Attempting to use a Kanban board

I’ve been following an author and authortuber named Sarra Cannon and her Heart Breathings journey. She’s incredibly knowledgeable about both writing craft and the business aspect of being an indie publisher.

One of her video themes is about productivity and specifically, the way that she uses a Kanban board (click HERE to see one of her videos about it) to track her goals for each quarter of the year. I absolutely fell in love with this visual method of setting goals and then tracking them as you go, so I decided to give it a try.

If you don’t know what a Kanban board is, it is basically a three-column chart that allows you to place sticky notes at different places on the board depending on whether they need to get done, are in progress, or are completed. There are a ton of videos online about it and how you can alter it according to what you want, but I liked the idea of there being an “In Progress” section because I hated having things on my To Do list that were being worked on, but hadn’t earned that infamous check mark yet.

I was so excited at the end of June that I went out and laminated a large, white poster board because I wanted to be able to change it up and now sticky notes and even washi tape come off of it easily so I can customize it as I want. I decided that I wanted to have four total goals, some of them more broad than others. And like, Sarra, I wanted to try to focus on quarterly goals so these would be things I wanted to accomplish from July to September.

My four goals:

1. Create two Skillshare classes (pink)

2. Plan and prepare for back to school (orange)

3. Increase social media following by 10% (yellow)

4. Finish a manuscript that I was editing (dark pink–later became blue)

In parentheses is the color of sticky note that was going to be used for each task. On the left, there is a sticky note that describes each goal. I used washi tape to divid the board into three sections and then spent some time dividing each goal into actionable tasks and layering them onto the top section of the board. Each sticky note is a single task associated with that goal. For example, for the manuscript I was editing, I divided it up by chapter. For social media, I listed out specific tasks like blog writing, batch photo shooting, and scheduling all as separate notes.

I was really proud of what it turned out like and thought I was going to nail each and every one of those things.

I didn’t.

About half way into July, I realized that the goal that I set for the pink sticky notes (to create two Skillshare classes) wasn’t exactly something I actually wanted. I thought it would be a great experience, but just planning and filming and editing the first intro video quickly became something that I decided was not going to work out. So, as you can see in the next picture, I took it off of my board completely.

At first, I was afraid to remove it because I hate waste but I hate selling myself short even more. But I actually asked Sarra through her Facebook group and she told confirmed what I already knew inside: if it didn’t work for me, take it off!

Because at the end of the day, staring at a huge list of tasks that I’m not completely excited about or feel is critical in my life, is just inviting anxiety and pressure into my life that I don’t need!

This was a revelation for me. I am a box-checking kind of gal and so removing this goal was a huge freedom moment for me because now I’m more focused on getting things done that I actually want to do. Isn’t that crazy?

Anyways, here’s the current progress of where I’m at so far and I still have less than half of August and all of September to finish them off!

**The pink sticky note on the left is measurements for something, not related to a goal.

Not bad, right? I’m excited for finishing off my board and can’t wait to create a new one for the final quarter of the year. It has been a lot of fun seeing the sticky notes “move” as I decided to tackle things, even if they weren’t completed yet.

How do you stay on track and motivated with your own goals? Do you use something like this? I’d love to see it or hear about it!

Cycles and Seasons

As I prepare to head back into my classroom full of students tomorrow, I’ve been thinking a lot about the natural way that our lives go through cycles, many of them pairing with the seasons of the year. Families are getting through the back to school phase of the fall, the weather is going to be changing to cooler days soon (crossing fingers for ASAP here in California), and business owners are probably looking at the holiday season and making plans.

One of the things that it made me realize was that although we are still the same person, even going through the same daily tasks and heading to the same job, we may be looking at it much differently than we had before simply because we’re in a different cycle of our life. Even thinking about 30-somethings like myself I can see that some of us are getting into relationships, others getting married, some divorced, others expecting, and still others who are experiencing loss. We all go through these cycles.

This doesn’t just apply to us, though. It can apply to your fictional characters as well. In fact, I’m of the notion that it should apply to some of the characters in whatever it is that you write.

One difficulty that I’ve seen writers try to overcome is the sense that all of their characters come across the same (and sometimes the problem is that the author doesn’t even notice it!). Sometimes, this can be fixed by really reevaluating where your character is in the cycles of their life.

For example, your main character in a YA or even NA might be experiencing things for the first time, excited or even anxious about what that means. But there are probably a ton of people who are in that same place/situation who are completely jaded or unfazed by whatever is happening. Even at a beautiful and elegant parade of the finest warriors and champions of the land, there are bound to be those in the crowd who snicker under their breaths, call those people “fakes” or “try-hards” or whatever.

It can be as simple as that, but it can also be so much more complex. Imagine stories where the young, excited newbie goes through the hardships that everyone else already knows about, only to have to find themselves in a new and difficult place in his/her life. That’s a pretty generic and classic storyline. Either that character settles into the scene and accepts that new, un-shiny, life, or they rise above.

Think of movies like The Devil Wears Prada or a book like Divergent. Both of the MCs in those books find themselves in foreign and exciting territory, only to find that it wasn’t everything they expected. And they must rise above. But there are a LOT of people around them who are drinking the kool-aid and deciding that this is just how it will always be. They’re at a different cycle of their life, one that can’t even see how messed up everything is.

Whenever I read books that don’t include characters at these different cycles of life, like everyone thinks everything is super fun and shiny, even if they’ve been there seeing it for 10 years, it comes off as phony.

One simple tip is to look around your workplace, or even go to a restaurant or cafe. I bet you can dissect which servers or coworkers are at different cycles of their own lives.

Try asking these questions about the people you see:

What about their demeanor and appearance clue you in?

How does their body language differ from others?

Listen to how they speak, what makes it unique or different from the other people around them?

