How I Use Music in My Writing

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Music is essential to writing a first draft. It sets a mood, fuels creativity, and offers words when I hit a blank. But music can also be distracting and enabling. I try to be intentional about how I bring it into my writing and what types of music I use. Below, I’ve got some tips on how I balance music with my writing. Plus, my “official” Outside of Grace playlist (with some teaser info at the end)!

Moment of honesty first: sharing the music I listen to is terrifying! I discovered in college that whatever I listened to, regardless of what it was, was definitely uncool. I once had a TA do a music session in lab at the end of the semester and let everyone pick songs. My song was the only one immediately booed and voted off. (If that happens in a future book, now you know.) So I’m pretty self-conscious about my music. But whatever. My police-officer dad raised me on a steady stream of Enya. I’ll never be cool. I’m learning to be okay with that.

Set the Mood

Whether it’s a sad, reflective moment, or an upbeat, hopeful scene, music helps me get into the right headspace. As a mom of toddlers, if I’m going to quickly go from changing diapers to writing about college kids in a bar, I need the help of music. I have a playlist for each novel I’m working on, and each one features a unique style of music. The Outside of Grace playlist (above) walks through the moods of the book—ranging from Scottish ballads to house beats and more. I wonder how much of the book can be given away in that playlist alone? It should probably come with spoiler alerts!

Find the Songs

Another novel I’m drafting is more character-focused and doesn’t feature as many drastic scene changes. Rather, it develops two characters who are total opposites. Thus, the playlist for that book features songs that help me get into the character’s heads more, focusing on who I’m writing about and the way they view the world. One of them is very bohemian—and I’ve got her listening to indie songs with a nature-focus. Finding Bohemian and Christian Boho playlists on Spotify was very helpful in building my own playlist. Spotify’s suggestions were helpful for building onto a playlist once I got started.

Words or No Words?

I used to hate songs with words when writing. If I’m trying to get an academic paper just right the first time, I’m likely to stick with classical music. But for the creative process, I find that the slight distraction of songs with lyrics helps take off the pressure of a blank page. I can let loose, fill the page with words, and then come back to it for edits later.

Zone Out

I’m a shameless repeater. If I find an addictive new song, I’m likely to play it on repeat endlessly until I can hum it in my sleep. (With headphones of course, so I don’t drive my husband insane.) It becomes a background noise that helps me zone out and focus on writing; I think it keeps me from getting distracted by other thoughts.

Religious or Secular?

A quick look through the Outside of Grace playlist will reveal a majority of secular songs, which may seem odd—possibly even offensive—for a Christian novel. As a teenager, a small church I visited wanted members to only listen to Christian music. To an extent, I can see their point. Honestly, I find my mental health tends to be better when I primarily listen to Christian music. However, I think being aware of current music trends and culture can be helpful (Acts 17:22-31 is a good example of being aware of the culture). Outside of Grace deals with a lot of secular settings—bars, college campuses, etc. Pretending like Christians don’t encounter that sort of thing on a regular basis doesn’t help anyone.

In theme with setting the mood, when my main character is wrestling with her faith, my listening will reflect that. Artists like Matt Maeson, who is vocal about his experience of turning away from religion and later rediscovering it, capture the feel so well. Several of his songs filled the playlist when I was considering how to accurately represent a crisis of faith. (Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Disco also wrestles with topics of religion in songs like Say Amen, while offering the vibe I needed for certain scenes.)

*Let’s just take a break here to say that you’re probably thinking I’m an insane over-thinker. You would be right.

“I don’t even like the idea that there is a separation between Christian music and non-Christian music. [That designation] makes it seem less approachable… I wouldn’t label my music Christian music anyways, but it does have a lot to do with faith.” 

Matt Maeson

Reverse the Mood

When it’s time for edits, I try to challenge myself to reverse the mood. Listening to something peppy and upbeat before editing a big tear-jerker scene is a great way to test its strength. The scene must be written powerfully enough to bring me back down. And while I’ll do copy editing with music, I need silence for line editing. Once I’m ready for final edits, I do crazy person things like stand in my room, alone, and read the entire thing out loud. It’s amazing how much more you can catch when you have to speak the words and your brain can’t just auto-pilot through them.

