Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What kind of life do you want?

This is one of those questions I spend hours contemplating. Don't we all?

I know there are people on the fringe who think that they are the only enlightened ones and that the rest of the world is living like muggles or mindless drones enslaved to consumerism/popular culture/other people's opinions/the powers that be/whatever. That's pretty much the premise of all dystopian fiction,

from this
to this

But I don't actually believe that's true of our world. I don't think people are drones or muggles. I think we're all regular people. I think we live in regular-topia, not dys- or u- topia.

And it seems to me that most regular people live intentionally, even if they don't use that term. We all make choices about what to do with our money, our time, and our other finite resources. We choose what to watch, where to live, when to go to bed at night. Some of those choices are good and others are bad, but they're still choices. No one actually lives on autopilot. And if you feel like you are living on autopilot, it's easy to fix that. Just choose something different. Start with one little thing.

Okay, this is turning into a motivational poster, which was not exactly my intent. Ahem. Getting back on track . . .

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm saving up to purchase a tiny house. This isn't one of those little, everyday choices; it's a big a decision, one I've come to slowly and deliberately. I don't want to go into my entire history with tiny houses. That's another story for another post. For today, let's just say that this is something I've spent nearly five years considering, which is basically half of my adult life. I've gone through all the stages of tiny house obsession:

1. the initial awe and aimless daydreaming
2. the realization that this dream will be harder to achieve and will require more sacrifices than I anticipated
3. the conversations with family and friends, explaining that I'm not actually crazy (Well, not as crazy. We're all a little crazy.)
4. the "Oh, yeah, I have to pay for this. How am I going to do that?" part
5. the logistics of it all—parking, financing, building vs. buying, floorplans, utilities, timelines, downsizing my possessions, and on and on and on

Through all of this, I've kept quiet about tiny houses on the blog. This is mostly because for the first part of the process I wasn't blogging and for the second part, in spite of my best efforts, I really wasn't sure I'd be able to make it happen. So I kept quiet, but I also kept thinking about the kind of life I wanted and how to achieve it.

Now that I can say with confidence that it's going to happen, I'm starting to freak out a little bit. One of my biggest fears in life is that I'll work super hard for something and then realize after I get it that I didn't really want that thing I worked so hard for. I'm not going to lie, this could very well happen with my tiny house. That's why I've decided to call my tiny house The Folly.

I picked the name months ago because a folly can be defined as a costly ornamental building or a really egregious error. That double meaning amuses me.

So why am I still determined to do it even if I think it might turn out to be a bad idea?

Because I know what kind of life I want.

Remember my PQLR? (If not, see this post.) It's basically a quick way to see how my choices align with my personal values.

Living in a tiny house currently scores a 19.5 out of 20. In comparison, writing fiction full time scores a 16, and I love writing! Going to girls camp, which I also really love, gets a score of 18. To be perfectly honest, the only thing that ranks higher than moving into a tiny house is marrying my absolute ideal guy. And since that's not entirely under my control, I've decided to pursue this alternative in the meantime.

If I get married someday, great! I'll be even happier. If not, I want to make sure I'm living my life to the fullest right now. And for me, that means living in a tiny house.

Like this one! Look how pretty it is!

But there are always trade-offs. Yesterday was one of those days when I spent a lot of time thinking about the trade-offs.

It started in the morning when I looked at all the funds I've saved up so far to use as a down payment on my tiny house and I thought, "I could go on an awesome trip to Europe with that much money." Even though I like to think of myself as a person who loves to travel, the truth is, I haven't left North America more than three times in my whole life. I've been to a grand total of six countries, and one of those was only for a layover in an airport. Someday, I hope to change that.

Later in the day, I thought about how "going tiny," as it's called, could potentially narrow my career opportunities. I've never been the kind of person who dreamed of taking over the world or becoming a huge professional success. I think it's kind of inherent to writing and editing that you prioritize doing work you love over work that pays you well or earns you glory, laud, and honor. But yesterday something happened that made me feel like I was right on the cusp of a breakthrough in my career. And it made me wonder if now was really the right time for a tiny house.

Then last night I went to a fancy event downtown with my grandparents. It was their birthday present to me, and it was really a wonderful evening. I got to eat yummy, expensive food; meet lots of prominent, influential people from our church; and listen to a speaker I deeply admire and respect. And I thought about how the trade off for living a small, simple life is not knowing what you could've done if you'd really tried to do something big. Standing there in that room, talking to those people, I realized that I've been blessed with some incredible advantages. If I wanted to, I could capitalize on those and make something of myself the way each of those people had. I could become a serious force for good. I could serve so many people.

But . . . even as wonderful as all that sounds, it's not the life I really want.

Yes, traveling is important to me. It's one of the reasons a tiny house is so appealing. I want to be able to move my house around with me as I explore new places. And yes, my career is also important to me. I want to be able to work remotely someday so that I can continue doing the work I love, no matter where my house and I go. And yes, I do want to become a force for good, but I think the best way to do that will be to live in harmony with my personal values and to worry less about how big of an impact I'm making and more about doing the best I can to serve in whatever capacity I'm in. After all, Christ wasn't concerned with becoming influential; He was concerned with helping others individually.

I don't mean for any of this to come across as judgmental. If you want any of those things I mentioned, I am so ready to support you. I'm just trying to point out that for me, the trade-offs aren't worth it. I know exactly the kind of life I personally want. And I'm so thrilled to be so close to reaching it. People, I've got a dream. I hope you do too.

After I finished writing this far, I seriously debated about whether or not to actually post this. Part of me has always been nervous about talking about my future plans in case something goes wrong and the plan doesn't come to fruition. I'm not actually afraid of commitments, but it's one thing to personally commit to something and quite another thing to post that commitment on the internet.

