Seven Steps for a Productive NaPiBoWriWee

It’s April and since we’re trapped indoors with our thoughts, now’s a good time to start prepping for NaPiBoWriWee! What’s NaPiBoWriWee, you ask? It’s a writing challenge called National Picture Book Writing Week that’s held during the first week of May where participants write seven picture book manuscripts in seven days. NaPiBoWriWee was founded by the brilliant and prolific Paula Yoo, author of many wonderful children’s books including GOOD ENOUGH and the Lee & Low titles LILY’S NEW HOME, WANT TO PLAY?, and THE PERFECT GIFT. You can learn more about NaPiBoWriWee by checking out its archive here. napi-logo-universal

Update 4/6/20: Since writing this post, it’s been announced that 2020 NaPiBoWriWee is postponed. While this news is disappointing, it doesn’t mean you can’t start preparing! Keep reading this post so when NaPiBoWriWee does arrive, you’ll be ready. *thumbs up emoji*

I know what you’re thinking: Seven picture books in seven days? That sounds awesome but unrealistic. Where would a writer like me begin?? Fear not, writer! I had the same apprehensions, so I wrote this blog post as a way to process and prepare for the event. I’ve assembled seven steps to get ready for the NaPiBoWriWee challenge and like I said before, we’re trapped indoors with our thoughts for the next several weeks so let’s turn your apprehension into action!

STEP 1: Create Content

First, we need content for seven picture books. Now is the time to figure out if those new story ideas you’ve been flirting with are picture books in the making. It’s also time to revisit your ideas that have fallen to the wayside for different reasons. Dust them off and decide if they’re still contenders. Does the idea need a little time and attention? Can you tweak what wasn’t working in your previous draft and get it operational?

Make a list of all your picture book ideas and rank them. Put the storylines you’re most excited to write at the top and put the least exciting ideas at the bottom. We only have seven days to crank out seven manuscripts. With limited time for each story, we need to bring passion and energy to each project. With this in mind, select the seven stories you want to write for the week.

STEP 2: Outline!

Some people see the word “outline” and they groan, so think of this step as exploring your story ideas instead of outlining them. For this step you’ll need a blank piece of paper or a fresh page in your writer’s notebook. Now write down EVERYTHING you know about this picture book idea. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

What’s the story about? (Who is the main character? What’s their goal? What’s in their way?)

What’s the story About? (What is the heart of the story?)

What are the major plot points?

Who are the major characters?

What’s the setting?

The point of this exercise is to have all of your information about your story in one place. We also want to think about these fundamental elements now to make your writing experience easier when NaPiBoWriWee comes. Repeat Step 2 for all seven story ideas.

STEP 3: Assess

Now that you’ve fleshed out these ideas a bit more, take a good look at them. Make sure you want them to be picture books and that none of these ideas is actually the kernel of a much longer work. There’s nothing like setting off to write a picture book manuscript and realizing halfway through the journey that you actually want this story idea to be a high-fantasy middle grade novel. It’s better to have this realization now in the preparation stages and not during NaPiBoWriWee!

STEP 4: Schedule

Now let’s put our outlines to the side and pull out our planners. Turn to the month of May and look at what you have going on between May 1-7 (or whenever the week of NaPiBoWriWee will be this year). Consider your schedule and daily responsibilities then block out time each day for writing each picture book manuscript. Be mindful. Think about your process. Are you someone who wants to devote a large chunk of time to writing or break up your writing time into smaller bites? I’m working from home these days, and I like to keep my regular 9 to 5 schedule. This means that I need to plan my writing time around my work hours. I’ve found that having a Plan A write time and a Plan B write time ensures that I fit my writing time in every day. For example, I plan to write between the hours of 8:00-9:00 a.m. the week of NaPiBoWriWee, but if something happens and I’m unable to stick to that time on a certain day, I’ve blocked off the 9:30-10:30 p.m. for writing, too. I don’t plan to write during both time slots each day, but the evening one is there just in case something comes up that keeps me from writing in the morning.

STEP 5: Deal with Details

Spend some time dealing with the details of your writing process so your work station can be ready when you are. Start making preparations now so that setting up your ideal work station doesn’t eat up your precious writing time during NaPiBoWriWee. Ask yourself:

Do I want to type my story on a computer or write it free hand?

Where am I going to write? Will this space be available every day, all week long?

Do I have my playlist ready to go? Will I use the same playlist for each project? (Personally, I like to build different playlists for different story ideas to help keep me in the head space of a particular project.)

What else do I need to tune into my writing process quickly?

Dealing with the details now will allow you to make the most of your writing time.

STEP 6: Ponder your Projects

Take these next few weeks to ponder your projects during your downtime. Use the time that you spend brushing your teeth, folding laundry, making your bed, and tidying to waddle around in one of your picture-book stories. Juggle the projects in your head. Spend time with each one so when the moment comes to sit down and write the story, you’ve turned around the story’s elements in your mind recently. Jot down any thoughts you have about a certain story idea between now and NaPiBoWriWee on its appropriate paper from Step 2.

