How to Survive a Move with Your Creativity Intact

It’s no secret that we moved this year. I’ve moved a lot in my life, having grown up in Thailand and Malaysia, and moving multiple times in my adult life. But this one was different. This time I said good bye to a place I’d lived in longer than any place else in my life. And this time I had kids.

Before the move, I had a great writing routine.

Then we put our house on the market, and I started job hunting. We sold our house, and moved into my parents’ condo. Then we had to find a new house and I had to make decisions about my new job. I had a summer full of temporariness. We moved into our new house, but I still had commitments for the summer to keep, so we were back and forth across the state all summer.

I’m now a few months on the other side of the move, several months into my new job, my kids are settled, and I am back in a good writing routine.

Looking back on the transition makes me absolutely exhausted.

One of my biggest fears was not being able to hang onto my creative life in the midst of it all. I definitely don’t think I excelled at it, but there were some things that keep me afloat during a stressful time.

Postpone Goals

I had big plans to revise a novel in March-May of 2015. That was right in the thick of my house selling, me getting job offers and having to make decisions, and us buying a house.

For me, I have to be in a book, really in it, almost every single day when I’m drafting and revising a novel-length project. I just know that’s how I work best. Otherwise, I spend a lot of time trying to remember where I last left off.

When all of the major decisions hit at once, I abandoned that novel-revising goal, and I told my writing friends I abandoned it. You know what happened? They wholeheartedly supported my decision and they helped validate that decision. They helped me give myself permission to take a break from it.

I picked it back up in November and December of 2015. And that time away was actually so helpful. I ended up cutting characters, cutting chapters, rewriting big chunks of it. I’m still working on it, but I am sure that it’s a better revision that I could’ve done in the spring.

Morning Pages

I realized during all of those times I was trying to separate one decision from the other one, I needed to write. I process things both verbally and through writing them down. So, as my husband and I talked over our choices, I also wrote down pros and cons and my feelings, those intangible things that still played into my decisions.

Once we moved, I had a thousand things on my mind. I had my to-do lists and I also had my emotions, and my children’s emotions, and the emotions of reuniting our family after living apart for nine months.

Moving takes up a lot of headspace. I wasn’t coming up with the most stellar writing at this time and I was having trouble focusing on the writing at hand because I had all of this junk in my mind. I also had new job stress and the kids’ new situation stress.

I brought the morning pages back out. There were some mornings that all I could do was morning pages. But it was okay because it helped me free up some of that creative energy.

Eventually, I was able to do more than just morning pages.

Stay Organized

My life was upside down for many months—basically from February-August. I used a bullet journal to help keep all of my to-do lists organized. It helped me keep all of my writing goals and my life transition mess organized. For more information on how I do bullet journaling, read this.

Small Victories Matter

Last year I wrote about my Book of Stars. This year, I incorporated it into my bullet journal.

Bullet Journal: Book of Stars page

Bullet Journal: Book of Stars page

When August rolled around, and I was feeling pretty depressed about all of the goals that had derailed, I flipped through my “book of stars” pages for each month. When I saw the books that I had read and book that was published and the speech that I delivered and so much more, I began to get out of my funk.

No, I didn’t accomplish all of my goals in 2015, but dang it, I did a lot!

Revise Your Goals

For me, I had to pare things down to what was really, really important. My day job hours changed, my commute increased, and I wanted to make sure that our family time was intact. That meant, I had to be strict about my writing hours and really keep them to the morning only.

That meant, some things had to give. I blogged less. I tried not to be scattered in a million different directions. I tried to be focused on what I really, really wanted to do.

Embrace Setbacks

As you’ll see in my post tomorrow, I’m excited about all that DID accomplish. I did way more than I gave myself credit for. However, one of my big, disappointing setbacks was not being able to draft a new novel.

However, I am embracing it. I realize that this got put on the back burner NOT because of procrastination, but because I made a conscious decision to hold onto my sanity and put that goal off for a few more months.

It’s on my list for 2016. Am I disappointed? Yes. Do I regret it? No.

