Easy Ideas for Creating Your Own Book Swag

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Until recently, I had never been to a book signing nor had I ever even followed an author on social media. I’ve been a book lover my entire life, but I never paid much attention to the world of publication behind the curtain book in my hands. However, with my own book launch coming soon, I have begun exploring the mysterious realm of signings, meet and greets, book festivals, and most recently: book swag—perhaps the most fun of them all.

Savvy authors promote their books with more than just sales and marketing materials. These go beyond the typical bookmarks or postcards featuring the book’s cover and a brief description. Book swag is more like bonus material: fun stuff that can be enjoyed in addition to the book, or entirely on their own. Some authors host giveaways with book swag. Some send items as thank-you gifts with their books when they send out advanced copies for early reviews. And others use book swag at book signings as a way to thank readers.

For any fellow newbies out there looking for ideas for author book swag and promos, I came up with several for my book that were all affordable and easy to put together! Honestly, brainstorming these was the most fun thing I’ve done on the advertising/marketing side of publishing. And while many of these items can be customized to match other book themes, it’s best to start with thinking about your own book.

Brainstorming Book Swag

Take inspiration from your characters, their hobbies or occupations, the story’s location, and any recurring or meaningful symbols. If coffee shops make a regular appearance, perhaps a small coffee chocolate bar would be perfect. If your lead character is an EMT, a small first aid kit would be a handy, related item.
Be sure to consider your readers, too. Curate book-related items they would enjoy and use. If you’ve got a bug collector in your story, a cute butterfly sticker might be nice, a dead beetle not so much.

Book Swag Ideas

Here are the book swag items I’m using. Hopefully they spark some ideas for you and your own unique story!

Postcards:

Not just promotional postcards with the book’s cover and information, but a postcard that looks like it really came from the story’s location. If you’re using a real location, this might be easier. If you’re using a fictional location, it’s still completely possible! Outside of Grace is partly set in a fictional town in Texas, based on a real coastal area. I used a stock photo from that area (free on Unsplash) and added the town’s name using Canva. Now I have a set of postcards that will be perfect for sending with advanced reader copies. I’ll write personalized notes thanking the reader on these.

Bookmarks:

You’re dealing with readers—a bookmark just makes sense! I opted for a style I personally enjoy, which is a book tracking bookmark, rather than something directly related to my book. I purchased a digital download on Etsy so that I can print as many as I need. Then I filled in the first book with my own title. Readers can add more book titles as they read. There are so many options for bookmarks though, you could easily customize a bookmark to your book, using photos, editing on Canva, or commissioning a design through Etsy or Fiverr.

Recipe cards:

Last printable, I promise. I must have been quite hungry when I wrote Outside of Grace, because there are a lot of mentions of food. Or maybe I just did a great job at getting into the head of a college male. Either way, I thought recipe cards would be a fun way to bring the book to life. Obviously, this would go perfectly with any book that features food: chefs, restaurant owners, big family dinners, characters with a sweet tooth, etc.

Tea:

While I don’t have a particularly avid tea drinker in my story, I thought it was something my readers would likely enjoy and the Edinburgh branded Scottish breakfast tea helped tie in the secondary location in Outside of Grace. Plus, the scent will make a nice touch in a book box. A box of tea bags is so affordable, I think they would also make a nice signing table addition as well.

Sticky notes:

Here’s a bonus of living in the same state as my book’s location: every local grocery store has an aisle of Texas-themed items. A stack of sticky notes was only $1 at my grocery store. I grabbed a dozen to send out in giveaways or as thank-you gifts. You can print sticky notes with logos as well, which makes a handy and frequent reminder for your reader.

Stickers:

You can find stickers to match almost any theme! I came across these while searching for highland cow gifts. I needed a bit more Scotland in my Outside of Grace swag, plus highland cows make a couple of appearances in the story. One is on a tea towel, but ordering enough tea towels was cost prohibitive. I needed an option that could be produced en masse more easily. Amazon came through for me with a set of 50 highland cow stickers for less than $6! Again, this one is great in bulk and I plan to use it at signings.

Charms:

This was another idea born out of necessity. I loved the idea of a “grace” bracelet or necklace—something anyone could enjoy that would be a positive reminder of the book’s overall message. Plus, I hope it might be something they wear or use out and about, potentially sparking conversations about the book. However, the cheapest options I could find for jewelry started at nearly $10. Again, not something I could buy in bulk. Etsy supplier BabbleCharms saved me. They sell tiny charms by the dozen, most for less than $4. Because they’re so tiny, I added an order of flower charms as well, to add some pop, and because my lead character has an affinity for floral decorations and flower arrangements. I haven’t exactly decided how to use these, but I have them on keychains for now. They could easily be added to jewelry or bookmark tassels though.

