New Year, New Resolutions

Life is back in order after a very hectic holiday that included some very high highs (finding out I'll have a niece, Reagan, come May!) to some very low lows (a death in the family on Christmas Day). As such, there wasn't a whole lot of time for reflection or resolutions. My plate is full, as always, but as an introvert, I have to carve out time to do the things that are important to me, or run the risk of terrible burnout. Knowing that, I've created some new resolutions, and revisited some old ones.

1. Dedicate time to writing at least five days a week, whether it's a blog post or a writing project.

2. Record all of the books I read throughout the year. This was a fun one for me last year, so I'll be doing it again. You can follow my progress under "What I've Read."

3. Continue renovations on the condo. Things are moving right along, and I have even more big plans for this year.

4. Cook more often, and try new recipes. This remains on the list. I tired a few new things last year, but it's time to test out all of that fancy kitchen equipment from the registry.

5. Be open to new friendships. This is always a goal for me, but I want to be more intentional about the people I spend time with, especially since I'm so protective of my time.

6. Make healthier choices. I'm never going to be a health nut. I have too many guilty pleasures for that sort of lifestyle. But I do want to make healthier choices, even if it's just drinking more water and getting on a regular schedule with barre classes.

7. Achieve balance. Overall, this is what I'm going for. More play, less work. More quality time with the people I love. More calm, less stress.

So that's it. And my motto? Here it is, courtesy of Emily Ley.

 

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Writing Conference Tips for Introverts

If you're anything like me, the thought of a writing conference is both exhilarating and terrifying. I love to learn from the experts, so a weekend with authors, agents and editors is ideal. However, having to talk to said authors, agents and editors is fairly intimidating for an introvert, considering I'd rather be reading at home on a Friday night than, you know, interacting with people.

DFW Writers' Conference 2013

Still, a writing conference is a great opportunity, so I put my fears (and social awkwardness) aside for one weekend to attend the DFW Writers' Conference in June. It was a great experience, and I learned a whole lot about writing. I also learned what to do (and what not to do) next time. If you're an introvert like me, check out the tips below for ways to stay sane in an environment that might otherwise be incredibly overwhelming.

1. Attend icebreaker sessions. If you're like me, the thought of attending an icebreaker session is somewhat akin to the threat of water boarding. However, it's a great way to meet a few people that will become friendly faces throughout the conference. Who knows, you might meet someone from your town or exchange email addresses with a potential critique partner. It also sets the tone for a weekend of getting out of your shell just a bit to really experience what the conference has to offer.

2. Sit at empty tables. Too intimidated to approach a table full of people, especially when they're already in the middle of a conversation? I feel your pain. Choose the less daunting option of sitting at a table with only a few people. Chances are, the other people are introverts just like you and will be relieved to have a new friend. Or, pick a completely empty table to catch up on your conference schedule. You likely won't be alone for long.

3. Ask people what they write. The great thing about a writing conference is that there is already a common interest inherent to all attendees... writing! It's a built-in conversation starter, and a great way to get people talking. Likewise, know your answer to this question before you arrive, because you'll get it over and over again. It also helps to have a few comparable titles in your back pocket to help explain your interests.

4. Use social media. Social media is a great way to connect with other conference attendees. If you're on Twitter, follow the authors, editors, agents and other writers. Tweet tips from the conference, share photos on Facebook and interact with other attendees without the intimidation of face to face conversation. Also, make sure your social media icons are actual photos (not your cat), so your fellow attendees can recognize who they've been tweeting with in real life.

5. Take a break. Everyone needs a break, but especially introverts. No panels catching your eye? Take that time to grab a coffee and read, catch up on emails or just relax. No one wins a prize for attending the most events and panels at a conference, and you'll be much more open to learning and meeting new people once you've a little time to recharge.

6. Bring a sweater. This is less introvert-related and more comfort related. If you're always cold like me, bring a sweater. Conference rooms are notorious for being air conditioned to an extreme degree, and you'll have a much easier time listening if your body isn't fighting off the first stages of hypothermia.

Any other tips for introverts at writing conferences? I need all the help I can get sometimes.

And on a somewhat related note, a guide to the care and keeping of introverts from Fast Company, via up A Cup of Jo. I'm tempted to post this on my office door as an instruction manual.

 

In Honor of Banned Books Week

It's Banned Books Week, the time to celebrate the freedom to read and also the freedom reading can bring. There are a lot of bad things happening in this world, and censorship might seem far down on the list of things to worry about, but we should all remember that banned books have the power to shape the world.  

