The Meandering Path of my Writing Life

The Meandering Path of the Writing Life

The Meandering Path of the Writing LifeMy life as a writer started with this little blog, and over the past four years, it’s taken many turns, some I expected, some not so much. But like any good ride, they’ve all been fun.

Since I haven’t posted here in (too) many months, I thought I’d do a little review of where I’ve been and hopefully where I’m headed on this winding writing path.

February 2011 – As a kid, I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I’m all grown up now, and I realized that, yes, I’d still like to write. It took awhile, but I got there despite the mean professor in college who told me that my story about hiking sucked. It probably did, but I didn’t take it well. It only took twenty years to get over it.

March 2011 – I started this blog and with shaking hands and panicking heart, posted my first post. I declared “I am a writer.” My husband, mom, and dad read my post. Progress.

The rest of 2011 – I kept a really great blog schedule, posting pretty much once or twice a week, and outlined novel #1, The Overlander’s Daughter.

2012 – I kept posting here and wrote my novel, well, I wrote lots of it, but it was a long, slow learning process. I could whip out an essay or academic piece in thirty minutes. A novel? Not quite so fast.

August 2012 – I went to the Willamette Writer’s Conference and learned how much I  still had to learn about writing. It’s a never ending process.

2013 – Blog? What blog? Oh yeah…this one. Um, didn’t write much here, but kept working on my novel and planned for…

March 2013 – …launching, my online community for teen writers. This is where I posted during 2013 & 2014 (when I went missing from here). There, I post about writing and try to answer all those questions my students ask me about writing. The site’s growth is slow but steady…and I’m still enjoying the whole process.

November 2013 – Along with ten of my intrepid students, I completed Nanowrimo – finishing 50,000 words of a young adult contemporary mystery.

January 2014 – Whew – three years after embarking on my new “life as a writer,” I finally finished The Overlander’s Daughter. It’s a good feeling, but I completely ignored this blog, as in, I never posted a single time in 2014. Ooops.

February 2014 – I finished draft one of my YA mystery – woah, two novels done. Am I a writer yet? I also queried Overlander’s and actually got requests for manuscripts – happy dance.

March 2014 – Rejection.

March-July 2014 – I decided to have OD professionally edited before querying it again and found an amazing editor who wouldn’t be able to get to it until October. She’s that good, so I set that manuscript aside and spent all summer polishing my YA mystery.

August 2014 – I went to Willamette Writer’s Conference again and pitched my YA mystery. Agents requested it – happy dance.

September & October 2014 – YA novel rejection, but good to know I can write a decent query and pitch a novel.

October 2014 – My amazing editor began polishing the rough spots out of  Overlander’s and making it shine. After daily emails all month clarifying details, plot, and characters, she asked if I “would mind” if she sent my manuscript off to an agent with a recommendation. Um, no – I didn’t mind.

November 2014 – I signed a contract with an agent! Biggest Happy Dance ever!! I’ll write more on this milestone later. My new agent wanted more Overlander’s revisions – back at it.

January 2015 – I continued revising Overlander’s until, I can say, it’s finally done and ready to go. Well, at least until another editor decides it’s not.

February 2015 – I’m back here! I’ll still be writing at WhereTeensWrite, but I found when I got back on here, I kind of miss writing my random musings about life, writing, teaching, and quilts. And hopefully, I’ll have some writerly updates to report on my writing career – that’s what I’m calling it now.


I’ll Keep my Laptop, Thank You

Yesterday, a friend tweeted this article on The Guardian, “Unthinkable? Bring Back Typewriters.” While the author makes some great points about how using a typewriter slows the writer down, thereby making writers more intentional about word choices, and how typewriters remove the distracting allure of the internet, I’d have to say, “hell no!!” I’ll keep my laptop thank you very much.

In fact, I wonder if the author ever had to actually type something that mattered on a typewriter, like a research paper or even an important letter. If so, I think the nostalgia for the click of the keys would quickly wear off.

I still have my antique ribbon typewriter. It has lived buried in the back of my daughter’s closet for years. When I was seven or eight years old, my Dad brought it home for me to write my stories on. It made me official. I was a writer.

I never use it, but I’ve lugged the thing with me for my entire life. It weighs around 50 lbs. and represents my youthful attempts at writing, my dreams to become a writer someday.

