Friday, March 20, 2020

The Boogeyman: A Great Read During Perilous Times

Looking for something to keep your kiddos occupied during the Coronavirus scare? And to keep their brains from turning to mush while the days tick by without school?

The Boogeyman: A Monstrous Fairytale by Shane Berryhill will take their minds off COVID-19 and creep them out in a safe, fun way. In times like these, fiction can be a lot more fun than reality and can help us find the courage to face our real-life troubles.

In The Boogeyman, readers will find spine tingling thrills when thirteen-year-old Puck discovers a shady character emerging from his closet then apparently engaging in nefarious activities in the Mortal world. Puck doesn't know what to do.

But he can't just pretend he didn't see what he saw. He can't just close his eyes to a dangerous creature preying on his neighbors. No, Puck must take things into his own hands and save his family and the neighborhood. Except...the boogeyman is not what he seems.

In a fast-paced exciting tale, Puck and the boogeyman find themselves uniting to protect both the Mortal and Fairy Realms from terrible threats. This book is chock full of humor and plot twists that will tickle readers. It also shows that hope can come in unexpected ways and we can find courage even when we feel small.


About the Author

Shane Berryhill is a novelist and comic book writer. His work has been praised by Publishers Weekly, NPR, NBC, Wired magazine, Horror World and others.

He's been a guest speaker at events ranging from the national Council of English Teachers conference to San Diego Comic Con. Find Shane online at amazonGoodreads, and Facebook.

Monday, March 16, 2020

15 Ideas, Activities, and Resources to Explore during School Closures

These are strange times. Many of us are juggling concerns about our own physical or mental health, the health of our loved ones who may be high-risk, and the well-being of our communities and countries in general. Meanwhile, our days are filled with challenges to our routines, work life, social life, and more.

Personally I’ve found it tough to stay focused on creative work, with news of the public health situation changing constantly. But, we must adapt—and we will. We’ll get through these days, supporting one another in appropriately socially-distant ways!

Already I’m seeing loads of support being offered in the form of free resources for those of you self-isolating or being “socially distant” at home with school-age kids. Today I’m sharing a collection of these links, ideas, and activities that I hope you’ll find useful.
  1. Bonus reading time! Free reading—whatever you want, as much as you want. Can’t get to a library? Perfect time to try e-books and audiobooks.
  2. Check out the Middle Grade at Heart book club archives for author interviews, discussion questions, and activities for their monthly picks.
  3. Write to an Author – we’ll write back! Check out the #writetoanauthor hashtag on twitter (initiated by Laura Shovan) to find mailing addresses for participating authors.
  4. Poetry activities from author and poet Laura Shovan 
  5. Sharing Our Notebooks – new notebooking video each weekday with author Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
  6. Read-alouds and interviews with Canadian authors, from Canadian Children’s Book Centre 
  7. Read-alouds and resources, collected by Kate Messner 
  8. Read-alouds, activities, and more from KidLit TV
  9. Imagination-boosting activities from author/illustrator Jarrett Lerner 
  10. Daily sketch diary with author/illustrator Remy Lai on instagram
  11. Free online cartooning classes 
  12. Virtual museum tours 
  13. Educational videos on YouTube, such as Crash Course Kids 
  14. Video games such as Minecraft that promote creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving
  15. Hands-on brain-boosting activities such as Lego and play-dough
The list could go on and on, of course. Got a good idea? Please share in the comments!

However you spend the challenging weeks ahead, may you discover unexpected joys as you experience community in new ways. Stay well, my friends.

Monday, March 9, 2020

First Look Interview: Whispering Pines by Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski

Today, I'm thrilled to give readers a first look at the new middle grade novel by the writing team of Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski, Whispering Pines!!! Welcome Heidi and Kati! We'll show off that beautiful cover soon, but first can you pitch your new book to us Twitter-style, in 280 characters or less?

X-Files meets Stranger Things in this contemporary horror MG about a UFO-obsessed girl determined to find her missing father, and a ghost hunting boy now being hunted by a ghost of his own—that of his older brother—who team up to save their town from supernatural forces.

