Bite-Sized Goals and Mousey Nibbles: Managing Lengthy Projects

Working your way through large, lengthy projects, like . . . oh, writing a novel, for instance, can be overwhelming, can’t it? First you have to write down the words, then you have to fix the words, then you have to fix them a second time, and possibly a third or fourth or fifth time. Then you have to figure out how to get those words out into the world, whether via traditional methods or indie. And while you’re trying to accomplish all of this, you have everyday life stuff to deal with too: jobs, family, chores—as well as non-everyday stuff, such as illnesses, vacations, bad mental health days, holidays . . . I could go on and on.

Of course, it helps to get organized by setting goals and deadlines—to mark on your calendar in bold when you want your first draft to be finished by, when you need to be done with the first round of edits, and so on. But when setting these longer deadlines, it’s easy to underestimate how long you’re really going to need.

I’ve made this mistake many times. I’ve tried to prevent it by calculating out how many words I need to write each day leading up to my deadline in order to reach it—making room for days when I know I’ll have less time to write. As long as I write the prescribed number of words each day, I’ll be perfectly fine, right? But then, life throws obstacles in my path, and soon I’m failing to meet my word counts and falling behind. The farther behind I fall, the more frustrated I get. I move my deadline out. I recalculate my word counts. Then I fall behind again. I get discouraged and overwhelmed over, and over, and I start to think I’ll never finish this darn thing.

Does this sound familiar?

Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you do well with large goals and a daily word count system. Maybe that’s all you need in order to get things done. If so, that’s fantastic! It’s common advice, so it must work for a lot of writers, right? But if it’s not working for you, just as it hasn’t been working for me, I’d like to suggest a few things that have been working for me lately, in the hopes that you, too, will find them helpful.

Make 2-3 Bite-Sized Goals At A Time

I still plan out the large goals (finish draft, revise draft, edit draft.) But I’ve lessened their importance in favor of smaller, bite-sized goals (that, I must stress, aren’t word counts,) and I only plan out a few of these goals at a time. For instance, my goal this weekend was to re-examine my outline, because I’ve discovered I need to throw out some scenes and replace them with brand new ones. I wasn’t writing the scenes this weekend—just taking a look and deciding what I need those scenes to do. My next bite-sized goal will be to outline those scenes. The bite-sized goal after that will be to finally draft those scenes. And . . . that’s it. That’s as far ahead as I’ve planned. Obviously, I have an idea of what I’ll need to do after that, because I know that my ultimate goal is to finish revising this entire draft. But for now, I’m not going to worry about anything further than getting through these next few scenes.

Keeping my goals small and few in number helps me feel like I’m actually making progress. If I look at it in respect to the larger goal of finishing my revisions, it won’t feel like I’ve done much at all. I’ll feel like I’m moving at a snail’s pace, and I’ll get frustrated. So I don’t do that.

Only Work Under Your Best Working Conditions

Pay close attention to when and where you do your best work. Do you get more done in the morning? Then work in the morning and don’t try to squeeze more work out of yourself past that time (unless you absolutely must.) Do you have specific days when you’re less likely to be able to focus? Keep your expectations low on those days. I have a standing appointment every Tuesday morning that tends to throw off my concentration for the rest of the day. I’ve come to accept that if I do get any writing done on Tuesdays, it’s a bonus. I’m better off using Tuesdays to catch up on chores or other things that don’t require me to think too much. I’m having a harder time convincing myself that writing post-children’s bedtimes is also a lost cause. But it’s a fact that I’m usually too tired and brain-drained to do much of anything by then. My best times for focusing are late morning and early afternoon when the kids are at school, so that’s when I make myself sit down and work. I also pay attention to my energy level. If I try to work with my laptop on the couch, am I more likely to nap instead? If so, I’ll make myself a cup of coffee or tea, and work sitting up at my desk. Is my back bothering me to the point where sitting at my desk will make the pain worse and/or distract me? Then maybe the couch would be better after all.

