Pitch me your novel

Illustration of Cinderella running away from the ball

Photo via Visualhunt

I was recently challenged to write a pitch for my current work in progress. At first I was told “only thirty words or fewer.” Yikes! That was hard and took me all day to nail it down. Then I was told to write a hundred-word pitch for the same novel. I thought it’d be easier without such a tight limit, but it was even harder for me. There was enough room to bring in more details, but not all of the details. Deciding which subplot to leave out was more difficult than leaving them all out altogether.

After another day’s work I think I managed to pull it off. It ended up being really helpful in pinning down the heart of my story. All of the hazy parts still mulling around in my head are suddenly starting to take shape. I think I might challenge myself to write these at the beginning of every new story.

Here’s what I ended up with. What do you think? Would you read this novel? After reading the hundred-word pitch, do you think I left something vital out of the thirty-word pitch?

Category

YA fantasy (fairy tale retelling) / romance

Thirty-word pitch

The kingdom is in political gridlock after all the royals are assassinated. Who should inherit? Cinderella escapes abuse and ignites social reform in spite of no prince or magic.

Hundred-word pitch

For fifteen years, the kingdom’s been in political gridlock as nobles squabble over who should inherit the empty throne. The lower class’ needs are forgotten in the fuss, which Estella’s stepfamily uses to their advantage. Estella grows up knowing both privilege and suffering. Determined to improve the lives of those she loves, she acquires a job at the palace where she meets Henry, son of the Royal Steward. With his political reach and her heart for the people, they could change the nation. But if their connection is discovered, it could cost Henry the throne—or worse, Estella her life.

 
I’m passing the challenge on to you! Tell me what you’re working on in a pitch. You can write either the thirty-word or the hundred-word pitch (or both like me!). Your choice. I can’t wait to see what you’ve got!

Lessons I’ve learned

A birthday cake

Photo via Visualhunt

This is my birthday week! Is it any wonder that my birthday is in April if I’m named April? You’d think not, but I get asked if it’s true ALL THE TIME. Anyway, in celebration of turning 33 years old, here’s a list of 33 things I’ve learned during my lifetime.
 

1. Nothing beats a good piece of chocolate.

2. Staying up late doesn’t prevent tomorrow from coming.

3. “Please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry” make the world go round.

4. An allergy rash and the chicken pox are NOT the same thing.

5. You can fake confidence until it becomes true confidence, and that’s what most people who seem confident are doing. Yes, even that amazing person who has it all together.

6. You can’t make friends unless you be a friend first.

7. Baking chocolate is NOT worth snitching from your mother’s kitchen when you’ve been denied dessert.

8. Love is a gift of selflessness. You can’t earn it, you can only give it away. Love is an intentional choice that has to be made each day.

9. You will always regret not starting sooner, so even if you’re not ready, make today Day One.

10. If YOU’VE heard every joke and song there is with your name, chances are THEY’VE heard every joke and song with their name, too. Restrain yourself. Don’t make them do the smile, nod, and faux “ha ha” thing that you hate doing when others make a calendar joke.

11. Perfection is the enemy of good. “Done” is better than “excellent but incomplete.”

12. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas unless there are Christmas cookies, candles, seasonal music, and a decorated tree.

13. People are only as beautiful as they are kind.

14. In the things that don’t matter, achievement is more important than effort. In the things that do matter, effort is more important than achievement.

15. You need to keep the heat lower than usual for good results with eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches, or pancakes. But keep it higher than usual for anything that needs to be seared or roasted, like steaks, burgers, or veggies.

16. I thought I loved to cook because I love to eat. Turns out they don’t go hand in hand.

17. The best way to get a stubborn person to do what you want is to let them think it was their own idea.

18. Just when you think you’ve figured out how to deal with your kid, they change.

19. The best way to get better at something isn’t necessarily the practice, but rather the commitment to showing up every day.

20. If you say, “I’ll pray for you,” keep your promise. It is not a phrase to be said lightly.

21. Kids’ taste buds are weird.

22. Anger comes from unmet expectations. If you get angry a lot, make your expectations clearer or adjust your expectations.

23. It matters more to be worthy of respect than to be popular.

24. Kindness and friendliness transcend all language barriers.

25. I am more like my mother than I swore I’d ever be. My teenage self would’ve refused to admit it, but it’s a good thing.

26. Being mindful prevents and solves most problems.

27. Your money goes farther if you’re frugal, and you don’t need as much as you think you do.

28. Singing lifts the spirit.

29. You can really embarrass yourself if you quote a movie line the other person doesn’t know and they take it out of context.

