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?

Puzzling

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.

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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.

Sludge

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.

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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.

Crush Your New Year’s Writing Goals

Every year, I make a list of New Year’s Goals. Yes, Goals. I don’t call them resolutions, because that just seems too concrete and causes too much pressure, setting me up for failure from the very start. Still, even then, some of my goals pan out . . . aaand some of them don’t. But I’ve started to notice a pattern throughout these successes and failures, and I thought I’d share some tips with you that I will be trying this year in the hopes of producing a higher success rate, especially when it comes to writing goals.

crushwriting.jpg

1) Focus on small habits, not the ultimate result.

I think the biggest favor you can do for yourself is to NOT make your resolution the same as your end-game, like “write a novel,” for instance. A goal like that is too daunting, too big. It’s also too vague. There are so many steps involved in writing a novel, and so many life “things” that can get in the way. Instead, a better goal would be to “write every day.” Don’t set a word count. Don’t say you’re going to write 1000 words every day. That’s also setting yourself up for failure. There will be days where you are definitely NOT going to make your word count goal, and you need to make room for that.

In fact, even better, don’t even set your goal to write every day. Make it something more tangible. Just say you’ll work on your novel every day. That can include anything: research, pre-writing, outlining, revising. . . .  And that’s GOOD, because all of those steps are going to get you closer to achieving that end goal that I told you to ignore: to write a full-blown novel. In order to reach that end goal, you need a game plan, so it’s that game plan you need to focus on the most. If your main goal focuses on the process of achieving that end result, you will be much more likely to reach it.

 

2) Failure isn’t an excuse for giving up

No matter what you do, there are probably going to be days, weeks, even months, where you are unable to work on your goals. Everyone goes through periods when they find it difficult to write. You might call that failure. “My goal was to write every day, but I haven’t written for weeks, therefore I’ve failed, therefore I might as well quit.” No! No no no no no. Don’t quit. Just start a-new. Start where you left off. It’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it. If you quit, then you’ve failed. But if you can accept that you’ve had a set-back and then pick yourself up and get back to work, you’ll know you have what it takes to succeed.

 

3) Flexibility is Key

Remember that a year is a long time. Things change. You change. The goals that you set in January may no longer apply in July. And that’s okay! I like to reassess my goals every few months to see what’s working, what’s not, and to think about what I need to do differently. It’s not failing or giving up if you decide that you need to take a different path. The point of a New Year’s goal is to improve yourself. Or to change yourself. Or to finally get the thing done that you’ve been wanting to get done. And in order to do any of those things without going crazy, you need to embrace flexibility. Go with the flow. If you don’t take a rigid stance, you’ll be more likely to succeed. At least, that’s my experience. Maybe it’s just because I tend to rebel against rules and rigidity. You may be different. But either way, you need to be willing to reassess and change if need be.

 

I hope these tips have helped. I will fully admit that I haven’t had a great track record for meeting the goals I’ve set each year, but a lot of that is because I haven’t followed my own advice. This year, I plan to. And I hope it helps you as well as me. Happy New Year, and good luck!

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When 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.

The Benefits of Being a Slow Writer

I write slow.

I don’t want to, mind you, and I’m not particularly proud of it, but it’s the truth. I’ve spent years marveling at those who can write 2000 words in an hour, who write 10,000 words (or more—gah!) in a day. I’ve read all the blog posts about upping your productivity, about how you, too, can write like the wind.

But still, I only ever seem to be able write like a faint breeze.

slow-writing

For me, a really good, focused hour nets about 1000 words. But those hours are few and far between—most end with 300-600 words at best. (Pardon me while I sob quietly in the corner for a moment.) One miraculous day I hit a total of 6000 words…and it only took me 12 hours of neglecting my family to do so. In the midst of my guilt over leaving the kids in front of screens for that entire day, I was deliriously happy at my productivity. Of course, it was a one-time thing that I’ve yet to be able to replicate.

Because I’m inherently slow at writing.

And while I do pine for the ability to get all the words down and write a novel in a week, I have come to realize there are actual benefits to writing slow.

1. A Good Story Takes Time.

Maybe this isn’t true for everyone, but for me the more time the story has to stew in my imagination, the better and more complicated it gets. The better I am at solving plot problems in a more original way. The more creative the twists and turns become. The deeper and more interesting the story becomes. That’s because…

2. It’s the Little Things that Make ALL the Difference.

My absolute FAVORITE part of books are the little details. To me, that’s what makes a story—the set-ups that lay the foundation for what happens later, the little jokes between characters that get carried through the book. As a reader, those are my favorite touches—they’re what make a good book great. As a writer, coming up with them makes me ridiculously giddy and further fuels my excitement for my WIP.

