10 things you can accomplish while avoiding writing

While I mostly agree with what many authors claim—that writer’s block is a myth—there are certainly days when it comes easier than others.

Even though I may not officially have fallen to the fabled affliction, sometimes things just don’t work the way you want them to. For instance, just the other day I put two characters together who should have had a lot to talk about and yet, neither seemed to be in a chatty mood.

No, I’m not going crazy. I know that since my characters live in my brain, I technically control their every action. And yet, sometimes when I try to write them in a scene they feel stinted and unnatural. Character X would never say that or character Y would never feel that way about character X.

So, you see, though I don’t have writer’s block officially, I am rather annoyed with my characters at the present moment. So, here’s a list of things you can accomplish when you’re avoiding sitting down and staring at a blank page:

  1. Wash all the dishes you can find. Bonus points for cleaning the sink after too.
  2. Clean the stove. I mean, it has to get done sometime, right?
  3. Binge watch a stupid TV show you would never otherwise watch. (hi, Grey’s Anatomy.)
  4. Binge listen to a podcast or audiobook you’ve fallen behind on.
  5. Take an extra long shower, complete with a face mask and exfoliation.
  6. Clean out your closet. (At least I finally got rid of all those tights with runs in them, right?)
  7. Bake cookies or a cake or bread or really anything that’s bad for you and delicious.
  8. Read a book or a short story in the magazine (Current drug of choice: The New Yorker fiction section.)
  9. Take a nap. An oldie, but a goody.
  10. Begrudgingly sit down at the computer and try to write, somehow ending up on Twitter or Instagram for three hours.

On building writing habits

A couple weeks ago I wrote about setting realistic resolutions for ourselves this year. One of my resolutions was to write six days a week for at least 30 minutes—a goal I’ve so far been (mostly) successful in. Getting back into the habit of writing for myself instead of for work, though, has taken some doing.

First, there’s the obvious issue of having the time in the day to accomplish the writing. This wasn’t too hard. Who really needs to watch more than one episode of The Crown per night, right?

(Confession: I need to watch more than one episode of The Crown. It’s the greatest and I love it. We blew through season 2 way faster than I care to admit.)

The second task was a bit harder: Finding the mental space for my own writing. While writing for my job has been wonderful and made my work life much more enjoyable, expending creative energy all day at work doesn’t leave much for my own projects.

The best remedy I’ve found thus far is to jot down tidbits for my own projects as they come to me during the day to serve as inspiration later at night. For example, one sentence in my note app (“I’ve always wondered what people carry in their pockets because mine have never been large enough to suit my taste.”) got me through a whole scene.

Finally, the third, seemingly simple hurdle these last few weeks has been finding a physical location in which to write. I’ve had seasons where writing at my desk was the most conducive location, but currently, my desk faces a windowless corner in a room with a slanting floor that makes me feel like I might fall into the pond. It’s not working for me like it used to.

Last winter and early spring, my favorite spot was in the chair in the living room. This year, when I’m downstairs, the dog is often sitting in the chair.

Lately, I’ve taken to writing in bed. It’s an odd place to write, but if Proust did it, why can’t I? I mean, Hemingway used to write standing up because he felt it was easier to write dialogue that way, so I guess there are weirder things.

Really what I’ve been learning these few weeks is that reforming habits long-forgotten isn’t easy. Because of this, creating the right physical and mental environment is important. I can’t just sit down and expect the fickle writing muse to visit me. As Stephen King says in On Writing, “Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ‘til noon, or seven ‘til three. If he does, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up.”

Oh, I’ve also found that doing the dishes before sitting down to write is best. One less thing to distract my mind.

Reasonable expectations

January is the time for resolutions. For high hopes and high expectations. But, over the years, I’ve been guilty of setting goals too high to live up to.

The problem isn’t that any of my resolutions are impossible to reach. The problem is that I’m an all-or-nothing goal setter. For instance, if I’m setting the goal to exercise more, then I set the goal to exercise at least four times per week. If I set the goal of writing more, I say I’m going to write every day for at least an hour.

And, I set all the goals during the same period of time. In one 30-day stretch, I aim to get in shape, write the next great American novel, volunteer more, keep a perfectly clean home, and maintain ideal relationships with everyone I love.

This, folks, is a recipe for failure.

When I can’t meet the high goals I set for myself, I inevitably give up and move on. Shrug my shoulders and say, “better luck next year, kid.”

Perhaps part of the issue is that I’m a perfectionist. I always have been, really.

Before we even got to New Years—the day of the year when everyone feels the pressure and weight of the whole year to come—I made a deal with myself: Only make goals you can accomplish and set reasonable timeframes for yourself.

So, instead of deciding to run marathons, 2018 is going to be a walk culminating in a run. Here’s what I’ve resolved this year, in no particular order:

1. Write for at least 30 minutes per day, six days a week. Blog once per week.

2. Go to the gym for at least 30 minutes once per week through June, then bump it up to two times a week after that. Do yoga once per week, all year.

