Staying Flexible When Life Is Uncertain

2021-01-13 Staying Flexible When Life Is Uncertain

As I write this in early in 2021, I can say that I used to have a writing schedule. It was heavily dependent on getting out of my own house to work. And then a pandemic came along, and both my routines and my schedule were torn to bits. (I know many of you can sympathize!)

But I’m big into trying to make lemonade out of lemons. (Or better, yet, lemon bars, lemon merengue pie, or even lemon cookies. Of course with powdered sugar! What kind of question is that?)

So what did my writing schedule used to look like? What’s it like now? And what have I learned from having life turned upside down?

My Ideal Writing Schedule

Before a new virus upheaved everything, my schedule was both simple and effective. Every morning, I walked to my coffee shop (the same one where I met Charles!), bought a latte, and claimed my favorite chair in front of the fire. (Sometimes I staked it out until an unwitting usurper finally left.)

Chair and fire secured, I sipped my coffee, sank down into my story world, and started to write.

I’d generally write for three or four hours, then pack up and walk home. In the afternoons, I’d transfer to my co-working space, where I would address various admin tasks such as marketing my books, answering emails, etc.

And then rumors started trickling in. A new virus had been detected in China. It was spreading at an alarming rate. It was only a matter of time until it came to the US…

My Pandemic Writing Schedule

Covid-19 arrived in Montana in March 2020. The governor ordered a state-wide shutdown. If we weren’t essential workers, we all went home.

I’ve tried working from home before. I already knew I was terrible at it! That’s why I have my coffee shops and my co-working space! It took me the better part of 2020 to refigure all my routines into something that worked again.

One of the biggest changes I made was choosing two days to be my “write-a-thon” days. These were my days to shut out all the admin tasks screaming at me and simply focus on my words.

But the other major change I made was hiring a book coach. (Yes, I’m that terrible at working from home! You can meet Jacquelyn in the blog post I wrote about her.)

Now on my writing days, Jacquelyn helps keep me on track to make sure the words get written.

What I’ve Learned

2020 was a year that challenged us all, in many different ways. (Can we even feel gratitude for such a year? I wrote a post about that during Thanksgiving 2020.)

I hated losing my schedule and routines. But 2020 really challenged my problem-solving capabilities, and in great news, I was the one who came out on top.

  • I had to learn to stay flexible and be creative. I can’t go to my coffee shop anymore? What can I do instead that would be just as effective?
  • I had to adopt new routines. My tried-and-true routines were gone. It was devastating. I had to keep innovating to find my way through.
  • I had to iterate and optimize. It was frustrating. I already knew what worked for me. (I.e., getting out of the house!) But I just kept trying different things until I found something that worked.

In great news, I feel ready for the next event of near-apocalyptic magnitude. (Because we all know life can never be boring.) 2020 tested my skills, but I came out equal to the challenge. And you know what? I’m proud of me.

Over to You!

How did 2020 challenge you? What new skills did you learn?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below! I love hearing from you.


Hey, at least we had plenty to read in 2020! Here are today’s best-sellers from my online shop:

The First Thing I Ever Wrote–And What I Learned from It

2021-01-06 The First Thing I Ever Wrote and What I Learned from It


This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for supporting a small business! 


Sometimes, I literally roll dice to choose blog post ideas, and this time, I just had to laugh at the results! Why?

Here was the original question: “What was the first thing you ever wrote, and what did you learn from it?”

Well. The first thing I ever wrote was a series of short stories called The Brown Bears. It was a complete and total knock-off of The Berenstain Bears by Stan and Jan Berenstain. (Here’s one of the books I remember reading!)

Guys. I was FOUR when I started writing that fan fiction.

Yes. FOUR.

I guess the fact that I was reading and writing at such a young age is pretty impressive. But I promise you, there was absolutely no originality involved in my first stories, though I apparently had a rudimentary notion of copyright law. (Why else would I change the name of the series?)

But did I actually learn anything from that incredibly early venture into the literary world? I mean, beyond just practice holding a pencil?

Yes, actually. I think I did.

Just Follow Your Passions

When people ask me how long I’ve been writing, and I say, “Since I was four,” the reaction is always shock. Not only did I know how to read and write at an incredibly young age, I’m still doing it.

A hobby I started when I was four became “what I want to be when I grow up” by the time I was seven. And then I actually followed through on that, and now I’m the author of three published novels, a novella, six produced plays, and many published articles.

(Here’s one article I’m particularly proud of: Grant Marsh: Nautical Hero of the Plains. Also, you can shop all my available books here!)

This development of an early interest into a career choice is why I’m keenly interested in watching my nieces’ and nephews’ talents. The oldest girl buries herself in arts and crafts, her younger brother is fascinated by engineering, the next brother is our little sports hero, and their littlest sister can be found coloring all day long–inside the lines, even!

Their interests may or may not keep steady, and they may or may not choose a career based on what they liked when they were young. But regardless, they all show so much talent, and I can’t wait to see what they do with it.

To this day, I advocate people of all ages just following their interests. You never know where they will lead.

Know What You’re Not Good At

I was very devoted to illustrating my books when I was little. But to be honest… I’m not much better today than I was at the age of four!

At some point, I laid aside illustration. I realized I wasn’t really good at it, that my time might be better spent elsewhere, and even more importantly, that I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I enjoyed writing.

Gradually, I learned that I didn’t need to draw images to create pictures. I could do it with my words. If you had known me during my teen years, you frequently would have found me in the basement of the library at the very last row, sitting on the floor and choosing out a new book to read on the craft of writing.

While I’m glad young me decided to illustrate her manuscripts, I’m also okay that older me left that interest behind to better develop what I was really good at and what I really enjoyed.

