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The New Website Is Coming!

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The New Website Is Coming!

Hi Friends! It was my birthday on Monday.  I spent it at a brewery with lots of friends and not one, not two, but FIVE babies!  (As well as a few kids and a dog.)  This is certainly a new era in my life!  But luckily an era that still involves day drinking.

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My daughter was not sure how to feel about a pint of porter.

 

I spent the fourth of July at my local Panera, working on my new website.

That’s right, it’s more than a blog now.  I’m creating a website.  And I’m pretty excited about it.

It’s been difficult at times.  I’m not a tech person.  Or a visual person. Or a business person.  Sometimes I wonder why exactly I decided to do this.

But then I wrote some fun new content, and I got a really cool idea that involves…wait for it… VIDEO!

I’m very excited to share with you guys what I’ve been working on.

But it’s not ready yet.  And probably won’t be for at least a month.  I’m slow with technology.

I’ll check in again, but for now I better get back to work on my new WEBSITE!

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My birthday present from my husband was… YOGA WITH GOATS!

My 3-Step Plan for a Total Blog Makeover

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My 3-Step Plan for a Total Blog Makeover

Last week I announced that it was high time I gave my blog a makeover.

This week, I took the plunge and purchased this blogging course* on how to start a professional (and potentially money-making) blog. It was recommended to me by my friend Jeni over at The Coquette Kitchen.  Jeni knows everything about everything, and is in fact attending a blogging conference in Orlando right now. And so far she was right — I’m learning a lot from the course.

(*If you purchase Blog By Number using this affiliate link, I will get a commission, but it will cost you nothing extra. See? I’m learning about this money-making stuff already!)

Last week I was skeptical about the whole blogging-for-money thing. And I still am. I still feel that writing novels (and eventually, hopefully, making money from them) is more important to me than creating a blogging business. But I figure it can’t hurt to make my site more professional and get more readers.  And I’m getting excited about the changes I plan to make to my site.

Don’t worry — I’m not going to start writing nothing but inane listicles or posts about my favorite products. (I don’t really have any favorite products, except maybe Trader Joe’s vanilla almond milk, which my husband and I think is, hands-down, the best almond milk on the market.**)

(**I am not getting any money from Trader Joe’s. I just really like their almond milk.)

The point is, I don’t want to sell out. I’m going to keep writing what I want to write, in the way that I want to write it, but I’m going to try to reach more readers and keep an open mind about potential money-making opportunities.

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See?  Look!  I’m learning how to add text to images! Next I will learn how to market my images on Pinterest!

 

I now have a three-step plan, and it goes like this:

    1. Update my blog.  Move it from wordpress.com to wordpress.org.   Give it a fresh and professional look.  
    2. Market my blog and learn how to increase traffic to my site.  Build up an email list.
    3. Investigate possible ways to make money blogging.

 

Much to my husband’s consternation, Step 3 might be quite a ways down the road and involve a few more purchases.  And I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those career bloggers who makes a six-figure income.  But it couldn’t hurt to figure out how to get more readers and make a bit of money from something I’m going to be doing anyway.

I’ve got a lot to learn.  And, to be honest, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.  I’m not sure how long the blog makeover is going to take me.  I’m hoping to have the new site up and running by the end of the summer, but in order to do that, I may have to let this be my last post for a while. Wish me luck! I’ll post again in a few weeks and let you know how it’s going.

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Getting hair extensions is a type of makeover I do NOT recommend.  I tried it a few years ago.  Terrible.  Might have to blog about THAT experience sometime.

 

 

 

 

 

Updating My Look & Blogging for Money

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Updating My Look & Blogging for Money

The other day I was looking through photos from the past couple years, and I realized I was wearing the same dress in almost every picture. No joke, take a look:

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Cape Cod, 2012

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Mexico, 2013

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Seattle, 2014

 

I still love this dress, and it would probably be on my body right now if it wasn’t stretched out and threadbare from my wearing it approximately twice a week for the past five years.

Besides my wardrobe, you know what else has been looking the same for the past five years? This blog. Come July, In The Garden of Eva will turn five years old.

A lot has changed since I started this blog. Back then I was single, living in my friend’s guest room on Cape Cod, and just learning how to write novels.

Now I’m married with a baby, living in Maryland, with a couple of finished novels sitting on my desktop. But this blog still looks the same.