Just Take a Mousey Nibble

Okay, this one probably needs some background. My oldest son is a very picky eater. Always has been. He has texture issues and we suspect he may also be a super taster, because he will often complain about things tasting “too strong.” There was a period when he was younger where he was so anxious about trying new foods, that he would burst into tears at the mere suggestion. That is until one day, he told us that maybe . . . maybe he could just try a mouse-sized bite. A little mousey nibble. A nearly microscopic taste that, like sticking a toe in the water, would help to alleviate some of his fear of the unknown. This still works with him. “Just take a mousey nibble, and if you don’t like it, that’s okay,” we tell him. And so he does. And then sometimes, all on his own, he will decide to take a larger taste afterward.

If, even with your bite-sized goals, you’re still feeling anxious about sitting down to work, or you’re not sure how to get started, or you’re just plain unmotivated, tell yourself that you only have to take a mousey nibble. Open your document and commit to five minutes. You don’t even have to type anything. You can use those five minutes to look over your last paragraph, or glance through your outline, or heck, just stare at the blank screen. Chances are though, once your timer goes off, you’ll be able to settle yourself into your task. And if you still can’t, that’s ok. Take a break and try another mousey nibble later. Maybe it’ll taste different next time.

I hope these ideas are helpful to you. Do you have any other tricks up your sleeve that help you get through large projects? Please share them with us in the comments.



When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard, Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele, knitting, or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys and three mischievous cats. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Writing (or not) After Loss

This post is going to be difficult for me to write. Difficult, because that’s what all writing has been for me lately–difficult. And for a very good reason. . . .


For many people, writing comes as a solace during difficult times. When someone experiences the loss of a loved one, for instance—like I did this summer—writing can be a way to either escape or process emotions. I actually felt like something was wrong with me because I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t even journal. The thoughts and feelings running through me were stuck inside my body and refused to exit onto the page. Fortunately, I had friends who were there to tell me this was okay, and not at all abnormal. They told me to take a break, take all the time I needed, and when I was ready to write again, I’d know it. And now I’m here to tell this to you, along with some other things that surprised me about writing after loss.

When I did eventually get back to writing (sporadically) about a month ago, I found I had a completely new perspective on my story and my characters. Interestingly, my main character’s father has died a month or two before the story begins, and oddly, it’s in a similar(ish) way to how my own dad died. This was not something that I added to the story after my own loss. Nope, it’s been that way since I first started writing it almost a year ago. Complete coincidence. However, I’ve been in my character’s shoes now, and I’ve realized the way my main character felt and acted in that first draft no longer resonates with me. It isn’t realistic anymore. So in the rewrite, I’ve been fixing that. And it’s (I hope) making my character so much richer. I wouldn’t say I’m thrilled about having this new perspective. If I could have gained it any other way, I would have preferred that. But I am grateful that I’m able to take this horrible experience and use it in a positive way. Silver linings and all that, I guess.

You may also find you’ve gained a new perspective toward your characters. You may find yourself adjusting things in ways you never would have thought to before. You may even find the story you’re currently working on doesn’t fit you at all anymore. That’s okay. Run with it. Fix it. Set it aside, if that’s what you need to do. My last finished novel—one I’ve queried and debated going Indie with, no longer fits me. At least, not right now. I’ve outgrown it, I guess you could say. As I see things now, I’m not likely to ever publish it. Or maybe someday, if I’m up to it, I’ll go back over it and make some major changes. And either way, that’s perfectly fine.

One more thing that has surprised me is how much less I’m censoring myself as I write. And by that, I mean I worry less about how my writing will be received by agents and publishers, and just write what I want to write. I write more for me now than I ever have before, and though I’m not completely oblivious to my future plans for this story, I’m pushing those concerns aside for dealing with when I actually get there. And what’s funny is, I thought I’d been doing this all along, but now I can clearly see that I hadn’t been. I’d been far too occupied with the dream of being published when I wrote my previous stories, that I’d become an anxious drafter, which made writing less fun and less satisfying. Now, the anxiety is gone. I’m not going to get into the psychology behind this, because I don’t completely understand why this has changed. But it has, and I’m good with that.

