My Creative Writing Must-Haves: The Intangibles

If you’re a writer, there’s a good chance you have equipment you just can’t live without. Whether it’s the amazing 0.8 mm fine-point Sharpie pen that I discovered in recent years or the chic Moleskine notebooks Hemingway swore by, there are materials out there that have proven time and again (anecdotally) to help our creativity and writing process.

What surprised me to learn, however, was that even more important to my writing productivity than my “Happy Planner” notebook with the wonderfully removeable (and replaceable! Sigh.) pages are a series of must-have intangibles that I can’t write without.

These “must-haves” are just that: Essential. I must have them if I want to be serious about my writing. While, yes, I have managed to write with several ballpoint Bic pens over the year (shudder), there are some things related to my mental and physical health that I need to be productive.

A Focused Mind

While I can journal when my mind is all over the place, trying to create something structured is nearly impossible when my mind is not at ease. For some reason, it took me years before I realized the correlation between my state of mind and my writing output.

When I sit down for a writing session these days, I make sure that:

  • I’m not hungry. My American brain is constantly on the prowl for snacks. The minute hunger (and Vlasic Zesty Pickles) cross my mind, forget about it. Fueling up with quality food before a writing session helps me stay focused longer.
  • I’m not too tired. Writing is almost exclusively a sedentary activity. If I’m at all tired when I sit down to write, chances are, I am going to be fading within the hour. Even if I power through the sleepiness, when I re-read my work with a set of fresh (i.e., rested) eyes, I catch large amounts of repetition and typos. I end up having to redo lots of the work.
  • My emotions are in check. Surely writers are supposed to be angrily typing away, composing the next global bestseller? Or weeping, distraught by their influx of creativity while writing their Booker Prize-winning story. Yeah, when I’m emotional, I’m a wreck. I can hardly sit in a chair, let alone form a structured text. Addressing my emotions first – by going for a walk, chatting with a friend, or just having a solid, ugly crying session – and then focusing on writing is the way to go for me.

Support of Family and Friends

I have to go on record to say I have the most amazing network of support. My friends and family have gone above and beyond to support my writing dreams throughout the years, and without them, transitioning into a writing career would have been just about impossible.

  • My Writing Group: I use the term “writing group” very collectively. I have writing friends all over the country. My friend, Kindra, in Albuquerque has inspired me endlessly with her devotion to her poetry. My friends Tim, Jenn, and Jessie in Asheville are dedicated writers in my writing network based in Western North Carolina. In the central NC area, Hannah, a fellow writer and editor, has given me so much invaluable writing advice and support since I moved to the area.
  • My Fiancé: Alex, from Day 1 of our relationship, has supported me 100% in my writing ventures. More recently, he encouraged me to make the leap into full-time freelancing. He’s never doubted I would be successful or would give up. Without a supportive partner like him, I don’t know that I could have made such a bold move at this stage in my career.
  • My Family: While I think my grandfather still worries I’m not going to survive with my writing income, he has always been supportive of my transition. No one in my family has tried to talk me out of my career or insinuate that I’m making a bad decision. That extra support and mental relief go a long way.

Quality Free Time

Even the best of us multi-taskers have our limits. In general, I’m a huge fan of working efficiently. I read Cheaper by the Dozen when I was younger, and it influenced the way I think about work and efficiency. The book’s an autobiography of two children (of a total of 12) raised by efficiency experts Frank Bunker Gilbreth and Lillian Moller Gilbreth. The parents, especially the father, found ways to cut time out of mundane chores (like washing dishes) to focus more on education and family time.

I still try to save as much time as possible on household chores. I do things like load the dishwasher while I cook, so the kitchen is already clean when I sit down to dinner. At the same time, I have a load of laundry already running so it’s done when I’m finished eating.

When it comes to writing, though, I need good quality free time to focus on a single task: Writing.

That means time to sit down and write without jumping up every few minutes to answer a phone call or send an e-mail. “Good quality” also means not being so exhausted from a full-time job that I can hardly string two sentences together.

Acknowledge What Helps You Write

These examples of intangibles above are what help my personal writing process. Everybody’s ideal writing environment is going to look different, of course. For instance, I cannot listen to music with words, TV, podcasts, or pretty much anything except instrumental music or white noise while working. Some people I know require a lot of noise (talking, music, general café sounds) while they write, and something like white noise would be a writing barrier.

I suggest taking note of the days that you accomplish your daily writing goals, and try to determine what intangibles created that productive situation. Hopefully, by doing so, you’ll discover what makes your own writing process flow!