DURING NaPiBoWriWee, the night before you start your next picture book story idea, look over your one-page outline. This way you can chew on the project overnight and when the moment comes to actually write the story, you don’t have to spend time reacquainting yourself with the project. This should make pivoting between different stories day after day a little easier.

STEP 7: Treat Yo Self!

Incentive is an effective motivator. Honestly, even with a plan laid out, I don’t always follow through and deliver on my goals. Sometimes I have to dangle a shiny carrot at the end of the stick to help kick my butt into gear. I also find that rewarding myself for reaching my goals works better for me than criticizing myself when I fall short of those goals. This year for NaPiBoWriWee, I plan to treat myself to two picture books I’ve had my eye on for a while. They’re already in my virtual Barnes & Noble shopping cart so when the sun sets on the last day of NaPiBoWriWee, I can click BUY and secure my well-earned prize.

As you consider your reward system, take some time to set achievable goals. By achievable goals I mean manageable goals designed to motivate you, not intimidate you. The ultimate goal of NaPiBoWriWee is not to deliver 7 polished manuscripts. It’s about crushing perfectionism and putting words on the page. This year, my goal is to have first drafts of 5 picture book manuscripts by the end of NaPiBoWriWee. If I finish between 3-4 manuscripts, I’ll be thrilled. Even if I only write one manuscript during the week, it’s one more than I had the week before; so that’s a win!

Think about why you’re doing NaPiBoWriWee and what you want from the experience. Set 1-3 goals for yourself and decide what you’ll treat yourself to when you achieve those goals. Grab some index cards or sticky notes and write down your goals in bright & bold colors. Put your goals in places where you can’t avoid looking at them. You can tape them next to your writing station, or to the corner of your bathroom mirror, or the cabinet above the kitchen sink, or the window by your bed. Keeping your goals in sight, keeps them in mind. Sometimes I set writing goals in the heat of an inspired moment but the next day, when that passion has subsided and Life happens, I let those goals get pushed to the back burner. Writing and displaying my goals helps me recapture that passionate inspired moment and keep my creative goals sizzling in the forefront of my mind.

“This is about encouraging everyone to write EVERY DAY no matter what. It’s a fun exercise to combat procrastination.” –Paula Yoo

I hope these 7 steps will serve as a jumping off point as you consider the great and wonderful undertaking that is NaPiBoWriWee. I participate in it because I enjoy a challenge, but more importantly I want to walk away from the week with a positive experience, better writing habits, and more of my stories out of my head and on the page than I had the week before. Wishing you great productivity in the weeks ahead!

To learn more about NaPiBoWriWee, visit


Five Steps for Setting Achievable Goals

blog graphic from canvaJanuary is a natural time for making resolutions and setting new goals. As someone with a large appetite for creative projects, I find setting goals for myself to be an invigorating and entertaining process, but following through with these goals is much less exciting. Acknowledging this about myself led me to the question at the heart of this blog post: How do you set realistic, achievable goals that won’t fall to the wayside? Creating goals for creative side projects in particular can be very challenging when you’re juggling multiple creative pursuits alongside life’s many pressing demands. To help, I’ve listed five steps that I practice when planning goals for my professional and personal projects:

1. Assess Where You Are in Your Major and Minor Projects: I say “major” projects because us creative types tend to have a wide variety and great number of ideas we want to pursue. It helps me to separate projects into two types, major and minor. Finishing my middle grade novel is a major project. Composing a Broadway musical based on my everyday shenanigans as a publishing employee—although a huge undertaking—is a minor project. Decide which projects you want to focus on. During 2019, there’s a mix of major and minor projects I plan to develop.

2. Determine How You Want Your Projects to Grow (or in other words: VISION!): What’s the next phase for each project? Some of your major projects might be long term compared to others. For example, I finished writing the first draft of a middle grade novel last month. I’d like to see the novel published but that’s a tall order for 2019 considering there are chunks of dialogue that still need to be filled in, so I plan to focus on revising the novel and “growing” it into a second or third draft for the time being.

3. List Next Steps: Now that you know how you want to advance your project(s), sit down and list the things that need to happen so your project can reach the next phase. I’ll use my middle grade novel as an example again. Revising the novel into a presentable draft will involve the following steps: writing the missing dialogue, assessing the different plot lines, and revisiting each scene to make sure it’s essential to developing the story. By completing these steps, I’ll accomplish my goal of creating a stronger draft of my manuscript.

