Protecting Your Heart For Writing

If you’ve been writing for a certain amount of time and told people about it, chances are you’ve heard something along the lines of, “How do you find time for that?” Or, “I’d write if I could find the time.”

Finding the time to write can indeed be a trick. But it’s probably not as hard as most people make it out to be. Bottom line: If writing is important to you, you find time to do it. You MAKE time for it. I’ve heard countless stories of people waking up earlier to write, or squeezing in a couple hundred words while they wait in the pick up line at school, or type on their phones while they breastfeed, or work during their lunch breaks. And most people seem to have plenty of time for social media and Netflix.

Really, when it comes down to it, I think it’s less about being able to find the time (because we can all find 15-30 minutes in our day if we give up one episode or one Facebook session) and more about having the EMOTIONAL ENERGY to write.

If you’ve been writing for a certain amount of time and told people about it, chances are you’ve heard something along the lines of, “How do you find time for that-” Or, “I’d write if I could find the time.” Finding .png

And let’s face it, writing requires a ton of emotional energy. The energy to imagine and create, to feel empathy for fictional characters, to step inside the shoes of someone else and walk in their story. Writing is an exercise in radical empathy. Add on top of that the emotional energy required to fend off imposter syndrome, self-doubts, and then the pain of rejection and writing can suck you dry. And if you’re trying to do it on top of being an emotionally available parent, a wholehearted employee, a loving spouse, forget about it!

In that light, I want to talk about what finding the time to write is really about…protecting your heart for writing. If you are not in a place where you can experience radical empathy, an expansive imagination, and dust yourself off after copious amounts of rejection week after week, then you are never going to feel like you’re able to write.

That’s not to say that in order to write you must live a stress-free life. Far from it. Just that you have to find a way to protect a piece of your heart for this journey. A way to refresh your soul just the tiniest bit before you sit down at your keyboard. And some nights you can’t do it and you write through the slog and stress. But isn’t it so much better when you’re writing with an open heart? So let’s talk about way to do that.

  • Rest! You need rest to create. Our society isn’t very good at resting, but it is a vital part of the creative process. We let our manuscripts rest between drafting and revisions. We need to make sure we are getting enough rest to write. If you consistently feel too tired to write, is there any way you can sneak in an extra hour of sleep somewhere during the day? Can you turn off the late night Netflix and go to bed earlier? Close the book instead of bingeing all night? Can you get a power nap in during your lunch break? Or maybe if you find an hour to write but are exhausted, take a 20-30 minute snooze for the first half and then write the second half. Maybe that seems counter-productive, but if resting makes you write more consistently then it’s worth it!
  • Back away from social media. No, you don’t need to give it up completely. But have you ever felt when you are on it too much that you are so connected to everyone else’s thoughts that you haven’t been connected to your own thoughts? You can articulate everyone else’s position and nod along and everything else. But have you sat in the quiet and really pondered your own thoughts? Some creativity thrives with collaboration. And some needs to bloom in the garden of our own minds. Your originality will flourish with a little less time spent in other people’s minds and a little more time spent in your own.
  • Find some time to sit outside and just be still. It’s amazing what just a little bit of fresh air and listening to the birds and watching the sunset will do for your psyche. Can you write outside? Perhaps you can begin every session with a few deep breaths at your window. Really try to ground yourself in these moments. I like to imagine my feet as roots sinking into the ground. Literally, grounding myself. Centering my soul in the moment.
  • Find the good. It’s been a tough year or two politically. And it can be so easy to get so caught up in the political merry-go-round and go from one outrage to the next and the next. And that’s EXHAUSTING! Now some people write books that maybe thrive with a little bit of anger spurring them on. I do not. While I don’t think you need to pull out of politics entirely (and indeed it is privileged to be able to do so) I do think it’s important to find a balance so it doesn’t consume you. I think it’s important to try and balance out the stories of fear and hate and injustice with good things. There ARE good things. Creativity is an embodiment of hope. You don’t write books for doomed world. You write them with HOPE. You have to feel that and have that in your heart before you can get it on the page. Where can you find hope in your life? Where can you see the good things that are also happening, even when the world feels like it’s falling apart?
  • Ask for help. Sadly, this is mostly for female writers. Ladies, you do NOT have to do it all. Your partner should be in the business of supporting your dreams, too. They love you, right? Those kids are their kids too, right? Figure out what you need help with in order to make writing possible and then gently ask for help. Tell them how important this writing thing is to you. Let them know that you’d like to do it for just an hour a day (or whatever time you find) and then let them know you need their help. Maybe you need them to take over the dinner dishes. Maybe you need them to take the kids on Saturday mornings. Maybe you just need them to understand that you’re not ignoring them if your nightly hang out sessions after the kids go to bed decrease from two hours to one. Of course, this conversation should be a two way street. Maybe it’s a good time for you to ask about your partner’s dreams and how you can help support them, too.
  • Stay away from the things that make it harder. These will change with the seasons. There was a time when I knew I couldn’t get on Twitter on Tuesdays and Thursdays because seeing the deal announcements hurt my heart so much. If that’s you, that’s okay. Maybe reading one more “How I Got My Agent Post” will break you. Then don’t read it. Have romance books lost their luster for you because all you can do is compare your book and it keeps coming up short? Switch genres for a few months for Heaven’s sake! Listen to those feelings and don’t be ashamed of them. Protect your heart.

