Living with Intention

I just finished reading a book titled Choosing Simplicity by Linda Breen Pierce. It’s a collection of case studies of people who’ve drastically simplified their lives. Some still work nine-to-fives but live in smaller homes; others have scaled back their expenses so much that they’re able to focus on volunteer work or pursuing a passion.

But one thing all of these stories have in common is that each individual, couple, or family who shared their story was living a life of intention. They knew what they valued in life and pared away the excess until they could focus on what really mattered to them.

The idea of simple living has always appealed to me, but my lifestyle is hardly minimalist. In some ways I’ve simplified my life. My husband and I share a paid-off car, though we both take the bus to work, for example. But our recent move showed me just how much stuff we own—and all of that stuff is weighing on me.

Earlier this year, before the big move, I started getting rid of 10 things every day. These could be as small as a sheet of paper or a pair of socks. And I got rid of a lot of stuff, mostly papers I didn’t need anymore. I went from having two file crates full of papers to one file crate only halfway full. I got rid of other things, too, but letting go of those papers was especially freeing.

So I’ve decided to embark on another quest for minimalism—or at least as close as I can get. I’m going to get rid of five things every day for 100 days. At the end, my home will be 500 things lighter than it was when I started. Yesterday I got rid of five books—a couple of anthologies that were similar enough to others I already owned that I won’t miss them, and some books from my college days that I realized I was keeping because they reminded me of a very happy time in my life, a time full of knowledge and beginnings.

I recognize that I carry those things with me. Every book I’ve read, every class I’ve taken, every place I’ve been…All of that is inside of me, and I don’t need to keep every object associated with those times to remember them fondly. And then there are the objects given to me by people I love. Those will be harder to part with. On my entertainment center, for example, are several plastic cartoon characters that arrived one day in a box from my brother. It was a moment of spontaneous gift-giving, and looking at them makes me smile. Do I part with them? Or, since they take up so little space, do I hang onto them? I haven’t decided yet.

I’m changing my life in other ways as well. I’m trying to do some form of yoga, t’ai chi, or meditation every day, even if only for a few minutes. I’m working on spending less money, whether at Target or the grocery store.

Simple living is about intention. It’s about living with purpose as much as it is about living with less. And that’s the journey I’m on.

And now for a very brief ROW80 check-in:

Writing: Nothing impressive so far this week. I’ve written 595 words so far this week in A Prince in Patience Point. I’m a little stuck at the moment—probably a few thousand words away from the ending, but not sure how to get there. I might try reading through what I’ve already written and seeing if that helps me figure out how to end the story.

Reading: Read Choosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World by Linda Breen Pierce and Downsizing Your Life for Freedom, Flexibility and Financial Peace by Claire Middleton. Choosing Simplicity was extremely inspiring. Reading stories of how people have changed their lives for the better is always appealing. Downsizing Your Life for Freedom, Flexibility and Financial Peace didn’t do much for me. I think the target demographic was baby boomers and empty-nesters who’ve raised their children and are now looking to downsize. It was mostly about why you should downsize, not how to. I’m still searching for a good book to help me with the process of decluttering and simplifying. Any recommendations would be much appreciated.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

What about you? Does the concept of simple living appeal to you? How would you simplify your life? How do you manage all of the stuff you own?

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ROW80 Round 4 Goals

fall arrangement 1229576_97847309It’s the season of caramel apples, brightly colored leaves, and pumpkin…well, pumpkin everything. And it’s also time for the final 2015 round of A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. For those who aren’t familiar with it, participants set their own goals and then make weekly check-ins.

Here are my goals for this round:

  • Write 5,000 words a week.
  • Finish a second draft of my novella A Prince in Patience Point.
  • Finish a second draft of my short story “Midwinter Bride” (and possibly change the title).
  • Finish a draft of at least one other novella.
  • Finish reading On Writing Romance by Leigh Michaels.

These goals leave room for flexibility. Maybe I’ll want to write an autumn-inspired short story, or maybe I’ll be able to squeeze editing another novella in there.

Click here to cheer on fellow ROW80 participants.

