Why Bullet Journaling Is Becoming My New Best Friend

illustration of journal with clock aboveI’m typically not a hop-on-the-trend-train person. I’m far more likely to hang back and wait to see how things go for a bit before trying something new.

But I ran across something called bullet journaling lately, and it’s fast becoming the best habit I’ve adopted in a long time. Right up there with regular mammograms and drinking more water.

What’s a bullet journal?

Well, the inventor of the concept has a whole website with explanations about the goals of a bullet journal, how to use it, and tips for customizing it to your life. But I couldn’t find a straightforward definition there, nor really anywhere else. So I’m making up my own. A bullet journal is an analog planner, journal, and idea holder all in one.

Using any journal, notebook, or spiral, you create monthly, weekly, and/or daily planners that work best for you. You keep track of activities, goals, to-dos, and whatever else you wish with bullets, which you can vary to mean different things. You can decorate your journal with stickers, doodles, or any other visuals that help you generate ideas or stay motivated. Each bullet journal can be as unique as the individual who uses it.

And that’s what I’m loving it.

I’ve tried day planners, apps, to-do lists, wall calendars, and all manner of This Will Get You Organized suggestions. The only thing that has consistently worked for me is lined post-it notes where I write down my to-dos for the day. But that never helped me see the overall picture. Now I can keep track of my calendar obligations, my weekly goals (separated into home and work tracks), and have a place to take notes on ideas and research. And I still use my post-it notes; I just tack them into the journal.

One of the best additions is a Serendipity page for each week, where I jot down anything I learned that week about my focus, my work process, or future goals. This wonderful idea came from author Jaye Wells, who talked about how she uses a bullet journal:

The beauty of a bullet journal is:

  • You can use any size or style notebook you want — as cheap or fancy as you desire.
  • You create your own calendars, using whatever format, time periods, or scheduling blocks mesh with the way you work.
  • You can keep track of your calendar, to-dos, and notes all in one place.
  • You can easily see what you’ve done (and celebrate that) and see what you have left to do.
  • You don’t feel penalized for not having accomplished something, because you just move it to the next day’s or week’s list. (Because good intentions gone awry are often not personal failure, but simply Life.)

I’m still exploring how to use my bullet journal, but it’s the first organizational plan that seems to be working for me. It’s taken a bit of time to adapt to this new approach, but I really do think I’m getting more done.

If you want to know more, here’s a video from the designer of bullet journaling:

 

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Remember That Time I Went to France?

Before April 2017, I could never say something like, “Remember that time I went to France?”

I know plenty of people who’ve been to Europe, including all the people I know who live in Europe, but I hadn’t made it there myself until a recent trip with Cruising Writers. I attended a week-long writers workshop/retreat at a château in the French countryside. If that sounds fabulous, you’re right—it was fabulous. Here’s where we were:

View of the Chateau
Chateau Les Carrasses

Yes, a view like that is inspirational. It was a peaceful setting where I could devote attention to story ideas and to my writing.

We also had workshops with fabulous writing coach Margie Lawson, whose deep editing techniques are well-worth studying.

Julie & Margie
Margie Lawson & Me, in the vineyards

I met other amazing writers, who stoked my excitement, filled my well with wisdom, and wrote alongside me in settings like this one:

View from Our Window
Outside Terrace & Heated Pool, as seen from our room

We took brainstorming walks along the back roads flanked with vineyards and flowers in bloom. One of those walks even launched a new idea for a series I’m super-excited to start writing.

Curvy Road and Flowers
French Back Roads where the Muse Visited

This trip solidified my growing belief that new experiences make you a better writer. That could be visiting a museum in your city or it could involve an intercontinental flight and staying a countryside château in France. I’m definitely partial to travel—because you also experience a different setting and culture—but stepping outside your comfort zone matters most.

Now if you’re going to write about some place you haven’t been, I do suggest scheduling a visit. Because my pictures show only a snippet of my experience in France, which included the language, the food, the smells, the textures, the people, and much more. There’s no perfect substitute for being there.

But regardless, get out and experience new things. Hang out with other writers in various parts of their journey. Learn about writing craft and the publishing business from experts, like Margie and the others—which at this retreat included an agent, an editor, a literary translator, and a Kobo representative.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to see more, do more, learn more, check out the next trip planned by Cruising Writers. I’ll be on this September cruise headed to Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and Cozumel, along with writing experts Lisa Cron (author of Wired for Story and Story Genius) and Angela Ackerman (author of The Emotion Thesaurus, The Setting Thesaurus, and much more).