Writing and publishing are hard. And so much of the work is subconscious, emotional, and unseen. Give yourself the space and grace to be able to pursue it in a healthy way.

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Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. She now resides in central California where she is a gardener, chemist, homeschool mom, Yosemite explorer, and Disneyland enthusiast. She writes middle-grade fiction and is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown LTD.

 

As the World Burns – Strategies for Creating Through the Chaos

My province is on fire.

That’s not a metaphor. British Columbia is literally on fire, with blazes that experts from various countries have described as “apocalyptic” and “like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

Our neighbourhood was evacuated. Two houses on our street burned down. Our oldest daughter’s mental health has been . . . not great. Chaos and turmoil. Stress and uncertainty. And now that we’re home again with out of control fires less than an hour away in three different directions, our new status quo has fear and flinching stitched into it.

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Which begs the question, how do you keep writing when your world is literally—or metaphorically—on fire? How do you keep hold of your creativity in the face of mental trauma, when all your brain wants to do is sleep and binge watch your favorite shows on Netflix?

Step 1: Forgive yourself if you stop.

Stopping is normal. Shutting down is normal. Not being able to find words is normal. When you’re experiencing trauma, your brain looks for ways to protect itself, to protect you. Let it do its job without guilt. This is a natural process, and you can not override it with shame.

Shame is the enemy.

Shame prolongs the shut down process and eats through your words like the mental acid that it is. You will recover faster if you don’t pile shame on top of your hurt. Shame makes you heavier. Giving yourself permission to be a human being having a hard time makes you lighter. Treat yourself with the same level of compassion and care that you would give to a dear friend in similar circumstances. 

Step 2: Fight panic with an awareness of the temporary.

Mental trauma lies to us. It tells us that the level of stability and sporadic joy we once experienced is gone, forever out of reach, and that the current struggle is our new normal.

Sometimes it is. Maybe your house did burn down. Maybe you were handed a life-altering medical diagnosis. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one. Surely, these aren’t temporary traumas.

But what is temporary, is the intensity of our initial grief. The raw vulnerability of a freshly dealt blow. You’ve been sucker punched in the gut. You’re bent over from the pain. It hurts and it hurts and it hurts. But eventually you’re going to straighten up. Eventually, the pain is going to diminish to a dull throb. However long-lasting the cause of your trauma is, it will never hurt as much as it did in that first moment, and there’s a strange comfort to be found in that.

Trauma is temporary and limited in its scope, but our ability to adapt and recover is not.

Step 3: Experiment.