3. Write more letters. My lunch break is 30 minutes long and that’s plenty of time to tell a friend I’m thinking of them.

4. Take better care of my skin. Even if that just means washing my face at night.

5. Drink more water. And keep track of it on a post-it note because otherwise, I will forget.

6. Save more money consciously and give more money consciously. By the end of the year, be sponsoring a second kid through World Vision, IJM, Compassion, or the like.

None of these goals independently will change my life or the world, but I hope that by incrementally changing how I conduct my day-to-day, I’ll be better equipped for the life God’s called me to, whatever that may be.

So, here’s to reasonable expectations in 2018.

The casual minimalist

Marcus started listening to The Minimalists Podcast over a year ago and jumped on board the whole minimalism thing way sooner and more enthusiastically than I have. Slowly, though, I’m learning the benefits of living with less stuff. For one thing, it makes it a lot easier to focus on important things (people, relationships, writing – things I love) when I’m not harboring emotional attachments toward a pile of t-shirts.

I started by cleaning out my drawers of shirts. How I thought I could wear forty different casual shirts while working in a business casual environment, I will never know. The strangest thing about cleaning out those first drawers of clothing was that it became rather addicting. It turns out that cleaning out clothing and donating it feels a lot better than leaving those items tucked into a dark drawer where they don’t get used. Plus, it makes it much simpler to choose outfits when you know exactly what you have.

After my closet, I worked my way through my desk, the kitchen, the bathroom, and living room. It seems that as soon as we’re done cleaning out one area, we end up coming up with a whole new donate pile we never knew existed before.

By the time we’re ready to move out of this rented house, I want to have less than I currently have. It’s not at all that cleaning out directly made me happier. Somehow, though, lightening the load made it more possible to focus on what I want to focus on. My journey into casual minimalism has really been about eliminating distractions, not things.

Beginning to live the dream

I’m happy to announce that I am now a full-time employed writer! Since I was eight (according to my parents), I’ve said I wanted to be a writer. Although being an editor is fine, it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. I’ve been searching for something else for about a year and a half now. Technically, my new title is writer and editor, but at least writer is in there. It’s a step in the right direction (pun a little bit intended). My day-to-day tasks change a good deal because I manage the social media for the publication as well, but mainly I’m writing and editing things. Last week, my very first article went out in the newsletter to several thousand people. It was a big moment.

On top of the regular, full-time job, I’m also doing a fair amount of freelance writing. Currently, it’s all for one client consistently, but it’s better than nothing. At the very least, it’s an exercise in discipline as it’s an additional several thousand words per week. I’ve always been good with outside impending deadlines, so it’s got me writing consistently again.

Then, there’s the church writing group that Marcus got me pulled into. Our church is trying to foster a more devotional atmosphere this year, so we have a team of people writing and publishing weekly devotionals for the church. As of tomorrow, mine will be the first one out there. If you’re interested in reading it, I can send the link your way. This might be the most exciting project for me right now. At first, I was unsure whether I would like writing devotionals or not, but I actually found myself really enjoying it.

Anyway, that’s all I have to share for now. Many of you have seen me through my dark ISG days, so I wanted to give you all a quick update and tell you I escaped alive.

Three non-fiction books you should read

A couple months ago I posted a list of five fiction books you should read, so I thought I’d do something similar for my favorite non-fiction books. Sometimes I find non-fiction harder to get sucked into, but these three books have changed the way I think, write, and see the world. Plus, they all manage to be extremely engaging. If you’re looking for a great read that just might challenge the way you see things, give one of these a try. I tried to include something for everyone on the list, but I think you could probably pick up any of these books and learn something regardless of who you are. So, here we go again. I promise this won’t be as long as my previous list of recommendations…

  1. Let Justice Roll Down by John Perkins (1976): In light of all that is happening in this country right now, this book could not be more relevant. John Perkins, founder of Voice of Calvary Ministries in Jackson, MS, (and several other wonderful organizations) tells his story of growing up in Jackson as an African-American man during a time of extreme racial unrest. His own brother was one of the many who lost their lives during that time. Although the book provides a valuable look into the past, it also is extremely applicable to today as there seems to have been a rise in racial violence over the last couple years. The book tells a story filled with a great deal of pain, but Perkins is not without hope. Voice of Calvary has done monumental work in Jackson to ease the pain and tension through the Gospel. I’ve had the privilege of seeing their work first hand and it has brought me to tears. Please go read this book. It could not be any more relevant for today.
  2. When I was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson (2012): I don’t think I can get far in a list of recommendations without mentioning Marilynne. Though I’m still in the midst of this book, I can’t help but feel it becoming one of my favorites. The essays span from faith, to writing, to politics, to everyday life in America. I came to love Robinson’s writing through her novels, but her prose sings just as much in essays. The book has an honest approach to problems in the world, but it is also profoundly hopeful. If you’re looking for a good non-fiction book that you can really dig into and take your time with, this is a great option. Since it’s divided into essays, you can easily read one in a sitting and then take a break without losing the context of the book. I’ve tried to limit myself to one essay per sitting. Otherwise, I would probably read the whole thing at once. It’s an exercise in self-control for sure.
  3. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (1994): I first read this book as a freshman in high school, but I don’t think I really appreciated it until I read it again this past week. The book discusses the process of writing from the perspective of both an author and a teacher of creative writing. I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read that have praised the glory and ecstasy of writing and totally ignored every struggle I’ve actually faced while writing. Anne Lamott’s book, on the other hand, is frank, irreverent, joyful, helpful, and lovely. Her chapters on rough drafts and publication actually made me laugh out loud. If you’re a writer who needs some encouragement or you’re just feeling a little alone in your struggles, give this book a read.

