My Blog

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:

 

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.

4 Common Issues You Can Fix (Before Your Copy Editor Does)

Red Pen 3I recently had the opportunity to guest post on Jami Gold’s fabulous writing blog. She has a ton of helpful information for writers, from beginner to pro. And she let me talk about one of my favorite topics: grammar.

But don’t start sweating. I hate diagramming sentences too. Instead, when I write about grammar, I keep things upbeat, practical, and simple.

Here’s a taste of the post, with a link to follow:

As Jami has pointed out, it’s worthwhile having a copy editor take a look at your manuscript. Poor grammar can interrupt the flow of your story, and no matter how good you are with language and grammar, we all make mistakes.

But you know what? Some mistakes I see in manuscripts are easily fixed by the author, if they know what to look for. Since no copy editor is above missing something themselves, and some copy editors offer discounts for clean manuscripts, it makes sense for you to correct what you can.

Let’s talk about four common issues I see in manuscripts and how you can quickly edit them yourself.

4 Common Copy Editing Issues to Watch For — Guest: Julie Glover

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.

How I Ended Up in the YA Section of a Belize Library

Last month I attended a writers conference and retreat…on a cruise ship! Cruising Writers hosts fabulous Caribbean cruises that are a mixture of workshops, writing/editing time, travel, and fun with other authors.

The ports we visited were Roatan, Honduras; Belize City, Belize; and Cozumel, Mexico. I had shore excursions in Honduras and Mexico, but I left Belize open. Instead, my husband and I just walked around downtown Belize City, soaking in the sights, the culture, and the people.

After many blocks of our walking tour, we saw a shop selling Mayan chocolate. I definitely wanted to go in and buy something for myself and a friend. A few truffles later, we stepped back out onto the sidewalk, and my husband pointed two doors down. “Let’s go see the library.” Sure enough, the city’s library was on the same block, and we were eager to pop inside and see what treasures it held.

Now Belize is an English-speaking country, having been a British colony from 1862 to 1981. So the books they had on their shelves were, of course, in English. But the library was small, the fiction section requiring only a few bookcases. I was glad to see titles I recognized but saddened by how few books they shelved.

And then I found the YA section, which put a smile on my face:

ya-section-of-belize-library

Until I saw how little was in the YA section:

ya-bookcase-in-belize-library

My small town library has bazillion more YA books than this! One sweet girl who appeared to be about 12 years old strode in to say hello to the librarian, and as I looked at her, I thought, What happens when a bookish girl like her runs out of books to read?

I don’t know exactly what I want to do about this situation. I am looking into options for sending books to this struggling library (they had a whole empty bookcase they could fill with YA books).

But I thought it worth noting how spoiled I feel in the United States to have books so easily at my fingertips. And that’s clearly not the case around the world — even though we know how important reading is to success for an individual and a community.

As I got back onto the cruise ship (which had a pitifully small library too, but whatever — I was there for a week), I had this nagging feeling that authors and readers need to look for opportunities to share our love with those who don’t have easy access to books. I’m placing this goal on my 2017 resolution list.

How have you contributed to providing books for young readers and teens? What ideas do you have to help struggling libraries like the one in Belize City?