I’m telling you all of these things, not to give you any kind of road map or template for “when you experience loss, this is exactly how your writing will change,” because everyone experiences loss differently, and everyone writes differently. I’m telling you these things because they surprised me, and you may have some surprising experiences too. But whatever your experiences are, they are normal for you. And you may need to adjust some things, and that is perfectly okay.


File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Mindful Details: Paying Attention to the World Around You

How many times do you find yourself in a waiting room, on a bus, sitting outside a restaurant waiting for the rest of your party . . . and to pass the time, you pull out your phone. You might be thinking it’s the perfect opportunity to catch up on social media or to shoot off some emails you’ve been procrastinating on. Maybe you’re playing a game or reading an e-book.

We all do this. I know I’m guilty of it. Actually, I shouldn’t use the word “guilty” here, because I, for one, see nothing wrong with this. I’m not here to shake my fist in the air and shout to the world that electronic devices are destroying human interaction, yada yada yada. (I actually believe they’ve brought people closer together in some ways, but that’s another post for another blog).

Nope, I’m not going to chastise anyone for playing a game of Candy Crush while sitting at the bus stop. I might, however, be so bold as to say that frittering away the “boring” moments of life on our phones is wasting an opportunity to improve our writing skills. When was the last time you kept your phone in your pocket and just sat, observing and experiencing the world around you? When was the last time you were fully mindful of your surroundings? When did you pay attention–really pay attention to the people passing by?

File Jul 20, 11 07 36 PM

While at an art museum this last weekend, my friend, who’d recently moved into the town in which I was visiting her, was asking the woman at the front desk if she had any recommendations of other things to do in the area. They talked for a long time, and I sort of let myself fall off to the background. At first, I busied myself taking pictures of the cool architecture in the lobby, then posting the pics onto Instagram. But eventually, as the two continued to chat, I became fascinated by the way the woman’s heavy jewelry clacked with every movement she made. And she moved a lot. She was animated, talking with her hands. I watched for a while, wondering how it didn’t bother her, deciding it would certainly bother me. And then . . . it occurred to me that I could use this for one of my characters. I excused myself, pulled out my phone again, opened up a note app, and wrote the description down.

The next time you have the opportunity to people watch, take it. See if you can find at least one unique detail about a person, whether it’s a distinctive article of clothing that hints at their personality, the way they carry themselves, what their voice sounds like, what they smell like (if they’re close enough)–and write it down. (One caveat: don’t be obvious about it. You never know how someone might react. I take no responsibility for any black eyes.)

Don’t stop with people. Be mindful of scenery too. Of the feel of a room when you enter it for the first time. Of the sounds of wildlife outside your window bright and early in the morning. Don’t push these observations to the background as you go about your day. Keep your eyes, ears, and nose open and really take it all in. Then write it down. Even if you don’t have a place for a particular observation in your current project, it’s good practice anyway.

One more thing: don’t focus only on the strange and/or unique. Focus on the mundane as well. Some of the best writing I’ve read has been able to transport me into a scene via one or two simple sensory details of something as plain as the sticky feel of over-waxed wood beneath fingertips, or the citrus scent and fizz of bubbles in a sink full of soapy dishes. You can feel that wood yourself now, can’t you? Because we’ve all felt it at one time or another. You can smell that dish soap and hear that faint crackle of foam, and now, you’re in the scene. These are mindful details. And the more often you take the time out to pay attention to the world around you, the more often these details will seep into your writing, making it so much stronger.


File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.


Puzzling Out Your Revisions

I did it! I finished my draft! And now . . . ohhh boy, is it a mess.