If the worst has passed and the words still aren’t coming, try different creativity-stirring methods like these to get your brain zinging and zapping again:

  • Take pictures.
  • Find some fun writing prompts.
  • Create inspiration boards and/or story boards.
  • Brainstorm with a friend.
  • Use different writing methods like pen/pencil, voice recorder, or different devices.
  • Watch imagination-inspiring movies and T.V. shows.
  • Explore new environments and take note of what you notice and why.

If you usually write fiction, try your hand at poetry. If you’re normally a poet, try a personal essay, perhaps. Different mediums can help you escape shut down mode. They can be loopholes in your brain’s self-defense program.

Step 4: Avoid writing advice.

You’re probably laughing at this one, or maybe rolling your eyes. Perhaps I should qualify that statement and say “Avoid harmful writing advice.”

The harmful kind abounds. I’ve seen famous authors say things like “If you don’t write every day, you’ll never make it.” “If you don’t carry pen and paper with you everywhere, you’re not a real writer.” “You know you’re supposed to be an author if you wake up every morning needing to write.”

Statements like these are inherently dangerous. They’re fabulous sound bytes. They’re powerful. Quotable. And they put forward strong opinions that make a certain amount of sense. Writing every day is a good idea, isn’t it? Pen and paper in this electronic age of ours . . . there’s something poetic about that. And needing to write, that’s how you know it’s destiny. That’s how you know it’s what you’re meant to do.

Yeah. No. That’s how you know that overly generalized statements based on one dimensional ideas are stupid.

You do not have to write every day, or even every week to “make it.” Plenty of successful authors have stopped just like you have, shut down just like you have, felt the weight of grief and pressure and chaos just like you have. Plenty of successful authors haven’t touched pen and paper in years. And plenty of successful authors wake up groaning because ugh, they don’t want to write today, never mind need to.

Do what works for you, and don’t put too much stock in the opinions of people who think what applies to them applies to everyone. That includes me. Your brain doesn’t work the exact same way my brain works, and that’s okay. That’s normal. That’s good.

Step 5: You don’t have to hurt to write good words.

Our stories are tapestries into which we weave elements of our life experiences: the light and the dark, the joyful and the sorrowful, the painful and the transcendent. When the worst of your trauma has passed, and your brain comes out of lockdown mode and the words start flowing again, you might notice that they are deeper than they were before. This is one of the most incredible things about being a human being, that we can take the fabric of the worst events in our lives, and create wonders out of it.

But. But.

You don’t have to live in that place, in that dark well you drew those powerful words from. You can find words in bright places too. Through empathy, through newness, through love. Through unique viewpoints that take you and your stories to places you couldn’t reach otherwise.

Yes, hurting can make you a better writer. But so can loving. And only one of those experiences is worth chasing.

Suffering = Beautiful Art. Joy = Beautiful Art. Curiosity = Beautiful Art. Love = Beautiful Art.

Trauma is temporary, and while it has the power to hurt you and steal your words for a time, your creativity is stronger. You can and will triumph. Give yourself time. Forgive yourself for being human. And chase joy.

Both you and your stories are worth it.

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kimKimberly VanderHorst is a YA author who cherishes a love for all things quirky and strange. Claims to fame include running Prism Editing, co-hosting the annual Pitch Slam contest, and serving on the committees for the annual LDStorymakers Conference and The Whitney Awards program. Despite being a city girl with a tendency to cuss a lot, Kimberly is married to an LDS minister and lives in rural northern Canada. There, she helps raise their four lovely daughters while pretending not to be afraid of the neighbour’s chickens.

Permission to Write—Granted

This was going to be a completely different post. I was going to consider writing rituals—those choices of location and atmosphere that we feel inspire us to be more creative. I was going to talk about superstition, and how it can sometimes be a good thing, if, like a magic feather, it helps to trick your mind into performing.

So I started doing some research. What do other writers—ones with far more authority than I—do to get the creative juices flowing?

I began by paging through my copy of On Writing, by Stephen King, which I first read about seven years ago. But after only a few minutes of this, I was hooked. I opened the book to page one and read it straight through. I finished the next day (it’s not a very long book, and it’s an easy and engaging read, half autobiography and half pep talk).

