A Lesson in Focus

Great Blue Heron, Thumb Lake

Every day at camp, this handsome great blue heron hunted for fish and frogs in the marshy shallows of the lake.

No matter how many screaming kids were around and no matter how many ridiculous games they were playing in the water within a few yards of this bird, he calmly searched for meals.

He did not allow the plans of other beings to affect his schedule.

He did not concern himself with the people who were watching him and commenting on him.

He thought only of his goal and applied himself to achieving that goal, distractions be damned.

Is this speaking to you?

It’s speaking to me.

The Picture of Confidence

I’m eleven chapters and 27,000 words into the novel and feeling a bit like this…


The boy got his orange belt last week. In January, the word of the month at the dojo was goal-setting. This month, it’s confidence. 

Reaching your goals does wonders for your confidence. So what are you hoping for? What are you striving for? How will you achieve your goals? How will you surmount the obstacles in your way?


In late March, the boy should earn his green belt. Round about that time I hope to be in the home stretch of my book. We’ll both face obstacles along the way. But we’re both committed to overcoming them.

How about you? Are you going to let your circumstances stop you? Or are you going to have confidence in your ability to persevere?


Remember–the only thing all published authors have in common is a finished book. The paintings that hang in museums are finished paintings. The quilts that people sleep under are finished quilts.

So be confident, work hard, and go out there and finish something!


We did it! 1,000 Followers = FREE ebooks!

Oh happy day! I’m so pleased to see that A Beautiful Fiction has reached more than 1,000 followers! I had stated last year that when that occurred I would be giving away all of my currently available short stories on Kindle, the only exception being “This Elegant Ruin” due to current rights restrictions.

While the original goal was to hit that number by the end of 2013, I’m not feeling terribly stingy. So…


For one day only, on Monday, January 27th, each short story on Amazon will be absolutely free! Download to your heart’s content. I’ll remind you tomorrow, but for now remember that you can access all of them easily by clicking on the links found on the Books page (look above the lovely photo of seagulls over the Straits of Mackinac at the top of this page for the link, or click here).

And while you’re at it, get your own writing life energized with The Intentional Writer.

Intentional Writer ebook CVR FINAL

Thank you all so much for your support, your likes and comments, and your time over the past couple years of blogging. My hope for you is that 2014 will be the year you take great leaps and bounds in your own creative pursuits. Keep reading, keep writing, keep photographing, keep painting, keep knitting, keep sewing. Whatever you’re doing to add beauty and point to truth in this world, do it even better this year!

Settling into Cold and Cloudy

While a winter storm is apparently raging on the Atlantic coast, we in mid-Michigan have been enjoying a sunny day. But we’ll need to soak it up while we can, as the forecast calls for high temps in the teens and lots of clouds through the end of the month.

Late January and into February, my irritating habit of making the most of the weather starts to fade. The more the people around you complain about the snow and ice and wind, the more you start to resent it all too.

But I’m telling myself that it is a very, very good thing that I will not be able to get out into the garden until late April. I have a writing goal to reach and I don’t want to get distracted. With everything in my work in progress going fairly well (I’m up to chapter nine and have topped 20,000 words since starting just three weeks ago) I’ve decided to shoot for finishing the first draft by Easter (which is April 20th this year). If I reach that goal, then I can let the thing settle for a month while I get the yard and gardens in order and spend some serious time outside enjoying spring.

So I’m looking at the cold and cloudy near future as an asset rather than a reason to despair.

What about you? What are you going to get done before spring rolls along?


This is why you should occasionally take a week of vacation just to write if you have a full time job and are finding it difficult to set aside concentrated writing time. I had a goal for my week off to net me three chapters of my new book. Instead, I ended up with five chapters and a nice, encouraging total of 13,652 words–a little over 2,700 per day.

Because I waited to start writing until I was really, really ready (in other words, until I just couldn’t hold back the tide) I had very few moments when I struggled with what to say or what should come next. And it took about a year of musing, outlining, researching, and a few false starts to get there. Now I wish I had a couple more weeks off lined up this month! Still, if I make the time at night or during a few early mornings, I can still manage to keep up a nice pace.

I hope if you made any writing goals for the new year that you are actively pursuing them and that when your passion or energy inevitably fades (as mine will at times, I am quite sure) that you pick it back up before letting the dust settle.