I’m not talking about awkward sentences and sparse details—though there’s certainly plenty of that. I’m talking about huge plot and character shifts part way through, characters I introduced, then ghosted on, a beloved pet dog that appears in the first chapter only—that kind of a mess.

I have chapters I wrote, then moved, that now need to be rewritten so they’ll make sense within their new context. I have location shifts, missing parents, siblings that I may or may not add in. . . .

Basically, I have a TON of work ahead of me. When I look at everything that needs to be done, it’s overwhelming.

As writers, one of the most prevalent pieces of advice we’re given is to get the words down. Just get them down, finish that draft, worry about the mess later. We can’t revise what isn’t there, right? This is great advice; however, once we’ve followed it . . . what do we do next?


First, take a deep breath.

Then another.

Ok, just one more.

Now that you’ve calmed down a bit, open your document back up.

You might even want to go so far as to print it out so you can physically go at it with a red pen. Or, if you prefer, you can use the comments option in your word processing software program of choice. Do whichever feels easier for you when it comes to wrapping your head around the monumental task ahead.

First, read your manuscript and take notes—any and all thoughts that come to mind—but resist making any changes at this time. (I know, it’s hard.) If you make changes as you go though, you might find later that the changes you made at the beginning still aren’t going to work with the changes you end up needing to make at the end. Think of this as the Intel-Gathering phase. Right now, you’re a detective figuring out what best needs to be done to your story and how best to do it—how to fit the pieces of this messed up puzzle together in a way that makes the most sense.

Ok, so you’ve done that, and . . . you’re still feeling super intimidated, aren’t you? Maybe you should take a few more deep breaths.

Better? Good.

The next thing you need to do is categorize your notes. Just like separating out puzzle pieces into groups—grass pieces over here, sky pieces there, what looks like maybe the hull of a wooden boat? Maybe it’s a house . . . over there. I find organizing and separating the different types of fixes that need to be made in my draft, helps me break things down into more manageable tasks that make the entire process feel less daunting. Rather than go through the manuscript one time, tackling each note one by one, I’ll make multiple passes focusing on one problem at a time.

Big stuff comes first. (It’s ok to take another deep breath here if you need to. Ready? In . . . out . . . good.)

What is it about your draft that needs the most work? For me, it’s usually characterization. For you, it could be setting, or filling in plot holes, or smoothing transitions. Take the biggest task and go through only focusing on that. Trust me, you’ll feel so much better once you get that bit out of the way. Next, move on to the second biggest issue.

And keep on moving down the list this way. I haven’t finished taking notes on my current draft, but I’m guessing my big focus areas for example, in order from messiest to least messy, will end up being characters, setting, plot holes, transitions, dialogue.

Once you’ve finished these big picture tasks, move on to the nitty-gritty things, like grammar, punctuation, varying your sentence structures, and finally, removing unnecessary filler words (like, very, really, that, etc.) and adverbs.

And that’s it! Keep in mind, you might need to go back and adjust areas you’ve previously focused on after you’ve made some later changes, but it should be much easier now. And then, of course, you’ll absolutely need to go through the entire process again once you’ve let your critique partners and/or beta reads get a hold of it. But the hardest part should be over. Congratulations! You’ve now turned your huge, jumbled up, intimidating mess into something you’re actually willing to let people read! The puzzle is now complete.


File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

10 First-Timer’s Writing Conference Tips, Written By A First-Timer

This weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the LDS Storymakers conference for the first time ever.* In fact, not only was this my first time at Storymakers, it was my first time at any major writing conference. For those of you who, like me, are thinking of attending your first writing conference, I’d like to tell you about some of the things I learned this weekend—not about writing technique (because that would take pages and pages, as I learned so many things)—but about what it’s like to attend a writing conference such as this one.**

So here are my First-Timer’s Writing Conference Tips, written by a first-timer:


1) If you can, go with someone you know

…or at least plan to meet them there. If you’re a bit of an introvert (like most writers,) having at least one other person you can comfortably follow around like a puppy d–I mean hang out with–will make you feel much more at ease.