Is it time for a change?

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Vancouver. This dress. Again.

 

On the wardrobe front, I decided yes, I need some new looks, especially some nursing-friendly (but not too mom-ish) tops and dresses.

After a few disappointing trips to the mall, I decided to try Stitch Fix*. I’m sure by now you’ve heard of this service, as every blogger in the world has at least one post dedicated to what their Stitch Fix “personal stylist” sent them. So I won’t go into detail. I’ll just say that I kept one dress from my first box, one skirt from my second, and sent everything back with my third. I will also say that Stitch Fix customer service was super nice, and because I was so unhappy with my third box, they are sending me a fourth one for free. Woohoo!

(*If you decide to try Stitch Fix and use my referral link, I will get a $25 credit, but it will cost nothing extra for you. Come on, help Mama buy a new dress!)

So I’m slowly updating my look. And now the question is, should update the look of this blog?

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My mom and me at my brother’s wedding over the weekend.  I am wearing a dress from Stitch Fix.

 

My friend Jeni Wallace, who is also a new mom, recently started a beautiful food blog, The Coquette Kitchen, and she is currently learning how to make money blogging. She strongly encouraged me to think about how I could, too.

I have to admit, it’s an intriguing thought. I live in the DC area, which is ranked the most expensive place in the country for childcare. Not to mention the absurd commute times. (It often takes me 45 minutes to drive 6.5 miles to the school where I work part-time.) So the more I can work from home while my baby is napping, the better.

And besides, wouldn’t it be nice to make money doing something I enjoy… and something that I’m going to do anyway?

But the more I talked to Jeni, the more I realized that in order to make money blogging, I would have to totally change my approach.

And I’m not just talking ads or affiliate links, although those are ways to make money. According to Jeni, the number one way bloggers make money is by selling their own e-books and online courses. Some of these courses sell for as much as $40 or $50 or even $100 or $1000! As I began poking around at some of the money-making blogs out there, I realized that many offer courses on how to make money blogging.

Wait a minute… So the best way to make money blogging is to sell courses on how to make money blogging? Hmm…

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Jeni Wallace and me.

 

Not all courses are on how to blog, of course. Jeni’s husband, Daniel David Wallace, is also making a foray into the blogging business; he has a free e-book on how to write better sentences, as well as a course called “Unlock the Six-Step Story.” Right now they are both free, but I assume he’ll start charging for courses once he builds up his fan base.

Daniel’s courses make sense to me. He has a PhD in creative writing and is a successful and innovative writing instructor. He’s legitimately an expert who has unique and helpful information to share. His content is original and genuine and worth paying for.

I also have no doubt if Jeni starts offering courses, hers will be amazing as well. Not only is Jeni a fabulous cook, she basically knows everything about everything. She’s an expert at researching things and breaking them down in a friendly and helpful manner so that the average research-hating-lazy-person like me can digest them. Jeni could offer a course in anything from “how to plan a European culinary vacation with a baby in tow” to “how to always order the best thing at a restaurant both at home and abroad,” and it would be well worth the money.

So that’s great. Jeni and Daniel are going to become a blogging-business power couple. Good for them.

But what about me? What about my blog?

Is there a way that I could make a bit of money by blogging that feels genuine? Do I have unique information to offer that people would be willing to pay for? How can I get more followers? Do I need to change my blog to look more polished and professional? Do I need to change the way I write my posts? And if I change the way I blog, will it still be fun?

I don’t know.

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GET A NEW DRESS, EVA!!

 

It might be worth doing a little research at least. Maybe even forking out the money for this course on how to make money blogging**. (Jeni recommends it, and if Jeni recommends it, I know it must be good.)

(**If you purchase Blog By Number using this affiliate link, I will get a commission, but it will cost you nothing extra. See? I’m learning about this money-making stuff already!)

But there’s this part of me that wonders, do I really want to spend my time researching how to make money blogging and writing e-courses? I don’t have much free time as it is. Wouldn’t I rather spend it working on my fiction in the hopes that one day I might make a bit of money from my published novels? That’s the type of writing I really want to be doing anyway.

But if I’m not making money from this blog, and not very many people read it, what’s the point of writing it in the first place?

Because I like it? Is that enough of a reason?