Have Fun

Now go forth, Writer, and picture your perfect playlist as the soundtrack to your wildly successful book-turned-movie. Or, Reader and epilogue-loving Fan, find your author’s playlist and reread the scenes you loved with all the feels. Having a playlist is just plain fun.


Outside of Grace Teaser

The playlist above used to be perfectly organized with one song corresponding to each chapter. However, it’s changed a bit and recent edits have dropped an entire chapter from the book. When writing the first draft, I had a massive playlist for inspiration that wasn’t nearly as carefully curated. But the “official” one features the songs that I felt best summed up scenes. Since doing edits, I’ve messed around with it a bit and added a handful of extra songs to it. It’s still pretty representative of the book, so if you want a sneak peak, give it a listen!

Bonus: If I had to pick one song to represent the entire book, it would be Leave a Light On by the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and Tom Walker. (Fun facts: they’re both native Scottish artists, because I. Must. Be. Genuine. Part of that over-thinker thing.) This song is probably not the coolest. There are bagpipes involved. But I love it and will stand by that. (Obviously 8.6 million people agree with me, so I’m not that far off.)

TL;DR – listen to that song ^



Rundle Press Update: New Busy Book!

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There’s a new busy book in the Rundle Press site! This winter activity book has 12 activity pages with a variety of activities from decorating a snowman to working with vowels. It can be used as a simple fine motor activity book for young toddlers, or a preschool workbook for 4-5 year olds.

My kids have loved these quiet books for car rides, waiting in restaurants, and doing “school” in the morning (while mommy works). Bonus: three-ring binders with clear covers can be used as dry erase pockets. So we keep a stash of coloring pages and dry erase crayons on hand with these. They’re so easy to pull out and have a quick half hour of quiet.

The only thing not quick and easy is all the cutting and laminating! (File that under Homeschool Mom Problems.) I prepped one today for a local mothers group giveaway, and once the hand cramp goes away, I’ll be making more for my own kiddos! They’re still using their autumn ones, but I’m obsessed with the little woodland animals filling the winter one. I’m also thinking they might make good gifts for nieces and nephews. Once that hand cramp goes away…

If you’re interested (or need a digital gift for a far-away-friend), head over to the Etsy shop to check it out. These are sent as a digital download to be printed and laminated on your own. Trust me, a little time cutting and prepping will go a long ways towards a quiet house. And that, my friend, is always worth it.

#NaNoWriMo and a Novel Update

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National Novel Writing Month—it’s a crazy challenge that starts November 1 and ends on the 30th, with the goal of getting at least 50,000 words under your belt. Similar to one of my favorite tools for busting writer’s block—The Most Dangerous Writing App—the idea is that if you can just get the words out, you’ll find the story you were meant to tell (and you can always go back and edit it later).

That said… I did not participate. (Bum bum bum.) At least, not in the traditional challenge. I have two novels under my belt (the first is garbage, said every author ever) so as fun as it is to write, I feel responsible to actually finish what I’ve already set out to do. So, inspired by the NaNoWriMo community and movement, November was editing month for me.

The Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland, photo by yours truly. Representative of the giants I see ahead.

I spent the month editing my beloved second novel to prepare it for a second round of publishing submissions. This was the month to kill my darlings (read that post for some seriously good writing advice). Two entire chapters got the cut. Do you know how hard it is to trash things your own creation? Things that you were once convinced were brilliant and absolutely necessary?! Ahem. I did it, nonetheless. And honestly, it was overdue.

I finished this novel in March of this year and started submitting it to literary agents in May. Sadly, I was unable to find one. Honestly, it was crushing. I realized I still struggle with rejection. Not a good characteristic for a freelancer and author. It was frustrating too. One agent told me my genre wasn’t selling well (which I disagree with). And they all wanted platforms (I swear, that word has turned into a curse around here). I’m not an influencer and have no intention of becoming one—I happen to like being a real human who focuses on my real family, rather than forcing screaming children into coordinating outfits for the ‘gram.

So I did what every sore loser does. I got frustrated and gave up. I stuck that thing under the bed and turned my back on it for several months. I’m not very proud of this part of the story, so let’s ignore how long it lasted and continue.