30. Medical advice often contradicts itself depending on which country you’re in, since there’s a lot we don’t really know yet about how the body works. A good chunk of what we’re told is cultural tradition. Trust your body to tell you what it needs or if something’s wrong. Doctors are dependable, but they’re not omniscient.

31. Children model what they see, not what they’re told.

32. Don’t start cracking your knuckles because it’s the cool thing to do in fifth grade. It’ll become a life-long habit you’re never able to break.

33. Words are incredibly powerful, more so than most of us give them credit for.

 
Whew! That’s a lot of stuff. And to be honest, some of them I’m still in the process of learning. But now it’s your turn: tell me something you’ve learned and are excited to share about! My kindergartener was very excited to learn the difference between living and non-living things in science class this week. My other son learned to do the monkey bars by himself. He’s very proud!

Type yourself

An Enneagram chart showing the nine personality types

Photo via Sarah A. Downey

I love introspective soul searching and dreaming about possibilities. I also love getting inside another person’s head to better understand what they’re feeling or thinking, or what their motivation might be.

As you can probably guess, I love personality quizzes.

When I was a freshman in college, we were required to take the official Myers-Briggs test. I learned I was an ENFP, but just barely an E. I knew I wasn’t a full extrovert, but figured the results proved I was an ambivert. After all, I loved going out with my friends as much as I loved being alone with a book.

When I was older, I began to question being an ambivert and took the MB test again, albeit an unofficial one online. I was definitely an introvert this time (although not as extreme as my husband). The description of an INFP is definitely more accurate of me.

I think parenthood can push a person’s extrovert/introvert meter toward the introvert direction since being needed by others constantly can be draining on anyone (so, an extreme extrovert might become an average extrovert, and a slight introvert can become an extreme introvert). That certainly was the case for me.

I’d also heard about the Enneagram, but since it cost money to take the official test and I wasn’t required to do so, I never got around to it. But yesterday I came across a link to a free unofficial test, which only took me five minutes to complete. It was enough to suggest my probable type, and since there’s a wealth of information at the Enneagram Institute Web site detailing the method, I was able to read up on it and confidently determine my type.

I’m a type 4—the individualist! It describes me very well, although I don’t tend to fall into depression. But my feelings can definitely run away with me sometimes.

I’m still reading all about it (I need to determine which “wing” I am, and so on), but I’m having fun. You can read about it on the official site too, or read the shortcut version at this Medium article.

After this, my next read will be Anne Bogel’s Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything. I always enjoy my binge reading/research, so I’m looking forward to this!

 
If you’re curious, you can take the 5-minute test as well. What’s your type? Do you like learning about personality types like I do? I find these helpful when getting into the heads of my characters when writing. But mostly I do them because I find them fascinating. I can’t help but type those around me as well, to better understand them.

Treat your writing as a job

A woman walking with purpose through nature, next to the words: I will write every day. I will write every day. I will write.

Photo via Visualhunt, modified under CC License.

As much as I love babies, mine are growing up and I just registered my youngest for kindergarten—that means from this fall I’ll have more hours during the day to dedicate to my writing! I’m sad about the growing up part, but I’m excited to be able to write without “Mommy? Mommy? Mommy?” interrupting me every few paragraphs.

I’ve worked freelance before, so I’m using my past experience to set myself up for success. Without a plan I’d be ending each day still in my PJs wondering where the time went. So, how can I ensure I treat my writing as a job?

Show up every day

We don’t go to work only when we feel like it, or when it’s convenient. We go to work every day because that’s our job and we’ve committed to it, even when it’s hard. The same goes with writing. Sit your butt down in your chair each day, especially on the days you don’t feel like it or your writing seems terrible. Often we’ll look back and see it wasn’t so terrible after all, or find that all the practice increased our skills over time—practice we wouldn’t have had if we hadn’t written in spite of our feelings.

Set up your office

It’s harder to get focused on your writing if your set up is the same as when you’re just surfing the Web at leisure. Have a special spot that you only sit in when working, whether that’s a designated desk or just at the kitchen table. My writing is better when I sit in a chair with both feet on the floor and my computer off of my lap, than when I’m curled up on the couch with my laptop like I do in the evenings when I try to relax.

This mindset shift is really important. Other ways you can help yourself get into work mode quicker is to have a uniform and/or have a beginning ritual, in addition to a dedicated work space.

The uniform doesn’t need to be a literal one, so much as clothes that feel like work clothes. People often quote being able to work in your pajamas as a benefit to working from home, but you’ll find you’re more productive if you dress with intention.

A brief ritual before beginning your writing can help as well: Pour the tea into your mug, sharpen your pencils, take a deep breath, and then re-read notes you left yourself when quitting yesterday (or whatever ritual works for you). Now you’re focused and ready to start.

