Why I Write

 

My life is divided into before and after. I’m in the after now.

Eight years ago, this coming April, my world turned upside down. Eight years ago, this coming April, I began the slow journey back. I hadn’t written a book then. Since that time, I have finished penning three.

When I got sick, my daughter became frightened. Who wouldn’t be? It was the summer before her freshman year of high school, and she spent her vacation taking care of her mother who needed assistance walking and bathing. It didn’t matter what I told her, or how many reassurances were held out, she was terrified. All the soft gentle words and reassurances never made it past her fear wrapped worry.

Sometimes you need a story.

I wrote her a book about a girl who was afraid her mother would die and leave her alone. In the book, the mother does die. The girl is not left alone, however. She has family and unlikely heroes to depend on. I wrote my daughter a book to make her laugh and cry, but most of all to help her see she was not alone and it wasn’t up to her to save the world. I think maybe it was both comforting and uncomfortable for her to discover how much I understood her.

She’s not a character in a book, and she is not this character. But young girls everywhere get angry with their mothers, at times think they’ve been abandoned, and generally feel treated unfairly by life. They’re often surprised when they discover their mothers were once girls and understand all of these deeply held, secret feelings.

Among the pages of this made up place filled with pretend people my daughter finally understood what I was trying to tell her. She wasn’t alone.

Sometimes you need a story.

A funny thing happened. Out of the story, two more grew. Each of these novels stand alone, and while they don’t lean on each other, they do rub shoulders, exploring the lives of the various characters in the same fictional small Texas town.

It’s quite a surprise to find at the end of these eight years I have three complete novels. I’d freelanced in my former writing life, and even written a novella, which resides in the dark recesses of my computer files, but I’d never attempted a novel length work.

As my health improved and my responsibilities shifted, I had more time to write books. With each novel, I learned better and went back, refining and polishing. I hunted down critique partners and entered contests. I was quite pleased with the feedback I got. Now I’m ready to start querying agents.

I’m telling you this tale because, as with all of my stories, I want to encourage and bring hope to the reader. Because sometimes you need a story.

Donna Jo Stone writes YA contemporary novels about tough issues but always ends the stories with a note of hope. She blogs at donnajostone.com.

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Changes, Finished Drafts, and Nanowrimo

“Mother,” Rain said, “did you really grow up here?”

Rain knew the answer to the question, but wanted to feel her mother out. She wanted to ask her mother what was she thinking and when could they leave, but it was better to not approach the topic directly. You had to take your time. Mother could be skittish and ornery, especially when her back was pushed up against the wall of unrealized hopes and tattered dreams.

“Yes, I did,” said Mother, letting the sheet she was spreading on the daybed fly out with a snap. It caught the air and bellowed before settling onto the mattress. She had chosen to stay in what Aunt Linda called the sunroom, an old converted porch now walled in, the open end graced with windows all along the backside.

“I have history here. So do you.”

If there was one thing that Mother had plenty of, it was history. Rain was a little too acquainted with particular chapters of Mother’s history, or at least her version of it, which seemed to be subject to varying interpretations and in a constant state of revision. History was not Rain’s favorite subject.

“How long do you think we’ll stay here? We need to find a place before school starts.” In case her mother forgot, she added, “And where you can get a job.”

Mother wouldn’t stay long in this kind of place. That was stone cold fact. It was much too tame and boring. It was no wonder she had wanted to get out, and the small shabbiness of the town also explained why she had never brought them back here.

“Why did you bring us here?” The question popped out before Rain could stop herself.

“I wanted to show you where I came from.”

“That shouldn’t take long.”

Mother laughed and snatched up a crocheted throw pillow, bopping Rain on the head with it. Rain grabbed it and returned the favor. Before long they were squealing and jumping on the bed in a full out pillow fight. They tussled and rolled, laughing until, exhausted and happy as puppies in a pile, they flopped back onto the bed, arms entwined. Doran Bea favored Mother in looks, but Rain could always make Mother smile, at least for a little while. Sometimes a little was enough. Sometimes it was all you were going to get.

Rain listened to the quiet of the house, and to their breathing, until the two separate exhalations matched up.

Her mother said, “I know what you’re doing.”