Then. I was getting groceries at the beginning of the month when I heard a familiar song playing in the store. It was one of the songs I listened to repeatedly while writing the novel. Now, I certainly hadn’t forgotten the book (impossible), but I had avoided it. And it all came rushing back. When I got back to my car, I pulled up the playlist I had made for that story and listened to a few more songs. And I wasn’t frustrated, I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t disappointed. I was convicted.

The Three Sisters of Glencoe. More giants in the land. I spy my sweet little toddler in a yellow coat ❤

I don’t like to throw around phrases like “I heard from God”—no, no booming voice came from the sky, no blinding light from the heavens. But I felt it. I felt the passion I once had for that project come back and the conviction that it isn’t just my story. It isn’t just something I made that I can decide to quit on. It’s a story that was planted in my mind, totally outside of my comfort zone, for a purpose. It’s a story that someone needs. Whether a traditional publisher will take it on or not, I felt the determination to continue and to explore the possibility of self-publishing. Because this is the story of church hurts, of the pain caused by purity culture, and of the long road back to faith after walking away in college. This is a story that I am absolutely convinced someone out there needs to hear.

When I hear people say God called them to something and they struggled to follow, I’ve always thought that seemed a little silly. I mean, if you know God is calling you, why not just do it? I figured I had just never been so sure. But I was lying to myself. I know for a fact God is calling me to write—and he has been since I was about 8 years old. And yet, there I was, hiding my talents in the dirt. I was looking into the promised land and saying, “No way, God, don’t you see the giants in there?” And I finally saw how silly it was.

So that’s how I ended up spending my November editing ruthlessly. My novel is coming back out from under the bed for a second round of submissions. And I’m hoping and praying that I’ll be a little more resilient this time around and be open to self-publishing, if necessary. Because Outside of Grace deserves to be read, regardless of what the giants have to say about it.



The Anthology has been Unleashed!

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Ahem, released.

This beautiful collection features 40 authors from around the world and a wide variety of short stories covering the complex relationships we hold with the idea of home. I was surprised by the arrangement according to the author’s first name. So who’s up first? Yours truly!

Photo from Fragmented Voices

It’s the first time my name has been published with a fiction title and I am thrilled to break into the industry. Even if it’s in an entirely different genre and format than my primary writing. Creative license, right?

It’s the perfect topic and collection to spend a little time with over the holidays. If you need some airplane or road trip reading material, check out the digital download from Fragmented Voices here and be sure to read about the authors at the end. Before you go, I’ve got a sneak peek at the psychological thriller that kicks off the collection.

His house is 63 steps to the east and 14 across the street. I still don’t have that ability to close my eyes and say “click” to remember everything, like the detective books I loved as a kid. But I know his house. I’ve seen it in my nightmares often enough.

63 Steps, Anna Daugherty


The Struggles of an Irish Last Name

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Photo by Megan Johnston on Unsplash

It was during the potato famine of the mid-1800s, when an Irish immigrant and his cousin showed up in the United States speaking mostly Gaelic. When the immigration officers tried to issue their official documents, they asked the ruddy Irishmen for their last name. The Irishmen replied, “Ó’Dochartaigh.”*

The poor officials stared at the men and asked them to repeat it. “Ó’Dochartaigh.” And one more time? Perhaps out of laziness, or misunderstanding, the “Ó” was dropped entirely. One official wrote down “Dockerty,” hardening the middle “ch” sound a bit too much for the sake of clarity. Meanwhile, the other one wrote down “Daugherty,” attempting to recognize the sound, the voiced pause in a name, without following any laws of the English language.

It only took a single generation, maybe two, before Mr. Daugherty’s children and grandchildren had lost touch with their Gaelic side entirely. Speaking only English, they had no ability to form the gutteral middle stop that belonged between “Dah” and “her,” before ending with “tee.” It was only a matter of years before they stopped bothering to pronounce all three syllables at all. By the time the original Ó’Dochartaigh passed away, his misbegotten grandchildren were simply known by “Darty.”

However, dropping sounds is a simple, natural matter. Language evolves over time quite by itself. Changing official documents is another matter entirely. No one was willing to lose touch with their Daugherty heritage, or bother with the lines at DPS to change their driver’s license (I suppose I’ve jumped a few decades here). So they continue to live with the cumbersome middle letters “ughe.”

Photo by Jessica Johnston on Unsplash

This isn’t even my own story, of course. I married into the problem of those four extra letters, leaving behind a life of ease and fluency as a Dobbins—plain, English, straightforward Dobbins. And despite his own struggle to live with the name, my husband is a traditional American male whose very identity is bound to his last name. So we continue, forever missing emails that were addressed to a Daughtery. Because, after all, most English speakers are used to writing the word “daughter,” misplacing the T in Daugherty, and tacking a Y on at the end for good measure. Daughtery, Daughtery, Daughtery.

I’ve learned to live with it. When I check-in anywhere or give anyone my name, I spell it slowly and deliberately, particularly around those middle letters. “DAU- G – H – E – R -TY.” And every time, I can’t help but think how lovely, how simple it would be if they had anglicized it to its true destiny: “Darty.”

If you don’t think it’s really that bad, just tell that to Social Security. It took them three tries to print my new card after I got married. And you should see the looks I get in public spaces. At a doctor’s office, for example; when the nurse comes to the door, clipboard in hand, and calls out, “Anna…” [cue look of panic] “Dau– Daughtry?” There’s a reason we carefully chose first names for our children that were easy to say and spell.

Luckily my mother-in-law passed on a handy rhyme that helps: “‘Darty,’ like party.” I use it often. And that’s how most people remember it. The few who do, at least. Though if they ever need to send me an email or look me up, God help them.

Oh, to be a Daugherty without the ughe!

*Obviously a largely fictionalized bit of fun.



I’m a Fact Checker, But Not For Facebook

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Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

I live in an area with a 50/50 voter split. You never know if you’re talking to a gun-toting Texan or a free-college Californian. (Oh, don’t look at me like that, I’m leaning on some cliches here.) People here tend to tread lightly when it comes to politics, depending on the social circle you’re currently in. There are certain topics people steer clear of in conversation. But now, my very own job title has joined the ranks of Undiscussable. (Not a word.)

I didn’t realize it until several months ago when I had a well-meaning, old-school Texan sit me down and run through a list of “alternative websites” for me to use when fact-checking. As an anti-politics Millennial (sorry?), I was more confused than anything. I reassured him I was thorough in using various sources, though I explained his had nothing to do with the type of work I did.

That was when he mentioned Facebook and it clicked. All of a sudden, I realized those strange looks I was getting had nothing to do with spinach in my teeth. It was because saying I was a fact-checker had become a political statement.

Somehow, the job that nobody knew existed two years ago has become a political weapon. Now, I can’t just say I fact check. I have to say, “I fact-check for magazines regarding small details like if so-and-so’s grandmother made bonnets or if the shop’s tiles are really green. I don’t do Facebook-type fact-checking.” It’s a distinction I never had to make before. And one that makes my job description significantly longer.

But honestly, as much as I try to downplay the work I do for the sake of politics, I’m proud of it.

I call dozens of people for each article that goes into a magazine like Texas Highways. I speak to former Olympians to fix things like the wrong date listed for when they played their first game. I speak with passionate conservationists, excited to share their story, and particular that we don’t call a lizard “pregnant” because apparently the right term for reptiles is “gravid.” And I speak with everybody’s grandmother named Betty Mae up in the Panhandle to confirm that she has owned the little cafe since 1962, when she bought it from her father—no, scratch that, it was her uncle.

That’s what I do.

I’m not telling anyone how to live their lives. I’m helping authors share their stories accurately. I’m catching those little details that fall through the cracks of a thousand words. And apparently, I’m now spreading information on fact-checkers. Honestly, I’m not sure how companies like Facebook do it. I’m not sure if they’re hiring trained journalists or if it’s all computer programming. But as a professional in the field, I’m just here to say: it’s not all the same thing. On the rare chance that you meet a fact-checker soon, have a little more curiosity and a little less presumption. Because I can guarantee you, they’ve got some stories to tell.

