Just Keep Writing


It’s amazing what a change of scene and some fresh sea air can do for the psyche. This dazzling sunrise, over the turquoise waters of Cancun, Mexico, was my writing view every morning last week. What is it about beaches, anyway? I’ve come home to Chicago refreshed and ready to continue attacking the page.

Camp NaNoWriMo began on the 1st of July, and I’m one of thousands participating in this virtual writing retreat. I’ve chosen to begin rewriting a novel I started (and failed to complete) more than 5 years ago, with a goal of 1,000 words/day, and 30,000 words by month’s end.

Committing to a project and word count goal within a fixed period of time doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s been great for me. Currently at 24k, and with more than a week left in the month, I’m confident I’ll reach my goal.

Of course there have been ups and downs. During the first week, I could barely contain my enthusiasm. I had to force myself to quit writing each day, for fear I’d burn myself out. Naturally, some days have been more of a struggle, but that’s the writing life, defined by emotional and creative highs and lows.

Holding myself to a daily goal has produced an unexpected benefit: it’s kept my head in the story. “What happens next” is always lurking in my subconscious, and as a result, I want to write every day. The adage is true. Writing really does beget writing.

ellen-dory-finding-nemo-2__oPtBut the best part of the Camp has been the commitment itself. To reach my goal, I need to sit the booty in the chair, every day, no excuses. I’ve embraced the “Just Write It” mantra — get the story down, never mind the shortcomings. Problems are inevitable, and they can be addressed with revisions. Just keep writing. As one who struggles with crippling perfectionism, it’s been an incredibly freeing experience. I can do this.

Just keep writing…just keep writing…

Let the Insanity Begin

I’ve had big plans for the month of July for quite some time now. It’s one of two months each year to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo, and I’m signed up and ready to go.


A cousin of the original NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I first learned about the Camp here in the blogging world. I’ve watched other writers toil through the word count, witnessed the elation of week 1, the crippling grind of week 3, the road blocks and breakthroughs, and finally, victory!

Now it’s my turn to give it a shot. But still. Write a novel in a month? Have I gone completely bonkers?

Unlike the original NaNoWriMo in November, in which participants pledge to write 50,000 words by month’s end, Camp NaNoWriMo (held every April and July) offers a little more flexibility: choose your project(s), choose your word count. So I’ve settled on 30,000 words, or 1,000 words a day. Doable, I hope. But it still may be enough to put me halfway to bonkers.

The concept of the Camp goes against my writing grain. I have a terrible habit of rereading and editing as I go, even on a first draft. Word vomiting, or “just write the darn story” is not in the fabric of my perfectionist nature.

I suppose that’s exactly why I’ve chosen to take this on.

I’ll spend today, the last day of June, fine-tuning my outline. It’s far from perfect and full of holes, but it’s the only road map I’ve got. I have to continually remind myself it’s just a draft. The bad stuff will be changed or revised out later, right?

My Camper profile pic.

My camper profile pic

My sister Katie and friend Rajni, my cabin mates, will be writing alongside me. We’ll keep each other motivated, cheer each other on. I’m looking forward to their company. And there’s plenty of room in the cabin — any last minute takers want to join us?

Wish me luck, blogging friends! Ack!


Writing the Wrong Story

It was a snowy January morning in 2009. Nestled under a quilt in front of the fireplace, I’d just finished reading a novel I couldn’t put down. The protagonist’s voice, the suspense, the delicious conflict — it was all perfect. The author was a genius! Made me want to give novel-writing a try.


So I dreamed up a premise and a couple of characters, hauled out my laptop, and began to write. Yeah, just like that. Bing, bang, boom.

I didn’t know I was destined to fail, but in some ways my naiveté was very freeing. I wrote with abandon — just me, my characters, and my half-baked story.

Once the spontaneity had worn thin, and with no road map on how to continue, my story stalled. I started reading about craft, took some classes, and wrote a few more dead-end drafts, but inevitably, I abandoned the project in 2012.