Hopefully, by paying attention to this simple notion, you can add in the tidbits that show the differences between your character and the ones that around him/her. This will help create a more diverse and realistic world, but also to show your readers why your character and the characters around are experiencing things the way that they are.

Visual Inspiration

I’m a visual learner. I am the kind of person who used to be able to picture charts and images on a test from my notes. I didn’t learn how to use that to my advantage until well into my college career, though.

Now, I use visuals to get inspiration whenever I need a story idea or something to just break me out of my writer’s block and spark something new to keep the words flowing. Today, I’m sharing a few ways that I have found images that get my creativity flowing.

Pinterest

This seems like a given for referencing image-based inspiration, but I thought I’d add it here anyways because I’ve learned so much in the past few months about how to be a bit more choosy about what I pin as inspiration and how I organize it to avoid having thousands of images that don’t actually help me because there are just too many to look through.

  • Organize images by story/novel/project to keep it cohesive
  • Cull images that no longer function for your story so your brain and board have more room for what inspires you
  • Going down the “related” bunny hole is fun, but not great when you find something you like and then the feed refreshes and you’ve lost the trail – long story short, pin what you like when you see it or see that it leads to things that you like, you can always come back to it and organize it

Here is an example from my YA fantasy novel board on Pinterest.

Encyclopedias/Reference Books

It is so funny to think about the row of encyclopedias that my family used to have and use to write school essays and reference in the days before the internet, or at least before it became what it is today. But if you go to your local library (or even look at encyclopedia type sites online), you can find a TON of resources for visual inspiration.

What I like the most about encyclopedias or reference books (especially the Atlas Obscura), is that you don’t have to have an idea of what you are looking for ahead of time. You can simply pick a page and go. With the internet, you usually have to have some sort of direction, so when I really don’t have one, I love the randomness of an encyclopedia. I especially love visual and illustrated encyclopedias because they have more images than a traditional one.

Picking a random page in the Atlas Obscura always gives me so many ideas to work with.

Tarot cards

I recently posted on Instagram about using tarot cards as imagery-based inspiration. I absolutely love the beauty and detail that is put into each card, but taking it a step further, you can actually use the meaning and representations that are put into each card’s meaning to help you decide what twist your plot needs or how to bring in something so that your characters suddenly have something to interact with that helps them.

These are three cards that have such rich imagery that I can’t help but look at them and be inspired!

Stock Images

Websites like Period Images and BewitchingBookstock are specifically meant to give people a look at different genre stylized figures. These are where people can get starter images that later become book covers, but I like using them, especially when trying to describe clothing, characters, props, etc. because it gives me the chance to see it clearly and then create a clearer image for my reader.

Browsing sites with stock photos like these is so helpful in figuring out my characters, clothing, and more.

I hope that some of these help you if you are like me and love to use visuals to help you create! Let me know if you have any other ways to get visual inspiration, I’d love to try new things!

Envisioning the future

I recently ran across the Daring Living podcast, which I talked briefly about in previous post about what I’m consuming. Shirley, the host, talks about life in such a real and positive way and I immediately connected with her voice and style.

One of the things that she offers on her website is a workbook about envisioning your future and creating a plan for your life. I have already been on a reflective journey but when it came to figuring out what it is that I wanted out of life, I had no idea about where to start or what shape or form my dreams would take.

Now, I’ve finally created a few things that I’m really excited about. I’m sharing them in the hopes that if you are in a similar place in your life, that some of these things will help you to realize your own dreams or at least be able to start crafting a true vision of what it will look like.

Vision Planning Workbook

Like I mentioned above, Shirley has created a great workbook that walks you through the steps on how to start imagining your ideal life. One of the things that I liked the most about this workbook was that it was thorough and helpful, but short. Through the handful of pages, I began really breaking my life down into the different aspects of it, and starting to think about what I wanted each part to look like and, more importantly, feel like when I was done.

I completed the exercises in my journal and decorated the pages and made them pretty ahead of time. This simple addition to the exercise allowed my mind to clear and wander into the questions and places that they needed to so that I could really write down things that meant something, not just the first things to pop into my head in order to fill the blank page.

Below is a picture of one part of my responses, with an exercise that made a huge difference for me. It asks about how I feel when living my dream life, but also, what will I be thinking about when I get there. This was huge for me because I never sat down and pictured how my own mentality and thought process would be different, I only imagined the feelings and practical things like not worrying about money.

Vision Boards

After completing this workbook, I started thinking about how I would continue to motivate myself to accomplish my goals. Going back through and rereading everything was definitely an option, but not one that I would be able to do quickly every time I needed inspiration. The obvious answer, then, was to create a vision board with specific images and words that motivated me. However, I didn’t have the space for a huge collage of everything that I wanted to include, and I wanted to be able to take it with me.

So, I jumped on to the wonderful Pinterest and looked up vision boards in journals. And wow! I was in awe of how many shapes and forms vision boards took, and how many people felt really strongly about how effective they could be in motivating you.

Well, I finally ran into one specific site that really helped me in developing my own vision boards. Yes, boards. First I separated my vision spreads (two side-by-side pages in my journal) to specific aspects of my life: Health and Wellness, Career and Money, Spiritual and Soul, and Lifestyle.

Then, I used Christie Inge’s guide to creating a vision board to help me figure out where to start. One of the best things that she lays out in her post is that the images and things you select need to make you feel the way you want to feel. For a lot of people, posting pictures of attractive, fit models may seem like a great way to visualize them making healthier choices or working out. However, if the images actually make you feel insecure about your current appearance, or in any way less than, when you look at them, they are actually not doing what they are meant to do. Instead of inspiring you, they’re actually bringing you down. Here’s an example of my Spiritual and Soul board (still working on it).

