Seven Steps for Writing During Uncertain Times

Seven Steps for Writing During Uncertain Times

I had already planned what I was going to write to you, and then life intervened. 

On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, I was working on a client manuscript when texts began to arrive. 

Have you seen the news? 
Do you know what’s happening? 
What have you heard? 

Stories about the insurrection happening at the United States Capitol were all over Twitter, Facebook, and the news. The images reminded me of the Unite the Right Rally held here in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017.

Needless to say, I’ve been somewhat distracted ever since. 

On top of the daily barrage of COVID stressors, I’ve spent some time facing old memories and sitting with the uncertainty and division plaguing our country. 

I want to know what’s going to happen. 
I want to know we’re going to be okay. 
I want a return to the calm I once knew. 

I know some of you live outside the United States. The anxieties you face might be quite different. And yet, during our COVID times, it’s likely something is happening in your part of the world. 

Maybe you’re distracted too.

Maybe that distraction is stealing your precious creative energy. 

Maybe you’re wondering how to keep writing or whether writing matters at all. 

First, let me affirm that writing is essential in times like these.

When you write down your thoughts and feelings, you allow them to live on the page rather than inside you.

This can give you enough distance to find your center and develop a sense of perspective around what’s going on.

Documenting events, as well as your thoughts and feelings, can serve as a historical record—one that might serve future projects.  

But let’s say that’s not enough. 
A story calls to you. 
You know it has a higher purpose, and you don’t want to lose your momentum. 

How do you keep writing when uncertainty continues? 

Here are some tips that might help you. 

  1. Admit that you’re distracted and that it’s affecting your work. Until you acknowledge what is, you can’t do anything about it. 
  2. Journal to get in touch with your feelings. If you’re afraid, what comfort and reassurances do you need? If you’re angry, what boundaries have been crossed? Where is that anger coming from? How much is related to what’s happening right now? How much is related to unexpressed anger from a past event? What’s underneath that anger? Is it fear, sadness, grief, humiliation, or powerlessness? As you explore these feelings, see if they’re related to your work in progress. Or, can you harness some of that angsty energy and divert it to your writing projects? 
  3. Limit your intake of news and social media. Doom scrolling doesn’t solve the world’s problems. It will, however, inflame your uncomfortable feelings. Consume enough to stay informed and safe, but that’s it.
  4. Commit to practicing self-care. This means healthy food, regular movement, adequate sleep, time for quiet, and time for fun. 
  5. Connect with people who love and support you. Restless minds grow more restless in isolation. Connecting with others can help break that cycle.
  6. Find your center. There’s a still, small place inside all of us that is always calm and always wise. Make a list of practices you’ve developed for finding your center. Then, go practice them. If you’re looking for some new ones, consider the following options: 
    1. Spend five minutes doing alternate nostril breathing.
    2. Close your eyes, inhale, and imagine you’re sending your breath to your solar plexus. Now, imagine there’s a trampoline at the bottom of it. When the air hits the trampoline, it bounces back up and exhales out of your body. Repeat this for five minutes. 
    3. Complete a body scan meditation
    4. Practice Metta Loving Kindness meditation. Metta can give you a positive sense of control at times that feel out of control. 
  7. Once you’ve found your center, consider what right actions you need to take. That might mean anything from speaking out about something, setting a boundary, and recommitting to a project, to beginning or ending a relationship.  I can’t tell you what right actions you should take, but I can tell you that right actions come from a centered place. They’re not always easy or welcome in the short run, but they always serve love and peace. If you’re not sure what actions to take, do nothing other than find and maintain your inner peace. When it’s time for you to do something, you’ll know.  You can use this quote from Viktor Frankl as a guide: “Between stimulus and the response there is a space, in that space is our power to choose our response, in our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Spend time in that space between stimulus and response.
Access your power.
Be in charge of your freedom and growth. 

 If you’re meant to continue with a specific writing project, your muse will stand by you. 

If it’s taking a break, have faith that it will return when the time is right. It’s just giving you space for other, equally important work. 