2) However! Talk to people you don’t know, as well!

I know. This is haaaard. But everyone attending is there for one or more of the same reasons you are: to learn something. And, yes, to network. And maybe to pitch to an agent (not me, this time. My current WIP isn’t ready for that yet.) Yes, I get that most writers are introverts, but besides this, you already have something else in common with every single person there: You. Write.

So talk to people. Don’t be shy. Sit down at one of the big round tables at lunch and ask the person next to you if they’re enjoying the conference so far. Ask them where they’re from. Ask them what genre they write. And then reciprocate with the same info. Ask them (if they’re comfortable) what their current WIP is about. I know many of us like to keep that info close to our chests, but trust me, they’re highly unlikely to steal your idea (and you can be vague). They have their own ideas. That’s why they’re there. And from these initial conversation starters, more back-and-forth talk will follow, and before you know it, you’ll be following each other on social media. AND . . . you may even end up as critique partners, or at the very least, good friends.

3) Expect to take LOTS of notes

And unless you have a strong hand, take your laptop with you to classes. I started out handwriting my notes in a little spiral-bound notebook, just like I did back in college (cough) eighteen (cough) years ago. But by the second class, my hand started cramping and my letters morphed into illegible squiggles. I have no idea how I hand-wrote my notes every day, three-to-four classes a day, so long ago, but I think it might have been due to some kind of witchcraft that I have long since forgotten how to perform. So anyway, I switched to my laptop for the third class, and note-taking became so much easier.

Speaking of laptops and electronics in general . . .

4) Bring one or two portable, rechargeable phone chargers

Have you heard of these? They’re these lipstick-sized cylindrical battery chargers that you can plug into the wall and fill, and then later, plop them in your bag with a charging cable and hook them up to your phone or tablet in order to charge your electronics on the go. I originally bought a couple for camping, but they’re FANTASTIC for keeping your phone charged during cons. I bought mine at REI, but you should be able to find them on Amazon as well, and at any outdoorsy/hiking/camping store.

5) Stay Fueled Up!

Pack a water bottle and a few small (non-messy or noisy) snacks. Learning uses up mental energy. You’ll want to keep hydrated and keep your brain well-fueled. I stashed a bunch of Lara Bars in my suitcase before I left, and I’m so glad I did. I ended up eating all of them by the time the conference was over.

6) Stay Warm / Cool / Pain-Free / Fresh

Make sure you have a light cover-up (I had a thin cardigan,) deodorant, a small thing of ibuprofen or aspirin, and breath mints in the tote-bag that you carry from class to class. Some classrooms will be chilly, some will be toasty. You may get a back-ache from sitting too much, or a headache from neck-strain or forgetting to drink out of the water bottle you brought (if you didn’t, please re-read tip #5 above), and sometimes lunch is served with onions. And if you want to network, you don’t want onion breath, okay? Seriously. Onion breath ruins everything.

7) Bring cash

Storymaker’s had a bookstore set up with all the books of the authors who planned on attending the signing event at the end of the conference. The store had Square set up, so credit cards were accepted. However, if you want to buy a book at one of the actual signing tables during the event, not all authors will have Square, so you may need to pay with cash. Also, break up your twenties beforehand. Because you can’t expect them to have to keep track of cashboxes filled with change as well, when they’ve been basically doing the exact same thing you’ve been doing all weekend: attending and/or teaching classes. (Actually, I have a fun story about this. I wanted to purchase Ally Condie’s most recent release, Summerlost, at her signing table, but it was $9. I had thought to go to the cash machine before the trip, which was good planning on my part, right? However, cash machines typically pay you in twenties. And I went to her table very early during in the signing event. She only had change for tens. However! I remembered that I had some wadded-up cash in my jeans pocket from I have no idea when and so I reached in my pocket and pulled out a five and two ones. I also happened to have two more ones in my wallet from who knows when. Which meant that I had exact change. The person next in line, however, still only had a twenty. So, I gave her my nine dollars, and she gave Ally Condie her twenty, and Ally gave her a dollar back. Thus we were both able to purchase her book at the table and get it signed. Ally declared that it was a Storymaker’s miracle. (I am inclined to agree.)