As always, thanks for stopping by! In the comments section, feel free to share your own “intangibles” that help you focus on your writing!

What I’ve Learned About Reading Over the Years

I don’t have any distinct memories of first learning to read. The earliest ones are fuzzy recollections of beginning phonics flip books with mind-numbing sentences like:

Peg runs. Peg runs to Bug. Bug runs to Peg. Run, Bug, Run.

But even at five years old, I recall thinking something along the lines of, “I’m gonna need material that speaks to me just a little bit more.” Give the kids some texts about Fun-Dip or Tic-Tac-Toe. There are distinct syllables in those words, too, and the topics are a little more relatable to a kid than a woman named “Peg.”

Over my 25+ years of reading, a lot has changed about the way I read and why I read. A big part of reading as a kid is doing it because you have to. Teachers assign you books as part of a curriculum, and it’s your job to understand their “merit.”

As the years passed, I realized that I am in control of assigning my own merit to literature. Some of the choices I was assigned in school I agree with, while others, I didn’t care about then and still don’t (I’m looking at you and your Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel).

None of this is intended to say one book is “better” than another. I truly believe most books offer something good to someone somewhere, and that’s a wonderful thing. I’ve simply learned several things about my own particular reading process that has enlightened my book choices and habits.

Who Are You Trying to Impress?

Another reading-related memory I have is one from middle school. The principal was coming into class for an observation lesson during our free reading time, and my English teacher didn’t want one of her students (me) to be seen reading something below her reading level.

Before the principal came into the classroom, the teacher swapped out my book (one which would now be dubbed a “cozy mystery” for kids) and replaced it with a comically large, oversized science compendium that better suited a 40-year-old’s coffee table rather than a middle school desk. I was essentially told the book I’d chosen was “beneath” me.

That moment was the first instance during which I became aware people may judge you on what you’re reading. This concept often comes up even in adulthood, and I find it strange.

At 31 years old, who am I trying to impress?

Even if I’m capable of reading something more complex, every now and then, it’s wonderful to relax with the equivalent of a Hallmark movie in book form. Sometimes I like to push the boundaries of my imagination with a clever sci-fi story. Other times, I want to learn all about the logic of survival situations. And sometimes, I just want to sip a cup of tea and see what town mysteries a 20th century, Irish, female detective solves in Brooklyn.

Independent Publishing is Great

Another thing about reading that I’ve learned over the years is that the publishing industry controls what many people read, how they read it, and sometimes even why they read it. 2020 saw the rise of #PublishingPaidMe, a hashtag started by YA author L.L. McKinney which sought to bring to light discrimination in the publishing world.

Many authors are choosing to publish independently to sidestep barriers of all kinds when it comes to cutting into the traditional publishing market. Previously, self-publishing had a negative reputation, but I now see the many merits of it. I try to be vocal about encouraging other readers to purchase stories by self-published authors because they have more control over their sales.

Opening myself up to the world of independently published books on platforms like Kindle and Wattpad has given me access to works by so many writers who haven’t wanted to jump through the countless hoops that traditional publishing entails. I never would have seen their work otherwise, unless years down the road, they did secure a publishing deal.

Reading is Tied to Many Factors

Another big revelation I’ve had about reading over the years is that my ability to concentrate is directly tied to my overall state of being. In my early 20s, I went through a period (which lasted several years) not understanding why I couldn’t sit and concentrate on books like I used to. I went so far as to wondermif I had an attention disorder because my mind wandered constantly.

I eventually learned that my mental state played a huge factor in being able to sit and read. It wasn’t ADD that was the problem; it was my anxiety. When I was experiencing periods of intense anxiety, there was no way I could sit and finish a book. My mind was racing, turning over at least a dozen topics at a time. Once I addressed my anxiety problem, it was like a magic spell. I could relax. I could enjoy reading again.

I am forever grateful for my ability to read. With it, I have access to other people’s thoughts and creativity, presented in a very intentional format, just as the author wants. I know much of our society is frightened about what will happen to writing and reading with all the technology changes the 21st century has seen, but I am actually excited.

I have no doubts at all that people will continue to use technology and our current social environment to keep finding ways to write their thoughts, and people like myself will continue reading them.

What have you learned about your own reading habits over the years? Have there been any people who’ve influenced your reading for better or worse? Leave a comment, and let me know!

Book Review: “Home Before Dark” by Riley Sager

I rate this book 3.5 out of 5 crows.