The Rejection Collection


When I was in high school, I had a great creative writing class. Our teacher (shout out to Mr. Westrate) encouraged us to start a “rejection collection.” The idea behind the collection was to just start submitting stories, articles, and poems to various sites and magazines and start collecting rejection letters. While it seems like the opposite of what you want as an aspiring author, rejections are an important step to improving your writing. No author (okay, I’m sure there are a few out there somewhere) gets published without getting a few rejections. So, since we all have to go through it, here are three tips for starting your collection.

  1. Only read the rejection in its entirety once. If you keep reading it, you will go insane and probably never write again. Seriously, re-reading too many times only leads to sad movies and ice cream late at night.
  2. Copy down the helpful comments and pointers into a separate document. Even though a lot of rejections are form letters, sometimes an editor will take the time to provide some constructive feedback. Don’t dismiss that. Just because they didn’t publish your work doesn’t mean they don’t have valuable comments.
  3. File your rejections in their own folder. If you’re confronted with a rejection letter every time you open your email, it’s going to be extremely easy to get discouraged.

Even though it is sort of the worst, this week I hope to grow my rejection collection. Fear of failure has prevented me from submitting work for too long now. I’ve got my designated folder ready. Now it’s time to start writing. Anyone with me?

A new adventure

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my future as a writer and editor, partly because my current job doesn’t exactly push me to learn or advance my skills. After weighing my options, I’ve decided that, in addition to my own projects and working full-time, I would try the whole freelancing thing. One of the major issues with freelancing though is that you just have to start by making close to nothing. One of my closest friends (shout out to Michayla) thinks that we should really just take the word “free” out of “freelancing” because it seems to give people the wrong impression. I’m inclined to agree on that one. While I’ve had an Upwork profile for some time, I’ve really only started using it in earnest lately. It’s a dog eat dog world out there for freelance writers, let me tell you, but when you do find a project you’re passionate about, it’s all worth it, even if the pay isn’t everything you ever dreamed of.

Ultimately, besides making a living, what I really want is to be my own boss and have some freedom with my writing. Unfortunately, that means starting at the bottom of the totem pole for writing gigs and just building a reputation. One step at a time, as they say. Who knows what could happen really? Maybe I’ll hit a great streak and be able to follow my wanderlust while still being able to feed myself. Right now, I’d just like the freedom to get a dog, though. Baby steps. If you’re out there, struggling with the freelancing thing, just keep plugging away. I can say from experience that it’s very stressful to work in something you don’t love. At this point, I feel more fulfilled doing a small writing project for myself than I do after a ten-plus hour day at work. Why not pursue the fulfillment rather than settle for the mundane?


(In related news, I have this editing gig posted on Fiverr right now if anyone’s interested: https://www.fiverr.com/s2/78720d9618.)

The semi-accidental writing hiatus

A few weeks ago on our way to church, Marcus asked me why I hadn’t written since we’ve been married, now nearly five months ago. Of course I knew that I hadn’t been writing, but his question still made me pause and wonder myself. Sure, my excuses were all valid: work is exhausting; I’m too tired; I want to spend time with you after work rather than alone in another room, etc. For a while, I think my excuses even convinced me. Last night, though, Marcus and I were watching Midnight in Paris (a.k.a. our favorite movie of all time), and one of the lines really hit me. At one point, Inez says of her fiancé (and the protagonist of the movie), Gil, that he doesn’t know if he can really write a novel. Ah, there’s the rub, as they say. My excuses justifying my lack of writing really all stem from one question: can I really write something worthwhile after taking a break from it and without the support system of other writers and professors pushing me forward and asking the difficult questions?

Ultimately, I suppose there’s only one way to find out. And so, I embark on that terrifying journey of words. Today marks the beginning. For those of you who know me well or know me as a writer – which is perhaps even more important – please check up on me. Solitude as a writer only looks good on paper. I’d be happy to be there for you as well. Also, look out for some letters in the mail. I’ve neglected those lately too and it’s high time to stop with the excuses.