Random Inspirations

Welcome to my blog, full of fun inspirations and insights on writing, self-publishing, and more!

The Fun of Editing: “Killing Your Darlings” Right

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post about editing, mostly because I’ve been so focused on my new project, the Amish Hearts series. But lately, I’ve taken a temporary hiatus from the lives and loves of Rebekah and friends as I’ve been performing heavy-duty final edits on my upcoming novel.

And to top it all off, I started a new editing project — I’m totally revamping my first-ever eBook, Unlucky 13.

The idea came about innocuously enough. I loooove the new book cover designer I used for Amish Summer, and thought she’d be the perfect candidate to redesign the cover of Unlucky 13. (I’d designed the original cover. Although I’m good at drawing, I know next to nothing about graphic design. And, unfortunately, it shows. :p )

The designer delivered a gorgeous new cover for Unlucky 13. So, naturally, I decided that the content itself needed to be revamped to go along with that lovely cover.

I’ve learned so much about writing since the Unlucky 13 days. When I self-published Unlucky 13, writing was merely a hobby for me — and one that I wasn’t very open about. I wrote entirely by myself; I steered clear of social media and didn’t attend writers conferences.

As I became more serious about writing and decided to make it a full-time career, I started taking advanced creative writing courses, building my platform, and attending conferences. All of these activities helped my writing style to evolve.

When I began my edits on Unlucky 13 last week, I was dumbfounded by how much I’d actually evolved. The heroine, Jordyn, sounded much too mature for her thirteen years, and sometimes went into totally random ten-page diatribes. There was entirely too much backstory, and the chapters were way too long. Oh, and the story began with a dream sequence.

As Jordyn would say, OMG. I’d successfully committed every possible amateur writing crime. And to top it all off, it was 330 pages — for a YYA novel — mostly because of the aforementioned 10-page diatribes. I heard at a conference that many beginning writers try to get everything cool they’ve ever thought of writing about into one book. And in Unlucky 13, I totally did that.

Now, I’m in the midst of total revisions. One of the most commonly stated editing tips is, “Kill your darlings.” In other words, don’t be afraid to cut. Many of us write flowery sections of prose that show brilliant mastery of wordcraft, but often they’re either a.) unnecessarily wordy, b.) irrelevant to the plotline, or c.) pretentious. I think this happens at any stage of a writer’s development, but I would argue that it happens most in the beginning of the journey.

What are your thoughts on editing a work you wrote years ago versus editing your current writing projects? I’d love to hear your take. 🙂

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Writing Field Trips: Take One Today!

Remember when you were in elementary school, and you were soooo ecstatic to go on your field trips? They were exactly what you needed: time away from the grind, wide open spaces to run around… So what if you might have an assignment about dinosaur bones at the museum or animals at the zoo due when you got back to class? For now, you were free! And, chances are, you were feeling pretty inspired.

Sometimes, writers need a field trip, too. Not a total vacation getaway, just a field trip. We need to step away from the grind that is our office, get out into the world and make some discoveries, and then bring them back to the stories we’re writing. Just like those elementary school kids, we might feel free. But we really won’t be. We will also have assignments due after the field trip — our stories. After all, for writers, field trips = field research.

CR98_001_0032_02ECTake a writing field trip today — no school bus required!

I’m super excited to take a writing field trip soon. I am going to spend a day in Pennsylvania Amish country to do some research for my next Amish fiction novella, tentatively called Mercy’s Fall. Mercy is on her Rumspringa, and she works in an Amish bakery and does chores on her family’s small farm. She’s also uber boy-crazy. During my field trip, my goals are to visit an Amish bakery, cruise around the farmland, and try my hardest to see, and maybe talk to, some Rumspringa-aged youth, with a definite eye on the Amish boys. I’ll be looking for traits to incorporate into at least one of the boys Mercy will fall for. And, of course, I’ll be sure to write a blog post about it afterwards.

No matter what kind of story you’re writing, you can definitely take a writing field trip — and it doesn’t have to be far away. Writing a survival book? Hike or camp in the national forest an hour from your house. (Just make sure to research what kind of wildlife you might find, and be prepared for it!) Or maybe you live in the suburbs of Chicago and you’re writing a NA novel about college students at the Art Institute. Take the interstate downtown and hang out amongst the artsy crowd.

The field trip doesn’t even have to be physical, it can be mental. Most of us write about places we’ve been, and our writers’ minds are turned on all the time. So if you’re thinking of writing a story that takes place in Hawaii, which you visited five years ago, take another look at your pictures, videos, and journal entries. Close your eyes and imagine yourself there. Remember what you were thinking and observing. And the story will flow. I’ve found that this works well for me, and it makes sense — as creative types, we spend a lot of our day imagining things, so taking a mental field trip is not such a far-fetched idea!