I’m a more seasoned writer now than I was the first time I read the book, so I noticed different things this time around. Bits of advice that had seemed profound many years ago (avoid adverbs whenever possible, kill your darlings) were now simply nice reminders. What surprised me the most, though, was the message I took away from this second reading: with nearly every page, King grants us permission to write.

It turned out to be a message I really needed to hear that day.

You see, I was feeling a little down about all the time I’d been spending with my laptop. Maybe I was even slightly ashamed of it. “I, uh, write a bit,” was a huge—I mean huge—admission for me. As if my friends and family were going to demand a resume, a bibliography, and three years worth of tax returns to prove my credentials.

You may be familiar with imposter syndrome—that idea that whatever success you’ve had is a fluke, and you’re about to be found out. There have been some excellent Thinking Through Our Fingers posts on it, such as here and here.

Why is this so prevalent among writers? Is it because writers tend to be such an introspective bunch that self-doubt comes naturally to us? Is it because popular culture only venerates the bestsellers, the blockbusters, the top-forty hits? Or is it because the statement, “I’m a writer,” calls to mind stereotypes of pretentious know-it-alls who delight in correcting one’s grammar?

If you (or any of your friends) play golf, you probably don’t mince around with the word golfer. You don’t say, “Well, I golf a bit, but y’know, it’s just something I do when I have time. I haven’t been able to earn a living at it yet.” No. You say, “I’m a golfer.”

My husband’s hobbies are rock-crawling (extreme four-wheel-driving) and desert racing. And while I can’t say he’s never made a dime at it, I can affirm that he’s spent far more money on it than he’s ever made doing it. And he’s never apologized for it, because he loves it. It’s part of what defines him. He’s a rock-crawler. I’m a writer.

Say it with me. I’m a writer. There, that wasn’t so hard.

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So if you’re feeling a little down yourself, feeling like you’re maybe wasting your time, here are some words of permission by Mr. King himself.

“…when you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy.” (p. 150)

“If you feel you need permission to do all the reading and writing your little heart desires…consider it hereby granted by yours truly.” (p. 150)

“In writing classes, if nowhere else, it is entirely permissible to spend large chunks of your time off in your own little dreamworld. Still—do you really need permission and a hall-pass to go there? Do you need someone to make you a paper badge with the word WRITER on it before you can believe you are one? God, I hope not.” (p. 235)

“I have written because it fulfilled me … I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for the joy, you can do it forever.” (p. 249)

So what are you waiting for? Write. Even if you never make a dollar at it. If it makes you happy, write.

For what it’s worth, you have my permission, too.

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Kristina Starmer lives in Southern Utah with her husband, son, dog, and more cats than she likes to admit. When not working as a university chemistry lab manager, she can most likely be found rereading one of her favorite books. She is passionate about traveling to new places, ice cream with lots of mix-ins, and the peaches from her garden. Her favorite children’s book is The Owl and the Pussycat and her favorite element is copper. She writes renaissance-era historical fiction topped with a generous scoop of magic.

How to Maximize Your Critique Partner Experience

If there’s anything I’m an expert on in the literary world, it’s how to luck into amazing critique partners.

They are encouraging and supportive, and they kick my metaphorical butt when I need it. Like the time my friend Charlie threatened to have a box of live crickets delivered to me if I didn’t meet a specific deadline. They believe in me when I forget how, and they love my words when my brain is too fogged over by doubt to see them properly anymore. I need my critique partners desperately, and I think they need me too.

While I can’t give you my luck, maybe my thoughts about critique partnerships will help you build or strengthen a fantastic partnership of your own.

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Be Thorough

What do you expect in a critique? And what does your critique partner expect of you? Here are three key aspects of critiquing that might make a good starting point for such a discussion:

  • Technical Editing.
  • Content Editing.
  • Validation.