No matter what I decide, though, I do think it’s time for a blog makeover.

I’m considering upgrading my hosting site and freshening up the look of my blog. Maybe I’ll start looking into that and wait until Jeni’s figured out this blogging for money thing… then I’ll buy her course. ‘Cuz I know if she made one, it’d be good.

Hey, if I can have a Stitch Fix personal stylist pick out my clothes for me, I can have Jeni do my research for me. And in the end, both my wardrobe and my blog will have a fresh look for the world!

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Me, my husband, and our baby. I’m wearing a new skirt from Stitch Fix.

 

 

TRASH by Andy Mulligan (Meagan & Eva’s Middle Grade Bookshelf)

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TRASH by Andy Mulligan (Meagan & Eva’s Middle Grade Bookshelf)

TRASH by Andy Mulligan

Published by Ember (Penguin Random House), October 2011

Suggested age range:  12 and up

 

SUMMARY:

In an unnamed Third World country, in the not-so-distant future, three “dumpsite boys” make a living picking through the mountains of garbage on the outskirts of a large city.

One unlucky-lucky day, Raphael finds something very special and very mysterious. So mysterious that he decides to keep it, even when the city police offer a handsome reward for its return. That decision brings with it terrifying consequences, and soon the dumpsite boys must use all of their cunning and courage to stay ahead of their pursuers. It’s up to Raphael, Gardo, and Rat—boys who have no education, no parents, no homes, and no money—to solve the mystery and right a terrible wrong.

-courtesy of Amazon

 

IMPORTANT TOPICS AND THEMES:  extreme poverty, greed, corruption, police brutality, justice

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For more Meagan & Eva’s Middle Grade Bookshelf discussions, go here!

 

So what did we think?  

Eva: I LOVED the setting of this book.  I know there are places like this in the world — enormous garbage heaps that children pick through — but I’d never thought about what life would be like there…. or the fact that people actually LIVE there: “The shacks we live in grow up out of the trash piles, bamboo and string, piled upwards — it’s like little villages in amongst the hills.”   The author did a great job of bringing the setting to life, with all the disturbing sights and smells (and rats!) that come along with it.  For example:  

It was dead trash underfoot, and it was damp — you were up to your knees.  

Soon we came to one of the old belt-machines, but this one was disused and rotting.  The belt itself had been stripped out, and the wooden panels had been taken.  It was just a huge metal frame, rusting away.  The arm that held the belt pointed up into the sky like a big finger, and now and then kids would climb it and sit in the breeze.    

I think it’s very important for kids to read a book like this; to be aware that places like this exist.  

 

Meagan:  I agree.  We’ve talked before about one of the major functions of literature being to increase your empathy range.  That’s definitely the case with this book.  Even though the characters’ life circumstances would be hard to relate to for lots of kids, the characters themselves aren’t hard to relate to at all.  They are funny and sweet and struggle with things that many kids struggle with (like loyalty to friends and trying to decide the right thing to do in a complex situation), and that makes them relatable, even though their circumstances are much more dire than the average kid’s.  

 

Eva:  I found out about Trash because some of the 7th graders I tutor were assigned it for summer reading.  I’m sure it provides a great jumping off point for class discussions about poverty, class differences, and the environment.  Hopefully those who read it will think twice every time they throw something away!

 

Meagan:  I could definitely see reading this book with a class.  Not only does it have some powerful social issues to discuss, but I think it could be an easy entryway to talking about theme in literature.  The book’s title, Trash, is an overt theme throughout the book and comes up in multiple ways.  There’s all the literal trash the boys pick through and live amongst, but there are also several situations in which human beings are treated like trash or called “trash.”  I think this is a sort of gateway literary theme that almost any middle school kid could pick up on.  They might even be able to make the leap to realizing that the author is using the dumpsite setting to get readers to think about the “trashification” of people.

 

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Eva:  I think many middle school kids will enjoy this book.  It’s fast-paced and written in a simple style.  It contains plenty of action and suspense.  However, as a writer, I wondered if the story as a whole could have been put together in a different way.  