Healthy Routines

The next thing that I did was to break down some of the things that I can do today and hopefully every day to help me get to the places and mindset that would lead me to my envisioned future. I scanned Pinterest, read some books, and watched YouTube videos that discussed morning and evening routines that have helped people be successful and generally more prepared to tackle the day.

One of the constants was the Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. Elrod breaks down six specific steps that you can integrate into your morning by waking up an hour earlier (or condensing it to begin with and then working up to the whole hour). His method focuses on things like visualization, exercise, journaling, and reading.

Similarly, I found Quinn Bouley and her process, which she calls “magical morning.” It is similar to Elrod’s process, with a focus on getting both quiet, reflective time, and active time for yourself. However, she moves things around, adds in her own personal flair, and made me realize just how much I can customize my routine to tackle both a longer period and a shorter period if I happen to sleep in or just don’t have time for the full process.

Combining these two along with images that I found on Pinterest by searching for morning and evening routine in a journal, I created the following spread. I even added the times that I wanted to spend on each aspect and calculated the total time for the longer routines, so that I knew when I would need to begin, and when I would be done. This is important for me because I also have to consider that I need to get my kids up and ready for school, or ready for bed at night, plus be at work by a certain time.

Gratitude

Finally, because I knew that I couldn’t focus everything on the future, I wanted to create a gratitude log that will help me to stay grounded in my blessings of the present. I never want to forget some of the amazing things that I have while chasing my dreams of the future.

This one was easier to find because I knew I wanted something simple, that focused on filling a space with all of the things that I was grateful for, so after watching Sarra Cannon’s video about her bullet journal set up, I liked how she did her gratitude log and mimicked her setup.

Closing thoughts

I’m really happy with how everything turned out and feel much better about looking forward. I hope that some of these things helped you and would love to see or hear about what you did to help you get motivated and focused to living your dream life.

If you’re interested, the journal and pens that I used can be found really cheap on Amazon. If you use the links I’ve provided to purchase, I’ll get a small commission since I’m an Amazon affiliate.

The “why” behind your “what”

At the beginning of the school year, we got a talk from our area superintendent and he asked us all: What is the “why” behind your “what”?

This was a really introspective question for me, and not only in the way that I look at my teaching career or lesson plans, but in the way that I look at my life as a whole.

Too often, we find ourselves making TO DO lists or stressing over things that we “need” to get done today, this week, or this month. Like, I need to do laundry or even the need to make something work a specific way in my story. But many of us never really stop to ask ourselves why.

Why does it have to be done this specific way?

Why am I frustrated about this?

Why is this important?

Why is it more important than X, Y, or Z that I want to do?

Or, most importantly, why am I even doing this?

For some questions, like doing the laundry, the why is pretty simple: because I need clothes to wear tomorrow. But, for other questions, the “why” behind the “what” is a little bit harder to define, or at least can take a little bit longer to figure out.

We are preprogrammed to think that so many things in life need to be done in certain ways and at certain times, but that isn’t always the case, and when it comes to writing or running your career, falling into that autopilot mode of sampling checking off “what’s” can be dangerous. It is that kind of decision making and thought process that can have us looking at our lives years down the road and wondering why we never got where we wanted to head, or at least, how we ended up where we are.

So, here is my challenge to you: stop and ask yourself why.

Why are you working so hard on this?

Why are you completing this task?

Why is this important for the future that you want to have?

Why?

My hope is that by doing this, you will find some of those “have” to’s make more sense, or maybe even get shifted or adjusted to match the “why” that you want. Or maybe, you just get a second to breathe, and readjust how you go about deciding what it is that you want to focus on for the day, instead of just completing things as they pop up.

For me, simply asking myself “why” about the way that I have set up my day or even my regular routines has helped me to see that a lot of what I was actually doing was about checking things off for other people or even completing things because they sounded like I should be doing them as a mother, wife, or teacher. And after asking myself “why,” I found that a lot of those things that I focused on changed. No longer was I doing things that I felt were part of my identity as set by other people or roles that I have. Instead, I am setting goals, listing tasks, and figuring out plans that will lead me to where I want to be.

Yes, there are still things that were on my list that I kept and will continue to keep, but that is because I’ve figured out that the “why” behind them was important enough to keep them going. The “why” has helped me to prioritize those things differently and not feel as overwhelmed by them because I figured out that they were meaningful and had a purpose in my life. Plus, with the things that I took off of my list, I don’t feel as compelled to crowd my TO DO lists with things that don’t build towards where I want to be.

Currently Consuming June 2019

My last post, I shared some of my favorite tools and items. It got me thinking about how fun it could be to really track and share my journey through what I read, watch, listen to, etc. in case you are looking for something new to try or have heard of something and would like someone’s opinion about it.

So, here are the things that I’ve been consuming this past month:

Watching

  • The Umbrella Academy: this Netflix Original series really captured my interest with the first episode. Of course, I’d heard a lot about it when it had just come out and people were watching it, but I just hadn’t had the time. So, I sat down and binged all 10 episodes in like 2 days. I really enjoyed it. The super powers aspect, the dysfunctional family/team aspect, the twists and turns. It was pretty good. It didn’t end the way I thought it would (no spoilers), and I’m not sure if it is going to have a second season, but I liked it. There were some really great moments in there and some really hilarious ones as well.

  • Naruto: My husband and I are anime fans (okay, more me than him), and we had started watching Naruto together years ago. However, we kind of fell off about 3/4 of the way through just because life was too hectic to read subtitles. But I had always loved the story of Naruto, how he tried to make his way from outcast and trouble maker to become the best of the best, and though he constantly got dismissed, he rose from he ashes to stay true to himself and what he believed it. I finally finished all 500 episodes (yes, it was loooooong) and felt really satisfied with the way it ended, which is saying a lot since I invested so much time into it. If you’ve never watched anime because of whatever reason, I strongly suggest giving a handful of episodes a chance (and if not this one, let me know and I can suggest some others that I really love based on your preferences). I think they’ve got a lot of potential about storytelling, character development, and pacing that authors should really look into (plus, they’re just fun).

