#Giveaway4Good Week One: Support Charitable Organizations and Win Prizes Every Writer Will Love

#Giveaway4Good Week One: Support Charitable Organizations and Win Prizes Every Writer Will Love

Last year, I started my #Giveaway4Good campaign with little more than faith. Faith in my cheerleading. Faith in this writing community. And faith in our capacity for collective good.

I wanted to see what would happen if we worked together to create some extra light during a time of deep heartache and loss. So, I sent a few emails to my favorite writing organizations and asked for their support. Then I turned it over to you and envisioned our success. Happily, that faith paid off. 

Together, we raised over $24,000 for charitable and literary organizations. You supported local independent bookstores. I gave away prizes. We had some fun, even while muscling through the disappointments of our very little Christmases.

It’s once again Giving Tuesday. The pandemic has thrown us yet another curveball as we head into the holiday season. (Thanks, Omicron!)  Instead, of letting that dim our lights, let’s have some more fun and support our communities one more time.

During each weekly #Giveaway4Good challenge, I’ll ask you to give away some of your time, talent, or treasure. 
Answer my call and you’ll be entered into my weekly drawing for valuable writing-related goodies you won’t want to miss. 

Everyone who enters a weekly drawing will also be entered into a grand-prize drawing designed to support every aspect of your writing life. Don’t believe me?

Check this out: 
Grand-prize package: A one-year membership to James River Writers, a 3-pack of webinars from The Crow Collective Online Writing Workshops, one Jane Friedman webinar of your choice, a 10-page manuscript review plus one-hour coaching session with me, and a query letter review by Allison K. Williams.

Holy giveaways, am I right?
Here’s this week’s challenge: 

Make a donation to any charity that supports families in need, and you’ll receive one ticket for this week’s drawing. 

Make donations to two different organizations and you’ll receive two tickets for this week’s drawing. 

Make three donations and receive three tickets. 

All tickets will be eligible for the grand-prize drawing.
The minimum donation is $10.00; however, I will reward those of you who donate $100 or more with extra tickets and access to a fabulous secret prize drawing. 
This week’s prize: $30 gift certificate to New Dominion Bookshop PLUS one copy each of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to BookThe War of ArtGetting to the Truth: The Craft and Practice of Creative NonfictionDoodling for WritersThe Best of Brevity (or The Story Cure), The Business of Being a Writer, and a signed copy of My Monticello by Jocelyn Johnson.

And yes, you will receive all these books, which makes this over a $150 value! 

Jocelyn Johnson’s breakout short story collection My Monticello has been featured on NPR’s 360 Books to Read and the New York Times. Netflix plans to adapt it into a movie. She’s a hometown hero who has been both my neighbor and yoga buddy. You’ll learn more about Jocelyn during an upcoming interview.
New Dominion is the oldest independent bookstore in Charlottesville, Virginia. They are a huge supporter of the Charlottesville writing community AND they can deliver anywhere in the United States.
If you read my interview with Ashleigh Renard, you know how important supporting your local independent bookstore is to your writing career. 
Here’s an added bonus: Make a donation to one of the charities listed below and I’ll give you three tickets for this week’s drawing. (And yes, you can get three additional tickets for each donation you make). 

What do you need to do to receive your ticket? 

    Sign up for my newsletter and then send me an email with a screen shot of your donation. All I need to see is the name of the charity and the amount, nothing else. (The minimum donation to qualify for the drawing is $10). That’s it.
    Are you struggling financially

    This giveaway is for everyone, regardless of your circumstances. Send me an email with pictures capturing three random acts of kindness you’ve completed and I’ll enter you in this week’s drawing and the grand-prize drawing. 

    Also (and this goes for everyone), recommend my newsletter to your followers and you can also get an extra ticket for my drawings. Just email me a screenshot of your post

    I’ll draw the first winner on Monday, December 6, 2021, at 7:00 PM EST. Consider this your deadline. The winner will be announced in my December 7th newsletter.