Some partners are going to specialize in one of these areas. Some spread their skills across two or three. Make sure you know what kind of critiques you’ll be offering each other. If you only give general content feedback with a sprinkle of validation, make that clear. If you’re strictly a copy-editor with an eye out for technical issues, make that clear.

There are few things rougher than pouring loads of time into a critique and getting just a few lines back in return. Your partnership will be stronger if you give as good as you get. And some partnerships may develop even further to the point that you brainstorm together, vent to each other, and become dear friends.

To that end . . .

Be Kind

Take a little extra time to point out what’s working in your critique partner’s pages. Yes, it’s faster to just highlight what needs work, they’re praise is a vital component of any critique. If you have favorite lines in your CP’s work, tell them so! Someone else might be telling them otherwise. Plus? Warm-fuzzy feelings from being told you don’t suck can give you the strength to fix what does need work.

Most writers have a voice in the back of their head, pointing out all their inadequacies. Try to be louder than that voice. Of course, critiques that are only compliments aren’t really critiques at all, are they? A good balance of compliments and constructive criticism will help you build up your critique partner while giving them tools they can use to improve their work.

Be Genuine

Confrontation is hard. Telling your CP to kill their darlings? SO hard. Sometimes it’s easier to pat them on the head, avoid eye contact, and say, “Yeah . . . that’s good. Real good.”

Remember the heading of the previous section? Be Kind? Avoiding the truth isn’t kind when it comes to helping your partner improve.

When you do offer genuine criticism, make sure you give context. Simply saying “I don’t like this” isn’t helpful. Whenever possible, try to give context:

“Her reaction here doesn’t ring true for me because X.”

“The flow of this sentence is awkward. Maybe it would work better if you broke it into two?”

“The backstory in this scene is slowing the pace and I don’t feel like I’m really with your main character anymore.”

“The POV feels too distant here. Try to zoom in so we can get a sense of his emotional reaction.”

Your genuine opinion is far more likely to be helpful if you actually give it.

Be Prompt

I’m not saying you need to work at breakneck speeds and pull off a twenty-four hour turnaround every time. But if you say “I’ll have notes back to you next week” and your partner doesn’t hear from you for two months, that might be a problem.

If you only remember to critique after being reminded several times? That might be a problem.

If your partner has critiqued seventeen chapters for you and you’ve only critiqued two for them? That might be a problem.

I say “might be” because this is something you and your partner need to figure out between you. Communicate. Establish up front what your expectations of each other are.

Maybe your partner has four kids and works a graveyard shift at the local hospital, but their critiques are so amazing you don’t mind if they only do one for every five you do.

Maybe you have seventy kajillion things going on in your life and can only manage to critique a chapter a month for awhile. Or maybe there are times when you can only give general feedback and not line edits, or times when line edits ain’t no thang, because you’re swimming in spare time.

But if you don’t communicate, your partner might feel like they’re hanging off a cliff’s edge, dangling over the revision pit, with no clue if you’re ever going to help pull them up.

It’s okay not to have time sometimes. It’s even okay to get swamped and forget. But if you do? Apologize. Then establish more reasonable expectations of each other. Being human and being prompt are often mutually exclusive. Own up to your humanity, and accept your partner’s humanity*.

Quality critique partnerships aren’t born; they’re created. And creating, as we all know, requires effort.

*To a point, of course. If they’re being a jerk you’re allowed to say goodbye.

Be Grateful

Whether you’re starting a new partnership or enjoying the blissful comfort of an old one, SAY THANK YOU. Not just for the first critique, or the best critique, but ALL critiques. Whether they’re as helpful as you hoped or not. Whether they send you into a tailspin of despair or soaring to new heights where you can see the “possible” of your story better than ever before, express gratitude for the time that went into the critique.

No matter how effectively the time was spent, it was SPENT, and that deserves your thanks. If you constantly struggle to feel enough gratitude to put into words, it might be time to ask yourself whether that particular partnership is worth continuing.

Above all, keep in mind that the ideal critique partnership is worth searching for AND working for. It requires so many leaps of faith. I know. And there’s terror in that. Of course there is. But the best partners, the ones worth keeping? They catch you when you leap.

