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Denise D. Young

Sweetly Bewitching Reads

A Cozy Chair and a Room Full of Books!

library

So I have been terrible about blogging in 2017. I’d like to get back into it because I’ve missed the ROW80 community and hearing what everyone is up to.

So what have I been up to, you might ask? Well, another round of decluttering my home, and trying to really settle in and make this place feel like home. We’ve lived in our townhouse for over a year, but I really need some paint on the walls and some other things to put my own personal stamp on it. That goes hand in hand with decluttering because I want to have less stuff to manage and more open space.

That being said, I think I’ll make my decluttering/decorating/organizing goals part of my ROW80 goals, along with writing and reading.

On the writing front, I’m working on a revision plan for my novella Spellfire’s Kiss. I’m toying with the idea of making some bigger changes to that one, but I want to start sending it out on submission this year, hopefully before summer.

As far as reading goes, this week I read The Cozy Life by Pia Edberg. It’s all about the Danish concept of Hygge, which loosely translates as “coziness” or “homey-ness.” If you don’t know anything about the concept, the book is worth a read—and there are some delicious-sounding recipes included that I want to try! I’m currently reading Autumn Thorns, the first in the Whisper Hollow series by Yasmine Galenorn. It’s all about a spirit shaman who returns to her roots in a small Pacific Northwest town to help wrangle the dead and undead. Picture Supernatural with a strong female lead. I recommend it!

And, on the decluttering/decorating front, I’m trying out some paint samples in the living room with the goal of getting that room painted. My home library is now up and running, complete with a cozy chair and shelves full of my favorite books!

My goals for the rest of Round One:

  • Finish the fifth draft of Spellfire’s Kiss.
  • Continue on my quest to read 40 books in 2017—that’s 10 per quarter, so 10 books per round.
  • Continue with my quest to both declutter and make the townhouse cozier.
  • At least one non-writing related creative endeavor a week—scrapbooking, decorating, cooking/baking, etc.

What about you? How has 2017 been for you?

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Lessons in Minimalism

Snow Heart
by Dmitry Maslov | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday was a day filled with snow and biting cold wind, and so after a few excursions into the snowy hills with puppy Leo and an adventure out to do some shopping (okay, mostly to get away from the house, because I work from home and sometimes I need a change of scenery), hubby and I curled up and watched Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things. I loved it.

I am not and probably will never be a minimalist. Maybe if I’d discovered the philosophy when I was twenty, but not currently. But I think we can still learn from the philosophy. Thanks to reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I’ve already let go of a lot of excess stuff, and am continuing to. For most of us, decluttering is an ongoing process, and that’s what makes it such a challenge.

But what minimalism teaches us, and what the documentary stresses, is emphasizing relationships and purpose over stuff. Our stuff can take over our lives, and to be honest, sometimes that’s what it feels like for me. I feel like I spend so much time dusting and organizing and rearranging. How much easier would it be to live in a small home and own a minimal amount of items? How much more time could I devote to what really calls to me, to magic and the Goddess and writing and creativity, if I owned less?

And so that knowledge drives me forward. Watching documentaries, reading books and articles and blog posts about simplifying, minimizing, decluttering, help me on my journey. And that’s what it is. A journey to less stuff–and more living.

That being said, here’s a brief check-in on my goals for this round, which are fairly streamlined, in keeping with the minimalist theme for today:

  • Write 300-500 words daily. Week One is a success! I wrote 3,349 words this week. My highest word count was 696; my lowest was 337. Not a bad start.
  • Stay close to sources of inspiration by meditating, doing yoga, journaling, spending time in nature, and exploring other creative outlets. (See specific, measurable goals below.) Walks in the snow, bought some healing crystals for kitty Roo, who has a heart arrhythmia that’s triggering seizures, and some lapis lazuli for hubby’s headaches.
  • Journal at least three times a week. 2/3. Friday’s journaling was cut short by a very poorly behaved puppy.
  • Explore another creative outlet at least twice a week. 2/2. Tried a new recipe—broccoli cheddar quiche. Baked chocolate chip cookies. Hoping to paint the trim in my office today and then next week get the library set up so I have a sanctuary for reading, writing, and journaling in the evenings.