For example, the story is told in turns by the three boys, as well as a few chapters here and there narrated by minor characters — all are in first person.  I’m not sure if it was necessary to give all these characters their own chapters, and there wasn’t always a clear distinction between various voices. Also, the book makes it clear that all of these accounts were written down except for Rat’s (he can’t write so he narrated to someone who wrote it down for him).  I couldn’t help wondering how Raphael and Gardo, who never went to school, were able to write their sections.  I think I would have preferred keeping the story solidly in one perspective, or at least from the three boys’ points of views only.  (And I’d recommend either third person, or, if in first person, making Raphael and Gardo’s voices more distinct from each other.)  

 

Meagan: I wondered about the narration choices as I was reading, too.  The multiple narrators didn’t make it confusing to me, but I’m not sure how necessary it was.  For me, when I read a book with multiple narrators, I am looking for each new point of view to add something critical to the story.  I enjoy a viewpoint shift that gives me an “aha!” moment and allows me to see plot events or character in a new way that undeniably drives the story forward.  While some of the viewpoint shifts were interesting, I wouldn’t quite characterize them as critical.

 

Eva:  Overall I enjoyed the action and mystery, but I think there could have been more clues and foreshadowing.  For example, there is a climactic scene set in the graveyard on the eve of All Souls Day, and it is only then that we find out that in this culture people believe this is the time when “ghosts come up and walk around.”  I would have liked this information planted earlier in the story.  Instead it felt like the author saying, “oh, and by the way, what’s happening right now is a big deal because…”    

 

Meagan:  I was surprised at the lack of foreshadowing or lead up to the All Souls Day scene, too, but I really liked that scene for a whole separate reason.  Without spoiling it too much, what the boys end up doing (in a graveyard, at night, during a storm) would terrify most people.  Even imagining it is terrifying, but for the boys in the story, the horror-factor barely even registers.  This struck me as so noticeable, but then I realized what a strong comment this was on the condition of their lives.  The vague notion of spookiness about being in a graveyard at night is nothing in comparison to the real violence and risk that these boys are facing all the time in real life.  Imagined spookiness is much more of a threat if you are accustomed to a secure life, I think.  These boys have virtually no source of security (no family, no trustworthy government or protection from crime etc.).  So what do they have to fear from the idea of ghosts?

 

Eva:  As usual, it’s likely I’m being too hard on this book.  One of my students, a 7th grade girl, told me that she loved Trash and that it was pretty much her favorite book ever.  I think that says it all.

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THIS BOOK REMINDS US OF:

Eva:  In a way it reminded me of Holes by Louis Sachar.  In Holes it becomes clear that the boys at a juvenile detention center aren’t just digging to build character — they are trying to find something, although their Warden won’t say what or why.  Similarly, in Trash the police are looking for something that is obviously important, but they won’t say what or why.  Both are books of action and suspense, and both are about  disadvantaged boys who are mistreated by tyrannous and greedy authority figures.  The difference would be that both the setting and that story in Trash are a bit more serious than in Holes and bring up some more serious real-life issues.    

 

THIS BOOK IS A GREAT EXAMPLE OF:

  • Setting
  • Easy-to-access theme
  • Action and suspense
  • Social and environmental issues
  • It is an example of multiple first person narrators, but I wouldn’t say it’s a great example.  

 

FINAL TAKE-AWAYS:  

Eva:  A fast read with an intense setting that provides a great prompt for classroom discussions on social issues.  

Meagan:  I think I’ll remember this book for its empathy-enlarging social issues, but also as an example of literary theme with “training wheels.”  

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Driving & Writing, or, Mama’s Here to Stay

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Driving & Writing, or, Mama’s Here to Stay

My husband and I have decided to stay in our apartment for another year. For a while we toyed with the idea of renting a house. But just the thought of moving with a four-month-old baby was so exhausting, we decided to stay put.

Next spring we’ll think about buying a house – I’d definitely like more space and a yard – but we plan to stay in Silver Spring, Maryland. We like it here. We can metro into downtown DC in less than 20 minutes, we’re within walking distance to Rock Creek Park, and though downtown Silver Spring isn’t as cool as DC neighborhoods, there’s a bubble tea place, an indie movie theater, several yoga studios and a T.J. Maxx, so I’m happy with that.

Depending on where we buy a house, I may or may not be able to continue tutoring part-time at Washington International School in Northwest DC. Right now it takes me about 20 minutes to drive the 6.4 miles there, and then, because of rush hour, it takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to drive back home. I can deal with this ridiculousness because of podcasts, but if we move any further north or east, the commute won’t be worth it.