In the meantime, let me leave you with one more photo from France. It’s quite an experience to watch the sunrise over the vineyards. This picture doesn’t fully capture the awesome view, but here you go:

Sunrise (Again) Over the Vineyard
The Sun Also Rises…in France

Au revoir!

What’s Your Natural Writing Voice?

VoiceOne of my favorite writing blogs is Writers in the Storm, hosted by four wonderful women and featuring articles that run the gamut on the craft of writing, the writer’s life, and the publishing business. I was thrilled to get to add my two cents to their blog in a recent post on How to Embrace Your Natural Voice.

I share my story of learning about my natural writing voice and tips on how to discover and embrace your own voice.

Here’s a teaser and then the link where you can find the article:

When I first began writing novels, I longed to pen my prose like the literary greats I’d read in high school and college. Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Edgar Allen Poe, Leo Tolstoy, etc. were my beacons of beautiful prose.

But alas, their light flickered on me. Because I couldn’t seem to get two pages in without snark coming out on the page. So much for my lofty plans.

I’m not the only one who wanted or expected a different writing voice.

Read the rest.

The Power of Writing Partners…Or How I Won #NaNoWriMo After All

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_winner-smallerIn my last post, NaNoWriMo: 4 Reasons You Should Keep Going, Even If You Won’t Win, I talked about how far behind I was in my goal of writing 50k in one month. Although I kept writing, I felt pretty certain that I would not be a NaNoWriMo winner in 2016.

And then, something happened.

My good friend, Jenny Hansen, suggested doing writing sprints together. The NaNoWriMo website provided an easy, effective tool for setting up a group sprint and then adding your word count total at the end of your time. We coordinated our schedules, set up group sprints, and let our fingers fly across our keyboards.

Even though we’re separated by 1500 miles and two time zones, we experienced that connection of both going for the same goal and supporting one another. Just knowing she was on the other end and expected me to get some words down motivated me to, well, get some words down. Her encouragement was awesome, but the accountability probably mattered more.

Because having someone cheering for you isn’t quite like having someone on the same team with you. It’s fabulous to hear, “You can do it!” “I’m pulling for you!” “You’ve got this!” And the support of other writers on Facebook and Twitter and face-to-face absolutely helped me adopt the right attitude.

But the accountability of a writing partner forced me to clear the time, open up my manuscript, and write words and pages and scenes.

I was 20,000 words behind. But Jenny and I both ended up having two 5,000+ word days. And on November 30, we crossed the finish line together. That’s right, I’m a NaNoWriMo winner after all!

I have a mostly completed manuscript, a NaNoWriMo winner T-shirt on its way, and some great takeaways. Including that I want to continue writing with others to increase my accountability and meet my goals.

In fact, the NaNoWriMo site still has its group sprint page available, which I highly recommend. Or you could meet in person with local writers. Or set a clock and tag someone on social media. Whatever works for you.

Congratulations to all the NaNoWriMo winners out there! And an especially big shout-out to Jenny Hansen for breaking the finish line ribbon with me.

NaNoWriMo: 4 Reasons You Should Keep Going, Even If You Won’t Win

keep-calm-and-write-50kNaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, a challenge across the globe for people to write a novel in the month of November. To set a specific goal, the “novel in a month” is defined as 50,000 words.

I’ve participated once before, when I did not complete the goal but got a bunch of words. This year, I threw my hat in the ring again with hopes I’d make the 50,000-word mark.

But I’m currently 8,300 words behind where I should be. At the rate I’m going, I will reach 50k on December 17.

Realistically, I’m not going to win this thing. At the end of November, I won’t have a complete novel, I won’t get the NaNoWriMo Winner Badge, I won’t get bragging rights. Yet even though I’m usually a glass-half-full gal, when it comes to NaNoWriMo, I take a raise-your-glass-for-a-toast attitude.