Rain kept her focus on the ceiling joists above her head. A string of spider webs clung to a crossbeam, and bits of dust were caught up in the construction, the edges of the sticky gossamer creation lose and floating.

“You don’t have to try so hard. You know I love you, right?”

The automatic, expected response tumbled from Rain’s lips, reassurance her Mother wanted to hear. “I know,” she said. “I love you, too.”

There was not the slightest doubt that her mother loved her. She told her so every day. But then, Mother always gave her love away easily.

***********

Taking advantage of nanowrimo fever, I am busily working away on a brand new book, the third in a series. So far, I am liking this one. A while back I started a new and productive writing routine that seems to be working for me. Perhaps the atmosphere in the writer community will help me keep the daily practices I have established over the last several weeks. It can’t hurt, right?

Before I started on book three November 1st, I finally finished the rough (very rough) draft of my second book.

Yay!

It was a tough one, but I did it. The subject matter was hard for me to write about but I am glad I did. It feels good to finish.

I sped up my writing quite a bit after I read Finish by Jon Acuff. I did a Book Break review of Finish here.

I read some good advice about dictation and realized I have not been doing it wrong and that freed me up tremendously. Tech still frustrates me from time to time, but that’s part of the package.

You might have noticed a few changes to the blog. I’ve been enjoying Instagram, and decided to post my instareviews here as well under the title of Book Break. My super awesome technically gifted son did that magic code writing thing so it does it automatically, if I remember to tag it properly. Tell me what you think. I love the nifty little coffee cups he put in the titles. I will try to post the longer book reviews from time to time, but needed to streamline things and spend more time writing.

Any changes in your life lately? Have any tips on how to succeed and make it to finished?

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Writing with Tears

While I wait to hear back after submitting my first book proposal, I’ve been working hard on a second book for the series. I did a character interview for this second novel some time back. Skimming through the materials, I got that little heart squeeze of emotion. Here’s a peek into what my character had to say about herself.

“You are only as good as your last failure. I hate fake, but sometimes, a lot of times, I am that fake person. Most of the time. I don’t know any other way to be. If I wasn’t what they wanted, then no one would be happy with me.”

My heart already hurts!

 

 

I am, once again, crying as I write a book draft.

I use my phone and dictate my stories, quirky though my iphone is at recording, because it is small and portable. This isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s the best I can do at the moment. I still struggle with writing by dictation. On the rare days that I find typing physically comfortable, words flow with ease. Am I the only writer who thinks through their fingers?

I am planning a series of three novels. They are not a continuation of one single story, but stand alone as individual stories of friends.The teen characters from my first young adult novel make an appearance in this second book. As the teens grow, paths diverge. For a time.

This second novel is a story about friendship, deep struggles, and learning to love yourself. This story is particularly difficult to write. My MC battles an eating disorder and poor body image, echoes of my own teenage years.

I got a pleasant surprise as I worked on filling out the plot for the second book. A character walked on for a bit part and took over the third book in the series! I love it when characters decide to show up almost fully developed. It only becomes a problem when they take over the whole story, but that’s another blog post.

Originally, I planned for the third novel to be the story of my aspie boy character’s foray into romance. Then his girlfriend came on stage and made the story her own. It’s the same story, but told from the girl’s perspective. Having a boyfriend with asperger’s  makes her already complicated life, shall we say, interesting. Only the barest of a skeleton for the third book in the series exists so far, but it’s coming along nicely considering I’m not even supposed to be working on book three yet.

The day to day difficulty lies with the project I’m supposed to be working on. Isn’t that always the way? But I am committed and slogging away. The stories must be told and cried over, even if I’m the only one to shed a tear.

P.S. The first book dealt with the grief of losing a parent while navigating the ups and downs of the teen world. The family dynamic including a  teenager with high functioning autism added to the story line. I cried buckets.

Are you working on any projects? What characters make you cry?

Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

#amwriting

 

 

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Pitching at A Writers’ Conference

I was ready. My book was finished, revised, and edited. My book coach encouraged me to go to this year’s writers’ conference and make an agent appointment, so I did.

I bought shoes, got a bad haircut, and actually ironed clothes. This was serious.