Another part of setting up your office is to have any supplies you may need close by and organized so you don’t have to waste time looking for a pen, that specific notebook with all of your plot scribbles, and so on before progressing with your work.

Make a plan

You’ll never reach your destination if you don’t know where you’re going. Decide what it is you want to accomplish. Write a novel? Sell at least one article to a magazine or online publication a month? Draft a book proposal and query X number of agents by the end of the quarter?

Figure out your goal and how long you want it to take you. Let’s say you want to have a finished and polished novel in a year. Set the final deadline, break the project down into manageable steps, and then plot backwards in time until you reach today. Now you’ve got deadlines to keep you on track throughout the year.

Also, your goals will determine your daily process. Should you be spending each day only writing, or do some days need to be dedicated to learning about the craft? Perhaps one day a week is for research and another for marketing, and the rest are for writing. Your plans will shape your schedule.

Stay accountable

It’s easy to let things slide when you don’t have a boss or coworkers depending on you. Avoid this by becoming your own boss. You’ve already set deadlines on your calendar, so make sure you keep them. For me, it helps if I have set rewards for meeting each deadline and set punishments if I don’t (I get to buy a new book if I do, I have to take one of my husband’s chores for a week if I don’t; etc.).

You could also ask someone to be your accountability partner and have them occasionally check in on your progress. But “How’s it going?” and “It’s going well,” can be ambiguous sometimes, especially if your deadlines (checkpoints that are more defined than how you feel about your productiveness today) are spread far apart.

That’s why you should track your actions, and then their results. In the book 2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron, she talks about keeping a spreadsheet tracking not only her hours and the number of words produced during those hours, but also where she was when she wrote them. This helped her to realize she produced her best work in a coffeeshop rather than at home, and if she had 4-6 hours to write uninterrupted. She didn’t have the Internet to distract her, and she could get in the zone if she wrote for more than 4 hours… but her energy petered out by the seventh.

So far I’ve learned that I do my best writing mid-morning, in quiet (no other people or music), and if I have ample time to spare. I don’t know how much yet though, because I haven’t had the liberty with children underfoot. But I hope to find out this fall!

Keep office hours

If this is your job, treat it like one. That means you begin and end at specified times, you turn your phone on “do not disturb” during those hours, and you don’t do house chores. You are not at home, doing work on the side. You are at work, which happens to be in your house. Your chores can wait until you’re done with your job for the day, just like anyone else who goes to work.

If you thrive with structure, you can even set a lunch hour and “smoke” breaks (mental breaks). I plan to give myself a 40 minute lunch break and two 15-minute breaks. I can check social media and the like during this time, but I also plan to use them for stretching or short walks to make up for all the sitting I do while writing.

I will also set a specified number of PTO days and sick days, to accommodate life being, well LIFE. This way I don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “Well, I already fell off the wagon so what’s one more day of skipping going to hurt?” In the long run, it hurts a lot. Keep your accountability partner (or your spreadsheet) updated with the days you take off from writing.

Whether you work five hours a week or thirty hours a week, you need to set them in stone. This isn’t just so that you’ll take your work seriously, but also so that others respect your work as a real job as well. Which leads me to…

Protect your writing time

No, you can’t pick up the dry cleaning. No, you can’t walk your neighbor’s dog midday. No, you can’t make that call, run that errand, or take responsibility for something that’s not yours because you’re conveniently home during the day.

You are not available for the convenience of others. You have a job, and you are working during those hours.

And on that note, you are not available for your own convenience either. If you’re going to set a dentist appointment during your work hours because it’s easier than working around your hours, then take PTO off for it.

You won’t take your writing seriously if you don’t respect it as your job. Others won’t respect your hours either unless they see you drawing clear boundaries.

Having said that, the great thing about working from home is that you can set your own hours. So, you can decide to work from 10am until 2pm, leaving you time to run errands or make appointments in the early morning or the afternoon. How convenient! But don’t let yourself or others take advantage of your writing time just because you’re home. Unless you’re on your lunch break or take PTO, you need to keep your work hours for work.

 
I know I still have the rest of this school year and the summer left before I can start my new schedule, but I’m getting really excited! I can’t wait until I can make this my full time job (well, while the kids are in school anyway, heh).

Did any of this advice resonate with you? I hope it helps you with your writing, even if you can only devote slivers of time to it right now. And if there’s anything I missed, please share your wisdom! I’m always eager to learn more about how to improve my writing and my writing process.

How I found minimalism

A cat sleeping on a green armchair

Photo via Visualhunt.