Yes!!! I love everything from that pitch! Aliens, ghosts, mysterious supernatural forces. Why do I feel like this book was written specifically for me? Next, I challenged Heidi and Kati to finish these sentences about the book:

The one thing Rae Carter wants is to...
KATI: Find her missing father.
HEIDI: Couldn’t have said it better myself. ;) In the meantime, she also wants to learn how to fit into Whispering Pines.

Caden Price knows more than most about the mysterious town of Whispering Pines, including…
HEIDI: …the fact that there is a world hidden beneath their own, and his town serves as the gateway.
KATI: Unfortunately for Caden, he’s not the only one who knows this. Just as he’s not the only one who’s figured out that the Price family holds the key to unlocking that world.

My first thought when I saw the cover was…
HEIDI: Wow! So delightfully creepy!
KATI: Same. I loved it immediately. Diana Novich is such a talented illustrator.

And, without further ado, let's take a look at that gorgeous cover:

So beautiful and mysterious! I love the lighting, and did you catch that ghost hand?

Can readers expect more adventures set in Whispering Pines? 
KATI: We are currently working on an as-yet-unnamed sequel.
HEIDI: Yes, lots more planned for Whispering Pines!

Yay!!! Looking forward to it! WHISPERING PINES releases September 1st, 2020 through Aladdin/Simon & Schuster. To read a longer interview with Heidi and Kati, head over to the full post at


Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski are a writing team of two sisters. Heidi is afraid of all things that go bump in the night, but watches shows like the X-Files and Stranger Things anyhow. Kati enjoys reading about serial killers and the apocalypse, but secretly sleeps with a nightlight. They believe that the best way to conquer fear is to share it with as many people as possible, so between the two of them, they love creating stories full of all the things that scare them most. They are the co-authors of the Mystic Cooking Chronicles trilogy.

Find Heidi on twitter and instagram: @hidlang
Find Kati on twitter and instagram: @ktbartkowski
Or visit their website:

Monday, March 2, 2020


I am a sucker for a time travel story. 

And if you send the main characters back to ancient Egypt, you will for sure grab my attention.

So when MG Minded was offered the opportunity to read and review THE ORDER OF TIME by Scott P. Southall, I was all in.

The Premise:

Anastasia and Edward Upton are eleven years old twins who are different in almost every way. Despite this they are inseparable and the best of friends. They tackle the highs and lows of sixth grade together whether they are fending off bullies at the elite Blake Academy or examining rare antiquities as the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Then: life gets complicated.

They discover that their friend and mentor, Dr. Gregorian, is part of a secret society called the Order of Time. It turns out that time is not fixed, it’s a fluid continuum where changes to the past can create ripples all the way through to the present. It unwittingly falls to the twins to travel back through time to ancient Egypt where they must overcome deadly assassins, evil high priests and vengeful gods in order to prevent disaster. Together Anastasia and Edward must navigate all obstacles to preserve the past and find their way back home.

The Review:

This book is filled with adventure: time-travelling, danger, famous characters from history.

Southall does an excellent job of world-building and paints a vivid picture of ancient Egypt.

The main characters, Anastasia and Edward, are likeable, and Southall does a wonderful job with the personalities of the other characters, including Dr. Gregorian and the Egyptians.

The story moves at a good pace and is filled with plenty of cliffhangers to keep the reader engaged. 

It is reminiscent of Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles, and while this book doesn't flow quite so well and is clunky here and there (but then who can write a page turner as well as Riordan?), I think fans of Riordan and other adventure books may like this adventure very much.

You can read more about author Scott Southall here

Friday, February 28, 2020

Book Review, Q&A and a GIVEAWAY: A Trifecta of MG Goodness for Wendy McLeod MacKnight's, The Copycat!

What would you do if you could literally look like any living thing you wanted whenever you wanted…

I gravitate towards books with humor, heart and a bit of magic, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read The Copycat by Middle Grade Minded’s very own, Wendy McLeod MacKnight! (Make sure you enter our GIVEAWAY at the end of this post!)