Months in advance, I did the research and prepared myself to meet a literary agent or publisher. I wrote a one sheet, printed my first four chapters in correct format, and had lists of questions to ask for the ‘extra’ time left over after my pitch. After reading about the available choices, I listed three, understanding I would get one of them. Since I registered early, I would probably get the first one I listed. In case I didn’t, I continued to read online a bit about each person so I could easily bring up topics to chit chat about. Pleased, I realized I had plenty of conversation fodder. I had this.

Then I got there.

Things were going well at first. Arriving early, I had plenty of time to spare. I felt fine, if tired. Sleep had eluded me, but no worries. Instead of sleeping, I listened to relaxing music and did deep breathing to Paul Cardall’s Be Calm. Who needs sleep? I’d faced bigger challenges on less sleep and succeeded. I could probably even get a blog post out of this experience like other writers do, sharing wisdom I garnered from the meeting.

Finding out I had three appointments threw me for a sec, but no problem. I had planned to meet with anyone, remember? I was prepared.

Another poor soul who was waiting to pitch her book looked as if she were about to come unglued. I felt bad for her. I traded business cards with the other writers in the waiting area. We reassured each other that we would be fine. This wasn’t so tough.

My name was called. Even though I had done my homework, I did not recognize the agent I was directed to. After a few seconds, it became apparent this was the one person in the room who I did not have an appointment with that day. No problem. We exchanged pleasantries and exited the room. It turns out I had been confused with another Donna. No big, I didn’t miss anything because I was early.

My actual turn came. I floundered at the beginning, but I was sure to find my footing soon, right?

Uhhhhh. No.

My brain emptied itself, thoughts completely scattered. My hands flopped around on the table as if I could gather those thoughts back somehow, but every coherent speck of intelligence was gone. Poof. I was tongue-tied, stammering. This from the lady who talks to people in the checkout line and has long conversations with telemarketers.

The agent was exceedingly gracious and kind.

I did not throw up or cry. I did not dump hot coffee on her. So that was good. As a friend told me, the encounter probably wasn’t as bad as a sharp stick to the eye.

I don’t know why I was so anxious, unless it was because my little subconscious was screaming, “This may be a pivotal moment and the next ten minutes is likely to have an impact on your ability to deliver the message God has given you to share with the world of suffering children and the timer is running right over there, numbers flying by.”

No pressure.

Now, I realize this was overly dramatic, but it was my subconscious whispering. It’s hard to reason with such a thing. Realistic Donna understands that my ability, or lack of, in any given situation is not capable of derailing God’s plan. I am simply not big enough to have that kind of impact. To place such importance on self displays an arrogant lack of trust and faith.

Ouch.

I made it through this rite of passage. No one was injured. And she asked to see my work. Maybe she will like it. All I can do now is wait and see.

In the meantime, I plan to trust in the process knowing it will all work out while I happily dig into my next project.

Onward.

Here’s a few pitching tips from Writer’s Digest and The Write Practice. All I can add is: Tell your subconscious self to chill.

 

 

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Crappy First Draft: My Smiling Pile of Poo

All writers know first drafts are less than perfect. In fact, they are usually awful. Crappy first drafts are par for the course.

At Walmart one day I was shopping with my son. I saw a Smiling Pile of Poo Bank. Jokingly, I said, “When I finish the rough draft for my novel I should treat myself by buying this to hold all the money I earn when I’m a famous author.”

He took it off the shelf and put it in the buggy. “I’m buying it for you.”

“No, no,” I said. “I have to finish the draft first.”

“You will,” he said.

“What if I don’t?”

“You will.”

It gave me the warm fuzzies to think he had faith in me. The guy must believe I could write a novel if he parted with cash to purchase such a thing.

I’m not really sure if having this bank represents earnings I will make selling books. Perhaps, being empty, it better represents all the money I have spent attempting to learn the craft of novel writing.

