Gathering Your Creations


My son, admiring my “published writing portfolio”

Ever since I started writing with the intent to publish novels, I’ve had this constant feeling I’m not getting any writing done. Whatsoever. Even on the serendipitous days when I log thousands of words on my Work-in-Progress, the finished product seems so impossibly far away, I am temped to put my so-called “writing career” out of its misery.

I still feel this way when I’ve wrangled together a first – or even a second, or third – draft of a novel. In fact, the distance to the true finish line (a publishable book) just seems to move farther and farther away the closer I’m supposedly getting.

This never-done feeling is probably one of the reasons I enjoy writing short stories, articles, blog posts, and picture books. To me, they are more manageable. It’s easier (not easy, but easier) to get to the end, and to DONE.

And yet…

To date, I’ve had about six short stories and articles published. And that’s great. But even with this modest progress, that nagging feeling persists:

I haven’t accomplished anything. I’m not getting anything done.

Maybe part of the problem is that almost everything I’ve written is tucked away in weightless files and folders in my computer. And even though the magazines that published my stories and articles are physical objects, most of the time my “writing products” are out of sight. Out of sight, and out of mind.

What am I getting at with this?

Recently, I gathered all my published pieces in one place, making a portfolio like an artist would.

And you know what? It makes a difference. I now have a body of work. A small body, but still a body. Even when the portfolio is out of sight, it’s still present in a way that the scattered magazines weren’t. Maybe because of its size, or formality, the portfolio gives me a physical reminder: I have accomplished something. I have gotten something done. Maybe not much, but something.

That said, if I’d put together my published writing portfolio two years ago, it would have made me depressed: I just didn’t have enough to put in there. A portfolio doesn’t only have to be for published pieces, though, nor do you have to be a writer or artist to make one for your particular creations, whatever form they take.

So, this is what I’m getting at: If you, like me, feel like you haven’t accomplished anything, or gotten anything done…consider gathering your creations.

It may make a difference to you, too.

Please share with us: how do gather and celebrate your creations?

“Where Do You Get Your Ideas?”

When people learn I’m a writer, they sometimes ask:

“Where do you get your ideas?”

The truth, even though it’s not my standard answer?

“Exactly where you do: IN THE SHOWER!”

Now, that’s not where I get all my ideas, or even necessarily my best ones.

But it’s certainly one of the most inconvenient places. All that water and soap…not super conducive to note taking. You’re left juggling all those sparks of brilliance inside your shampooed head until you can jump out and find the nearest pen and paper or electronic equivalent.

That is…until now.


Christmas can’t come soon enough.


See? It’s not my fault!

Let me explain.

According to this article, “physical clutter in your surroundings competes for your attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress.”

So, in other words, when I’m stressing over or not feeling my writing, it’s not my fault. It’s all this clutter! (thank you, children)

The article also tells me that clutter impairs my ability to think creatively. And it’s not just physical clutter – it’s digital, too! Stealing focus and working memory…very mean.

I knew I’m not to blame when I get stuck on my work in progress.

Oh, wait. I think my office and bathroom just reminded me who created the messes there.

And now I hear more voices from all over the house…

Never mind.

People Talking (and Writing) About People: Small or Not at All?


Someone once said:“Great people talk about ideas. Average people talk about things. Small people talk about other people.”

The first time I heard this quote, I embraced it as fact. In consequence, I often felt guilty when my conversations drifted to people. No wonder: according to the quote, that makes me a small person. So more than once, in the middle of a perfectly pleasant conversation with friends, I found myself thinking something like: we shouldn’t be talking about the crazy things our kids did today. We should be discussing politics or something! 

So, seeking to become a “greater” person, I attempt to jump-start a discussion on a lofty idea or two. (Not politics, though. I don’t like discussing politics…that said, what ideas were the author of the quote really referring to, anyway? Maybe he or she can send me a list??)

Ultimately, however, we almost always resume talking about people. And because I like talking about people, I shrug a little and smile.

When I say talking about people, by the way, I’m not referring to gossip or mean-spirited conversation (which, granted, is probably what the quote refers to). I’m talking about the stuff of life. People’s feelings and experiences. Their adventures. Their mistakes and successes. Their stories.