What about you? What is your favorite thing about autumn? And what are your goals for the rest of the year?

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“Setting Quiet Pages Free”: Round 3 ROW80 Wrap-Up

Well, Round 3 of ROW80 is at an end. I can’t say I finished everything I set out to accomplish, but here’s what I managed:

  • Finished a second draft of my novella Called by Magic
  • Started a first draft of a novel, The Hedgewitch and the Wolf
  • Just under halfway through a second, expanded draft of A Prince in Patience Point, a novella
  • Read one book on the craft/business of writing (my goal was two)

I also moved (twice, technically, once to the in-laws’ farm and again to settle into our new townhome). And I started teaching a class at the local university.

As for this week, I wrote 2,335 words in a scene guide to A Prince in Patience Point. I still feel like there’s something missing, but I’ll just have to discover that along the way. The projected length for the second draft is about twice the first draft, so there’s lots of new territory in this draft. In many ways, it’s like a first draft since there’s so much new material. Hopefully I can finish this one by the end of the year.

So that’s my Round 3 summary. I’d like to leave you with a song I recently found by a really great, quirky artist named S.J. Tucker. This one is for all the bookworms—readers and writers alike.

Here’s “Ravens in the Library” by S.J. Tucker—the inspiration for the title of today’s post:

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

What about you? How did Round 3 go for you? Did you finish all you set out to do? What are your plans for Round 4?

And happy Mabon/autumnal equinox!

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Pumpkin Spice: Sunday #ROW80 check-in

Last night we celebrated hubby’s birthday with a dinner of roast beef and mashed potatoes followed by chocolate cake. Today we’re going to Lowe’s to buy one of his presents—a new grill. We haven’t owned a grill before, since we’ve spent most of our adult lives as apartment-dwellers, so this is exciting for us. We can finally have cook-outs!

Pumpkins, fresh from the vine...

Pumpkins, fresh from the vine…

It’s hard to believe it, but autumn is here. And that means pumpkin spice is everywhere. (Which I’m totally okay with!) And, of course, Round 3 of A Round of Words in 80 Days is almost at a close.

As for writing, I’m at that point in my story where the ideas are just flying through my head. I haven’t decided which ideas will make it in, so I’m just making a note of each idea and forging ahead. Right now I just need to get the story down.

But there are questions that need to be answered. The story is about a prince from another world who finds himself, through a spell gone awry, pulled into ours. The first draft was set one-hundred percent in our world. The second draft is heading a different direction. A good portion of the story takes place in his world now, and that means lots of world-building. I need a map of his world, a basic history, an idea of their social structure, etc. I love world-building, so answering these questions is fun. And now I’m balancing building two worlds—a fictional New England town set in our world, and a Regency-inspired fantasy world populated by ogres and filled with magic.

My ROW80 check-in…

Writing: Wrote 4,432 words in A Prince in Patience Point.

Reading: I’m still reading Eldest by Christopher Paolini. His world-building is truly inspiring and encourages me to bring that level of detail to my own work.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

What’s your favorite part of world-building? How do you keep all the details straight? Is autumn making its presence felt where you live? What’s your favorite part of the season?

The Writer’s Mantra

November will mark two years since I left my magazine writing job to write fiction full time. (I was writing fiction part time before then.) I’ve grown in so many ways since that time, started so many new projects, and really found my voice as a writer.

And there’s one phrase I’ve found myself repeating over and over. It’s a mantra that keeps me sane and helps me fend off Doubt Demons—who always seem to be lurking in the shadows.

“I can fix this.”

If it weren’t for those words, I might have given up long ago. There have been plenty of moments when the Doubt Demons have whispered, “But what if you can’t?” And I’ve simply repeated the words “I. Can. Fix. This.”

As long as I keep putting words on the page, I’ll have something to edit. Nora Roberts said, “I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank page.”

This is the process. We write. We have doubts. We struggle. We write something that, inevitably, needs work. We rewrite. We find more spots that need improvement. We do this until the story sings.