And you catch them back.

And your stories become more than words on a page. They become worlds you build and visit together. I hope you find that. And I hope you get to be to someone what my critique partners are to me.

It’s one of the best kinds of magic.

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kimKimberly VanderHorst is a YA author who cherishes a love for all things quirky and strange. Claims to fame include running Prism Editing, co-hosting the annual Pitch Slam contest, and serving on the committees for the annual LDStorymakers Conference and The Whitney Awards program. Despite being a city girl with a tendency to cuss a lot, Kimberly is married to an LDS minister and lives in rural northern Canada. There, she helps raise their four lovely daughters while pretending not to be afraid of the neighbour’s chickens.

Visit Your Future Self

If you knocked on your door 10 years from now what would you find? What conversations would you tell yourself about what you’ve been up to? What will you have mastered in 10 years?

It’s kind of horrifying thinking that I’ll be talking about the perfection of the mysterious ring around the toilet, my ploy to tunnel boy noises, and the cleanest uncluttered cupboards.  Oh brother! That image is a dream squished wish when what I really wanted was wondrous words that wows the world… and changes it.

Though these things are all good (who doesn’t love clean toilets?) I know that there’s something more satisfying for me. Something that fills in all the empty places in my soul.

Writing makes me whole.

But how easy is it to get wrapped up in the day and stray from the ultimate goal: to write. So easy. Too easy. That’s why it’s important to pay your future self a visit. Where is today taking you? Today is gearing up for tomorrow and it’s important to scrub toilets, and boy-lets and all but are you doing writing that is even so small? Because these little things will determine the future self you meet.

It’s time to do some time travelling. Put on your door-to –door salesman beaming grin and official pin. Let’s visit your future self. Are you selling yourself short? Today we are going to time travel and solicit to yourself. You’re the only one that can talk yourself into this. Don’t you be slamming the door, now.

Unbuckle. Let’s go. (You totally thought I was going to say buckle up didn’t you? Well, dear, that’s the problem… you’re all tied down. It’s time to let go and take off!). Let’s evaluate your tie downs and get these words welded on walls.

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Know What You Want

What do you want to be remembered for? The Tidy Wife, Candy Crush King, The Goopy Mop Plop Stopper, The Rusher (from here to there) Crusher, Hair Swirling Twirler, Facebook Fanatic, Piling Paper Skyscraper Caper, Filing Foreman.

If you want it… awesome. Go get it.

But if you don’t, today’s the day to change it.

You can do a little time travel by evaluating what skills you have been mastering in you free time. Because where you put your free time determines what you’ll become. Yes. It is important to spend time connecting with people (huge fan of that) but it’s also important to feed your passion. If you want to be Word Dragon… a daily and simple writing snack will do. A simple 15 minutes a day can make your writing take off and change your current status.

Knowing what you want is half of the battle to becoming what you want. The other half is fed by simple efforts to get there. It’s simple: write if you want to be a writer.

What Things Are You Putting First?

The principle of first things first (Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) is the key to becoming what you want. How you organize your day will determine what you get out of life. We all know those days that we crawl into bed and the torment that’s racking through our head is “What in the world did I do today?”

All day was so stinking busy but you realized that you were just being whipped around by the whirlwind of the day. Only led by the things that pulled you from here to there.

No plan was intact on those days. And life feels cheated by a wasted day. We all have them.

Now, I’m not saying that you have to put writing at the beginning of the day but to schedule it in and protect that time. No phone calls, no last minute lunch with a crazy bunch, no putting off what you scheduled in. In the moment it may feel like a loss…

But in the long run it’s an incredible win. Just ask the self-soliciting salesman knocking on your door in 10 years from now.

Throw away that pencil and permanently write down 3 things that have to happen today. Make writing one of them. Be specific when it will happen and hold your promise to yourself.

As a Man Thinketh, He Is

I’m a firm believer in this principal found in the Bible. Thoughts and what we do with them determine what we will become. And if you keep finding great excuses for not writing your thoughts will excuse you right out of what you really want.

