Make Your Own Writer’s Retreat

This past weekend, I took three days to myself and created my own writing residence/meditative retreat. Last fall was a wonderful time professionally, but a tough time personally. At my husband’s encouragement, I decided to book a cute Airbnb in Santa Barbara with access to a private beach as a vacation by myself. I set an away message on my email. Took my favorite magazines and a book. I turned off my phone. I didn’t watch any TV.

Unlike my normal work week, I didn’t set a schedule. I walked to the beach. Saw seals sunning themselves. Ate prepared meals so I wouldn’t have to cook. Slept when I was tired.

And wrote all day. Did I mention the beach? For me, there’s nothing more relaxing than ocean waves, walking on sand, and seeing blue water.

Before I even booked the bungalow for the weekend, I hemmed and hawed about being selfish and spending money on this “vacation.” I’m not great about spending money on myself. But during the trip, I felt a huge sense of relief and calm. It was the first time in many months that I didn’t have to think about what anyone else wanted. If I wanted to spend three hours on the beach, I spent three hours on the beach.

When I first arrived at my bungalow, the owner asked me if anyone else was coming with me. “Nope, just me,” I said. And I needed that time. Before the trip, I felt easily frustrated, ready to snap, and got angry over little things. I realized that it was time to get away and relax.

Too often, I make excuses about why I shouldn’t spend money on myself. But honestly, this was money well spent.

If you’ve been dying to finish a creative project, I highly encourage you to book a room somewhere, unplug, and take a walk. You deserve it.

Interview with YA Debut Author Jenn Marie Thorne

Debuts March 17, 2015

I first met Jenn Marie Thorne back in 2007 when I joined her and fellow writers for a Wednesday writing group in Santa Monica. We met weekly to discuss our own work, read writing, and support each other. I moved to the Bay Area in 2010, moved back to LA in 2013, and by then Jenn had moved to Florida. But I’ve been tracking her writing career as a young adult author and it’s amazing to see an artist grow from back then to now! Her very first young adult novel is out tomorrow, but I’m sure it won’t be her last. Jenn was kind enough to share about her experience as a first-time author and what’s she learned in the process. Here’s a bit more about her book (grab a copy here):

THE WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT description

Kate Quinn’s mom died last year, leaving Kate parentless and reeling. So when the unexpected shows up in her living room, Kate must confront another reality she never thought possible—or thought of at all. Kate does have a father. He’s a powerful politician. And he’s running for U.S. President. Suddenly, Kate’s moving in with a family she never knew she had, joining a campaign in support of a man she hardly knows, and falling for a rebellious boy who may not have the purest motives. This is Kate’s new life. But who is Kate? When what she truly believes flies in the face of the campaign’s talking points, she must decide. Does she turn to the family she barely knows, the boy she knows but doesn’t necessarily trust, or face a third, even scarier option?

Set against a backdrop of politics, family, and first love, this is a story of personal responsibility, complicated romance, and trying to discover who you are even as everyone tells you who you should be.

1) How did you get started in writing young adult books?

The first full-length novel I ever wrote was actually a middle grade fantasy, but I realized in revision that one of the problems with it was that I kept dwelling on a subplot involving the protagonist’s teenaged sister. I mulled rewriting it as her story, but then a bunch of other ideas took precedence—and they were all YA. My second book got my agent’s attention, but she signed me after reading my third one, and that’s the one that became THE WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT.

2) Your debut novel, WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT, is about Kate Quinn who discovers that her biological father is a politician running for president. Since your novel deals with politics, what research did you do to create the world of your book?

I started by reading some great political nonfiction, like Game Change. I watched The War Room, that amazing documentary about the Clinton ’92 campaign and that gave me a really strong sense of the feel of a campaign, the camaraderie and stress, along with a sense of the visuals. I had friends who were active in the Obama campaign as well, some quite high up in the ranks, so I looked through their Facebook feeds and videos for more intel. And I googled extensively, whenever I had a question about a detail.

3) What was your process from the idea to publication?

I did a plotting workshop as part of an online writers forum, which was pretty revelatory, and then I did NaNo, with an extensive outline in hand. I revised over the holidays, sent to beta readers in the new year, and had a draft ready to send to my now agent by March. And, of course, I revised the book approximately one gazillion more times between my book deal and the final draft.

4) What advice would you give to writers who want to break into YA?

Read YA. Read tons and tons and tons of YA novels—and not just the ones that have been made into movies. When I wrote my MG novel, I had no idea how derivative it was, because I hadn’t read widely in my genre. I’m grateful for that drawer novel, but it would have behooved me to hold off on writing it before I’d gotten a stronger understanding of, become inspired by, and formed a point of difference from what was out there already.

5) What YA books are on your to-be-read list?