Here’s what the publisher (Greenwillow Books) had to say:

A funny, unpredictable and heartfelt new novel from Wendy McLeod MacKinght, the author of The Frame-Up. Ali has always acted like a copycat to make friends, but when she unexpectedly inherits the ability to change her appearance at will, fitting in seems impossible! Luckily, with the help of her family, new friends, and touch of magic, Ali might just survive middle school after all. A great pick for fans of Dan Gemeinhart, Erin Entrada Kelly, and Diana Wynne Jones.

A Little Book Review...

Ali Sloane's family moves around. A lot! They've never had a lot of money, and now are living with great-grandma Gigi who's about to turn 100 in a place so shrouded in fog that it seems to shout out to the world, "We have secrets!" And Ali's family definitely has some of those. Ali's also starting 7th grade at her 10th school, which would be hard enough without having to worry about her family's special Copycat powers, a mysterious family feud, reuniting with estranged cousin Alfie, and making (and then saving) new friendships all while following the RULES. Because creating and following the rules for any situation is how Ali has survived her family's vagabond life. 

Ali's wise and often funny directives are interspersed throughout The Copycat, as are excerpts from a book Ali's Uncle Percy wrote about the fog in Fundy. These additions were welcome and original writerly devices that added depth, mystery and hilarity to the story. Still, Ali learns that sometimes the rules can backfire. Sometimes the rules can change. And sometimes the rules just don't apply.

This was a rich and satisfying story, filled with wonderful characters and so many layers that it kept you wondering and waiting until the very end. The Copycat is about all those things that middle grade readers care about; family, friends and navigating life...with a nice layer of magical possibility thrown in for good measure. I truly loved this book and can see MG readers finding a friend in Ali and her imperfect but loving crew. (Teachers and'll want to get this for your kids!)

A Little Author Q&A...

Q: Where did you get the idea for this story?

A: I moved around a lot as a kid and sometimes, I really struggled to fit in. On top of that, I often went through a few friends until I found 'my people'. My main character, Ali, is so stressed from having to do this once or twice a year that she actually has no idea who she really is. 

I've always loved books with shapeshifter characters, but I didn't want to write a typical one. Then it hit me: what if Ali, who copies other kids' behaviours and likes/dislikes in order to fit in, actually starts to change into other people? The family feud idea followed shortly thereafter, because it made sense to me that not everyone would be happy to have that kind of power.

Q: The setting of the book, Saint John and the Bay of Fundy, are so important to plot...which came first - the idea or the setting?

A: I wanted there to be some kind of device that set the shapeshifting off, and I’ve always loved fog, so it seemed natural to set it in a city not far from where I live, Saint John, New Brunswick, which is often socked in by fog. It’s also where my mom was born and a place I visited all the time when I was a kid. I even made my grandparents’ old house the house where Ali’s great-grandmother, Gigi, lives! It is truly a magical place and well worth a visit! And the high tides in the Bay of Fundy are amazing!!!!

Q: There are so many interesting characters in this book at all different age ranges (I'm thinking of great-grandma Gigi down to Ali and her group of friends). Do you have a favorite? Is there a character you are most like?

A: I like to have different ages in my stories, because that’s what real life is like! And I also like showing parents’ vulnerabilities. Even when we parents try our best, we don’t always succeed!

As for a favourite character, that is hard! I love Gigi, because she reminds me of my grandmother, but I have a soft spot for Murray [a new friend of Ali's], who steals every scene he is in!

Q: Can you give a timeline of your writing process with this book from idea to acceptance? 

A: This was the second book of a two book deal with Greenwillow Books and it gave me SO much trouble. Even though it is technically my third book, it felt like a sophomore experience! I’d say it took about 10 months to get it from first draft to acceptance by my editor.

Q: Is there anything you WISH someone would ask you about the The Copycat or your writing process?

A: I don’t know about other authors, but I seem to forget how to write a book every time I start a new project. That’s a bit of a gross exaggeration, but only slightly! I think every book teaches you how to write better, and every book has a way it wants to be written. For example, Uncle Percy’s Book about Fog in the Bay of Fundy wasn’t in draft one, but Uncle Percy insisted it be included!

In other words: we are always learning as writers!

And p.s. Who would I want to turn into if I was a Copycat? Either of my two childhood heroes: Wonder Woman and Batgirl!

You can find a list of places to pre-order The Copycat here!