Simply listen to the excuses you tell yourself as visit your future self. Evaluate why you won’t write. Yeah, won’t. Simply listen to your dialogue in your head. I can’t today. There’s no time. I don’t have anything to say. There’s too much to do. I can’t solve the issue I’m working on. I can’t write as well as Word Worm Wendy. I’m not very good.

Any negative dialogue stops progression.

I’m a huge believer in the power of positive thinking. Positive people get places. When the negative words come crowding out your efforts fight back with a positive response instead.

I can write 10 minutes before bed. I can write while I wait. Words won’t flow unless I let them go, I’ll give it a try. Writing is more important than organizing my socks. Watch out! I’m here to tackle my writing issues. I bet Word Worm Wendy squirms at her writing too. I’m awesome.

Is your negative thinking causing your future self regret? Don’t’ you think it’s time to change your thinking and get to it? You’re going to be amazing.

How would your visit with your future self go? Evaluate these three important areas and make adjustments so when the doors-a-knocking, you’ll be rockin’ your writing!

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christie-perkinsChristie Perkins is a survivor of boy humor, chemo, and faulty recipes. She loves freelance writing, blogging, and is a nonfiction junkie. Her stage 4 cancer doesn’t knock down her passion for life and writing. Not a chance. A couple of magazines have published 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 on her blog at howperkyworks.com.

The Boy Who Lived and Changed my Life

We are thrilled to welcome our newest contributor Yamile Saied Méndez!

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling was published 20 years ago. I was eighteen, still living in Argentina, and although I’ve always been a reading addict, I wouldn’t find Harry Potter for a few more years.

Oh, how I would’ve loved to have read this magical story before I arrived at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, a long way from my home at the other end of the world, in Rosario, Argentina. I could’ve used Harry’s perspective at arriving at a new place that was all I’d always dreamed of. Like Harry, I met some of my very best friends to this day that first Spring/Summer. I didn’t have to fight giant spiders or the Dark Lord, although I faced loneliness and homesickness, and in the winter, the pervasive presence of an old familiar companion, depression, my real life dementors.

Although it might sound cliché, I kept the dementors at bay thanks to the love of my friends, a wonderful boy who’d become my husband a little later, and the support of my family. When I met Harry, the world was a-frenzy with the arrival of Goblet of Fire. It was the summer of 2000, and I was awaiting the arrival of my first baby, my son Julián.

My husband and I lived in North Carolina very close to his sister’s family. Her kids lent me the first three volumes of the series so I could catch up before Goblet’s release day. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the opening page changed my life. I didn’t stop reading, devouring each page until I reached the end of Prisoner of Azkaban. Happily, I joined the world as I waited for Goblet of Fire, which I devoured the night I bought it. My husband worked nights, and reading all night and sleeping during the day fit our lifestyle, even after our baby was born. There was an excruciating three year wait until Order of the Phoenix came out. During those three years, I read the four first volumes carefully, analyzing every word. I listened to Jim Dale’s audiobook adaptation, and to this day, I judge every audiobook by the Jim Dale standard. There are a few close seconds who are my favorite readers, but none like him.

I became involved in online forums like The Leaky Cauldron, and I loved discussing the books with strangers who loved Harry and gang as much as I did.

But during those three years I didn’t only read Harry Potter. I started reading for pleasure again. I fell in love with kidlit. I realized that because I grew up in another continent, my ignorance in terms of beloved American kids’ classics was abysmal. I set out to remedy this immediately. I’m still going strong at it. I found Max from Where the Wild Things Are, all the Margaret Brown books, Anne with an E, and everything else I could get my hands on. I took my baby to the library’s story time mainly for me. I needed my weekly haul of books. I started writing.