I’ve been using this phrase a lot over the last few days. I’ve been struggling with a story I’m writing, and those Doubt Demons are whispering nasty nothings in my ear. But I can’t fix a story I haven’t written. I can fix a scene that doesn’t work, dialogue that feels flat, or a character whose actions don’t sync with her personality. I can fix a lot of things.

So if it’s not working, I keep writing. Because I can fix it.

And now, my ROW80 check-in…

Writing: Wrote 1,123 words in “A Prince in Patience Point.”

Reading: Continued reading “Eldest” by Christopher Paolini.

A side note: As you can see, the website has a spiffy new look. Many thanks to Robin Ludwig for the header design!

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

What about you? What words or phrases do you find yourself repeating throughout the creative process?

Story Doubt: Sunday #ROW80 check-in

Do you ever have story doubt? It’s that moment when, partway through a draft, a voice of doubt starts whispering in your ear. It says this story isn’t strong enough, good enough, deep enough, engaging enough…and so on. I reached that stage with my WIP this week. I’m about a third of the way through the second draft, and that voice popped up. “You should be working on something else,” it whispered.

I know enough now that I can keep going. That voice is, for whatever reason, simply part of the process. There’s nothing wrong with my story that can’t be fixed. And while I do have other WIPs, they’ll just have to wait their turns.

Lastly, this week’s ROW80 check-in…

Writing: Wrote 4,552 words in the second draft of “A Prince in Patience Point.”

Reading: Finished reading “Beautiful Demons” by Sarra Cannon. Started reading “Eldest” by Christopher Paolini.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

What about you? Does story doubt ever happen to you partway through a draft? What does your voice of doubt whisper? How do you respond?

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Story Organization: Midweek #ROW80 check-in

How do you keep your stories organized? Over the years, I’ve developed a system, but I’m always refining it. Here’s what I have so far:

notebooks and binderFor each story or series, I start a binder. Critique notes from my CPs, beat sheets, character background info, etc. all go into the binder.

Each story/series also gets its own notebook. I divide it into two sections: one for notes I take on read-throughs, the second for a character voice journal.

And that’s it. Admittedly, it’s a simple system, but so far it works. I recently felt overwhelmed with a series I was working on, so I’m starting to realize I need some way to keep notes on a series organized. A section in the binder? I have a series outline, so that’s a start. But I know I need more; I’m just not sure what yet. Suggestions would be appreciated.

What about you? How do you keep your stories organized?

ROW80 check-in…

Writing: So far this week I’ve written 1,131 words in “A Prince in Patience Point” (formerly “Be True”). Thanks to Amelia Ross for recommending the shiny new title. :) I’ve set The Cabot Sisters series aside for now because it turns out that my brain can’t handle working on a series and teaching a new class at the same time. I was changing things in one book, and then working on another and forgetting that I’d changed them, etc. So I’ve switched back to Abbey and Neal’s story for the time being.

Reading: Just finished reading “Beautiful Demons” by Sarra Cannon. Not sure what I’ll read next. A month or so ago I started reading “The 10th Kingdom” by Kathryn Wesley, so maybe I’ll finish that one.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

What about you? What are you currently working on? Do you have any recommendations for authors working on a series to keep everything organized?

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Low-flying dragons: Sunday #ROW80 check-in

So this week wasn’t an awesome, kick-butt writing week. I only managed to revise two chapters in a novella—but still, it’s progress. I have a ton of grading to do this semester, so I need to figure out how to finish grading papers and still have time to write.

It was a fun week. Friday I attended my cousin’s wedding, and Saturday I went to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire with the family. I bought some pumpkin spice tea and blueberry honey, so I feel ready for those chilly fall evenings when I can curl up with a good book and a cup of tea.


ROW80 check-in

Writing: Edited two chapters in a novella.

Reading: It’s been a while since I’ve picked up a writing book, but I’m currently reading “Beautiful Demons” by Sarra Cannon. I just started it, but so far I like it. I also read “The Keepers: Sienna” by Rae Rivers this week and really liked it. It’s a free prequel novella, and I’m looking forward to reading more books in the series.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants!