Write on!

A Letter to My Future Self


This morning I wrote a letter to myself, sealed it in an envelope, and taped it to the December page of my 2014 calendar. On January 1, 2015, I plan to open it. I won’t tell you what it said just yet (maybe I will next New Year’s Day), but in it I made some suggestions and promises to myself. I hope to find that this year next time some hopes and dreams will have come to pass, some goals may be met, and some growth may have occurred.

As for writing goals, this year I have just one–to write, revise, and edit my novel so that, come 2015, I’m ready to query agents. I’ll do other writing-related things, like publish my ebook, The Intentional Writer, and my collection of 2013’s short stories (now planned for June to avoid rights conflicts). I’ll put the individual short stories up on Smashwords for you non-Kindle users. I’ll continue to write in this space.

But the main thing is the novel. I’m quite thrilled about it. The first couple days of writing have gone well and netted me close to 5,000 words and a lower back ache that is subsiding a little today.

Here’s where I’ve been writing:


The big map is of Detroit and the markers are to delineate borders at various times in the city’s history and highlight spots affected by riots. The books include a number I’ve already read, some relevant ones I got for Christmas, and the sixteen new ones I just picked up from a couple used bookstores. Because, after all, the more you research the more you realize you need to know. I’m hoping I can get them all read as I work on writing the book.

My husband says it looks like I’m planning to go back in time and murder someone.


But actually, I imagine the body count will be far greater than just one…

I’m Checking My Own List…Once

I know that generally the only lists on our minds this time of year are Christmas lists, Top Ten {insert pointless thing here} of 2013 lists, and lists of celebrity deaths (why do we do this every year?) but my December list is a little different.

I’m busy hacking away at my little “Finish in 2013” to-do list. I have one more short story to write, one more book to finish reading, an article to write, some brochure copy to revise, some bills to pay, and some edits to make. I’m winding down as fast as I can so that I can fully enjoy gearing up for my 2014 novel-writing extravaganza!

I love lists because I love checking things off.

And I really like the feeling of a closed door at the end of the year, nothing hanging on out there in my synapses that I still have to deal with.

A new year means a new chapter, especially for people like me who have birthdays so close to the beginning of the year (January 2nd, in my case). A month from today I will be 34, and I want to start the new year fresh and ready for the next big thing.

What’s the next big thing for you?

Trailblazing and the Seductive Pull of the Status Quo


In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, we encounter two opposite impulses embodied in Laura’s parents. Pa is a restless wanderer moving his family ever west in search of more space, more freedom, and complete self-reliance. Ma is obedient to her husband’s wishes, but her heart is still back in New England where her family remains. Just when the family settles in one place and the land is tamed and things are beginning to work smoothly, just when Ma’s workload gets a little lighter because the house is built, the barn is secure, and the vegetable garden is established, Pa announces the family is leaving that all behind and heading back out on the trail to chase the horizon.

As Americans, we admire Pa and leave Ma to fret about Indian attacks and the children’s education. Or we pretend we do. Or we do while we’re yet young and unattached. But when we have established homes and jobs and families of our own, the pull of the horizon must war with the pull of the earth beneath our feet. We begin to see the sense in staying where we are. We begin to see all that open land not as welcoming us but as waiting to destroy us.

So we stay in jobs we dislike for 30 years in order to feed and clothe our families and keep our health insurance (well, maybe not that anymore…). It would be a different thing, we say, if we were single or childless. We take the path of least resistance and claim that it must be God’s will for our lives because we encounter no obstacles (if that’s your view, go check out 1 Corinthians 16:9 and note the word and). We keep plodding through and put out of mind that there may be something else for us.

Is there something you have been putting off for fear that your life will be disrupted? Or that you may fail? The Ingalls family never quite made it to where Pa wanted to go. I’m not sure even reaching the Pacific Ocean would have quelled his wanderlust. In fact, they had to turn back east and retreat for a time. But that never seemed to stop Pa. And though they encountered hardship most of us can’t imagine nowadays, they also experienced the pride of being trailblazers.

It’s hard to balance contentment with one’s circumstances and the drive to get that dream job or live in that dream city or pursue that dream degree. The status quo is so comfortable, so cozy, so easy. Why would we want to mess with that?