Recovering From a Case of The Gimmes

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My daughter recently recovered from a bad case of the Gimmes. Of course, it’s like the cold, there will be different variants of it that pop up over time—particularly over the holidays—but thankfully we seem to have found a quick solution.

After a rough week of the Gimmes, my daughter came home from ballet class immediately demanding MORE. She wanted to eat out for dinner, she wanted to be entertained, she wanted someone to play with her. All this from the child who had just had a grandparent visit and gone to her weekly ballet class. That should be treat enough, right? Of course, the Give Me bug can be a nuisance to anyone, but I seem have a personal pet peeve that goes beyond normal reactions. So I was upset, more upset than I should have been, and I set out to fix it.

We talked. As any [honest] parent of a preschooler will admit, that does nothing. So we moved on to the next step and read a nice story about generosity. Also nothing.

Step three. This is where the real magic happened. In a particularly lucid moment, I grabbed a brown paper bag, a paper plate, and two green markers. I handed my daughter the paper plate and markers and told her to color a big, scary, green monster. She did her absolute best. I told her to keep adding details until we both felt it was complete. Then we glued the monstrous head onto the paper bag to make a puppet and we played two games.

The Green Monster Games:

  1. The first was a tickling game. The Green Monster would attack unsuspecting passersby, growling, “I want more!” And the only way to stop him was to name something you were thankful for. So that mean old Green Monster attacked my daughter, nibbling at her ticklish neck and growing for “More! More!” until my daughter shouted out, “I’m thankful for my dress!” And with a whine, he melted away like the wicked witch of the west.
  2. The second was reading game. We have a book of Aesop’s Fables, so we pulled it out and found the story about the goose that laid golden eggs. In short: a poor couple discovers their goose lays golden eggs and they soon become quite wealthy. But they always want more. Eventually, they cut into that goose to get all the gold at once, only to find it’s a plain goose on the inside. Throughout the story, I had my daughter hold the puppet, and any time she heard a phrase like “I want…” or “I wish…”, she was to attack the book (or me) with her puppet.

Honestly, with fun and giggles, it worked magic. She even started to think wanting or wishing was bad, so we had to backtrack a bit and tell her it was alright to want something, but we needed to stay grateful for what we have. The Green Monster got such a workout that the paper bag died before long. But since then, when she starts to catch a case of Gimmes again, we are usually able to offer a quiet reminder that “it sounds like you have the Green Monster,” and she tends to calm down.

Going into the holiday season, when they are given so much, many children begin to get the idea that they can have anything and everything they ever wanted. As Joshua Becker beautifully explains on Becoming Minimalist, “You allow them to keep looking for happiness in the next toy, the next game, the next purchase… Maybe if they were required to find happiness in the toys they already have, they just might find it.” (Quote changed slightly from “he” to “they” because hello, girl mom here.) It’s also part of the Diderot Effect. The more we have, the more we want.

So as we wrestle against the tyrants of consumerism and marketing to keep our Christmas sane and sweet, we’re probably going to need a new Green Monster to have on hand. And in the meantime, we’re focusing our November on two immune-building activities: Thanks and Giving (not just giving thanks). We’ve cleared out toys to give to others and we’re filling in our Thankful Tree every evening at dinnertime. It’s been a sweet month and I see my children growing, but I know they (and I) will continue to wrestle against the Gimmes throughout life. It’s only natural. I’ve realized my original anger at the problem was unjustified—she had simply caught a bug that we all catch from time to time. But I want to do everything I can to help my children grow a healthy immune system. Because hey, I need it too.

Flash Fiction Announcement!

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About three months ago, I was out for a run at dusk, when I came up with a creepy idea for a novel. I had the whole synopsis in my head in an instant. The only problem is I don’t write psychological thrillers. And I have another novel I’m working on publishing now, with several more planned in my head. So I turned it into flash fiction instead. To my absolute shock and joy, Fragmented Voices accepted it and will be publishing it in their autumn anthology!

They just released the cover of the book and I am so excited about it. It’s a collection of short fiction and essays from 40 authors about the complicated topic of home.