  • Heart Breathings: On YouTube, I’ve been bingeing Sarra Cannon’s Heart Breathings channel because she’s got a ton of information about plotting, editing, and just organizing your time and being productive. She’s also super sweet and successful as an indie author, so I’m taking notes on her journey in the hopes that I can learn how to make my own successful as well. She also has a seriously strong planner habit that I’m totally into. She’s a very detailed planner and some may see it as repetitive, but I think her process works for her and I am taking bits and pieces of it and making them my own in order to be more productive now that I’m on summer break and have no real schedule.

Reading

  • Millionaire Success Habits: My sister-in-law invited me to a seminar and neither of us realized that it would be about selling real estate! However, we got this book for free as part of it, so I’ve been reading it and have absolutely fell in love with Dean Graziosi’s storytelling and thought process. I’ve been trying really hard to refocus my efforts in life to where I want to be instead of just where I am with the thought that if I only focus on where I am, that’s where I will always be. This book doesn’t deal much with real estate, thankfully, but there are examples, exercises, and great pieces of info that are really helping me shape a clearer vision of who I am now and who I want to be in the future, as well as how to get there.

  • The Blade Itself: My dad has been really bugging me to read this and claims it is The Lord of the Rings of the grim-dark genre. It isn’t as grim or dark (yet) as I imagined it would be. It is a fantasy trilogy and has some great world building so far, but I stalled when the end of the school year hit and I’m going to be diving back into the second half of the book in the coming weeks. There’s some really cool magic and examples of rule following for world building in the book so far, and a ton of really complex threads being built so I can’t wait to see how it ends.

Listening To

  • Writing Excuses Podcast: This is an oldie, but goodie as Brandon Sanderson and his team dive into different writing topics in about 15 to 20 minutes each week. It has been around for about 14 seasons, so there are a lot of really great episodes to dive into. I usually do an episode a day on my commute to and from work but now that I’m out of school, I try to listen as I fold clothes or cook dinner. If you haven’t heard of it and are a writer, I strongly suggest you check it out.

  • Daring Living Podcast: This is a relatively new podcast, with only a handful of episodes so far, but I’ve found Shirley Huang’s voice, direction, and candor really refreshing and helpful. It is more a lifestyle type of blog, where she covers things like overcoming loneliness, how to create a vision for your life, and more. She also has a workbook about envisioning the future and creating goals to get there that I completed and found really helpful.

  • Good Vibes playlist on Spotify: this is a go-to for me. I love the upbeat, fast tempo vibes that I get from the songs that Spotify curates for this playlist. At one point, it was the only thing I listened to as I wrote my WIP. I’m not a huge fan of the music on the radio today, so this has been a lifesaver for when I am not in a paying attention mode for a podcast and just need some fun beats to chug along to.

Other

  • Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery: I’ve been playing this almost every day, it is easy, relaxing, and although I have to wait to amass energy, I’m intrigued at the storyline. It is set years before the Harry Potter series and follows your character’s journey to figure out more about the Cursed Vaults that led to your brother’s disappearance.

  • Words with Friends: Every year when we visit my parents, we have almost nightly Scrabble sessions. I’m gearing up to win as many as I can in the coming weeks, so I’m stretching my word building muscles early.
  • Harry Potter: Wizards Unite: This just came out on Friday and is basically the Pokémon Go for Harry Potter fans. You walk around and have to defeat things by tracing specific spells on your screen in order to replace items that are going missing and turning up randomly (to protect the muggles, of course). It is a little buggy still but pretty in depth and fun. You collect ingredients, build potions that can help, unlock portkeys by walking, and more.

  • Trello: This was mentioned in a YouTube video that I watched about Save the Cat! Writes a Novel and it is basically an online/digital organizational method. You build boards, cards, notes, etc. and can share with others that you are working with. I’m currently using it to plan out my social media content in advance (as much as possible) and it helps that I can access it anywhere and don’t have to transport it everywhere or email it between my devices.

What are you currently into? I’d love to hear from you in the comments since I’m always on the lookout for new things to try!

*Post may contain affiliate links which mean that I may receive a small fee for qualifying purchases.

Another year…

Tomorrow is my birthday! And I’m really excited with the way that this past year has really shaped up and is projecting me into the future. Here are a couple of things that I am reflecting on as I log another year in the books:

I am only capable of so much

The past few years were especially difficult for me in a lot of ways. And I was left drained and emotionally unavailable to even check on my own well-being. But as I’ve been spending more time spiritually thinking about who I am and what I’m capable of, it has been tremendously helpful to realize that I can allow myself grace and understanding. I don’t have to feel bad or guilty if I can’t get everything done every day. I can only handle so much, and if I can’t, that doesn’t mean I am “less than” or a failure. I’m just human.

Where I am now is not where I have to be forever

I am reading a book right now about the success habits of millionaires, and it is actually really enlightening. One of the best things that this book has had me do is to reevaluate where I am in life and how I got here. Then, it asks me to rewrite that story, change it to the one that I want to take forward with me into the future. It is startling in some ways to see how different my mentality about my role and responsibilities are compared to where I want to be. I am moving towards the next chapter of my life by realizing that I am completely in control of my life. It’s super exciting just to think of it that way.

What about you? Does your birthday make you reflect on things? How do you move forward to the next year?


