What Inspires You?

I was thinking today about how much I am motivated and inspired by reading about and watching videos about writers and teachers. After reading an article about a revolutionary and hard-working teacher that I am assigning for class today, I was inspired enough that I plowed through an enormous stack of grading.

Sometimes, I get inspiration in unexpected places. An episode of Mad Men might inspire a lesson for my class the next day (on messages in the media, not adultery, lol). A movie might inspire me to write a novel. Inspiration is a tricky thing. I am usually not inspired so much by specific ideas as I am by excellence itself. Seeing a great movie makes me want to tell a great story, even if I’m using a different medium.

Where do you turn to for inspiration, and what inspires you?

The Writing Project that Changed My Life

You asked… (part one)

I’ve received so many wonderful questions, and they have been so fun and engaging to answer, that I’m spreading out the answers in a series of blog posts.

Tiffany, who blogs at Aspiring, asked: What has been your all-time favorite writing project to work on and why?

I love this question!

Two years ago I participated in a playwriting workshop on a whim. It was three intensive weeks of writing and workshops for four hours every afternoon.  The experience really stretched me as a writer and a person, because not only did we have to write and workshop one ten-minute play each day, we also had to participate in improv, which was utterly terrifying.

During that time I wrote a play called “Pork Belly Futures.” It’s one of those writing projects where everything just clicks, where the words just flow, as if the events and conversations between the characters have already happened and you are just transcribing them. It was chosen to be performed as part of the Northern Arizona Playwriting Showcase, and ultimately won first prize.

However, none of those reasons are why it was my favorite writing project. The day after the showcase, when I still coming down off the high of seeing my play performed in front of an audience, I felt a little weird, so I took a pregnancy test. I didn’t expect it to be positive; I had taken countless negative tests during the past two years.

You know the rest of the story…

It was the happiest day of my life.

Juggling Multiple Writing Projects

Why You Should Have Multiple Projects

If you are like me, you probably have at least two or three writing projects you are currently working on. I used to feel guilty about this, and hopelessly overburdened, until I realized that there is a plus side to have a number of irons in the fire.

If I’m working on a long, book-length project and get become stuck or paralyzed, I can often jump-start my motivation, enthusiasm, and energy level by finishing a shorter project that is already on the verge of being done.

Why Writing Projects Are Like Credit Card Debt

Suzy Orman, among other financial gurus, recommends the snowball method of paying credit card debt. The snowball method involves paying the minimum payment on all cards except for the one with the lowest balance. You put all of your financial resources into that one card until the balance is zero, and then move onto the next card.

I think this works with writing projects as well. I will focus all of my energy on either the shortest project or the one that causes me the most dread and anxiety. Once I have that project finished, I carry that momentum over into the next project.

How Many Projects?

I never have a shortage of ideas for new projects and have the terrible habit of starting and not finishing dozens of projects. I can’t relate to people who would like to write but don’t have any good ideas.  I’ve heard the advice to have no more than three writing projects going at one time, but for me the key is what type of projects I am working on. I find that I can easily juggle multiple projects if they different enough. For example, right now I am working on two book-length projects, one is academic non-fiction and the other is a novel. I also usually have a variety of short projects going at one time, such as academic articles, freelance essays, and poetry.

Row, Row, Row Your Projects

When singing a round, like “Row Row Row Your Boat,” each group of singers waits until the first group has completed a verse before they jump in and begin singing. I find that this rhythm works well with writing projects as well. I usually have one project that is still in the brainstorming and outlining stage, one project that is deep in the drafting stage, and one project that is completed and either awaiting feedback or undergoing revisions or editing.

Beware the Siren Song of the New Project

My name is Sandy and I am addicted to starting new projects.

In her book  Chapter After Chapter: Discover the Dedication and Focus You Need to Write the Book of Your Dreams, Heather Sellers calls this “The Sexy Next Book.” She says, “Every book in your head seems easier than what you’re doing now.” I couldn’t agree with this more. I try to avoid getting lured into a new project, but I do keep a notebook where I can jot down ideas when they strike me. That way I know those ideas will be waiting for me when I have completed my current project or projects.

What are your strategies for juggling multiple projects?

How Writing is Like Changing Diapers

1. You have to do it often.

2. It can be difficult to pin down your subject.

3. The process is messy, but the results can be satisfying.

4. There are many methods; find the one that works for you.

5. You might be nervous at first, but eventually it will become a habit.

6. It takes time and practice to be good at it.

7. You might sometimes be surprised at what comes out.

Writing in the Zone

On Saturday I spent the day in my office at the university, because I have a lot of work to get done in the next few weeks, and I have a hard time staying focused and on-task when I’m taking care of Oscar.

In the past I might have spent as much as half the time doing nothing but reading forums, answering emails, paging through a magazine, taking breaks every half hour, etc.