I’m a type A, driven person. Sometimes it’s harder for me to say NO to myself than to push myself.

So, I think this setback was, in fact, a victory. I learned to recognize when I’d taken on too much and that I needed to re-evaluate.


Trust me, the move wasn’t perfect. The transition to my new schedule required some adjusting. But I’m happy to say I found my way back to my writing.

What life transitions have derailed your writing? How did YOU find your way back?

Making Time to Write in 2015

I’m over at the GROG today talking about ways you can make time to write in 2015. Click here for the full article.

Best of 2014: Most Popular Posts

Looking back over 2014, I wanted to take note of my most popular posts on my blog. It helps me see what posts are most helpful to my readers. The shocking thing for me was that all of the most frequently read pages of 2014 were actually posts I wrote and posted in 2013!

That’s good because it means that much of my content is evergreen. And it also helps me to see what types of posts they are. Six out of ten were mentor texts posts aimed at teachers. The other four posts were posts on organizing your writing life.

1. Top 10 Picture Books for Word Choice

This has consistently been my most popular post for 2 years. I decided to create it into a printable PDF. You can access it two ways: 1) by signing up for my writing teachers’ newsletter (in the top right hand corner of my website) and 2) by getting it for FREE at my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

2. What To Do About To-Do Lists

3. Personal Narrative Mentor Texts

4. Mentor Text Lesson Plan on Onomatopoeia

5. Over and Under the Snow Mentor Text Lesson Plan

6. Keeping Track of Submissions

7. Quarterly Goals Template

8. Mentor Text Spreadsheet: Picture Book Month in Review

9. Mentor Text Tip Tuesday: Scavenge the Books

10. Goal Setting Re-Vamped

What Do You Need?

I think these posts became the most popular because people googled for these exact needs–organization in their writing life OR mentor texts lessons.

I would like to create more evergreen posts in 2015. What do you need? If you are a teacher, what mentor text lists or tips do you need?

If you are a writer, what kinds of organization help do you need? I am also very passionate about helping writers make time to write. What do you need help with?

Comment below OR e-mail me with your specific need and I’ll try to create a post about it, if I can.

Looking Ahead: Mapping Out 2015

I know we are smack in the middle of two holidays. I’m in the middle of a break from work. But this is the time of the year when I start to get antsy about what’s going to happen in the next year. I start to make my goals and really outline how I’m going to accomplish them. Last year, I shared two new sheets (quarterly goals sheet and monthly focus sheet) I created to help with my goal implementation in 2014. While I liked the focus for the month page and not planning too far ahead by creating quarterly goals, this year I’m modifying things a little.

Look Back to Make Changes

First, I reflected back at 2014. I was able to accomplish a lot, but I spent a TON of time taking classes (both for my library certification and in writing for self-growth). I don’t think I’ll ever be done taking classes, but in 2015 I want to take the time to implement that which I have learned in my MFA, in workshops, and in online classes I’ve taken. This year my craft focus will be lighter on taking online classes and more on utilizing craft books and notes from classes already taken.

Make a Dream List

I know this post is about goals, but when I looked at what I would like my year to look like, as a writer, I started listing all of the things I would like to accomplish this year. It’s a big list.

Then I organized my list by topic. Everyone’s topics will be different. But mine were:

  • Picture Books
  • Chapter Books
  • Middle Grade Novel
  • Educational Writing
  • Business

Share Your Goals

I think it’s really important to share your goals with a few close writer friends. I’m not sharing them on here because many of them involve specific book subjects and titles that I’m not ready to share publicly yet. But I do think it’s a good idea to share them with some writers that you trust. You can encourage one another toward those goals in that way.

Block Off Your Calendar

You can use a pre-printed calendar or just a blank calendar printed from Microsoft Word. I went ahead and marked off the times I knew would affect my writing.

For example, in July I will be attending a week-long writing retreat in Georgia, then I’ll be teaching two weeks at Hollinsummer. I’m not saying I’m not going to be writing then. I probably will be. However, I will NOT be trying to restructure a whole novel during the month of July. That would be setting myself up for failure.