Other Ideas:

Once I got started, I couldn’t turn the ideas off. There were several others I didn’t end up using. Here’s a few more that could be customized or might spark ideas for you:

  • Photo keychains (easy to insert the book cover, a location photo, or more).
  • Notecards (empty for the reader to use)
  • Textiles: tea towels, socks, face masks, small knitted items—anything related to your book or characters. Many of these can be ordered with customized prints, or you could even add iron-on transfers yourself. Some items might need no customization if they fit your story. Got a mountain park ranger or an avid hiker in your book? A pair of hiking socks could be a cute touch.
  • Magnets: again, so many customizable options out there.
  • Larger items: these get a bit harder to mail, but if you’re willing to go the extra mile, you could include small candles, seashells for a beach read, an inexpensive watercolor set for your artistic protagonist, the options are endless.
  • More expensive items: these might be for sale, or only for special giveaways. You could create custom tote bags, t-shirts, or art prints of your cover if you have a particularly beautiful design. I think tote bags would be great for book festivals—built-in advertising as your readers browse!

Ways to use book swag:

I plan to include everything pictured to send with advance reader copies, as well as to host a couple of giveaways with the book launch. Some of the more affordable and fun ones, like the Scottish tea or the highland cow stickers, would be perfect for adding to an author signing or festival booth—free for anyone who stops by or perhaps only with a book purchase? We’ll have to see.


Most importantly, remember that this is the fun part. If the brainstorming or the cost starts to stress you out, don’t worry about it. You do not need book swag. Your story is valuable all on its own. Book swag just helps bring your story to life, and get readers as excited about it as you are.



Renewing the Writer’s Soul

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If you started the year with grand claims: “New Year, New Me!” and now find yourself returning to the same struggles that held you in 2021, there is something important you must know. You cannot make yourself new. There are times when we crave a renewal, a fresh start, but it’s impossible to create one from within, when all we have to do it are our same old selves. Just as a child cannot grow itself apart from it’s mother, becoming new is a process that must take place from without.

One of my favorite verses on renewal, Romans 12:2, reveals this. “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” Now, I’ve always thought of that as an active thing, but the fact is, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” is a passive phrase. It is not active. It does not command “renew your mind,” it commands “be transformed” and the renewing is done separately. It is done in waiting. 

I find this true in other verses as well:

“God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10
“He renews my life; he leads me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” Psalm 23:3
“But those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not become weary, they will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31
“Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16
“He saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:5

But if I cannot renew myself, then how can I, let’s just say, coax God into doing it? I’m a tired writer and mom of two toddlers. We’ve been sick this year too many times to count. My husband worked overtime for three months straight. It became impossible to gather an ounce of creativity. So what do I do? How can I be renewed, if I am not in charge of the process?

I can present myself for renewal. I turn to the sources that can renew. This is more than self-care, this is trusting that God will be faithful to provide a soul-deep renewal. And He does. Here are a few ways I present myself for renewal, that tend to reignite inspiration.

Ways God Renews the Writer’s Soul

The Bible
It’s the ultimate story, and I don’t say that to be trite. It really is the guidebook on writing. It is the world’s bestseller and it weaves hundreds of smaller stories into dozens of larger stories into one magnificent story in the most artistic way. Not only does it have spiritual value for the religious writer, but it has its own creative rites as the book of all books.

Nature
The ultimate creative expression is all around and nothing refreshes me more than time in nature. Walking away from the screens for a bit reconnects me to the real world all around, begging for me to slow down and watch a butterfly flit around the yard, or blow dandelions with my daughter. It renews.

Community
I could divide this into so many sub-sections. From the family that encourages me, to the church that feeds my spiritual life, to the strangers I overhear at the coffee shop who give me a perfect idea for a conversation bit in a story (oh yes, that happens). I believe every unique personality out there is a reflection of a God so endless we cannot fathom it. Spending time with those various people can reveal tidbits of that God, spurring new ideas and refreshing my writing tank. Sure, as an introvert, it can get a bit tiresome, but life as a hermit wouldn’t be very inspirational. (Or would it…)

Music
I’m convinced God loves music and he wrote it into our DNA. Music can transport me to another world. It can be encouraging, turning me to worship. It can be relaxing. It can be sad, when I need to let some feelings out. Music can turn the noise and chaos around me into something with rhythm and movement.

Reading
Reading quality Christian fiction is like hearing an elaborate parable. It can point me to spiritual truths in a new and relatable way. Good Christian novels often inspire me to go back to my own writing and reignite my desire to share truth in parable as well. Jesus loved parables for a reason.

Rest
Rest can come in many forms and it is not purely physical. While, yes, sleep is absolutely essential, rest can come to the body in a half hour in a hammock, a bubble bath and glass of wine, or an afternoon cuddle with a child. But rest can be mental too—and for me, that often means a body in motion. Because when my body rests, my mind wanders. When my body moves, my mind rests. I find running to be particularly meditative, though as I’ve written here before, washing dishes seems to be as well.


Throughout the years, God has renewed me in other ways too. There have been inspirational travels, surprise letters in the mail, even through help from counselors at times. Certainly, there are many ways to be renewed, and often we may feel like the initiators as we seek them out. But ultimately, nothing will truly make the soul new again unless the One that made the soul is involved.

Go and be renewed.



Brain Food (AKA: My Latest Reads and Listens)

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Have you ever read and consumed so much information, it felt like your brain would pop? Or is that just a type 5 problem? Between speed-reading for review swaps, research for my own books, and a weekend parenting conference, my brain has gorged itself like it was Thanksgiving (over and over). I even came across a tongue-in-cheek article about Post Homeschool Convention Stress Disorder which was perfectly timed. So now it’s time to digest and detox; to let it all sink in, filter out what I don’t need, process it and put it back out there in my own words. Here’s what’s been on the brain table lately.

Books:

I Carry Your Heart by Barbara A. Luker
This was a great dual-timeline read from a fellow Black Rose Writing author for a review swap. It broke my heart into a million pieces, as star-crossed lovers tend to do, but Luker did it in the best way possible. This story is an expose on the types of love out there—passionate, steadfast, familial, and more. It’s a sweet, if somewhat haunting, tale.

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
What a classic! It’s been around since the 90s and I’ve heard great things about it for years, and I finally grabbed a copy and started reading. Let me tell you… I feel seen! I read every other paragraph aloud to my husband because I was so amazed at how relatable it was. “Babe, listen to this, is this me or what?” If you are a writer and want more than grammatical tips, pick this up. It gets to the heart and soul of writing.

In Search of Sisters, by Mary Ellen Bramwell
Another review swap for a Black Rose Writing author! This started out slow but eventually became quite a memorable story. I enjoyed reminiscing over my own Europe trip as the protagonist explores the continent. I liked how her search for herself transformed to noticing others more. It makes you want to get out there and talk to your neighbors.

We Too, by Mary DeMuth and Talking Back to Purity Culture, by Rachel Joy Welcher
Each of these books deserves their own post, but I’m going to lump them together for now. As I’ve wrapped up final edits on Outside of Grace, I’ve been pouring over some books related to purity culture and sexual assault as it affects Christians specifically. It’s a topic that I’ve grappled with for 90,000+ words, edited extensively, and spoken with various professionals about. It continues to reveal ways purity culture affected me, and challenge me to deconstruct my beliefs, separating what is actually Christ-like from what was just culturally-imposed. Hard stuff, like I said, deserving of its own post.

The Princess Parables by Jeanna Young
If we’re being honest, most of my reading time is spent with books targeted at 2-5 year olds! I grabbed these at the homeschool conference I attended and my girls love them. They retell Jesus’ parables as princess stories. I’m thrilled to take their love for all things princess and put it into something that tells positive, moral stories instead of the usual…well, you know.

Blogs:


I’ll be honest, I tend to spend more of my time reading quick articles than I do books. Of course, most of that is on pointless bunny trails, but here’s a few articles I sought out and enjoyed recently.

Becky Wade: How to Support Authors (Good look at what authors really make from their books.)
Seven Reasons Why Motherhood is Amazing For You, According to Science (Helpful for *those* days)
Motherhood is the most achievable path to a legacy (Also encouraging)
Why was Mary Magdalene the First Witness of the Resurrection? (Highly recommend!)

Listening:

The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill
Like Bird to Bird, I’ve known about this for a couple years and heard so much about this podcast, I felt like I had already listened to it just because people talked about it that much. I am SO glad I finally started listening to it myself though! The quality is impeccable, the content unnerving, and the conversations it has stemmed with my husband are priceless. We’re currently in the process of shifting away from our old church and looking for a new one, so this has been incredibly well-timed for us as we consider what makes for a healthy or unhealthy church environment.

Teach Them Diligently conference
There were so many incredible speakers at this conference. Heidi St. John absolutely blew me away and left me convicted and well-churched for days to come. Rebecca Spooner was also amazing, each of her sessions had the audience sniffling and trying to subtly wipe away our tears. She touched my heart. And Rachael Carman’s talks were so witty, pointed and well-shared, I went home and practically narrated them verbatim for my husband. If I could adopt her as a second mother, I would. (Also, thanks to this conference, I’ve been reading a lot more of the Bible lately too! It truly left me inspired and encouraged.)


What about you? What’s been in your brain-food diet lately?



15 Best Tools for Authors

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My husband and I built a swing set for our daughters last weekend. Honestly, it went pretty smoothly and quickly, all things considered. The fact that my husband has a giant tool chest with every type of wrench, drill bit, and ratchet we could need (and perfectly organized, I might add), made it that much easier. Sure, we could have possibly gotten it done with a single screwdriver and Allen wrench, but it would have taken so much longer (and been much more frustrating).

In the same way, having a full and functional toolbox for writing a novel can make the process so much easier and more enjoyable. Can you write a novel entirely in a Word document? Yes, you can. Heck, you could technically write an entire novel by hand, in a single notebook, if you’re desperate enough. But using the right tools will save you time, effort, and most importantly, sanity. If you’re in the process of building your writer’s toolbox, here are some of my top essentials for writers. (Note: none of these links are sponsored or affiliated.)

15 Essential Writing Tools

1. Scrivener

This is number one for a reason. There are a few writing softwares out there, but Scrivener makes the most sense in terms of interface, usability, and price. It’s a one-time purchase (only $50), rather than an ongoing subscription. I love organizing my chapters, being able to easily switch between scenes, compare two scenes or versions side-by-side, and move sections around as needed. The character profiles and notes sections also see a lot of use early on in my writing. I can compile research, motivations, descriptions, etc. all into one place and it’s organized perfectly in a sidebar. Anytime I meet a writer who mentions Word docs or Google Docs, there’s a 100 percent chance I’m going to suggest Scrivener to them.

2. One Stop for Writers

This website is a bit pricey in my opinion (about $10/month depending on the plan you choose), but every time I think about cutting it, I suddenly need it again. One Stop for Writers drew me in with the Thesaurus options, which offer detailed descriptions for hundreds of settings, occupations, emotions, and more. Need to describe a tattoo parlor but you’ve never been to one? OSFW has detailed descriptions of sights, sounds, smells and more. Have a frustrated character? You can get detailed physical expressions of frustration, emotions that lead to it, where it might go next, possible causes, and more. The OSFW Stacks are another fantastic tool. They walk you through creating a character, narrowing down possible wounds, resulting fears, lies they believe, and core motivations. Select a few quirks from hundreds of options, learn what types of traits they might have based on their career, and more. When I first started using it, I thought I might learn enough to outgrow it, but I haven’t yet.

3. A laptop

It’s obvious, but I have to mention my laptop. I guess you could use a computer, though I love the occasional writing session outdoors, or heading to a coffee shop when I need some people-watching while I write. Personally, I went through a couple of laptops before switching to a MacBook eight years ago, and I’ll never go back. I recently set up a home office and added a laptop riser, keyboard and mouse for a more ergonomic set up, which I highly recommend if you can swing it.

4. A good notebook and pen

While I won’t be writing a novel by hand, I love the tactile experience of jotting down notes. I’m a sucker for a notebook with a pretty cover and that lays flat when open. I’m also a big fan of bullet journals for writing notes because I like to graph out my plot points. And when it comes to pens… Well, I’ve been a journalist for seven years and there is only one pen I buy now. Zebra F-301 pens. These suckers will never skip or smear. To this point, I’ll add that you need a good note-taking app on your phone too. Because inspiration often strikes at the strangest times and places.

5. Wireless earbuds

A comfortable set of earbuds are essential for the endless hours of music you will be listening to. As a people-watcher, I can be easily distracted when I’m working in public spaces, so popping in earbuds and silencing the noise helps me focus. And I prefer wireless for those pacing-the-room moments.

6. Spotify

Endless hours of music require a good streaming service. I know a lot of Apple Music fans, but I’ve been with Spotify too long to change now. I have a playlist for each book. It helps me connect with the characters and set the mood.

7. Pinterest

I’ll do a post soon about the ways I use Pinterest as a writer, so for now I’ll keep it brief. I use Pinterest for three main things: book aesthetics, research, and writing tips. I create a board for each book, with subsections related to the characters, outfits, settings, etc. I’ll link research to a book board as well. And once you start following author-related topics on Pinterest, you’ll find lots of fun tips and tools too.

8. Thesaurus.com

I’m not above admitting my love for Thesaurus.com! When I know a word isn’t quite right, Thesaurus.com usually helps me find my way to the word I actually need.

9. A library card

The best writers are readers too. I’ll admit I don’t read as much as I should, but I still get good use out of my library card. Not to mention, my library hosts writing workshops and local author signings. I’ve also been scoping out the new fiction section lately for cover designs, back cover copy inspiration, and author bios.

10. An online community

Writing can be a lonely job. Of course, most of us are introverts, so we’re fine with that. But having some form of community is still important. We need to know we’re not the only ones who have ever wrestled with an ending or struggled with rejection. Plus, getting tips and inspiration in your inbox can help jumpstart those rough days. I’m personally a fan of Story Embers for Christian fiction, Hope Writers for Christian non-fiction, Jericho Writers for really sassy emails (and self-publishing tips), and Jerry Jenkins‘ website for writing tips.

11. WordPress

Every author needs a website. You don’t have to blog necessarily, but you need a one-stop spot for your author information, book lists, writing accolades, and contact information. I’ve used several website hosting platforms in the past, but WordPress is remains one of the easiest, most affordable, and customizable.

12. The Enneagram

Okay, this isn’t a very specific tool, it’s more like a concept. But if you’re writing fiction, I think the Enneagram is hugely helpful. Knowing your character’s personality type will help you create a consistent character with believable reactions and motivations. You can find out more about how I use the Enneagram as an author here, as well as my favorite book on the topic. If you prefer the Myers-Briggs, check out 16personalities.com.

13. Google Docs

Save the money on Microsoft Office and use free Google Docs instead. As I mentioned above, I don’t use Google Docs for my actual writing, but I do use it for the publishing process. I type up query letters, synopses, and proposals in Google Docs. And I use Google Sheets to track what queries I’ve sent, when I received a response, etc.

14. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

Yes, everybody recommends it. And I wish I had listened sooner. This book is an absolute gem. It won’t tell you how to follow grammatical rules or the magic secret to plot outlining, but it will make you feel understood as a writer. Every page has me reading something out loud to my husband as I laugh and cry with it.

15. A grammar checker

Scrivener doesn’t have a very strong grammar/spelling checker in my opinion. But as a professional editor, those aren’t tools I typically need. However, when I get stuck on an issue, I refer to my AP Stylebook (journalist here) or Grammar Girl. If you need a strong grammar checker, check out Grammarly.

Bonus: Good walking shoes

When it’s all too much, put them on and go outside. A walk around the block can do wonders for your writer’s soul.


Whether you’re a new or experienced writer, having the right programs and tools makes the job easier! Were any of my “essentials” new to you? Are there any favorites in your writer’s toolbox that I missed? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!



Sorry I’m Late

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I tried my very best
To get out the door
But it’s quite hard to hurry
A daughter who’s four

She’s not the only one
Her sister is just two
Rushing out the door
Is more than she can do

We fight about jackets
We fight about shoes
We fight about headbands
And wearing tutus

We bring all the books
We bring all the snacks
And for the baby dolls
We even turn back

So sorry I’m late
And I’ll never be early
But you see I have two
Highly sensitive girlies

Perhaps one day
Will quietly arrive
That I say put on shoes
And nobody cries

There’ll be no more diapers
No blanket or lovey
By then they might even
Ask me for a car key

Maybe then I’ll be early
No little hand to hold
I’ll walk in the door wondering
Why we have to grow old

I’ll help a young mom
Her son’s shoes aren’t a pair
I’ll hold the door open
I’m proud that she’s there

Because I remember when
I walked in those shoes
And I’ll always remember
When mine were just two


[ Written at red lights on the way to something, quite late, of course. ]



The Day I Signed My First Book Contract

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Outside of Grace officially entered a publishing contract in what was simultaneously the most monumental and mundane Monday of my life. It was a day of parenting, full of wiping noses, bottoms, and tears—in no particular order.

After preparing an afternoon snack, I checked my phone and saw an email confirming the contract and welcoming me to the publishing house. I looked up, mental confetti raining all around me, to find a very upset four year old who had dropped her orange slice in the dirt. Showing her my phone and telling her that momma was going to be a published novelist was no use. She really wanted me to wash off her orange.

That was how my lifelong dream was set in motion. After many months of writing and editing, querying and dealing with rejection (and loads of doubt and despair), it all catapulted into publication while toddlers wiped grimy hands on my legs. While the ink on my contract was still drying, my two year old set her wet sippy cup on top of it. Honestly, it was a perfect picture of what this entire process has been like. Jotting notes on my phone while we walk to the park, daydreaming while folding laundry, and working late after the kids go to bed. I frequently hear of people writing their first book in retirement. I’ve even heard plenty of advice that I should wait until then. That I should wait until I’ve lived enough to have a story to tell (and how long is that?). And yes, it’s been hard to get it all done in the 12 hours a week of childcare we have. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love being a writer mama.

So I wrapped up those sticky-cheeked and tangled-hair babies in my arms and rained all that confetti on them in the form of kisses. They didn’t have a clue why, but they knew mama was happy and they were too. And God knew. He knew we had finally found a publisher who caught the vision for this story (two, actually! I got two offers within a week). He knows were it’s going next. And I know I’ll be there, signing books and bribing toddlers with lollipops. It will be wonderful.

Save Some for Me

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My daughter and I

Save Some For Me

I know you want to do big things, to make a difference, to be the change.
I know you pour out your heart and energy into our community.
I know you love people well.
So save some for me, Mom.

Save time for slowing down, for eye-to-eye moments, and heart-to-heart talks.
Save space to play with me, to listen to me, to hear me.
Save room for me to have needs too.
Save some for me, Mom.

You’re managing a home, cooking and cleaning and caring.
You’re working a business, earning and sharing.
You’re learning, growing and making.
Please save some for me, Mom.

Don’t run yourself ragged before you’ve chased me around.
Don’t wear yourself out before I come in the door.
Don’t tire of loving before you love me.
Save some for me, Mom.

In all you do, can I be your most important charge?
In all you do, am I a task or a delight?
In all you do, may I be a part?
Save some for me, Mom.

Keep achieving, Mom, I’m learning from you.
Keep going, Mom, I’m growing with you.
Keep resting, Mom, I find peace in you.
Just save some for me, Mom.


As I head into the new year and set my eyes on goals ahead, this has been on my heart a lot lately. Like many moms (all moms?), I’m subject to Mom Guilt. Balancing life and motherhood is difficult. I frequently have to remind myself that it’s okay for my girls to see their mother work hard and achieve other things. It’s also okay to know when to draw the line and remember that they’re my first priority.

This idea of “saving some” for my kids has been guiding my decisions lately. When I wonder if I can add in one more thing, I have to ask myself—will I be able to save space for my kids? Will this add energy to my life that I can then pour into my children, or will it drain me and leave me empty at the end of the day when they come running into my arms?

I find that my children will demand every bit of me—even when I’m home with them all day, on my hands and knees playing with them for hours on end, they’ll ask for more. It’s okay, healthy even, to show them what boundaries look like. To show them that Momma does more than just play games. But at the end of the day, I need to have saved some space for them. I need a day off where I can spend it playing. Even thirty minutes off, where I’m not worried about my to-do lists, and I can see things through their eyes again. Because the world through the eyes of a child is a beautiful thing. They are beautiful gifts. So I will save some for them.



Inspiration Comes at the Kitchen Sink

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I’ve traveled by train through the Alps of Switzerland. I’ve sipped coffee under the first snowfall of the Canadian Rockies. I’ve ziplined through the cloud forest of the Guanacaste mountains in Costa Rica. When I think of inspiration, my mind takes me back to these mountains. They were places of absolute beauty, where I felt my heart soar, and my mind immediately wanted to create something beautiful in response. So, on that train through Switzerland, I grabbed pen and paper, and I wrote absolutely nothing.

I could hardly think of a single word. The beauty around me was so stunning and overwhelming, all I could do was sit in wonder. Nothing I could create could even compare.

Photo taken by my husband in Costa Rica, circa 2016

As it turns out, my fantasy of a writing retreat in the mountains is a terrible idea. Because my very best ideas have come to me when my mind wants to wander away. When I’m stuck in traffic listening to “Old MacDonald” on repeat with two toddlers or folding the third load of laundry that day. My mind begins to wander and suddenly I find myself in another world, as another person, living another life. You could call it plain old escapism, but as a writer, I get to call it inspiration.

And I’m not alone. Plenty of authors online tout the magic of washing dishes, Agatha Christie most famously.

“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”

Agatha Christie

Another version of this quote, often credited to her, is: “The best crimes for my novels have occurred to me washing dishes.”

The repetitiveness of these simple chores is mind-numbing and dulling—not words usually used to describe artistic inspiration. Yet, that’s exactly when it happens. When the mind can drift, when it isn’t being spurred on by newness and it must create its own. Whether for the meditative benefits or creative spark, apparently Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are two guys who love doing dishes for similar reasons, according to Insider.

“[Washing dishes] can also be a chance to relax and daydream. And creativity experts say it’s just this sort of loose mind-wandering that allows the brain to make some of its most innovate and unexpected leaps (which is why so many good ideas come to us in the shower).”

Insider

Don’t even get me started on shower thoughts. Do they make waterproof journals? I could really use a waterproof journal.

The Magic Spark

The Hope Writers prompt that inspired this post asked about a specific time I felt a creative spark, though. And that’s harder for me to pinpoint.

Ideas seem to form in a fog, slowly revealing themselves until they’re standing there introducing themselves with a crooked grin and a freckle under their left eye. I can’t say exactly when I realized the idea was there, because there were moments early on when I squinted into the fog, wondering if I had seen something, doubting myself, letting it go, looking again, catching sight of a form, still unsure if it was a person or a telephone pole.

Outside of Grace began as a single scene in my mind while I was writing my first novel (the one that lives under the bed, never to see the light of day). It was an ending, a happily-ever-after type of scene that never even remotely fit into the finished product, and I’m not sure when it came to me.

Most inspiration seems to happen while driving, for me. I live on I-35, so I have the luck of spending large amounts of time in traffic. I keep a note on my phone with the latest bits of conversation or description. When a scene floods my mind so desperately it cannot be tapped out at a red light, it becomes a voice memo, like I’m some 1980s detective.

So, as dreamy as the mountainous retreat I plan to retire in sounds, I realize there’s actually great value to living the daily life of a stay-at-home mom. There’s great value in cooking macaroni and cheese yet again, washing the three outfits that were worn that day alone, and scrubbing the floors after potty training. Because in the moments that feel like drudgery, I create.

“One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.”

Annie Dillard, The Writing life


When I First Knew I was a Writer

Author, Blog

When someone tells me they don’t know what they want to do for a living or what their passion is, one of the first things I want to know is: what did you want to be when you grew up? And second, what did you spend your free time doing as a child? Because, while it might not apply to everyone, those two questions reveal that I was a writer from the time I was eight years old.

Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash

My earliest goals were to be either an artist or an astronaut (hey, I was six). Once I was well into elementary school, I realized I would never have the scientific skills to pursue my interstellar dreams. But the dream of becoming an artist began to shape and mold itself into wordplay. At ten, I fell in love with a show about children creating a newspaper during the American Revolution (Liberty’s Kids, if you want to know exactly how old I am). They had a website that let you create your own single-page newspaper and I used it to begin a family newsletter that I proudly printed and mailed to my aunts. I would draft up the latest family happenings, from my sister’s basketball game, to my brother’s black eye. A decade later, I held a degree in journalism.

There were other signs too—like the creative writing class I took as a 12-year-old. I stole inspiration from the novels I loved, crafting stories that bordered on plagiarism, though no one seemed to recognize it. The teacher praised me highly and I began to catch a glimpse of myself as a writer.

If there’s one moment though, I would point to something that happened three years later. At 15, I was busy with high school, distracted by peers, and trying to babysit all I could to afford my own phone. I wasn’t doing much writing outside of my journal and a pen pal, but I still loved it and dabbled in it when I could. I was attending a charismatic church at the time and the wife of the lead pastor said God had told her something about me. We didn’t know each other well and hadn’t spent any time together, so she admitted she might be off. She said, “I’m not sure if you enjoy writing or not, but I feel like God showed me that you’re going to write words that will make history. You’re going to be an earth-shaking writing.” Talk about a confidence boost!

From that moment on, I knew I was going to be a writer.

JUST KIDDING! Nope. I mean, at that moment , sure, I thought I’d be a writer. But I had plenty of people speaking negativity into my life as well. There’s no shortage of people willing to tell aspiring journalists that newspapers are dying, media are evil, writers are starving artists, and so on and so forth. Just walking into the library made me want to give up—how could I ever stand a chance when there’s already millions of books out there?

So, I spent a year and a half at a community college with a general studies major. When I transferred to the University of Texas, I entered as a linguistics major. I thought I might go into speech therapy. My love for language was unshakeable, but I didn’t think writing was a viable option. One month into linguistics, I was applying to transfer to the journalism school. (Let’s just say linguistics was not my gifting.) A kid in my linguistics class told me, “good luck, I’ve been rejected twice.” He went on to tell me that it was a highly exclusive club and few got in, many had to re-apply semester after semester. I didn’t have time to spare, I was already ending my sophomore year.

So God made a way. In fact, I think he let me momentarily lose sight of writing for a reason. If I had applied to UT’s journalism school as an outsider, I might not have made it in. But being a student already and then applying to transfer programs helped pave the way (yes, the student above had been rejected as an inside transfer, it still wasn’t easy). Now, after several years of journalism, God’s been reawakening a love for writing fiction, inspiring novel after novel—faster than my hands can type them (and I’m not slow).