We will get through this. I have an abiding faith that while January 6, 2021,  knocked me off my center, peace, love, and positive times are ahead of us. 

I believe in you and your work.

As you go through this week, may you be healthy, happy, and in a state of peace. 

The Power of Envisioning and Affirming Your Success

The Power of Envisioning and Affirming Your Success

Every New Years’ Day I complete the same ritual.

Around noon, I close the door to my bedroom or office, light a candle, and pull out the New Year journal I started when I was eleven.
Inside the journal are thirty-five-years-worth of resolutions, goals, and entries about my life and current events. After getting comfortable, I read a few select entries and then write one for the coming year. Each entry contains my new goals, a journal entry about the past year, a few notes about historical events, and a list of my gratitudes.  
Before starting my 2020 entry, I read through the ones from 1996 – 2000—what I call my personal 2020 experience. In 1996, I was twenty-two and believed I had all the answers. I was so sure I could handle anything that I wrote “This is the year I win” on the top of my 1997 entry. By the end of 1997, I’d lost a friend, my brother, and my grandfather. My marriage nearly ended. My job was a total disaster. Oh, and I almost died too. 

That was such a painful and humbling time in my life, and yet I can now see that it held so many gifts.

Writing about 2020 was just as humbling. Pain and problems were easy to spot. The first resolutions that came to mind sounded a lot like “Take this away,” “I don’t want any more of that,” and, “Make me a better….” 
On January 3, I listened to a talk by Reverend Don Lansky on the topic of resolutions. He said that often our resolutions focus on our flaws and what we’d like to eliminate. We say things like “I want to lose ten pounds, or “stop procrastinating,” or “become a better writer.” The message behind each of these statements is that I am currently lacking something that will make me successful.  
To actually have the lives we want, we need to affirm that we are already successful. For example, instead of saying you want to stop procrastinating, say “I  use my time wisely.” Instead of wanting to be a better writer, claim that you are a writer who produces beautiful stories. 
If you haven’t already done so, take a moment to write down your 2021 writing goals.

Be sure to write down both the big goals and the milestones along the way. 
Don’t have any? Start with making some time to write. 
What does success look like?  Be specific.

Now, what does success feel like? Imagine this as vividly as possible. 
Every day, upon waking up, I complete a meditation that helps me envision my success.
For my upcoming milestone, it looks like a message in my inbox from an agent asking to represent me. It feels like a smile that begins in my chest and radiates across my face. For my big goal, success looks like a book signing. At the signing, I feel the weight of my book in my hands as I prepare to greet the readers who have been touched by my story. 
I rehearse this like an athlete rehearses for a big game. 
Envisioning my success holds me accountable to my goals and encourages me to behave as if this has already happened. That means turning a keen eye to my manuscript, sticking with my writing schedule, and minimizing distractions. When I have doubts, it means affirming my potential. 
I’ll be sharing an envisioning meditation with my upcoming coaching clients and students in Building Creative Intuition.

If we’re not working together, I have another way for you to practice this skill. 
Close your eyes and imagine how you’ll feel once you’ve achieved your first 2021 milestone. 
Next, get out a piece of paper and write a letter from your future self. 
In this letter, you’re going to congratulate yourself for your success and specifically name the steps you took to make your goal a reality. You’ll also talk about how it feels to be successful. Imagine this as vividly as you can.
If this feels like total b.s. or just plain weird, try it anyway. What do you have to lose? 
Now, you have two options.
Option one: Seal your letter in an envelope then put it somewhere safe. Pick a date when you will open the letter and set a reminder in your calendar.
Option two: Type your letter into and schedule its delivery sometime in the future. 

Then notice what happens.  
If a project or an idea is calling to you, it has a higher purpose.

Be courageous enough to answer that call and diligent enough to make it happen. 
I’m cheering you on. 

The reason I have a folder titled “Why I Teach”

The reason I have a folder titled “Why I Teach”

When I first began teaching a mentor told me to create a folder labeled “Why I Teach.” 
She said working with humans was rewarding, messy, and unpredictable. Some days would be high points. Others would be the pits. 
Ninety-five percent of the time, I would have no idea whether I made an impact, or if I did, what that impact was. 