SO MANY. The absolute top of my TBR right now is The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski. That’ll be my reward after my book launches and I can take a little break. I’m also drooling over another forthcoming debut, The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh.

Learn more Jenn Marie Thorne on her website or Twitter at @juniperjenny.

YA author Jenn Marie Thorne

YA author Jenn Marie Thorne

Donate Part of Your Income

Click on the image to learn about the artist, Stephanie Martel.

When I first read May Cause Miracles by Gabrielle Bernstein, she mentions donating 10 percent of your income to charity. At first, I was resistant to this idea. As a freelance writer, I don’t make a ton of money. But the more I thought about it, I realized that I can donate my time to organizations that matter like 826LA (writing and tutoring classes for students without arts programs) or The Blank Theater (which runs a Young Playwrights Festival).

In addition to my volunteer work, I decided this year to donate a portion of my income to worthy charities. I mostly donate to animal organizations such as Farm Sanctuary, Mercy for Animals, and Gentle Barn, but I reached out to my Facebook friends and asked for suggestions. The response was tremendous. I felt inspired to rotate my donations amongst several suggested organizations. Here’s the list, the organization’s mission statement, and how you can help.

1. Downtown Women’s Center

Mission: Located in Downtown Los Angeles, this shelter offers housing, wellness programs, a local veternans program, education, and employment for homeless women.

Donate: Time, money, wishlist of goods

2. Bridge of Books Foundation

Mission: Provide an ongoing source of books to underprivileged and at-risk children throughout New Jersey in order to support literacy skills and to encourage a love of reading.

Donate: Time, money, books, or run a book drive

3. Food on Foot

Mission: Since March of 1996, Food on Foot has operated as a volunteer-based, non-profit organization providing hot dinners, snacks (fresh fruit, carrots, granola bars and bread), and drinks (bottled water and milk) to as many as 200 homeless and poor individuals and families each week. During our weekly meal service each Sunday in Hollywood, we also distribute gently used clothing and other essentials.

Donate: Money or volunteer

4. Fugees Family

Mission: We provide refugee boys and girls, grades 6-12, with mentorship, structure, and support to help them succeed in soccer and academics.

Donate: To build a school or add to a scholarship fund

5. MyAgro

Mission: myAgro envisions moving a million small-scale farmers beyond subsistence farming and out of poverty by 2022 by creating a model in West Africa that other distribution networks around the world can integrate into their own program offerings.

Donate: Money or apply to the fellowship program

6. Fractured Atlas

Mission: Classics in Color focuses on producing vibrantly cast classic works for the stage, expanding the perception of classical theatre. As a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic ensemble, Classics in Color embraces the theatre of inclusion, on stage and off, opening up and extending the understanding of classic tales, tales of the human experiences that touch us all: the depth of despair, the sensation of success, the heart-driven love, the beauty of forgiveness, and the need to belong.

Donate: Money or support a sponsored artist

7. Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches

Mission: Working within the Asian, Indian, Latino, and Black communities, A3M’s mission is to improve the health and welfare of all people by providing education and assistance while facilitating prompt access to potential marrow and blood cell donors.

Donate: Money or sign up to be a bone marrow donor (it’s a very simple swab!)

8. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Mission: The mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is to advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. Consistent with the vision of our founder Danny Thomas, no child is denied treatment based on race, religion or a family’s ability to pay.

Donate: Money or volunteer

9. Project Sister

Mission: From volunteer Lauren Candia, “Project SISTER is a rape crisis center. They take calls with survivors and accompany them to the hospital, provide counseling services, accompany survivors to the court hearings, and they also have outreach and educational services.”

Donate: Volunteer or donate (the donation button isn’t working on the site, but call for more information)

10. Literacy Partners

Mission: We strengthen families by empowering parents through education. With our free classes, low-income parents gain the skills to create a better life for themselves while transferring important literacy skills to their children. Together, we can close the achievement gap before children even begin school.

Donate: Share a book that inspired you, money, or volunteer

11. AIDS Resource Foundation for Children

Mission: We help children and families who are impacted by HIV/AIDS or who have other serious medical conditions to be resilient and to build healthier futures.

Donate: Money, family goods, or volunteer

5 Tips for Dealing With Fear as a Creative Person

Fear comes up almost daily for me when I’m just about to write. Fear says things like: you can’t do this, nothing will ever come of this, you’re going to fail. One of the best things I’ve learned from author and motivational speaker Gabrielle Bernstein is that FEAR is False Expectations Appearing Real.

Unlike a horror movie where your best bet is to run away from the big bad fear, creative people have to be willing to stare that FEAR in the face and keep going. Here are my tips for fighting through the false expectations and keep creating.