Wendy McLeod MacKnight lives in New Brunswick, Canada and loves to read, write, cook, root for the underdog, watch movies and sometimes pretend she's living in the South of France. 

You can find her on Twitter, her website, and Goodreads. And, of course, blogging here on Middle Grade Minded!

And, a Little Giveaway... 

Be sure to enter below for your chance to win a signed copy of The Copycat! (And, we'd love to hear in the comments who YOU would turn into if you could be a Copycat for a day.) Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, February 14, 2020

4 Essential Tips for Developing Character Backstory

Know Your Characters, Know Their History

We often know our characters' personality traits, darkest secrets, and greatest hopes. But do we know the why behind it all? Do we know what shaped them to become the characters we are now going to torment through a novel, and maybe entire series, until they grow and develop into the shining people we all hope we can become? 

Or devolve into something we sincerely hope we will never meet. It's up to you. They're your characters, after all. Either way, knowing their background as you write will enrich the story you produce and make it real for readers.

Recently I was asked to write a history for the women's group of my local church. Just a 1-year history, highlighting important events and changes among our group. At first, I dreaded the job. But once I got started, sorting through old facebook posts and digging into the depths of my memory -  (Did anything happen last April??) - I found the process a blast.

What's more, it got me thinking. This could be a fun and extremely useful way to develop characters for novels. 

1. Break Your Characters' History into Meaningful Chunks.

Depending on the age of the character you are focusing on, this could be months, years, or decades. Honestly, it could even be days or weeks. The reason for this is that we are not simply splitting the character's life into equal chunks of time. Instead, we want to develop a history of life experiences that matter. Several could occur within one day. More often, they are spread over larger periods.

Once you've split your character's life into useful spans of time, dig into them. Each period is like a micro-story. If you decide to go deep in exploring backstory, be sure to also write a short one or two sentence summary of what happened and how it influenced your character. That way you can do a quick and easy review without needing to reread all the thousands of words you may write!

2. Ask Questions 

What significant events shaped this character's life? Which of these events is most relevant to their character arc in this novel? How would your character be different if one of the events didn't happen? What choices might this character make based on knowledge they gained through specific experiences? 

Have they lived in regions or cultures that are different from where they are in the current story? How does that affect their interactions with other characters?

What kind of baggage or damage does this characters carry due to things they've done or gone through? What exactly caused the dysfunctional thought processes or behaviors your character now struggles with? How did they deal with problems in the past? How are they different now? Who did they lean on? Who created difficulties for them? 

As you get started with exploring your character's history, other meaningful question specific to your novel will arise. This is a very useful exercise, especially if you are stuck on a plot point.

3. Import Pics

We all know a picture is worth a thousand words, right? Not only that, but photos can prompt ideas and storylines. So it's extremely useful to add photos to your character's history. Easier said than done, you may think. 

But honestly, there are endless sources for pics to spur your imagination. Keep in mind that unless you plan to publish, pin or blog the history you're creating, you don't need to worry about whether the images you choose are copyrighted. They are for your eyes only, sitting quietly in your notes, inspiring you. Search google images. There are tons. 

If you think you might want to share this history someday, choose photos from pixabay, Pablo, or Wikimedia Commons. Another useful approach is to create a pinterest page (here's mine!) where you pin images that remind you of your character, their life experiences, or the environments where they have lived. 

4. Organize Your History

You can create your history in a simple word document, evernote, or my favorite for storytelling - scrivener. If you use scrivener for writing, you can also have instant access to the history you create for each character. 

I love to keep my research, character details, plot organization, and backstory writing handy while I'm writing my novels. Scrivener provides a great way to have easy access to this information. However, if you use scrivener, be sure to compress your pics or the app will bog down. Another option is to import links to webpages.

Whatever format you choose, you can organize each character's history by breaking it up into the time periods you've chosen, exploring meaningful questions, and adding photos for the character at different times in their life as well as photos for significant life experiences.

What are some of your favorite strategies for developing character backstory?

Monday, February 3, 2020

STEM for the Middle Grade Minded - Review and Giveaway!

