Monday, March 24, 2014

Ready is Relative

Lately, I've become a big fan of now. I've also become a big fan of the phrase, "why not?" 
I think why not and now go together quite nicely, don't you?


Thank you to my indescribably awesome cousin-in-law, Avery, for bringing this quote 
(which I typed up on my vintage Royal KMG) to my attention.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Stranger Things by Erin Healy

This last December, I had the honor of hosting best-selling author Erin Healy on my blog to promote her new book. I've been a long time fan of Erin's books, and I'm happy to say Stranger Things is yet another inspiring, thought provoking, and impactful novel.

Serena Diaz's life is suddenly torn apart after a troubled student accuses her of sexual misconduct. In an effort to escape the inevitable fallout, Serena retreats to the comfort of the woods, only to stumble into the middle of a criminal operation. And she almost pays for this discovery with her life, until a man she's never met steps in front of the bullet meant for her. Haunted by mysterious visions and the question of why a complete stranger would die for her, Serena's search for answers reveals an evil she never expected. Caught in a tangle of false accusations, Serena is forced to confront the darkness and step into a world of terrifying danger where she soon realizes her life isn't the only one at stake.

Among the fun stories and the easy reads, the classic novels and the favorite series, there are a handful of books on my bookshelf that have done more than just entertain me. They've impacted me in a big way and changed the way I look at the world around me. This is one of those books. In her latest novel, Erin not only weaves a captivating and suspenseful story, but she also tackles the very serious--and very real--topic of sex trafficking. In the midst of the beautiful writing and masterful storytelling I've come to love so much from Erin, the import of the truth behind the fiction began to haunt me. As I was caught up in the characters' stories--each with their own unique, powerful, and emotional layers--the realization that their stories are, in some places, closer to fact than fiction was heartbreaking. And then I came to the line that completely wrecked me:

"And then she thought she didn't really want to hear this story. She wanted the sordid tales that involved fourteen-year-old girls to stay at arm's length the way they did in the papers, or in her parents' safe house. She wanted them to remain trapped at a safe distance on digital screens, where she didn't have to look a victim in the eye and find she had no idea what to say."

Wow. Can we say "hard truth"? I saw myself in those lines, and the more I read, the more I wanted to do something to offer the hope woven into the pages of this story to the real-life women who so desperately need it. And that is what makes this book so amazingly wonderful--its power to defeat apathy and inspire change. If you're a fan of emotionally charged, well-written suspense, I hope you'll put this book at the top of your to-read list, then spread the message: We're in it to end it.

If, like me, stories like these--whether fiction or real life accounts of those exploited--have inspired you to take action, the End It website is a great place to start. There you'll find ways you can show your support and take a stand against modern-day slavery, and links to organizations that are leading the fight against human trafficking. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Slow and Steady

My new novel is coming along, slowly but surely. I've been trying to remember that whether I end the day with 500 or 2000 words, any amount is progress and I should be proud of that. This week the ever-so-lovely Kelli Trontel (one of the coolest, most inspiring ladies I know) released her monthly collaboration with Thorn +Sparrow, and this month's desktop/iPhone wallpaper was exactly what I needed to help inspire me as I continue pushing through my first draft. It's the perfect reminder to take things one day at a time, and that all these little chapters will eventually come together to make something awesome.

So for this week's Picture Quote Monday, head on over to Kelli's blog and snag some of that inspiration for yourself!




Tuesday, March 4, 2014

National Grammar Day, Or: Do You Know Why I Pulled You Over?

It's National Grammar Day! The one day you're allowed to be the grammar police without fear of backlash. We've all been deputized, right? For today's Grammar Day PSA, I'd like to share some of my biggest grammar and spelling pet peeves and faux pas. I promise, I speak in love. We'll start with the grammatical equivalent of nails on a chalkboard:

1. Your/You're
Do I really need to say more? Winner of the "Most likely to annoy you on Facebook" award.

2. Alot
This one is for my husband. He's a very laid back guy, but I can't tell you how many times I've heard him say, "A LOT IS TWO WORDS!" One of the many reasons I love him. (Side note: He read this over my shoulder, saw the word "alot" and was this close to yelling at me when he read the rest of the paragraph and started laughing.)

3. Thru
Should only be used when accompanied by a side of fries. The fact that the dictionary actually allows this as an "informal spelling of through" makes me want to cry. NO. Just NO.

4. Lack of Punctuation
If reading your words aloud causes you to pass out due to lack of oxygen, you might want to consider some periods. Or at least a comma or two.

5. Autocorrect's Obsession with Contractions
I love my iPhone, but can someone please explain to me why autocorrect always insists on changing "were" to "we're" and "well" to "we'll"?