Ah. That’s probably why I like to talk about people. The stories.

I like stories. I like reading stories. I like listening to stories.

Perhaps most of all, I like writing stories. (when my writing is going well, that is)

Cue the confession: despite my affinity for stories, I’ve sometimes felt that writing them is a bit…frivolous. Because isn’t writing stories simply another way of talking about people? And therefore, something small people do? Unless, that is, you make sure to cram in a bucketful of high-minded ideas into those stories.


Ideas in all honor…but without people, ideas have little purpose, movement, or life.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating mindless fiction. Not at all. Nor am I telling the above quote to go take a hike.

But talking and writing about people can be pretty great, if only because people are inherently deep, complicated, and awe-inspiring.

So if you like talking (and writing) about people, too, chances are you aren’t small at all.

You’re just like most human beings: addicted to stories and their characters!

That said…be NICE, children! =)

What fascinates you about people and their stories?

How to Choose Between Good Things

thisthatI am back! Taking time off from writing to adjust to being a mother of two was a good decision. The next time I temporarily step away from writing, however, I will try not to think about my writing so much! Truth be told, I have realized by now that writing is probably always going to be in the back of my mind, even if I haven’t penned a word in months. But maybe I can at least push away writing-related anxiety and self-doubt? Or avoid reading writing and publishing blogs every day? Or not fret about how I really should be published by now? Oh, the writing life! *melodramatic sigh*

ANYWAY…For me, being officially back in business has meant selecting a new major project to work on! Well, two major projects. I don’t know how that happened…Considering I started out with a list of twenty-two (yes, 22!) viable ideas for novels, I’d say whittling it down to two is a decent accomplishment!

So, how did I do it? How does one choose between good things in general?

My decision process will probably disappoint you. I didn’t narrow down my list of twenty-two to ten, then to five, then to two. I didn’t list the pros and cons to every book idea, or even for the ones I ultimately chose to work on. I didn’t perform a market analysis on the gaps in Young Adult Fiction (sorry, agents and editors!). I didn’t do a lot of things I probably should have done.

What did I do? I went on feeling.

Oh, man. Feeling? How many “gut feelings” have ultimately ended up in abysmal failure? My guess—too many to count.

My selection process may have been unscientific, but it wasn’t completely arbitrary. The two projects I settled on intrigue me. I WANT to write them (probably a good prerequisite…). A fair amount of praying has gone into the selection. Also, I shared the list of twenty-two projects with my husband, asking his opinion on what to work on next. Without my revealing the two novel ideas that had been pressing on my mind, he ultimately settled on the exact same projects—even if some of the other ideas felt more “exciting” to him (this was also true for me, by the way).

Does this mean my two works-in-progress are going to be sure-fire bestsellers? No (but that would be nice). Does it mean they are sure to get published? No (but that would also be nice). Does it mean I will even finish writing them? No (but if I don’t I can’t have any chocolate for an entire…week). Does it mean I am supposed to work on them for some reason, if only to turn over the ideas in my mind?

I certainly hope so! =)

I any case, I am excited—and afraid, of course—to work on my two new Young Adult novels. Let’s hope I deliver so I don’t lose all credibility for going on feeling!

Any tips on choosing between good things?  

Talk to Me!

Old Letter

Recently, I emailed a friend I met in my teens. It had been a while (years!) since we communicated last, and I wanted to find out how she’s doing and let her know she’s still in my thoughts.

The first thing I normally do in the morning is grab my phone and check email, blogs, facebook, and twitter. Terrible habit, I know. One morning last week, however, I had not just gotten a bunch of impersonal emails from organizations that wanted me to buy something—I had received a reply from my friend!

And what a response: it put my original email to shame. In fact, it felt more like an old-fashioned letter than an email. Not only was the email long enough to actually sink into but after reading it I felt light: I think I actually sighed with contentment.

