Week 1 of the #ListifyLife Spring Challenge

sticky notes

I am re-blogging this from my original post included on the Sisters of Suspense blog.

I am self-professed list person.

My day revolves around detailed to-do lists and tons of colorful sticky notes. So when I read about a challenge on Roni Loren’s blog that involves one of my favorite, and most vital daily tasks, I had to join the fun. Any occasion that provides an excuse for me to purchase cool office supplies and colorful markers is always a win-win in my book.

The #ListifyLife spring challenge runs from March 20 – June 10 with a new prompt each week. Here is my first list to start off the challenge.

Week #1 prompt: “Spring for me is…”

  1. Reemergence of color with green grass, blooms on the trees, and saying goodbye to the dark, dreary days of winter.IMG_4238
  2. College graduation ceremonies, teary eyes, and witnessing my students accomplish their dreams.
  3. A much-needed fitness overhaul to shed those extra holiday pounds.
  4. Painting a fresh, fun nail color on my fingers and now my TOES.
  5. Planting fresh veggies in the garden, annual flowers in pots.
  6. Spending time outdoors writing, reading a good book, listening to music, and snapping photos.
  7. Reorganizing my closet and donating to those in need.IMG_4235
  8. Splurging on Cadbury eggs, jelly beans, and other Easter holiday treats (which leads back to #3).
  9. Watching the new season of Outlander and the long-awaited return of men in kilts – need I say more?
  10. Enjoying adorable bunnies making their first venture out of the burrow.

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“I Won’t Give Up”: Words of a Stubborn Writer

Draft photo

During a recent writer’s workshop, the presenter asked everyone to make a mental note of the writers who packed the room. Then he dropped an opening statement, one that I certainly wouldn’t forget, “In two years, only a third of you will still be writing.”

What? Really?

Given the amount of writers seated around me, I couldn’t imagine the truth to that statement. He had my full attention at that point, and I had to know why.

So the main reason for the drop off – writing is hard. After two years, most people give up.

At first I wondered why he would start the session off with that line. Did he hope to motivate us or squash our writing dreams? In my case, it motivated me to prove him wrong. That same message has remained with me long after the workshop.

Before I started this journey, I thought the hardest part would be writing the story. But now that I’m stuck in the revision process of two novels, I can see why writers pack away their work, never to see the final outcome.

It is hard for me to stay motivated these days. Especially when my writing time is spent reviewing every line of every chapter and polishing one scene at a time. I can spend hours obsessing over one paragraph or one word. Then after I revise a chapter, I post it to an online critique group and/or a local writing group and await their feedback. Once the problem areas are addressed from these critiques, I move forward to another round of revisions. It is a lengthy process, and some days it feels like being in a revolving door that never stops.

After I attended that workshop – I made a vow not to become a person who gave up on their dream to write and eventually publish. I’m stubborn. Once I set my mind to do something, I follow through.

So how do I keep my forward momentum without getting discouraged these days?

Set a goal. This July, I plan to pitch my novel to an agent at a national writer’s conference. In the weeks to come, I will work hard to polish my story and develop a great query letter.

Utilize online resources. I recently found a great article on Now Novel that focuses on keeping motivated after the first draft. The best suggestions were breaking down the revision process into small manageable bites and rewarding yourself for making progress.

Reach out to other writers. Social media has been a great way for me to gain support from other writers. I’ve learned that even the best writers struggle and knowing this keeps me motivated to write.

If you have a strategy that works to keep you motivated during the writing process, I’d love to hear from you.

Setting the Scene


Have you ever picked up a book, and from the moment you started reading, the story sucked you in and never let go until the final word? Did it seem like you were standing next to the character – seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, and experiencing everything along with them?

I want readers to have the same experience when reading my work. So this spring, I enrolled in a creative writing course with an emphasis novel writing. The topics we’ve covered in class range from dialogue, character development, and one of my favorite things – building the setting of a novel.

To illustrate the importance of setting, I found several helpful items in the Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich, the primary resource for the class. According to Novakovich, a plot develops when the character relates to or is in conflict with the setting. A setting can also provide the perfect backdrop for the action in the scene.

There are two class activities that have drastically changed how I approach writing a scene. For one assignment, I developed a character who was an orthopedic surgeon, and made her visible through the surroundings. I created a list of everything she might observe in a surgical suite. I imagined her in the middle of the room and surrounded by interesting smells, a gurney with the patient, medical equipment and other personnel, beeping monitors and power tools, and the cold temperature of the room.

