Tag Archives: encouragement

What World Do You Want?

When a young black woman is pushed, insulted and harassed at a Trump rally—
When armed men destroy Paiute sacred lands—
When a man tells a woman that she has to carry a child of rape—
When there are so many mass shootings that I can’t remember the details—

When anger is everywhere I look—

I get angry too.

I don’t want a world of racism and institutionalized privilege, violence and hate, ignorance and distrust.

But you know what?

I don’t want to be full of such anger either.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 7.32.11 AMToday I offer you my hope for the world instead of my rage, and I challenge you to turn darkness into light. The world we will get is the one we can imagine, the one we can build with our hearts and our hands.

Share this hope. Or better yet, share your own.

What world do you want?

A #Readdukah Realization

I was planning on posting a Jewish book a day for all of Chanukkah as part of the #Readdukah celebration of Jewish themed books. You may have noticed that I flamed out after six. Mostly that was because days seven and eight fell on the weekend and I was busy having fun with my family, but also I realized that I have not read nearly enough Jewish children’s books!

So in lieu of days seven and eight, I’m adding an addendum to a New Year’s Resolution (look at how prompt I am with that!). My plan in the next year is to focus on reading books by and about marginalized voices. In addition to my list of books by authors of color, I plan to add more Jewish authors and also Muslim authors.

I firmly believe that books can bring us together across vast differences, and our world needs this more than ever right now. Let me leave you with a quote that I have returned to again and again for solace and encouragement. (I wish I knew who wrote it, but it has been attributed to multiple sources.)

I love these words because they remind me that our task really is a simple one:

Make gentle.

Find compassion.

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Intuition, trust, faith – Lessons from SCBWI-WWA

IMG_5930I always leave writing conferences full of new ideas. Maybe a workshop has offered insight into some element of craft that I want to implement in my work in progress, or perhaps I’ve gleaned new strategies for social media and marketing.

I came home from the SCBWI-Western Washington Spring Conference with something a little different and probably far more valuable.

Sharon Flack and Nina Laden reminded me about intuition. Can I step back from over-analyzing and over-planning my projects and embrace the deep knowing of what my story needs?

Rachel Or asked us to trust in each other, in our art, and in ourselves.

David Wiesner spoke of faith in the ultimately unknowable act of creation that occurs when you commit to showing up on the page. Can I believe whole-heartedly in the process by which ideas are made manifest?

And to all this I will add kindness. A thousand thank yous to Dana Armin, Dana Sullivan, and Lily LaMotte for taking such good care of all of us this weekend. I was so happy to be among my people, to see your projects come to fruition, and to share my own. This writing business can be solitary and frustrating and heart-breaking, but it is also filled with the best people in the world.

And thus I begin work this morning full to brimming…


May they be yours as well.


Ready to burst

Sculpture by David Kracov in honor of Rabbi Rossi Raichik, who saved over 2,500 children from the effects of the Chernobyl disaster
Sculpture by David Kracov in honor of Rabbi Rossi Raichik, who saved over 2,500 children from the effects of the Chernobyl disaster

Burst, rupture, explode, surge, gush, hurtle, plunge… A day in my life brought to you by the thesaurus. Everything is full to bursting. In some ways, that’s exhilarating. In others, challenging.

The good rush—

I am drafting a new novel, and it is pouring out of me, surging through the cracks, waking me up at night. It is a blazing, fragmentary, kaleidoscopic whirlwind of a book that is driving me into new territory.

The lightened future—

We are going to move, to pack the wagon, to reverse the trail, to embrace something new.

The coming breach—

I am decluttering. My house is an overstuffed suitcase about to face TSA. I want to purge and winnow. I want the fleet-of-foot lightness of canoe trips and the gallivanting international travel of my twenties. I want to discard before we rupture.

The full heart—

This silly puppy sleeping upside down at my feet. My daughter’s head nestled on my chest. Her whispered I love yous. My son charging toward high school, ready to take on the world. This spouse of mine who shares the load and washes dishes and makes me laugh.

And you, friends. Definitely you.

This is bursting at its best.

“You Don’t Have To Try So Hard”

IMG_1564A few years ago I was teaching a workshop at a writing retreat. The event was sponsored by an organization that I care about, and I really wanted to do a good job. I prepared what I hoped would be whiz-bang-inspiring content that would give participants a toolbox for writing success. I practiced my talk. I got jazzed up and poured on the energy and enthusiasm during the presentation.

The talk went well. I could tell that the audience was engaged. I felt good about it…

… until about twenty minutes after I was done.

A fellow writer who I know professionally but not well came up to me and said, “You don’t have to try so hard. It won’t do any good.”

I went to my room and cried.

This month, I’ve been assailed on all sides—professional disappointments, family stressors, and an intense confrontation with someone whose criticisms cut to the very core of who I am as a person. But I try so hard, I lamented. I try to do my best work, to be my best self. I try and try and try.

And as I cried about all these new challenges, the words of my colleague, which I had found so deeply hurtful, returned: “You don’t have to try so hard. It won’t do any good.”

What I think she meant was this: no matter how hard I try there will still be people who don’t like the way I work, who don’t like my writing, and who don’t like me. The trying will not change their minds.