My ancient typewriter that made me feel like a true writer.
My ancient typewriter that made me feel like a true writer.

I actually don’t remember writing that much on it. I remember spending more time trying to get it to work so I could write. The ribbon would come unwound, little mechanical metal pieces would get stuck. I remember jamming more than one butter knife in to get it going again.

You also have to hit the keys hard to get them to work. Fingers don’t fly over these old keyboards. Nope, typing a sentence gives the fingers a pretty good workout. One letter at a time.

If you hit more than one key at a time, the little letter bars fly up at the same time and stick to each other, creating a mess and nothing gets typed. It’s the equivalent of your computer screen freezing, but in this case all you have to do is reach a hand in and unstick everything. There are definitely days that I wish I could do that with my laptop.

All the keys stuck together in a wad. This happened a lot.
All the striker bars stuck together in a wad. This happened a lot.

Typing is a sensory experience unlike writing on a computer. There is the sound of the letter striker bars (or whatever they’re called) hitting the paper and the carriage. You have to watch where you are because at the end of each line, the typewriter doesn’t automatically “wrap” around. As the typist, you have to reach up and move the carriage back to the left margin. It’s labor intensive. Mistakes cannot be fixed.

The letters are also quirky, with each typewriter having its own “fingerprint.”

The Letters
The Letters

I loved reading mysteries as a kid (and still do), and I remember typewriters often providing clues. Detectives would study typewriter fonts with the forensic intensity that today’s CSI investigators go after DNA evidence.


No MS Word conformity here. My typewriter has a definite style. The “e’s” are all red. For some reason it dropped down a half a line halfway through the word “kind.” If I had committed a crime and left a clue on my typewriter, I’d definitely be caught.

Perhaps it would be good to create clues for a mystery on this, but I think that’s about it. I won’t be cranking out any stories on this old thing, but I also don’t think I’ll get rid of it. It’s comforting to know that even though I haven’t used it since the early 1980’s, I still can. My computer would never work like that. I could not shove it in a kid’s closet, have kids sit on it during games of hide and seek, leave it there for 20+ years, pull it out one day, write something on it and then print it to paper like I did with my typewriter this morning.

I have no idea whatever happened to any of the stories I wrote, or even if I ever finished a whole story on it due to all of the issues with actually using it. Even so, when I think of my typewriter, I think of my 8 year old self imagining stories, and for that alone, I’ll hang on to it. It reminds me that yes, I am a writer.

An Idea Becomes Reality

It was the last class. The last day of school. Spring 2011. The kids were done with their final and sat in small groups, chatting, glancing at the clock, waiting for the empty, long, lovely days of summer to begin.

One group sat clustered around my desk discussing their writing. One student had written a screenplay but didn’t feel it was quite done yet. One had completed NaNoWriMo and had several more pieces in progress.  Another was looking for a publisher for his newly finished fantasy novel, and the fourth had been inspired by Ayn Rand this year and had a novel outlined with one or two chapters completed.

I listened to them, stunned. They were 14 and 15 years old and had novels completed!! I had just begun mine . . . at age 40.

I suggested that they trade phone numbers and emails, so they could workshop their pieces over the summer, and I offered to help. They liked the idea, but the bell rang, summer vacation began.

I thought about this group over the summer and wondered how I could help them with their writing. I had a few ideas but the seed for a website for them, for teen writers who LOVE to write, had been planted.

The next fall, I had a new incoming group of Freshmen and within weeks, a few asked if I would be willing to supervise a Creative Writing Club. Really?!? As soon as I started writing myself, teen writers began to appear in my life, but I had no time between working, coaching Speech & Debate, and being a mom to help them get a club started. Finally, in mid-winter, I proposed my website idea – what if we had a space online where they could post their writing, comment on it, maybe even take Creative Writing Classes? They loved the idea and the seed began to take root. Silly me, I thought it would take less time than a weekly club!

I still worked on getting these kids’ needs met at school and got my administration to approve a Creative Writing class. I wrote a course description and submitted it. Unfortunately, the powers that be “forgot” to put our newly approved course in the course catalog for registration, so no Creative Writing class. Back to my website idea.