I must admit, this is going to be far from my usual writings. It’s not the Christian women’s fiction I’m currently looking to publish, but it was so fun to stretch my fiction-writing skills to a new genre and style! Also, after working on a novel for months that is now languishing in the waiting-to-be-published stage, it was encouraging to be able to put a piece together and see it progress to publishing more quickly. I’ll be sure to post it when it’s available!

October Reads

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This month has been entirely non-fiction. After a very stressful few weeks, I’ve been on a self-help binge. I try to solve all of my problems through books (not sure whether to attribute that to my introvert nature or my Type 5 personality). That isn’t a bad thing, of course. There’s a wealth of information out there, why suffer with a problem unnecessarily? For some reason we tend to believe things like parenting and relationships should come naturally. But they don’t. In fact, I love Herbert Spencer’s take on this:

“What is to be expected when one of the most intricate of problems is undertaken by those who have given scarcely a thought to the principles on which its solution depends? For shoemaking or housebuilding…a long apprenticeship is needful. Is it then that the unfolding of a human being in body and mind is so comparatively simple a process that anyone may superintend and regulate it with no preparation whatever? … Better [to] sacrifice accomplishments than omit this all-essential instruction.”

Herbert Spencer

Without further ado, here’s a sneak peek at the things I’m working on.

The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Rearing the Preschool Child, Thomas Millar
10/10. Book of the month pick.
Good luck finding this 1990s out-of-print book. But do try. Because it is absolute gold.
My mother-in-law gave me this book a few months ago and it sat in the long queue of my reading list until I was utterly fed-up with certain toddler behaviors and started looking far and wide for a resource (see picture above for some of my personal parenting library). Honestly, I was tired of the modern parenting advice: Talk about their feelings, let them express their feelings. Most modern parenting advice is focused on correcting the parent and calming their responses. Which has its place and I’m not bashing it as part of parenting, but when that is your only method, you’ll soon find yourself living with a tiny tyrant who believes you are slave to their fits and emotions (ask me how I know). So I remembered this book and pulled it out for some good old-fashioned advice.
And Millar delivered!
It’s old-school without corporal punishment. This book is short. It’s easy to read. And it lays out a plan that walks you step-by-step through every conceivable toddler behavior (buy a good timer). My favorite thing? It provides reasons for correcting behaviors. He talks about training children out of egocentricity, teaching them to respect authority, and building a healthy conscience, among other things. He addressed one of my personal struggles, which was the transition from saying “no” to young children only for dangerous things to training them up in good behaviors (because it’s much easier to allow a messy room than letting them touch a hot stove). And he does it all with a heavy dose of absolute sass. You’ll need a sense of humor to read Millar. One of my favorite lines was about teaching a child to hang up his coat. Paraphrased, Millar says, “Sure, you can pick it up for him. Then when he’s grown, ask his wife how she feels about doing it for him too.” Oh snap.

No More Perfect Kids, Jill Savage
I actually listened to this one instead of reading it. Why don’t I do that more often? It’s better than podcasts and I could fit in so much more “reading” in the little pockets of time like driving and running errands, washing dishes, etc. Back to the book itself: There have been moments that really connected with me, and other parts where I wasn’t sure I was the right audience (there was a lot of talk about older children). Based on this book, I’m now interested in her other one too, No More Perfect Moms. She has some wonderful tips on accepting our children for who they are. I think the part I appreciated most was early on, when she said we set our children up with an impossible expectation: We want them to be unique and special, yet also entirely normal and accepted. Yes.

Boundaries, Henry Cloud
Everybody’s heard of this one, right? It’s hugely popular. I had no idea it was so Biblically based, but I was fine with that. In fact, coming from the “be nice” Christian culture, it was very helpful to see Biblical support for boundaries. I’m only about halfway through this one (picking and choosing chapters based on “hot spots” in my life). The thing I’ve learned so far: that I’m not nearly as good at setting boundaries as I thought I was. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

Anger, Gary Chapman
The relationship expert behind the Five Love Languages writes about discerning “good” anger from “bad” anger, how to handle either, and how to handle it in various relationships. I appreciated the brevity of this book and the quick summaries at the end of each chapter. It was a highly readable ebook for me. I’ve struggled with anger as a go-to defense in high-stress situations and am working on it. I’m not feeling any radical changes in my life yet, but hey, it’s only been a month. His thoughts on anger definitely float around in my head during potentially heated moments.