Fan Fiction Is a Great Way to Learn

I think my biggest takeaway is the understanding that my first stories–from early childhood to my mid-teens–were fan fiction. And that I’m okay with that.

Fan fiction often gets a bad rap. It’s not exactly original work. You’re maybe changing some names and details–or not–and just playing around with someone else’s story. Can you publish this kind of work? Should you? Where exactly does fan fiction belong in our literary landscape?

I’m not sure I have all the answers to those questions. But I can say this definitively: A great way to learn any art is by copying the masters.

I can look back on all the authors I emulated as a child, and I can often times tell you exactly what I learned from each one. What I write today is an amalgamation of skills learned from every writer whose shadow I walked in. And I’m proud of the things I’ve learned from them.

If nothing else, I support fan fiction for the opportunity it creates to learn.

Over to You!

Those are, I think, my three great takeaways from the first thing I ever wrote. Now here are my question for you, which you can answer in the comments below!

  • What was an early passion that you actually followed through on? Or what is one you wished you had? 

 

  • What did I talk about here that you’d like me to talk about more? Just ask! You could spark a future blog post idea. 

My early writing was kind of sketchy. But look where it’s lead! You can get any of my books autographed:

How I’ve Developed as a Writer: Book I Through Book IV

How I’ve Developed as a Writer: Book I Through Book IV

As I write this, it’s the last week of 2020 (thank God!) and I’m about half-way done writing Mailboat IV (coming June 5, 2021), which marks the half-way point in the Mailboat Suspense Series. (There should be seven or eight books in the series all together.)

With all that in mind, this feels like an appropriate time to look back on the path I’ve walked to get here and reflect. Today, I’m curious to ask the question, “How have I developed as a writer?”

My Fans Changed Everything

I’m not sure my writing style has changed much over the course of four books. (Maybe my readers can tell me different!) And I don’t really think that my writing methods have changed much, either. Furthermore, even though I published the first book back in 2016, my plans for the overall series haven’t changed either. I’m still following the overall plot that I imagined years ago when the inspiration first struck.

But what has changed is the fact that I now have fans–something I barely had when The End of the Pier (Book I) released! I also have a very close connection with those fans. We love to talk! My readers love to tell me what they think of the series and what they want next. I, in turn, often shift course in response to what they say, even while staying true to my original vision.

Here are some examples:

The Tone of the Entire Series

The first thing I ever shifted in response to fan feedback happened before I published Book I. I was running a blog at the time, chronicling my adventures as I worked on The End of the Pier. A high school teacher from the Lake Geneva area ran across my project and expressed her enthusiasm. “I can’t wait to share this book with my students!” she said.

And that’s when I decided there would be no bedroom scenes, and I’d keep the language to a PG13 level.

As you can see, my tiny group of early fans had massive influence on the series. I was still feeling out who my audience was, and so the feedback from my earliest readers really shaped the direction I took with the tone of my books.

Aaaagh! It Can’t End There!

Now that I have thousands of fans, there are two comments I received very frequently. The first is, “Those cliffhangers! They’re killing me!”

As I’ve explained many times, I didn’t realize at first just how broad the scope of this story was. The Mailboat Suspense Series is one, overarching story that touches on the lives of dozens of people, and by and large they all get a turn to share their voice.

Thanks to that, there was just no way the story was going to fit into one book. And so I made the decision to split the story up into multiple volumes. And yes, that resulted in cliffhangers.

But after the first two books–which end very dramatically–and the third book–which has a little bit more of a landing place where the reader can breathe– I’ve changed my approach to those cliffhanger endings. My readers like to feel like they’ve arrived somewhere. They liked the ending of Book III better than Books I and II. And so I’m leaning more and more towards giving each book something that feels more like an ending, even while the overall story continues.

When’s Your Next Book Coming?

The other feedback I get literally all the time? “When is your next book coming out?!” A book that I spent one or two years crafting, my readers can finish in a day. As soon as it’s done, they want the next!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not that great at time management, especially when it comes to big projects! That’s why I finally hired Jacque, my book coach. (She has an entire article over here.) With her keeping me on track, I think I’ll finally be better at fulfilling my release date promises to my readers. That’s a huge sigh of relief for both you and me!

Whodunnit and What Happens Next

But finally, I’ve shifted my books based on what my readers say about the plot and the characters. Whenever I release a book, I ask my readers lots of questions–most importantly, “Who do you think The Man Upstairs is?” Based on your guesses, I’ll shift the plot a little this way or a little that way. It’s my goal to keep you guessing as long as possible!

But I’ll even respond to ideas you suggest. One reader asked about a character who appeared for only one chapter in Mailboat I: The End of the Pier. I never meant for that character to appear again. But that one reader wanted to know more. And so… Mailboat IV sees that obscure character return. And boy, do things get turned upside down because of it!

So for me, the biggest change from Book I to Book IV has simply been writing while my fans watch and wait. It’s very different writing all by oneself, when there’s no one to please but me. Writing can become intimidating once you have a following! But it can also be reassuring. I can simply ask my readers what they want next and what they expect next. In that way, these books are almost literally tailor made.

Let’s Talk!

That’s my look back on five years and almost four books. (Five, if you count The Girl on the Boat.) And like many people, I can’t wait for 2021! (It’s gotta be better than this year, right?)

Here are my questions for you, which you can answer in the comments below:

1.) How do you feel you’ve changed in 2020? How do you feel you’ve changed over the past four years?

2.) Do you think my books have changed from Mailboat I: The End of the Pier to Mailboat III: The Captain’s Tale? If so, how?

See you in 2021!


You can see for yourself whether my writing has changed! Here are the first three books: