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!