When Order of the Phoenix came out, we were living in Puerto Rico, out in the island (as the Puerto Ricans say), and I couldn’t go to the midnight release party. Amazon didn’t send me my pre-order copy until A WHOLE week had passed since the release day. I vowed that never again would I trust the postal service or online orders. For Half-Blood Prince, I already had three little potterheads to keep me company. I told them Harry’s story trying not to spoil it for them, especially for my son Julián who literally knew about Harry since he was in utero.

And for the release of Deathly Hallows, my dear, amazing, adoring husband took the family to London and Scotland, to wait for the book in “the” holy land. After touring the Balmoral hotel and different castles, we waited in line at the Waterstone in Edinburg. That night, my little Julián painstakingly read the book next to me, but he finally fell asleep, his pudy hand still holding a wand. A year later, when his reading skills were off the charts, he read Deathly Hallows in twenty hours. He was seven years old. He’s been re-reading Harry every year ever since. He’s also a voracious reader like me.

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Harry Potter is the reason I fell in love with kidlit. I read it; I write it nonstop. My stories are not like J. K Rowling’s, not at all, and that’s okay. Harry and his world have followed me all over the world throughout the years, and it’s not a coincidence that when I was at my MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts (my real life Hogwarts, hands down), my class chose The Harried Plotters as the class name as it’s the tradition in the school. For our graduation, my classmates and I got Mischief Managed tattoos, and we raised our wands in victory (this is one of the perks of attending a writing for children program :p).

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Harry gave me magic, and I love the characters and this world because like Dumbledore told Harry, even if it’s all happening in my mind, it doesn’t mean it’s not real, right?

What book has changed your life?

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YamileMendezYamile (prounounced sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is an immigrant writer and reader, a dreamer and fighter, a Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA graduate, a 2014 New Visions Award Honor Winner, and one the 2015 Walter Dean Myers Inaugural Grant recipients. Born and raised in Rosario, Argentina (cradle of fútbol), she now lives in Alpine, Utah with her husband, five children, and three dogs, but her heart is with her family scattered all over the world. Find her on twitter: @YamileSMendez and online: yamilesmendez.com.

Writers Must Practice Reflection

This week, as part of my day job, I’m attending a conference “dedicated to educating leaders in higher education, K-12, and non-profit organizations on experiential and project-based learning”. The principles discussed here fit in with the model established by David Kolb. There is lots of information about the Kolb cycle online, but one of the key factors that I think should be woven regularly into the process of writing is that of reflection.

The idea of reflection is not new. If you are like me, you may do this often after a situation has gone wrong. In those situations, you may think “I could have…” or “I should have…” or even “If I hadn’t…”. It may even be accompanied by a feeling of regret or the longing to take something back. But as a writing tool, reflection is invaluable.

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I think there are two kinds of reflection: accidental and intentional. Accidental reflection comes when you are reading through a craft book, listening to a presentation about character development or world-building where many of the things that are shared are reminders instead of new lessons. It might be when there is a Q&A and as you are listening to the questions being asked, you will realize that you know the answer, or at least a way to answer. It’s like what my own children are experiencing on a semi-regular basis lately where they are being asked to stand up or next to someone and realize they have grown.

Accidental reflection is an exceptional way to know how far you’ve come. It is a reason to celebrate knowledge and understanding and better appreciation of craft. But it isn’t the kind of reflection that allows you, as an artist, a weaver of words, a composer of character, to grow.

When we engage in intentional reflection, we are seeking out a way to learn and to improve. We are looking at our stories, our characters, our emotional impact, our setting and deliberately considering what is working, what isn’t working, why it is or isn’t. Intentional reflection means we know what we did to make these things work; it means we are searching and studying and reaching for an understanding of why something isn’t working.

The way this infiltrates our writing could be varied depending on our writing methods. As an outliner, I try to think through the complications and be intentional during my drafting process while I know many people who are pantsers or people who revise as they draft who prefer to weave or layer the details in as they become aware of them. Intentional reflection requires analysis of not only our stories, but of those that have an impact on us, whether that be movies, TV shows, books or plays.

If we desire to continue to improve as a writer, intentional reflection is a fundamental key to that success.

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TashaTasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as a board member for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.