Ghosts and spooky houses – my old friends! I’ve loved a good ghost story for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, every time I went to the library, I made a beeline for works by the big names in scary middle grade/YA books.

You remember them. The books you couldn’t get your hands on until that other weird kid in class finally finished them. Books by:

For whatever reason, I loved devouring stories about the paranormal. As an adult, this tendency has not changed. I still love reading about witches, magic, spirits, zombies, curses, the undead, you name it. Anything weird and offbeat piques my interest, as I love the idea of events occurring without logical explanations.

When I had the chance to read Home Before Dark by Riley Sager, I jumped on the opportunity. The book jacket’s description alludes to ghosts hiding out in wardrobes and bells ringing throughout a sprawling house – essentially, the types of creepy things I love, without gore and over-the-top violence.

Home Before Dark tells two interconnected stories at once. One of the stories is set in the past (25 years ago) when a married couple, Ewan and Jess, move their five-year-old daughter, Maggie, into an old Victorian home named Baneberry Hall. The massive house is being sold at a much lower-than-normal price, which we all know is never a good sign for any future homeowner. Ewan, a writer, is intrigued by the house’s gruesome history, learning that it was the site of not just one, but multiple murders.

The second story takes place in present day, from the perspective of the adult Maggie, as she revisits Baneberry Hall for the first time since she was a child. She has no memories at all of the 20 days her family stayed there. We do, however, learn she’s lived in the shadow of a book her father wrote about her family’s stay at Baneberry Hall.

In his book, Ewan claims that Baneberry Hall is haunted and after a series of increasingly dangerous paranormal events, the family was forced to abruptly leave all those years ago. From that time on, it was understood that he’d sold the house, but upon his death in present day, Maggie learns he still owned the house and has left it to her. She sets out to get answers about what actually happened two and a half decades before.

Home Before Dark starts out as a classic, jump-scare story that sets the scene for a series of spooky events. For the first two-thirds of it, I was hooked. I wanted to find out more about Maggie. I wanted to learn whether the house was actually haunted or if the father had written the book just for money.

Sager did a phenomenal job transitioning between the two simultaneous stories. I usually get lost when authors choose this format, but I had no problem keeping the events straight. I thought he alternated between them seamlessly, and I took note of the way he subtly told us one thing happened in the past and incorporated its result into the second (present) story. I think that ability is so rare in authors, and I admire his craft.

In the last third of the book, though, Sager lost me. I don’t want to give too many spoilers away, but I felt like the last portion of the book became a bizarre series of false endings that spiraled into a confusing conglomeration of “twists” that had little logic. For the last couple of chapters, it seemed like every time I turned the page, there was a new “surprise,” so much that it started to feel like a soap opera.

I know some people will love the out-of-nowhere and quickly escalating ending, but it didn’t suit my personal preference. I was enjoying the book so much initially and had already invested a couple hundred of pages, that I was frustrated when I came to the ending.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the book a lot and would still recommend it to a reader looking for a (mostly) ghost story, but I would have enjoyed it more if the author had stuck to possibly just one twist or so.

I rate this book 3.5 out of 5 crows.

Why I’m Saying “No” to Resolutions this Year

I’ve spent the last week or two thinking about goals for the new year. Usually, I have a list of them ready to go for January 1st, but this year, I’ve had difficulty developing them.

I think I’ve faced this block for a variety of reasons, including the fact that 2020 was so off-the-wall and unpredictable. I couldn’t have begun to imagine on January 1, 2020 the twists that life would take later that year. What makes me think I can imagine what will occur in 2021?

With COVID overshadowing so much of our lives, I’ve reminded myself that 2020 had a positive impact on my life, as well. It’s important for me to recognize and acknowledge that some good changes did occur last year, even in the midst of so much heartache:

  • I got engaged to the love of my life
  • I transitioned to writing full-time
  • I grew closer with friends and family

In a mood of reflection, I spent some time journaling last night, hoping to gain clarity on what I wanted for 2021. What did I want to improve on? What did I need to change? Where did I want life to take me in the new year?

That’s when it dawned on me. By focusing so much on coming up with goals, resolutions, visions – however you wish to label them – I was automatically starting from a point of deficit-thinking. I was under the assumption that something needs to change.

I remembered a TEDx talk by Susan Henkels I listed to once, on the evening drive home from my old job.

What if there’s nothing wrong with you? she suggests. She doesn’t say there’s nothing wrong with you. She doesn’t say there is something wrong with you. She just asks that we let ourselves be open to the possibility that perhaps we are just fine at this moment.