Of course, it wouldn't be fair of me to pick on everyone else without admitting to my own shortcomings. So here are some confessions of my own:

1. It's/Its
Yes, I passed the second grade. My only excuse for this one is that my pinky finger has a mind of its own. One of my very first assignments for the Institute of Children's Literature came back from my instructor with a whole lot of red-inked edits because I had misspelled every single its. How's that for embarrassing?

2. Lead/Led
Halfway through editing my last novel, it was brought to my attention that I have some sort of heavy metals obsession. I ended up having to do a search of my entire manuscript for the word "lead" so I could change them all to the proper word. Apparently, if I'm going to misspell something I go all in. At least I'm consistent, right?

3. Alright
Did you know this word isn't technically even a word? Because I didn't, until about nine months ago. Turns out it should be written as two words: all right. Except maybe when quoting Matthew McConaughey.

4. Necessary 
This word is my nemesis. Does the c or the s come first? Should there be one? Two? Forget it, I'll just right click and let spell check fix it!

5. Lay/Laid/Lie
If you automatically know which one to use without having to look it up, you're my hero.

On today of all days, I would be remiss if I didn't give a shoutout and a giant THANK YOU to my amazing friend Laurie, who is the most grammatically correct person I know. My book would be a hot mess if it wasn't for her eagle-eye error detection and correction skills. I owe her BIG TIME.

So what did I miss? What are the errors that annoy you most? Any confessions of your own? Share in the comments!

Now to cross my fingers and hope this post is error free...

Monday, March 3, 2014

Pass the Burnt Toast

Lately I've been suffering from that dreaded ailment all writers and artists fear: creative burnout. I've always thought creative burnout was something that happened when you spent too much time creating. But the truth is, I haven't done a whole lot of creating at all lately, and what I have done, I haven't exactly been enjoying. You may have noticed the blog has been quiet silent for the last couple of weeks. The reason is simple: I haven't had anything to say. I've been fresh out of ideas, even if I did have the energy at the end of the day to write something. I don't even have a book review to post because I'm only halfway through the novel I started reading a month ago. UGH. Enter cranky Ashley. Apologies to my poor husband and children.

This weekend I decided enough was enough. I was going to figure out what the problem was and fix it. And here's the conclusion I've come to: My creative burnout is really just plain old, everyday burnout. I suspect most of you will identify with me when I say I've just been too damn busy. I wake up in the morning with a to-do list at the forefront of my mind and by the end of the day if I haven't checked off EVERY. SINGLE. ITEM I feel like a complete and utter failure. There's always one more thing that needs to be done, but no matter what I'm doing I always feel like I should be doing something else. And relaxing? Ain't nobody got time for that. (Sorry, I couldn't resist)

As a result, my post-kids'-bedtime writing routine is no longer working because by the end of the day I'm exhausted, frustrated, and the last thing my brain wants to do is function. Writing has become a chore, just another thing on my crushing to-do list. And when your passion becomes a chore, you've got a problem.

So...what to do about it?


Easier said than done, right? It's a question I've heard a lot from my creative friends, especially those friends who are also moms. How do you balance doing what you want to do with doing what you need/have to do? Yes, I'd love to finish writing that novel, but there's also a house to be cleaned, the kids have to be taken to school (or if you're a homeschool mom like me, be schooled), the family has to be fed, this job has to be finished by that deadline...and on and on and on.

So how does one go from complaining (because let's be honest, we've all had a good whine about our schedules) to changing?

I'm not sure I have a one-size-fits-all answer, but I'd like to share my personal plan with you. I'm going to shake things up. I'm going to stand my usual routine on its head and attempt to go from night owl to early bird. Why? Because I'm tired of busyness stealing my joy. I really want to write that novel. And I want to implement something awesome from Don Miller, author of one of my all time favorite books, Blue Like Jazz. On his blog, Don has provided a free download of his Storyline Productivity Schedule. The first thing that struck me about the idea behind this schedule was Don's opening question: "What if problems like writers block and procrastination were less about your shortcomings and more about how you structure your work day?" The Storyline Productivity Schedule is all about managing your mental energy, not just your time. It helps you focus on one thing at a time, prioritize your day, finish projects, and allows for rewards and rest to help you periodically recharge. 

I don't know about you, but I think that sounds fantastic.

So for the next 30 days, I'm going to utilize the Productivity Schedule and hopefully be on my way to a healthier, more creative, more productive, and--most of all--more present and happier me. I'll let you know how it goes. If you're interested in joining me, you can read more about the schedule and download your free copy on the Storyline Blog. And if nothing else, I hope you find some encouragement knowing you're not the only one who struggles with finding a daily balance. We're all in this together. 

Here's to doing more by slowing down. Cheers!