That was twenty years ago. My mentor was right. Teaching is rewarding, messy, and unpredictable. 
Teachers must have faith that somewhere, somehow, we are making a difference and our efforts are enough. 
Whenever someone thanks me, their card or note goes into the “Why I Teach” folder that still sits in my file cabinet. On hard days, when I worry that I haven’t been helpful or I wonder if all this hard work is making a difference, the folder reminds me to stay the course. 
Four years ago, I started this newsletter with a simple mission. I wanted to pay forward the support I’d been given on my writing journey by sharing inspiration and tips I’d learned along the way. 
Writing this newsletter is an act of faith. Ninety-five percent of the time, I have no idea whether it has an impact. 
To those of you who have sent me thank-you letters or shared your stories, I am deeply grateful. 
Your words are printed and placed in my folder so I can remind myself why this is important. 
Whether you’re a new subscriber or you’ve been with me from the very beginning, I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. 
Thank you for believing that your stories matter. 
Thank you for working to perfect them so they can change the world. 
For those who have worked with me, thank you for trusting me with your stories and your precious creative lives. Your projects and tenacity inspire me. I feel so honored to have had the privilege of watching you grow. 
Over the past thirty days, you have written a new end to 2020—one that is filled with love, connectivity, and hope. 
You’ve donated $20,279 to families in need.

You’ve supported independent bookstores across North America.
You’ve written reviews for your fellow writers.
You’ve donated $2,245 to literary organizations at a time when they desperately need your help.
You’ve thanked countless mentors.
In January, I would like to say thank you by inviting you to join my 31-day writing challenge. 
During this 31-day writing challenge, you’ll receive a short (as in 3 – 4 sentence) daily email that will help you start or build momentum on any project.
There are no costs associated with this challenge. 
All you need to do is sign up by sending an email to and then check your inbox. 

Because we’re all busy, emails will only be sent to those who actively sign up for the challenge
So, as we wrap up 2020, I hope you reflect on the good in your life even as we hold space for the uncertainty and hardships we’ve all faced. 
I want to wish you the happiest of New Years.
I can’t wait to see how your writing life unfolds in 2021.  

#Giveaway4Good Week Four: The Power of Saying Thank You

#Giveaway4Good Week Four: The Power of Saying Thank You

When I was a senior in high school, I lived with the family I’d babysat for since my freshman year. The father was an English teacher at a nearby middle school, the mother a chemical engineer. 

Three weeks before my high school graduation, I decided to enter my school’s creative writing contest. The night before the contest’s deadline, the father helped me revise my piece until almost one in the morning.

Someone else won the contest, but I was stunned by his belief in my potential. 

Eight years later, I finally won my first creative writing contest. I was twenty-six and had just graduated with my bachelor’s degree. Certain the announcement was a fake, I confronted my creative writing professor. 

“Of course you won. It was a great piece.” He shook his head like my concerns were ridiculous. Even though I was full of doubts, he saw me as a writer. 

In 2014, I signed up for a memoir writing class during the peak of my battle with Lyme disease. I was forty and most days, my brain felt like scrambled eggs. My ideas were mushy and fragmented. I struggled to retrieve words and quickly lost my train of thought. My spelling was atrocious, and my grammar sucked. My instructor saw past those deficits and praised the beauty of my scene work. 

Each of these mentors taught me valuable lessons about the craft of writing. But their real gift was helping me believe in myself.  

If you’re reading this email, it’s likely someone has also given you this gift. 

That leads me to my final 2020 #Giveaway4Good Challenge. 

Between now and 7:00 PM EST on December 28, 2020, I’d like you to thank someone who’s impacted your writing career. 

For saying thank you, you’ll be entered into this week’s drawing for a prize pack from the organizations you supported during week three.

This prize pack includes: 

If one of these organizations has supported your writing journey, the greatest form of gratitude you can express is a donation so they can continue to serve writers. 

To learn more about these amazing organizations or how you can donate to them, click here


To enter this week’s drawing, reply to this email. Include the name of the person or organization you are thanking and one sentence about how they’ve impacted your writing journey. 