4. Set Due Dates and Check-ins: Take a look at the projects you plan to focus on and the steps you need to complete for each project. When creating due dates for yourself, consider the time you devote to your creative projects at present, and how that may have to change so that each project is given the attention and focus it needs for you to achieve your goal. I find that it helps to set soft due dates and hard due dates for myself. For example, let’s say I plan to submit a picture book manuscript to a writing contest that has a submissions deadline of June 1st. I’d set a soft due date for myself by planning to have the manuscript ready to send to the contest by May 1st, then set a hard due date of May 20th for myself. Setting soft due dates helps me pace myself and stagger multiple projects. Setting hard due dates help me build safety nets into my schedule so if my soft due dates prove too ambitious, I still have a chance to stay on schedule.

When I’m planning over long periods of times, it helps me to schedule check-ins. Check-ins are specific dates when I stop and assess how my projects are developing. When I have a big project that I plan to tackle over the course of a year, I arrange check-ins a few times throughout the year, for example, at the start of each season, so I can see how I’m progressing and adjust my plan accordingly.

5. Expect the Unexpected: Now matter how much we plan or how realistic and achievable our goals are, life happens. It’s a good idea to leave some wiggle room in your goal setting to accommodate curve balls in the creative process. There have been times when I planned to focus on one manuscript but had a break through with a different manuscript. When that happens I find it’s best to switch gears and revise my due dates for the first manuscript instead of forcing myself to concentrate on it. I operate best when my schedule is challenging yet manageable. When I make a rigorous schedule and don’t meet my hard due dates, it makes me feel like I’m not doing enough which shuts down my creative process. I’m most diligent and productive when my schedule has some flexibility.

I hope these tips prove useful as you prepare to take 2019 by storm with your unstoppable creative energy!

Fifty Reasons Why I Write

After attending and participating in the 2018 Kweli Color of Children’s Literature conference and reflecting on my time there in this blog post, I found my biggest takeaway was hearing why writers—published and unpublished—feel compelled to write. Anyone can do it, in the sense that you don’t need a degree to buy a notebook, find a pen, and start writing. And while there are strong similarities across the writing, editing, and publication processes, the reasons behind why a writer writes are as numerous and varied as the writers themselves.

On my way home from the event, I started making a list of the reasons why I’m compelled to write—in less than 30 minutes I had nearly 40 answers! After some further reflection, I compiled a list of 50 reasons why I write that are not related to making money. The list is a combination of quotes, lyrics, and reasons that range from the universal to the specific. Please enjoy!

  1. “Without struggle there is no progress” Frederick Douglass
  2. For my mom and dad—the people who have given me everything
  3. For the kid I was and the kid I am
  4. It’s an unparalleled feeling
  5. No one’s gonna tell my stories or my story like I will
  6. To thank friends and family in my dedications
  7. To become a better composer—writing is writing, it feeds itself.
  8. “The best way to get ahead, is to get started”
  9. To see my name in print on a cover of my book!
  10. For the dual book launch with my good friend and fellow WNDB intern, Julie
  11. To not disappoint the people who know I want to do this and are patiently waiting for me to finally do it
  12. To give my mom bragging ammo
  13. To let the inner demons walk around a bit
  14. To be like Lin Manuel Miranda
  15. To be heard
  16. For the reader I am
  17. To be remembered
  18. “You are living in a poem” “[Writing] is an act that preserves you, energizes you…[writing] is an immediate experience” -Naomi Shihab Nye
  19. Because it’s difficult
  20. To become a stronger writer
  21. Because I can do it!
  22. Because I love characters
  23. Because I love language and words
  24. To give all of the notebooks and pens I buy a purpose
  25. Because it’s easier to struggle through it, than it is to give up
  26. “Don’t let the world change your mind” –Be Ever Wonderful, Earth Wind & Fire
  27. I’d be great at school visits
  28. To inspire and be inspired
  29. To meet new people
  30. It doesn’t cost me anything
  31. To share what I love with others
  32. Because I owe friends books of mine
  33. Because even when it’s the hardest thing to do, I enjoy it
  34. so when people ask how’s the writing thing going, I’ll have an answer
  35. To make myself laugh
  36. To connect with others
  37. “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep” I found this quote on the title page of  In Her Hands, LEE & LOW BOOKS
  38. Because making stuff up is fun
  39. To give shape to my many thoughts and emotions
  40. Because when I’m productive in my writing, I treat myself to life’s treasures: pens, journals, books, and almond croissants.
  41. To keep record of everything that matters to me
  42. “A goal is a dream with a deadline” -random journal
  43. To get invited to book-related events
  44. So that I don’t have to commute to/from Manhattan for the rest of my life
  45. To go to the Oscars! (Long shot, but you never know…)
  46. to wear pajamas while I work
  47. to escape
  48. Because I enjoy the physical act of writing
  49. Because it employs my strengths and challenges my weaknesses
  50. “There are no limits, there are only plateaus. But you must not stay there. You must go beyond them.” Bruce Lee

 So those days when I don’t feel like writing or doubt why I do it, I read through this list until one or all of these reasons helps be overcome the Resistance, and reminds me why I do this.