And now, here are some gift ideas based on things I’m currently loving. Maybe you can conveniently share these with a loved one when your own birthday rolls around:

Happy Planner and notebooks

I may be slightly obsessed with these. The fact that I can customize them, move pages around, and not have to worry about binder rings not aligning correctly over time is amazing. Plus they’re so pretty! Not to mention there’s a rabbit hole full of pretty planning stickers designed just for these planners and notebooks. I use the vertical layout and separate my life into Work, Personal, and Writing sections to help me stay organized.

Fineliners

These are cheap and work well. They’re not waterproof, but otherwise, I love using these because they’re fine tipped and allow me to fill up my planner or journaling pages. I also use this set because you get a ton of colors, making color-coding or separating notes into easy to find chunks a lot easier.

Watercolor

I was so pleased with the vibrancy of these watercolors. They’re not super expensive and you get a ton of shades. I use these to splash color on my journaling pages or just to doodle/paint whenever I need a creative outlet that isn’t in the form of words.

iPad case/keyboard

I use my iPad for all of my writing and blogging. This case has been instrumental in making sure I can transport, protect, and produce no matter where I am. It comes with a Bluetooth keyboard that worked for months of daily use before needing to be recharged. The case also stands up in landscape mode, allowing me to use the screen’s real estate effectively when writing and using Scrivener.

Insulated cup

It is summer. And I am one of those lucky Californians who deals with 100+ degree temperatures every day now. This cup has been super helpful in keeping my drinks cold for a loooooong time. I use it for iced coffee and protein shakes as well as just water or iced tea.

Atlas Obsucra

I posted about this a while ago on Instagram, but it is a true treasure trove for story fodder. From unknown places, obscure items, and just great information that I wouldn’t even know to look up in the first place, I sometimes just turn to a random page and try to incorporate whatever is on that page into a story as an exercise.

Thanks for stopping by!

*post may contain affiliate links in which I may receive a small portion of qualified sales

The Power of “No”

I recently started freelancing and picked up a few jobs that went fairly quickly. It was exciting and I quickly took on a larger editing project and a smaller, ongoing one. However, it was soon clear that the smaller job was actually a lot more work than I had anticipated, and, paired with tight deadlines, was adding a lot of stress to my daily life. I’m still working full time as a teacher, and am in the midst of the final week, plus have my husband and three little ones at home which is chaotic enough on its own.

But I kept plugging through each step anyways. Even though I hated it. Even though it wasn’t worth it. Even though I knew I was only hurting myself in the long run by stressing myself out.

I was making this face. A lot.

I kept finding myself justifying the work and the stress due to the pressure to make more money for our family’s upcoming vacations. Or because I couldn’t stand the thought of letting down a potential long-term employer. Or I just told myself that it was my own fault that I hadn’t figured out how to prioritize everything and make it work.

But then, I got to a point during one step for the smaller job (this was an “interview” assignment, basically no pay for the pieces in order to see if I could meet deadlines and follow directions), I was literally hesitating with each click or keystroke. I was physically and mentally fighting the job itself and warring with my feelings as I was trying to complete the job. That’s when I realized part of the problem: I’d turned this want to do into a have to do.

It was at that point that I finally emailed the employer and let them know that I was not going to be able to complete the interview position. That I was saying “no” to the job that I had originally applied to enthusiastically. I was saying “no” to the question about whether I could get on board with how the company ran things.

And it was SO. INCREDIBLY. LIBERATING.

Okay, yes, at first, I may have had a mild panic attack that I was sabotaging my future as a freelancer and was going completely against everything that I thought I stood for. But as the day wore on, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling as bogged down. There wasn’t a pressure pressing against my temples every time my kids asked me for something or I checked my email. And everything felt a little clearer. I could suddenly see just how to prioritize the other job (and another one that I picked up that was much more in tune with how I want to work).

But probably the biggest thing that I realized was that I felt a sense of accomplishment by basically quitting and saying “no.” At the beginning of the year, I decided that my motto this year would be to “Be Brave” and I had actually done something brave in deciding to quit this job. It was incredibly reassuring and satisfying to know that I was anxious and upset about something and I faced it and made a decision that was good for ME. Not for the company. Not in accordance to the pressures of society. Not because I had to. Because I wanted to. I took back part of my autonomy and freedom just by saying “no.”

This is definitely a stepping stone on my path to becoming a better, more confident and self-assured person, and one that I hope I will never forget.

What about you? Have you found the power of saying “no” yet? I’d love to hear more about it in the comments.

Revision Part 2: Layering

Now that I’m knee-deep in the revision trenches, I wanted to share exactly how I go about my revisions and the way that I layer what I’m looking for as I read through my manuscript.

When it comes time to revise your draft, it can seem overwhelming to look at all the words you’ve written and think about how you can possibly tackle that sort of a beast. This is why I sat down before even looking at page one and broke up my goals for revisions into four parts, which I’m describing for you below. After figuring out these four lenses (and creating a portable notecard outline of my book that you can read more about here), it became much more of an approachable task to wrap my head around and has helped me as I read through each page to focus on what is most important instead of trying to tackle it all at once.

This was especially helpful because there are often times when I would get to a passage and there would be multiple things that I wanted to fix, but didn’t know where to start or how to organize my thoughts. Implementing the layers that I selected, I knew that I could hone in on what the biggest issues were and then make notes about the more specific things that I could tackle in draft two.

Layer 1: Plot

I knew going into revisions that my manuscript had some big plot holes or extra scenes that needed to be addressed. This was the first priority in my revision reading because the plot will affect every other layer after it and there is no sense in fine-tuning the style of even world building if it will eventually change later to fix the plot.

This is where a beat sheet or outline can come in really handy.