However, since having Oscar I’ve come to appreciate how precious my time really is. As I drove to my office I switched off the radio and began thinking about a writing project that I’ve been in the middle of for a long time. I stayed in that mindset as I walked into my office and switched on the computer. I spent the next three hours writing nonstop. I rarely get “in the zone” like this, and when I do, it’s heaven.

If I spent more time writing and less time dreading it, I’d be a much happier person.

For more perfect moments, visit Lori.

I Capture
Perfect Moments.

Twitter for Writers

If you are a writer and you are not on Twitter, you should be. When I first joined Twitter, I didn’t really get it. I posted updates about my pregnancy and funny little observations about Oscar, but except for my family, I figured nobody was reading my tweets.

Then one day I was browsing around the Writer’s Digest website and I came across Jane Friedman’s Best Tweets for Writers. I immediately began following her and all of the writers she listed. My use of Twitter really took off at that point, and began to realize that Twitter is not about posting what I had for breakfast, it’s about networking, crowdsourcing, community, and promotion.


With Twitter, I am able to connect to writers, editors, and agents, on a daily basis. I find it much more immediate and effective for communicating and making connections than writing emails or commenting on blogs. Top names in the business will respond to tweets and even retweet.  They have offered resources, observations, inspiration, encouragement and advice. Now you no longer have to move to Manhattan to rub elbows with writers and publishers.


Twitter is a great place to go to get ideas, solve problems, and have your questions answered. I find that I get varied, enthusiastic, and useful responses when I ask questions. My fellow tweeters are always available, night and day, to brainstorm, offer up writing prompts, kick me in the butt, or point me in the direction I need to go. If someone doesn’t know the answer to a question, they usually know someone else who does.


One of the best ways to build community among writers on Twitter is to participate in chats. I try to participate regularly in #writetip, #litchat,  and #amwriting. These chats are designated by hashtags, some are ongoing, and some occur at set times each week. For example, #litchat occurs Friday afternoons at 4:00 P.M. Eastern Standard Time.

These chats are fast-paced, fun, and informative. I always walk away inspired, having learned something new, and with a handful of new followers and writing friends. The Twitter writing community has helped me get through NaNoWriMo, tough writing projects, and writer’s block.


If you have a blog or writing project to promote, Twitter is the place to do it. Millions of people on Twitter are looking for stuff to read online, and you can use Twitter to direct them to your blog, podcast, website, or e-book. I have found that writers are enormously supportive of each other, retweeting announcements and commenting on each other’s blogs. Many writers, such as Mur Lafferty, have used Twitter to gather large numbers of loyal followers.

Follow Friday

In order to network and build community on Twitter, you have to follow and be followed. I love Follow Friday because I see who my favorite writers on Twitter are following, and who they recommend. However, some people are overwhelmed by Follow Friday because people will often post large lists of who to follow, without any context or explanation.

I’ve decided to highlight a few of my favorite writers in honor of Follow Friday. This is a very small percentage of who I follow, so I will try to highlight some new writers each week:


Carrie Kei Heim Binas is a novelist whose excellent blog is a must read.


Claudia is a beekeeper and novelist, as well as a regular participant in #WriterWednesday. Follow who she follows and you will connect with some wonderful writers.


A writer and comic, Debbie is a regular participant in Twitter chats. The cartoons she posts on her website are a hilarious and necessary diversion for any struggling writer.


An endless supply of useful links, inspiration, and quotes from famous writers.


Joanna Penn is not only a writer, but also a social media expert. Follow her on Twitter and tune in to her great blog posts and “vlogs” about writing and publishing in Web 2.0.

Who do you follow on Twitter and why?

Creating the Essential Writer’s Library

What are the books that you, as a writer, cannot live without?

I asked myself that recently while trying to downsize my book collection.  I took a look at the books I was using on a regular basis, and came up with this list of the essentials. Obviously, this list will vary depending on your writing goals.

Reference Books

Every writer should have a selection of reference books. I love my ancient, worn-out dictionary and thesaurus, but for many writers, their word-processing program does the job just fine. I also prefer to keep on hand a couple of old-fashioned reference books like a book of maps, a literature anthology, and The Joy of Cooking. For me, these have a certain authenticity you can’t get with Wikipedia.

The Fab Five

As far as I’m concerned, every writer worth their salt should have the following in their library:

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

On Writing by Stephen King

Page after Page by Heather Sellers

No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty

Writer’s Memoirs

In addition to reading about the craft of writing, I think it’s important to read about writers’ lives.  Some of my favorite memoirs are those by Natalie Goldberg, Amy Tan, and Faulkner Fox.


Sometimes I don’t need advice on craft, I just need a little shot in the arm. For inspiration, two of my favorites borrow their wisdom from the East.