Could I, for just a moment, consider the fact that maybe my career is on a positive trajectory? Perhaps my love life is in a wonderful and perfect place? Maybe I have caring and healthy relationships with people around me?

The fear of stagnancy in life is one that affects many of us, and I’ve always been frightened that standing in place means weakness, boredom, failure. For years, I’ve neglected to realize that you can stand in place but still grow your knowledge and your perspective.

Standing still provides the opportunity to look downward and truly understand where you are, where your roots have grown, what parts of your life are your sunshine and your rain. Standing still lets you look upward and see what’s left ahead, what you still have to hope for in the days going forward.

And too, in a time of stillness, you can allow yourself to be perfectly content standing on the ground where you are, to be in the moment you’re experiencing, and that feeling is as good as any goal on any list.

Book Review: “The Great Alone” by Kristin Hannah

I rate this book 4 out of 5 crows.

*FYI: This book review contains references to domestic violence and PTSD.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I signed up for the Book of the Month program earlier in the year. I am a huge fan of the setup, especially when in-person browsing options at stores are limited. The basic concept is that you pay $14.99 a month plus tax ($16.04 total), and you get to choose from that month’s selection of five new titles.

The company gets early releases of some books, which means you have access to books that aren’t yet out for the general public. If you don’t like any of the five titles, you can choose from a limited selection of previous months’ books, which is how I got my copy of The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah last month. It was originally part of the February 2018 selection.

I chose this book because I knew it was about Alaska and living off the grid, and I figured the setting was perfect for the chilly month of December.

The book revolves around the life of Leni Allbright, who we first meet when she is 13 years old. Leni is an inquisitive, quiet girl who finds herself trying to hold her family together as it unravels throughout the years. The Great Alone begins with her family moving to a remote part of Alaska in 1974, when her father (Ernt) attempts to escape his past as a former POW in the Vietnam War.

Ernt, we quickly learn, is suffering from PTSD due to his experiences in the war. He is shown early on to have an anger and alcohol problem, and in attempt to ignore/move away from his problems, he drags his family from Washington State to an isolated cabin in Alaska that a friend from the war left him. Ernt views the move to Alaska as the chance he needs to “get away from it all” and exist far from the world’s issues.

Leni’s young mother, Cora, is devoted to her husband and generally follows his decisions without question, all the while mistakenly hoping his problems will disappear. Leni, more often than not, assumes the role of a friend and mentor for her mother rather than that of a typical daughter.

We learn that Ernt has been physically abusive to Cora for years, but her insistence on remembering the man he “used” to be causes her to remain with him at the expense of her and her daughter’s safety. Hannah scatters references to the barriers Cora encounters to becoming independent from him, even if she tried to. For example, as a female in the early 1970s, she can’t get a credit card in her name without a male’s signature.

The move to Alaska proves to be a catalyst for Ernt’s violence, which Leni tries to deal with while also navigating the usual experiences of being a teenage girl. Her dire family situation intensifies at the onset of the Alaskan winter, a season marked by long periods of darkness and brutally cold temperatures.

When I selected this book to read, I did not realize that domestic violence was a major theme. I honestly wouldn’t have chosen the book if I had known about its subject matter initially, as this theme can trigger anxiety for me.

However, I found the story very gripping and finished the book within two days. Ultimately, I am glad I had the opportunity to read it, as I feel the author explored the topic without gratuitous violence (although detailed scenes are present) and from a believable perspective.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is okay reading about heavy themes and enjoys descriptions of the natural world. I loved the depictions of the Alaskan landscape and the detail the author went into, describing the town’s relationships, history, and strategies for surviving the harsh Alaskan climate.

Overall, I rate this book 4 out of 5 crows.

What I Wish I Knew About Freelance Writing a Year Ago

If you’ve been following my blog at all, you probably know by now that I’ve been on a purposeful “writing journey” for the last two years, with an end goal of writing full-time. I’ve recently met that goal and have been reflecting on what I can do to be a great freelancer. In the process, I’ve realized there are a lot of things I could have done this past year that would have made my introduction into a freelance career much easier.

One of the main purposes of Paper Crow Blog is to help other writers on their own journeys, and in today’s post, I share some of the things I wish I would have known before starting to freelance. These tips would have saved me time, money, and possibly a few grey hairs that have begun to sprout, as I’ve also begun my voyage into my 30s . . .

Your Organization Strategy May Look Different

It seems like for each writing project outside of freelancing, I have different ways of organizing my tasks. For my in-progress novel (sigh), I’ve mostly kept a separate notebook that I organize information about my characters, settings, scenes, etc. I also have notebooks where I store random ideas that occur to me, journals that I write scraps of essays in, and so on.

