Write, Doubt, Write, Repeat

Doubt is such a funny, fickle thing.

One day I know that boy, I have a lot of work to do, but I’ll figure everything out eventually. Another it’s WOOOOP WOOOOP EMERGENCY THIS IS NOT A DRILL PROBLEMS ABOUND AND I DON’T KNOW HOW TO SOLVE THEM TAKE SHELTER AND PREPARE FOR IMPACT NOW.

The next I’ll come up with a fix. It’ll take me totally by surprise and reassure me to the moon.

The day after I’ll be sitting with my finger poised over send, biting my lip and sweating and second guessing everything because oh my god, someone else is going to read this, and maybe it seemed decent yesterday but it actually isn’t and I’ve read it so many times I can’t tell anymore and ahhHhHhHHhh I don’t know I just help?!?!????! (Eventually reason kicks in: This is why I’m getting outside feedback. I get the feedback; I make it better; life goes on.)

Here is what I’m coming to see: Doubt is a part of the process. But it’s not a one time step, knock it out of the way and you’re done; it’s a thread. It weaves through everything you do, every step of the way. It can come at any stage, at any strength, for any duration of time—and evaporate in the blink of an eye.

Being a writer means confronting your doubts again, and again, and again. It can be scary. It can be nerve-wracking.

But it can also be incredibly rewarding.

So the next time doubt swamps you, give yourself some credit and keep writing.

You’re right on track.


THE RESEARCH MAGNIFICENT, by H.G. Wells, author of The War of the Worlds. Published 1915. Not only is this book a first edition; it is a ONE HUNDRED YEAR OLD first edition. One hundred years! This book has been around longer than most people alive today! It is a crazy and wonderful and thrilling thing to me to hold this artifact from another time in my hands, to inhale the smell of ink and yellow pages and think of those who may have read it before me. And best of all: I found it secondhand for $2.99. $ 2 . 9 9 !11!1!!1!!!!! </end geekout>

Ideas: Throwing Out vs. Digging Deep

Ideas are work.

More than once I have started down the path of a story idea and come up against major obstacles. “Ugh, that’s too trope-y,” or “No, that reminds me too much of [other book].” And you know what it’s tempting to do when you hit a big picture snag like that? Write the whole idea off. Because, who wants to waste time developing something problematic at its very foundation?

But here’s the thing.

“Obstacles” can be gotten round. “Problems” can be solved. X has already been done before? Big whoop. What’s new? (Certainly not the grievance that it’s all been done before.) Y is a hackneyed cliché that you’ll eat paste and die before subscribing to? Clichés are as old as time raised your ancestors, but they still managed to invent things. So do we.

My point is this: when you recognize a problem with an idea, that is not just cause for casting the idea away. That is cause for putting the problem under your microscope, studying it, and accepting it as your first creative challenge.

If the core of your idea, if the thing that first sparked it is original and raw and excites you, it is worth breaking rocks for.

What is the spark/heart/core of your idea? The spark is often the first thing about the idea that came to you. It could be a concept, a scene, a phrase, a spoken line. It is the thing from which everything else unfolds. It is the one essential, non-negotiable bone of your story (And here is what has been a recent revelation for me: Especially in the planning stages, most of your story is negotiable). If you can isolate the spark, you can carry it through different permutations until you find the pieces it fits with.

That’s not to say you mightn’t need to put an idea down for a while and let it sit, get some distance and perspective—but if you have your spark, and you can pinpoint your concerns—even the big picture ones—you can creative your way around them. Give them a twist. Come up with something else. Try new pieces on, cast old ones away or rearrange them.

But if the spark of your story grabs you, for fiction’s sake, don’t throw it out!

Dig deeper.

Some things to remember when brainstorming

The phrase “back to the drawing board” should not induce panic or stress. Starting a new project is like being released into the wild: you are free, and the world is yours to explore. Your art can go anywhere, limited only by the bounds of your imagination.

So why can it be SO DARN INTIMIDATING?

As I pass into another phase of idea generation myself (brainstorming not only for the “next” project, but numerous which I could see myself pursuing), I’m (re)discovering key things that enable me to proceed in what can be an otherwise paralyzing freedom. Because they help me, I hope they will also be of use to others.

When brainstorming, remember:

  1. It’s all been done before. And that’s okay. Embracing this can be liberating rather than constrictive. [Recommended reading on this.] [A helpful chart.]
  2. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Not everything you write has to be toward your best novel yet, or even toward a novel at all. Pressure is crushing. Allow yourself to breathe.
  3. Writer’s block only truly happens when you stop writing. As long as you are writing, you are creating, and the act of creating is more important than whether what you create is good or not. (Hint: if you KEEP creating, even when you have nothing to say, every idea sucks, and you don’t know why in the name of France anyone ever encouraged you to pursue writing ever, eventually SOME of the stuff you make will be good, and you will find your springboard.)
  4. On the flip side of #3, epiphanies tend to occur away from the screen, so it’s also important to spend time not writing. This may sound totally contradictory to the previous point, but it isn’t. Writing is great for digging and jumpstarting and sometimes finding little pieces of your next idea, but often the great What if? questions that spurn whole novels come to us in the quiet moments we aren’t looking for them: washing dishes. Showering. Exercising. When we let our minds wander. So be sure to spend some time in a place your thoughts can unfold without interruption.
  5. When you’re really at a loss, go do something new. The greater our experience, the greater our pool to draw from. If your new experience doesn’t help you today, it may very well feed into another project tomorrow.

Other ideas? Share in comments below!

6 Ways to Read More (and Make Time to Read)

Those who don’t read often say it’s because they can’t find the time. Those who do read usually just want more of it. Inspired by National Readathon Day and a few recent conversations, I aim to offer both categories some quick tips on getting a bigger book fix.

These are not original ideas, and in fact I have a sneaking suspicion I may just be repeating what I read in On Writing (a fabulous guide by Stephen King) years ago. But here goes:

1. Always carry a book with you. Take it out whenever you find yourself waiting: in line, on the train, to meet a friend. No wait is too short to read a little more.

2. Audiobooks, audiobooks, audiobooks—the fantastic medium that allows us to experience prose while actively doing other things: cooking. Cleaning. Exercise. Driving. Art. The possibilities are endless. With audiobooks you don’t really even have to make time—you just have to recognize the activities that allow you to multitask.

3. Read before bed. You’d be surprised what headway you can make before drifting off to slumberland. Warning: in the case of extremely good reading, may result in missed hours of sleep.

4. Turn off the TV. For those that watch even half an hour of something a day, here is a golden opportunity to pick up a book instead. You don’t have to give up your favorite shows or choose books forever; you just have to make the decision to swap for the evening/day/hour. How much and how often are up to you.

5. Make a conscious trade. Maybe TV and movies aren’t what you do in your downtime. What is? Can you give it up a couple times a week, or maybe a full week, or over the course of a month and read instead?

6. Set a bar. Concrete, achievable goals are galvanizing and effective. By committing to a standard (one chapter a day, X hours a week, Y books a month or a year) you will read at a steady rate and finish your book(s) in due course.

Other ideas? Leave ’em in the comments below!

10 Reading/Writing Goals for 2015

  1. Read 52+ books.
  2. Attend 3-5 readings.
  3. Beta read for at least two new people.
  4. Read at least one new book on the craft of writing.
  5. Freewrite and do more exercises when not actively novel writing.
  6. Revise Project A until next stage.
  7. Revise Project B until next stage.
  8. Plot, research for, and begin writing new book. Ideally finish first draft this year (though that may depend on how/where things go with A and B).
  9. Pursue new experiences (which feed the pen).
  10. Volunteer at local book festival.

Homemade Calendar – December

december 2014 calendar 2I’m pretty pleased with how December turned out considering I was way behind and had no idea what I was going to do for my monthly artwork until the eve of the 31st! Since this is the last month in my 2014 homemade calendar series, I want to take a moment to observe some things I’ve learned in the course of doing it.

  1. The project began as simply a more colorful way to mark off the days– I thought it’d be an excuse to air out my art supplies. But as the months went on, it evolved from basic colored squares to full out compositions. Which was awesome! But very time consuming.
  2. I never regret the time I spend on my art projects. But I did, as the bar was raised, begin to feel a certain pressure each month to produce something at least as good or better. Which meant ALWAYS putting in solid time and effort. That part made it stressful when I had to cast about for subject ideas.
  3. But at the same time, I’m glad I had this sort of structure in place– it meant I was making at least one physical art work each month.

In conclusion: It’s been fun but also somewhat obligatory– which I suppose is normal of any pursuit one commits oneself to. It’s like showing up for a class or a job you enjoy: As much as you love the work and the content, it comes with pressure and deadlines and sometimes burnout. But you have to show up and turn in your stuff anyway, regardless of whether or not you want to. This is how progress is made, how projects are finished. I’m going to try to take that lesson forward as I set my priorities for 2015. Look for elaboration soon! And finally…

Happy New Year! :)

2014 in Review: Statistics, Fave Books, Lessons Learned

It’s that time of year again! Here’s what my 2014 as a reader/writer looked like:


Reading/Writing Stats

# projects worked on: 4

projects abandoned: 1

projects shelved to come back to: 2

projects currently on worktable: 1


# books read: 54+

books purchased: 27? (Holy Schmoe.)

given as gifts: 7?


# readings attended: 5? (Lauren Oliver, David Sedaris, David Mitchell, BJ Novak, Gretchen Rubin)


Favorite Books Read This Year


  1. I got an agent. — plus all the work that led up to it.
  2. I wrote the entire first draft of a MG project (separate from the YA book I queried and signed with an agent).
  3. I read 54 books, + several beta reads and nonfiction.
  4. I finished the rough draft of an illustrated project – very rough, because writing is my strong suit and art is secondary. I’m not convinced I should count this one because I’ve flagged so much of it for redoing it makes my head spin, and right now that just isn’t a high priority. But I would like to come back to it.

Lessons Learned

  1. It’s okay to abandon/retire a project. It’s important to finish things you start, but it’s also important to recognize when something isn’t working, won’t work, or when you’ve lost enthusiasm and your efforts would be better spent elsewhere.
  2. It’s okay to shelve a project indefinitely. I had a few ideas this year I was super jazzed about, only to start seeing fundamental problems with them in early development (e.g., reminded me too much of another book, or wanted to be a trilogy when what I want to write right now is standalone). So I put those projects, along with all of my notes and planning for them, carefully aside in folders that can be easily filed back to when the time is right.
  3. Beta readers are absolute gold. In theory I knew this already, but in practice I appreciated it even more. Love your readers: They will help you find the weak spots.
  4. Is it good? An obvious question, but when evaluating my own work, I’ve found it to be the ultimate measuring stick. Time may be the best aide for seeing a manuscript objectively, but asking yourself whether passages move/compel you is a close second.
  5. Is it necessary? The other essential question that’s helped me through my many revisions this year. This one is great 1) for reducing your word count and 2) consequently tightening your story, which will result in a swifter, stronger read.


How was your 2014 in books? Any pieces I’m missing?

Ye Olde Reading Liste

– very late that night –

(Panting) OK. OK. I think I finally got it. I’ll still have to update it manually, but I managed to get pretty dang close to the shiny Goodreads montage without the help of widgets. Check out my new Reading List page here!


– 1.5 hours later –

So I thought I could just add a cheeky Goodreads widget and have this beautiful, automatically updating montage of books read and books to read on my Reading List page, but ahahahaha, oh-hoho I was wrong. WordPress does not support the necessary javascript, and even with the simplest widget Goodreads offers, WordPress displays it wrong.

SO my friends, it appears I’ll be getting creative. Stay tuned.


As my TBR list sprawls wildly out of control– hard to read, nearing 200 items, and hopelessly behind on both additions and books I’ve actually finished– I have decided to move from a written list to a system that will be easier to process and less work to maintain.

But before I do, I thought I would post the old list here as a sort of memento of times past, and also a celebration of the progress I’ve made in my efforts to read more since starting this blog. As many items as there are remaining, there are quite a few crossed off, too. And who doesn’t enjoy the satisfaction of items crossed off a list?

While living in Japan, where I had very slim access to books in English, I started a reading list. Containing novels, nonfiction, plays, speeches, classics, books for teens, children, and adults, the list quickly ran wild. It continues to grow, taking over cities, genres, and age groups and plotting world domination faster than I can pare it down. Keep an eye out for additions– if we aren’t careful, they just might block out the sun.

Julie’s Assorted To-Read List, in no particular order:

  1. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (9/4/2013)
  2. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
  3. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (5/27/2012)
  4. Food Rules by Michael Pollan (7/15/2013)
  5. And The Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman
  6. The Illiad by Homer (1/22/2012)
  7. The Odyssey by Homer (3/14/2014)
  8. The Aeneid by Virgil
  9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1/22/2014)
  10. Infero by Dante Alighieri
  11. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (9/27/2011)
  12. Paradise Lost by John Milton (11/18/2011)
  13. How to Be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith
  14. Never Let You Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (8/4/2011)
  15. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (4/29/2012)
  16. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez
  17. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Márquez (9/17/2013)
  18. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (4/2011)
  19. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
  20. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (3/21/2013)
  21. Public Enemies by Bernard Henri Levi
  22. Greek & Roman Myths
  23. Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss
  24. Dubliners by James Joyce (11/3/2011)
  25. Ulyssess by James Joyce
  26. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (1/12/2014)
  27. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (9/14/2011)
  28. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1/14/2013)
  29. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (10/10/2013)
  30. The Prince by Machiavelli (1/10/2014)
  31. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  32. House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
  33. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (2/11/2012)
  34. American Gods by Neil Gaiman (6/30/2013)
  35. A Strategy of Peace (commencement speech) by JFK (1/20/2014)
  36. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (5/28/2013)
  37. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  38. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (10/6/2011)
  39. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (10/12/2012)
  40. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (9/10/2012)
  41. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (5/22/2013)
  42. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  43. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (3/24/2012)
  44. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (12/3/2011)
  45. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (1/6/2013)
  46. The Tao Te Ching by Lao-tzu
  47. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (12/11/2011)
  48. Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy (2/22/2012)
  49. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
  50. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (6/7/2012)
  51. Imagine by Jonah Lehrer (2/14/2014)
  52. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  53. Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  54. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
  55. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (9/25/2013)
  56. A la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust
  57. The Fate of the Species by Fred Guterl* (research for my WIP!) (1/20/2013)
  58. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (5/25/2014)
  59. Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassaunt
  60. On Writing by Stephen King (9/16/2012)
  61. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (2/10/2014)
  62. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  63. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  64. John Dies at the End by David Wong (11/1/2013)
  65. The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro
  66. The Cider House Rules by John Irving (3/3/2013)
  67. Martin Eden by Jack London
  68. Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway
  69. Germinal by Émile Zola
  70. Jumper by Steven Gould (4/7/2013)
  71. Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi
  72. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (10/2/2013)
  73. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  74. Legend by Marie Lu (2/16/2014)
  75. The Beach by Alex Garland
  76. Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving
  77. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
  78. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (7/18/2013)
  79. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
  80. The Giver by Lois Lowry (3/3/2014)
  81. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (3/18/2014)
  82. Tenth of December by George Sanders (7/4/2013)
  83. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (8/23/2013)
  84. 11/22/63 by Stephen King (8/8/2013)
  85. Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson (8/22/2013)
  86. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  87. No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
  88. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  89. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
  90. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (10/15/2014)
  91. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
  92. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  93. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (1/31/2014)
  94. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (11/12/2013)
  95. I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (1/4/2014)
  96. If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino (11/27/2013)
  97. Vicious by V.E. Schwab (12/6/2013)
  98. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (3/1/2014)
  99. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (11/13/2014)
  100. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (12/23/2013)
  101. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
  102. Coraline by Neil Gaiman (5/25/2014)
  103. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  104. Astor Place Vintage by Stephanie Lehmann (12/16/2013)
  105. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
  106. Chocolat by Joanne Harris
  107. On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta (7/26/2014)
  108. Looking for Alaska by John Green (9/6/2014)
  109. Divergent by Veronica Roth (2/24/2014)
  110. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  111. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (1/21/2014)
  112. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
  113. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
  114. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
  115. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
  116. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  117. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
  118. Prodigy by Marie Lu (#2 in the Legend series)
  119. Insurgent by Veronica Roth (#2 in the Divergent series)
  120. The World According to Garp by John Irving
  121. The Cavendish Home for Girls and Boys by Claire Legrand (3/21/2014)
  122. Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier (4/3/2014)
  123. The Theory of Everything by Kari Luna
  124. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly (3/28/2014)
  125. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare (4/14/2014)
  126. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (7/28/2014)
  127. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  128. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
  129. Wool by Hugh Howey (4/25/2014)
  130. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (5/6/2014)
  131. After by Kristin Harmel (5/1/2014)
  132. 34 Pieces of You by Carmen Rodrigues (5/2/2014)
  133. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  134. If I Stay by Gayle Forman (9/9/2014)
  135. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
  136. Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
  137. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (5/15/2014)
  138. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  139. Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
  140. Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver (5/31/2014)
  141. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  142. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (6/8/2014)
  143. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
  144. Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman (6/14/2014)
  145. Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull (6/26/2014)
  146. Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu (7/7/2014)
  147. The Real Boy by Anne Ursu
  148. Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin
  149. The Shining by Stephen King
  150. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  151. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (11/28/2014)
  152. The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey
  153. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (10/12/2014)
  154. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  155. Landline by Rainbow Rowell (12/8/2014)
  156. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
  157. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (8/13/2014)
  158. I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum
  159. Paris in Love by Eloisa James
  160. Delirium by Lauren Oliver (8/31/2014)
  161. 17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen (9/17/2014)
  162. The Graham Cracker Plot by Shelley Dougas (10/19/2014)
  163. The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow by Jessica Haight and Stephanie Robinson
  164. Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder (8/21/2014)
  165. Paper Towns by John Green
  166. Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
  167. Last Train to Babylon by Charlee Fam
  168. Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
  169. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
  170. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (10/23/2014)
  171. Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
  172. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
  173. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume