How Shirking My To Do List Brought Me A Writing Breakthrough That Was Five Years In The Making

I had a to do list today, just like I do every day. Most days I check off nearly everything on them. In a normal job setting, I chip away at everything as a brisk pace without delay, though in my personal life I am a master of procrastination and working frantically in equal parts. I had quite the list today: apply to full-time editing jobs, apply to part-time internships, shop for groceries, do a load or two of laundry, write a book review, read a book, work on my homework. It was quite a long, and mostly inconsequential list that can wait for tomorrow.

As Tuesday is my only quiet, peaceful, truly self-ordered day, I decided to hide out in a cafe where nobody would look for me and write. Not my primary WIP, which I’ve been diligently chipping away at and should still make my self-imposed deadlines for, but the elusive portal fantasy that I poke at time and again. It’s been simmering for well over a decade now, and I go back to drop in new ingredients, add a dash of this or that, give it a stir, and occasionally add a new side dish to. Someday it will be ready, but since it doesn’t have a recipe, I just have to wait and see when that day will be.

I scraped through yesterday on heaps of coffee and well-timed naps, and though I slept deeply last night, I woke this morning to the sort of quiet world that exists in the liminal spaces of life – somewhere between sleeping and waking, where anything is possible. Every once in a while I wake to this sort of feeling, and I know that the day is ripe to dive through the portal once again and see what I can discover about the world I started inventing and exploring back in the early years of the millennium.

Today, I discovered a new character. I knew his name before but could not conjure an image of him to my mind. He had bits and pieces to his life, and I knew he was important, but whether to me or to another character I hadn’t yet puzzled out. Today I saw his face, and learned his motivations, even while I was writing the inner thoughts of another character with whom he comes into contact. It is always cheering to see a new face among my pages. Like an adventurer myself I leap excitedly into the breach that takes me to Everest, where I am always clearing out the fog and greeting the new faces I find there.

A lot of how I write this particular book is based purely on personal experience. I started it in sixth or seventh grade and fumbled through the dark of how exactly a novel was supposed to be written. I did take a novel writing class in seventh grade which helped a little, and the feedback from it helped me to shape the world that my characters now call home. However, the actual story has changed at least three times since then and probably more than ten. I blame reading The Eye of the World that same year for my enormous vision, but once I had begun to create it I was committed. I devoted entire summers and Christmas breaks during high school to developing it, and even though it’s hardly close to being finished, I’ve broken through a kind of barrier that seemed to keep the characters at arms length over the years.

Writing without a real outline while you attempt to populate a planet is both a challenge and a delight. The world is always just at the edge of my thoughts, and even when I have writer’s block or can’t for the life of me see where a scene is going, I can go back and dive into the minds of my main characters and attempt to see the world through their eyes. What would they focus in on in this scene? What would they do in this situation? How would they remember a particular moment if they reflected on it? I can hardly recall now the date when my characters came into being, or where I plucked them from, only that they were the kind of heroes I wanted to read about, and that if I were to go on an adventure I should want to be like them as I did it. They have become my most constant companions, and I’ve learned to lean into their adventures when I become stuck in my own, and vice-versa. What would R do in this situation? I ask myself, and even occasionally translate my own experiences into the context of their world so I can play them through it. Some of these writings even maneuver their way into the actual manuscript, though that is not always the case.

Today has been one of those magical days where I was able to dive into the mind of a character without becoming wrapped up in world building, and walk through their thoughts and memories of a scene I haven’t even written yet. It was through writing their memories of a scene that I came across the face of my character – he is neither new nor so old to be called that either – and finally saw the scene as they must have, meeting him for the first time. And finally, finally, I knew how to finish a scene that I have been bemoaning for at least five years. Writing is magical that way. Sometimes you have to look at a scene from every direction (including backwards into a character’s memories) to realize what needed to happen.

I am ecstatic, to say the least, that I finally know where that particular scene is going. It’s been an ongoing itch, the need to fix and finish it, and the character I met today has also been at the edge of my mind. To find that they belonged together is immensely satisfying. I feel like I just finished reading a book with a perfect, happy ending because the narrative of my story is smooth and strong once again. This scene has been a chink in my armor for nearly five years if I estimate correctly, and finally fixing it absolutely makes up for the awful day I had yesterday, not to mention all the frustration I’ve felt over the scene since I first came across it.