In February, I will be doing the Writing Marathon with my students, just like I did last year. I wrote with them and got a big project outlined and started writing sample chapters during that month. So, knowing that the marathon is coming up, I went ahead and planned out what I’d be working on for that extra writing time in February 2015.

Map Out Your Goals

Then I started plugging in the major projects I want to accomplish in 2015 and mapping them out. For instance, I actually have two middle grade novels I want to revise in 2015. Can I do that? Of course, I can—with proper planning. I have to be realistic about how long it will take and map out specific tasks to get those revisions done. I’m blocking off time to plan for the revisions and time to actually revise each chapter–all mapped out on the calendar.

Minimize Distractions

I have an issue with time wasting–especially on the Internet. This year, I’m trying something new. I’m not sure if it will work for everything I need, but so far, I like it. I’m trying the new Google Chrome extension Dayboard. You can plug in the 5 most important tasks of your day. Whenever you open a new browser, the tasks come up first–before anything else. It’s a good reminder of what you really need to be doing.

Right now, I’m using it to plan my next day. But it doesn’t go out any farther than “tomorrow.”

Evaluate Your Season

Each year I feel like I need to evaluate my season in life. What will my schedule look like? I always have a set time that I write each morning for an hour that doesn’t get affected by job or kids (usually). But there are pockets of other time that I can use. But I have to be intentional about them.

For example, my daughter has violin lessons and both kids have karate each week. During those times, I’m able to get a ton of stuff done. The key is planning for that time. I have a hard time writing fresh during that time (I do that in the morning). But I’m writing in the violin schedules and karate schedules on my calendar for January-May. I’m am planning how I will use that time at least a month in advance.

That 45-minute violin time is an excellent time to brainstorm and draft blog posts or articles. The two-hour karate time gives me time to research nonfiction picture books that I want to write.

This year will mean big changes for our family. I think they will positive changes, but they will affect my schedule. For this reason, I’m only planning for the first half of 2015 right now. But I also want to be intentional about not overusing my weekends for writing. I just can’t do that right now. I am blocking off one weekend a month to do extra writing, but that’s planned in advance.

What If I Get Derailed?

There’s a good chance something will come along to derail my carefully laid out plans. In the past, some of those derailments have been excellent for me. If they come along again in 2015, I’ll probably shuffle my schedule to accommodate them. I’m writing my plans on my calendar in pencil for a reason.

I anticipate change.

I anticipate that I’ll need to move things around. Something will take longer than expected.

But without a roadmap, I might be wandering aimlessly.

What About You?

What are your goals for 2015? Are you planning for success? Share how you map out your goals for the year.

Looking Back at 2014

For the last two years (2012 and 2013), I’ve done a post at the end of the year to celebrate what I’ve actually accomplished. I think I always get weary in December and wonder: “Did I get anything done?” While I knew the answer was “Yes.” I did have to prove it to myself.

Last year, I started a Book of Stars to record the little things that happened that were good. I taped in the nice things editors said, the the nice things other writers said. Writing can be a discouraging job. When I opened up my book to look back over 2014, it lifted my spirits.

Book of Stars

Published Works

* Educational book coming out in early 2015. This book pushed me to research and write fast and took over my life for a few months.

* Opened up Teachers Pay Teachers store

* Opened up my Books Page

* Wrote “Top 10 Books for Word Choice” and put it up as a freebie for signing up for my newsletter

* Mentor Text “E-Books” on sale at TpT and on my books page

* Wrote Educator’s Guide for Laura Purdie Salas’ Riddle-Ku Book


* “A Postcard and a Dream” appeared in Hollins magazine

* “Fran Cannon Slayton: Balance in the Writing Life” appeared in Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Highlighter

* “Teacher’s Pet: How to Get Your Book in the Hands of Teachers” appeared in Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Highlighter

* “Writing Picture Books with Kim Norman” appeared in Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Highlighter