Last spring, I resigned my coaching position which freed up my time, but the school year ended with no website and no upcoming Creative Writing Class. I spent my summer and early fall fixing that state of affairs.  The process has been a three steps forward, one-step back process. I tried to design a site myself: fail. Hired a web designer: some good but overall fail. Took a web design class online: WIN! (The Girls Guide to Web Design Rocks!!) but definite learning curve there! Took an online course on running on online business/website: WIN!! (Marie Forleo’s B-School also ROCKS!!).

I started this fall with a website in the works and a PLAN. This past fall, the Creative Writing Club finally launched. We had our first meeting in November and its been going strong. We meet every Thursday to write, learn, and workshop pieces. I completed building and designing my website and shared it with them in December – they loved it and this amazing group of young, talented creative writers helped to found . . .

They have been the most excellent group of “Beta” users, finding all kinds of elements of the site that needed tweaking, posting their stories, sharing, and being overall an amazing group of kids. Last week, I decided its ready to go “live” to the world. I “un-hid” the site from google’s search engines and so far, we’ve had a few more kids find us and log on. The seed that was planted the last day of school in 2011 is finally beginning to grow.

The site is designed for teens, ages 13-18, who love to write, who spend their free time writing and dreaming up their stories. If you know any teens who fit this description, I’d love it if you shared the link with them, so they can check the site out and possibly join our little community.

My ultimate goal is to offer online Creative Writing courses through the site. Few schools offer Creative Writing, and there is definitely a need there.

If you’ve wondered why I haven’t been posting here much, it’s because I’ve been posting there! If you’d like to join the email list without joining the community, you can do that on our Facebook page. You can also get updates in your FB news feed if you “like” our page.

What can you do?

  • Share the site with teens who love to write,
  • Check it out yourself and comment below with any suggestions you have for improvement/changes,
  • Go to Facebook and sign up for “email updates” and “like” our page if you want to stay connected to

2012 in review

This report is kind of fun – a good way to break my extended “blog break”! Waaayyyy back in June, I took a hiatus from my twice-weekly posting schedule. I thought (foolishly) that it would only last the summer. What I found was that once I got out of the habit of writing, it was really really hard to get back into it. I also, sort of, forgot about my blog.

Then, on Saturday, I had somebody “follow” my blog even though I haven’t posted on it, and yesterday, I got this report. Hmmm. Two little reminders from the universe that my blog exists.

I also have started thinking about writing again. I did complete draft one of my novel way back in August, and I haven’t written much since, but over the past few weeks, I realized that I’m ready to start writing again (and quilting). My sewing machine is depressingly dusty.

I also remembered two lessons this blog taught me:  “#1 – The more I write, well, the more I write; and #2 – The more I create, the more creative I am!” I know these are probably fairly obvious for many, but sometimes, its the easiest lessons that have the most impact, and for me they are simply true. I’m not sure that I’ll be posting quite as consistently as I was before, but I do plan on posting more regularly than every six months!

Below, is the 2012 annual report for this blog. It’s pretty thorough, except they don’t include the most entertaining tidbits. One of my favorite blog stats is all the search terms that led people to my blog.  The #1 search term? “coffee shop” of all things. Really? I think this is proof that people don’t just stick to page one of google search results since I think I’ve written a grand total of ONE blog dealing with writing in a coffee shop.

The saddest/funniest search term: “My son is a loser”! OMG! What did I write that led that poor parent here?!? My son is an ADVENTURE not a loser!!! And I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that even remotely matches those terms put together in one sentence. I’ve definitely written about “my son” and I think I’ve probably written about being a “loser” at something, but this hit is proof that google search terms are not always relevant – at least I hope so.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 7 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Blog Break

Ah . . . summer vacation, a time of lazy days sipping lemonade in a hammock with a good book . . . or not.  Maybe that’s what summer looks like for some people, but not this girl!

I just got back from Forensics Nationals, a super fun but not so relaxing week traveling with another coach and nine teenagers. Needless to say, sleep was somewhat elusive, and despite the best of intentions, I didn’t touch my blog.

Instead, I thought about my blog, a lot, and I’ve come to the conclusion, that I am going to be taking a break from my regular two posts a week. I started this blog and enforced a Monday, Thursday posting schedule with myself so that I would write. No matter what, I would sit my ass down in a chair and try to write something that maybe someone, somewhere would read. It didn’t always happen, but it did more often than not.