Posting this feels like a promise to you all and to myself that I'm actually going to do this, and as much as I would like to move in tomorrow, truth be told, there are still several hurdles to clear before I can take that step. But then I reminded myself that I've overcome obstacles in pursuit of my dreams before. I can do it again. We all can.

In fact, we have to. Because it's our dreams that keep us from living on autopilot. They change us from muggles to wizards. And even if we find out later that they aren't exactly what we wanted, that's okay because the pursuit of them has already changed us for the better.

My pursuit of a tiny house has already changed so much about the way I live my life, and I can't wait to see how much more good will come from it once I'm actually living in The Folly.

So I guess this post really is a promise. I promise to pursue my dreams, even if they change, and to do my best to support others as they pursue theirs. I promise to keep you all posted on my tiny house progress. And I promise not to give up because I know that, as cheesy and motivational-poster-y as it sounds, our dreams are what make life worth living.

And that's the kind of life I want.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Did you miss me?

Because I missed you, blog. I really, really did.

It's been a whole month and five days since my last post, which I just realized is the longest I've gone without blogging since I started up again almost two years ago.

In that time we've almost made it to 100 total posts on this blog. This is number 98. I was going to wait to do all this reflecting until I actually made it to 100, but I figure no one but me will ever know or care about the numbers. We'll just call this post "pretend number 100" and let ourselves indulge in a bit of nostalgia. It's a cold December evening and less than a week away from my birthday. It would almost be wrong not to wax nostalgic.

But first, I should explain about the long break in blogging.

What have I been doing with myself? Honestly, not much. Mostly lots and lots of writing. I finally won NaNoWriMo. That's National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated and all those who have somehow missed my incessant facebook posting about it. To win you need to write 50K words in 30 days.

I first heard about Nanowrimo when I was still in college. Back then I knew that there was no way I could write a novel and also pass my classes, so I responsibly opted to put off the noveling (which is not to say that I actually passed all of my classes, but that's a different story). After college I tried four different times to write 50K words in a month, but it wasn't until this year that I actually succeeded. Go me!

I credit all my success this time to a couple of other authors who were my writing buddies on the Nanowrimo site. I knew they would win, so I just tried to keep up with them. That worked fine until I went on vacation. My family is great, but they're a serious time suck. (Just kidding, guys, if you read this. I loved being with you!) But after a week of that I had to literally lock myself in a hotel room alone ALL DAY to get back on track.

This is where I wrote all day. Not to brag, but I 'm pretty sure 8,800 words in one day is my new personal record

And this is where I collapsed and watched HGTV after I ran out of words.

But really, besides the noveling and two trips to California, I have done almost nothing in the past month.

Except think. I'm always doing that. I can't help but think about where I am, where I've been, and where I'm going. And now we've reached the nostalgia portion of the post.

When I first started blogging again, all those posts and years ago, I said that I would talk about all the different parts of my life, not just my books. I also said that I would have to be "brutally, ridiculously, and sometimes boringly honest because that's just how I am when I write to myself."

Have I done that? I've spilled my guts a few times. I've talked about things that I'd never be able to talk about in a real conversation. And I do my best not to keep things from you all, unless it's not my secret to tell.

But I think I could get better.

I still feel like there's a lot about me that people don't know. And maybe no one wants to know this stuff. But if I can't say things out loud, then I should at least make an attempt to say them in writing. That's always been easier for me to do.

And I've learned a few things from all this blogging. I've learned that I need to be more open on my blog and in real life too. It's hard to do, but it's the only way to really connect with people. Otherwise it just feels fake and you constantly worry that all of the people you know are about to leave the second they realize who you really are.

Your flaws may not be something you're proud of, but they make you who you are just as much as your strengths and accomplishments do. And when someone really cares about you, they love your flaws too. They want to see them. They don't want you to feel like you have to hide all the time or put on a show. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm going to keep blogging, and I'm going to do my best to keep peeling back the layers and letting you all in on who I really am. I hope that's okay with you.

So with that in mind, here are a few things that are going on right now that I haven't really told people about. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are just life.

1. I'm saving up to buy a tiny house. And I'm OBSESSED with it. I think about my house ALL the time. I'm sure I'll have a lot more to tell you about this when I get a little closer to making it a reality. Probably more than you want to know. Just wait till I start posting about composting toilets. ;)

This is the one I want. And I WANT it.

2. I haven't heard back about the second Jane Journals book, but the first one did not sell especially well. It did okay, but not outstanding, so I'm thinking the second one may not make it into print. This makes me wonder about the future of my writing career.

3. I've been slowly gaining weight and ignoring it. I hate when I do this. But I haven't yet reached the point of hatred at which I feel like actually doing something about it. And I sure as cuss don't want anyone else to offer me helpful suggestions about what I should do. I will deal with it when I feel like dealing with it.

4. It's winter. And it's cold. I miss long hours of sunlight. I miss when it was warm.

5. My job is pretty great. I like the people I work with a lot. I still love working up high in an office building with a good view of the mountains. And I'm learning new things and developing new skills. Those are good feelings.

6. I do really miss publishing. I was good at that. I'm not sure I'm good at my new job. I think I'm okay, but I'm not sure my heart will ever be in it the way it was when I worked in publishing.

7. I LOVE living with my grandparents. It's been really fun to get to know them better, and I still get that thrill of flashbacks to my childhood at random moments and places in their house. I love that feeling.