What about you? Are you interested in minimalism? Are you a minimalist, or do you incorporate any of its teachings or philosophies into your life? How was the first week of 2017 for you writing-wise?

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A Window into My World

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Roo

It’s turning out not to be the best of days for insightful blogging. We’re having new windows installed (much-needed, too, as the cold days of winter grip us!), so my house is a flurry of activity.

And, on a sadder note, it appears my 14-year-old cat, Roo, is having seizures, so I’ve already made one emergency trip to the vet this morning and have been on the phone trying to get her some medication. Two seizures, or seizure-like events, today.

That being said, if you’d send Roo some healing energy, it would be much appreciated. In the meantime, here’s a short check-in for Round One of A Round of Words in 80 Days.

Goal Progress Check-In:

  • Write 300-500 words daily. On track. So far this week: Sunday, 497 words; Monday, 433 words; Tuesday, 696 words.
  • Stay close to sources of inspiration by meditating, doing yoga, journaling, spending time in nature, and exploring other creative outlets. (See specific, measurable goals below.) Took advantage of some mild weather by taking a couple long walks with Leo, our new Aussie mix puppy.
  • Journal at least three times a week. 1/3.
  • Explore another creative outlet at least twice a week. 1/2. Tried a new recipe—broccoli cheddar quiche. Super-easy and delicious! Also ordered some scrapbooking supplies so I can keep working on my Book of Shadows.

What about you? Has is Round One starting off for you?

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A Journey into the Writer’s Heart

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Photo from Dreamstime.com

The swirl and color of autumn leaves. The first flowers peeking their heads through the still-cold earth in spring. Lying in the grass on a warm summer night, staring at the stars or the full moon’s silver orb. The hush of winter snowfall. The owl’s hoot. The deer’s wide gaze. The calming scent of lavender. The magic, pungent scent of burning sage.

I stare down a forest path and I wonder: What lies down that path? If I take it, will I encounter wolves, faeries, goblins, magic? Will it lead me to another world, or simply to a deeper understanding of myself?

Those are the questions I ask as I set off on my writing journey. The most meaningful writing digs down deep, to ask the questions that baffle us most, in search of an answer we may or may not find. The most powerful writing touches on our sources of inspiration, calls upon the power of the five senses and in doing so, allows the mind and spirit to dance, a spiral dance deep to the heart of the writer, where the magic happens.

For me, nature has always been my most powerful source of inspiration. Because I am a Pagan, a Goddess daughter walking a nature-based path, nature also means magic to me. It’s the magic asleep in a polished bit of amethyst or a clear quartz crystal. It’s the cleansing power of sage, the passion waiting to be awoken by a red rose petal, the majesty of the oak leaf, the poetry of the willow’s weeping branches.

My fiction certainly draws on these things. Journaling helps remind me of the sources of inspiration, draws them closer to me. Poetry has its own magic, and lately I’ve been experimenting with haikus, in which language is stripped to its bare bones to harness its true power.

Whenever I’m lost on my journey, it’s because I’ve wandered from the heart’s center. I’m too focused on the product and not the journey. When I sit down to write, I try to find that center, to call upon the Goddess and nature and allow that to guide me on the story’s journey.

My goal for 2017 is to remain close to those sources, to stay true to my writer’s heart. With that in mind, here are my goals for Round One of A Round of Words in 80 Days (join us on Facebook here):

  • Write 300-500 words daily. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed lately, so I’m aiming for something small.
  • Stay close to sources of inspiration by meditating, doing yoga, journaling, spending time in nature, and exploring other creative outlets. (See specific, measurable goals below.)
  • Journal at least three times a week.
  • Explore another creative outlet at least twice a week.

What about you? What inspires you? What sources of inspiration are in your writer’s heart, and how do you connect to those sources?

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Merry Yule: 2016 Year in Review

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Photo by Marcin Jagiellicz | Dreamstime Stock Photos

In the Pagan tradition I walk, Yule, or the winter solstice, is all about rebirth. It’s a turning point, much as New Year’s Eve marks a turning. We say goodbye to the old and open our arms to the rebirth of the sun.