And now, back into the breach I go. Adventure awaits.

Dealing With Dragons (The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, #1) – Patricia C. Wrede

Source: Goodreads

Princess Cimorene of Linderwall has very proper parents. She is nothing like her six elder sisters. Her hair is black and unruly. She avoids her dancing classes to fence with the castle armsmaster, learn magic with the court magician, practice economics with the court treasurer, or bake in the castle kitchens. Bored out of her mind, she summons her fairy godmother, who is no help whatsoever. So she runs away. Cimorene takes up the perfectly acceptable life of being a dragon’s princess, but she is nothing like the other captive princesses. She finds a place where her abilities (math, declining latin, cooking, baking, cleaning, magic) are welcomed and even useful. Now if only the knights and princes would stop showing up trying to fight Kazul and carry Cimorene off to live happily ever after.


Every year when International Women’s Day rolls around, I think of Cimorene. Wrede didn’t write her as a feminist. Equality is something that Cimorene takes as a given, not something she has to fight for. Anything that isn’t based in equality is just absurd, regardless of what is deemed ‘proper’ by the governing bodies. Cimorene is strong, smart, curious, and stubborn. She is, in short, my favorite literary character ever created and I hope I can write characters half as cool as her someday. I read this book at least once a year, usually more, and it is one of the biggest inspirations in my writing, equal to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time and Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted. I bring a copy with me any time I babysit and read it to my charges regardless of age and gender because it never fails. This book is pure magic.

Dealing With Dragons is not a romance. It is about Cimorene finding her place in the world and turning it into her best life. When life gives you lemons, make fresh-scented soapy water. Trust me, it can solve most of your problems.

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

Other books by Patricia C. Wrede:
Sorcery & Cecelia, Or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot

February Wrap-Up/March Goals 2019: Why Five Days Without Social Media Put Me Back On Track

February and March are always the most challenging months of the year for me. One is incredibly short, and the other features the start of Daylight Savings here in the USA, making my mornings pitch black in place of the sunshine I love so much. They are both dark and cold, with spring seemingly nowhere in sight. So I do a lot of planning and hibernating, and then once spring comes I usually regret not doing anything active to keep up my energy and fitness levels.

In February, I took a five-day break from social media.

I was knee-deep in blog posts to write, papers and homework to complete for graduate school, and cover letters and resumes to finish for job hunting. On top of that, I wasn’t sleeping well due to all the stress these things were adding to my life, and I wasn’t eating or hydrating well, much less working out on a regular basis. I was a wreck, and I was distracting myself by spending copious amounts of time on social media.

Now, I love social media. I have friends I talk to exclusively through my social media accounts, and I didn’t relish the idea of not talking to them for five days. Touching base with them is one of the highlights of my day, reassuring me that I’m not the only one going through a crazy time and that life is complicated for even the best of us. But I was online too much. Instead of sitting down and attacking my to-do list like I decided I would every morning, I was scrolling for an hour or more through everyone else’s updates: proof that they were living life, but also evidence that I was not.

So, I moved all of my social media apps to the back of my phone and vowed not to check my notifications for five days.

I turned on some music and rolled out my yoga mat. I had planned to go for a run, but I was so anxious that I bordered on nausea and didn’t want to risk it. The ‘yoga’ turned into an hour-long nap on my yoga mat as my brain ran itself into the ground, trying to find solutions to life’s many problems, a crash that I’ve probably been headed for since November. I felt better after that, but I spent the rest of the day taking it easy – I hydrated, I read a couple books, and I went over to the coffee shop with my roommate and put in some research time on a paper.

By day three, I had finished my paper for school and a blog post. I also had a spontaneous heart-to-heart with my professor after class one night. I prepared to head to Connecticut to visit my grandmother for the weekend, where we ended up cooking and watching Crazy Rich Asians, Hallmark movies, and The Great British Bake Off. I finished reading two books and slept in.

Of course, I also spent plenty of time trying not to pick up my phone or log into social media from my laptop. I missed my ‘internet friends’ if you will, but I also knew that I needed to concentrate on living and getting the work done.

On day four, I sat in a Starbucks, writing blog posts like this one, but also peaking through my old writing. I do that every so often because it reminds me that I’m creative. I so seldom have time to be truly creative that if I don’t remind myself it can be done, I’m likely to dig myself a new hole and drag myself back into a STEM field for stability. Some of my story ideas (mostly the ones based on vivid dreams I’ve had) are hilariously insane. And sometimes I come across a fully outlined romance novel that makes me grin from ear to ear. Just another reminder that I contain multitudes, and that not everything has to be great, or even good. Everything has value, even if that value is just to remind me what crap looks like.

Since my social media hiatus ended, I have felt much more grounded and calm. I feel like I’ve come back into myself, tapped into what my body needs (sleep and food and physical activity), and screwed my head back on where it belongs. I’ve been able to hang out with friends without feeling like I should be doing a thousand other things, and focus on the thousand other things one at a time without worrying about ditching my friendships. It’s like one long exhale.

February Goals:

Usually, I would have shared my goals at the beginning of the month, but I decided to play it close to the vest this time. Here’s what some of my goals were for February and how well I completed them:

Read 8 Books: I only ended up with 7, but I’ve already finished two in March, so I’m not too mad about it.
February Reads:
Slightly Married (Bedwyns, #1) – Mary Balogh
The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After (Bridgertons, #9) – Julia Quinn
The Serving Leader – Ken Jennings and John Stahl-Wert
Temptation Ridge (Virgin River, #6) – Robyn Carr
Paradise Valley (Virgin River, #7) – Robyn Carr
Nora Roberts Land (Dare Valley, #1) – Ava Miles
Ghosted – Rosie Walsh
January Reads:
Shelter Mountain (Virgin River, #2) – Robyn Carr
Watch Hollow (Watch Hollow, #1) – Gregory Funaro
Whispering Rock (Virgin River, #3) – Robyn Carr
A Virgin River Christmas (Virgin River #4) – Robyn Carr
Gift of the Shaper (Highglade, #1) – D.L. Jennings
Second Chance Pass (Virgin River, #5) – Robyn Carr
On the Way to the Wedding (Bridgertons, #8) – Julia Quinn

Write 8 Reviews: I wrote two, but I’ve written three more now that Spring break has started!

Apply to Full-Time Jobs and Internships: I made no progress in this department officially, but I did a lot of behind the scenes work, creating outlines for Cover Letters and basic resumes that I can more easily adapt for surprise opportunities that come my way.

Workout More: I worked out exactly 3 times this month, and one of those was my yoga-nap. I did manage to come up with some semblance of a workout schedule for the next few weeks, however, so hopefully, I won’t be so miserable when spring finally shows itself. The constant snow has really been putting a damper on my running plans.

Zero Dollar Days: These are an attempt to curb and/or make me hyperaware of my spending habits. It’s much harder than I expected it to be because living in the city requires that I buy train passes all the time and if I get caught out for too long I have to buy food or starve. I’ve been trying to stay closer to home to compensate, but then I get cabin fever.

Write One Chapter of My WIP: (Work in Progress) – I’m attempting to write one chapter a month this year in order to complete a manuscript draft by December of 2019. So far so good.

Work on Big Projects: I have a 15-page case study, a 10-minute group marketing presentation, and a 10-page paper/10-minute presentation on a publishing company of my choice due this semester. Working on them in chunks is the only way I’m going to survive them amidst the shorter weekly assignments. My partner and I met up last week to finish 80% of our presentation, and I have some sources and an extremely rough outline for my case study. The publishing presentation was due last week, and didn’t go as badly as I thought it would.

March Highlights:

This month I am enjoying spring break, which consists of working at my new part-time cafe job, chipping away at the last of my marketing presentation, hopefully completing 80% of my case study, and possibly visiting Salem for the first time! It’s hard to believe I’ve lived in Boston for almost two and a half years and haven’t made the trip up there yet.