* Freelance work for Interactive Achievement

Guest Posts

* “Overwhelmed? Overworked? Overcommitted? How to Keep Focus in 2014” DIYMFA 1/9/14

* Kidsarewriters coach


* 12×12 participant with new manuscripts and a ton of revised ones

* PiBoIdMo—came up with 35 ideas

Classes Taken

(Note: If you love a writer, all of these classes would make excellent gifts)

* Making Picture Book Magic with Susanna Leonard Hill

* Lyrical Language Lab with Renee LaTulippe

* Julie Hedlund’s How to Make Money as a Writer

* Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen’s Plotting Picture Books from A to Z

Workshops Attended

* Candice Ransom’s retreat in Luray on revision

* WOW Retreat

* Picture Book Workshop with Lola Schaefer and Rebecca Kai Doltich

* SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Conference

Workshops Organized through SCBWI and Glenvar Library

* Fran Cannon Slayton

* Kim Norman

Workshops Taught

* Mentor Texts for Writers Webinar for WOW

* Mentor Texts for Writers workshop for NoVA writers

* Mentor texts for the classroom at local division level professional development and VSRA


* Got an agent! I’m now working with Jodell Sadler of Sadler Children’s Literary


* Taught a writing camp for high school girls at Hollins in summer 2015

* Received Teacher of the Year at my school


* Started and finished my library media endorsement at UVA and UVA Wise

Whew! Looking back at the makes me tired. But it is also testament to how much you can accomplish by setting aside a little bit of time for your writing each day. I still teach full-time and have two young kids. Most of the writing was done between 5-6 am daily.

As I think about what I want to accomplish in 2015, I look at the big picture and big goals. But I also want to focus on: What is the next step I can take to further my career. It might be as simple as revising one chapter. Each small step adds up to bigger ones.

PiBoIdMo Prep 2014: Mining for Ideas

Come November, I’m usually physically and emotionally spent. I’m exhausted from the first few months of school and anticipating the exhaustion of the holidays.

But a challenge comes along every November that I just can’t pass up.


PiBoIdMo. Picture Book Idea Month, started by the amazing Tara Lazar. I’ve written about my experiences with PiBoIdMo in 2012 and 2013.

I should have declared 2014 the “Year of the Picture Book” because when I reflect on all of the writing classes and conferences I’ve attended, they’ve leaned heavily toward picture books. As PiBoIdMo creeps closer on the calendar, I realize, I’m armed and ready.

I take copious notes at conferences. Not only do I write down the key points the speaker is making, but I also jot notes to myself while they are talking. Reflections of how I could use this point in my own writing. What WIPs (works-in-progress) does this apply to? Or what new ideas does this conjure up?

For PiBoIdMo 2014, I’m planning to mine my notes. Usually I spend my year mining my PiBoIdMo journal when I’m looking to write a new picture book draft.

2013 PiBoIdMo Journal

2013 PiBoIdMo Journal

But this year, I’m going to do a bit of a reverso.

This year, I’m going to mine my other journals and notes from conferences to come up with my PiBoIdMo ideas.

I once heard Candice Ransom talk about how she keeps a journal, but also spends time going back through the journals to mine them for ideas. It’s hard to utilize all of those gems you captured in a journal in your writing, if you don’t go back and dig through them.

One of the journals I'll be mining for ideas for PiBoIdMo 2014

One of the journals I’ll be mining for ideas for PiBoIdMo 2014

This year, instead of trying to pluck ideas from the clear blue sky (though I would be happy if they did coming falling down), I plan to mine them out. I know I have ideas sitting there, ready to be grabbed. I just need to dig deep and pull them to the surface.