For this layer, I read through each scene and asked myself two questions and wrote those notes in the margins, circling or noting the specific lines and details that fit:

1. What holes are created in this scene?

2. What adjustments do I need to make to this scene or other scenes in order to fill this hole?

Layer 2: Character

If I knew that the plot of the scene or chapter was where I want it to be, or that it needs minimal changes, then I dug into the characters that were in or mentioned in that scene.

Some of the things that I looked for were:

-detail consistency (eye color, age, relationships, jobs, etc.)

-uniqueness (does dialogue match personality, are they too similar to other characters, what makes this character stand out or how can I make them stand out or blend in as needed based on their character arc

-purpose (is this character needed here? Why or why not?)

Layer 3: World

If the previous two layers were okay or I couldn’t fix the issues without touching this layer, then I moved on to world. A lot of my drafting is done really quickly and so the world is vague and many things are left undefined in my first draft. This is where I start looking for:

  • How can I build it u with sensory details and info?
  • What is helpful or relevant that my reader needs to know for this scene to be effective or important?
  • What have I already included either before or after this point that I can bring back into play?

Layer 4: Style

Last but not least, when a sentence just seems “off” or a paragraph doesn’t read the way that I want it to, I examine the way I’ve written it. A few things that I look for are:

-verb tenses matching up

-word choices that I’ve made to describe things (are they too vague, too descriptive, or too repetitive)

-the golden oldie: showing or telling? A couple of buzzwords for “telling” passages are words like “feel” or “felt” or “seemed.” These words indicate that instead of showing that your character is uneasy by having him pace around the room, you are telling your reader that he feels agitated and leaving the rest to their imagination, which can make your scene seem shallow or incorrectly portrayed in the reader’s mind.

Finally, I want to reiterate that this process is based on the things that I know need to be worked on in my WIP, but your own layers may be radically different or even arranged in a different order. Either way, though, I hope that looking at the way that I layer my revisions might help you when it comes to your own.

Revisions Part 1: Getting Organized

I’m finally in revisions! Cue fanfare and vacations and winning the jackpot! Okay, maybe not, but it sure feels that awesome.

Until….I turn back around from my daydream and see this hulking beast of a manuscript staring back at me (one reason I took a break before jumping in to revisions). Does anyone else feel like once the draft is done you’ve just created some sort of horcrux with a mind and will of its own? No? Okay, moving on.

First things first, I knew I needed to get organized before I could even think about revising or even rereading my draft. So, I decided to share my process with you in the hopes that maybe you might like it or take something it from it. I’ll also be sharing each step of my revision process along the way in case you want to follow along.

Scenes

So, I write using Scrivener and at first, started treating it like Word and quickly realized how much I needed to adapt my organization to fit this new platform and the capabilities that it has. I’m fairly tech savvy, so I didn’t have a problem using Word, I just didn’t like it that much.

The best part about using Scrivener has been the ability to separate each scene of my story. At first, I had multiple POV characters and could even color code the different scenes in the menu on the left in order to track how often I was hitting on each character’s perspective. However, I still found this useful for when I took out all of those and went to a first-person, singular POV.

Color coded scenes based on POV character (from an old WIP)

But when it came to revising, I didn’t just want to look at separate scenes, I knew I had plot holes that needed to be adjusted and scenes that needed to be moved around. I also didn’t want to do any permanent damage by just doing it right away, so I took a page from Susan Dennard’s book and turned to index cards.

While I haven’t used her whole strategy (which you can find HERE), I liked the idea that each scene, with a short description, could be put on an index card and then I could move things around as much as I wanted and play around with it without being tied to the actual words that I had written. All I did was write the title of the scene and a one sentence description. I use these pens because I like that they come in a variety of colors but write fairly thin so I have room to add a ton of stuff to each notecard. I can also color code types of scenes (action, reaction, climax, history, etc) or even by character POV, just like in Scrivener.

Beats

Next, I recently read Save the Cat Writes a Novel! by Jessica Brody and absolutely fell in love with the beat sheet. So, I created one card for each of those beats as well. They include the name of the beat, the percentage of how far in the book it typically happens, and a brief list of things I wanted to remember. But how could I make these stand out from the other cards? Washi tape to save the day! I made the beats for Act 1 a certain type of Washi tape on the edge, and varied it up in location and style for the other two acts. This meant that I could see what percentage of cards were in any given act, which showed me some glaring problems that I’ll get to in a later post.

My Book as a Deck

Then, I inserted my beat notecards into my scene stack and voila! I had my book in card format, complete with markers that showed me where I transitioned from Act 1 to 2 to 3.

This has been super helpful because I can literally pull out a section at a time, move things around, and even lay them all out in front of me to see things from a bird’s eye view. I can also write on them, make notes, add in new cards or even split scenes into two cards and move them separately when I need to.

Added bonus: I can stick the whole stack in my purse or bag and work on it any time I find the time. Click here for some super cute index card holders, or just do what I do and use a rubber band!

Super convenient and transportable version of my book.

Coming Soon:

Step 2: Creating a Hierarchy of Layers

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How Life Informs Craft: People We Admire

If you missed my first post explaining what this series is about, check it out HERE.

Event

It is easy to admire people, but what about when they do something we dislike?

There is a particular woman in my life that I admire greatly. She is strong, wise, kind, funny, and an awesome person to be around. The other day, I overheard someone recalling a memory of her and I imagined what her response would be like if she had overheard it. This has happened in the past, and she always acts, with an air of confidence and calm, as if she remembers the particular moment vividly, as if it was a defining moment of her life. I doubted that this was always the case, however, and I soon began to realize a few things.

First, that she often acted in that borderline arrogant way when people talked about her interesting past deeds. Second, it sometimes made me feel uncomfortable to see her act that way, but I never could place why. From that, I realized that I was uncomfortable at moments like that because although I admired her, her reaction to those instances I didn’t admire.