Back in autumn of 2015, my husband and I had to make a decision: Were we going to sign a contract to work another year at the international school in Japan that employed us, or were we going to move back to the states? We struggled over the choice (especially me, who grew up there and considers Tokyo home), but ultimately we chose to finish out the 2015-16 school year and then move to the US that summer.

When we moved to Japan in 2010, we had brought 4 suitcases and 2 carry-ons of stuff, and left 8 boxes in a relative’s basement. We didn’t own much as a young couple only three years out of college, and our hand-me-down furniture had been easy to let go of. But when it came time to move back to the US in 2016, we had grown to a family of four and a house full of stuff, as well as furniture we had purchased with our own hard-earned cash.

It was overwhelming. I didn’t know where to begin.

Being a perfectionist procrastinator, I have trouble starting something until I have all my ducks in a row. So, as I always do when overwhelmed, I ignored the giant to-do list and chose to read about the problem instead. About that time, Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was quickly gaining popularity (also known as “the KonMari method”). I purchased a copy in hopes that it would help us downsize.

She wasn’t kidding about the life changing part.

If you’ve never had to downsize, let me put it this way. Every single item you own has become several questions. Do I love it? Do I need it? Have I used it in the last six months? Is it broken? Is it repairable? Will I repair it? Will I have space for it in our new home? Will this still be useful after we move? And in our case, will it cost more to ship this back or to replace it once we get there?

Imagine asking all of those questions about every single item you own, from your couch, to your plates, to your books, to your socks. The decision fatigue is incredible, and on top of that there’s the physical exertion of sorting and removing and cleaning and packing those things. Add hesitation and doubt to that mix, compounded by the number of questions you have to ask yourself for each piece. Oh, and don’t forget about your toddlers, who “help” by rearranging your piles—or who suddenly and desperately get attached to an item they didn’t care two bits about a week ago and was in the “to get rid of” pile.

EX. HAUST. ING.

So to simplify a process that makes you want to go boneless and lay there sobbing on the floor down to one question and no doubt is, as an understatement, an incredible relief. Just one question: “Does it spark joy?” And it either does, or it doesn’t. The end.

We were quoted by movers for a full shipping container before we downsized (since it was an international move, it all had to go by boat). After the KonMari purge, we had less than a quarter (equivalent of about 50 diaper boxes), too small for them to take on. We packed and shipped them ourselves.

It felt great. I felt accomplished. Our new house was free of clutter, and only had the things we really needed in it. I loved it.

But I blinked and found us a year later, in the states, with our new home feeling a little crowded again. How could that be? Didn’t we get rid of everything? Where did this stuff come from?

About that time, someone recommended the documentary “Minimalism” on Netflix to me. I watched it and the last pieces of the puzzle Marie Kondo had started clicked into place. She had taught me how to choose what to keep and how to get rid of the rest, guilt free. Minimalism freed me from the addictive need to bring unnecessary things into my life in the first place, and to make space for the things that really mattered to me.

Another reading binge.

I read every blog on minimalism I could find. I read several books on the subject (Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye, Things was my favorite). I watched YouTube video after video about it.

“This is it,” I thought. “This is what’s been missing from my life.” I’ve always craved order, but found it too overwhelming to maintain the order I wanted. Minimalism made so much sense to me. With less stuff, I’d have less to manage, and it’d be easier to create and keep order.

My home underwent another purge and tidy. But as I learned more about minimalism, I began applying it to more than just my stuff.

I started reevaluating my priorities and my values. I learned what things make me go nuts and began drawing clear boundaries to protect myself. I started considering actions I did out of habit instead of out of necessity. I began to view people differently, and was able to listen past the noises they were making to hear the need they were really asking for. I learned to breathe and to appreciate quiet.

Most importantly, I developed an attitude of gratefulness.

It’s 2018, and I’ve changed so much since that autumn of 2015. My home is not a stereotypical minimalist home with white empty walls, minimal pieces of modern furniture, and only the belongings that fit in a backpack or a car. I have kids after all, plus a maximalist husband. But the empty box for a home isn’t even the goal.

I want to make space for what’s important in my life—literal, physical space for the objects I own, figurative space for my relationships, schedule, and goals. As a minimalist, I don’t get rid of everything. I just remove the stuff that gets in the way of the things I love or the activities I choose to participate in or the relationships I value.

I’m a cozy minimalist (a hygge minimalist?). I keep just enough to be comfortable—not too much, not too empty.

I am happy.

 
What is something that makes you happy? Has something you read shifted your perspective lately? It doesn’t have to be about minimalism. I love reading about things that expand my perspective or help me to grow as a person. I also love fairy tales and YA fiction, so there’s that too, ha. I’m a reading mood, so if you’ve got a great book to share, let me know!