For my personal freelancing style, I’ve had to develop a different organization strategy. With multiple clients with varying deadlines and numbers of assignments, I’ve learned that color-coding is my new best friend. Which is convenient because I love office supplies like highlighters, sticky notes, calendars, etc. When I began taking on more and more clients, I realized quickly that it’s easy for assignments to get lost in an e-mail chain when going back and forth with revisions.

I randomly found a Post-It brand paper calendar in Walgreens (because I have a problem where I can’t walk into a place like a drugstore and still not look at the office supplies).

Here’s an example picture, in case you want to go out and get yourself one of these super cool sticky note calendars. I have each client color-coded to their assignments for the week (I didn’t include the names in the photo for confidentiality reasons).

Alex initially pointed out that the concept is a bit wasteful, as you stick Post-It notes on a paper calendar and are supposed to use a new one each week.

I have to agree, so I recycle all the sticky notes. I also reuse each large calendar sheet by using even smaller sticky notes for my clients’ names, so I don’t have to write directly on the calendar (reminiscent of Monica vacuuming the big vacuum with the small vacuum?). And a couple of my assignment tasks repeat, so I can reuse some of the sticky notes, too.

Dedicate Time to Learning New Platforms

This tip is another big one. Wow, there are a lot of communication platforms out there, in case you didn’t know. Between calendars, social media posting platforms, texts, e-mails, Zoom, etc., I wish I would have factored in time to familiarize myself with platforms before taking on more clients.

I’ve adjusted, but if you are beginning your own freelancing career, I would suggest taking it slow to save yourself some headaches! A few of the platforms I use among clients include:

I would also suggest knowing the basics of every social media platform (including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) as well, just in case. Even if you aren’t doing strict social media content, you may be asked to use the platform at any given time.

Ask Lots of Questions

When discussing a freelance job with a potential client, make sure you ask questions to cover all of the basics. Even when the questions seem silly, it is better to ask them than not. Some topics I would suggest covering include:

  • Turnaround time – Are they going to assign you a piece at any point and expect it done by midnight that same day? What about holidays?
  • Word counts – Do they have maximum or minimum requirements? Do they pay extra for going over?
  • Communication – What time zone are they in? Give them a clear idea of your communication availability. If your client is in a time zone several hours ahead, you won’t always be able to reply at a moment’s notice.
  • Amount of work – Is the work going to be consistent? Is it going to actually be consistent? One of the most frustrating things is to go through the process of getting into a freelancer-client relationship with the expectation of several hours a week and then be told the client is still “building” their business and will instead have periodic work.

Be Okay with Turning Down Assignments

After all those questions, if your gut feeling is telling you don’t sign on with the client, don’t do it. Getting trapped into a contract with an unreliable person is a recipe for stress, even if the pay rate is high. Consider whether their communication style is strong enough for you to know what they are expecting, and whether their personality is a good match. Remind yourself you are partnering with that client, not working *for* them.

I would also suggest not accepting assignments below your rate. I think we’ve probably all been guilty of this at some point or another, especially when first starting out, but you can find yourself in a rabbit hole that’s hard to get out of.

I’ve seen “legitimate” posts for clients paying $10 for 2000 word pieces (and worse). No way.

Recognize Your Successes, No Matter How Small

Lastly, I wish I would have begun recognizing my successes more throughout the past year. It’s easy to let yourself slip into the mindset of imposter syndrome and other manifestations of self-doubt.

Always keep in mind that, “Hey, someone’s paying me a reasonable amount for my writing.” While obviously money isn’t the ultimate goal, it’s still a pretty cool thing that someone is willing to invest (monetarily) in your services.

Keep reflecting on your growth, and remember how far you’ve come in your writing and your career. I can honestly say, throughout the past year, I have slashed through incredible amounts of anxiety in regards to my writing. When you’re on a deadline for someone else, you don’t have time to wonder if you can do it, or if you’re able to finish that assignment. You simply do it, and you see that the words just keep coming.

Are you a freelancer or writer that has learned a few things over the course of your writing history? Share your tips in the comments section!

First Impressions of Full-Time Writing

In my last writing post, I talked about how December 16 was my last day working at my non-writing job (in a PT clinic where I’d worked full-time for nearly two years). Two days ago, I started my first official whole week in the freelancing world, and I am still processing my new transition.

My very first impression is that working from home is amazing. Everyone who has made this switch due to COVID probably figured this out long ago, towards the beginning of the year, but as a newbie, I have to say, I am a fan.