Have you ever taken a writing field trip? How far did you go, and how did it inspire you? I’d love to hear your stories!

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Switching Gears: How to Get in the Mood for Your Next Writing Project

For the last several months, I’ve been on an Amish fiction kick as I’ve written and published the first two installments of the Amish Hearts series, Rumspringa Break and Amish Summer. There are two more books in this series, due out in January and February 2014, but I decided to break up the project and do final edits on the YA contemporary novel I’ve been working on, And the Winner Is… It will be released in December, just in time for the holidays!

I was definitely ready to get out of the Amish world and into the present day, but at the same time, it was difficult to switch gears. The characters of the Amish Hearts series are still alive and well in my imagination, and I’m constantly thinking of new plot twists for the last two books. However, I’ve been able to keep them in check, writing them down in my inspiration notebook and saving them for later, and now I’m focusing my writing time exclusively on Winner

Sometimes, it's hard for us writers to switch gears between projects...

Sometimes, it’s hard for us writers to switch gears between projects…

How to switch gears, though? I’ve tried a few techniques, and here’s what worked:

  •  Saturate yourself – While working on the Amish Hearts books, I read Amish blogs, watched documentaries, and read Amish fiction for market research. Now, I’m saturating myself in the culture of the very contemporary high school students of Winner… It’s easy for me because I still shop at many of the same stores, listen to the same music, and watch the same shows as a lot of YA readers. In my free time, I’ve also been focusing on the activities I enjoy that are the same as the ones my main character, Aubree, enjoys (i.e. piano, dance).
  • Reset your brain – Meditate to switch your mindset from the world of your last writing project to the world of your new one. I find that yoga is helpful to reset my brain — that’s actually where I’m headed after I’m done with this blog post. Other great brain resetters: closing your eyes and listening to music, getting a massage, or just sitting in a corner and shutting off for five minutes.

What techniques do you use to switch gears between your writing projects? I would love to hear your opinions!


Research by Blogging: 5 Amish Blogs to Watch

One of the questions I’m often asked by readers and other writers is, “How do you do the research for your Amish teen novellas?” And this question is a good one — although I had some direct experience with the Amish growing up in Pennsylvania, I certainly don’t have it at my current home in Southern California. I’ve read books and watched documentaries, but these sources give a more academic view, not necessarily the human dimension I need to write a book that gets into the head of an Amish teen. And, of course, watching the popular Amish shows on TV definitely doesn’t count as research.

During my research for Rumspringa Break  and Amish Summer, I stumbled upon several extremely useful Amish blogs. Obviously, they’re not written by Amish who still live in the community — computers and blogs are considered worldly and therefore forbidden. Instead they’re written by ex-Amish who chose to leave their communities. Most of these people are in touch with their Amish families and friends, but they decided the Amish way of life was not for them, usually because they fell in love with an Englischer (a non-Amish person) or wanted to pursue further education.

These blogs were invaluable for my research, because they lent the human dimension I was searching for. My novellas center on a girl who is deciding whether to be baptized Amish or to leave the community, and the blogs gave me a glimpse of the conflicts facing an Amish teen. My only regret is that I didn’t find any blogs written by Amish teens during their Rumspringa — all of the blogs were written by adults who’s already made their choice and were looking back. I guess Amish teens just discovering the “English” world are not big on blogging.

Amish blogs help us to catch a glimpse of this way of life -- and why some choose to leave it.

Amish blogs help us to catch a glimpse of this way of life — and why some choose to leave it.

Here are 5 Amish blogs to watch:

  1. Ex Amish Gal – The accounts of a woman who grew up Old Order Amish. I particularly enjoyed her views on the inaccuracies of “Breaking Amish” and her perspective on education and leaving the Amish community. (Her parents chose to have her educated at public school, and they were accepting of her when she chose not to stay in the Amish faith.)
  2. X Amish Atheist – I know, this seems like a pretty extreme name for a blog of someone who was once Amish. The posts are fascinating glimpses into life and religion. And one of the most recent posts discusses the reasons why many Amish (and ex-Amish) choose not to attend college. It also talks about the Amish Descendant scholarship fund, which aims to change all that. This scholarship is evidence that the Amish attitude toward education is slowly evolving, which was one of the themes of Amish Summer.
  3. A Joyful Chaos – A flowery blog by a former “happy little Amish girl,” now a woman who’s “still happy, but no longer Amish.” My favorite posts are the “Wednesday Hodgepodge” ones, which list Q & A about the Amish life.
  4. Beyond Buggies and Bonnets – Written by a woman whose son-in-law is ex-Amish. This blog comes from an interesting vantage point — not as an ex-Amish, but as someone who thinks of herself as a “Mom” to Amish transitioning away from their faith and into the “English” world. Check out her post titled “Real Complexities of the Simple Life,” which discusses Amish religion and how it’s similar to 16th century Europe.
  5. The Blog of Mose Gingerich – Written by one of the ex-Amish stars of the 2004 reality show “Amish in the City.” My favorite feature is “Ask Mose,” the Q & A forum.