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Midweek ROW80 check-in

This week has been spent editing the first two chapters of a novella I entered in a contest. I made it to the final round (yay!) and have an opportunity to edit it before progressing to the next round, but I only have a few days to do so. Add that to grading, class prep, etc., and it’s been a busy week.

That’s all I’ve managed to accomplish on the writing front this week. I did manage to write 3,532 words last week, so I am making progress.

Hopefully in the next few weeks I can find a way to balance writing and teaching and really get some work done on the Cabot Sisters series. I also want to get back into a blogging and social media routine. I try to visit three to five blogs a day, but that just hasn’t been happening lately. Please bear with me as I seek ever-elusive balance.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants!

What about you? How is your writing coming along? What projects are you working on? How do you find balance in your life?

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How to write a compelling first line, paragraph, or page

It’s no secret. Writing the opening sentences, paragraphs, and pages of a book is hard. I read a lot of book beginnings, not just because I read a lot of books but because, as a Kindle user with a seemingly endless number of books available at the press of a button, I read a lot of samples. Some of them grab me right away. Others are strong but start slower. Still others don’t appeal to me, so I set them aside.

What are you looking for in a book opening? Here are a few things that I look for:

An interesting main character

I prefer them to be likeable and clever and think for themselves, but sometimes a character who starts out as unlikeable becomes likeable over the course of the book. But what I want is a well-drawn character that I like enough—or am intrigued enough by—to stick with their story for hundreds of pages.

I love Harry Potter right away because, despite the fact that the Dursleys treat him terribly, he still seems like a good person. He’s becoming a good person despite the way they treat him. We get a sense of that right away. We get a sense that he’s destined for so much more than living in the Cupboard Under the Stairs.

A hook

I want the writing to grab me immediately. Yasmine Galenorn opens her book “Dragon Wytch” with the following line:

“There was pixie dust in the air.”

It seems deceptively simple, but I kept reading because this opening got me thinking. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? What does that mean? What’s going to happen? Are pixies in this world evil, mischievous, or sweet? How will the character react?

A good opening raises a question to which we must read on to find the answer. Charles Dickens opens his famous novel “A Tale of Two Cities” with this infamous line:

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”

And we read on because, well, how can it be the best and the worst at the same time? We’re intrigued; we’re hooked.

An opening disturbance

We don’t want to spend twenty pages following a character around as they muse about the weather, chat with their friends, walk through the forest, or go to work. We want to be quickly plunged into the action, and an opening disturbance does just that.

That doesn’t mean we can’t open with a seemingly normal, everyday scene—a teenager waiting for the bus, a woman walking into the bookstore she owns, a man stepping off a train and onto the platform. But the opening disturbance needs to quickly follow. For example, the teenager waiting for the bus sees a ghost, the woman walking into her bookstore finds it ransacked, the man stepping off the train meets a stranger. Something happens that shakes up the main character’s everyday routine.


If I pick up a book and find three typos in the first five pages, I’m not likely to buy it. What if I purchase it and find the rest of the book riddled with typos? If we find a lot of typos up front, we’re less likely to feel that the book can deliver on the promise of being a page-turning or thought-provoking work of fiction. In short, typos are distracting; they pull us out of the story and back into our workaday lives.

I think if the opening sentences, paragraphs, and pages of a book have these things, we’re much more likely to read on. I don’t want to read twenty pages of the woman walking through her bookstore, opening boxes, dusting the shelves, counting the change in the cash register. I want something to happen. I want an old flame to walk in the door. I want the place to be turned upside-down. I want a vampire to slink out of the corner. Something. And if it’s something happening to a character who intrigues us and the story is written in an engaging way, we’re much more likely to keep reading.

Lastly, a midweek ROW80 check-in…

So, I’ve decided to set a goal of writing 3,000 words/week during the semester. I don’t want to burn myself out, and 3K seems like a word count I can manage and still find time for grading and class prep, etc.

So far this week I’ve written 1,479 words in “Chosen by Magic.”

I haven’t managed to read any chapters in a book on writing. Hopefully next week I can get back into that.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

What about you? What do you look for in a book opening? What hooks you and draws you into a story? And what is your favorite opening line to a book? Please share below!

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