Three Takeaways

Expert blind spot

This is a term used in education, and many fields, I’m sure, that describes that moment when a teacher is so used to understanding a concept or text that they can’t even realize that their own students don’t understand it. A critical learning step that is overlooked by the teacher and is a hurdle in the understanding of the student. This applies to this situation because often times, when we admire or care for someone, we have a tendency to diminish ignore and sometimes even justify things that we don’t even realize we are doing. This is because we care about that person and hold them on a certain level of esteem. We fail to even realize that they are just as human as we are, just as prone to bouts of pride and sin, just like the rest of us.

When we write, we need to consider our own expert blind spots. This can take many forms. From the world, magic system, characters, or specialty terms that we use, there are a ton of potential hurdles that our readers may come up against and that prevent them from moving on and grasping the larger story. I say this, but know that there is definitely a delicate balance that needs to be struck here. For example, if you are incredibly interested in aviation, you may inadvertently use terms about aircrafts and the different gauges and things that need to be used on each and every flight, without ever offering an explanation of how they are relevant to the story. On the flip side, you may also go into so much incredible and precise detail that you lose all sight of the story for paragraphs or even pages, instead reverting to a textbook like format. Neither of these is a good thing, so just keep in mind that you have expert blind spots, and maybe ask your betas to look for certain things to help you identify them.

Flaws are universal

While this may seem pretty straight forward, it is sometimes a difficult reality to grasp. Especially in real life, when those that we love are actually vain or proud or spiteful or negative, it is sometimes hard to attach a negative characteristic to him/her/them because we want to keep them in that positive light that we had always regarded them as. However, this is wholly unrealistic. Everyone has flaws, everyone has secrets, everyone has something they do without even realizing it.

When writing our characters, it is very easy to fall into the trap of good and evil. But we also know that that just isn’t realistic. Try to make every character, even those that are secondary or one-off characters (those only there for a scene) come to life on the page by having them protect something, hide something, fight for something, or display some kind of fault or flaw that is relevant to the situation. It will make them more realistic and relatable.

Flaws aren’t always deal breakers

Just because I noticed this stuff about the woman in my life doesn’t make me like her any less. Just because the people we care about have flaws and we finally realize it doesn’t mean we don’t still care about them, or admire them any less. Sometimes it does, depending on what it is that you find out about them, but a lot of times, especially for those that we keep closest to us, we make allowances for these people because we learn the “why” behind the “what” or just because we come to see them as more human than we saw them before.

Depending on what your characters go through, they will each have their own flaws and deal-breakers. Try to keep this in mind. You will have morally gray characters who don’t mind that their new friend has a tainted past. Then, there are those that will not bend no matter what the “why” is for someone’s actions. These can be great points of conflict to build into your story or even focus your story on.

How Life Informs Craft : Celebrating the “Other”

So, I was dwelling the other day on an event that I happened to be fortunate enough to witness. As I continued thinking about it, I realized that so much of the day-to-day experiences we have can actually inform the way that we approach our writing.

That’s why I’ve decided to start a new series of posts inspired by my life and how it informs the way that I learn more about writing and about people in general. I hope you guys like them!

The Event

As some of you may know, I’m a high school English teacher. If you know any teachers, or remember your own high school experience, I’m sure you know that teachers have supervision duties throughout the year. A few weeks ago, I had to help supervise an assembly that we call Mosaic as it is a chance for the various groups and clubs on our campus to showcase their cultural dances, costumes, various talents, and more.

Well, as a writer, and specifically a YA writer, I love watching the way that my students respond to things. I definitely don’t agree with some of them, but it is interesting to see them react, and analyze the logic and reasoning that they have in their teenage minds versus how I see it as an adult.

We watched the choir, hip hop groups, and Folklorico presentations among other things. Through it all, the students in the stands around me watched with a vaguely interested, somewhat detached attitude. They were mostly respectful, clapping when the performers finished.

Image result for michael jackson glitter outfit

The final presentation was a young man in our special education program. He got up, alone, decked out in a glittery jacket, black hat, and sparkling gloves. And then Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” came on. The moment he stepped out in front of everyone, the crowd began to cheer, to clap. And as we all watched him dance and spin, a huge smile on his face, I looked around. Everyone was riveted. Most had a smile on their own faces that they probably didn’t even realize was there. I know I did. And when the final notes hit and he struck his final pose, the crowd went crazy and these thousands of teens gave him a roaring standing ovation. It was great.

But……..it had me thinking: why is it that they only gave him such a great reception? What was it that made his performance stand apart from the others? What does this say about the way that my students saw the previous performers versus how they saw him?

I’ve decided on three takeaways from this:

1. We love to see the passion of others

My immediate thoughts on this young man’s reception from the students was that he represents a mirror of themselves. He represents the way that we sometimes feel it is socially unacceptable to show our passions. We like to see others showcasing their passions, but, especially when we are teens, it is hard to see someone doing something they love and not feel like we have to tear it down, criticize it, compare ourselves to it, and make it seem less amazing that it really is.

And to some degree, the nerves of the other performers, despite their best intentions and smiles, were obvious. This young man showed unaffected joy and excitement for what he is doing. There is a certain amount of reassurance in saying “Yes, I’m doing this, but it’s not cool or fun or ____.” If we talk it down to ourselves, there’s less of a chance that anyone can knock us any lower than we already have.

This type of doubt, self-sabotage, and social awareness are things that our characters can feel as well. Similarly, I know that I’ve done this type of talking down to myself about my own writing. But we can’t do that. If we never have the courage to get out there and do what we know we can, enjoy it, celebrate it, and flaunt its amazing-ness, how will anyone else?