1. Surround yourself with positive inspiration.

I have a quote on my wall next to my desk that says, “If you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.—Conan O’Brien.” It keeps me on track for those moments when I feel scared.

2. Develop a mantra for when FEAR shows up.

I repeat to myself, false expectations appearing real. Some times I have to say it multiple times before FEAR takes a hike, but it works. Whatever helps you clear the cobwebs, say it.

3. Write/create/develop through the FEAR.

Often I look at something I’m writing and think, ugh, that’s awful. But I combat that with, keep going, revise later, and finish this. Just keep powering through.

4. Remember that often the scariest moments in our lives bring us the most unexpected wonderful opportunities.

Any time I’ve been afraid to do something, but did it anyway, there’s been amazing results. I was afraid of moving to LA, but now I love it. I was afraid to date my best friend, and now he’s my husband. I was afraid to publish personal stories, but they have been my best work. Change was scary, but it changed my life for the better.

5. FEAR is good for you.

This might sound crazy, but FEAR is good for you. My therapist tells me that my FEAR is a terrible predictor for the future, but very good information for the present. What does she mean? What I fear most likely won’t happen, but it tells me what I need to take care of in the present. Write down your fears—what’s a common theme? Is there an action you can take to combat those fears? Just like this quotation from Mastin Kipp, founder of The Daily Love, fear is a compass. Use it to your advantage.

Thank You For Reading

Click the photo to take you to the shop that sells this as a cute stamp.

As a writer, a lot of my time is spent alone—contemplating, rewriting, brainstorming, pitching, and ruminating. A month ago, a personal essay I wrote for BuzzFeed about my miscarriage sparked an enormous response from women and men. I had received dozens of emails from all over the world, tweets, and Facebook messages from women who had gone through miscarriages and wanted to share their stories with me. Some had never talked about it to anyone. Some had told me that they were told to “get over it” by a friend or even a husband. Some talked about how sad they felt even years later.

Today, I found two Facebook messages that were buried in my “other” folder from two strangers. I was touched by their words, heartbroken by their sadness, but most of all, grateful that they felt comfortable sharing their deeply personal stories with me—a complete stranger.

It’s times like these that I’m thankful to anyone who reads my work and writes to me. I feel honored that my writing could help anyone else with their personal struggles. I’ve made it a personal habit to write to artists and authors who inspire me. If something moves me, I share that with the author because I think it’s important to express thanks for someone else’s hard work.

At the time I wrote that essay, I was completely terrified to share such a personal, sad story in such a public way. But deep down, I knew that I wasn’t alone and that if my story could inspire others to speak out and share their own—it would be worth it.

Thank you to those of you who have read my work. I am touched, honored, and grateful.

The Business of Being a Freelance Writer Told in GIFs

When A Client’s Payment Is Late

When a Source Doesn’t Get Back to You & You Have a Tight Deadline

When You Write A Piece That’s Controversial

When a Stranger Emails You That They Love An Article You Wrote

When a Troll Badgers You

OR

When Ann Friedman Mentions Your Piece in Her Amazing Weekly Newsletter

(Btw, you should sign up for her newsletter, if you haven’t, because it’s awesome. And I’m not just saying that because I made it in.)

When You Read the Comments

Sometimes, Working Solo Feels Like This

But Sometimes Being a Freelance Writer Feels Like This

Cookbook Review: The Lusty Vegan by Ayinde Howell & Zoe Eisenberg

I’m a big fan of guys who can cook. There’s nothing sexier than a man who can make a killer dinner (or breakfast or lunch for that matter). The Lusty Vegan cookbook is for couples whether one part of the couple is vegan or omnivore. If you know anything about vegans: We freaking love to talk about food and eat really good food. Cook us a dynamite meal, and we will love you forever.

I’ve had the joy of being part of chef Ayinde Howell’s dinners. One time in San Francisco when he hosted a pop-up night and another time at his apartment. Let me tell you, the man can cook. In San Francisco, he made this amazing version of smoked tofu that I STILL THINK ABOUT TODAY. And don’t even get me started on his legendary Mac n’ Yease. I will straight up push people out of the way for his family’s vegan take on mac ‘n cheese.

So, that being said, The Lusty Vegan is all about great food. Brendan and I made the faux Lobster Roll and fennel salad from the cookbook. The “lobster” is made with hearts of palm, and it is so simple to make and delicious. It was a total hit in our house. Plus, cooking with your partner is the ultimate date night in my book.

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The Faux Lobster Roll from The Lusty Vegan

To win over your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day (or any day that you want to woo your husband/wife/significant other), definitely grab a copy of The Lusty Vegan and whip up something special.

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The vegan Bibimbap from The Lusty Vegan. Brendan made this for dinner for me, and it was great!