What are some of the reasons you write? Feel free to share in the comments below!

The Seven Stages of Process: My Time at the 2018 Kweli Color of Children’s Literature Conference

The afternoon before the Kweli conference, anxiety bubbled within me like bad gas. By that night it was a furious boil complete with heartburn and sweating. Despite the many weeks I spent preparing the for event, the thought of sitting on one panel in the morning and moderating my first panel ever that afternoon was physically uncomfortable. I started listing appropriate last-minute excuses in my head:


-emergency root canal

-Acute, crippling, public-speaking induced motion sickness

The list went on…

In retrospect, freaking out about an event is actually part of my process. I recall experiencing similar levels of panic the night before giving my salutatorian address and before presenting my senior thesis. Just like stages of grief, there are stages to process:

Stage One: Shock. Someone thinks it’s a good idea for me to speak in public? Ha!

Stage Two: Denial. This must be a mistake…

Stage Three: Confusion. What does this mean?? What will this entail?? Why me?!

Stage Four: Acceptance. Fine, if I’m going to do this, I’d better do it right.

Stage Five: Bargaining. I’d give anything just to get through this event without embarrassing myself.

Stage Six: Panic. This was a bad idea! Everyone’s gonna know I’m a fraud!

Stage Seven: Nausea. I feel queasy enough to question all of my life choices, but not so much that I can bail out now. Let’s get this over with.

The actual event was a whirlwind! Between asking questions of people and artists I admire and answering questions from aspiring writers I barely had time to finish eating my sugar cookie. If you ask me, both the panel I sat on and the one I moderated went well.KWELI 2018_2

Ultimately, when asked to do something that’s just outside of my comfort zone, I relied on my strengths to get it done. I don’t consider myself a strong public speaker, but I am a strong organizer and I don’t mind sharing what I know about publishing with aspiring writers. I relied on these strengths and interests to provide the best information possible for conference attendees and showcase the panelists whose conversation I moderated. I can’t promise a perfect presentation, I can only promise that I’ll be professional, candid, and a little corny. That’s who I am, so that’s the best I can do.

Interested in learning more about the Kweli Color of Children’s Literature Conference? Visit the website here!

Putting the Fun Back in Functional: Maximizing and Customizing Your Desk Space

Whether you’re moving into a brand-new work space or looking for a few ways to revamp the space you’re already in, this blog post will provide a few tips and tricks that have proved useful to me when organizing and customizing my desk space.


My Work Space


My first time working in an office setting was as an intern in publishing, and like many interns my workspace was small. Most of my desk was dominated by the computer monitor on my left and the metal, three-tier file organizer on my right. The desk extended past the organizer but that area was occupied by my cubical mate—a noisy printer named Max who serviced half the office personnel. I had just enough space for my purse, calendar, and notepad.

When you’re new to a space it can be difficult to get comfortable. This is true not just for interns but entry-levelers and even higher-ups—anyone who’s moved into a new work environment. My first few weeks as an intern I had a certain mindset: “I’m only here three days a week for three months, there’s no need for me to settle in.” but that was the wrong way of thinking. Being productive requires some level of comfort. If you want to make the most of any opportunity where you’re asked to function in an office, you have to feel confident and comfortable in your workspace. I feel this way in my workspace when it is organized and has a few personal touches. In my experience, an organized and personalized workspace is the foundation of productivity.

Making Space:

There’s a select number of people in this world who hear the words “cleaning” or “organizing” and become giddy with excitement. I am not one of those people. But creating and maintaining an organized workspace is essential for me to fulfill my tasks. Organizing may sound daunting, but being organized is simply knowing what you have and where to find it. Plus, it’s harder to personalize your workspace when everything is everywhere. Your co-workers won’t be able to appreciate your awesome Game of Thrones wall calendar if your wall is covered in post-its and papers. If your work space is already organized or you fundamentally loathe cleaning, feel free to skip to the next section. Everyone else, grab a large plastic bag and let’s get to work!

Often times when we enter a new workspace we’re inheriting the space from its previous occupant. That means we’re also inheriting whatever that person left behind. Look through the drawers of your desk and become familiar with the files and materials you are now responsible for. If those files pertain to your tasks, hold on to them. If they don’t you may be able to relocate or recycle them. Before doing either, ask someone who is familiar with your tasks about the files you’ve found. You don’t want to accidentally throw out something important.

***Optional: Take organizing one step further! I found that a great way to become more familiar with the contents of my drawers was by making new tabs for file folders. Some of the records I inherited were from the 1990s and 1980s. Replacing the worn-out file folders and faded labels gave the drawer a fresh look and makes it easier for me to find old records.