I’ll give you one ticket for each person you thank. 

You’ll receive two tickets for a financial donation to any literary organization. 

You’ll receive four tickets for thanking James River WritersHippocampus Literary MagazineBrevity, or Creative Nonfiction with a gift of ten-dollars or more. 


On top of this week’s prize pack, you’ll also be entered in my grand-prize drawing for a one-hour coaching session with me (includes a 10-page manuscript review), PLUS a spot in Jane Friedman’s self-study course How to Write a Book Proposal

So, who are you going to thank? 

Your message might be the greatest gift this person receives this year. 

Giveaway4Good Week Three: Four Self-Serving Reasons For Joining James River Writers

Giveaway4Good Week Three: Four Self-Serving Reasons For Joining James River Writers

James River Writers is a nonprofit writing organization located in Richmond, Virginia, about one hour from Charlottesville. They host a monthly Writing Show, master classes, social gatherings, and an annual multi-genre conference. Of all the conferences I attend, this one’s closest to home.  

One of my first agent pitches happened at the 2016 James River Writer’s Conference. This session was a free perk offered to all conference attendees—a rarity in the writing world. If you’re working on a book, I highly recommend these pitch sessions!

Let me set the stage for my pitch session. 

It was 11:00 A.M. on a Saturday morning. I’d had three too many cups of coffee and worried that I was on the brink of a deodorant malfunction. Five other writers waited in line with me. The woman in front was pitching a historical romance. Neither one of us had done this before. During our ten-minute wait, we whispered our pitches to each other then said good luck as we were ushered to our respective tables. 

After our whirlwind meeting, we hugged in the middle of the hotel lobby, celebrating our pitching victories. Both agents had requested our manuscripts.

During that morning’s opening event, Executive Director Katharine Herndon had said, “Welcome to your tribe.”

It’s hard to create that vibe when the literary interests of your audience are so diverse. But somehow Katharine and her team pulled it off. If she hadn’t, there’s no way two introverted strangers would’ve shared that long mid-conference hug. 

This year, I served as one of the 2020 James River Writers Conference presenters and witnessed Katharine’s staff transition their annual conference to an online format. Not only was the transfer seamless, but the conference meet-and-greet opportunities maintained that same sense of connection I’d felt at past events.

I encouraged clients and students from across the country to attend. After the conference was over, one wrote to me and said attending the 2020 James River Writers Conference made her feel like a real writer. It gave her the courage to keep working on her writing goals. 

She’d claimed her space as a writer just like I had at the 2015 Creative Nonfiction Conference

Perhaps you live far from Richmond, and you’re wondering why you should support this organization. I’ll give you four self-serving reasons. 

  1. Agent pitch sessions will help you get clear on your project. Pitch well, and the agent will give you their email address and request a submission. That connection means they’re more likely to open your email and thoughtfully consider your work.  
  2. If one of your dreams is to publish a book, making connections at literary organizations well in advance of your book launch is essential. Signing up for the JRW newsletter or a membership will help you better understand what they do and how you can be of service. 
  3. It takes a village to raise a writer. While a homegrown writing community is essential, it’s also important to branch out. Perhaps you want to be on a conference panel or would like to find an author who can serve as a launch partner. Someone in a distant city might be just what you’re looking for. 
  4. Since all of their events are currently online, and it’s free to sign up for their newsletter, you have absolutely nothing to lose.

But you have lots to gain by supporting them, including tickets for this week’s drawing for a set of author-signed books published during 2020 by Sharon HarriganAthena DixonLara LillibridgeMolly HowesRose Anderson, AND a spot in Jane Friedman’s self-study Query Master Class.

You’ll also receive a bonus copy of the book on publishing I recommend to every writer  The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman. The winner will also get a seat in Jane Friedman’s self-study Query Master Class.

You’ll also be entered in my grand prize drawing for a one-hour coaching session (includes a 10-page manuscript review) PLUS a seat in Jane Friedman’s self-study course How to Write a Book Proposal

Not bad, for doing something that could serve you so well. 