Over the past year, I have learned a few things:

  1. I found that I liked it – it was really fun to write, to push myself to think of something to write about. I feel like I found my voice in some ways.
  2. People actually read what I have to say – that, to me, is amazing!
  3. Sharing my writing at first was incredibly scary, but I got over that.
  4. Holding myself to a schedule that forced me to write was important to building my skills and confidence, but even if I don’t write every single day, I discovered I can pick up where I left off. Almost every single “writer” book, says to write everyday at the same time. Perhaps in some sort of dream world that doesn’t include kids, a husband, work, coaching, etc. that might happen, but my writing life is much more fluid than that and that’s okay! I managed to blog and finish a novel using my own process.

With those lessons in mind, I’ve decided to take a blog break. I’ll be posting, well, when I feel like it! I have not decided if I will pick my regular schedule back up this fall or not. I think I’ll decide when school starts.

In the meantime, I will be: revising my novel so that maybe someday people will be able to read that, taking a class to keep my teaching credential up to date, hopefully launching a website for teen writers, and maybe fitting in a quilt or two this summer. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Draft #1 – Done!!

A few weeks ago, Nathon Bransford, a writer and blogger I follow, wrote a post asking the question “How long does it take you to finish a draft?”

My first gut reaction answer to that question was “F-O-R-E-V-E-R,” but sadly, I couldn’t figure out how to embed this little video clip into the comments on his blog. It’s from one of my all-time favorite movies ever, The Sandlot.

Then I read some of the comments people wrote in response to his question. Not one single person answered with “forever” – just me, slow writer extraordinaire! In fact, I could only read the first 30 comments or so as they were just a wee bit intimidating.

Some people actually counted how long it took them to write an entire novel in days. Days!! I count down the days until vacation starts, or the age of a newborn baby, NOT how long it takes me to write a novel. Most people were in the 3-6 month range which to me is still mind boggling.

I suppose if I wasn’t teaching full time, coaching, participating in my own children’s lives, and I don’t know, eating and sleeping occasionally, I might be able to do that, but at the current level of “busy” in my life, I cannot see ever writing a novel worth reading in days or weeks time, a blog post or two maybe, but not a novel.  I’m more of a months/years novel writing girl.

With that said, I am happy to announce that I finally finished a very rough first draft of my very first novel, and I did it . . . are you ready? . . . in  460-something days (or just over 15 months). I can check that little to-do off my bucket list!! I wrote a novel – even though right now its in the “shitty first draft” stage, I’m still checking it off! Happy dance!

It’s around 105,000 words.  I’m thinking quite a bit of it needs to be cut, but I think I’d rather cut and tighten the writing up than have to add something.

I have no idea how long revising, getting it to readers, revising again . . . and again will take, but I’m guessing I’ll be true to form and go for months . . . not days. And then someday . . . maybe people will actually read it!

Cool Tool to Organize your Writing

I’m the girl who would rather go into an Office Max or The Container Store than the shoe department at Nordstroms. I love any little doo-dads that might make my life a little easier. I like to be organized; I’m not a neat freak, just organized.

This past week, I discovered the mother of all organizational tools on the net. It works with ANY project I can possibly come up with. It’s called Trello and happily, it’s totally free. I don’t get anything for writing this rave review. I just thought I’d share its coolness. It’s designed for working on projects with teams in a business setting. I, however, have decided it is also suited to writing a novel!

Basically, you can set up giant organizational bulletin boards. Each board has any number of lists. Then, each list is made up of cards. I created a board on my novel in progress. One of my lists was be “Characters.” Then, I have a card for each character in the story. The cool thing is that I can drag the cards and lists all over the place and easily re-arrange and visually see it. If you are a visual, big-picture person like me, this is helpful.

Check this out! It is not complete, but enough for me to see that this will work well!

 The cool part is that when you click on a card if “flips” over and you can add ALL KINDS of information to the back of it which means you can store all the information all in one place.  For my current WIP, I have character files in word documents, plot charts in some novel writing software I got, research tid-bits in an excel spreadsheet, research links online, and actual paper notes and sticky notes stuck all over the place. There is information everywhere, online and off.

I’m not sure if I’ll do it all for this novel since I’m about four scenes from being totally done with draft one, but my next ones will definitely be organized with Trello boards. Check it out. I’d like to hear if any writers out there figure out any other cool ways to use it.