    Because I want us to do the greatest amount of good for our community, I’ll be sending reminders over the next few days. Feel free to delete them if your inbox is overburdened. I won’t be offended.

    If you’re a person who likes to think ahead, here’s a brief overview of the challenges to come.

    • Week two (12/712/13): Earn tickets by donating $10 to your favorite literary organization.
    • Week three (12/1412/20): Earn tickets by purchasing books or gift certificates at an independent bookstore. Bonus tickets will be awarded for books purchased through black-owned bookstores
    • Week four (12/2012/27): Earn tickets by writing reviews on Amazon and Goodreads for your favorite authors and earn a ticket toward one free coaching session with me

    If you’d love to support my #Giveaway4Good but you’re not interested in the prizes. you can send me an email letting me know about your donations and I’ll add them to our totals.

    Ready to scrap a writing project? Read this first.

    Ready to scrap a writing project? Read this first.

    Last Tuesday, Jane Friedman critiqued my website as part of her new series, The Business Clinic. At first, this offer sounded intimidating, but Jane is a dear friend and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to gain her insights, and in the process, help all of you. Plus, I trusted she would make this a positive experience for me and everyone else.  

    I’ve known for a while my website needs some major improvements. Unfortunately, theme customization by a onetime web designer has made those upgrades extremely challenging. On good days, regular updates take up a lot of my time. At its worst, the process makes me lose my cool. Imagine rage cleaning, but with less cleaning and a lot more swearing and a deep desire to throw some furniture.

    While I love swearing, rage designing isn’t something I relish, so I’ve avoided my website’s issues.

    But there comes a point when the work needed to avoid a problem exceeds the work required to fix it. That’s why I chose to participate in Jane’s new program.

    Going through a live critique elicited all the feels you might imagine, from elation about receiving such detailed advice, to overwhelm about that detailed advice, to angst as I discovered some of my site’s deficits along with everyone else.

    Concepts like metadata, SEO, Serpstat, and Google Console whirled through my head as I furiously scribbled notes about data tracking and the large- and small-scale changes I needed to make STAT. Fortunately, I have the resources to hire someone who can assist me with this reboot. But even then, I have to make all the decisions. After transcribing my ten pages of hand-written notes, I had the urge to scrap everything and start fresh.

    On Twitter, I’ve seen a number of NaNoWriMo participants who are also  in scrap-everything mode. They lament the plot holes they can’t cross or the characters who’ve destroyed their entire concept. Some have started entirely new stories, while others have given up.  

    It’s tempting to abandon your work when you’re frustrated and overwhelmed. But trashing your projects is like trashing yourself.

    Instead, what you need to do is pivot.

    According to Merriam Webster, pivot has two definitions. It can mean to turn on—as in she pivoted on her heel. Or it can mean to adapt or improve by adjusting or modifying something (such as a product, service, or strategy).

    Neither definition includes the words scrap, destroy, or abandon.

    What’s required is an adjustment. First, we adjust mentally to the idea of change, then we make the actual changes.

    Discontent helps us prepare for change. While it might be uncomfortable, discontent is actually your ally. When we get frustrated with our websites, suddenly hate our stories, or get bored with a concept, we’re open to doing something else and have a willingness to see things from a new angle.

    From that place of discontent, think of what you actually want. For example, if you’re working through your first NaNoWriMo, word count alone might be your focus. In this case, success might look like writing 50,000 words, even if they’re associated with multiple stories. But maybe you’ve done that before, or perhaps you really want to be a novelist. If that’s the case, your efforts need to be in service of a single story.

    Once you’ve mentally prepared for change and you know what you want, it’s time to turn on your heel.

    But before you shift, make a list of what’s working. Perhaps you have an engaging character, or a strong plot concept. Maybe your voice is captivating or your sentences sing. Place a list of your project’s strengths in an area where you can visit them regularly. More importantly, make them the foundation from which you’ll pivot. 