The longest night of the year holds within it a spark of sun, a promise that as the Wheel of the Year turns, the days will grow longer, the earth will eventually reawaken, ice and snow will yield to crocuses and daffodils, and the summer god will reign once more.

So I think it is fitting that my last check-in post for 2016 falls on Yule, as I mark the turning of the wheel and the promise of warm, sunny days to come.

I’ve started penning haikus in the past few months. I love the challenge of fitting a poem, a thought, an image into so few words. Haiku is language stripped down bare, and as such, it offers a far more intimate experience with language than a novel does. We’re counting each syllable; each word must drip with meaning and imagery. It’s simple, and in a culture where we’re constantly inundated with stuff and information, I’m starting to crave the simplicity haikus offer.

Before my year-end review, I’d like to share a haiku I’ve written in honor of the winter solstice:

Long night yields to dawn.

You rise from winter’s belly,

promise of fire.

Haiku shared and holiday well-wishes bestowed, I turn now to my year in review.

It was a year of ups and downs. I said goodbye to my beloved beagle, Angel, who brought her gentle, loving energy to my life for ten years. And, in the last few weeks, I welcomed a new creature into my life, a bundle of energy named Leo. I became a published fiction writer with the publication of my two novelettes, The Beltane Kiss and The Faerie Key. I taught a course on media writing. Hubby and I continued to settle in to our new home. We painted. We tore out the ugly, overgrown, half-dead bushes in the front of the townhouse and planted new, including some lavender.

On the writing front, here are my accomplishments:

  • Penned a novelette, The Faerie Key, revised it and its companion piece, The Beltane Kiss, had those professionally edited, revised them some more, and published them on Amazon.
  • My novel A Prince in Patience Point won second place in the Cleveland Rocks Romance Contest.
  • Expanded a short story formerly called Midwinter Bride into a novella titled Goblins and Grimoires. Finished a first draft of that novella (or second draft, depending on how you look at it).
  • Penned another novelette, White Wolf, Red Cloak, and started expanding it to novella length, now titled Fates Entangled.
  • Wrote a short story, Silver’s Stray, and started expanding it to novelette length.
  • Wrote two short stories, Spirits of Embers and The Forest’s Own.
  • Started writing poetry again, both free verse and haikus.
  • There were also numerous starts to stories, ranging from a redcap running amok in a library to a story about the magic of mistletoe to a trio of sisters who find themselves the guardians of three sacred artifacts.

For a year where I weathered a prolonged creative dry spell, I’d say a fair amount still got done in 2016.

And so, with this post, I wish you a very merry rest of the year, however you celebrate or spend it, and a happy New Year. Thank you to all of you who visit my blog, who leave thoughtful comments, who’ve offered support in any way, whether it’s a bit of advice on Twitter or Facebook, or buying one of my books, or simply a word of encouragement during a dry spell. It really means a lot to me, and I feel very blessed.

What about you? What accomplishment are you most proud of this year? Do you already have plans in place for 2017? If so, please share!

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When well-intentioned writing advice goes bad…

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I framed this quote, a reminder to follow and trust my own heart.

While studying creative writing in undergraduate and grad school, I participated in countless writing workshops. I’ve been a member of critique groups and read countless writing books. But there’s one thing I’ve only recently come to realize: Sometimes people’s writing advice is bad.

Well, let me clarify. It’s not necessarily bad advice. It’s just bad advice for you.

I’m not talking about craft. “Don’t head-hop” is a good rule to follow, and you break it at your own peril. Three-act structure seems to be ingrained in reader’s minds, and we often subconsciously know when it isn’t followed. A book that starts too slowly and leads readers to put it down, for example, might have a first act that’s too long. No, the basic rules of writing hold, and everything I learned in undergraduate and grad school taught me and reinforced those rules.

But then I emerged, M.F.A. in hand, into the wide world of writing, and all of a sudden, I didn’t have my professors to guide me. So I turned to writing books and that experience, by and large, has been a productive one, a continuation of my education as a writer.