As is fitting, a quote from our often-banned friend, Mr. Vonnegut:

"There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind." -Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

A Case of the Mean Reds

One of my favorite movies (and books) is Breakfast at Tiffany's. You've got Audrey, crazy parties, a cranky cat named Cat and one seriously handsome writer (Hello, Paul!). It's a fun movie, but the undercurrent of sadness is also appealing, in a strange way. Holly really is lost and doesn't seem to be able to find herself for most of the movie. And even in the end, I'm sure Paul had his work cut out for him once the credits rolled.

Audrey Hepburn Playing Guitar in Breakfast at Tiffany's

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Holly tells Paul about having the mean reds. When he confuses them for the blues, she says this great line:

"The blues are because you're getting fat and maybe it's been raining too long, you're just sad that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?"

Sometimes after I finish a book, I get a case of the mean reds. I'm not afraid, but I spend so much time invested in characters and plot, and as the pages dwindle, I know it will all be over soon. And while I love rereading a favorite book, there's nothing quite like that first reading, indulging in all of the details and learning right along with the characters. It's especially bad when I finish a series that I really love. Yes, Harry Potter is one of those series. I grew up reading those books, and saying goodbye to Harry's story was like saying goodbye to one of my friends. And while I can read them any time I want, I'll never be able to recreate sobbing in the back seat of my dad's car when one of my favorite characters died.

All of this leads me to one of my recent reads, which gave me such a bad case of the mean reds that emergency frozen yogurt was in order. Yes, I'm talking about The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson. I've only read a few of her books, but The Shades of London series has become a fast favorite. I won't spoil the ending of book two, referred to as "The Thing" by Maureen on Twitter (If you don't follow her...just do. Seriously.), but it totally took me by surprise, and I'm still not over it. There are two books left, so not all hope is lost, but it will be a very, very long wait for the next book.

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The only solution to a book-induced case of the mean reds? Buy copies for all of your friends and insist they read them so they can share in your misery. You can even create a tiny book nerd support group. You're welcome, friends.

A Grilled Cheese Sandwich to Brighten Your Day

This has been a rough few days, people. With bombings in Boston, an explosion in West (a town I make frequent stops in on my drives to and from Dallas) and a bus crash that hit a little too close to home, both personally and professionally, I'm feeling emotionally drained. Combine that with long work days and a traveling husband, and you have one cranky writer who has to fend for herself for dinner. Not a pretty picture. After two nights of frozen chicken tamales, I wanted something different. In a sheer stroke of genius (and Googling), I scrambled together the following recipe, which I've now dubbed the most amazing sandwich I've ever made. This isn't gourmet by any means, but it certainly hit the spot.

Smoked Gouda Grilled Cheese with Green Apple Serves 1

Ingredients: 1 clove of garlic, peeled and sliced in half 1 tablespoon of butter, softened (or if you're like me, good ol' Country Crock) 2 slices of honey wheat bread 3-4 slices of smoked Gouda cheese Freshly ground black pepper 3-4 thin slices of green apple, sandwich-maker's choice (I think I used Granny Smith)

Method: Preheat skillet or frying pan over medium-low heat.

Rub one side of each slice of bread with the halved garlic, then thinly coat with softened butter.

Place the first slice of bread, butter side down, into the skillet. Top with enough cheese to cover the slice.

Top cheese with thinly sliced apples and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.

Cover sliced apples with a second layer of cheese and top with second slice of bread, butter side up.

Grill sandwich until golden brown on each side, making sure the cheese is melted. If the cheese is being stubborn, cover the pan with a spare lid while cooking. If that doesn't work, pop the pan and sandwich in a 200 degree preheated oven.

Slice and enjoy!

Wisdom From Gary Provost

As I continue writing my manuscript, I'm thinking more and more about sentence structure and length, about making an impact with more than just the words on the page. Gary Provost provides us a great example of the power of a well-crafted sentence: “This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

Literary Wedding Readings

I've tried to keep the wedding posts to a minimum, because there are lots of other blogs out there that do it better, and frankly, wedding planning is not my favorite thing. However, it was a challenge to find non-traditional wedding readings from literature, and if this post helps someone else keep their sanity during the wedding planning process, I'd feel good about that. Obviously, the Bible is one of the most-read books in the world (I'm sure there are statistics about that somewhere), but I wanted to go with something a little less traditional to fit with our book-themed wedding.

We looked at everything from children's books like The Velveteen Rabbit and The Little Prince to Shakespeare. We wanted something that resonated with us and also with the audience. Although I'm a big fan of Shakespeare, it didn't have a universal appeal and can be difficult to read aloud. Some readings, particularly The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, really conveyed the struggle and deep commitment that a marriage entails, but were perhaps a bit serious.