The Pile of Poo sat in a central place. I saw it every day. We all saw it every day. If I had been good and worked on my novel, the face smiled encouragingly at me. On the other hand, on days I could have written but didn’t, I swear that pile of poo mocked me with its big, round bugeyes and sly, silly grin. Plus, now my son was invested, having bought that pile of poo for me.  He is a grown man, but he is still my kid. If he had enough faith in me to buy a ceramic bank with his own money, I had to be worthy of that pile of poo.

poobank

It was about this time last year when I heard back from an agent. My full manuscript had been requested, but in the end was turned down. I wasn’t entirely sure what the issue was, so I hired book coach Sarah Hamer to help me. 

Here we are many months later with about 40,000 words added to the story. Many of these words were written 500 at a time as I kept to my daily minimum goal. Over time I did pick up speed, learning to use speech to text and making adjustments to current challenges.

New characters walked onto the stage, and the plot is better. I decided to change from Middle Grade to Young Adult, and hopefully corrected any major story flaws.

Finally, my draft is finished! You know what that means. Now I get to begin re-writing and editing.

And my Smiling Pile of Poo will be here to encourage me every step of the way.

Oh, and by the way, one of my other boys bought me this lovely first draft notebook, trusting I have another story in me waiting to be written.

poonotebook

 

It’s wonderful to have supportive kids, even if they give me lots of crap, I mean poo.

#AmWriting

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Keepgoingturtle

Writing Through Challenges

I’ve been fairly good at keeping my goal of writing every day. This has been a challenge. Adjustments were necessary.

The physical act of writing became too much. I have always been a person who thinks through my fingers, so to speak, which made writing fiction using speech to text challenging. It made me want to pull my hair out. To solve this problem I decided to switch gears for a bit.

There are times when you have to take a step back. To leave projects undone goes against my nature. It was hard for me to abandon my fiction long enough to figure out the best way to get words on paper, but it had to be done.

Over the summer I “wrote” the rough draft for a non-fiction book using my iPhone. There are oh-so-many bits of hard won knowledge I would like to impart to my children, or my children’s children, so I decided to make a record of my thoughts on education and homeschooling. This helped get me into the groove of transcribing thoughts without a keyboard or pen. It felt unnatural to write fiction using this method. Using verbal skills to give motherly advice was not an issue. I’m sure the kids will come to appreciate all those nuggets of wisdom someday.

Once the nonfiction project was drafted, I returned to novel writing and found speech to text a little more cooperative. It is still awkward and tedious, but I’m getting better at it. Practice makes perfect, or if not perfect, at least manageable. If only it would transcribe purposeful dictation as well as it records my frustrated, unladylike utterances.

And y’all, I have met new writing buddies! In any difficult journey, finding people who support you, believe in you, and cheer you on helps keep you focused on your calling. Go visit Linda and Rachel on their blogs and tell them “hey” from me.

I’ve found a couple of other writers who I hope to spend time with soon, sharing stories and sugar laden, caffeinated treats. I need my crit partners! Producing a marketable work takes support and help from many fronts, at least it does for this girl.

My writing coach, Sarah Hamer, has been wonderfully patient with me. I appreciate her guidance and support dearly. If you need a little help with writing projects, check out her site here.

It’s time to start considering the editing process, and with that in mind I am trying to outfit my writing space. I purchased an anti-fatigue mat to use with my standing computer desk. My standing desk is an IKEA computer desk we found on craigslist and adapted. I went by Office Depot and tried out the line of Serta computer chairs and was happy to find a comfortable chair. They even have a couple made for shorter people like me!

My eldest found a cool adjustable desk. Smartdesk moves from sitting to standing with the push of a button. It is on the wish list.

Now all I have to do is finish the last twelve chapters of the rough draft for the current rewrite of Nina’s story and I will be ready to begin edits. Right after I get some new glasses.

#AmWriting

 

 

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Encouragement for Mothers: Diving In

divinginwtest

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are ready.

It will be glorious or horrible and, most definitely, it will be messy. There will be sunshine and roses, rain and thorns.

This is what will happen.

The washer will break.

Flu will haunt your house like a hungry stray cat you accidentally fed.

Some days you will forget what blue sky looks like, but on other days you will be able to taste it when your mouth opens wide and lets laughter fly free.

There will be tears.

You will be expected to sweep up sharp broken pieces even while your bare soles are smudged with blood. You will never be enough and always be enough.

brokenglasswtext

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You will never be enough and always be enough. (Tweet This)

It will be scary hard. You will be forced to plant your feet, take ownership of your failures, and stare them down. You will fall short but you will be forgiven. You will learn to forgive yourself.

You will be pulled and stretched until every bit of your bounce is gone. Flexibility will be your middle name. On certain days you will wonder if the shape of deflated balloon is the permanent price your spirit will pay. But then, when you develop eyes to see the magnificence of stretch marks, the vision will leave you without air.

You will breathe beauty.

You will take a small hand in yours. If you don’t let go you will both grow into your feet, getting big enough to walk in the land of giants. You will begin to understand that perfection does not dwell in the world of mortals. In times to come, a backward glance will reveal the perfect, unerring, working out of the distance you have already traveled.

This is what will happen.

You don’t get it all. You get the prize.

You don’t get it all. You get the prize. (Tweet This)

Your sisters are all lined up along the edge. They will help you if you are wise enough to understand that you are not alone.

Dive deep.

You will be fine; more than fine. How do I know? Look at you, sister-friend, momma-lady, baby-girl.

You’re already treading water.

 

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Homeschooling Is Worth It

hsisworthit

This year will be my twenty-third year. That’s a long time to be enveloped by the lifestyle of home education. It will be my twenty-third year, and my last.

In the beginning, I was angry. I wasn’t ready for this. I felt forced into it. I graduated with honors and the inability to do much math beyond the basics. I could not analyze literature to save my life. Home educating was not part of my plan. We had moved to the best school district within driving distance of my husband’s work, but then it didn’t work out and we were going to home educate.

I wasn’t prepared.

It was a large undertaking, and I had a lot of studying to do. We got quite a few head shakes. Most people tried to convince me to quit. They couldn’t understand that I had made a commitment. The promise had been made and there was no going back.

There have been things I have kept to myself. Struggles no one but God has seen. I have kids with learning differences. I have a few myself. Health challenges. Incredible financial burdens. Other messy stuff. There is not enough Samsonite in the world to hold all this baggage, and not enough room in Texas to unpack it all.

But I made a promise. Was it hard to keep? Yes and no. Teaching them was not the hardest part, unless you caught me on a bad day, before I figured out bad days happen. Bad days don’t mean much in the grand scheme.

Teaching them was not the hardest part, unless you caught me on a bad day, before I figured out bad days happen. (Tweet This)

When Baby Girl came along and we knew she would be the last, I added up the years this home educating commitment of mine would take. In a moment of self-preservation to maintain mental health, I immediately forgot. I refused to count the days for a long, long, time. Instead, I decided to make them count for us.

They did.

We have made each other rich. The focus has always been relationships. Putting relationships first has arranged all the elements of teaching into proper place. Our purpose in educating is to give a foundation to fulfill each child’s calling and prepare students to do life. Listen more than speak.

Putting relationships first has arranged all the elements of teaching into proper place. (Tweet This)

My daughter chooses her own path. It is our philosophy to let the student lead. It is my job to provide guidance balanced with respect. Confidence in a student’s abilities and encouragement to do their best has been the method that served all my children well.

Many years ago a mom once asked me, “Is homeschooling hard?” I laughed. It was good I did not answer her that particular day.

A mom once asked me, “Is homeschooling hard?” I laughed. It was good I did not answer her. (Tweet This)

Some days it is hard. Very hard. There were days when I considered the cost, hard pressed to weigh out the pros and cons, and days when I thought about taking a different path. There were even a few in-between days when I felt unsure, and reevaluated plans, mulling over options. But in the end, after discussion and prayers, we kept on. My steps were careful. Cautiously bold is how I traveled this way.

In the quiet morning hour, the house is empty. Everyone is living their lives. My senior is at her job, teaching. She says she doesn’t understand why people get frustrated at those who are trying their best. Was this something I taught my children, or something they taught me? The best, most lasting lessons are the ones like these.

I wasn’t prepared for this either, the brilliant gifts that litter the days like gold strewn along an otherwise mundane path.

When I look back I am overcome by the enormity of this job well done, and overwhelmed by gratefulness. I am grateful for the freedom living in this land allows, the wisdom so generously shared by others who went before, and for the grace covered love that carried us through.