Dojo Wisdom for Writers: 100 Simple Ways to Become a More Inspired, Successful and Fearless Writer by Jennifer Lawler

Wabi Sabi For Writers: Find Inspiration. Respect Imperfection. Create Peerless Beauty by Richard Powell

I love the concept of wabi sabi, a Japanese philosophy that means “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.” It’s how I view my writer’s library, always evolving and changing, and always in need of a new book.

Let me know what I’m missing!

Home Decorating for New Moms

I once heard a couple discuss tile.

Italian tile.

Apparently it costs more per square

than I care

to spend.

I can’t see my floor.

I see a puzzle numbered 1-9;

there is no perfect 10.

I see nineteen books about animals,

and seven misplaced cheerios,

a spinning top with lights,

and stuffed animals lining up

to collect unemployment.

I see my son.

His back is to me.

His small, straight back.

His head is bent over

a pile of plastic blocks,

he is sorting them like so many

piles of gold,

or jewels from the dragons cave.

He turns and flashes a smile,

crawls over, clutching my sweat pants

with his grubby fingers.

My clothes are always dirty.

He crawls away and I reach

to grab his pajama foot

but he is too fast for me.

Ten Books for Mothers Who Write

Writing Motherhood: Tapping Into Your Creativity as a Mother and a Writer  by Lisa Garrigues

I love this book because Garrigues talks about her life as a mother and her insecurities as a writer.  Filled with humorous anecdotes and realistic writing exercises, this is the first book I turn to when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

“Convinced that birth was the logical place to start, I asked students to tell their birth stories.  I had not anticipated such stark accounts of late-term stillbirths, emergency C-sections, and postnatal intensive care, nor had I considered that some women might have alternative birth stories to tell.”

Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year
  by Anne Lamott

Even before I got pregnant with my son, I wore this book out rereading it.  Lamott writes about being the mother of a new baby with real candor.  She writes the things we think as new moms but would never say out loud.  Her book is part memoir, part handbook of baby milestones, and part writing advice. Hilarious and touching.

“I just can’t get over how much babies cry.  I really had no idea what I was getting into.  To tell you the truth, I thought it would be more like getting a cat.”

Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within by Kim Addonizio

One of the best books on writing poetry.  If you’ve never thought about writing poetry, read this book anyway.  Addonizio touches on issues of race, gender, class, and addiction, and helps writers put their thoughts into words.  Emphasizes the poetic nature of everyday speech and everyday experiences.

“Look for the next step in your creative journey, and don’t worry about where or how that journey will end.”

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

A classic must-read for any writer of poetry or prose.  Rilke explores why we write, and his voice is as alive and present today as it was when this was first published in the 1930s.  Deeply moving.

“…there is no measuring with time, a year doesn’t matter, and ten years are nothing.  Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree…”

Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids  by Christina Katz

Sensible and practical advice, I come to this again and again when I feel stuck.

“…responding to the happenings in everyday life is often the best place for beginning writers to start.”

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

The only author to make this list twice, Lamott has a way of relating writing to life, making this a self-help book as much as a how-to-write book.

“I wish I had a secret I could let you in on, some formula my father passed on to me in a whisper just before he died, some code word that has enabled me to sit at my desk and land flights of creative inspiration just like an air-traffic controller.  But I don’t.”

On Writing by Stephen King

King tells the story of his early life as a writer and father with as much drama as a feature film.  I love this book because it is part biography and part how-to, and like a magician sharing his secrets, King lets you in on how he became a master storyteller.

“I took her by the shoulders.  I told her about the paperback sale.  She didn’t appear to understand.  I told her again.  Tabby looked over my shoulder at our shitty little four-room apartment, just as I had, and began to cry.”

Page After Page 
by Heather Sellers

This book is not just about writing, it’s also about reading and developing a love of the written word.  Sellers writes humorously about sleeping with large piles of books in her bed.  What I love about this book is that the exercises don’t feel like homework, they are fun and engaging.

“Ten minutes, in your journal: Write about your unwritten projects.  Interview yourself and find out what it is you really want to write.”

Dispatches from a Not-So-Perfect Life by Faulkner Fox

Fox’s memoir reflects on everything from her writing career to her life as a mother. She discusses issues like attachment parenting, home birth, feminism, and miscarriage.  This book does not offer specific writing advice or exercises, but I read it to feel like I’m not alone in the trenches of motherhood.

“When I had a three-year-old and a seven-month-old, I loved my children passionately, and I was also very unhappy.  This made me guilty.  What did I have to be unhappy about?”

No Plot? No Problem!  by Chris Baty

The founder of National Novel Writing Month, Baty discusses how to write a novel in a month.  However, this book is so much more than that.  It’s really a book about how to give yourself permission to be a writer, and how to find motivation when your energy levels are low.  I keep it on my desk and thumb through it again and again while writing.

“If your fiction is anything like mine, you have long since become accustomed to the concept of underachievement.”