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In the end, we chose two readings, each from one of our respective favorite books. Mine, naturally, was from Jane Eyre. I can't get enough of Jane and Mr. Rochester, and this reading conveyed a depth of feeling that seemed fitting of the occasion.

"I have for the first time found what I can truly love – I have found you. You are my sympathy – my better self—my good angel—I am bound to you with a strong attachment. I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my center and spring of life, wraps my existence about you—and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one." - Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

And Jonathan chose a lovely reading from The Alchemist. One of these days I'll get around to reading the book.

"When he looked into her eyes, he learned the most important part of the language that all the world spoke – the language that everyone on earth was capable of understanding in their heart. It was love. Something older than humanity, more ancient than the desert. What the boy felt at that moment was that he was in the presence of the only woman in his life, and that, with no need for words, she recognized the same thing. Because when you know the language, it’s easy to understand that someone in the world awaits you, whether it’s in the middle of the desert or in some great city. And when two such people encounter each other, the past and the future become unimportant. There is only that moment, and the incredible certainty that everything under the sun has been written by one hand only. It is the hand that evokes love, and creates a twin soul for every person in the world. Without such love, one’s dreams would have no meaning." -The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Every wedding decision is an invitation to feedback and input from all involved parties, at least in my experience. Thankfully, everyone was supportive of our non-traditional choices, including my southern grandmother.

On Resolutions and a New Year

I'm returning to the regularly scheduled programming after a short break that feels like an eternity. Anyone else? In the time I was away, I did a lot of things, including getting married (and the stress leading up to that event, especially for an introvert who avoids the spotlight), traveling to Belize, continuing to travel as part of my newish job and celebrating the holidays with my family. Between wedding, work and family, I don't want to count the number of trips I've made back and forth from Austin to Dallas. It would just make me sad. I got back a little over a week ago, and I'm going back next week. See? I can't talk about it.

Moving on. In the midst of all the of crazy, I also started a new writing project. It's still in the early stages, about 10,000 words right now, but I'm hoping to reach the 50,000 words by the end of the month. Cross your crossable extremities. I'm using Scrivener for this project, and loving it, but I can help but feel I'm barely skimming the surface on all of the features. I'll have to work on that.

So it's the start of a new year, and I'm juggling a lot of things, including being a new wife (what!?), being a homeowner, having a newish job in a very new industry and tackling a big writing projects. And it's also the time for resolutions. Oh, why not? I clearly have loads of time. Here goes...

1. Finish my writing project. 2. Learn more about writing and publishing. 3. Record all of the books I read throughout the year. 4. Begin renovations on the condo. 5. Learn how to keep the condo clean. 6. Cook more often, and try new recipes. 7. Be open to new friendships.

There you have it. In making this public, I'm subjecting myself to judgement and ridicule. Be kind.

Writing Tools

There's a lot of discussion in the writing world about writing tools. Some people use open source tools like Scribus or Storybook. Other people use Microsoft Word or Google Docs, so they can access their work from any computer. Microsoft Word is rife with problems (and expensive!), and I don't like the functionality of Google Docs, although it works in a pinch. For me, it's Scrivener, because the design just makes sense. I can compile research, work in multiple documents, arrange them on my cork board and eventually compile everything into a standard manuscript format. And if I ever decide to write screen plays or non-fiction, there are formatting options for that too.

Which writing tools do you use?

Scrivener. Y'know - for writers.

Open Letters from McSweeney's Internet Tendency

Call me a snob, but I appreciate McSweeney's, not only for the work they produce, but also for they way they encourage young writers. I'm pretty much on board for anything that comes from the mind of Dave Eggers. And have you seen their packaging? Divine.

On Friday afternoon, they hooked me with a tweet that said: "An Open Letter to the Mix Tape Made for Me By My College Boyfriend, Now Deceased." Intrigued, I clicked through, only to learn about the long-standing column "Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond." Naturally, I proceeded to read no less than eighteen of the submissions.

I'm still picking my favorites, but if you're looking for a quick read, I recommend the following:

And just for good measure, a  post about the "lovable, comic-book inspired, sans-serif badassery" that is Comic Sans.

Summer Reading and a Visit to the Country

My job comes with many responsibilities, and I'm learning a lot as I take on this new role. Among other things, my job requires that I travel occasionally. While I wouldn't want to make it a daily thing, traveling occasionally for work can be exciting, even if it's only to small, remote locations. One sure way to get acquainted with coworkers is driving through the cornfields of Oklahoma in a base model rental car during a thunderstorm. While preparing for the trip, I naturally packed reading materials. After a few bad experiences with my Kindle in airports, I always bring paper books in my luggage as well. This time I went for two of my favorites: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway and Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I never enjoyed The Old Man and the Sea, but Jake Barnes gets me every time. There's something supremely romantic, yet utterly depressing about these sad, lost expatriates surviving Paris and Pamplona.