9) Chose Your Classes Wisely

I don’t know if other writing conferences are arranged this way, but Storymakers is organized in a series of one-hour “breakouts.” If you sign up for an Intensive (highly worth it, please do), it will span two full breakouts. Every other class takes up one. And there will be a good selection of classes to choose from during each one-hour session. Think about what you’re working on now, and what you are planning to work on in the future, and choose classes that apply to those. For instance, my current WIP involves a small town police department. So I took a Police Procedural class taught by Mike Perry (who is hilarious as well as a fantastic teacher, by the way–hands down one of my favorite classes at the conference). I also have a future project planned, which is a modernization of a classic. So I took a class on retelling classic literature (taught by McKelle George and Kate Watson, and also one of my absolute favorite classes this year). I also chose classes on techniques that I know I struggle with. If it’s available, get the class schedule ahead of time and plan EVERYTHING out. You will get the most for your time and money this way. (This is where I say, and absolutely full-heartedly mean, that several of our own TTOF authors taught classes that, yes, I attended, and oh. my. goodness, they all did a fantastic job. (cough) Rosalyn Eves, Tasha Seegmiller, Helen Boswell, Elaine Vickers (cough), yes, that’s right. TTOF had a STRONG presence at Storymakers, and also, with the exception of Helen [who I roomed with and met IRL twice before,] I got to meet in person for the first time at this conference. I love you guys, and I wish I didn’t live so far away. . . . Okay, enough gushing, back to the subject at hand . . . )


Storymakers has a class feedback system. I have heard, though I cannot confirm, that some other writing conferences have this as well. If the conference that you choose to attend does allow feedback, GIVE IT. The organizers need this information so they know who to invite back again to teach the next year. I had one class (no, sorry, I will not say which one) that I wasn’t satisfied with. The instructer went through her slides too quickly so no one had enough time to actually take notes on what was on them. So yes, I provided feedback that reflected this. But don’t just give feedback on the classes that you weren’t satisfied with. Give feedback on the awesome ones too. The organizers NEED THIS. I cannot emphasize this enough. GIVE FEEDBACK ON EVERY SINGLE CLASS YOU ATTEND.

And that’s it. Those are the top 10 tips that I can give you. Will I attend Storymakers again next year? I certainly hope so! For a first-time conference experience, I couldn’t have chosen better.

*Let me clear this question up for you right now. Yes, it is an LDS conference. Do you need to be LDS to attend? No. I am not LDS. BUT . . . if you do attend, and you are not a member of the LDS church, please be respectful of it. I worried, at first, that I might feel like an outsider . . . like an interloper. But I needn’t have worried about that at all, because I was welcomed with open arms. So here’s a HUGE thank you to everyone involved. Thank you for making me feel welcome. And whenever I am able, I hope to attend again and again.

**Your mileage may vary. Obviously, not all writing conferences are identical. Even from year to year, the same conference will be different.


File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Trudging Through Sludge

It creeps under doorways, rises through vents, incorporating everything and everyone in its path, zapping them of energy, physical and mental. It’s a destroyer of focus and productivity, causing its victims to write at a snail’s pace, stare at blank screens, and abandon projects. I call it the Sludge, and I’ve been trying to wade through it for ages now.


I briefly escaped it when I traveled across the country to write in a cabin with a bunch of other writers (several of whom were also traveling to escape the Sludge.) I hoped that maybe while I was away, the Sludge would get bored and move somewhere else. But no, it had waited patiently back at home, and was there to greet me again when I returned.