The switch to working from home has been a trifecta of positives coming into my life:

  1. I am no longer commuting for at least two hours a day. I love driving, but I also was getting burnt out with being on the road for a good portion of the day. Also, the number of oil changes I’ve gone through in the past two years have been . . . numerous. I am also going to be saving at least $100 a month in gas costs.
  2. I can spend time working on my writing and my personal life. Previously, I felt so tired from working my non-writing job, I couldn’t dedicate enough time to my personal life. When I opted to take care of personal things, that spilled into work time due to the commute and being so far from my job. I eventually felt like I was half-assing two things and didn’t feel good about my performance in either. Now, popping a load of laundry in the washer and writing while it’s running is no big thing.
  3. Writing is so much more fun for me. While I loved my co-workers at my previous job, writing has always been my passion. Give me something to write about, and I will be happy to give you a paragraph or a page. I’m a nerd when it comes to words, and I’m okay with that! I still can’t believe I get to wake up and write rather than going into an office.

With all the positives that have emerged, I’m working to make this new step successful. It’s clear that I am going to have to be incredibly self-disciplined to meet deadlines, find assignments, and keep focused.

I’m still figuring out my writing schedule. I’m learning that taking breaks between assignments is a good strategy for me that isn’t possible with an office job. For example, sitting and writing one or two assignments for an hour or so and then getting up for a ten or fifteen minute break to say, unload the dishwasher. When I sit back down again to write, I’m ready to go again, and I knocked out a household task that I’d have to do later.

Frequent breaks do stretch my writing schedule out a little longer, but since I’m able to do a few things around the house, it works out in the end.

Whether I stick with the same type of schedule each day (i.e., wake up at 8:00 AM and work straight until 4 or 5:00 PM), or just go with the flow and work the same amount of hours just at different intervals, that’s still to be decided.

I’m trying to track what days are most productive and want to mimic those patterns if possible for future weeks. The wonderful part of all of this is that I get the option to choose! How refreshing!

Not being completely exhausted by the time I turn to my writing assignments is also a bonus. For the last few weeks, I’ve been pulling morning and evening writing sessions around my eight-hour job, plus the two hours of commuting, and I was running on fumes.

Now, I’m happy to say 2021 is looking like it will be a healthier and more productive writing year!

What does your writing schedule look like? Are you working a non-writing job and fitting in writing when you can? I’d love to hear from other writers in the comments!

How Rejecting Writing Myths Helped Me Become a Full-Time Freelancer

A couple of weeks ago, I did it. I put in my two weeks’ notice at my current full-time (non-writing) job. Starting this Thursday, I am officially transitioning into full-time freelancing!

After almost two years of part-time writing work, this step is a huge milestone for me. There is so much to unpack with my decision. Since I was a kid, I wanted writing to be my career. For most of my 31 years, I have been filling up notebooks with happy words, angry words, confusing words, rhyming words – pretty much any writing you can think of. One of my earliest memories is of my grandmother and a cabinet she kept a stack of paper in. She’d let me “write” on the paper when I visited (I was three when she died, so that tells you how early and fundamental that memory was).

Although I wanted to write for a living these past three decades, I pushed it away for years. I believed the myths about writing that are so pervasive. The ones that say:

  • You can’t make a living writing
  • Writers are unhappy by nature
  • Writers need to have months of free time available

While I’ve been writing all along, it wasn’t until the last few years that I started changing my way of thinking about writing and jobs. Everyone’s journey is different, and my particular one took me through a rough patch a few years ago. I came out of it realizing what I was thankful for in life, what were healthy habits for me, and what I wanted to do with the remaining part of my life.

Writing was one of the things that hit all three of those points, and I dove headfirst into the writing world for the first time in my life. I learned that I’d been lacking in confidence in my writing, so I worked on addressing that issue. I discovered I was anxious about what others thought of my writing, so I stopped caring. Little by little, I was able to peel away all of the nonsense and self-doubt I’d been feeding myself (and letting others feed me), and here I am, making the big move.

You Can Make a Living Writing

“Writing isn’t going to pay the bills” is one of those myths most people have heard. The weird thing is, I know a lot of writers that do pay their bills with writing. And on time, too!

It’s amazing how once you realize something is possible, you can start to envision yourself doing it. I don’t know why art and writing are those clichéd “starving” jobs, but wherever the trope came from, it doesn’t have to be accurate. Once you find one person to pay you for some sort of writing (maybe it’s an editing job, a magazine submission, or a full writing piece), it’s like the poor-writer-curse has lost its power.