Reboot and Recharge: Why Writers are Like Electronics

Today’s the day: I launched Amish Summer, Book 2 of the Amish Hearts series! If you’re a fan of Amish teen fiction — or just a fan of fun and thought-provoking reads — check it out on Amazon.

The cover of Amish Summer, my new eBook on Kindle

The cover of Amish Summer, my new eBook on Kindle!

Launching a book requires tons of time and effort…especially for indie authors doing most of the promotion themselves. And somewhere between formulating leading tweets, posting to umpteen Facebook walls, and filling out new book forms for indie book promo websites, burnout just might hit.

Never fear, though. During this book launch I observed something interesting: I launched very energetically because I planned it for a Monday…right after a weekend that was jam-packed full of rejuvenating, enjoyable activities that involved anything but writing.

This weekend, I explored uncharted areas of my new neighborhood, played basketball with my husband for the first time in years, checked out a never-before-seen (by me, anyway) rooftop lounge downtown, hit the beach for the first time in awhile, and found a great new burger place with a huge collection of local beers.

My weekend was the perfect balance of physically stimulating activities and laid-back periods of reflection. Plus, the places I went and things I did were either totally new to me or things I hadn’t done in a long time, which imparted a feeling of freshness and excitement.

Not surprisingly, I had an inspired weekend and an even more inspired Monday. Which leads me to my point: writers are like electronics. If we abuse ourselves, overloading our brains like a smartphone with one too many apps, we will crash and become useless. However, if we reboot once in awhile, turning ourselves completely off and resetting our internal computers, we will come back stronger and recharged!

I hope this random thought will help you to feel innovative and inspired today — and all week! 🙂


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NaNoWriMo: One Size Fits All?

So many of my writer friends and acquaintances are currently caught up in the NaNoWriMo word-gasm. I think NaNoWriMo is an awesome idea — it motivates us to write, and it’s an ideal use for a blah month like November, when the days seem shorter and darker even in Southern California. But although NaNoWriMo has its merits, I’m not participating in it this year.

I know what you’re thinking, especially if you’re an enthusiastic advocate of NaNoWriMo: Why not?! And it’s true — this year would be the perfect time for me to immerse myself in NaNoWriMo, since it’s my first November of writing full-time. But, knowing my writing habits and my self-imposed deadlines, I have arrived at the inevitable conclusion that NaNoWriMo is not for everyone.

Here’s why I think NaNoWriMo just isn’t one-size-fits all.:

  1. We all have different writing paces: Writers are like runners. Some of us resemble sprinters, and can churn out high word counts in relatively short periods of time. Others are more like long-distance runners; it’s as if our minds have more slow-twitch muscle fibers, and we write at a slower and steadier pace. NaNoWriMo is a great challenge for sprinters, not so much for long-distance runners.
  2. We all have different writing techniques: Some writers plow through their novels feverishly, frantic to set everything swirling in their brains to paper (or at least to a Word doc). They worry about the edits later. Others plod along more deliberately, rereading what they wrote during their last session, making some changes, and starting the next part. There’s no right or wrong, but the first kind of writer is much better suited to NaNoWriMo. And I’ll bet you can guess which type I am (#2 all the way, for better or for worse:)
  3. We may have more pressing deadlines: Last weekend, I was talking about NaNoWriMo with a screenwriter friend, and we both agreed that, with our current deadlines (self-imposed for me, work-imposed for her) we had no time to write a novel this month. And it’s true: NaNoWriMo requires a tremendous amount of discipline and dedication. It’s kind of like training for a marathon — you have to give it your all, and it has to be priority #1 in your life, at least for November!
NaNoWriMo is kind of like training for a marathon.

NaNoWriMo is kind of like training for a marathon.

What do you think of NaNoWriMo? Are you word-gasming or holding back? Does your writing pace and / or technique lend itself to taking part in the NaNoWriMo challenge, or make it nearly impossible? I’d love to hear your opinions!

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Vlog: Unpublished Excerpt of “Amish Summer”

Happy Monday all! I hope everyone had an inspired post-Halloween weekend. 🙂

In between weekend festivities, I was able to do a little work: Here’s a video of me reading an unpublished excerpt of “Amish Summer,” Book 2 of the Amish Hearts series. In this excerpt, Braeden finally reveals his surprise to Rebekah…

I’m releasing the book on 11/11/13 on Amazon. Hope you enjoy today’s vlog!