8. Salt Lake City is super cool. The houses here are awesome. There are some really unique neighborhoods to explore. I've tried lots of yummy restaurants. And I love living close to the airport, the temple, Park City, downtown, and lots of other stuff. When I was in California last week, I found myself missing Salt Lake. I've never really felt that way about anywhere in Utah before.

9. I miss having a bike.

The good old days.

10. I feel a little directionless right now. I used to think I knew where my life was headed, but now I'm not sure what my big goals for life are anymore. All I know is that I want to move into a tiny house and continue to write for myself, even if no one else will ever read my writing.

11. I'm not sure I'll ever get married. My feelings about this range from content to patiently hopeful to despairing, depending on the day (or hour). And there are also times when I'm really, really happy about not being married. Like ecstatic. It's just really fun to think about all the things I want to do with my life and know that I'll most likely get to do them, that no one will be able to get in the way of me pursuing my dreams. I know that's probably not how I'm supposed to feel, but . . . honesty, right? Of course, I'd still rather find someone who wants to pursue our dreams together, but if I don't, I'm okay with that. Usually.

12. I'm thinking about dying my hair blonde because my latest protagonist is blonde and I want to know how it feels so I can write from her perspective more authentically. Of course she's also from 1974; I'm not sure how to replicate that. But going blonde would be a start. This urge is odd because I've never ever wanted to be blonde before, and I'm generally opposed to dying my hair. But maybe I'll do it just to see what it's like.

13. I miss having a good group of friends. When I started this blog I was a lot more of a social butterfly than I am now. I should probably make more of an effort in this area. I have no one to blame for my lack of connections but myself. I'm terrible about reaching out, even when I know I need to.

14. I'm planning on enrolling at WGU (where I work) to get a masters because I get this crazy awesome discount on tuition, but I can't decide what degree to pursue. (See number 10 above.)

15. I can't believe it's already December. I can't believe I've been working at my new job for 4 months already. I can't believe I moved back to Utah over a year and a half ago. I can't believe how much the kids I used to nanny have grown up since then. I can't believe my sister Ali will be home from her mission in three months. I can't believe my niece and nephew are both over a year old. Time is flying.

16. Lately I've been thinking about pets. I think I might want to get one when I have my own house again. But the last pet I really loved was Jeeves, my little cat who got hit by a car right before my birthday. It's been years since then and I've lived with other pets, but it hasn't felt the same. I'm still a little scarred. I usually blame allergies and uncertain living situations for my lack of a pet, but that's not the whole story. Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever again trust myself to be solely responsible for another living thing. (Not counting the basil plants I keep on my windowsill. Or those kids I nannied; I always handed them back to their parents at the end of the day.)

For now I'll stick with Scotch, the bunny that lives in the backyard. 
He's not exactly a pet, but he'll do.

Well, I think that's enough honesty for one day. Sorry this post is so long and rambly. That's what happens when I get nostalgic. It's also kind of a downer, isn't it?

But I don't want you guys to worry about me. I've always loved those verses about the different times and seasons in life, and even though in some ways this particular season may not be the most glamorous or exciting one, I'm still glad to be in it. I know there are lessons I need to learn now and ways in which I need to serve. I feel like I'm in the right place at the right time and that there are still lots of good things in store for me.

As usual, I don't actually have all the answers. But I never really promised that I would. In fact, that same post that I quoted earlier ended with these words: "I can't promise that I'll be able to give you a correct answer, but I can promise to be honest. And now comes the part where I cross my fingers and hope this isn't a big mistake."

I know now that it hasn't been a mistake at all. It's been really, really good for me.

And it's only going to get better.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What names did you use in Time to Share?

In case you missed it, Time to Share is here!!!

I'm super excited about this book because I basically redesigned the Tiny Talks series to be exactly what I thought would be most helpful for parents, teachers, and primary leaders. It still has talks and stories, but there are also tons of activities, lessons, and other resources. I hope you guys like the new format as much as I do.

Thanks again to everyone who offered name suggestions to put in the book. I love names but if I had to come up with all of the names I used in my book in such a short timespan, I'm pretty sure that every other talk would feature a girl named Emma or a boy named Jack. Don't get me wrong, Emma and Jack are great names. But no one wants to read a 160 page book where every name is the same.
So thank you for saving all of my readers from that.

The following list contains every name I used in the book, though some of them are featured more prominently than others.
  1. Lincoln
  2. Nate
  3. Gideon
  4. Oliver
  5. Maack
  6. Harrison
  7. Milo
  8. Eli
  9. Adam
  10. Zachary
  11. Davis
  12. Connor 
  13. Wyatt
  14. James 
  15. Owen
  16. Landon
  17. Josh
  18. Tyler
  19. Edison
  20. Malvin
  21. Isaak
  22. Garrett
  23. Parker
  24. Ethan 
  25. Erik
  26. Kave

  1. Leona
  2. Sarah
  3. Brenna 
  4. Aubrey
  5. Addie
  6. Nova
  7. Maggie
  8. Jenna 
  9. McKenzie
  10. Harper
  11. Samantha
  12. Maddie
  13. Gemma
  14. Mia
  15. Sienna
  16. Sadie
  17. Brooklyn
  18. Mariah
  19. Lexi
  20. Tymber
  21. Aubrey
  22. Henrietta
  23. Maude
  24. Beatrice 
  25. Eliza
  26. Adelaide
  27. Erin
  28. Jasmine
  29. Olivia

If you're interested in purchasing the book to see the names in print you can order it on Amazon here:

Currently it says that it's only available for preorder, but I'm guessing you'll get it before its official release date if you order now.

Thanks again for all your help, everyone! I couldn't have done this without you. (Well, I probably could have, but not without overusing Emma and Jack.)

Monday, October 19, 2015

How could you possibly understand what it's like to be a parent or a primary leader?

This is a tough one, guys. And unfortunately, in some ways, it keeps getting tougher. But there are a few things I’ve realized that have helped me come to terms with my situation, my callings, and Heavenly Father’s plan for me.

When I first started writing Tiny Talks, I was twenty-four years old, and I felt like a total fraud. I didn’t have any children. I wasn’t married. The closest I’d come to a primary calling was being the nursery leader one summer when I was home from college. Other than that, I hadn’t been in a family ward in years. That meant all of my experiences were coming from my personal memories of actually being in primary and growing up as the oldest of seven kids.

Who was I to tell parents what to do when I wasn’t a parent myself? Who was I to give advice to primary leaders when I’d never been one? All I could really do was write, and back then I wasn’t even sure I could do that. (Sometimes I’m still not sure, honestly.)

Well, in the six years since that time, the essentials have not changed. I am still single, still haven’t spent much time in a family ward, still not a parent. And the only additional primary calling I’ve had is working  with the girls in activity days for less than a year. I hope that my writing has improved with practice, but as far as being a subject matter expert—I am not.

I did spend a couple of years working with young kids as a nanny. That helped my perspective, I think. But nannying doesn’t even come close to parenting. Nannies get the fun stuff: trips to the park, playtime, reading. Parents get stuff like college tuition, crying babies in the middle of the night, and grocery shopping. Frankly, it all sounds a bit terrifying.

Of course I still hope I’ll actually become a parent someday. And if not, I’ll have my niece and nephew and probably more nieces and nephews eventually. More than likely I’ll have kids I teach in primary whenever I wind up in a family ward again. That’s one of the great things about our church—you don’t have to be a parent to be involved with children on a regular basis.

But all of that doesn’t always quell the hypocritical feeling I get when I write something like, “You can make family night fun! It’s easy!” Because honestly, who am I to judge what is or isn’t easy? I’ve never been that sleep-deprived mom at the end of a long Monday whose kids have been acting completely crazy and for whom the thought of family night makes her want to throw things at the wall. I’ve never really been there, so who am I to say? I’ve never taught a primary class for longer than two Sundays in a row, and even then I was only substituting. I don’t know what it’s like to prepare a sharing time lesson or work with the same obstinate, off-the-wall, and somehow still endearing kids week after week after week.

The only things I really have to go on when I’m writing are my own limited experiences and the insane amount of respect I have for those who have been magnifying these callings, and I’m including parenting as a calling here, for years and years without really complaining. At the risk of sounding like a cheesy talk on Mother’s Day, I don’t know how you do it, but I love you for it. You are all amazing examples to me.

That’s what I mean about how it keeps getting tougher. As the years pass, so many more of my friends are called to be parents or they add another year of experience to their parenting or teaching resumes. Meanwhile, I’m over here in a singles ward having a blast and learning a ton but not really doing any of the things I talk about in my books.

On the other hand, I’ve also realized a few things—things that have made it easier for me to write without feeling like a fraud.

Over the years I’ve realized that I’ve been called to do things too. Heavenly Father has placed me in my specific situation for a reason. I don’t know why He hasn’t called me to be a parent yet. But I do know that there are things he wants me to do now, and one of those things is writing the books I write, even if I feel so inadequate for the all reasons I’ve been talking about and lots of other reasons as well.

Writing the Tiny Talks series; 1, 2, 3 with Nephi and Me!; and Time to Share has been a total privilege and blessing not just because of the opportunity to be published, but even more so because of what happens while I’m writing. I know that there are ideas and stories in these books that didn’t come from me. People talk about being inspired in their writing, and I know now what that means—in the truest sense of the words. My writing has taught me things I couldn’t have learned in any other way.

Another thing I’ve realized is what it means to believe that families are eternal.

It means that I believe my personal family is without ending AND without beginning (see Moses 6:67 and D&C 84:17). And if my family is without beginning, it means that it exists now in some form, as the potential for what could be. I’m not sure how it all works—and some of this is a little too sacred for me to share online—but I can say that I feel closer to my family when I’m in the temple, both the family members I already have and the ones I hope to have someday.

Since this realization I’ve tried with more (and sometimes less) success to be the kind of wife and mother now that I hope to really be one day. Even if these blessings never come to me in this life, I want to be ready to make the covenants I plan to make and take on all the responsibilities God will give me, according to His timing and His perfect plan for me.

This is a really important topic to me because I’m not the only one I know who hasn’t been called to be a parent yet. Some of the most patient, generous, intelligent, selfless people I know—the kind of people who would be amazing parents—are still waiting for that calling. And some of them will never be given that opportunity in this life.

Further, with the way our world is trending, I believe it will become more and more important for the increasing number of older single people like me to stand up for and defend marriage, parenthood, and family relationships. We can’t leave it all up to the people who have families. They’re pretty busy already, what with the whole raising-children thing. And just because I’m single doesn’t mean I don’t believe in those things. I will admit that it can be hard to be pro-family when you don’t have your own family yet, but I feel like this is another one of my personal callings. I want to do everything I can to support families. It’s one of the reasons I really enjoyed nannying and it’s one of the reasons I keep writing.

But regardless of all that, I don’t really believe that my single, childless life makes me any more or less of an integral part of this church than any other member of it. I might not have the personal experience to write about sharing time or Primary, but I know someone who does. He knows exactly what it’s like to be that exhausted mom at the end of a long Monday. He knows what it’s like to plan another sharing time lesson, knowing that the kids you’ll be teaching will be noisy and that their answers to your questions might be so off topic you’ll have to struggle not to laugh out loud in front of them. He knows how it is to worry about college tuition or a baby with a fever or a new driver or if what you’re doing is really making a difference. He knows about all of it because He’s been there.