You know what they say about hindsight? Well, it’s true. It’s amazing how confusing things like majors and careers can feel as a young adult. The options seem endless, the pros and cons stretch on forever. But when I look back, it’s easy to say—of course! It was right there all along! And I think it often is. Our passions can be found when we think back to a time before we worried about job availability, average salaries, etc. Our passions were clear when they were childhood dreams. (And if you think yours were all over the place, there are jobs for that too. Mine were too as a child, and that’s what I love about journalism and writing—it lets me explore a variety of fields and interests.)

I would love to hear others’ stories! When did you know you would be a… Whatever it is you are today! Please share!

/This was written as a response to Hope Writers‘ January prompts./



Fighting the Instinct to Hide: An Enneagram Five Confession

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I tend to hide. It seems right—wise, even—to keep things close to the chest until I know, without a doubt, that it will be a roaring success. My husband, a textbook Type 3, is the opposite. He will spout off his latest and greatest ideas to anyone who will listen.

Our extreme differences in this area has been a frequent hot spot when it comes to joint efforts in our marriage. My husband wants to tell everyone that we’re considering a new business venture, a move, or a trip somewhere. I would rather wait until after it’s all said and done (and successful) to say, “Oh yeah, we did that last month.”

Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash

Finding a balance has been a continual effort. For my own work, I’ve had to admit that becoming a roaring success is difficult when nobody knows what you do. In the effort to come out of my shell, I’ve stretched myself to do “risky” things, like create a webpage for Outside of Grace. Publicly acknowledging I’ve written a book (before it’s even published?!) was terrifying. I’d rank it right up there with swimming with sharks.

But recently, I went even further. At the prompting and encouraging of Mr. Three, I offered one of my Rundle Press activity books as a door prize for my local moms group. I had rejected the idea plenty of times under the claim that I wasn’t a legitimate small business. Finally, after watching plenty of MLM products and home crafts appear in the door prize rotation, I decided I was about as legit as anyone else. Mr. Three readily agreed.

So there I stood, on a stage, talking about my preschool curriculum and busy books in front of 60 moms, and trying my best not to use phrases like “just a little thing I do.”

A friend in the group was shocked and asked me how she never knew about this. She teased me for being secretive. When I admitted that I tend to hide things away until I feel like they’re perfected, I realized it might not be such a reasonable trait after all. And in fact, it sounded very much like something a Type Five would say.

When I got home, a quick Google search provide me right ( < things Type Fives say). In fact, it came up in an article comparing Types Three and Five.

“Average Threes tend to promote themselves and to talk about their brilliant achievements, whereas average Fives tend to be secretive and reticent about their work and discoveries.”

The Enneagram Institute

Yes! Exactly! (Feeling understood is always such a lovely thing, especially when I tend to keep my thoughts trapped in my head. #writerlife) While I’m quite familiar with the Enneagram types, I read through some of the information on fives again, this time with a focus on this particular issue. I didn’t find much specific to hiding, but I could see the idea hidden in other phrases. Take this for example:

“When they get verification of their observations and hypotheses, or see that others understand their work, it is a confirmation of their competency, and this fulfills their Basic Desire. (‘You know what you are talking about.’)”

The Enneagram Institute

I identify strongly with this statement in the reverse sense. When others reject my work, it feels like a death sentence: “You are not good enough.” Rejection is hard for anyone, but I wonder if the Type Five is particularly slow to overcome it.

The basic desire of the five is to be competent and capable, and to that end, they tend to gather information endlessly, hiding and protecting their own resources to ensure they know enough and are enough. Because of this, and the fact that they must push themselves so hard to reveal their knowledge and share their resources with the world, rejection can be very painful. Once experienced, they may hold onto their knowledge and resources tighter than ever.

As a type five, one of the most important things I’m learning about rejection is to not let it become a label or identity. Just because a literary agent rejected my book doesn’t mean the book is bad, or that I’m a bad writer. I have to face the rejection head on: what is the truth, plain and simple? For all I know, it could have been that the agent was already overbooked, they weren’t the right fit, or anything else. Or maybe they do think my book is bad. I thought Frankenstein by Mary Shelley was awful. One person’s opinion does not equal an absolute truth.

It takes an arsenal of resources to overcome rejection. Reframing, small successes, and the encouragement of friends are helping me make slow, steady progress. Adding an awareness of how my personality functions helps me realize what might not be an entirely rational or “right” response, so that I can work towards a healthier balance.

While I don’t think I need to become as outgoing and sharing as a Type Three, I know that Type Fives are gifts to the world in their own way. They just have to learn to share those gifts. So to myself and other Fives: Yes, be observant, be quiet, keep it close, but when you’re ready, with the right people, share those gifts. The world needs them.