But some of those books have poisoned the well for me, and there’s a simple reason. Sometimes people think that what works for one writer will work for another, and they present their process as an absolute, a formula anyone can follow that leads to success.

And I’ve attempted those methods, those processes, and failed, and slammed into the brick wall we call writer’s block.

That’s when my husband, a non-writer (an IT guy, if you must know), suggested that I take a break from writing books. “They’re causing you to stop writing. You already know how to write. You just need to do it.”

Yeah, he was probably right.

When I first started on my writing journey, I was (and still am) super-curious about other writers’ processes. One writer writes 500 words a day, religiously. Another feels 1,000 words is the sweet spot, and still another says 2,000 words is the minimum quota for professional writers. One writer proofreads but never revises. Another says she writes ten drafts. Still another writes the first draft, puts it in a drawer, and starts over.

And what I’ve learned is that my own process is a constantly evolving creature, changing as I grow as a writer and matching no one else’s. I know the rules of writing. I can urge and cajole a story into three-act structure. I can see when a character arc isn’t working or isn’t strong enough. I can see when a story starts to drag. And I can understand the feedback beta readers give me. “The opening is too slow.” “He doesn’t have much of a character arc.” “There’s too much backstory.” “Up the romance factor.” I know how to fix a story to fix the problems their keen eyes have noticed.

I know how to write. But when I read books about process and try to stuff my writing routine into someone else’s process, well, ugh. Things just grind to a halt.

So from now on, I will follow the process that works for me. Two of my stories, a novella and a novel, have won awards. I’ve published two novelettes and written a number of manuscripts. I can do this—because, well, I’ve done it before.

I just need to close the freaking door, shut everyone else out, and work with all the knowledge that’s in my own mind, the feedback from trusted beta readers and CPs, and listen to the stories whispering in my ear.

For me, that’s all I need at the moment. And in the future, I will be wary of trying to stuff my round-peg process into the square-hole I found on someone else’s blog, or in an author interview, or in a craft book. There are rules to the craft of writing. But ultimately, when it comes to process, we need to learn our own. Creativity comes to all of us in different shapes and forms. We need to follow our intuition and go our own way.

After all, if we want our stories to be fresh and unique, we must be ourselves, whomever we may be.

ROW80 Check-In:

  • Do something writing-related every day, seven days a week: journal, write a poem, take notes on a story, read a writing book, brainstorm, etc. Missed a couple days, but progress is being made. I started revising a novelette and expanding it to novella length. Previously titled White Wolf, Red Cloak, I’ve retitled it Fates Entangled, upped the paranormal/magical factor by adding in a touch of witchcraft, and am expanding it to about 20K from the original 15K. And I’m upping the heat factor as well.
  • Reconnect with my spiritual practice. Reading The Art of Bliss by Tess Whitehurst.
  • Start a regular yoga practice. Nope.
  • At least twice a week, explore another creative outlet, anything from scrapbooking to cooking to home decorating or Feng Shui. Decorated for Yule/Christmas. Baked chocolate-banana bread. Stocked up on some more scrapbooking supplies. Bought a frame so we can have a large print of one of our wedding portraits made and hang it in our bedroom.

A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life, is now on Facebook. Join us!

Ever-curious about fellow writers’ creative processes, I’d love to hear yours. Have you ever gotten advice on process that’s led you astray? What is your process like?

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The Whisper of Stories

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Photo by Lynn Kelley in WANA Commons

I am a true night owl, and that’s when my stories come whispering in my ear. I wrote last time about cultivating stillness in a world consumed by motion—we’re always going somewhere. But I believe strongly in stillness because that’s where both self-awareness and creativity come from.

Last night, I sat with my notebook and I waited. And, much to my surprise, a story I haven’t picked up in a while came wandering by. It’s a light paranormal romance, something very different from the often quest-based stories I usually write. But I couldn’t get the romantic arc quite right; something was off. Last time I worked on it, I expanded the story by about 10K to give the characters’ romance room to grow. But I realized it was missing something, some big sacrifice that allows the characters to come together. They didn’t really give up anything; things just sort of worked out in time. And last night I figured out a way to solve that problem, one that rose organically from what’s already on the page.