When I moved into my current desk space one of the drawers contained a fully-stocked supplies organizer. It was great, but then I realized I don’t really need to have 200 pushpins and 5 boxes of staples on hand at all times. If your office supply room isn’t a far walk from your desk, consider keeping less supplies in your desk to make room for more important things. The first step to maximizing desk space is getting stuff off your desk. Use your newfound drawer space to store files, supplies, and anything cluttering your desk that’s better suited in a drawer.

Creating Space

Now that inside your desk is straight, let’s take a step back and look at your overall workspace. That includes any walls, partitions, chairs, shelves, and the space underneath your desk. All of these elements are opportunities for organization and personalization!


Walls are great for organizing and personalizing a workspace. If your office is cool with hammering into walls consider hanging a framed picture or install a bulletin board and some floating file shelves for extra storage. If mild demolition puts a frown on your Supervisor’s face or if you’re not handy with a hammer, no sweat! Invest in a corkboard or whiteboard with adhesive backs and a roll of painter’s tape. As a publishing professional I get countless postcard art samples so I’ve designated a small place on my wall to feature my favorites. I use blue painter’s tape to stick the cards to the wall and move them around without worrying about damaging the paint.

Keep in mind that when you hang things on walls (and partitions) it can make your space look cluttered and smaller. I found that using part of my wall instead of the whole wall for art cards allowed me to decorate the space without cluttering it. Also, the way you hang things like art cards and post-its can make all the difference. I create rows and columns and take orientation (portrait or landscape) into consideration when organizing my wall. I promise, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. To demonstrate, my office mate graciously let me use her art wall as an example. In just three minutes we gave her wall a clean look by creating columns:


What is the partition that divides your desk from your neighbor’s desk made of? My partition is made of a friendly mesh material that’s ideal for my pin collection! It’s also very sturdy which is great for hanging file organizers.


Your virtual desk! Just like your desk, your computer desktop is an integral part of your workspace. I like to limit my desktop to 10 documents that I keep in two columns, and a few Stickies notes (more on those soon). Mac Finder has a neat feature that alphabetizes the files on your desktop into clean rows for quick organization! If your desktop is overrun beyond control, either spend some time organizing your files or consider taking all of those unruly documents and putting them in a single folder.

Post-its on Computers: How many is too many?

I love Post-its. When I was an intern, I’d stick them to the bottom of my computer, giving the monitor a little goatee. As my responsibilities increased so did the number of Post-its framing my computer screen. Soon my computer monitor had a beard. Once it started growing sideburns, I realized I had too many Post-its.

I use Post-its to catch my eye. So for me, more than 3-5 Post-its in my workspace is too many. If I have more than that stuck to my computer or throughout my work area I start to ignore them and they lose their purpose. Thanks to software like “Stickies” I can have the Post-it experience without cluttering my workspace!

Go Big by Going Small:

If you want to make more space on your desk, consider replacing your standard-size tape dispenser and stapler with smaller versions. How often do you staple or tape things? I use my stapler about once a week and my tape even less, so I traded in my bulky dispenser and stapler for mini versions. These mini versions help keep my desk space from looking cluttered.

Part Three: Personal Space

With your workspace organized, now’s the time to add some personality! Any part of your workspace that you’re allowed to change is an opportunity for a personal touch. I suggest starting with a few (3-4) points then grow from there.

Pen Holder:

Get rid of that tragic, standard, black pen holder immediately! You can use literally any cup-like object to hold your writing-implements—heck, a red SOLO cup has more personality than that black thing. If you’re looking to maximize your desk space, opt for a clear container. I keep my pens in a wine glass that I bought at T.J. Maxx for $2.99. I have several colorful pens and having them in a clear container makes it easier to see them and adds color to my space. Channel your inner DIY artist and get crafty with a mason jar. Or keep it simple and use a fun mug from your favorite musical, TV show, or vacation spot.

Tissue Box:

A desk essential! You can add color to your space with a box that has a vibrant pattern or maximize your space by choosing a box with muted colors. Since my desk and wall are a very light gray, I use a light blue/gray Kleenex tissue box. If your tissue box could use a mini makeover, dress it up with a Post-it. My tissue box has Post-it with one of my favorite quotes on it.

Lastly, make your space serve you by carving out an enclosed area for personal items. Everyone has personal items they like to keep on hand. I have a makeup bag in my desk that contains an extra pair of socks, a lint brush, a compact mirror, and a travel-size bottle of mouthwash (just in case I eat something with garlic at lunch). Under your desk is also a great place to store some personal things—I keep a small umbrella and change of shoes under mine. Ultimately, when you’re spending about 40 hours a week in a space, it should be comfortable. Your work space should feel like a home base. 

I hope you find some of my suggestions helpful. Live long and prosper on your journey to workspace greatness!

If you have any questions or tips to share, feel free to leave a comment!

Blogs, Banners, and Big Changes

These last few months I’ve been giving my blog a facelift. I played around with about a dozen different color schemes in a dozen different templates. Widgets were added, moved, deleted, and added again. And my About Me page has undergone extensive editing.