Cars, motors, and crash test dummies - Jennifer Swanson's latest book has it all! I had the privilege of reading SAVE THE CRASH-TEST DUMMIES and I've got to say it was one sweet ride.

This book does a great job of explaining the science and mechanics of car safety and relating it to kids and their families. From the days of the cow catcher and first roller bumpers to the high tech world of self-driving cars, Swanson keeps up a lively dialogue with the reader. She explains the evolution of safety features like seat belts, airbags, and side view mirrors, and how they impacted car design. The illustrations add a whole extra dimension with diagrams of motors, braking systems, and crash test camera layouts. Plus you get to meet a whole family of crash test dummies!

This is one book librarians are going to want to add to their collection for their STEM minded students. It's going to be a hit!
And if you would like it add it to your library...follow the Middle Grade Minded blog! I'll announce a winner next week!

Monday, January 27, 2020


A long time ago, Judy Blume wrote a book that changed a lot of girls' lives....

The girls in my sixth grade class passed it around like it was contraband, for none of us had ever read a book that talked about our developing bodies and PERIODS!

The book attained an instant cult following, not just because of the content, but mostly because of the masterful way Judy Blume tapped into the difficulty of being a girl entering puberty.

Fast forward a few decades, and Judy's masterpiece now has a worthy successor: REVENGE OF THE RED CLUB by Kim Harrington.

The story of Riley Dunne, member and leader of her school's Red Club, which started as a private support group for girls with their period, including the use of a locker with an emergency supply stash, REVENGE OF THE RED CLUB is equal parts inspiring and entertaining.

At first you think Riley attends the most "woke" school ever, but as is so often the case in society, that veneer is much thinner than the girls realize. 

Suddenly the Red Club is shut down, and when the school's girls are subject to sexist and demoralizing dress codes, they know it's time to fight back.

What I loved most about this book is the way Kim Harrington imparts important information, not only about questions girls may have about their bodies, but how they must demand control over their bodies. Sexism is dealt with in a straightforward, and sensitive way.  And while there are some conflicts between the girls, they aren't stereotypical or simplistic.

Mostly, I love the idea of kids, their parents, and teachers having real and important discussions about how old mindsets can hold girls back.

When I finished the book I hoped every principal buys a copy for their school and starts their own Red Club. 

Surely if one had existed in my elementary school all those years ago, we wouldn't have been slipping Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret to each other in the hallway.

This book deserves to be read by everyone!

Want to know more about Kim Harrington?

Visit Kim's website HERE

Friday, January 17, 2020

Writing by Notecards

As a primary caregiver to seven school-age children, I often find it difficult to carve out the time I need to write. Luckily, I've found something that works for me. (Of course, what works for me may not work for you.) I'll share it, in the hopes that some of you might find it helpful for your drafting process.

Where once I would write in a pantsing only format and then figure the story stuff out in revision, I've changed that quite a bit - but not completely. I think I wasted quite a bit of time in my early years by only pantsing. I mean, I love pantsing, but revision was arduous, and often frustrating. I'd regularly cut, rearrange, or rewrite thousands of works in order to make a somewhat cohesive story. (Still working on that.)

With all my stories though, I now begin with a vague idea of a character and location. Who are they? What do they want? Why? What's stopping them? What will they learn? How will they grow?

Once I have those questions somewhat figured out, I take a stack of blank notecards and write a summary sentence or two on each. Then, I order and reorder them as I see fit for the story. I ask lots of "what if" questions as I fill out the cards and I don't always use each card. This process has helped me immensely.

It's so much easier for me to carry notecards and a pen (every retired educator carries a pen) and write bits here and there than it is to tote my laptop to the dance studio, or tennis practice, or piano lessons. I did that for several years. Sometimes I still do, but not nearly as frequently. When I have quiet time later (usually midnight) I can pants away with my notecards by my side!

Suffice it to say, if you have a busy life full of kids and all their activities and are trying to write a whole book, carry a few notecards and pen with you. I'll bet you can still feel attached to your manuscript and feel like you're making progress, and hopefully, you'll discover what I discovered.

Notecards keep me moving forward with the story, and the fun of "free-writing" within that notecard framework allows me to write fewer wasted words.

Good luck and keep writing!