Here are four reasons you should keep doing NaNoWriMo, even if you’re pretty darn sure it’s not going to happen after all:

  1. You’re consistently writing. Okay, maybe not every day, and maybe some days you’re happy to get 400 words. But I’m writing on my novel more often than I had been, and with greater consistency. Getting these words down has become a priority on my daily list. If NaNoWriMo helps you get back into the writing groove, it’s worth it whether you reach your 50k on time or not.
  2. You’re making progress. Saying I’m 8,300 words behind sounds bad, but saying I’ve written 18,300 words this month sounds much better. That’s 18,300 words I didn’t have when NaNoWriMo began. That kind of progress should be celebrated and continued. So what if I don’t make 50k, I will have a bunch of new words. And most of them are words I like. I bet you’ve got more words too.
  3. You’re building community. One of the perks of a group writing challenge is being able to share your experience with others. Once you tell people on Facebook or Twitter that you’re doing NaNoWriMo, you’ll find others doing it too. Then you can encourage, congratulate, and commiserate with your peers. Some will reach their goal, some will not, but we’re all in this together.
  4. You’re going to finish. The rules of NaNoWriMo are that you have until November 30, but no one’s standing there and stopping you from writing on December 1. So what if you don’t get the “win” and you finish the book a half-month or a month or even two months later — you still wrote a book! Once you get a bunch of words into a novel, hopefully you’re sucked into the story enough that you’re determined to finish that baby. I know I am. Maybe I won’t make it by the end of the month, but I’m willing to bet a bottle of wine that I finish by the end of the year.

There’s still a chance I could make my 50,000 words. I’m a competitive enough person that I’m motivated to try to make up that gap.

But even if I don’t, I’m personally calling this a win. NaNoWriMo has gotten me deeper into my novel, excited about my story, turning out words, and hanging out with other writers. So I’m not quitting.

Neither should you.

Questions for YA Authors: From Teen Book Con

Authors entering
YA authors entering the packed auditorium at Teen Book Con 2016.

I had the joy of attending the 7th annual Teen Book Con at Alief Taylor High School in Houston, Texas on Saturday. There were 25 young adult authors in the line-up, with a fabulous keynote address from Ruta Sepetys, author of Salt to the Sea, and six topical panels.

For the most part, teens asked the questions for the author panels. I was so impressed with the quality of their queries that I jotted several down. And I thought I’d answer them myself — see how I’d do on an author panel.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Authors are often asked about the best writing advice they’ve received, so this question was a nice reversal. I’d say the worst advice is anytime someone says there’s a single process for writing a novel. Whether it be plot this way or you must never edit while writing the first draft or use this method and you’ll turn out bestsellers, it’s just wrong. Not wrong for everyone, but wrong for some. It’s silly to assume that the way one writer turns out a great novel is the same process another must use. That would be like saying, “There’s only one route to New York,” when one of you is coming from Pennsylvania and the other from Africa. We’re different people coming from different places, so find whatever route gets you to the destination of Great Novel.

How often does the ending of your book surprise you?

When I write mysteries, I’m definitely surprised. I’ve written two mystery manuscripts, and both times I didn’t know who the perpetrator was when I started. I wrote more than half of those books with three different possibilities in mind — which made it easier to provide “red herrings,” I guess — but as the books progressed, it became clear whodunnit.

If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

This is a hard question, because I’d like to hang out with several of my characters. However, I’m currently writing a novel, Daring Charlotte, about a teenage girl who adores musicals. As a musical fan myself, I’d love to spend a day with Charlotte just watching musicals in a marathon movie event. The trouble would be narrowing it down to which ones we’d want to fit into our 24 hours.

IMG_2703
Who I did spend the day with — my fabulous critique partner and brilliant YA author, Christina Delay.

What is your hidden talent?

I can touch my tongue to my nose. Actually, now that I say that, it doesn’t sound a talent — more like a weird trick.

What’s your favorite part of the book to write?

First chapters. I love that fresh moment of a story idea falling onto the page, when I’m excited to meet these characters and eager to find the hook that gets readers interested in knowing more. I’m sure I spend way more time on the first chapter of a book than any other, because I believe it’s that important. (And that fun.)

What’s a romance trope you hate?

Bad boys turned good, solely because of the love of a nice girl. Seriously, ladies, if he’s only changing because he thinks it will get you to go out with him or get you in bed, it ain’t gonna last. Love does not cure drug addiction, bad ethics, or prison-worthy behavior. And it doesn’t make a jerk into a prince. A guy can be flawed, but he’d better be a good soul before he has a shot at the worthwhile female characters in my books.