    Next, look for the small changes you can make. When it comes to storytelling, ask yourself the following questions.

    What if my problematic character did something else?
    What if I wrote the story in a slightly different way?
    What if I kept going and let the story work itself out? 

    Instead of cleaving to a specific genre or certain expectations for your story, let your story tell you what it wants to become. For example, maybe you need to accept that what you thought was comedy noir is actually a romance. A subtle change in your perception might be all that’s required. If you need more, keep characters that are working well and gently modify anything that’s getting in your way.  

    Next, affirm your ability to make these changes. Maybe you never thought you’d write a romance novel, and hell, you don’t even know what they include. But if you end up loving this story, you are a smart, capable, resourceful writer who knows how to read craft books, take classes, join forums, or whatever is needed to birth your story. You have what it takes to be successful.

    Now own your potential by writing some affirmations that remind you of your strengths. Keep them handy and read them regularly. Then reward yourself for every step along the path.

    If you stumble, remind yourself that writing projects, careers, and even websites require numerous shifts, pivots, and course corrections. But there are no failures; there are only iterations. 

    Sometimes we end up in a state of creative emptiness. This is how to replenish your inspiration.

    Sometimes we end up in a state of creative emptiness. This is how to replenish your inspiration.

    Over the past two weeks, I’ve watched the starlings practice their annual murmurations. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, murmurations are the intricate swooping sky dances some birds do when they fly in unison.

    On my early morning walks, I’d hear their squawks swell and then fall into a collective hush as the flock took off. During their air ballet, they’d chirp at each other in what I would imagine was a lot of, listen, listen, listen, fly left, now right, now back to the nest.

    I’d just grown accustomed to their daily routine when the birds left Charlottesville. I felt the ensuing silence in my bones.

    On Sunday, I was still sitting with this absence, when I attended a monthly meeting with a few of my writing peeps. 

    When asked how my writing life was going, I said terrible. It feels like my creativity has flown south, right along with those birds. I show up to my writing desk, but there’s no sense of flow. I struggle to form sentences, then go back and cross them out.

    The source of my creative emptiness is easy to pinpoint. I’m preparing for a big presentation. My calendar is overbooked with work tasks, home projects, and visits with friends. I love everything on my calendar, and yet I’m also aware that busyness has taken my creative energy. Plus, it’s taken two months to settle my house. If I’m honest, I’ve been craving a sense of order and maybe a little rest.

    And I hate resting more than a toddler.

    Creative emptiness and fatigue trigger my “get cracking” tendencies, that part of me that believes worthiness is about getting things done. Right now it’s convinced that warring with my current reality and yelling things at me like get going, pushpushpush and get this shit done! will help me complete my project. So far, working harder hasn’t worked.

    Have you ever felt like this?

    I’ve learned my “get cracking” isn’t an ally when it comes to creative emptiness. Instead, I need to pause and wait for further instructions from my place of deepest knowing. 

    Truly listening requires a sense of inner stillness and an openness to what is. My messages and insights come from a variety of different sources, including meditation, journaling, cards from my Osho Zen Tarot deck, or signs from nature like murmurations.

    Yesterday, as I worked to listen, I drew the following card from my Osho Zen deck.  

    Here’s part of this card’s message: “The truth of your own deepest being is trying to show you where to go right now, and when this card appears it means you can trust the inner guidance you’re being given.”

    After drawing this card, I did a short breath meditation then wrote what do you want me to know?  in my journal.  My inner knowing responded with relax, be patient, things will be different after next week. Your flow will return.

    Meditation can prepare you to listen whether you’re in a slump or sailing through your NaNoWriMo goals. Periods of stillness can help you discover what your characters want or where your story needs to go.

    But paying attention isn’t enough. How we listen matters.