But the thing is, those little fun aspects take time. You have to let the story sit with you for a while for the gems to rise up in the workings of your mind. In my experience, racing through a story, writing as fast as you can just to get the words down, the story in place quick, quick, quick, means you end up with mostly a surface story that lacks depth.

3. Every Word Counts.

My daily goal is usually 2000 words. But if I’m being honest, I have to admit I don’t usually meet it. So when I’ve written less than 500 words for the day, I have to remind myself it’s still progress. That it’s more than I had yesterday. That every word counts, every word gets you closer to The End. Even if it’s only 100 words. Even if it’s only 17.

It all adds up.

So even though I still get a little green when I see other writers racking up the words each day and wish I was doing the same, I’m (mostly) okay with being slow. It’s working for me. And, as a writer, that’s all that really matters.

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img_2359_1Jen Meyers is happiest when she’s creating—characters, novels, coloring books, salsa, sweets, sweaters, art, etc. She has worked as a professional actor, singer, and artist (among other things), and she writes fiction because she’s totally in love with making things up for a living. She is the author of the Happily Ever After series, Anywhere, the Intangible series, and co-author of the Untamed series. She also creates totally inappropriate self-affirming sweary coloring books (which make her ridiculously happy). Find her on Twitter and Instagram as @jmeyersbooks or visit www.jmeyersbooks.com for more information about Jen and her books.

How to Write When You Just Don’t Wanna

Can we all just agree that the last two weeks have been the worst? I mean it. No matter what side of the political debate you fall on, the aftermath of this election has taken a toll on all of us.

I’m not here to get political, but I do want to address this toll and the effect it has had on our writing. Many—MANY—of my friends and colleagues have expressed how hard it has been for them to write lately. Many haven’t been able to write at all. I’ve seen several posts over social media bemoaning the looming end of NaNoWriMo and how behind everyone is because the election stress threw such a wrench in their ability to focus.

I’m one of them. At 22,000 words, I’m over 10k behind where I should be right now. I have massive amounts of writing to do if I’m going to hit 50k by the end of the month. I could just give up. I mean, it’s just an arbitrary contest. It’s not like my career is hinging on whether I can write 50k in 30 days. And everything else going on in the world right now feels much more important to me than finishing my draft.

Besides, I’ve failed NaNo before. Several times before. It’s not a big deal. But here’s the thing: at the beginning of this month, I made a promise to myself that I was going to REALLY DO THIS this time. I was going to finish this novel this month, come Hell or high water. Well . . . some might argue that Hell and high water are here, and now I’m struggling to keep my promise. I do still want to reach my goal, but when it comes to actually sitting down to write? I . . . don’t wanna.

I. Just. Don’t. Wanna. I mean, I do, logically. But I don’t have the mental energy for it. I’d rather take a nap, thank you very much, and hopefully not wake up until the year 2020 has come around.

Despite this, however, I’ve been managing to push myself through this writing slump, and so I thought I’d share some tips for how to get words down, even when you just don’t wanna.

donwannawrite

1) Allow yourself a few day’s break

This seems counter-intuitive. “Wait, so in order to get yourself to write, you . . . didn’t write?” Yup, I didn’t write. I gave my brain and emotions some time to try and work themselves out, with the promise that after a certain amount of time, even if I still didn’t feel like I was in a place where I could write, I would try to write anyway. That day came, and I turned off all social media, and told myself I couldn’t get back on until I’d written 4k. And amazingly, I wrote 4k. I’m still not sure how, but I did. And you probably can too if you really set your mind to it. But first allow yourself that break.

2) Break it down into small chunks of time

Not words. Time. You’ll probably surprise yourself by how much you’ll get written in that small amount of time. One thing I’ve done on days when I’m especially having trouble focusing, is I’ve set my alarm to go off once every hour. When it goes off, I drop whatever I’m doing (or not doing, as the case has been lately) and write for five minutes. If I hit flow, I’ll keep going. Sometimes that’s all it takes. It’s like a little shove on the back of the sled to get you to the start of the slope. Once you’re there, your sled will tip, and gravity will carry you the rest of the way down.