The thing is, my friend’s email wasn’t “sensational” in that it offered astounding content. It was, simply put, a personal update with thoughts and opinions strewn in. As I thought more about my friend’s letter and the way it made me feel, I realized several things I hope to apply in my personal communications and my writing in general. My friend’s email was:

-Conversation rather than chatter. When I read my friend’s email, I felt as if we were having an actual conversation. My friend asked and answered questions and shared her thoughts and feelings while I—in my mind—replied and commented. Social media is great, but much of the communication on facebook, twitter, etc, is nothing but noisy chatter. Even when we post on each others’ walls and like each others’ pictures, interaction is often brief, hurried, and of little consequence. My friend’s email reminds me to focus more on conversation than chatter.

-Personal in content and direction. Personal is powerful. My friend’s email was directed to and written with me in mind, but just knowing she actually dedicated a significant chunk of her day to me means a lot. Social media does a great job of bringing us all under one roof, but often we just shout out messages to anybody and everybody but to nobody in particular. Much of our communication, in other words, has become multidirectional instead of unidirectional: impersonal. My friend’s email reminds me that personal is powerful.

-Details rather than generalities. Lately, I’ve noticed I often communicate in very general statements. “I’m doing ok” is probably the most frequent general phrase I employ, but I use plenty of others almost as often! The thing about general statements: they are convenient, but don’t really communicate much. In her email, my friend went beyond generalities. She is a nurse, but rather than simply saying “work’s ok,” she explains she likes working with the patients but that regional government decisions (budget cuts, etc) sap much of the joy she once experienced at her job. The simple detail suddenly elevates her personal experience into social commentary! My friend’s email reminds me that details trump generalities.

Conversation, personal, details…Thank you, my dear friend, for reminding me of those great communication and writing principles! Now I just need to craft a worthy response to your email…


More communication tips, anyone?

Dream Lessons

hospitalbedTo preface this post: I generally don’t ascribe much significance to dreams. But these were just too good to pass up. 

Last night, I dreamt I gave birth to my second son (hang in there a few weeks more though, buddy! Or at least until after our move this week).

The thing is: it didn’t really hurt. Not even afterwards (mothers everywhere nodding in understanding). Oh, and I left the hospital about five minutes later, fully functional.

Now, wouldn’t that be nice?

Alas, most good things in life come as the product of struggle. Sometimes, a long and hard struggle.

I guess I needed that reminder right now, both as a writer and as a human being.

Oh, I also dreamt I took the new baby on a bus, and he went missing. Or, rather, I lost track of him because I had too many things to carry. Even after a thorough search of the bus, I didn’t find the baby (he turned up later, though, unscathed but hungry). I did, however, locate one of my paper bags. I thought the baby might be in the bag, but all it contained was some molding bread.

Hm. I really need to start focusing on the essentials, don’t I?

Had any “life lesson” dreams lately?

Some Things Take Time…


My toddler is a little too eager to get going in the morning (for his parents’ tastes, anyway…). Cartoons (don’t judge) help delay the inevitable. On one of this morning’s episodes of Curious George, George planted carrots. Imagine the sweet monkey’s disappointment when he realized carrots didn’t grow from seed to ready-to-pick overnight!

One of my responsibilities as a mom is to teach my child to delay gratification, to be patient. If only I could learn that lesson myself!

Not that this life hasn’t offered me plenty of opportunities to learn patience. Seven years passed before I could get pregnant with my first son. My husband and I put in an offer on a house in January and we still haven’t heard the final word on it (but it’s leaning toward a big fat no). I’ve waited for months and months to hear back from publishers or magazines, only to finally receive form rejection letters.

As much as I need to become more patient in dealing with circumstances like these, I have a much harder time being patient with…(drumroll, please):


Surprise, surprise.

I am especially impatient with myself when it comes to my writing. Why do I stumble over word placement, trip over plots, slip over descriptions? Why can’t I get the pitch for my book to really sing? Why can’t I just finish editing my manuscript and send it off to agents already?

Bottom line: why can’t I just be a great writer overnight? That would be soooo much better.


But this morning, Curious George’s quest to grow carrots reminded me:

Just keep watering, Angelica. Let the sun shine on your developing talent. Keep it nourished with good earth. 

And if the carrot doesn’t come out a big prizewinner, who is to say it won’t nourish and gladden someone’s heart?