    Many of us only stop to listen when we’re uncomfortable. Operating from a place of fear or melancholy, we clench our fists and beg for someone or something to ease our misery. But creativity arises from openness. As Taisen Deshimaru says, “Keep your hands open, and all the sands of the desert can pass through them. Close them, and all you can feel is a bit of grit.

    There are many ways to open clenched fists. 

    This past weekend I also attended an outdoor dinner hosted by a local writer. Fifteen of us watched the sun set behind her house, then ate chili as the stars twinkled overhead. Later, we gathered around her bonfire to talk about our writing lives. Someone who’d also been experiencing creative emptiness mentioned Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, a collection of short essays on life’s ordinary happy moments.

    Here’s a brief excerpt from one of his essays. 

    “A cup of coffee from a well-shaped cup. A fly, its wings hauling all the light in the room, landing on the porcelain handle as if to say, “Notice the precise flare of this handle, as though designed for the romance between the thumb and index finger that holding a cup can be.”

    The creatively empty writer shared that reading Rose’s book helped her pay attention to the thousands of small romances happening in her own life. Anticipating a daily delight is filling her creative tank and making her fallow time more pleasant. 

    My friend’s story made the drawing of this card feel inevitable. 

    My Osho Zen guidebook has this to say about the Sharing card. “When you draw this card, it suggests you too are in a situation where you have an opportunity to share your love, your joy, and your laughter.”

    In other words, focus on your abundance and delight. This is great advice whether you’re feeling stuck or making your word count. 

    Last night’s delight was the crescent moon slung below the north star. Today, it was the feeling of the warm air after several chilly days. 

    Showing up to your writing desk is yet another way to listen. Five minutes is enough. Write one sentence, or even a word. Open yourself to your muse and her epiphanies. Then say thank you for what you’re able to complete. Don’t worry about outcomes. 

    When you’re done, return to the rest of your life. Share your love, your joy, and your laughter with the world.

    When starlings begin their murmuration practice, they establish a home base, fly practice runs, and then return to the safety of a designated tree. There are pauses between each and every flight. As I think of their aerial ballets, I think their beauty stems from the pauses, between each flight. They’re in the air, and then they’re gone. Sometimes creativity behaves the same way. And yet, like the starlings it always returns to us. 

    Whether you’re happily churning out pages, or feeling stuck like me, know that our writing lives are filled with ebbs and flows. This is how creativity works. That means there’s no failure and no wrong place to be. If you’re feeling productive, ride that wave. If you’re running on empty, it just means your deepest knowing is calling to you. 

    Writing strategies are great, but if you want to make real progress, you need this.

    Writing strategies are great, but if you want to make real progress, you need this.

    Once upon a time, I wanted to be the coolest sister-in-law in the world.

    My first husband was sixteen when his baby brother was born. We took him for overnights, attended baseball and soccer games, and offered homework help. In the beginning, all it took to be the coolest was a little candy, a forbidden-yet-not-too-age-inappropriate movie, and some fort-building skills. But as my brother-in-law got older, remaining the coolest was a challenge.

    In the early aughts, we attended a summer outing at Kings Island amusement park along with several male relatives. After a morning with roller coaster rides, we headed for the water park.

    After a few waterslides, we encountered something called The Retro Flow Rider. Imagine a concrete basin lined with a dozen fire hoses that simulate surfable ocean waves.

    Everyone wanted to try this exciting new ride, and as the coolest sister-in-law in the world, I couldn’t refuse. That day, it seemed like the entire park waited along The Retro Flow Rider fence, ready to watch us catch some tasty waves or laugh when we fell.

    With each step forward I imagined and reimagined my impending wipeout, from the feel of the board giving way to the disappointing “Awe, dude!” the crowd yelled as I slid into the exit bay.

    When it was my turn, a tanned eighteen-year-old surfer dude thrust a boogie board at me, then fired off instructions I barely heard above the roaring hoses. My fifteen-year-old brother-in-law and all my male relatives cheered from the slide lines. I timidly stepped into the rushing water, placed the board under me, popped up for the briefest of seconds then slammed into the surprisingly rough concrete and skidded to a halt. As I exited the ride, I tried to ignore the angry scrape blossoming up my right side.