IMG_1704The thing about writing is it gets under your skin. You can scratch the itch, but it never fully goes away. So earlier this year, I decided to have another look at that manuscript. Brimming with excitement and fresh ideas on how to revive it, I began a whole new outline.

Yet hidden beneath my exhilaration, something didn’t feel right. Even on my ‘good’ writing days, I couldn’t pinpoint what nagged me.

Finally one day in April, as I pored over Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success for the millionth time, it occurred to me what might be wrong. Author K.M. Weiland writes:

Then, suddenly, it struck me: I was writing from the wrong POV. My hero was not the character with the most to lose…

In her guide, Weiland tells writers to Choose the POV of the Character With the Most at Stake. Was this my dilemma? Was I envisioning my story from the wrong point of view?

For about a week, I resisted the idea, because change is never a good thing, right?

But really, there was no way around it. The person with the most at stake in my story was not my heroine. It was not her elusive love interest. It was their 14-year-old son.

It was almost as if I’d been trying to write the wrong story.

This realization demanded a POV and a genre change, but scratching that outline and beginning anew has made all the difference. Plot points are falling into place, and I absolutely love my new protagonist. I can’t wait to write my ‘new first draft’ in Camp NaNoWriMo next month.

Have you ever tried to write the wrong story?

Summertime, and the Living is Easy

Ahhhh June, my favorite month of the year. The weather is just right, and school will soon be released for the summer. For me, that means a 9-week break from the day job. Whoohoo! Here’s a glimpse at how I’ll fill the time:

I become a Swim Team Mom. My younger daughter is the swimmer of the family, and she has big plans to win the 50-yard breaststroke in the city championships for the second year in a row.


Read, read, read. My TBR list never gets any shorter. Hopefully I’ll make some poolside progress over the summer months!

Participate in Camp NaNoWriMo in July. My revamped novel outline is falling into place. I aim to write my “new first draft” with the community support of my fellow campers.

Run every day. I relish those 30 minutes of peaceful solitude.

Family vacation in Mexico!

Clutter removal. Ugh. My least favorite job, but it’s gotta be done.

A reduced blog schedule. I’m cutting back to twice monthly during June, July, and August.

What are your plans for the summer?


Memorial Day means a great many things to Americans.

The last Monday in May, it’s the unofficial beginning of the summer season.

There are backyard parties and barbeques. Public swimming pools open for business.

Students count down the remaining days before the summer break.

Families embark on weekend road trips to visit friends or popular tourist attractions.


Cloud Gate, commonly known as “The Bean,” in Chicago’s Millennium Park

Memorial Day is also a time to remember the men and women who have died in the service of our great country. It’s a day to remember Freedom Isn’t Free.

A few fun facts (Source: Taking Off):

  • Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day
  • It was established to pay tribute to those who had died in the American Civil War
  • The first Decoration Day was May 30, 1868. This date was chosen because no Civil War battle had taken place on that day
  • Decoration Day evolved into Memorial Day and was broadened to commemorate all American military personnel who had died in a war
  • Memorial Day was observed on May 30th until 1968, when it changed to the last Monday in May

How are you spending this holiday weekend?

A Mother’s Day Tale

It was the evening of November 26, a Sunday. We’d been living in the tiny village of Emmerich, Germany, for exactly 8 weeks and were anticipating the birth of our first child. Dear husband Thom was off on one last business trip before baby’s arrival, so around 8 PM I settled in for the night with some comfort food and a few VHS tapes.

Emmerich, Germany

Emmerich, Germany

11 PM: My eyelids growing heavy, I decided to hit the sack and save the rest of my movie marathon for the following night. I shut down the VCR, locked up the apartment, and headed off to bed.

3 AM: I woke with a start. I’d heard the voice of my father, which seemed illogical since he’d passed away 18 months earlier. He said, “Just remember I’m with you.” For several minutes I lay in bed, shaken, trying to convince myself I wasn’t crazy.

3:13 AM: I felt a strange popping sensation in my upper abdomen, right below my ribcage. Oh, crap. What was that? Was it my … water?