My cafe job is so chill y’all – nothing like my old retail job. I’m loving it so far, but I’ve only just started. It’s giving me a small sense of security while I continue the hunt for jobs in publishing, and that security is the reason I started sleeping better last week. It’s also helping me readjust my sleep schedule. As I mentioned in January, retail work left me horribly sleep deprived and for the last few months I’ve barely been able to get out of bed before noon, much less go to bed before midnight. It’s been a vicious cycle, but having a low-stress commitment like this new gig is already helping straighten out my sleep schedule. I should be back to being a morning person by the end of March, just in time to be able to enjoy spring.

Below are some of my goals for March!

March Goals:

Write 10 Reviews: I’m trying to build up a bank of reviews to post from when I don’t finish the book I had planned on time to share on a given Tuesday. These are mostly stand-alone books or romance novels that I’ve read during my commutes around the city.

Read 10 Books: If I can read 6-8 books in the shortest month of the year, I should be able to read 10 in one of the longest.

Apply to Internships and Full-Time Jobs in Publishing: March is going to be pretty focused on applying to summer internships and any publishing jobs that come my way. T-9 months until graduation.

Workout More: To avoid the lethargy I’ve felt every spring for the last 8 years, I need to start a better workout routine now. A mix of running and yoga to start out, but eventually, I’d like to visit the gym on campus with some of my classmates. We have a group chat to keep us all accountable!

Write a Chapter of my WIP: Just like February, I need to complete one chapter of my WIP to stay on track to finish the manuscript by the end of the year.

Cook More Real Food: I’d like to practice my kitchen skills some more before I lose them for good. Less Kraft mac n’ cheese, more chicken pot pie. On Monday night I made chicken over rice with peas in a cream-of-chicken-soup sauce, and it was delicious!

Finish a Craft Project: I have a pile of unfinished projects in my room that just take up space, so I’d like to finish them and maybe make some room for a reading corner.

Have 15 Zero Dollar Days: I’m going to attempt not to spend money for half the month. This might be insane, but it’s worth a shot.

Romancing Mister Bridgerton (Bridgerton, #4) – Julia Quinn

Source: Goodreads

Colin Bridgerton has always been the free spirit of the family. He’s traveled much of the known world, and he’s never given a thought to marriage. He arrives home from one of his adventures and runs into his brothers on his mother’s doorstep, where an argument ensues, pushing him to make the declaration that he will ‘never’ marry Penelope Featherington. To add to his misfortune, Penelope herself happens to just then be leaving his mother’s home.

Penelope has no plans for marriage. She and her best friend Eloise are going to settle somewhere together and live out their days in peace. Privately though, she’s always been a little bit in love with her best friend’s brother, Colin. The two of them have been friendly for years – Eloise is Colin’s favorite sister, and Penelope is the only non-family member he is comfortable being himself around, but the Featherington family is the silliest in London, and Penelope has always been a wallflower – dressed in colors that are always unflattering to her complexion.

When Colin finally gets up the courage to apologize to Penelope, he can see that something has changed, that their friendship is damaged, and that it is up to him to fix it. Yet, in setting out to heal his friendship with Penelope, Colin begins to realize how much, and just how little, he really knows about her. Add to their lives one of the quietest London Seasons in years and a plot to unmask the notorious Lady Whistledown, and Colin has his work cut out for him if he has any hope of keeping his newfound feelings under wraps.


If Kate and Anthony’s story is my favorite to read, then Penelope and Colin’s is my favorite to reflect upon. Romancing Mister Bridgerton is the fourth in an eight-book saga, and rounds out the marriages of the elder four Bridgertons. It also wraps up the Lady Whistledown story arc, and manages to occur nearly simultaneously with books five and six, which explore Eloise and Franchesca’s stories.

Watching Colin and Penelope try to find their equilibrium and rebuild their friendship while they wrestle with their feelings and their own personal disasters is, simply put, a work of art. There is a lot going on in this book, which can make it feel like it is flying by and also covering a wide range of characters. Because it is also setting up Eloise’s story, this book has a couple of chapters that are not told through Penelope or Colin’s eyes, and that adds another dash of mystery to what is already an enchanting story.

HHC Rating: 5 Stars