Goals and Good Reads

This week I started reading The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff. These three Young Adult authors and critique partners (known as the Merry Sisters of Fate) committed to writing short stories and posting them on their blog. The posts made their way to publication in this awesome collection, along with handwritten notes, doodles, and commentary on the creative process. It’s been an inspiring and entertaining read–especially with Maggie Stiefvater’s awesome freehand drawings. I find writing short stories and flash fiction a really challenging but beneficial exercise in learning to get to the heart of a story in as few words as possible.

On the ROWing side of things, it’s been *meh* week. I hit most of my goals, but just barely.


  • Blog for ROW80. Check.
  • Encourage other ROWers. No check.


  • Finish my work-in-progress. Closer, but probably not going to happen this round of ROWing. 23k words in now and nearing my midpoint.
  • Write ~3 scenes per week. Check. These were short scenes, but kept the momentum going.


  • Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress. Almost finished.
  • The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life! It’s also a blog roll. Click Here to read other participants’ entries.


keatonMy biggest struggle last week was maintaining a consistent tone as I switched between multiple points of view. My WIP involves transforming a tragic myth for adults into a middle grade comedy. A big leap, I know, and sometimes I trip up along the way. Some of my characters are humorous, but some are tragic beings who demand to be taken seriously. I’ve been trying to take a step back after I write each scene, and comparing how it supports/distorts the overall tone.

I have a habit as a writer (not just with this WIP) of setting a story up as a comedy, then getting bogged down in the weighty middle, and then leaping back into funny-land in the end. It leaves readers (and my characters) with emotional whiplash. So I’m working at establishing an even tone, playing it straight and funny consistently enough to ground my readers in a reliable world with consistent characters.


A Round of Words in 80 Days is the “writing challenge that knows you have a life.” You can join or visit other participants here:


  • Blog  for ROW80. A day late, but complete!
  • Encourage other ROWers. If I can’t remember, then I’m guessing it’s a fail…


  • Write ~3 scenes per week to make this work. Finished this goal early this week, but only because of the retreat. I’m gonna have to step it up to keep my momentum going.


  • Critiques for my crit. buddies!


Week 3, Check-In 2

Back home and preparing for the real world tomorrow! I covered a lot of ground during my writing retreat this week. Working with huge blocks of time granted me a big-picture perspective of my story. But working in short spurts can help keep the tension high and the writing tight. Hopefully I can transition into mini writing sessions to keep the momentum going as I shift back to the daily grind. I’m thankful for my ROWing community. I know you folks will hold me accountable.


  • Blog. A day late, but yes, did blog twice.
  • Encourage other ROWers. Missed the mark on this. 


  • Write 3-4 scenes per week. Squeezed in three more scenes!


  • Read a chapter in Life, Animated
  • Did critiques for my crit group






On Thursday, I loaded up my Subaru and hightailed it to the mountains of western North Carolina. This place used to be my home and whenever I return I feel at peace. I’ve been recharging a long burned-out brain: trail running in the morning, writing in the afternoon, and visiting old friends in the evenings. It’s been a wonderful step off the whirling merry-go-round of my life; but I miss my family. By my next blog post I’m be back in the middle of crazy everyday life, but hopefully approaching it with a refreshed heart.


My Writing This Week:


A few weeks ago Denise D. Young posted about Murky Middles, and I’ve found myself crossing a similar landscape. I’ve laid out all my characters’ motivations and inner workings, and now things are about to drastically change for each of them. Sometimes keeping track of where each character is in their arc, and how it aligns with the progressing plot leaves me with a headache. So, I’ve been taking breaks to watch films with similar character arcs to get the “full picture” effect and identify what each person looks like at the point of their paradigm shift. Since my characters compare with roles played by Katharine Hepburn, Ricky Gervais, Danny Kaye, and Dustin Hoffman, it’s brought some fun to what is typically a grueling part of the writing process for me.


  • Blogging: Didn’t hit either goal this week, but I sacrificed this to meet other goals. Ditto on commenting on other blogs.
  • Writing: Yes! I made up for a lousy week prior. 8 scenes. 5370 words.
  • Reading: Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress; finished The Magician Trilogy by Jenny Nimmo. Found The Chestnut Soldier a little disturbing, but it was a helpful look at another author’s interpretation of the same myth and characters with which I’m working.

All My Favorite Characters are Broken


This week I’ve been encouraged by fellow writers who’ve shared their emotional and mental health struggles, and how it effects their writing process. Jessica Spotswood, Stephanie Perkins, Sara Zarr and many more have blogged about depression and anxiety. Their vulnerability inspires me, and I thought I’d pay it forward.

I experience minor depression and social anxiety, as many writers do, but this particular week my creativity has been upstaged by my penchant for rage.

Confession time:

I sport an old-fashioned Irish anger. The kind where my face goes twitchy and my chest marbles into red and white splotches, and I start spouting incoherent sentences as my mind melts into a lava pit of indiscernibility.

That’s not me all the time.