In the scene, she interacted with everything around her, and I threw in a few challenges for her to navigate. This one simple activity elevated the quality of the scene. My character and her actions came to life. In the end, she even provided me with a high-stakes plot filled with tension and conflict.

We performed this same activity in class, but in fun destinations like a coffee shop, emergency room, and carnival. In small groups, we plotted all of the items on a poster board and then rotated around, adding to the original list. Each group prioritized their list and chose seven of the best items to use in writing a scene in that location.

When I sit down and write a chapter, or revise my current work, I use these same strategies to structure my settings. My characters seem more realistic, the settings are packed with sensory details, and I’m left with plot ideas that push my story further.

The Intervention

This has been a wonderful year full of writing and meeting great people along the way. To commemorate where it all started, and to bring out a little holiday humor, I wanted to share my first short story written last Christmas.


The Intervention

Naomi Neel spent way too much money shopping – again. She didn’t need another box of LED lights, a rotating snow globe, or two six-foot-tall blinking topiaries. But she had to use the half-price coupon that had burned a hole in her purse for the past week.

After she pulled the car into the driveway, she glanced at the home next door. The yard was almost ready for the annual decorating contest and way ahead of schedule. Her neighbor, Carolyn Crandall, stood on a ladder wrapping a string of lights around a tall evergreen shrub. Naomi hoped to get inside before Carolyn saw her, but that didn’t happen. When Naomi’s automatic garage door squeaked open, Carolyn leaned away from landscape and presented her with an enthusiastic wave.

Five years ago, the neighborhood yard decorating contest began as an attempt to boost Christmas cheer. But over the years, the competition morphed into a ruthless tug-of-war between the “Crazy Crandall’s” and the Neel’s, to win the coveted first place prize. Naomi’s family was known for their unique front yard masterpieces, and they had won the title the past two years. This Christmas, she’d already set her sights on a three-peat victory.

In the beginning, Naomi’s family coerced her to get on board. But after winning, she’d transformed into an obnoxious ring leader that barked out orders, shopped year round for unique holiday decorations, and turned their home into a Christmas command central.

As she exited the car, and moved around to her front yard, Naomi noticed a row of toy soldiers propped up against the Crandall’s house. Not just your ordinary soldiers, but life-size ones decorated in the untraditional colors of pink and green. Is that? No it can’t be the same familiar shade of pink and green? Wait – it is?

“Well, hello my favorite neighbor,” Carolyn said with a small hint of sarcasm. “Fine day to begin decorating isn’t it?”

Hoping to calm her inner rage, Naomi hesitated before answering.” Well, if you like decorating in freezing temps.”

“Nothing gets in the way of our holiday decorating. When will you start working on your yard?”

“Soon, very soon.” Naomi pointed to the toy soldiers. “Interesting items you have there, Carolyn. Where ever did you find such unique decorations?”

“Well, it’s a crazy story. One I’d love to tell, but I’m extremely busy.” She waved dramatically to the miles of lights overflowing from a plastic container. “Toodleloo!” Just like that she smiled and dismissed Naomi in her own flighty way.

Naomi darted to her basement like a race horse set free from a stall at the Kentucky Derby. When she reached the bottom step and flipped on the light, she froze mid-stride. All of her prized decorations were missing, gone, nowhere in sight. She couldn’t believe the Crandall’s would stoop this low. In that moment, Naomi made the vow to get everything back. All of her decorations back.

For her important, but very dangerous mission, Naomi decided to go rogue. After waiting until everyone left her house that evening, she set a strategic plan in motion. She peeked through the blinds to the Crandall’s home and noticed all of the lights were off including the yard decorations. Naomi leaped into action.

Dressed in all black, she crouched low and made her way into the Crandall’s yard. She shook uncontrollably with a twinge of excitement, but mostly fear, as she made her way to the first yard ornament. When she lifted the first toy soldier, a blaring alarm sounded and permeated through the quiet neighborhood. Naomi froze when all of the outside lights came on and illuminated the whole yard. If that wasn’t enough to embarrass her, a large group of people spilled out onto the front porch. As Naomi’s eyes adjusted to the bright light, she recognized the faces of the entire Crandall family, the neighbors from across the street, and her family. Oh geez. This was bad!

Before she could squeak out an explanation, Naomi’s husband escorted her into the Crandall’s living room, and over to a chair placed in the center of the room. Still confused, she sat and gazed around at the other folding chairs placed in a circle. But as everyone sat down, and pulled out their handwritten letters, all cylinders ignited.

Then everything came into focus – this was an intervention!

I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and the best start to 2015!