Still, if you have gifts and you aren’t using them or you’re not using them to the extent you believe you should, maybe it’s time to venture out of your shell and take the plunge into the unknown. If an opportunity presents itself to you and your first instinct is to retreat into your shell and wait for it to go away, maybe it’s time to be brave and take on the challenge.

There will be obstacles. There will be long winters, rushing rivers, millions of grasshoppers, prairie fires and chimney fires, people who resent you, and family that doesn’t quite understand. There will be hard work and hard weather. But there will also be satisfaction and joy and adventure.

Case in point: I have submitted a few of my short stories this year to a number of contests and gotten a number of emails that include the words, “We’re sorry, but…” And yet, last night I got an email from one of those contests that told me I am a finalist! And that email was from The Saturday Evening Post. Even if I don’t win, I still got that far, I may end up in their anthology, I now have contact with the editor there who likes my work, and I can add this information to my bio as I query other magazines, editors, or agents.

But if I hadn’t taken the plunge and risked lots of rejection, I could never have gotten this far.

Is opportunity knocking? Why not crack the door and at least give it a chance to talk.

Research, Reality, and Reaching Out to Other Writers

Have you ever been “done” with research only to find that you are just getting started? Over the past few months I’ve read several books (two of them around the 500 page mark) and watched about 30 hours of documentaries on various historical aspects of the time periods my WIP covers (or will cover if I ever get done researching). I felt I was done.

Then I went out to dinner with my friend Valerie.

While waiting to be seated at a restaurant, we wandered over to Schuler Books & Music and perused the used book section, where I found (with her pernicious help) two more l-o-n-g books to read as background research. Mind you, I was not looking for these books. They were looking for me. Nothing from these books will actually end up in my novel, as the time periods they describe are not covered in my story, but the background knowledge they promise to provide is really essential for understanding some socioeconomic and cultural realities in a particular place and time that will be covered in the book.

All this to say, I’m not ready to write as gung-ho as I would have to be in order to do NaNoWriMo. Beyond that, I have not been able to finish November’s short story this week as I had hoped, so I will have that to do next month as well. Releasing myself from NaNoWriMo madness also allows me to work on that nonfiction book about intentional writing I mentioned. So I’ll still be writing, I’ll just be switching the order that I work on two of my projects.

In addition to that, I will be a contributing editor to the Women’s Fiction Writers Association‘s newsletter and I’ve been asked to prepare a feature article for their first issue. I’m very excited to have the opportunity to reach out to other writers beyond those of you who read this blog through my involvement with WFWA and through the writing book (which I hope to release in January now).

So the plan for the rest of 2013 will be to finish up my last two short stories, finish my nonfiction book for writers, start writing and editing for WFWA, and really finish my research. And that is plenty for just two months. In January, once the writing book is released, I’ll work on formatting my collection of short stories for a print edition for all you non-techies. And then, once those other items are off my plate, I will have the time and mental energy to devote every free moment of writing time to my novel.

So that’s how my year is wrapping up. What about you? What do you want to finish before 2014 rolls around? Tomorrow begins a new month. Thirty days to work toward the finish line of whatever goal you have right now. What are you going to do with the time you have?

Should I Really Get Myself into This?


I’m sure that some of you out there know what this is. For the rest of you, go here and then come back.

Are you back yet?

Last year I participated in NaNoWriMo and started writing a novel that I still intend to get back to at some point, but I didn’t finish out the month. I actually don’t really remember why I dropped the project.

But this year the timing is just right. My research for my next venture is nearly complete, I’m chomping at the bit to get started, and I really want to commit to consistent writing to get a huge chunk of this sucker done before the end of the year and keep the momentum going. My husband is also ready to start his next novel, so we can write together every night just like we did a couple years ago.

I do have my last three short stories to write. October’s should be done this week and I think I could get November’s started up as well so I wouldn’t be doing the entire thing next month. But another reason for me to go gung-ho on the novel during November is because early next year I want to put together my short story collection, which will require time to do interior design, and I want to write an ebook about my experiences with more intentional writing this year that will contain lots of great advice about finding a writing rhythm, dealing with problems and blacks as the arise, and self-pubbing.

So I figure if I have 50,000 words of the novel’s first draft written before December…well, I’d feel pretty dang good about myself.

What about you? Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo? Ever thought about it? Think you could give yourself over to your writing for one month? Imagine what you could come out with on the other side…