2. The safety in celebrating that which is not “you”

I came to the realization that because he was not a student that typically made his way around the various cliques and groups, the audience realized that it was okay to support him because it would not go against their own groups or associations. On the contrary, it was probably liberating for them to be able to look at someone who they see as different on a certain level and feel no pressure to judge him. They felt like it was socially safe for them to celebrate him because they wouldn’t be penalized by their peers for it, leaving them open to actually enjoy something from someone else.

The age old writing adage of “write what you know” has been debunked, at least in part, many, many times. It comes with the caveat that although you may write the other, you still have to respect it. Some people aren’t willing to make the effort and some are scared to try it for fear of doing it wrong or getting called out on it (which has happened). However, by writing, researching, and getting feedback on what we don’t “know,” we become better writers and better people. When we do it respectfully, we open ourselves up to a world of possibilities and connections with those that we may have never reached otherwise.

3. Understanding how similar “other” really is

Because he was different, he was safe. When we think of something “other,” we separate it from who we see ourselves as. That way, we can’t see the way that there are areas of overlap between something we don’t understand and ourselves. This experience showed me that on some level, we realize, search for, and celebrate that which we might initially see as separate simply because we subconsciously know that it isn’t.

When thinking of how this relates to the craft of writing, I thought about character motivation but also about world building. When we create a race or a new country or even a new clique for our characters to come across, we like to juxtapose them against the (typically) good main character/cast. We spend so much time thinking about how we can make them different from our main characters in some way that we fail to write in the things that we all find in others, the things that make “other” more familiar. By adding these things in, we not only create an opposite/other but we make the universal connection that even though we have differences, we have a lot in common as well. Even if one group has six eyeballs and speaks only using telepathy, there are areas that we can and should identify with. There is something to be said about acknowledging the sameness in others.

Character Profile Freebie!

This month on Instagram, I’m focusing on character. It is interesting when I am looking at revising my draft to think that I need to rework my characters. Shouldn’t they already be “done” and good to go? Not really. I wrote characters in draft one who did and said what they needed or wanted, but in revising, I need to hunker down on what makes these characters real, relatable, unique, not just what I need them to do or what pops into my head for them to say or do.

So, I created a character profile workbook (click the link <– to download) that I can use to hone each character until I have a better understanding of them and can transform them in my manuscript. Once I was done, I wanted to make sure that if anyone, whether in the creation stage or revision stage, had this same issue, that I shared my work with them in the hope that it helps.

(Also, if you already have your cast of characters, check out the Character Creation Guide that I created that can help you to see if they overlap too much or are unique enough when they all show up on the page.)

First things first, I wanted to start with the basics. This is very similar to a portfolio or character profile that you can find just about anywhere, but I made sure to include inspirational images that helped me to draft my character because I’m a visual person.

Here’s my filled out worksheet for my main character, Gia. I definitely recommend having a Character Basics page for every one of your characters that are named and important to the story. This means your main character, sidekick, mentor, antagonist, healer, teacher, etc. Basically, anyone who is in the book for more than just a few moments/pages.

Next, I recommend looking at your main cast and diving a little bit deeper with the Character Advanced page. This page focuses on the little things that can be important like relationships to other characters, and notes about things that make each character unique, like speech patterns and quirks.Then, if you really need to dig deeper into a character, I’d start looking at these “Other” pages and choose the ones that represent what it is that you need to know about a character that may not be fleshed out enough in the previous two pages.

For the Societal Roles page, I wanted to dig deeper into how my MC functions in different parts of the world. For example, what expectations does she have or do others have of her based on her place in society. These things may never end up on the page, but they help me to understand the way that she values money or the beliefs that she was raised with, which can influence how she treats others, interprets motivations, and can even affect her own motivations to raise her social status in certain ways. I love personality tests and so this page is where I laid out what my MC’s personality would look like based on four of my favorites.

The Myers-Briggs Personality is an inventory that your personality down to four aspects, resulting in a category like ENTP or INFJ. My main character is an ISFJ which means warm, caring, responsible and relates to other characters like Neville Longbottom and C-3P0.

The four temperaments were originally developed by Hippocrates regarding bodily fluids and how they affect your personality type. My character is phlegmatic, meaning she is sympathetic, yet tries to hide her emotions, relaxed, and makes compromises.

The Enneagram breaks identity into nine types, all of which have different ways of thinking and feeling based on a larger inner motivation. My MC is a 9 – The Peacemaker and she seeks harmony, to the point of conflict-avoidance and self-forgetting.

The alignment system is based on Dungeons & Dragons character creation. It evaluates characters on two axes: good – evil and chaotic – lawful. My character is a lawful good character, which means she believes in doing the right thing, she believes in justice, but can be restrained by the expectation that the law/order of things will allow this justice to be served, which it doesn’t always do.

If you’re not familiar with these, you can always see the links above to learn more or take a test, answering questions as your character would, or simply google them and a popular fandom like Harry Potter or Disney princesses to see which characters align with which personality types as your basis.

Most importantly, however, is the questions at the bottom. People can align similarly on things, but how does that manifest into their relationships, actions, etc?

Scales are one of the fastest, yet introspective exercises that you can do to get to know your character better. Here are just a few that I’ve compiled that can help you see where your character falls on a scale between passive and aggressive or honest and dishonest. It is interesting to think about each one, or create your own and compare different characters and where they fall on the scale, then figure out why they do. Lastly, it is always important to consider your main character’s wants and needs, but often, we may forget that our secondary characters have them as well. These are the things that are important to understand for specific characters.

For example, why did that character betray your MC? Is it really for a couple hundred dollars? Or is there some deeper want/need that caused them to act that way? This can help to create characters who don’t feel flat or cliche because they have reasons to do what they do.

Wow! That was a lot. If you’d like the full, blank worksheets, click HERE and let me know if they help at all. I’d love your feedback!