And thus, maybe it’s not about trying harder at all.
Or about working more.
Or being better.

Maybe I don’t have to try so hard because I am already enough.

As this year winds to a close, as we face a new year rising, this is what I want you to hear:
You—exactly as you are—you are enough.

And I love you.

Writerly dreams

This business is very weird.

I’ve been writing hard for years, dreaming up projects, deciding how to frame them, finding the right words.  I’ve struggled to find the right agent (not just AN agent but the exact-right-perfect-for-me-one).  I’ve considered dropping out more than once.  There were times when it seemed like nothing would ever sell.

And then…

… all the atoms in the universe line up.

A few weeks ago, I announced the sale of my upcoming anthology THE V-WORD, and last week Publisher’s Marketplace had this:


Amber Keyser’s SNEAKER CENTURY, an illustrated social history of the ubiquitous shoe, to Domenica Di Piazza at Twenty-First Century Books, for publication in Spring 2015, by Fiona Kenshole at Transatlantic Literary Agency (World).

I think I just might be floating a few inches off the ground, or maybe it’s my sneakers!


I’m just like Paula Abdul back in the day.



Me today


Most days, I get right to work, knocking out word counts or revising away the crap.  Today, I am metaphorically wearing this hoodie.

I’m trying to write something hard.  I don’t want to do it.  So I am 100% screwing around, putting my head to my desk, jumping up to prep dinner before it’s even lunch.

Sigh.  I’m not proud.  It just is–for today.


In praise of Scriva Liz, kayaking, and straight talk about tough books

I have this spectacularly epical (thanks MB for coining the best word ever) critique group called Viva Scriva and each and every member is someone I want to hug tightly and feed cookies for ever and ever.  Today, however, I must call out Scriva Liz for straight talk.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to find my way back into a manuscript about a teen boy and an eleven-year-old girl thrown together by tragedy.  The lovely Kiersi B. calls it THE FAULT IN OUT STARS meets INTO THE WILD–an apt pitch.  Anyway, I worked hard on it during the winter and had made it to about 50K words.  The first two parts were in decent shape.  The last part was a hodge-podge of disconnected scenes and gaping holes.

As I re-read those 50K words, there was no glimmer or spark.  I felt flat and worried that it was crap.  I complained to Scriva Liz (who has read early pieces of it) about how unenthused I was to work on it (even though my agent wants me to finish it right away).  I wondered aloud if my poor response to it was because it wasn’t good or didn’t have the legs to carry a novel-length story.  She looked at me and restrained herself from a dope slap (I’m extemporizing here) and said, “You feel that way because it’s such a hard book to write.”

Face palm.


This book draws heavily on my own grief following the death of my first daughter, Esther.  It’s not a fun one to write.  No swash-buckling.  No make-outs.  Lots of pain, and I hope, lots of heart.  But it is a story I need to tell, and thanks to Liz, I got to work.  I’m making great progress.  I’m in the zone, and I’m even glad to be writing it.

What does this have to do with kayaks, you ask?  Well, also thanks to Liz, I jammed through my writing goal early this morning (1300+ words, thank you very much) and played hooky for the rest of the day.  We kayaked from Hayden Island up to a floating restaurant, drank margaritas, and gabbed.  It was 80 degrees and we were feeling the love.

As I send you off into the weekend, I hope you have a good one, and I hope you have a Scriva Liz!


Dealing with failure in a business full of NOs

Choosing the writing life means choosing to put yourself up for rejection over and over again.  Why do we do this?  Are we lunatics better suited to religious practices that involve self-immolation?

I don’t know why.  But it’s hard to get rejected, reviewed, and critiqued day in and day out.  Sometimes I roll with it.  Sometimes I despair.  If you are in the despair phase, here are some places to turn.

Dave Gessner offers us the middle finger approach, which I heartily advocate.

Though I am not particularly proud of it, one way that I respond to being told my work is unwanted is by getting angry, rejecting my rejections… So what do we do with this energy, angry or not?  One thing we can do it write.  Better, sharper stories than before.  We look rejection coldly in the eye and say, “No, that’s not true,” or sometimes “Yes, maybe that’s a little true….I’ve got to get better at that.”  We write regularly, daily, with a calm fury.  We show the bastards.  


In a decidedly more therapeutic vein, agent Rachelle Gardner offers these five suggestions:

  1. Reframe the failure and look at it as simply part of the process.
  2. Accept that any endeavor worth trying will involve some risk and experimentation, and hence, failure.
  3. Use every failure as an opportunity to reassess what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Figure out how to do it better next time.
  4. Realize that if you’re not failing sometimes, you may not be taking enough risks or pushing yourself hard enough.
  5. Just keep getting back up, knowing you’re smarter now than you were before the failure.


Finally, I offer this suggestion.  Remember that you are not alone.  Find your people and commiserate.  Read the worst rejection letters.  Pick up THE WRITERS BOOK OF HOPE by Ralph Keyes.  Join Kristen Lamb and the #myWANA peeps on Twitter.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  (I’m there with you in a fetal position, slurping whiskey from a sippy cup and sticking a pen in my eye.)