I’m gathering…

1) journals from the last year (yes, plural, I have them in my car, my purse, by my bed, and on my desk)

2) notes from Susanna Leonard Hill’s Making Picture Book Magic class

3) notes from Renee LaTulippe’s Lyrical Language Lab class

4) notes from the WOW conference (I took particularly copious notes in Lisa Wheeler, Stacy McAnulty, Miranda Paul, and Jodell Sadler’s sessions)

5) notes from the Picture book workshop I took with Lola Schaefer and Rebecca Kai Dotlich

6) notes from Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen’s Picture Book Plotting class

As I look through all of my notes, I will get to revisit those “in the moment” ideas I wrote down. These ideas will go down in my PiBoIdMo journal for 2014. And I’m sure that I’ll be mining that journal all of 2015 when I write my picture book drafts.

This year's PiBoIdMo Journal

This year’s PiBoIdMo Journal


How are you prepping for PiBoIdMo this year?

The Halfway Mark of 2014: Are You Where You Want to Be?

Halfway There

It’s the end of June. We are officially halfway through 2014. The question is, are you pleased with where you are as a writer this year? Are you working toward your goals? Are you making time to write? If so, keep going and planning out the rest of your year. If not, it’s not too late. Time to get working.


It’s the end of the month, so I always plan my next month’s focus. Here is the template I use for that task. For me, July is going to be busy with me working and writing. But I still have several writing tasks needing to be accomplished.

We have finished two quarters of the year. Each quarter, I look at my goals again. If you want to plan out your next three months, here is a template that I use.

At the beginning of the year, I created a book where I could write down my accomplishments–big and small. If I get an encouraging rejection letter or a request to revise and rewrite, it goes in the book. Read more about my book here.

Book of Stars

I’m sorry my posts have been missing lately. I was working on a big project with a very tight deadline.

How about you? What are you proud of accomplishing so far this year? What do you want to do in the remainder of 2014?

June Monthly Focus Reminder and New Planning Template

Where did May go? I looked up behind my computer where I hang my monthly focus paper, and it still says April. Oops. It’s not that I haven’t been working in May. I’ve actually had one of the busiest writing months ever, but it was so busy, I never did  May focus sheet. I guess since I had some pretty clearly defined deadlines, I didn’t have trouble focusing. I had to focus on the thing that I needed to do to finish the job.

Consider this your reminder to do your monthly focus for June. For the template click here. For more information on monthly focus forms, read this post.

New Planning Template

My planning mind often resembles that of planning for instruction in my classroom. I look at the blocks of time and adjust my instruction, mapping out what needs to be covered in the time that I have. I had a brainstorm to try something similar during the last busy month that I have and going  into a very busy summer of writing.

Click to download the template.

Click to download the template.

I found a weekly meal planning template on Microsoft’s website. Then I customized it and saved it as a template in Excel, so it comes up as a template choice every time I open up Excel. I blocked off my time. I don’t write full-time. I have a day job as a teacher, so I only have certain times available to me. I write every single morning before school because it’s a time that I can grab every single day. Evenings or “extra times” I may or may not be able to fit in. On weekends, I try to write before everyone gets up. Sometimes it’s an hour, sometimes (like this weekend) I get up extra early and get in several hours.

On Sundays, I look at my upcoming week and block off the times and the things I need to get done. I try to save the mornings for writing only (as much as is possible). Any other writing-related activities like critiquing, blogging, freelance editing, I try to save for evenings. I love my old to-do list, and I may go back to that eventually, but I’d find some days I’d sit and negotiate what I needed to do first. This new template helped me prioritize.

This summer, if I have days with bigger chunks of time, I might break this down even further.

Try it out, if you think it would help you. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Some of you are night writers, so change your chunk of time to evenings, instead of mornings.

Survey Reminder

If you haven’t had a chance to add your opinion to my next writer and teacher resources, please do so. I’d love to know what you think. I have lots of ideas and a limited amount of time, so vote on what you think I should work on first.

Making Time to Write: A Writing Marathon

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be posting on Writing Wednesdays about setting up a Writing Marathon for students. During the month of February, I did this at my school with fourth and fifth graders.

The goal was to write for 30 minutes a day for 26 out of 28 days in the month of February. We opened up the library before school every morning for students to write. I’ll write about all of the details on Wednesdays, but I wanted to share how this helped me as a writer.