Monday, January 13, 2020

Writers, Don't Be Jerks

We’ve all been at that SCBWI workshop where are the crazy lady who looks like she hasn’t bathed
since CHARLOTTE’S WEB was written, is rambling on about how George Soros and the Vatican
are plotting to make all the bees go extinct.

Unfortunately, I’m not making that up, and she was sitting right next to me.

I was annoyed she took up so much instruction time, but given last week on #writingtwitter, I’m
reminded of a deeper annoyance: 

Not all writers are crazy. 

Um, make that… Not all writers are certifiably insane, talking-to-walls-and-seeing-Elvis-at-
truckstops, crazy. 

Last Friday was a full moon, and #writersdontbejerks became a hashtag on Twitter. I made it. It’s a

Nobody should have to say this! 

And don’t be crazy, and don’t insult agents online. And don’t use the #MSWL hashtag of all things,
no matter how hilariously Godawful your magniloquent rant is (he calls agents “magpies”) repeatedly. 

Don’t be creepy, either. Ha ha ha, did you hear the one about the writer who slid a manuscript
under the bathroom door at an SCBWI conference?*

EWW! You're supposed to WRITE the next Fatal Attraction, not act it out.

I’ve spoken to this agent. She’s empathetic, funny, super-sharp, someone you want in your corner.
Do you really think she’s going to rep you after you’ve creeped out all her friends by being a weirdo

What’s the problem? More agents for me? 

Agents know how to get through their slush pile, but they still don't deserve to be treated badly. What
these non-competitors are doing is discrediting us all. 

Seriously, how do you live in a country with FREE healthcare and let yourself get like this?

Writing is a lofty goal, and publishing is a very opaque industry. Most people are kind, but a lot of the
business rules skew secret and counter-intuitive. And to the publishing process is very non-linear.

“Revise? If you’re actually talented, that first draft should be good enough. 
When are you getting published?”

“Oh no no no. That agent rejected your book. It isn’t good. You’re no good. Don’t query it any more
and stop writing books!”

I’ve given up trying to explain to civilians. 

Since declaring my intention to become an author, I’ve received… less than exuberant support from
family and friends. 

I’m never getting an MBA or an MIS; and instead I’m going to write kids books in my free time! Whee! 

When I didn’t stop writing as people had asked, the confrontations got more heated. The little digs
became bigger and nastier.  Work isn't supposed to make you happy, and I was delusional to think

It's not that I'm ungrateful for my experiences in Big Four management consulting and as a software
project manager. But I am very aware that this often high-stress job isn't my life's purpose.

And while Women In STEM!™can be a great feminist role model to girls... I'm pretty sure that only
works if these women are happy.

I'm only happy if writing is part of my daily routine. It's not that complicated.

But how badly non-writers perceived me truly didn’t register till after I got hit by the truck, and
mentioned to a doctor about writing books. His reaction: 

“WRITE? You think you’re that Harry Potter chick or something? Stop stuttering, re-learn Salesforce
and try to keep that JOB!”

Let's get real: "I was studying for the CPA exam!" (or whatever other professional goal that would
make a ten-year-old horribly depressed about their future adult life) would never have elicited
such venom.

What that doctor didn't realize was that in the immediate, peeing-glass-shards-and-struggling-to-
remember-how-to-spell-my-name aftermath of the accident… I missed an email from a Pitchwars
mentor interested in my manuscript. 

For the record, this is the same manuscript that’s gotten me a request for a full and a generous
scholarship to a Highlights Foundation workshop. The same writing skills that got me selected as
a Cybils Panelist. 

But, it didn’t matter then, and it doesn’t matter now. 

I’m fortunately no longer literally sitting next to Ms. Insect Conspiracy. But the Land of the Unpublished
and Unrepresented is vast, and she and I both occupy that zip code.  And to outsiders, we might
well be two peas in a pod. Even Ransom Riggs (way more my idol than J.K.) was an unpublished
nobody once upon a time. 

But writers giving screechy stump speeches in the coffee shop about aliens, and flipping out on
Twitter… realize you become the face of ALL writers. We're striving for what many people would
consider a dream job; we need to show we've got what it takes.