 Why so much fuss?

 Well, in retrospect, I realized that I was experiencing several changes professionally and personally. I was promoted to assistant editor last September and have been receiving invitations to attend conferences and publishing events since then. Most of these events ask for a suitable head shot, which I did not have. I provided a drive-by head shot that a good friend of mine took on their iPhone at a book store,  but I wanted to have a stronger photo on standby–one that aspiring writers and publishing professionals would look at and think “I bet that lady knows what she’s talking about!”. Meanwhile, I saw that many of the publishing people I was attending these events with not only had head shots already, but websites—professional-looking ones. Their websites are where they keep their fancy head shots and easy-to-find 100-word bios ready for any and all events. That meant one thing: I needed an online space to keep my stuff, too.

Personally, I wanted an online space where I could share a variety of content, not just my doodles and random poems. Last Halloween I started this epic blog post about how I made my workspace both fun and functional. It’s about 1000 words long and has photos. I’m really proud of it. So proud, that the thought of posting this big, beautiful blog post I had worked diligently on for two months onto a blog I wasn’t proud to share with others was a sign to me that I needed to make changes.

 With professional and personal pursuits aligned, I’ve been revamping the look of my blog as well as its purpose. I want this to be a space where I can share my experiences as someone who has a foot on either side of the publishing line. I needed a head shot and a banner to reflect that, so I called the experts, two special and creative friends who graciously use their talents to help others. I’d like to give a BIG thanks to photographer Lloyd Campbell for helping me with my head shot, and illustrator/designer Abhi Alwar for the beautiful banner. They helped bring this new vision for my blog to life! Now I have an online space to display my awesome head shot, professional bio, and share all things about writing and publishing.

 You can check out Lloyd’s photography on his website:

And Abhi’s work on her website:



Writing with Bleed: Thoughts on Creating Short Stories

In illustration, bleed is art that goes beyond the edge of where the page will be trimmed. This ensures that the art will cover the entire page. By illustrating with bleed, artists make the art bigger than it needs to be. The same can be said of short story writers.

In the short story The Lottery, author Shirley Jackson focuses on one moment in the lives of the villagers at the center of her narrative. Although the story ends, the characters’ lives do not. There’s aftermath the reader doesn’t get to see because the main action—the story—has already been told. If we were to ask Ms. Jackson what happened to the villagers afterward, she would have an answer. Not a solid play-by-play of each character’s whereabouts perhaps, but enough of an understanding that extends past the short story’s end—that’s the bleed!

My short story, The Baby in the Bathwater, was written with bleed: Zed survives the fall into the dumpster and makes it to the pay phone on the street corner where he tries to call Ryan. He reaches for a quarter to make the call but realizes his wallet and phone are upstairs. Instead he decides to find Cole, knowing there’s a strong chance he’s nursing his worries at the local bar. That’s as far as I thought out to write my short story.

Does Zed go to prison for murder?

I don’t know.


Do Ryan and his girlfriend get back together?

No clue.


That stuff’s beyond the bleed, beyond what the story needs and the reader needs to know.


After taking a stab at short story writing and mulling over my thoughts on bleed here, I’ve found I enjoyed writing the bleed as much as I enjoyed writing the story. Zed and Ava’s history started off as bleed, then evolved into backstory that made it into the actual story. It’s fun to explore beyond the edges of your art and paint a bigger picture than your story provides—this way if your reader toes the line or gets the chance to ask you what’s beyond it, you’ll have answer.

The Baby in the Bathwater

Below is an original short story inspired by a writing prompt from the Amazing Story Generator. The prompt reads: After a failed bank heist, the drummer for a punk rock band, refuses to leave the bathtub. Enjoy!

Even from under water, Zed knew the peculiar jingle of Ava’s keys. The sounds of the apartment door’s locks sliding open were harder for him to make out but the distinct creak of the opening door and slam that followed weren’t. Ava never slammed the door. Either her arms were full of groceries or she was pissed. Zed prayed for groceries.


Ava’s voice cut through two walls, the bathroom door, the chilly bathwater, and found Zed’s ears like a thirsty mosquito with sonar. He could hear the edges around his name in her angry voice and the exclamation mark at the end of it. He weighed confronting a pissed-off girlfriend with drowning himself. Death by bathwater wouldn’t be the epic, guns-blazing, drug-fueled spectacle he’d always envisioned his death would be, but it would be in fashion with other Rock musicians.  Zed figured he’d be saving money by dying in his own bathtub instead of a hotel’s.

Zed heard the tapping of Ava’s heels on the hardwood floor grow louder then fade as she stormed passed the bathroom and into their bedroom. He heard her yank open the window by the fire escape. Hiding from her on there would have been a rookie mistake. She sounded mad enough to shove him right over the railing. Their apartment was on the second floor overlooking a back alley. Zed and Ava spent many summer nights on the fire escape debating whether or not Zed could survive the two-story fall into the full dumpster below their window. Although Zed was confident that the mounds of trash would break his fall, he wasn’t out there. He had screwed up too badly for a quick cigarette on the fire escape to alleviate his nerves.