What is your advice for aspiring writers?

Be willing to write crap and be willing to edit it into something wonderful. You can get so wrapped up in writing perfection that first time that you don’t get words down on the page. Set yourself up for the reality that you will delete or change quite a bit of what you write, and that’s okay. Excellence demands perspiration, so just commit to writing and then be willing to rewrite to make it better and better and better. Until you realize that what you wrote overall is pretty darn good, and worth sharing with others.

If your main character was real, what would they be doing right now?

I immediately thought about my YA novel Sharing Hunter (out on submission) and those two main characters. Chloe is wearing a small bikini, breaking into the hot tub at a local hotel, and inviting her love interest (no spoilers) to join her in the foam already. Rachel is carefully sketching a portrait of her and her love interest (no spoilers) to give to him for their __-month anniversary.

How would you answer any of the questions above? Or what questions would you ask of your favorite authors? 

10 More Christmas Gifts for Writers

10 More Christmas Gifts for WritersI have fun doing this every year — coming up with gift ideas for us writers. Because in some ways, we’re easy for shop for. After all, writing and office supplies can make us nearly giddy. One of my favorite gifts last year was a ream of printer paper from a friend. On the other hand, we’re creative types who also enjoy the extra effort at times when we receive something particularly fun for a writer.

I’ve had several posts in the past with gift ideas, but let me add 10 more ideas for the 2015 holiday season. (Click on links or photos below for specific product information.)

 

1. Literary Paper Dolls. I remember making paper dolls as a young girl, but I don’t remember getting to make Edgar Allen Poe. How sweet is that!

2. Chapter One/The End Earrings. I love literary-themed jewelry, and these earrings caught my eye. And you can find about a million other earrings for book lovers all over Etsy.

Book Lover Earrings 12mm Chapter One The End Antique Copper Dangle Earrings - Reader Literary Earrings - Librarian Gift Teacher Writer Gift

3. Novel Teas. Not every writer drinks coffee exclusively; many of us enjoy a cup of tea. Novel Teas have a literary quote with each tea bag. You can also find many book-themed teas in the fandom section of Adagio Teas, like these Banned Books Blends.

Novel Teas contains 25 teabags individually tagged with literary quotes from the world over, made with the finest English Breakfast tea.

4. Aqua Notes. I often come up with great ideas for my book when I’m in the shower. Which is frustrating. But hey, if I had these Aqua Notes, I could simply jot it down right there in the moment — never losing another brilliant idea to soap and spray.

5. Book-themed coasters. Out of Print Clothing is a fun place to shop, with lots of book-themed stuff, including drink coasters. Here’s one of my favorite options, for the sci-fi writer or reader.

Sci Fi Coasters

6. Writing Course Gift Certificate. You’d likely have to make the certificate yourself, but offer to pay for an online class. There are some great, inexpensive courses for writers through various sites, like Romance Writers of America­­® Chapters, Holly Lisle, and Lawson Writer’s Academy — where I’ll be teaching a young adult course next spring.

birthday gift certificate template

7. Bookmark. But not your average bookmark. Etsy has some marvelous options, like mermaid-shaped bookmarks to keep your place. (I think of fellow writer Diana Beebe every time I see this.)

Metal Mermaid Bookmark with Charms

8. Shakespearean Insult Bandages. Someone bought me these a few years ago, and I adore them. No one knew how to deliver a proper scathing insult quite like The Bard. (Check out the other products too at this great website, Gone Reading.)

William Shakespeare Insult Bandages

9. Ebook Stand. This is on my Christmas list. I don’t have one of those cases that becomes its own stand, but I like reading at the table while I’m eating or whatever. You can get a stand that works for mobile devices:

Rolodex™, Adjustable Mobile Device Mesh Stand, Black, Each (1866297)

Or one that can be used for print books as well:

Bookgem Book Holder - iPad Stand, Kindle, Tablet, & eBook Holder

10. Extra laptop supplies. I take my laptop everywhere, and having packed and repacked my laptop case a number of times, I can honestly say it’s far more convenient to have extra supplies stashed in your case so you don’t have to carry them back and forth. Grab a mini-mouse, an extra mouse pad, or a power cord specific to your writer’s laptop to make packing up and working elsewhere more convenient.