Clean up your act. Your passion will sustain your career as a writer, but you need
presentation to get yourself in the door.

Our eccentric little group looks only as good as our weirdest member.

Friday, January 10, 2020

12 Literary Quotes to Motivate and Inspire

At the start of a new year, we are all looking for a little inspiration, setting new goals, and hoping for the motivation to carry them past January. One of my favorite places to find inspiration (and get a metaphorical kick in the pants) is in literature. And sometimes movies. Or TV. But someone's writing those, too, so we'll count that as lit for now!

I used to keep manila folders stuffed with my favorite quotes. Now I save them to pinterest, post on social media, or tuck them away in my Evernote files for later reference. Sometimes I just highlight them on kindle or iBooks with the intent of going back to reference them later.

A few years back, I reclaimed my kids' toy room (they're teenagers and beyond!) and converted it to a writing room with the intent of filling the space with inspiration, mementos that represent my personality, and intriguing, motivating or inspiring quotes. I'm lagging a little behind on putting up the quotes. My hope is to eventually carve out enough time to plaster them on my slightly unfinished and more than slightly cluttered writing area. In the meantime, I'll share a bunch of them here. Maybe you'll scribble one or two on a sticky note. Or better yet, post them in your own writing space!

Feel free to pin or post these! What are some of your favorite quotes?

Monday, January 6, 2020

Don't Let Fear Ride Shotgun

Over the past month or so, I’ve stumbled across several things rather serendipitously. Things I didn’t know I needed until they were right there in front of me. One of these was the audio version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. I’d read the hardback when it first came out, but for whatever reason, I decided it was time for a re-read.

Early in the book, Ms Gilbert shares a long list of fears that can hold us back creatively—you might be afraid you’ll be rejected, afraid there’s no market for your work, afraid your work isn’t important enough to matter, afraid it’ll all be a giant waste of time and effort, afraid of being a one-hit wonder, afraid of being a no-hit wonder, etc., etc. 

Another thing I came across was Nina LaCour’s Keeping a Notebook podcast—in particular, the episode called “Pressure” (May 20, 2019). In that episode, Ms LaCour speaks of the tremendous pressures that can interfere with our writing – pressure to finish a novel, pressure to write a compelling enough or commercial enough story to get an agent or a book deal, pressure to please a publishing team or readership, pressure to make a sustainable living from writing. These pressures struck me as being very close relatives of fear.

Now, I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly fearful person, but I was stunned at how many of these fears and pressures resonated with me. As I spent time in some end-of-the-year reflection, I recognized that for me, most (all?) of the things that get in the way of a joyful and productive writing life – including my all-time favorites, self-doubt and procrastination – come down to fear. 

This could be depressing—so many fears and pressures seem to come with creative living, like some sort of cruel package-deal. But hallelujah, all is not lost. In Big Magic, the long list of fears is followed up with a fantastic road-trip metaphor – basically, when you begin a new project, it’s like you and Creativity and Fear are going on a road trip. Fear’s going to come along, because hey, it always does, but it has to sit in the back, and only you and Creativity get to make decisions. Fear might get a voice, but it doesn’t get a vote, and it absolutely never gets to drive.

I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions, but last week I found myself journaling about intentions. (Intentions sound kinda like resolutions in disguise, so go figure...I guess I made a resolution, lol). I’m in the early stages of a new project. It’s scary. As always, I have doubts that my unorthodox writing process will workand yes, I sense the pressure to meet expectations (my own and others’). But I'm excited, too, eager for the discoveries to come--maybe even accompanied by the occasional moment of magic. So my intention is to trust -- trust myself and trust my process, and simply show up day after day, telling the story that's calling to me. 

I’m going to keep that road-trip image in mind for this journey. No doubt, Fear is coming along for the ride, and that's okay. Trusting myself doesn't mean I'm not afraid. Being brave is about being scared and doing the hard thing anyway. (But I swear, if Fear doesn't keep quiet in the back seat, I may have to find a way to toss it in the trunk for a few miles!) I think it’s going to be a great trip. :-)

What gets in the way of writing or creative living for you? What helps you be productive and enjoy the journey in spite of the challenges?