3) Multitask

I’ve become quite the fan of writing via dictation, and the bulk of my NaNo draft has actually been written via this method while I’m doing other boring tasks, such as folding laundry, picking up clutter, and waiting in the carpool lane to pick up the kids from school. Somehow, for me, I’ve been finding it easier to break through the I-don’t-wannas this way. It’s not for everyone, but if you haven’t tried it yet, I recommend you do.

4) Find a second creative outlet

Set aside some time every day to work on something else creative and/or relaxing that has nothing to do with your draft. Adult coloring books are great for this. Also crafts, such as knitting, crochet, or other needlework—basically anything that relaxes you but also stimulates the creative side of your brain. Sometimes when I do this, I’ll find my mind wandering off to work on my story without me, solving plot problems, coming up with new characters, all while in a nice, relaxed, state of mind rather than while stressing out over a blank page.

5) Don’t panic

If none of this works for you, and you just can’t do it, don’t beat yourself up about it. Stress is a nasty beast that sometimes takes longer to defeat than we would like. Allow yourself the extra time you need. Take care of yourself. Eat healthy, go to bed at a decent hour, and take lots of bubble baths. Your ability to write has not left you forever. It will come back when it’s ready.

I do hope these strategies help you as much as they’ve been helping me. I will point out that they don’t work one-hundred percent of the time. Some days I just have to throw in the towel and admit that writing isn’t going to happen. But even if it works only a third of the time, that’s better than not at all. Also, if you have any tips of your own, please do share them in the comments. I’d love to give them a try.

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When 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.

Pausing to Reflect

After tomorrow, 2016 will be a quarter of the way over. If your year has gone anything like mine, you may have found that you are running, constantly. While I’m pretty sure this is a semi-regular norm of modern society, I also think it is one of the greatest detriments. Taking a few minutes to pause, reflect, and let the frenzied thoughts of our mind have a moment to settle can be highly beneficial.

With this in mind, I’ve asked several of our contributors to share the one thing they’ve learned about the writing journey so far this year. Take a few moment to read through their lessons, and feel free to add yours in the comments below.

Tasha Seegmiller

I’ve learned that sometimes it feels like you will be the one waiting FOREVER for something to happen, to finally figure out how to make it to the next stepping stone. But if you keep working and learning and writing and supporting while you are waiting, your chance to leap to the next stone WILL come.

Helen Boswell

Whether you have a good day or a bad day is largely dependent on your attitude and perspective. Whether you have a good WRITING day or bad WRITING day is the same. Just as it’s not healthy to compare your day with how someone else’s day went, your writing progress, accomplishments, and growth should be measured by one standard: your own.

Elaine Vickers

I’ve learned that there’s a difference between “writing time” and “developing a writing career” time. If I let the latter eat too much into the former–if I spend my precious writing time answering emails or fixing my website or working on an ARC list–I begin to feel the same emptiness as when I’m not making time for my author self at all. Protect your actual writing time, my friends.

Liz Isaacson 

I’ve learned — through something really painful and disappointing, actually — that an author needs to stay true to their vision for their own story. That just because someone wants your story to be something else doesn’t mean you have to make it that way to please them. After all, authors have a right to have a vision for their characters and story that shouldn’t have to change if they don’t want it to.

Sydney Strand

Be creative outside of writing and it will​ help you think more creatively. I’ve been actively doodling and joining doodle challenges since November/December. This has helped me revise better because I’m seeing plot points that are not the easier route I took for the initial draft. By making myself do these other creative outlets, I can see (in these quicker, non-75,000-word pursuits) how much better an odd choice can make a doodle better/more memorable.

Jenilyn Collings

I’d heard this before, of course, but I’ve learned that everyone struggles with the ups and downs of being a writer. Everyone has moments (or days or months or even years) of self-doubt. But just because you struggle with that (and everyone does) it doesn’t mean that what you are working on isn’t worth it. It doesn’t mean that you are the worst writer in the world or that you won’t ever improve. 

What have you learned so far this year? 
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Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Stop Riding Your Writing Brakes

When I was first learning to drive, my dad warned me to not ride my brakes when going down a hill. I still hear his words echo in my head when I coast down a mountain hill. The consequence of burned out brakes is… smash, crash, and road rash.

Anyway.

Are you in the habit of riding your writing brakes? Are you stopping yourself from an incredible ride? Here’s a few clues that you are burning out your brakes:

Are You an Over-thinker?