However, for this particular trip, I gravitated towards Bradbury, possibly because of his recent death, or possibly because this book takes me back to the hot Texas summers of my youth. If you've shied away from Bradbury because of the science fiction label, this book will make you reconsider. The way Bradbury describes the start of summer in the mythical Green Town, Ill., as told through the eyes of 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding, is magical. I can smell the freshly cut grass and taste the tartness of the dandelion wine.

I try to read this book every summer because it brings me back to simpler times before work and obligations got in the way of a joyous, carefree summer. As we drove through the sprawling Oklahoma countryside, I could almost remember.

The Loss of a Great Writer

The loss of a great writer is like a swift punch to the stomach. It comes out of nowhere and completely takes my breath away, leaving me not only mourning the death, but also the loss of the incredible works of art I won't get to consume. We've lost so many great writers this year, and I hope to write about each one that touched me in time, but the recent death of Nora Ephron weighs heavily on my mind. Originally a journalist, she transitioned into writing plays and novels and writing, directing and producing films. I grew up watching movies like Sleepless and Seattle and When Harry Met Sally, and her words have long since become everyday phrases in my family.

Ephron was gifted at exposing the humor of everyday life and love, including topics like relationships, divorce, death and friendship - all in a relatable, eerily accurate way. I remember laughing repeatedly at the seemingly ridiculous scene in When Harry Met Sally when Jess and Marie move in together and have a huge fight about that "stupid, wagon wheel, Roy Rogers garage sale coffee table!"

Several years later, I'm now in the process of moving in with my fiancé and unintentionally recreating the embarrassing wagon wheel coffee table argument, only this time it's about a bright blue, 17-foot-long kayak.

So Nora, if you're up there reading blogs in your spare time, know that you touched my life and inspired me to be a better writer. To try to capture even a hint of the humanity you put into your work. And I will work each day to be the heroine of my life, and not the victim, as you advised in your '96 Wellesley commencement address.

You should also know that I'm now 50 percent owner of one very blue, very large kayak that resides on my patio.

A Trying Day

Today was one of those days where nothing seems to go right. Starting a new job is tough. Even though I went into the office today thinking positively after listening to calming music in the parking lot, I was not prepared. As is often the case in the world of media, everything went wrong and 12 hours later, I was finally leaving. After dinner, we decided to go pick out paint chips for some of our upcoming DIY projects, and while getting into the car, I split my pants. If this has never happened to you before, trust me when I say it's just as embarrassing as it sounds.

In an effort to relax, I'm getting lots of snuggles from this little lady...

And prepping for the weekend by making some sweet tea vodka with my old friend Tito's Handmade Vodka. I see Arnold Palmers in my future.

(Mason Jar Drink Dispenser and stand from Pottery Barn)

On Careers

I recently started a new job, which has me thinking about careers. I've always been ambitious and was lucky enough to find a great job in my chosen career field not too long after graduating from college, and again found a great job in a similar field when I moved to Austin. Many of my friends have not been so lucky. As a deadline-driven person, working in public relations and advertising is a great fit. However, these careers often extend beyond the 40 hour work week. As I continue to pursue this line of career, I am increasingly aware of the need for balance. Balance between work and home. Balance between friends and family. Balance between busy time and down time.

As I commit myself to writing, I need to also find time to write in between all of these other important things. I definitely don't have it figured out, but I plan to keep working toward the goal of having a successful career and pursuing my dream of becoming a published author at the same time.

As I work through this challenge, I'll share what does and doesn't work. Do you have any tips for finding time to write and creating balance in life? If you do, I'd love to hear them. And if you're still figuring it out like me, I'd love to hear about that too.

Speaking of balance, check out Martin, a fabulous Labradoodle who achieves amazing feats of balance in and around New York City. She has even been featured in the New York Post! I wonder if I can convince Lola to do that?

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I am a Writer

I am a writer. In secret.

At work, I write all day long... press releases, pitches, media alerts, plans, creative briefs, etc.

But at night, on the weekends, and in my head, I'm a real writer. The kind of writer who puts her deepest, most intimate thoughts on paper as a form of self expression and self preservation.

Rumor has it, Stephen King writes ten pages a day. Even on holidays. I'm lucky if I write ten pages a year of my own work, beyond public relations. I aim to change that.

Starting now, I'm making a commitment to the writer within to write for myself, in addition to all of the writing I do for other people.

Challenge accepted.