I heaved myself out of bed and watched in disbelief as a stream of liquid trickled down my leg to the carpeted floor. I phoned up Thom, who was sound asleep a few hundred miles away in Milan, Italy.

“I, uh, I think my water just broke,” I told him. “Maybe I’ll go back to bed?”

Following a string of expletives and a few questions: are you sure? are you absolutely sure? (No, I wasn’t sure! I’d never done this before!), he reminded me we’d learned in childbirth class that a baby must be born within 24 hours when the amniotic sac breaks.

Oh, crap! The baby was coming today. I glanced at the calendar: November 27. Three weeks before my due date. I was alone in Emmerich, Germany, in the middle of the night, with no family, no friends, and a German vocabulary that, at the time, could have fit on a cocktail napkin.

I hauled out my German dictionary, scribbled down a few choppy sentences, and used this cheat sheet when I called the local hospital. I said something like, “My name Stephens. Midwife Mueller, please. The baby comes.”

4 AM: My midwife, Freia, arrived at our apartment. After she’d put me at ease and driven me to the hospital, she called Thom, who’d paid a cabbie half our life savings to get him to the Milan airport in record time. Freia assured him I’d be in labor for many hours, and not to worry. He’d be there in time for the birth.

11 AM: My poor husband finally made it to the hospital, and found a demon resembling his wife writhing in pain in a warm water bath. A short time later an angel, otherwise known as the anesthesiologist, delivered the epidural. Ahhhhh.

3:05 PM: Our 6 lb, 14 oz. (3,130g) bundle of joy made her debut, and our lives were forever changed.


When I held her for the first time, I remember thinking the hectic events leading up to her birth would make a unique story to tell her someday. “The Day I Became a Mother” is still one of her favorites.

I hope your Mother’s Day was spent with loved ones and plenty of great stories to share.

Quieting the Mouth that Roared


When my kids were younger, I used to wonder how I’d survive the trying toddler years — the tantrums, the defiance, the irrational behavior so typical of the age. Just wait, I was told. There’s even more fun ahead in the tumultuous teens. Boy, were they right.

Of course there are plenty of joys in raising a teen, but these moments are often overshadowed by attitude, moodiness, and oh my word, the mouth.


Recently my teen dished up a whopper. The time was 7:52 A.M., and darling daughter needed to be in first period class in 8 minutes. She came waltzing down the stairs without an ounce of urgency, expecting I’d compensate for her poor time management and give her a ride to school.

I don’t drive my kids to school because it’s less than half a mile away — an easy walk, or an even easier bike ride. Since I knew on this particular morning she’d been texting and piddling around with Flappy Bird instead of getting ready for school, I told her no, I was not giving her a ride.

“But I’m going to be late!” she exclaimed.

“Then you’d better run, or ride your bike,” I said.

“You suck. I hate you!” she yelled, and stormed out the front door.

I probably shouldn’t have been stunned. She’d been slowly amping up the mouthiness for months, but this took it to another level. I’d crossed into a whole new parenting frontier.


In cases like these, I call for reinforcements: the family, friends, and colleagues who have weathered the teen years, who can empathize and provide sound advice. Everyone agreed she should lose a privilege. Something that would hurt, or leave a big void in her life.

Nowadays that’s an easy fix. You take away a teen’s electronics. It’s like keeping them from oxygen.

When she arrived home that afternoon, we met in her room for a private discussion, where I calmly explained how disrespectful she’d been, and how her mouth and impulses were out of control.

I saved the punishment for the end: 2 days with no gadgets. After some protesting and a failed attempt at negotiation, she surrendered her phone, iPod, and laptop.

My sister felt she should have suffered a whole week without gadgets, and I considered this. But I know down the road there will be more and worse things to come, so I need to reserve a few weapons in my arsenal. I promised my daughter the next time the mouth roars, her punishment will be longer.

IMG_2711Fortunately it’s made an impact. She’s been much more respectful, dare I say even a pleasure to be around! Time management has been better, too. Maybe she’s learned a lesson.

For now, anyway.