If you see me crying in the toothpaste aisle at the grocery, it’s not because I’m sad, or overcome with the prospect of empty nesting, or having a moment of regret.

It is because it’s beautiful.

Here I stand on the other side. Twenty-three years isn’t such a long time after all.

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4 Tips On How Not to Plan a Writing Retreat

#amwriting donnajostone.comI have had fair success at getting words on the current WIP flowing. Not all of those words are kept, mind you. But then that is the nature of a first draft.

“The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.”Joyce Carol Oates

Committed to writing a certain amount on my novel in progress every day, I have decided to pretend this forced vacating of my home is a writer’s retreat. This fantasy would probably be easier to maintain if I had not brought my family, including our new puppy, along with me.

Tip #1 Don’t bring your kids or a puppy.

kayleeintroublesmall.

There are also the constant interruptions of new information about the home repairs which tend to get me sidetracked. The ongoing saga is a twisted version of a never ending story, reminding me of If You Give A Mouse A Cookie.

Along the way to the discovery of where the moisture is coming from we found no leaks, but we did find out the home has what was referred to as “the pipe of the future” otherwise known as polybutylene pipe. This particular kind of pipe is no longer used because it is destined to fail. Check your pipes, peeps.

During the new water line installation, I was informed the hot water heater has been leaking. No word on the water damage from that yet.

After numerous consultations, it has been determined that the constant water collecting under the sinks is probably from condensation. This may be due to the vapor barrier being compromised when a neighbor’s dog got under the home. Or it could be because of improper site prep. They are working on it.

Tip #2 Leave your home problems at home and don’t answer calls.

Other issues will be dealt with as the summer progresses. The good news is, no mold in the walls as far as we can tell with mold kits and this handy snaking camera.

WIN_20150614_181226

 

Tip # 3 Don’t give up writing no matter what.

“Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.”               Red Smith

Meanwhile, I will keep busy scribbling away on the book when I’m not enjoying myself poolside here at my writing retreat.

Tip #4 Don’t forget to find JOY in the journey.

#amwriting

How are you reaching your goals? What inspires you? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment.

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Am Writing| A Persistent Passion

#amwriting  donnajostone.comFor the last few weeks I have been displaced, my thoughts scattered by events and summer schedules. On top of all the chaos that is typical of the Stone Clan, I have not been feeling all that great.

Some days it is a challenge to write. Most days lately. But it’s not like I can NOT write. It is what I do.

But boy, doesn’t life intervene? I need to refocus on my goal and make the necessary adaptations.

I may have mentioned accountability before, but in the past I joined a group whose members are dedicated to write at least 500 words every day. Every. Single. Day.

For me, that means a minimum of 500 words on my novel draft in progress, no matter what.

I’m struggling with this. I know many people find it easy to write the first draft, but not me. I am primarily using voice to text on an old HP tablet. I have been informed on numerous occasions it is so old it’s obsolete, but I feel a certain kinship with it. It took forever for it to learn to translate my accent into recognizable English and it still makes mistakes.

I also tend to forget what it was I was saying if my device doesn’t translate well the first time. When I go back to read a section of indecipherable text regularly leaves me puzzled as to what I originally meant to write. For a  time, I wondered if I needed to plot more to solve that issue, but I don’t want to over plot.

It is harder for me to write fiction using speech to text than to write blog posts, emails, or letters with it. Have you found this to be true for you?

And then there is the obstacle of my own self. In my first middle grade novel, I could write the main character, Nina straight out of the chute. She is plain looking, snarky, emotional, and has a quirky family. My new MC, Trish, is different. She is a blonde ballerina who always tries to be the good girl. Hmmmm. We do share some issues. I will get past her looks and personality to dig them out. I may not be a ballerina, but I am exceedingly persistent and will find the real Trish under all those blonde locks.

coffeegrinder

I may have to let some things slide a bit, what with the current craziness, work on the book, house stuff, and taking care of the family. But my 500 daily words on the novel in progress is one of my anchors. I know this is what I am called to do.

#amwriting

What’s your calling? How are you managing to answer that call while juggling life?

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