If one person is willing to pay you for your writing, surely there are many others? For me, the ticket was getting an essay accepted for a magazine and then landing my first client on Upwork.

Like Everyone, Writers are Emotional

Yes, I’ve been an unhappy person at some points in my life. I’ve also been a very happy person at many others. Just like everyone, writers go through a roller-coaster of emotions during life.

While it’s true writing carried me through the darker periods of my life, I’m fortunate that writing also happens when I’m content or, dare I say it?, outright happy. We’re fed the idea that writers have some mystical underlying layer, anguished and tortured souls, but honestly, I don’t know anyone, regardless of profession, that doesn’t have that layer to them.

Once you realize that you don’t need to wait for periods of supposed emotional turmoil to write, things get a lot easier. You can just as well write that short story while watching a rerun of Friends, and chances are, the outcome is going to actually be better since you’re not an emotional wreck while you’re writing it. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Writers Write

The thought of a month in a cabin, just writing away, is a dream I’ve kept for a long time. While I still hope for opportunities to hide away from life for a while and focus on writing, the older I get, the more I realize that those chances are few and far between.

I’ve come to terms with not being able to write in an old, abandoned hotel for a winter (and really, that didn’t end well for Jack Torrance, did it?). So, for now, I have to make do with the time I have.

While, thank God, my schedule is finally changing so that I can write during the daylight hours, for the past year and a half, it’s mostly been cramming in writing before the sun comes up or late in the evening. It turns out, writers write when we can, and that’s what we’re working with.

I am excited to have more time to update my blog in the near future! I love connecting with other writers, so leave your own blog links in the comments section. Keep following Paper Crow Blog to learn more about my writing journey!

Our Washington State Trip: Forks, WA and Ruby Beach

I’ve been meaning to continue my Washington State vacation posts ever since we got back from our trip, but there are simply so many things to say about it. I’ve had to wait until I had a good amount of time to sit and write about another one of our many excursions during that week.

So here I am on a rainy afternoon in North Carolina, exactly one month later, sitting at my writing desk while Alex is watching the Sopranos in the living room.

(As I think back to our trip, it feels so long ago and dreamlike that I can almost see the thought-bubble above my head showcasing all the memories, the edges of the background fading out into ripples . . .)

[Cue harp glissando]

After our adventures on the Spruce Trail and Hall of Mosses, Alex and I went off in search of a small, propane cylinder to use with our camp stove. We hadn’t been able to take ours on the plane due to safety restrictions, so we stopped at a little shop called Peak 6 Adventure Store in Forks for a bit of shopping.

The shop appeared to be run by a couple generation of women, and we meandered around for while, like the tourists we were. I had a great time talking with the bears out front and debating the merits of wearing a mask during an international pandemic.

“Yes, I assure you, good Sirs, you will still be able to own property even if you wear a mask. Yes, you can even still vote. Your rights are fine.”

Inside, the store was filled with typical tourist trinkets and a few camping supplies like bug spray and the propane tank we needed. I also used the opportunity to add to my earring collection, including these fantastic Tree of Life specimens:

Afterwards, we stopped by Blakeslees Bar and Grill, which was a restaurant just down the road. Our server was very kind, and the food was yummy. Alex got a “very good” elk burger that he rated an 8 out of 10 and informed me he would also recommend the Black Butte Porter to the general public.

I got the Irish nachos which were also good, colorful tortilla chips with sour cream, lots of cheese, and just enough bacon to remind me I was on vacation.

We also made a stop at Forks Outfitters Thriftway and ACE Hardware, which is apparently the place to be in Forks no matter what walk-of-life you take. If you can imagine a cross between a grocery store, ACE hardware, and a Wal-Mart in a vampire-filled town, you can probably get an idea of what the store sold – everything. So it isn’t surprising at all that we were able to find a rental bear box to store our camping food (and for just $2 a night and a $65 refundable deposit!).

As a side note, we saw a car in the parking lot that was decked out in Twilight merchandise and writing on the windows that mentioned the drivers were on a Twilight road trip. Even though the books weren’t my cup of tea, I love how much joy they obviously brought to the people traveling in the car. And how much fun to go on a road trip like that!

After our shopping spree, we decided to go down to Ruby Beach and relax (i.e., digest) for the rest of the afternoon. Ruby Beach is a beautiful, rocky beach with a great opportunity for sunset viewing (though our own weather was not ideal for it). The beach was covered in smooth, polished rocks that were easy to walk on. We passed an artist painting on an easel and a few photographers with tripods, so were not the only ones that enjoy the landscape.