Help! My Bible is Alive!, Nicole Unice
If you can get past the slightly cheesy title (sorry, Nicole), the book itself is wonderful. It has been a godsend (ha). Unice walks you through the basics of studying the Bible, and it really does make that big, intimidating, seemingly outdated book come to life. It’s an easy read for beginners, with plenty of depth for experienced Christians. I was familiar with many of the concepts, but actually walking through them in the book made it become personal. I find myself automatically dissecting verses in my head now. I started the month of October literally avoiding my Bible, and I now find myself reaching for it automatically. That’s as good a review as a book can get.

Honestly, there’s half a dozen more self-help books I’ve picked up this month, but these are the only ones I’ve really read through. If I get back to the others, they’ll be on my November list. Otherwise they’ll languish in book purgatory until I have a bad day and need tips. I’m a slow nonfiction reader, I can’t quite gobble them up the way I can a novel. But I love them nonetheless. Anybody else have a list of nonfiction titles waiting for you? What’s on your list?

Anxiety and the Never Ending To-Do List

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My mind races when I go to bed. I pull up the notes app on my phone and add another thing I don’t want to forget: call the children’s museum and renew our membership. I lie back down and wait. My mind spins through things I already did, things already on the list, and finds another new one: clean the upstairs toilet before our guests come over. I sit up and add it to the list. The list is endless. I will never conquer the list. When I do anything else, like workout, go on a date night with my husband, or play with my children, the list is there, taunting me with the things I’m not doing.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

I’m a list person. I love lists. There’s nothing wrong with lists. Sometimes when my mind is spinning, it’s actually helpful to write it out and I realize there’s not really that much to do. But I’m realizing lately that when I get caught in anxiety-mode, the list tends to fill up needlessly. It fills with silly little things that really don’t matter, though they all seem vitally important. Get a lightweight jacket for my youngest. Return the shoes that didn’t fit my oldest. Wash the hand towels. Are these things worth stressing over? I’m learning to move some things to the To-Don’t list. Not a real list that I keep, but an empty void that frees up white space in my mind. I need white space to function.

Here are the questions I ask myself when my to-do list gets out of control.

  1. Will I forget this if I take it off the list? If the answer is yes, there’s a chance it’s worth forgetting. If it’s something I would forget and never think about again (maybe leaving a review for a purchase), then I let it go to the To-Don’t list. If the answer is no, then does it even need to be on the list? In the haze of To-Do Mode, I have put down silly things like “make dinner.” I’m not going to forget to make dinner. I can take that off the to-do list. It’s not something to stress over. I’ll do it this evening. If I might forget, and forgetting it would really be a problem (say, buying a gift for a loved one’s birthday), then it can stay on the list.
  2. Can I move this to a different list? Buying that jacket for my youngest? Move it to the shopping list. I’ll let go of the idea of checking all the kids resale shops and just buy it at Walmart next time I’m there. Off the to-do list, and now part of my regular weekly shopping trip.
  3. Can I do this in less than 5 minutes? If so, do it right now. Wash the hand towels? I can go grab those and toss them in the washing machine in less than 3 minutes flat. Cross it off and get it done. It’ll make the rest of the list feel more approachable.
  4. Can I let this go? Those shoes that need to be returned? They cost $15. It would probably be most responsible to return them, and of course save a few bucks. But maybe the 30-minute roundtrip to the store isn’t worth it. Maybe the stress of another item on the to-do list isn’t worth it. Maybe I can just stash them in the closet until they fit my youngest, or pass them off to another family.

Clearing out my to-do list creates breathing room in my mind. Once I stop and ask some questions about the list, I tend to realize life isn’t (or doesn’t have to be) quite as overwhelming as it felt only minutes ago. Add in a quick breath meditation with a positive phrase (one go to: “I am enough, I have enough”), and I usually feel refreshed enough to tackle the things on my list that actually matter.

Your turn! What is one thing you can cross off your to-do list, without actually doing it? Try it. It’s a whole new world of freedom once you do.