Stories whisper. Sometimes it feels like a hundred characters chatting away, a din of voices. And other times, in the hour after midnight or the hour after dawn, a character sits down, pours himself a cup of tea, and begins to tell you his story.

And that’s when the magic happens.

ROW80 check-in:

  • Do something writing-related every day, seven days a week: journal, write a poem, take notes on a story, read a writing book, brainstorm, etc. Lots of brainstorming, and continuing to work my way through Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance by Julia Cameron.
  • Reconnect with my spiritual practice. Started reading The Art of Bliss by Tess Whitehurst, which is all about applying the Bagua of Feng Shui to your life and your home.
  • Start a regular yoga practice. Nope. I’m hoping after the holiday craziness settles to pick this one back up. But between holiday prep, hubby being crazy busy with the end of the semester, and a new puppy, I’m not finding much room for yoga.
  • At least twice a week, explore another creative outlet, anything from scrapbooking to cooking to home decorating or Feng Shui. Can I count Tess Whitehurst’s The Art of Bliss here, too?

What about you? When do your stories and characters whisper to you? How do you make space to listen? Do you journal, or just sit down at the keyboard and type away? Or do your characters shout?

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The Season of Stillness

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Photo by Martin Holek | Dreamstime Photos

The sky is a sea of gray clouds, sun fighting to peek through. The sun sets early, streaks of orange and pink a reminder of summer fire. The trees are bare, roots stretching deep into the earth.

My husband and I leave a jazz concert, our bodies and minds and hearts alive with the thrill of brass and percussion and a bit of string, and step into the cold winter air. I snap a picture of the sun setting against the backdrop of the campus that is the heart of this college town.

Part of me is always thinking about goals. How many words can I write in a year? How many words should I write in a year? How many projects can I finish?

And yet winter reminds me that sometimes we must cultivate inner stillness. Sometimes we must be quiet and listen. As writers, as storytellers, as artists, our primary function might be that stillness, that ability to listen.

I listen to the world around me. In pausing to drink in the sunset, in sitting in a beautiful performance hall to listen to jazz, in sitting quietly in the evenings and sipping my tea while I wait for characters to whisper, I am, in fact, listening to the earth and those of us who populate it, whether human or animal or tree or flower. And I am listening to something mystical, something spiritual, that ether out of which stories are born.

Cultivating stillness is difficult in a society that makes little room for it. We must always be doing something; we must always be achieving. We must always be counting and quantifying; we must always be striving and reaching and grasping.

Are goals and deadlines good things? Of course. They keep us accountable. They have their own seasons. Spring is the season of sowing, of goal-setting. Summer is the season of tending, of patient toil. And autumn, the season of the harvest, when all we have planted and tended comes to fruition. It is the season in which we celebrate a job well done—and yes, that is something we need to celebrate.

As artists, we have these seasons. But we must also, like the earth, have moments of quietude in which we listen. From the quiet new stories are born. New characters begin to murmur. We listen, and we record.

Ultimately as writers we must learn to cultivate stillness, to reach down deep, tap a deep root like the mighty oak, sway in the wind and wait for birds to roost. We remain still and steady and strong and rooted. And we listen.

ROW80 check-in:

  • Do something writing-related every day, seven days a week: journal, write a poem, take notes on a story, read a writing book, brainstorm, etc. I’ve been working my way through Julia Cameron’s Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance. I did miss a couple days, but for the most part something is getting done every day, even if it’s just a few words here and there or a bit of brainstorming. I also started playing with some other ideas that might not lead to anything, such two more stories in the Faerie Forest series. One is a retelling of Snow White featuring faeries and magic apples (not just the poisoned kind), and the other involves a redcap (nasty type of faerie) running loose in a library.
  • Reconnect with my spiritual practice. This week I added a page to my Book of Shadows!
  • Start a regular yoga practice. Nothing.
  • butterfly-quoteAt least twice a week, explore another creative outlet, anything from scrapbooking to cooking to home decorating or Feng Shui. Lots of activity here. I took a quote that had been tacked above my desk, typed it up in Word, added some scrapbooking embellishments, and placed it in a frame I bought at a Renaissance Faire years ago (see photo). I made homemade sugar scrub bars, which didn’t turn out well, but it was a first attempt at making soap. I’ll have to try a different recipe. I also did a lot of decluttering, especially in my office, which we’re turning into a home library. Soon I’ll be able to say, “If you need me, I’ll be in the library.”