Ps. I know this isn’t my first post on patience. And honestly, it probably won’t be the last, either! =P

Simple Pleasures

simplepleasuresMy toddler loves to play and tumble around in the sand (he likes to throw sand, too, but we try to discourage that). Hiding from his parents, climbing on furniture, pulling stuff out of cupboards, banging on the computer keyboard? Crazy fun.

As I watch my son take in this world, I often think:

Children are so much better than grown-ups at enjoying the simple pleasures in life.

I know I definitely need to get better at acknowledging and savoring the simple pleasures in my own life (in fact, I recently wrote a post on a related topic). So, here is my attempt at doing so today by sharing two of my simple pleasures.

Simple pleasure in writing: When I realize I’ve unconsciously “planted” an element (e.g. an object or a detail mentioned in passing) that I can develop into a more significant part of the story or use as a symbol.

Simple pleasure in life: Taking a shower – especially now when I’m on bed rest and don’t get to stand up for very long. If my doctor banned showering? Tragic, indeed.

What are some simple pleasures in your life?

Learning from Limitations


I recently wrote about the pregnancy scare I had when I was almost 29 weeks pregnant with my first son, which resulted in several weeks of bed rest and early delivery.

Funny thing: the day after I wrote that post, my doctor put me on bed rest again!

No drama, though. The news didn’t exactly come as a surprise during this, my second pregnancy, nor did the event involve any blood or traumatic hospital visits. Basically, my body is just getting ready for labor way too soon so I need to take it even more easy than I have until now. A lot of lying down, etcetera, but as I told a friend: I feel fortunate I’m not on the chained-to-the-bed-with-a-bedpan type of bed rest!

If you’re busy and exhausted, you might be tempted to say: hey, bed rest sounds pretty good right about now! But honestly, bed rest stinks. Maybe a day or two would be okay, but beyond that? No thanks. I’m normally not super active, but I can actually feel my muscles atrophy! And my poor, active 21-month-old, who I’m not supposed to lift…sigh.

One of the hardest things about bed rest, though, for me at least? I just feel so limited. And feeling limited physically reminds me of all the other limitations I feel I have. In writing and life, I often feel severely limited by my abilities and circumstances. Seriously frustrating!

In our society, there’s so much talk about pushing limits, overcoming limitations, and shattering glass ceilings. Often for good reason.  Perhaps because of that, the word limit and its close friend limitation (I pretty much use the terms synonymously here though they have slightly different meaning) have gained negative connotation. Limit=bad.

But can limits sometimes actually be good? We are all subject to limits, after all. (gravity comes to mind) Apart from physical limits, we face limitations of circumstance, of intellect…It would be nice to know limits are not all about restriction.

Well, the limitations of bed rest are at least teaching me some good things. A sampling of lessons already learned (or relearned—how soon we forget!):

Humility. We humans cling to independence (my toddler does, anyway). Not only do we value independence, but we often shun dependence because we equate dependence with weakness. And weakness? Heaven forbid. But, come on, is anybody truly self-made? Of course not. My (as yet) unborn child, for example, is completely dependent on my every breath. Becoming the helped rather than the helper is not entirely easy for me. But it reminds me that I need other people, and that that is a-ok!

Compassion. Pregnancy bed rest stinks, but at least I will have a newborn to snuggle when it ends. So many people suffer: when you are doing fine and dandy yourself, it’s hard to remember those people. Being limited by bed rest teaches me to be more empathetic, and surprisingly, less self-centered. (when I’m not glutting in self-pity, that is…)

Gratitude. When I’m off bed rest, I will dance down the street! (after some post-delivery healing, of course…) And until I can revel in my returned freedom of movement, I’m grateful for every day Boy #2 stays in my belly. Also, friends and family have been so gracious in offering their prayers and help with childcare and meals. My husband, bless his patient little heart, gladly pours me milk from the “heavy” milk jug. Accepting help isn’t easy but I feel overwhelming gratitude at others’ love and concern.

Now, I’m not saying you should limit yourself (unless you have doctor’s orders). Defeatism isn’t flattering. As people and as writers we should strive to constantly improve, to expand our abilities. But if—like me—you sometimes feel frustratingly limited by circumstance or even yourself, be patient and take comfort:

It’s not all bad.