Zed heard the tapping of Ava’s heels grow louder again then suddenly stop. The bathroom doorknob rattled. Zed flinched as Ava’s fist pounded on the door.

“Zed! I know you’re in there.” Ava yelled. Her voice shook the crooked tiles on the bathroom walls.

Zed let his eyes and nose break the surface of the bathwater. After being in the tub for two hours the water was frigid. The cold reminded Zed of the ballad he wrote about bathtubs that he proposed to the other member in his punk rock band. Maybe it was the fact that the song was about bathtubs or that he wrote it while taking a bath but the two guitarists and lead singer rejected their drummer’s proposal. It took Zed a whole month to get over it. Ava soothed his ego and told him to work on his own music. Zed remembered the calm in her voice as she sided with him and agreed that baths (and bathtubs) were awesome. Zed wished Ava was on his side right now.

“Cole told me what happened, Zed!” Anger drenched Ava’s words. “You guys tried to rob a bank?!”

The doorknob rattled again. Zed knew the flimsy lock could do nothing against Ava’s lock-picking skills. She may be a classy, ivy-league graduate but Ava’s rough-neighborhood upbringing instilled her with a back-alley skill set. She was book-smart and street-smart. Zed was out of his league when they met. But Ava liked tattooed musicians who knew all of the words from Fight Club so they clicked–like a lock and a hairpin.

Zed heard Ava’s hairpin working overtime as it pinged around in the bathroom knob. She’d be in the bathroom in 30 seconds and have her hands around his throat three seconds after that. Zed decided to spend the last 33 seconds of his life where he felt best: underwater. He took a deep breath and sank back into the tub. He shut his eyes and tried to block out the muddled sounds of Ava’s profanities.

Too soon, Zed heard the fatal ping of the surrendering lock and felt the disturbance in the water as the bathroom door flew inward sending a gust across the surface. A sharp, tight pain ceased Zed’s scalp as Ava entwined her fingers in his shaggy hair and yanked his head out of the water.

“Ow! Ow! Ow!” Zed yelped grabbing at Ava’s hand in his hair, but her grip was like a vice.

“Tell me you did not rob a bank this morning!” Ava said.

“We didn’t!” Zed coughed. He hadn’t used his voice since that morning when he yelled at Cole to drive, with bank security right on their tail. He could feel Ava’s eyes boring into him but couldn’t bring his eyes to meet hers as he continued. “…but we tried.”

The pain in Zed’s scalp returned as his head was plunged back into the bath water. Zed panicked and flailed his arms as he fought to unlock Ava’s deadly hands from his head. Suddenly, death-by-drowning seemed terrifying. He gasped as he was wrenched from the water again.

“What were you thinking!?” Ava roared. As scared as Zed was of dying by the hands of his lover he wiped the water from his eyes and looked at her. Ava’s tangled, curly hair was a brown lion’s mane around her round face. Fury set her dark eyes alight but behind it Zed saw concern, maybe even worry. Angry Ava terrified Zed, but Worried Ava broke his heart. Zed decided that telling the truth, not taking a bath, would help him come clean.

“It was Ryan’s idea,” he admitted.

“What? The lead singer?” Ava asked.

“He’s also our songwriter. But lately he hasn’t been ‘feeling the music’” Zed framed with air quotes just like Ryan had when he tried to explain his writer’s block to the band. “He’s an adrenaline junkie, so every once in a while he needs a fix. And since Darla broke up with him, he’s got no one to do crazy stuff with.”

“Is that why you guys went skydiving last month? What does this have to do with the bank?” Ava asked. Zed felt her fingers in his hair tighten.

Zed winced “Yeah, but that wasn’t enough. Ryan’s been teetering on the edge since the break up. Last weekend he picked a fight with this huge dude at the bar after our show. The dude broke Ryan’s nose! But then next rehearsal Ryan shows up with a new song; a really good song.”

“And Ryan thinks getting the crap beat out of him is his source of inspiration?” Ava asked. Zed could hear the eye roll in her voice.

“Yeah,” he shrugged.

“That still doesn’t explain your profound stupidity this morning.”

“Alright, so last night we were in the studio and Ryan turns to us and says he needs our help with his next fix. But not any fix, the fix. The fix that would quench his ‘inspirational thirst’” Zed used air quotes again to show Ava that he was quoting Ryan’s words and not being dramatic. “He told us about the bank on Main Street. Apparently he’d been casing the place for a few days and assured us we didn’t have to actually steal any money, just trying to would be enough of a jolt for him to get through this great material he’s working on for us. Nobody wanted to do it, but Ryan said he needed us; that if he did it by himself he’d get busted.”

Zed felt Ava’s fingers loosen and free his hair. She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose with her manicured thumb and index finger. Zed thought it best to let Ava process what he’d just told her. He looked down into the bath water and watched the fabric of his boxers cling and uncling to his thighs.

“Was anyone hurt?”

Ava had a way of cutting through all the B.S. in a situation and finding what matters; it was one of the things Zed loved about her. “No. The security officer busted his ass chasing our car as we peeled outta there but that’s it.” Zed saw worry crinkle Ava’s brow. “I promise, Ava no one was hurt. The second the plan went to hell we got out. No one’s gonna find us.”

Ava sighed. “The next time Ryan needs ‘a fix’ or whatever, send him to me,” Ava said. Zed recognized the bite in her voice and nodded.  Then Ava gripped the back of Zed’s neck. Zed braced himself for another plunge into the bathwater but instead felt her pull him into her warm chest. Zed wrapped his arms around his girlfriend and dug his face into her hair.  As he listened to Ava’s breathing, Zed realized no bathtub felt safer than being in Ava’s arms.

There was a knock at the apartment door.

“That’s probably Darla,” Ava said de-tangling her arms from Zed’s. “She heard what happened with you idiots and she freaked. I told her she could to come by.”

“Freaked like ‘That’s Crazy’ or freaked like ‘I-hope-Ryan-is-okay-‘cause-I-still-love-him?” Zed asked raising his eyebrows.

“The second one,” said Ava with the makings of a smile.

Zed exhaled as he let his head fall back against the tiled wall. If Darla and Ryan got back together in light of this morning’s botched robbery, it would make Zed’s close call with Ava’s fury worth it. With the worst of the day behind him, he closed his eyes and listened to the sound of Ava’s heels as she walked down the hallway.

“Darla?” Ava asked through the door.

Zed heard a deep voice clear its throat, “No ma’am this is the police. We’re here to speak with Zed Whitney.”

Zed’s eyes shot open.

“What is this about?” Ava asked.

“An attempted robbery occurred this morning at the bank on Main Street,” a different deep voice answered. “The security guard who pursued the fleeing vehicle suffered a heart attack and died. “We have reason to believe Mr. Whitney was involved.”

Zed began to panic. Just two minutes ago he was afraid of becoming a murder victim, now he was the cause of one! The panic stirred as thoughts of incarceration whipped through his mind.

Zed heard the distinct creak of the apartment door opening. He figured he had about five seconds before Ava let the cops in and another 15 seconds until she came to get him. Zed decided it was just enough time to wrestle on some pants and find out if he was right about the two-story fall into a dumpster. Covered in all kinds of goose bumps, he leapt from the tub.

Clouds of Doubt

There’s a time and place for everything, even in writing. In each of my writer’s notebooks I designate pages (places) for everything. I have a Favorite words page where new vocabulary I acquire, like “Nepotism”, can collect and mingle with old favorites like “tinged”. My weekly goals page is decked out with color-coded post-its dividing the spread into quadrants and indicating long-term and short-term objectives. There’s a page for funny snippets of conversation I hear, and a page for names of potential characters.

There’s even a page for Doubt. The page is folded in half towards the spine and titled Clouds of Doubt, because that’s how Doubt manifests in my life–as clouds of varying sizes working independently and /or cohesively to intercept my sunny disposition.

Doubt drifts in and, like clouds, it can pass by just as quickly (or slowly) as it floated in. Sometimes it blocks my sun for just a moment–a dark thought I hadn’t considered. Other times the clouds collect creating a permanently cloudy day.

People deal with Doubt in different ways because Doubt manifests differently for different people. For those who view Doubt as a gnarly weed growing in their inner garden, they may feel it best to cut Doubt out at the source and eliminate it swiftly; even if it means wiping out some of the good-thought plants in the process.

I find it best to give Doubt a bit of attention; a place for it to exist where I can acknowledge it and revisit it in my own time, on my own terms. I can’t control when Doubt shows up, but I can control how I confront it.

When a cloud creeps in, I open the special page I’ve given it and write about it. Sometimes it’s a short poem –a snap shot of a feeling or situation. Sometimes it’s a list of worried words. Sometimes it’s a scream into the white void of the page. Presently a bright fuchsia “Arrrggggghhhh!!!” stretches across my Clouds of Doubt page. I don’t remember what it is in reference to but it felt (and still feels) appropriate.

Unlike other emotions, Doubt is one I find that I can safely revisit. I reread my fuchsia scream and volatile verses and remember what it felt like to feel them. I may still feel the Doubts that these expressions stemmed from but I find comfort in knowing I’ve felt them before.

I cram all of these doubt-fueled expressions onto the folded page until I can’t fit another letter and by then… it’s time for a new writer’s notebook.

How do you deal with Doubt? Feel free to express yourself in the comments section