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I’m also going to have to consider buying a bigger car at some point.  My little yellow two-door isn’t quite made for mommy life.

 

What’s ironic is that back in 2010, I used to live in DC and commute up to Silver Spring to teach. Back then I didn’t want to live in Silver Spring because I thought it was a lame suburb and all the cool kids lived in DC. My, how the times have changed.

Back then I didn’t have a car, and so I often got driven around by other teachers for off-campus events or after-work happy hours. I was also the volleyball coach my second year there, so I spent a lot of time in the front of the school bus as we fought afternoon traffic to get the girls to various schools for their games.

These days, as I’m driving around suburban Maryland, I’ll sometimes have flashbacks to sitting in that school bus, watching the same scenery flash by. Except back then I never knew where I was. I didn’t know the difference between Bethesda and Chevy Chase. I didn’t know that Wisconsin Avenue turned into Rockville Pike north of the beltway, or that you could take Connecticut all the way from Northwest DC into northern Silver Spring.

When someone else is driving, you don’t pay attention to details like street names or exit numbers. When you have to drive yourself, on the other hand, you not only pay attention to where you’re going, you also start to figure out how the roads connect. Even if you rely heavily on your GPS, after a while you begin to form a map in your mind.

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Sometimes we let the baby drive.

 

It occurred to me the other day that the difference between driving and being driven is much like the difference between writing a book and reading one. When you’re reading, you get to sit back and enjoy the ride. But when you’re writing, you have a mental map, and you have to figure out how the story roads connect. Even if you take the scenic route, you need to get your readers from the starting point to the destination… and that’s not always easy. In fact, it can be as frustrating as DC rush hour traffic.

Speaking of which, the other day I was stuck in stop-and-go traffic on 495 and decided to take a different exit than my usual one. As I followed my GPS home, I suddenly realized how a road I was familiar with connected to another road I was familiar with, and my mental map of suburban Maryland grew a bit more sophisticated. It was, in it’s own little way, sort of exciting.

It was similar to the way I feel when I make a new connection in my writing.  It’s exciting when I suddenly realize a new direction to take, or a way I can bridge two ideas.

That’s the nice thing about both driving and writing: being in the driver’s seat with the radio (or a podcast) blaring, going my own way.

Watch out, Silver Spring: mama’s here to stay!

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Here I am wearing a Cut with Light DC flag necklace, but yeah… I live in Maryland.

Can You Take Yourself Out of Your Writing?

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Can You Take Yourself Out of Your Writing?

One field of science my physicist husband studies is called “uncertainty quantification,” which, to my understanding, is pretty much what it sounds like: finding ways to quantify how uncertain scientists are about computational and real-world applications.

I’ve always thought it sounded like a rather poetic (and difficult) mission. Isn’t uncertainty something you feel? How do you put a number on your feelings?

Paul admits that this is a problem. “Uncertainty quantification implies that there is a person who has uncertainties,” he said to me the other day. “A scientist’s goal is to be objective – to take himself completely out of the equation — but UQ rests on the notion of a person with uncertainty.  The scientist is automatically a part of it.”

“Isn’t it virtually impossible for scientists to take themselves completely out of their work anyway?” I asked.

Paul admitted that it was.

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This is what our baby looks like when she is uncertain.

 

My writing life has many uncertainties. Will I ever get a book published? How long will it take? If I do get a book out into the world, will anyone read it?

I feel certain that I will have my novels published one day, but that’s just a feeling. It’s not based on anything scientific.

In fact, were I to be scientific, I might feel less certain. A quick google search tells me that most agents reject 99% of the queries that come their way. And getting an agent doesn’t guarantee that your novel will get published. Even if it’s published, you can’t be certain that people will read it.

I’ve just started querying agents with a new middle-grade novel, and I’m feeling anxious about it. In part because this book has so much of me in it.

The main character is an eighth grade girl who loves math and writes poetry. Hmm… Hits pretty close to home. (You guys were aware that I used to be a math teacher, right?)

In fact, I got the idea for the novel while reading one of my old diaries, and though the protagonist is not me, nor is the story something that happened to me, I certainly poured a lot of my actual middle school feelings into this book. There’s even one line in the novel that I lifted nearly verbatim from my ninth grade diary because it was just too perfect not to use.