In a way I will never understand, He’s been through all of those things.

As Sister Carole M. Stephens put it so beautifully last April, “You may be right. I don’t completely understand your challenges. But through my personal tests and trials—the ones that have brought me to my knees—I have become well acquainted with the One who does understand, He who was ‘acquainted with grief’ who experienced all and understands all.”

I echo her thoughts, and while I still feel inadequate, I know that the source of those negative thoughts is the adversary. Satan is the one who tries to convince me not to write because he doesn’t want any of us to share our talents or to magnify our personal callings.

In contrast, as I do my best to come closer to the Savior, all He does is encourage me. He inspires me with the words I need to write. He will teach me what it’s like to experience the trials and blessings of parenthood, even if I have to wait my whole life for that calling. He will give me the empathy and charity I need to reach out and help those around me in ways that only I can. He will keep me feeling humble, even as He continues to give me more responsibilities, callings, and opportunities. And I know He’ll do the same for you, no matter what your circumstances may be.

In the meantime, please tell me if I get something wrong. I’m very aware that my readers are the experts when it comes to my books. I hope you’ll forgive me for any errors I make and that you’ll let me know if an idea I write about just wouldn’t work in reality. Since I’m not a parent or teacher yet, I sincerely need your help to write authentically about parenting and teaching.

Most of all I hope that no one will be offended or think I’m trying to label myself as an expert about anything, but especially about teaching kids the gospel. I’m not an expert. I’m just doing my best to fulfill my calling as a writer, even if I don’t understand why it’s been given to me.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Do you have any motivational advice for first-time authors?

Today's question actually comes from a reader I've never met before.

Which is kind of crazy. But also awesome! It's just surprising to me that I have readers who aren't reading my books or my blog out of pure social obligation. Like, "Oh, that girl Heidi used to be friends with one of my friends, so I guess I'll see if she has anything interesting to say." Or, "Oh, this author is here at a signing and her book looks kind of cool. I guess I'll buy one so she doesn't feel bad."

Anyway, that's beside the point. This totally awesome girl that I've never met, named Tara, actually commented on my blog a couple of weeks ago asking if I had any advice for writers who are currently trying to finish up and/or publish their first books. I am not making this up, Mom. I have fans.

I know this post is long, so if you're in a hurry, you can skip the next three paragraphs which can basically be summarized as, "Blah, blah, blah . . . other people have better answers for this, etc., etc., I don't know what I'm talking about." Or you can read this post instead wherein I talk specifically about the process of getting my first novel published.

For those who aren't skipping ahead or now reading a different post entirely, let me just start by saying that I feel totally unqualified to answer this question. But at the same time I feel pretty certain that if I continue writing, like I plan to do, I doubt this is the last time I'll get asked this question. In fact, on the same day that Tara commented, I went to Comic Con where someone asked me a similar question and I kind of just went, "Uh . . . here talk to this other author. She's way cooler than I am." Special thanks to Alyson Peterson for fielding that question way better than I could. (Seriously, you guys should check her out. She's super cool.)

Anyway, what I'm saying is that I should probably come up with my own personal version of how to answer this question. I feel like all of my favorite authors have one. Most of them you can find online. For example,  Meg Cabot answers this question here. Here's a pithy answer from Hilary McKay. And Scott Westerfeld talks about this, and gives lots of advice about the mechanics of writing, here. Even old, dead authors used to answer this question, like Jane Austen. You can check out this list to find writing advice from your favorite authors. Or just try googling, "(Author's Name) on writing."

But I'm not here to give you other people's advice on how to write your first book. I'm here to give you my own. The trouble is, I sort of fell into this whole writing novels thing. That's what makes me feel so unqualified. That and the annoying fact that the more you know about something, the more you realize you don't know anything about it.

START reading again if you skipped ahead.

I'm into lists these days, (and I'm into alliteration every day) so I think that the best way to answer this question is by copying what Meg Cabot did and giving you my personal . . .

Top Ten Tips for writing your first novel

Bonus tip: Copy other writers as much as possible. You already know they're good.

1. Read like you're obsessed with something.

I don't care if the thing you're obsessed with is a character or a point of view or a setting or the way in which a story is told. Whatever it is that you love, let it suck you in. And then read more of the same kind of thing. That's how you figure out when it works and when it doesn't. For me, this was epistolary novels and anything with a really unique voice.

2. Turn off your inner editor.

This is way easier said than done, especially for someone like me whose background is in editing. Not to sound braggy, but I'm a pretty good copy editor. I should be by now; I've been doing it professionally for nearly ten years. The problem with being a good editor is that you can't draft when you're in editing mode and you can't write a novel without first writing a rough draft. Believe me. I've tried. It doesn't happen. You get stuck on page 2, if you even make it that far. If you're not a good editor, don't worry about it. You'll probably have an easier time in the drafting stage and you can always hire someone to edit for you later. Although it never hurts to learn the basic rules of punctuation and grammar.

3. Set realistic goals.

If you want to finish a novel in a month, you can do it. I know several people who have. But I am not one of them. Like J. Alfred Prufrock, "I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be." I write at a slower pace, and that's okay. It's taken me awhile to accept the ebb and flow that is my writing and not get discouraged when I feel behind or limit myself when I feel productive. But one thing that really helps is to have a basic goal of how many words you want to write in a day or at least how many words you think your book should have. Along with this, I cannot stress enough the importance of learning what kind of a routine is best for you. I do my best writing in the morning. Figure out what works for you, and work with it not against it—even if it means you're writing until three in the morning. Although, if that's you, I'm so sorry because that's going to make it tricky to have a normal life.

4. Pants yourself.

Hahahaha. Okay, sorry. For those who aren't familiar with the term, to be a pantser is to write without an outline, as in "fly by the seat of your pants." I am a self-proclaimed pantser. It's not like I think there's anything inherently wrong with having an outline. It just doesn't work for me. In fact, I started writing something new last week and I forced myself to outline it because I was experimenting in a different genre. Guys, I am stuck. And it's only been a week! I just have so much less motivation to write this story because I feel like I already know what happens. I will admit that there's a good possibility that I'm exaggerating this whole thing in my head. If my life depended on it, I'm sure I could write a book using an outline. But the point isn't to torture yourself with imaginary life-threatening situations. Writing is supposed to be fun. So if you have more fun writing without an outline, then by all means, pants yourself. Just, you know, maybe not in public.

5. Make friends with other authors.

They will become your mentors and your best critics and the only ones who really understand what it's like. If you don't know any authors in your area, you can start by finding the authors you like on social media.  If you're worried about friending an author you really admire, I get that. But you should also know that your chances of rejection are slim to none. Most of us will accept your friend request if for no other reason than that having more followers makes us look good to our publishers. (And it serves as extra proof to our moms that we have fans.)

6. Attend conferences and get involved in a writing community.

This one goes along with the previous tip. Writing conferences are a great way to hone your craft and they're an ideal place to meet other writers. If you're the kind of person who needs to be accountable to others or enjoys social interaction, join a writing group. Don't be afraid to let others see your writing. If you're trying to get published, people are going to read it eventually and you might as well get their opinions early when you've still got time to change things. That being said, I prefer not to let anyone read my books until the first draft is done. I just know that if I started tweaking any earlier than that, I would never finish that first draft and then I would never finish writing my books (see tip 2).

7. Don't write what you love, just write what you write.

I think the hardest part about writing your first book is that most people have to make several attempts before they figure out what it is that they can write. My first real attempts at writing were:

1. A YA fantasy fairytale retelling (Hansel and Gretel, in case you're curious. I rarely talk about this book because I didn't get very far into it and it wasn't good. It just wasn't.)
2. A middle grade family story with some low fantasy elements (I keep going back to this one and trying to write it. I've drafted at least three different versions, but I can never finish it, and sometimes I can't even get it started.)
3. A three-part YA fantasy (My first Nanowrimo attempt. It was . . . pointless. As in, I couldn't figure out what the point of the book was. I just knew it was going to have three parts.)
4. A paranormal YA written in first-person present POV (This one was almost published.)

These are only the books that made it past chapter two or three. A lot of the other, even less successful attempts, also included bits of fantasy or magic or some paranormal element. As you may have noticed by now, none of these come very close to what my first book actually was.

Liam Darcy, I Loathe You is a contemporary YA Jane Austen retelling. It's also funny. Or at least it's supposed to be. It's more like the stuff I was reading all along—the Meg Cabot, Hilary McKay, Louise Rennison kind of stuff. It's just that for some reason when I thought about writing, my brain automatically went to fantasy plots. I like to read fantasy too. Not high fantasy so much, but the low kind, yes. Ditto with reading paranormal. But those genres are not as easy for me to write. And I love reading middle grade. Maybe someday I'll actually finish that middle grade book, but who knows.

My point is that if something's not working for you, keep trying different things. Eventually you'll land where you're supposed to, even if it's not your top reading genre.

8. Learn how to write about your writing. (Or hire someone to do it for you.)

This is one of those things you never hear about until you have to do it. Writing a book is only half the battle. The other half is getting it published and for that you will need to know how to write about your book. You'll need to be able to write a synopsis and a query letter. You might be asked to write ad copy. You will definitely need to be able to sell your book in writing, if not in speaking. Speaking is the third half of the battle. And yes, I know that's an improper fraction. Sometimes you think a battle is over and then it's not so much.

9. Put yourself in the right place at the right time.

I told my grandparents I was writing this post just now and I asked my grandmother if she had any words of wisdom. She's not a novelist, but she's written the lyrics to a couple of songs in the Children's Songbook so she's been asked a variation of this question before. Her advice was to be in the right place at the right time. I've heard that before, of course, but sometimes it sounds more like luck than advice. It's true that sometimes people genuinely luck out. It just so happens that the book they wrote hits a chord at just the right time and it takes off. I think that's awesome. But since you can't count on luck, try to capitalize on what you've got. Be involved in organizations. Be persistent. Say yes to even small opportunities. No one ever really becomes a success overnight, so trust that at some point the timing will work out. And in the meantime, keep writing and getting better.

Speaking of which . . .

10. Write down words.

This sounds so obvious, but it's the best piece of advice there is. The only way to write your first book is to just keep writing. Every chance you get, you write down more words. This might mean you don't see as many movies as other people or watch all the TV shows they do. It might mean you can't always hang out with your friends every day. (Case in point: Here I am blogging on a Friday night when I should be out on a date or something.) Honestly, I try to stay balanced but there are some days when I just have to write—even if it means not cleaning up after myself or skipping meals or waking up so early that it feels like the middle of the night. But if you really want to write, you just write.

And if you really don't want to write, I am so sorry that you've had to read this entire post about the writing process. I hope you gave up halfway through.

To those who didn't give up, I salute you. Keep writing. The world needs your books.

And to Tara specifically, thank you for making me feel like a writer today. I wish you all the best with your book!


Sunday, September 27, 2015

How do you find balance?

A lot of you already know that I love setting goals. It's probably my favorite thing to talk about in my journal—the future—including what I want to get better at, where I see myself next week or next month or next year, and how I plan to get there.

Sometimes my goals are big and lofty, like writing a book. Sometimes they're small and simple. The small ones tend to work best. And often I find that I can break my big goals down into small steps, which helps me to actually achieve them.

Writing a book, for example, is really easy to break down into chunks of 500 or 1000 words, which is definitely a reasonable amount to write in a single session.

There are other goals though that are less tangible and more ethereal in nature. These are a little harder to put into measurable daily achievements. These are things like being optimistic, being more charitable, and maintaining peace of mind when I'm stressed.

Right about now you're probably wondering what all this has to do with finding balance. I'm getting there, I promise. Last weekend I realized that my life had gotten a little out of balance. I wasn't spending enough time enjoying the beauty of the world around me. I was letting days slip past without really noticing them, and I wasn't devoting enough of my attention to connecting with people or being present in my body. That sounds very hippy-ish, but I just mean that I was spending a lot of time on my phone or computer and not as much time in the real world.

One thing was clear: it was time for a course correction, and that meant a chance to set goals. I thought about my bigger ideals and the kinds of pursuits I like to have as part of my life. I thought about my seemingly endless to do lists and how I was so discouraged by them that I'd stopped trying to do anything on them because I knew I couldn't do everything on them.

I thought about how balance means being able to achieve a variety of goals, rather than focusing too much on any one particular area. I may not be nearly as good at playing the piano as I am at writing (not that I'm proclaiming myself to be good at either one), but I enjoy both of them, and both bring me joy in different ways.

And with all of those thoughts in mind, I tried to come up with a balanced list of ten simple things I could do every day to make progress toward all of my goals at the same time without feeling overwhelmed.

Want to know what made the list last week? Here it is:

1. Pray and read scriptures
2. Write one Jane Journals entry
3. Play one song on the piano
4. Go for a fifteen-minute walk
5. Do something nice for someone else
6. Do one thing on your author to-do list
7. Do one thing on your regular life to-do list
8. Tidy up five things
9. Count five blessings
10. Spend two minutes appreciating something beautiful

Some of them I left intentionally vague to allow me to focus more on one area than another on any given day. And I purposely set the bar low in each area because I wanted to make sure I could actually achieve each of these things every day. The point was not to excel in any one area, it was to stay balanced. And you know what? It worked.

I actually finished my list four days in a row (Monday through Thursday). Most days I did more than I needed to on some of the items. I'm pretty sure I played more than one song on the piano every day, and I decided it was okay to go a little bit overboard as long as I did all ten things.

My goals sort of fell apart over the weekend, but I decided that was okay because life happens and I can't be perfect all the time. Overall, though, I was really impressed with myself. I liked having the structure. It was nice to be able to cross things off my list quickly and go on to the next thing.

This coming week I've decided to keep the list going, with only minor revisions. I finished the first draft of the second Jane Journals book (currently untitled) on Thursday, so that item will be changed to spending at least twenty minutes reading over what I've written and making notes or revisions.

I've also decided to add one item to the list, and it's an important one.

11. Write one email per day to connect with someone personally rather than en masse.

I love this blog and how it helps me stay connected to friends and family all over. But between blogging and social media, I feel like I mostly connect with people in the aggregate. I post updates that are for everyone, not for one person specifically. I miss that one-to-one ratio. Jesus taught large multitudes sometimes, but he also connected with people on an individual level. I know that He knows each of us individually and wants to maintain a personal relationship with each of us.

As clever or open or vulnerable as I think I'm being on my blog or social media, it can never be as real and personal as a conversation with a single other human being. That being said, a lot of my close friends live far away. I miss them, but I'm terrible about keeping in touch (hence the need for a blog). Since I can't physically spend time with all of these people, I've decided to compromise a little bit. I could've made a goal to call one person each day and connect that way, but I have a phone phobia. I think I mentioned it in this post. At some point, I'll probably have to get over my phobia, but I'm not ready to tackle that goal just yet.

Instead I decided that an email was less daunting than a phone call but would still give me that one-to-one connection that I've been craving. I thought about texting, but that didn't seem long enough to really connect. And I thought about writing a physical letter, but I knew I'd get hung up on tracking down addresses and the logistics of envelopes and stamps. There are still people I want to send Christmas cards to, I just haven't gotten around to it. And seeing as how it's nearly October . . . yeah. Mailing physical letters is a great idea, but I think it would throw me off balance.

Emails on the other hand, are achievable. I already spend a good portion of my day writing emails. Well, one email actually. Every week at work for nearly my entire professional life, I've started a new email on Monday that I send to myself at the end of the week. It's my version of journaling while I'm at the office. Sometimes they're short; sometimes they're long, depending on how much downtime I have that week. But they're my way of processing what's going on around me and what I want to accomplish during the day or week.

So this week in addition to my email to myself, I plan to email other people too. At least one person each day. I started with my sister Ali today. She's on a mission in the Netherlands, and I'm always forgetting to write her until I see her email in my inbox on Monday mornings.

Sorry this post is so long. I just wanted to warn you guys in case you happen to see a random email from me this week or in case I message you on facebook and ask for your email address. I know I still need to work on in-person connections with people, but for now I think emailing is an achievable balanced way to start. I'll let you know how it goes.

Happy Sunday! And good luck in your own attempts to find balance!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Do you have any author-type events coming up?

So. Many.

Right now I live in constant fear that I won't remember all my author events. I really need to do a better job of putting stuff in my calendar or writing it down or something. Actually, that's what I'm doing in this post.

This is my attempt to tell you all about my plans for the next few weekends and tell myself at the same time, so that I won't forget to follow through.