Financial donations and memberships are worth four tickets for this week’s drawing. 

To make a donation, click here

To sign up for a membership, click here. 

Other ways you can earn tickets by supporting James River Writers:

  • Following them on Facebook and Twitter,
  • Subscribe to their  e-newsletter
  • When you see them sharing their programs and the accomplishments of their writing family through their communications, you can then turn around and share them with your sphere of influence, helping us all reach a wider audience. 

 To enter this week’s drawing, reply to this email.

Please include the amount of your donation or a screenshot of your social media support.

To learn more about the challenge or how supporting Creative NonfictionBrevity, Hippocampus Literary Magazine, or any other literary nonprofit can help you score tickets for this challenge, click here

Thank you in advance for your literary citizenship. 

Giveaway4Good Week Three: The Importance of Writing with Both Skill and Heart

Giveaway4Good Week Three: The Importance of Writing with Both Skill and Heart

By the time I discovered that Mary Karr was the keynote speaker for the 2016 HippoCamp conference I was out of travel funds. Over the next few months, online friends raved about the event. So, as soon as the 2017 conference opened up, I registered. 

I drove to Lancaster, PA with a fellow student in a Memoir in a Year class. We walked into the Marriott ballroom feeling like outsiders, but by Sunday afternoon it was as if we’d spent the weekend with old friends. 

As an introvert, the phrase meet-and-greet sends chills up my spine. I attend these social gatherings because they’re essential networking activities, but the feeling I most associate with them is awkward. 

I’m not sure whether the potato martini bar or Amish-country vibe set the tone for HippoCamp’s Friday night meet-and-greet. But I know it was my entry into the HippoCamp family.

It didn’t matter if you’d just written your first word or you were the keynote speaker. Everyone was treated like an equal.

Over the past three years, I’ve had the pleasure of learning from so many talented writers. Presentations by Laurie Jean Cannady and Reema Zaman on trauma narratives inspired me to use my experience as a former mental health counselor to design a presentation on writing about trauma.

Listening to Melanie Brooks read from her book Writing Hard Stories, reminded me that we write to heal, and for countless writers, publishing their hard stories has been transformational. Rae Pagliarulo revealed the intricacies of the addiction memoir subgenera while Athena Dixon gave me strategies for dealing with my inner critic. 

While Creative Nonfiction gave me the skills to write well-crafted essays, HippoCamp presenters showed me how to wield those skills with an open heart.

Essays published in Hippocampus Literary Magazine’s online journal exemplify the beauty that results when craft meets heart. 

In 2019, I was one of HippoCamp’s speakers. That same year, one of my essays was a finalist in Hippocampus’s Remember in November contest. I look forward to presenting for HippoCamp again in 2021. 

I’m deeply honored to be part of the HippoCamp family and to support Donna and her team as they work tirelessly to support creative nonfiction writers as they discover their voices and tell their important stories. 

Make a ten-dollar donation to Hippocampus Literary Magazine and you’ll earn four tickets toward this week’s drawing. 

My week three prize is a set of author-signed books published during 2020 by Sharon HarriganAthena DixonLara LillibridgeMolly HowesRose and Anderson AND a spot in Jane Friedman’s self-study Query Master Class.

You’ll also get a copy of the book I recommend most frequently to all authors, The Business of Being a Writer. This prize is a $200 value, all for supporting the organizations that support you. 

To donate,  click here

Other ways you can earn tickets by supporting Hippocampus Literary Magazine:

  • Read a Hippocampus Magazine story or article, comment on it, and share with followers on at least one platform.
  • Suggest a Books by Hippocampus book to a local library, indie bookstore, or to a friend/family member as a holiday gift idea. 
  • Add a Books by Hippocampus book to the “to-read” section of your Goodreads account. If you’ve read one of their books, write a review for both Amazon AND Goodreads. 

 To enter this week’s drawing, send an email to

Please include the amount of your donation or a screenshot of your social media support. 

To learn more about the challenge or how supporting Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, James River Writers, or any other literary nonprofit can help you score tickets for this challenge, click here

Thank you in advance for your literary citizenship. 

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