 pages after 17 months of zero pages. A major win! I followed it with 49 new pages in December. At the same time, I sent out some agent queries, and I tried PitMad in December (a crazy, one-day Twitter event in which you try to interest agents and editors in your work). All of this was basically baby steps, but it was a start.

Another movie I saw when not writing.
Also: how my Thanksgivings went when I was growing up.

Frankly, this reads like one long, dull summary. (Sorry!) But what I learned in November and December, after learning virtually nothing at all in the preceding 10 months of 2019, is not to give up. Writing and querying and all of the rest is a habit. I’m still reacquiring that habit, but I’m now two months into being back in the game. It’s way too soon to say I’m TRULY back, but as I like to say: all progress is good.

Happy New Year! Make 2020 a good one. And don’t give up!

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