I did the marathon with my students. I wrote when they wrote. Here is what I learned from the Writing Marathon.

1) The collective can be helpful.

I do find writing energy in a room filled with people tapping at the keyboard. When the room was quiet, and we were all working, I got a lot of writing done. I’ve also done this with my critique group at various venues. We’ve scheduled times to write together from a couple of hours to an entire weekend. In all of these situations, I’ve been able to get focused and get a lot of writing done. Not everyone can work that way, but for me, it does work.

2) Have a plan.

I made a goal for myself before the Writing Marathon. I knew I couldn’t just go in and sit at the keyboard with no plan. I work better with a plan. I had a project in mind. It was a project that was school-related and writing-related, so the Writing Marathon seemed like the perfect venue for working on it. I outlined it and jotted down notes to myself before it ever began. When I got stuck, I just moved on to the next piece that sounded interesting to me.

3) Keep track of your progress.

I created a tracking sheet for the students, and I used it myself. Every day, I logged my time and my word count. While this seems a bit tedious, it actually helped me.  I made a goal of 250 words a day. I thought there was no way I’d have time to do more than that. I figured students would need more help and I’d end up doing my 250 words at home. However, I was pleasantly surprised. By keeping track of my daily word count, I was able to watch the words stack up. I exceeded my goal every day but two days. I projected that I’d do 6.500 words for the month. I ended up with 14, 454 words. If I hadn’t been keeping track, I probably wouldn’t know how I did.

My tracking sheet for February

My tracking sheet for February

With revising projects, I don’t find it helpful to keep track of words because there are some days I end up with less than I started with. However, when revising, I like to keep track of tasks completed. But keeping track of word counts is extremely helpful when trying to move forward on a new project that just needs to get down on the page.

4) You can accomplish a LOT in a little bit of time.

I hear people tell me all of the time that they don’t have time to write. I’ve been writing an hour a day, before I go to work, for a couple of years now. I’ve been amazed at how much progress I have made. What shocked me is how much I was able to accomplish in 30 minutes a day. With the internet turned off and eyes watching to see if I’m writing, then I was able to get a ton of writing done.

One month, 30 minutes a day. Try it. You’ll be surprised at how much you can actually do.

Making Mornings Work: A Simple Tip

I’m more of a morning person. I was the kid who fell asleep before everyone else at sleepovers. In college, I never was able to pull an all-nighter. I like to sleep, and I have a hard time staying up late, or at least, I have a hard time staying up late and being productive.

When I finally made the switch from nighttime writer who could barely lift her head up off the desk to morning writer, I thought I’d finally found my sweet spot.

For almost two years, I’ve been diligently getting up to write every morning before work.

Until last week.

I couldn’t crank myself out of bed for anything. Had I lost my mojo? Two things were at play here:

1) I was suffering from some neck pain that was also giving me intense migraines. This was causing lots of pain in trying to sleep. So I wasn’t getting to sleep at my normal time.

2) I didn’t have a plan. Why should I get up if I had no idea what I was going to do when I did get up? I valued sleep more.

I’m going to a chiropractor for problem #1. I realized my body did need the sleep, so I cut myself some slack.

chapter after chapter

For the second problem, I relied on advice I’d read in Heather Sellers’ CHAPTER AFTER CHAPTER. She suggests checking on your writing the night before so that you know what you’re going to work on the next day. For me this is critical. For months, I’ve had so much to do, many pressing deadlines. While I have deadlines in other areas of my life right now with much work to be done, I don’t currently have any deadlines for writing. So I floundered.

Do I have writing projects to work on? Of course. But I had to articulate them to myself so I’d have a reason to get up, instead of sleeping in.

I had to know what path I was going to take on writing new work so that I didn’t waste time on the internet.

Now that I have a plan, I have a reason to want to work on my writing in the early morning again. And I’m mostly pain-free, so that it no longer an excuse.

And I have a self-imposed writing deadline for a certain project.

It’s time to write on!