I tried to convince it to go with threats of Camp NaNoWriMo word counts, but it laughed in my face and gave me the flu. It knows I can’t write when I have the flu. Then the dreaded Spring Break arrived and the two teamed up. There’s no wading through a combo of Sludge and Spring Break—what was originally the thickness of molasses hardened into clay. I’ve written very, very little during the last three weeks.

There’s a trick to fighting the Sludge though, if you’re patient. You know how in old movies, the protagonist would fall into quick sand, and the more they struggled, the deeper they would sink? Eventually they would realize that if they stopped struggling, they’d float back up to the top where they could reach a vine or outstretched hand that would bring them back to safety. The Sludge is kind of like that. The more you stress about how little you’re writing, the harder it becomes to write, until eventually, you’re not writing at all.

I’ve found that I do better if I stop thinking about it much. If I just ride along on the surface of the Sludge and let it carry me to wherever it’s trying to go, it will eventually float me to a branch that I can use to pull myself out. I stop worrying about word counts, and just ask myself if I’ve written at all that day. Or heck, if I’ve even opened up my document and looked at it, if I’ve thought about it at all while showering or doing the dishes—if I haven’t abandoned it completely, that’s good enough for now. And eventually, if I keep at it in just such a way, the Sludge will slink away for a while and let me get back to work.

Have you ever been taken over by the Sludge? How did you handle it? Or, if you’re currently trudging through it, I hope this has helped you to know you’re not alone, and eventually, you’ll find your way back out.


File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Make the Most of Your Writing Retreat

I’m on a writing retreat. And it is glorious.

I’ve never been on a writing retreat before, so I was a bit nervous (and of course excited) to go. Would I really be able to write anything? (Spoilers: Yes.) Would I get along in-person with the people that I get along with so well online? (Definitely, yes.) Would there also be fun shenanigans? (HECK yes).

If, like me, you’ve never been on a writing retreat before, there are a few things you should know in order to make it a successful trip.


First and foremost, make sure you understand what kind of writing retreat you’re going on. Some retreats have teaching and/or workshop objectives in mind. Others are just meant to be a place where you can work on whatever it is you need to work on, away from your routine and everyday distractions, and around like-minded people who are trying to get some work done as well. The retreat I’m on has no other objective than the latter, which has been perfect for me.

Two, make sure you have a back-up plan. I went with the intention to work on one book, and ended up working on a different one that I’d shelved about a year ago . . . which is fantastic actually, because I feel like I’ve accomplished way more than I would have if I had stubbornly stuck with my original plan. I’m super psyched about this too, because the reason I had shelved this book was due to being stuck, and getting away from my usual environment and habits somehow opened up my mind a bit more and allowed me to figure everything out. I now know every scene that needs to go into this book, and where each scene needs to be. At least—I do for now.

Three, if everyone going is on social media, and you are too, follow them ahead of time. Chat back and forth. Get to know each other a bit beforehand because you’re going to be spending a lot of time together. Also, you’ll want to feel comfortable talking about your projects with each other because a retreat is a prime opportunity to bounce ideas off other writers and get help where you need it.

Four, prepare for some play too. Because all work and no play makes, well, you know the quote. Most of us have been getting up in the morning, chatting over breakfast and coffee, then settling down to work. Then after a couple hours, we inevitably need to blow off some steam, so a brief period of shenanigans occurs. Then more work, then more shenanigans, then more work, until dinner, then it’s pretty much only shenanigans for the rest of the evening because by then, our brains are fried. Shenanigans at this particular retreat have included labeling everything in the cabin with post-it notes (windows are “nature portals,” the TV is a “basketball watcher,” and the microwave is a “coffee warmer,”) T-rex costume dance-offs, and games of Cards Against Humanity.

Finally, just relax. Even when you’re working, be relaxed about it. And be courteous. Take turns cooking and cleaning. Compliment each other. Laugh. Eat chips and brownies. Enjoy yourself. And make plans to do it again next year because by the end, you will agree that it has gone by too fast.


File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.