Next Door Getaway

So the house next door is now an Airbnb. It’s been a bizarre experience.

The thing is, I’ve lived in my neighborhood forever. I grew up here. I lived here while I was going to college. I’ve seen generations grow and move (and, sometimes, return). The usual patterns of a neighborhood have been fascinating. Wasn’t it Eudora Welty who spoke of the importance of staying in one place, of watching those life patterns, and letting it inform the work?

Something like that.

Anyway. The house. It’s nothing fancy, in (obviously) an older neighborhood. The chain link’s got rust on it, the street has cracks, and when it rains, the neighborhood floods. A few years ago, the flood drew lightning and knocked out electronics all down the street. (Bye, bye, my six month old computer.) I’ve known the string of owners of the house that’s now an Airbnb since the eighties. I know all about the year-old dog buried in the backyard (struck by a car) and the little girl’s name carved into the wooden swing. I know the history of it.

And knowing the history, I guess, makes it seem a little heavy. Which is the opposite of a vacation.

Now, this is what a vacation home should look like.

But the people who rent it don’t know any of that. They know it’s a quiet neighborhood and the people are nice. The house is well put-together and clean. They wave happily at me when they come out with their dogs. Last month, they were taking pictures of the colored leaves on the trees, and everyone who comes seems to marvel at the getaway-ness of it all.

All in this place that has never, not in my entire life, been a getaway place.

It’s all relative, of course. One person’s everyday is another’s special escape.

But I have to admit, it has made me look at it all with fresh eyes.

My neighborhood, the great escape.

The Best Place to Write

I’ve always thought the best place to write was outside (something about being in a place without walls makes me feel like there’s no walls on my imagination). Autumn has definitely arrived in the Ozarks; before long, I won’t be able to write outside at ll.

For now, though, it’s pretty nice under my favorite writing tree:


IMG_0450This week, we tackled the garden at the Schindler house. It’s always such a joy to get outside, especially after a long, cold winter. As much as I love my work, it’s also a joy to get away from the computer for a little while, get my fingers in the dirt.



I think the other thing about gardening that has a definite appeal to a writer is that it kind of just takes off on its own. Once you get it in the ground, it does most of the work for you. All you have to do is make sure it gets plenty of water and the bunnies don’t have access (hence the elaborate plastic walls around ours this year–since taking that pic, I’ve also added pinwheels to keep birds out).

It’s so much fun to go out in the morning and check on the growth. Watching what sprouts first, what takes off. The green shoots can be such a welcome sight.

Never, in all my years of writing, has a book behaved that way. I’ve never opened a file to find that the thing wrote a new chapter for me while I wasn’t looking–the same way the tomato plants sprout little yellow flowers while I’m off doing something else.

Writing is so time–and effort–intensive. If you aren’t putting fingers to keyboard, it just ain’t gettin’ done.

But one fantastic thing about writing is that it doesn’t die. No matter how long you’ve neglected to water it. No matter how long it’s been shunted into the back of your desk.

Go on. Open that ancient file.

Write a few lines. Write a few more.

It’s spring, after all.

See what grows.


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If you’re writing for young readers, your old stuff is just a goldmine. And by “old stuff,” I mean anything that allows you to connect with who you were as a teen or fifth grader or college freshman, etc.

When I wrote my first YA, A BLUE SO DARK, I dug through all the old spiral-bound notebooks I filled with poetry throughout high school. Not only did it help me get back into the right teen voice, a few of those poems actually worked their way into the finished book (tweaked a bit to fit the events of the novel).

Last year, I bumped into this gem–it appears to be an old school project (I’m thinking I was about 8 when I did this, since that’s when I learned cursive) in which I invented a superhero. My creation?



Check out that impressive glitter work–and that’s real yarn hair! Pretty super, if I do say so myself.

When Susan is not being super, she is mild-mannered Susan Crawford:


I’m not sure what Susan Crawford does, exactly. Maybe librarian? I probably would have liked a librarian.

Here I am brainstorming Super Susan’s abilities:


And here’s my short piece on Super Susan:


Susan’s true superpower? According to that last paragraph, it’s kindness.

I got such a kick out of this, and I wanted to give other young writers an opportunity to invent a superhero of his or her own. The end result? A brainstorming journal:

superhero cover2

In this journal, young writers will not only create a new superhero, they’ll also learn the basics of crafting strong characters, building solid conflict, and finding an emotionally satisfying story conclusion.

The journal also asks writers to consider how their characters change. Taking a page from the Super Susan book, the journal encourages writers to give their heroes a chance to show kindness to their enemy. By showing kindness, writers can see how those heroes and enemies can actually find common ground, maybe even join forces.