So it’s scary to send this manuscript into the world. It was easier when I was querying a novel set in the middle ages about a disabled girl who goes on a magical quest. Not only was the book written in third person, which gave me a feeling of distance, but the protagonist and her story had very little in common with me and my life. This new novel, on the other hand… The protagonist and I definitely have some similarities. And her story, as well as her emotions, draw on my own teenage experiences. When an agent rejects the book (which will happen, of that I’m certain), I might feel like it’s not only my book that’s being rejected, but my experiences and feelings as well.

It’s scary to put your writing out there. It’s even scarier when your writing contains so much of yourself.

But isn’t it virtually impossible, you ask, for writers to take themselves completely out of their work? And I must admit that it is.

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My 8th grade school photo.  Note the flannel shirt — it was 1993.

 

My husband likes to say that physicists are storytellers. The universe is too mysterious for us to be totally certain about anything, and though I’m a huge fan of science, its theories are, in the end, simply stories. They are stories that help us explain and understand our world. And as much as scientists may try to take themselves out of their experiments and observations, the fact remains that they can’t separate themselves totally from their work.

I’ve often thought that I write fiction as a way to understand my world. Even if I’m not writing about my own experiences, I’m still there somewhere in the writing. I can’t take myself out of it completely.

And maybe I shouldn’t worry about separating myself from my writing. In some ways, I think this newest novel is the best one I’ve written so far. Perhaps because it contains so much of myself.

No matter what I write, I’m always going to be a part of the equation.

Of that much I’m certain.

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This is the type of book my husband likes to read for fun.  No joke.

 

Get Rolling, or, When You’ve Forgotten How to Write

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Get Rolling, or, When You’ve Forgotten How to Write

When my baby was nearly eleven weeks old, she started rolling from her tummy onto her back, and I was very impressed and proud. Recently, at three and a half months, she’s started rolling from her back onto her tummy. Again, I am impressed and proud.

What’s frustrating, though, is that now, when I lay her down on her play mat, she immediately rolls over and then starts to cry because she’s on her tummy and she doesn’t like it.

“Roll back over,” I tell her. “I know you know how. I’ve captured you doing it on video.”

But for some reason she can’t remember this previously-learned skill. And she’s upset about it.

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Baby on her tummy.  I know she doesn’t look upset, but believe me, she started crying 5 seconds after this picture was taken.

 

The other day I was doing some final polishes on my novel in preparation to start querying agents. As I was reading over the manuscript I began to wonder, how did I ever create this story in the first place?

I developed the idea for the novel a little over a year ago and wrote the first draft last spring, but I seem to have forgotten how I did it. Sometimes it feels like I’m revising someone else’s work.

Now that I’m finishing up this project, it’s time to start something new. Time to switch from revising to creating.  Time to start rolling the other way.

If I can only remember how.

 

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One way to get the baby to sleep.

 

Nap time with the baby has been a challenge these past few days. When I put her in her crib, half the time she immediately flips onto her tummy and then starts to cry. Yesterday I had to walk her around the neighborhood in her stroller for over and hour because that was the only way I could get her to take an afternoon nap.

Paul and I wonder if we should leave her on her tummy to struggle and cry. Maybe, if she gets frustrated enough, she’ll remember how to do it.

Or, maybe, we just have to be patient and give her time.

Normally, when I finish with one writing project, I rush to start something new; I’m in a panic not to waste time. But having a baby has made me a bit more relaxed. It’s a successful day if I manage to get dressed and go grocery shopping. So if a day goes by when I don’t work on writing, it’s not the end of the world.

Still, there is a part of me that worries — what if I’ve lost this previously-learned skill, this ability to create fiction?  I worry that this time I won’t be able to write another novel.

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Come on, baby!  Get rolling!

 

While walking the baby around the neighborhood the other day, an idea for a novel popped into my head. That’s how ideas usually arrive. You can’t force yourself to have one; they appear out of the blue, usually when you’re doing something unrelated to writing.

The idea has gotten me thinking, and I can feel the gears in my brain shifting from revision mode to creation mode. I haven’t forgotten how to write, I just haven’t done it in a while.

I’m not in a hurry, but I’m sure soon enough, I’ll get rolling on a new novel.