    The Retro Flow Rider taught me two important lessons: coolness is overrated, and watch what you imagine.

    Compared to the skydiving and rope-free rock climbs I’d completed in my twenties, The Retro Flow Rider should’ve been easy.

    There was one key difference between those experiences. When skydiving and rock climbing, I always believed in and imagined my unwavering success. That unwavering belief has also helped me complete countless manuscript drafts.

    Yesterday was the first day of NaNoWriMo. While there are a ton of strategies you can employ, they’ll be useless if you don’t believe in yourself.

    Belief has three components.

    First, you must envision your success. Mentally rehearse yourself writing the words the end. Imagine your smile when you reach your fifty thousandth word. Write a congratulations letter to yourself on Future Me then schedule its early December delivery. Every day, multiple times per day, say fifty thousand words.

    After you’ve envisioned your success, attend to your fears.

    During my skydiving days, I asked a guy with over three thousand jumps if he still got nervous before he skydived. He tugged on the macrame cross he always wore, then said, “The day I’m not afraid is the day I don’t jump.”

    Fear made him respect the activity—and himself—enough to show the utmost care and preparation.

    Fear is the body’s way of readying itself for action, whether that’s running from a tiger or acing an exam. Instead of seeing fear as the harbinger of failure, thank your body for seeing this work as important enough to prepare for action.

    Consider a mantra like this: Thank you for reminding me that my writing life is important and that my goal is asking for my attention. 

    That leads to the final aspect of belief—having the confidence to act as if. Show up to your writing desk. Write some words. If you begin to judge them, remember NaNoWriMo, like all goals, is about progress, not perfection. It’s about being 20,000, 30,000, or even 50,000 words closer to writing the end. That’s it.

    If you’re not participating in NaNoWriMo, think about the goal you’re currently working on. Are you imagining success or rehearsing a wipeout?


    Considering NaNoWriMo? Here’s what you need to know before making a commitment.

    Considering NaNoWriMo? Here’s what you need to know before making a commitment.

    On Sunday fall finally arrived.

    Goodbye sixty-degree mornings and balmy afternoons.  
    Hello dark, cold mornings, colorful leaves, and a return of my ugly sweaters. 

    My favorite ugly sweater is almost fifteen years old. The worn, faded fabric is nubbly with pills. The elbows are worn through. Wearing it makes me look like a bag lady, but I don’t care. In this sweater, I’ve written published essays and book drafts.
    Ugly sweaters are probably my favorite part of fall. 

    They’re a sign of productivity and perseverance—something many writers are preparing to channel as they take on one of the year’s biggest writing challenge: NaNoWriMo.
    For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel (or memoir) draft during the month of November. 
    That’s 7,142 words per week or 1,666 words per day. 
    In 2006, NaNoWriMo became an official nonprofit. If you sign up for the challenge on their site they’ll share their writing resources with you. They can even help you join an official NaNoWriMo writing group. 
    Three years ago, I NaNoWriMo’d my way to the first draft of my memoir, How Not to Die. It was thrilling to discover I could indeed write 50,000 words over the course of a month, and that some of those words weren’t half bad. 
    So how do you decide whether to NaNoWriMo? 
    NaNoWriMo is great for completing first drafts of new projects. While you can NaNoWriMo your way through revisions, this can be more challenging because revision is an unpredictable beast that can leave you staring at a single sentence for hours. That musing time is an essential part of the revision process, but it can quickly eat into your word count. 
    Throughout November, I’ll use this newsletter to share tips that can help you churn out your weekly goals.  
    For now, I’d like to take you through my NaNoWriMo decision-making process. 
    Signs you’re ready to NaNoWriMo: 

    • You’re prepared to start a new project.
    • You can dedicate at least one to two hours per day toward this goal, or you can schedule a few all-day writing sessions.
    • You have a solid outline (if you’re a plotter) or you’re ready to writewritewrite your way to a quick and dirty draft.
    • You value progress over perfection.

    If this is you, recruit a few pals and prepare to NaNoWriMo. 

    If you’re on the fence, focusing on revision, or not yet working on a project, you can still create a modified NaNoWriMo goal that deepens your writing practice.

    Here’s what that might look like: 

    • New Writer goal: Part of claiming or reclaiming a writing practice is developing your creative discipline and stamina. If you’re a new writer, or you’re interested in reclaiming your writing habit, setting a daily goal of even one hundred words, or writing for five minutes per day, can help you develop a consistent practice.
    • Busy Person Goal: Maybe you are working on a project, but don’t have oodles of time to devote to your writing life. Could you devote 10 or 20 minutes per day, five days per week? Or could you set a more modest goal, like drafting 10,000 words? 
    • Revision Goal: If you’re working through revisions, establish a November goal that allows for some musing time. This could include revising an act of your book or selecting a 10,000-word excerpt to focus on. You could even follow Allison Williams’s advice from Seven Drafts and retype your manuscript. 

    Participating in a full or modified NaNoWriMo can build camaraderie with other writers working in the deadline trenches. Commiserating, celebrating, and swapping ideas with your fellow NaNoWriMo participants can increase your accountability, and for some people, your productivity. 

    But now is not always the best time to set a formidable goal. 

    Here are a few reasons to avoid NaNoWriMo: 

    • Perfection is your kryptonite: If failure to come up with the perfect word causes paralysis, NaNoWriMo will amplify these feelings. This could stifle your overall progress and tank your motivation. A stifled perfectionist is likely to feel devastated if that 50,000-word goal isn’t achieved. 
    • Spending a month in a competitive win/lose environment isn’t your jam: Some people thrive in competitive environments, others wilt. If losing or getting behind crushes your motivation or causes you to fall into toxic comparison, steer clear of this event—or at least participate in a smaller, unofficial version.  
    • You’re hunting for a rainbow unicorn: Some writers mistakenly believe they’ll blast out a 50,000-word novel, query in January, and sign a six-figure book deal by Groundhog Day. Let me burst that unicorn bubble. Drafts created during NaNoWriMo are largely terrible, first takes on a story. Many of these drafts are abandoned soon after the event ends. The best ones serve as an outline for a future, well-written draft that will take months to perfect. Bottom line: agents don’t want to see your NaNoWriMo draft. If you send it anyway, they’ll likely ghost you. 
    • Your stories take longer to bake: Completing a 50,000-word story in thirty days is a daunting task for some and completely unrealistic for others. I know writers, like Bret Anthony Johnston, who can’t write a single word until they’ve completely figured out the story in their heads. It once took Bret ten years to understand a story, but the end result was an award winner. If you’re a slow baker, NanNoWriMo probably isn’t for you.
    • Your November is already booked: If you already have extensive holiday plans or intense work deadlines signing up for NaNoWriMo could easily become one more thing on your to-do list. This can lead to resentments that turn you into an asshole. Life is short. Be kind to others and yourself. If the month is already booked, skip NaNoWriMo
    • Your body calls for rest: Some people see fall as a time of heightened productivity after a restful summer. But other bodies are called to more seasonal patterns. The latter months of fall are a time of darkness, stillness, and reflection. If your body wants to fall into this rhythm, let it. You can NaNoWriMo during your more productive season. 

     are you ready to NaNoWriMo? 
    If you’re ready commit, are you all in, or would a modified goal better suit your style? 
    Or should you sit this one out?
    Send me an email with your decision. I’d love to hear from you. 
    And, I’d also love to hear about your favorite ugly clothing item. Send me a description, or better yet, a picture. If I hear from enough of you, my ugly sweater might make an appearance in next week’s newsletter. 

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