What about you? Do you think stillness is an important part of the creative life? Do you feel we make enough time for stillness in our lives? How do you find time to listen to the world around you–and the stories that murmur in your ear?

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Story Planning

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Photo by Alvaro German Vilela | Dreamstime Stock Photos

For the time being, I have given up pantsing. It’s only been successful for me with a handful of short stories (around the 5K mark). With longer books, I end up with first drafts that either go unfinished and languish in a drawer somewhere, or first drafts that are a pile of mush, plot-wise, and require massive rewrites.

Earlier this year, as I worked on Goblins and Grimoires, I was thrilled with my word counts. But I had no plan, and the result was a manuscript that needs a complete rewrite. I think the mess that was that novella was a tipping point. I didn’t realize it, but I needed a different way.

If I’m being completely honest, I’m still trying to find my way out of a writing dry spell. But I do know that I don’t want to write unusable first drafts. They don’t have to be perfect, but they have to at least make sense.

So I’ve gone back to studying story structure, especially Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering. Armed with a couple of beat sheets—one based on Brooks’ thoughts on structure, another for romance writers and based on Blake Snyder’s work—I’m trying to move forward with a new story. (Note: Both beat sheets were created by the talented Jami Gold and are available at her website.)

I think part of it is that structure doesn’t come naturally to me. I come from a background in poetry, and poetic structure isn’t plot structure. I also have a background in magazine writing, and that’s more of a get-everything-on-the-page-and-cut-and-paste deal. But fiction? Fiction is its own beast, and I have to find a way to grapple with structure that doesn’t lead to massive page-one rewrites.

I’m starting small. A few years ago, I started a holiday-themed short story, Under the Mistletoe’s Spell. I only managed to write an opening scene, and figured the story was just for dabbling. But a few days ago I had a brainstorm—lightning and everything. What if the story wasn’t a contemporary paranormal, but a historical fantasy setting? Add in a Regency-inspired fantasy world and two characters with high stakes, and that could be one smoking holiday fantasy romance. And since the holiday season is upon us, what better time to pen a Yule-inspired tale?

Tonight I plan to gather my beat sheets and the rough synopsis I’ve written and start hammering away, working the story into a structure that hits all the right plot points at all the right moments. This is an experiment. If it works, this method will definitely help, especially with longer stories. And since this is a shorter work, it should be a good place to experiment with story structure.

I’d like to dedicate the next few weeks to finishing a first draft of this story. I keep hopping from story to story, idea to idea, with nothing really sticking. And that’s not really usual for me. Usually I settle in and finish a draft (even if it’s awful—and some have been awful. Not all, of course, but some).

So this is an experiment. Let’s see if it works. If it does, it could go a long way to helping me plot my stories before I begin them.

ROW80 check-in:

  • Do something writing-related every day, seven days a week: journal, write a poem, take notes on a story, read a writing book, brainstorm, etc. Saturday: Read a chapter in Finding Water by Julia Cameron and did corresponding exercises. Sunday: Brief brainstorming session with hubby. Monday: Wrote 921 words in Under the Mistletoe’s Spell, along with a rough synopsis. Tuesday: Created two beat sheets for Under the Mistletoe’s Spell.
  • Reconnect with my spiritual practice. I wrote a couple of brief Pagan songs, so progress on this front. And I’m starting to realize that much of my poetry has a strong spiritual basis, so any poetry I write is very much connected to this goal.
  • Start a regular yoga practice. No progress to report.
  • At least twice a week, explore another creative outlet, anything from scrapbooking to cooking to home decorating or Feng Shui. Nothing yet.

What about you? How do you handle story structure? Does it come naturally, or is it an area you’ve grappled with? Any hints, tips, or tricks?

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