That’s not me even sometimes.

But every once in a while my anxiety combines with anger to form the perfect storm for an embarrassing, crippling social interaction. We all have our trigger points: I don’t handle condescension, sarcasm, or passive-aggression very well–especially in others. 😉 I feel threatened, or get frustrated, or my pride stands up, and suddenly my flight-or-flight signals get crossed and confrontation approaches. I know it’s going to end badly before it begins, and it does.

I spend the rest of the day, evening, week, replaying the awful scene, rehashing the stupid words and the shame, and leaving no room for healthy creative expression–like writing.

The past few weeks I’ve been caught in a cycle of these interactions, in a work environment that’s not likely to change. So, I have to change instead.

Anger management classes teach the importance of responding versus reacting to a situation—the key element being to create distance from your thoughts and your emotions in order to evaluate truth within context.

It got me thinking. What we demand of humans (and ourselves) differs so greatly from what we want from fiction characters. We don’t want to read about someone who counts to ten before he graciously turns his other cheek to a belittling boss. We want to see him mouth off at the risk of losing his job, with a spouse and baby counting on his paycheck at home.

Reactionary people create wars; reactionary characters create stories. Fascinating ones.

My main character struggles with anger, too. When these bouts of helplessness and frustration overwhelm me, THAT’s the time to channel my character. Instead of letting my anger spin out of control in my brain, it’s time to equip it with a keyboard and let it wreak havoc where it belongs—in my characters, not me.

“All My Favorite People are Broken” by Over the Rhine


No new writing yet, but I did minor edits on the first 12,000 words of my MS. I’m working 48 hours this week, so we’ll see how much writing gets done!

Sometimes when I’m in the midst of my hectic schedule, I lose sight of what’s a viable reason to skip my writing commitment for the day, and what’s just an excuse. So, I’m making a troubleshooting list that I can turn to when I feel one of those old excuses coming on.


PROBLEM #1: You’re too tired.

SOLUTION: Do some jumping jacks, run up and down the driveway, or take a nap if you can wake back up and be productive afterwards.


PROBLEM #2: Things have gotten awkward between you and your scene, so you’re avoiding it.

SOLUTION: Skip it and move on to the next. Write a summary with the key plot points or elements, and then move on. Whatever you do, don’t lose momentum.


PROBLEM #3: Your manuscript scares you.

SOLUTION: It’s okay. Take pride in the knowledge that failure is the first step toward success. That sounds like a motivational poster, but it’s true. It’s not “succeed or fail.” It’s “fail until you succeed.” And then fail again. They are the yin and yang of the creative process and work best in tandem. So push through the fear to tap into the adrenaline rush of extreme sport, full contact, high-impact creation.


PROBLEM #4: Your characters have taken the road less traveled and are straying from your outline.

SOLUTION: Follow the trail. Your outline is a map, not a blueprint. Just don’t lose sight of the ultimate destination.


PROBLEM #5: Stinkbugs have infested your workspace and are dive-bombing you. (My fellow southerners know exactly what I’m talking about!).

SOLUTION: Cart your laptop down to the basement and write there.



  1. Your spouse has just returned from out of town.
  2. Your child is sick and/or had you up the night before and you’re too exhausted to think
  3. There’s an opportunity for some much-needed fellowship, or quality time with family
  4. Your well has run dry, and it’s time to prime the pump.
  5. When you’ve achieved your goals early and are celebrating!


Anyone else have their go-to excuses? Share!


A Round of Words in 80 Days is “the writing challenge that knows you have a life.” ROW80 is similar to NaNoWriMo (and the new-and-improved Camp NaNoWriMo), except that it spans nearly three months, you set your own goals, and it comes fully equipped with a built-in support system of fellow bloggers. My kind of challenge.

Over the past year I’ve struggled with balancing new motherhood, working full-time, commuting two hours a day, and maintaining a healthy relationship with my child and husband. And let’s not even talk about diet and exercise. I’ve been portioning myself out in smaller and smaller pieces, until there’s nothing left of the original me. I’ve officially become one percent everything, and one hundred percent nothing.

So, my intangible ROW80 goal is to reclaim my identity as a writer and get my head in the game one hundred percent. Here’s my game plan:



  • Blog Sunday & Wednesday for ROW80. (Note to self: do not allot more than fifteen minutes to each post. This is a quick check-in, so you can get back to writing.)
  • Encourage other ROWers on their blogs Monday and Thursday.
  • Check in on twitter Tuesday and Friday.


  • Finish my work-in-progress. This is kind of a lark, but I really want to give it wings. I would be happy to complete ACT II by the end of this round, but finishing the whole MS would be brilliant.
  • Write ~3 scenes per week to make this work.


  • Finish Life, Animated, Rules, and Anything But Typical
  • Re-read The Owl Service
  • Harlech Castle research
  • Monthly Critiques

Every Sunday and Wednesday I’ll post the status of these goals. Up for the challenge, yourself? Sign-up, even if it’s past July 7, and let’s get started!