And, here goes . . .

Next Saturday 9/19 - 1–4 pm - Authorpalooza! 

This is going to be amazing. So far I know of four other awesome author friends who are going to be there, and I'm sure there will be others too! I'm super excited!! In case you don't know, authorpalooza is an event with tons of local authors so you can come to one place and meet all your faves at the same time. It's so cool. I've been a few times as a fan, so I'm basically giddy over the fact that I now get to go sit on the other side of the table.

You can find out more about the event here:

Saturday 9/26 - 9–11 am - Brickyard Seagull in Salt Lake City

Come say hi at Celebrating Sisterhood at the Brickyard Seagull. I'll be there from 9 to 11 am signing books and hanging out. Plus apparently you can enter to win prizes and there are special deals during that time. All good things.

Then later that day it's . . .

COMIC CON!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday 9/26 - 2-5 pm - Salt Palace in Salt Lake City

Guys, I feel like I am going to be completely out of my element here, but I'm way jazzed about this. I have never been to a Comic Con in my life, but new experiences are always a good thing. Especially as a writer. I'm just going to have to put on my best Cate Morland face and pretend like I read a lot more vampire books than I actually do. But it'll be awesome. Seriously.

I'm not saying you should buy a ticket just to see me, but if you're already there, you should totally come check out the Cedar Fort author's booth. Plus, I'm selling the Jane Journals there for only $10 including tax, which is a pretty sweet deal if you've been thinking about buying it for a friend or something.

Then, as if this weren't already enough . . .

Saturday 10/3 - 6–8 pm - Deseret Book in Midvale

It's Ladies Night!!! This one should be super fun. And you should all come because you know you want to come play while the guys are still in conference!

Unless you're a girl at BYU because traditionally the priesthood session is when you pull some sort of prank on your crush's apartment while he and all his roommates are gone. (Not that I would know from personal experience or anything. Probably. Sh...)

Anyway, if you are a girl at BYU, you get a pass. But the rest of you should really come because it's going to be awesome!

- - -

And for all of my awesome friends and family who don't live in Utah, I wish you could all be there. Maybe you could come for conference? But if not, it's okay.

I was sort of hoping to do an author event in California sometime. I think I mentioned it to a few of you. But I put my plans for that on hold right now, so I'll just have to keep you posted.

Thanks for all your love and support, guys! I really hope to see you at one of these events. Or three. Or four. :) You know, if you want to become a Heidi the Author groupie that would really be just fine by me. I can't promise that it would pay well, but we would sure have a lot of fun together!

Friday, September 11, 2015

What do you remember?

There are a lot of things I don’t remember about that day. I don’t remember exactly what we heard on the radio as my dad drove us to seminary before school. I don’t remember if Megan Miller really came into the room crying or if that’s just how I picture it now. I don’t remember the words of the prayer we said as a family kneeling in front of the television between seminary and school, and I don’t remember how my mom explained it all to Ali, who was only six, or to Tom who wasn’t even two.

I do remember the images on the tv screen—first at home, then in Ms. Stanley’s second period psych class, and then in Mrs. Wohlgemuth’s AP US History class later in the day. But I don’t remember which period I had Mrs. Wohlgemuth’s class or what she said to reassure us or help us understand. I don’t remember if Kirsten Bezzant gave me an extra-long hug at lunch, but I think she probably did.

I do remember coming home after school and lying on the trampoline, looking up through the branches of the redwood trees into the totally empty sky. No jet trails. No engines overhead. And I remember my dad telling us that this was probably the only time we’d ever not see planes flying, like we’d stepped back in time or were in a different world where human flight had never existed.

I don’t remember if I was afraid or angry. I know I was sad for the people and families who were most affected. And I remember feeling relieved it hadn’t happened closer to me and at the same time feeling ashamed of my relief. I remember thinking there was nothing I could do because everything was happening on the other side of the country and I was only an ordinary junior in an ordinary California high school.

I remember the community coming together as we all mourned. I remember realizing for the first time how big America was and how many people would never be the same. I remember the varied reactions and the talk of how we should or should not retaliate.

And I remember thinking I would never forget.

Of course in the years since then, I have forgotten often. There are moments of remembering, days like this when we ask each other to share our stories. And little changes that make us recall how it was before. But that sense of collective memory and community identity is mostly lost now, I think.

I don’t mean to sound pessimistic. I think it’s okay to forget. Life has to go on and we can’t let that day bring us down forever.

But I also think it’s important to remember in how we live every day. I think we can remember by having a little more patience in line at the airport or wherever. I think we can remember when we choose to forgive others. I think we can remember each time we do some little thing that makes the world a better, more beautiful place. We know that evil will always exist, but I have faith that we can rise above it. When we add just a little to the collective altruism of the universe, we immediately join the forces that fight the darkness.

So remember today when you give blood or when you offer to help a stranger or when you use your talents to create something inspiring. We all have some goodness to share: a smile, an extra hand, a little time. It doesn’t matter how small your offering is or how flawed your execution.

All that matters is that you remember with the choices you make, not just today, but every day.

To paraphrase one of my favorite hymns,

Have I done any good in the world today?Have I helped anyone in need?Have I cheered up the sad, or made someone feel glad?Has anyone’s burden been lighter today because I was willing to share?Have the sick and the weary been helped on their way?When they needed my help was I there?
There are chances for work all around just now, opportunities right in our way.Do not let them pass by, saying, ‘Sometime I’ll try,’But go and do something today.’Tis noble of man to work and to give;Love’s labor has merit alone.Only he who does something helps others to live.To God each good work will be known.
Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure,A blessing of duty and love.