There were some sections of the beach marked “impassable” on our map, as some parts of the shore that are accessible during low-tide wash out during high-tide. We didn’t have any issues, but we also didn’t stray too far from the crowd. Further ahead, we could definitely see some areas that the tide started covered during our visit, though. As black bears frequent the beach areas, we were especially keen on not getting stuck on the shore.

About 20 minutes before sunset, a huge crowd of people started drawing together (in a social-distanced way) to get a good view of the horizon. At the exact same time, the wind began picking up, and I suppose this is where the vampire thing came about. Within ten minutes, the temperature had dropped several degrees and a thick, lovely, and suspiciously-British fog started rolling into Washington State, darkening the skies dramatically.

The sun completely disappeared in a matter of minutes, and so did our hopes of viewing the sunset, but we still stayed on the beach until dark, enjoying the beach’s foreboding beauty,

That night, we camped again in Bogachiel State Park. We moved our campsite in hopes of a more secluded spot near the river (Site #38). I later deemed this specific site a definite “do not recommend.” If I thought the first night in the park was loud, the second was as if we were sleeping below an underpass yet somehow also in the midst of a college party. We didn’t mind too much as, again, we were so exhausted that we fell asleep quickly, but I think both of us would prefer a quieter location for our next visit.

The next day, we set out for our “big” (18 mile) hike. Details of which will be in my next blog post!

Have you travelled to Forks, Washington or Olympic National Park? I’d love to hear your own stories, with or without vampires :).

Why This Fall is the Perfect Time to Write

I’ve noticed something very strange happening this year. With the onset of fall, I’ve actually felt happy about the season changing. Yes, I, the woman whose freezing point is 74 degrees Fahrenheit, is actually grateful for fall this year.

I’ve been trying to work out why this particular year is the first time I’ve really appreciated the season. After much consideration, I’ve decided it is mostly due to the general madness of 2020.

Thanks to the pandemic, this fall is a welcome sign of change from the slight sadness of Summer 2020. Summer is typically my favorite time of year, but since nearly all social events were either cancelled or significantly altered (Virtual Seafood Fests, anyone? Yikes!), it seemed especially cruel to have nice weather but nowhere to really enjoy the season – and no friends to safely enjoy it with.

Now that fall has arrived, however, it is much less abnormal to hole up in the house with my fiance (!) and spend hours reading and cooking warm meals. It’s as if we are all finally able to tell COVID, “Well, this is what we’d be doing anyway, so you don’t win on this one!” Cooler weather, cozy blankets, hot chocolate – it all sounds wonderful.

Photo by Maria Shanina on Unsplash

While spring was defined by the initial shock of COVID, and summer was marked by my utter chagrin at the ridiculousness of the year, I’ve finally reached the acceptance stage this autumn.

Which leads me to my exciting discovery: This fall is perfect for writing due to COVID.

Think about it. As writers, what are some of our top complaints?

I don’t have time to write. Oh, yes, you do now. You also have time to try to debate the cost-benefits of cutting your own hair, time to reorganize your bookshelf for the third time this month, and time to re-watch that Gilmore Girls episode where Lorelei’s beeper goes off as she’s in freeze-frame as the Renoir lady.

I can’t focus. If you are like me and my friends, you’ve had several months by now to perfect your art of focusing. You can finish a book with ease and paint-by-numbers an intricate depiction of a lion within hours. You have found enough focus within your soul to finish not just one game of Monopoly, but also countless re-matches.

I’m not good at writing. You have so many opportunities to practice now. With virtually no social events going on, you can practice your poetry writing about how much you miss them. You can practice your short story skills by finally finishing just one story, from start to finish. And, you may just get so bored that you decide to share your writing with someone who reaffirms that yes, you are good at writing.

Writing is lonely. While writing can indeed be lonely, it doesn’t have to be. Consider participating in NaNoWriMo this year, whether you have done it previously or not. For writers new to the challenge, National November Writing Month is an annual event where thousands of writers attempt to write 50,000 of their work during the month of November. There are countless forums, online chats, and virtual workshops to keep your writing spirit going strong this fall.

I hope all of you writers out there find ways to jumpstart your writing and creativity this fall, as well. Even if you’re not a writer, this fall is still a great opportunity to reflect on how you’ve improved this year, and where you can go from here.

How is your fall writing journey going? Do you anticipate writing will be easier or more difficult for you this season? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

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