Logitech - Mini Wireless Optical Mouse - Black - Larger Front

Poppin Mouse Pad

And here are my previous years’ posts with gift ideas:

10 Holiday Gifts for Readers and Writers

Gifts for the Grammar Geek

Gifts for the Word Lover

Gifts for the Book Reader

Gifts for the Writer

10 Gifts for the Bookish and Writerly

Happy holiday shopping! Hope you can find the perfect gift for the writer in your life — even if that writer is you!

What’s a Writer’s Job Description?

Writer Job DescriptionI’ve always found it fascinating what people do for a living. There are so many jobs and tasks out there, you can hardly imagine all the possibilities. But I also find it fascinating how people describe their jobs. How do they perceive their own work?

There’s an oft-told parable about three stone masons, or bricklayers, working on the building of a great cathedral. A traveler arrived in town, toured the exterior, and witnessed the construction.

Seeing a stone mason, he stopped and asked, “What are you doing?” This first mason answered simply, “I’m laying bricks.”

Turning a corner, the traveler saw a second stone mason and asked the same question: “What are you doing?” This second mason answered, “I’m erecting a wall.”

Moving on, the traveler spotted a third stone mason and asked again, “What are you doing?” This time, the third mason straightened his spine, beamed with pride, and responded, “What am I doing, sir? I am building a cathedral.”

I suspect the third stone mason experienced far more job satisfaction. He believed himself to be contributing to something big, beautiful, and lasting.

When writers get asked about their job, the easiest answer is simply “I write books.” It’s straightforward, understandable, accurate. However, many writers see it more deeply. Ask them what they do for a living, and you might get answers like:

  • I make up lies for a living, and people love me for it.
  • I weave imaginary worlds and invite others to join me there.
  • I create fictional characters, then make readers care about what happens to them.
  • I use to stories to inspire people to believe in love, justice, and goodness.

When I’m asked what I do, I usually answer, “I write teen novels.” That’s the crux of it. But…I have a different version in my head. Because what I see myself as doing is more like building a cathedral — contributing to something bigger, more beautiful, and lasting.

I tell stories that encourage teens to recognize they’re stronger than they think they are, that humor can get you through a lot in life, and that doing the right thing — however difficult — is the best thing for your heart and for your soul. I write books, but I hope they mean something to my readers.

Even if it’s just a fun story that gives them an escape for a weekend, that’s a goal worth pursuing as well. I think very highly of those authors who have brought me genuine smiles and made me laugh.

I hope teens also view what they do in life now, and in the future, as big, beautiful, and lasting. Because I know it truly can be. But a lot depends on your perspective.

How do you define what you do? Are you laying bricks or building a cathedral? What does that look like for you?

Sharing Hunter Has a Book Trailer!

Sharing Hunter is my young adult contemporary novel which finaled in the RWA­® Golden Heart® competition. It will be out on submission to publishing houses soon, but even before its release…I have a book trailer. Which is awesome!

The owner of BookVidz, Kim Handysides, approached me about making a trailer. She’d read some of the novel and thought it was a good match for her company. I was absolutely thrilled with this idea! Bookvidz took my premise and presented it so well in a professionally packaged video. So of course, I want to share it here:

Isn’t that cool?!

If you’re an author looking for a quality video company, I highly recommend BookVidz. Check out their services and more videos at Bookvidz.com and be sure to like their Facebook page.

The Golden Heart Speech I Wrote, But Didn’t Give

The RWA Awards Ceremony Program
The RWA Awards Ceremony Program

When you’re nominated for an RWA Golden Heart award, they tell you to write a speech. Even if you have absolutely no belief that you could possibly win, they repeat the need to have coherent words on a page to read just in case your name is called and you have to make your way to stage and say something into the waiting microphone.

Last Saturday night, when 2000+ writers and their guests convened for the annual RWA RITA and Golden Heart Awards Ceremony, the name announced for the Golden Heart, Young Adult category was Stephanie Winkelhake, a four-time finalist. My other fellow finalists — T.L. Summer, Diana Munoz-Stewart, and Mary Sullivan — and I applauded her well-deserved win. And I look forward to seeing all of our books on shelves in the coming years (so watch for them!).

But I still have this speech I wrote, and it seems a shame to waste it. So here goes nothing:

Who would you thank in a speech for an award you received? Have you ever delivered a victory circle speech?