You have the perfect story idea. The vision of this finished piece keeps you day dreaming. You feel the passion for it… but, unfortunately it’s all in your head. Oh, I’ve sat here on a busy highway of success only to find myself constantly passed by successful coasters who don’t use their brakes. Lack of action plan keeps you permanently sitting on the perfect story idea. Yep. Sitting. As in not moving.
You spend lots of valuable thinking time on what could be. You work out every minuscule detail before you begin. You address pop-quiz problem trivia. Yeah, you know the “what if” game I’m referring to. Here’s the problem: overthinking paralyzes production.

An over-thinker is burning fuses. Too much power overloads the fuse and it shuts down. You have something amazing to share. Stop thinking and start inking that paper up. Keep your inflow and outflow of currents matched up.

Are You an Over-planner?

Maybe you are an over-planner. An over-planner spends ample time on busy work. They think they are taking care of things that will make the ride smoother. They work on knowing everything before starting. An over-planners writing life consists of research, research, and more research. They may read blogs, attend writing conferences, and take classes to insure their knowledge. Story ideas need substance. Yeah, actual writing pieces, or submissions. Maybe you’re ahead of yourself and your steps are all out of whack. Are you are perfecting step #47 when you haven’t even started on step #1?

Do you find yourself writing outlines over and over? Are you writing down a myriad of ideas and never implementing action plans? Remember no matter how well you plan, something will change that plan. Deal with it as it comes. Yes, I agree, planning is important. Spend some time on it but not all of your time.

Take time to plan out your entire book in a day, or maybe a week. But, immediately get to work when the planning is done. The key is to end your planning. Things always change so throw in a reevaluation day. Persevere and then race to the finish. If you aspire to be a writing planner, keep doing what you’re doing. On the other hand, if you want to be a writer… I recommend writing. Don’t tire out when the plan takes a new direction- just go with it. Enjoy it.

An over-planner pays too much to their insurance. They never get from point A to B because they are afraid of crashes and expensive deductibles. So they park the vehicle instead. They play it safe, stocking up really great insurance policies. Yes, insurance is needed but never get more than you need. (Like the insurance for a $5 toy. Ridiculous.) Expect mistakes, a change of plans, and a price to pay. Know that your biggest mistake is to never begin.

Are You and Over-excuser?

Do you always find really good reasons to not write? I don’t have time. I’m not good enough. No one likes my stuff (based on one comment you heard once… one time folks). I might fail. My computer sometimes crashes. I’m working on teaching my fish tricks.

Really? Really?

Oh, boy. Great opportunities slide when we feed our excuses. Take a risk. Do one thing every day to bring you closer to your goal as a writer. Find a solution to every excuse you make. If you don’t think you have time, keep a time log where you record what you are doing every 15 minutes. You will be surprised. Give yourself positive affirmations. Backup your work. Um… and about the fish: you can’t be serious.

Meh. Lame solutions for lame excuses. But, practice countering every thought that stops you from following your passion. If you love writing, spend time with it. Forget what can’t be done and show the world what can be done.

Negative energy sucks enthusiasm. It drains your battery. Is it time for a jump start? Learn tips from and associate yourself with fireball writers; feed off their energy flow. Come on. You also have something the world needs. Show yourself.

Use the Right Writing Breaks

Yes, it’s true. We all need a good break from the things that we love, or we lose our punch. It’s okay to back away from writing for a little bit. And it comes highly recommended at times. But, writing brakes and writing breaks are completely different things. One is initiated out of fear of crashing, and the other is spurred from exhaustion of best effort. Both slow us down, but only one refreshes and rejuvenates our writing vehicle. Where do you want to go with your writing goals?

Don’t ride your brakes, ride your breaks.

Release the brakes and enjoy the ride. Oh, and just so you know, expect a crash or two. No writer comes out without a few scratches. It’s all part of the journey. Just take caution to shift down a gear, there will be less casualties when you move forward in your writing goals. I repeat: shift down.

Don’t think big, think incredibly small. What’s the littlest thing you can do to reach your dreams as a writer? Go ahead. We are waiting to see what you can do.

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Christie Perkins is a survivor of boy humor, chemo, and faulty recipes. She loves freelance writing and is a nonfiction junkie. A couple of national magazines have paid her for her work but her biggest paycheck is her incredible family. Christie hates spiders, the dark, and Shepherd’s Pie. Bleh. Mood boosters: white daisies, playing basketball, and peanut butter M&M’s. You can find out more about her at howperkyworks.com.