I hope your young writers come up with something amazing. Well–actually, I don’t hope. I know they will. Snag your own copy here.


Piggybacking on last week’s post on retyping revisions, I wanted to share another technique I’ve found to be particularly powerful during the revision process: the letter of authorial intent.

Sometimes, it’s hard to know where to get started with a revision. And while it’s true that consulting beta readers or critique groups can offer authors some great guidance, it’s also unfortunately true that conflicting advice (or advice you don’t 100% agree with) can leave you feeling more confused or lost than ever…in the darkest of times, you can even wonder if your project’s hit a dead-end.

At this point, I’d recommend writing what I’ve come to refer to as a letter of authorial intent.


It is in no way a query. A query is short and it’s jacket copy. It tries to entice someone else to read your book. This is a letter to yourself. In it, you’re literally describing what you intended, as the author, for this book to be. The important thing to remember is that this letter has nothing to do with the book you actually wrote. Not at this point. This letter is describing the book you dreamed of. The book you intended to write. Reconnect with your just-inspired self. What got you excited in the first place? What was the initial spark?

Spiral out from there. Let yourself go. Don’t worry if your thoughts hop around. Just get them down at this point. This is a total brain-dump, a stream-of-consciousness freewrite. What themes did you want to include? What about the characters? Who did you imagine they would be?

Get every last thing you wanted this book to be down on paper. Write it in longhand, type it, dictate it. Whatever it takes to let all the ideas flow naturally.


Now that you’ve got it all down, organize it. Remember, this is a letter for you, so there really are no hard-and-fast rules. It’s all about what works best for you—and for this project! I do shuffle all my thoughts by topic (Character, Theme, etc.) Really, this step is more of a logical reordering than it’s technically a revision. You don’t care how the letter is phrased; you’re actually creating a kind of checklist.

Once I’ve gotten my own letter of authorial intent organized, I usually:


And the pitch is based solely on the letter, not the manuscript. If the book you described in your own letter actually existed, how would you pitch it in one sentence?


This is the fun part (at least, I think it’s fun). Put your authorial letter of intent (and that one-sentence pitch) next to your manuscript. Does the manuscript live up to the pitch? Does the manuscript accomplish what you originally set out to do? Do not go easy on yourself! Identify the areas where you feel you didn’t hit the mark. Why? What separates the current WIP’s main character from the character you originally imagined? Are the themes and messages present in this WIP? Are they present but perhaps not in the way or to the extent you planned? Why?

By comparing your original goals to the current manuscript, you can begin to identify holes or weaknesses. From there, you can begin to brainstorm ideas on how to fix those weaknesses.


I’ve found that by reconnecting with what originally inspired me, I often find myself reinfected with that original excitement and the high of the initial spark of inspiration. The kind of excitement that can help a writer power through a tough revision…


You’ve decided to do it–you’re taking that daunting first step! You’ve decided to tackle that elusive goal, the thing you’ve been putting off for another day. You’re going to write your novel, go back to school, brave open mic night, train for a marathon, learn to speak a second language. Whatever it is, you’ve officially taken the first step–and now you need something to celebrate turning your “someday” (…) into “right now” (!)

That’s why I put together these products in my Cafe Press storeNothing feels better than finally taking a first step. First steps need to be recognized–they’re the most important steps you’ll ever take!


51jn4uqtjkl-_sx412_bo1204203200_I’ve been seeing this topic show up repeatedly–in conversations on Facebook as well as on Reddit during my recent Ask Me Anything session: How do you deal with frustration and the feeling that what you’re writing is garbage?

I’m a big advocate of (for lack of a more sophisticated term) “fun days.” These aren’t days off from writing; instead, they’re days in which you push aside your current WIP to write something only for you. Could be anything–a poem, short story, anecdote, picture book text. But it’s short, and it’s never intended to see the light of day, and its sole purpose is entertaining you.

This technique is basically a spin on Dr. Seuss’s “Midnight Paintings”–works he created with the intention of never showing them in his lifetime. Because they wouldn’t be critiqued, he was never guilty of self-censoring, and he could let his imagination run wild.

I find “fun days” can do wonders for your outlook. It literally does bring the fun back to writing. It reminds you of why you ever thought you could make it as a professional writer.

These “fun days” can also accidentally help inform your own WIP (the one that’s currently giving you fits). This is also true of Seuss’s Midnight Paintings; now that Seuss’s late-night works are available to the public, it’s easy to recognize how they inspired or contributed to the Seuss books we’re all familiar with.

If you’d like a little more inspiration for your own “fun days” or “midnight works,” try to snag a copy of THE CAT BEHIND THE HAT (the title appears to be out of print, but I did manage to grab an affordable copy on eBay).