Book Excerpt: Celebrate Birthdays

Tomorrow is my birthday, bringing a close to my 30th year. I feel like this third decade has been off to a pretty good start, and I’m excited to see where the next few years take me: in life, in my career, in my relationships.

I decided to keep my birthday plans pretty mellow this year, just a few special little celebrations here and there with friends, and then tomorrow I’ll have dinner with my mom and watch movies that were released the year I was born (’86 was a great year for movies). But it was definitely still a struggle for me to decide what to do for my birthday this year, how big or little a deal to make of it, whether I should try and plan things with more people or just do my own thing. It’s a debate that I have with myself every year, torn apart by being a people-loving, outgoing yet extremely introverted person (it’s a thing, I promise).

It’s easy to feel like I make too big a deal out of my birthday, that I should just ignore it and not expect so much. But then I remind myself (with my own words) why birthdays are important.

In honor of all birthdays, not just my own, here is an excerpt from my book An Adult-ish Toolkit: 30 Things I Have Learned in 30 Years, about why we should always celebrate birthdays.


Celebrate Birthdays

I’m always amazed when I meet people who barely even like to acknowledge their birthday, never mind actually celebrating.

I imagine that there are many different reasons that people may not want to celebrate their own birthday. Perhaps they have had unpleasant experiences surrounding their birthday in the past. Perhaps they feel uncomfortable being the center of attention. Perhaps they don’t like to think about getting another year older. Perhaps it simply just doesn’t occur to them that it’s something to be celebrated. It’s just one day of the year, after all, and it’s nothing more or less than what we make of it. So why make a big deal?

My personal belief is that every single one of us deserves at least one day a year that we get to celebrate our own existence. The mere fact of being alive is worth celebrating, no matter what.

Each day that we are alive is a gift, our very existence is a gift, but how often do we take the time to appreciate that gift? Our lives may not always be easy, and you may not always feel like there is something worth celebrating, but being alive means that your life is still moving forward, that there are still endless opportunities and possibilities ahead of you. Our birthdays are a time that we can stop and give thanks that we have survived everything that the world has thrown at us so far.

Your birthday is also the perfect opportunity to kind of check in with yourself once a year; see how you are doing, what kind of progress you have made in the last year, what you want to work on in the coming year. I always see my birthday as my own little New Year, a time for reflection and setting new goals.

Now, celebrating can take whatever form that you choose, and really should be tailored to your own preferences and tastes. Personally, I like to take myself out to a movie for my birthday. I might plan things for other days, like getting together with friends for dinner or even having a party at the house, but on my actual birthday I generally like to spend the day on my own. I usually go out to lunch, I go to a bookstore and browse as much as I want, and I go to the local movie theater and see whatever looks the most interesting that day. I enjoy celebrating with friends and family but I also enjoy taking a day to myself, because then I know that all of my activities are purely for my own enjoyment and I don’t have to worry about feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable about my little indulgences (sometimes I will literally go to see the cheesiest movie playing at the theater).

Now, I’m not saying that I do things alone because I’m embarrassed. I really do just like to do things alone sometimes. It allows me to fully explore my own thoughts, my own preferences, my own dislikes, without the influence (however minor) of those around me. It allows me to be more authentically myself, because I have a chance to really get to know myself.

By taking the chance to celebrate in your own way, it’s a practice in identifying what actually makes you happy. Do you like spending time on your own? Do you want to spend it with a few close friends, your family, your significant other? Do you want to have a big party? Or go out for dinner and dancing? What is it that really brings you joy?

Once you have mastered celebrating your own birthday, I also encourage you to make a point of acknowledging other people’s birthdays. Send people birthday cards in the mail, give them a call on their birthday, ask them what they are doing to celebrate and if they say they aren’t planning anything offer to take them out to dinner or just for coffee. Help people to see themselves as valuable and worth recognizing.

It seems like the older that we get the busier that our lives are, and I know that personally it always seems difficult for me to spend time with all of the people that I would like to. Conflicting schedules, family and work obligations, and physical distance can put some serious obstacles in the way of spending time with the people who are important to us. Birthdays are a great way to make sure that at least once a year you are making an effort to show someone that they are important to you, that you are thinking about them and want them to feel loved and appreciated. And birthdays can’t take you by surprise, since they are always going to be the same date and you will always be able to plan ahead for them. So, get a calendar or a notebook and start writing down those birth dates.

I have never understood why people seem to dread getting older. Every year of my life has brought me valuable knowledge and experience, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Every year has brought new people into my life, even if some years have taken people away. Every year that my body gets a little older I feel like I also learn how to love and appreciate it a little better. And every year that I get to be alive I try to be a little more grateful for that gift.

How will you celebrate your life this year?


Want to read more?

Pick up a copy of An Adult-ish Toolkit today from Amazon!

Available in paperback and Kindle.

Posted in An Adult-ish Toolkit, Birthdays, Books, Holidays | 3 Comments

Getting back to it…

So, it’s been just over two months since I published “An Adult-ish Toolkit“; my third project on Amazon, and my second piece to be available as a physical book that I could actually hold in my hands. It took me five months to write it, and I learned a lot about writing and about myself as a writer in that process. I’m insanely proud of the product that I produced; and the fact that I did it all myself (with the amazing support of my family and friends), along with the reactions I’ve gotten from the handful of people who have actually read it, has been incredibly validating.

But now, over two months since hitting that “Publish” button, the euphoria of finishing a project has passed and it’s time to get back to work. And it is HARD.

While working on a non-fiction book, I kept saying that I couldn’t wait to get back to writing fiction. Now that I am working on my fiction novel again I wonder what I was ever thinking. But the truth is that the writing process is not easy, no matter what.

It’s hard to carve out the time, it’s hard to focus when it seems like there are so many other things that need my attention, it’s hard to stare at a blank screen and believe that somehow I will be able to fill it with words that actually have meaning.

But writing isn’t really a choice, at least not for me. It’s more like a compulsion. I start to get ornery and miserable if I don’t get my fix.

I’m slowly finding my rhythm again with this novel, getting to know my characters, exploring my setting, discovering what’s really important. I’ve had this story in progress for about two years now, but it’s revealing itself now in ways that I hadn’t even contemplated before. And that’s the crazy thing about books and stories: sometimes you just aren’t ready to tell them yet. I certainly couldn’t have written “An Adult-ish Toolkit” before I turned 30, because so many things that I write about in it I have only figure out in the last year. Some things I really only learned AS I was writing the book. And now I am curious to see what I will learn while writing this next book.

But I suppose the key is to actually sit down and write it.


Be sure to check out “An Adult-ish Toolkit: 30 Things I Have Learned in 30 Years” on Amazon! Available in paperback and Kindle.

“A thoughtful guide for those who want to live fully and with intention. This book does not claim to be a self-help book nor does it make lofty claims of healing. It is simply one woman’s experience with becoming an adult and the insight she learned along the way.” -Amazon Review

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A Note on An Adult-ish Toolkit

Sometimes you begin a project somewhat on a lark, without understanding how much it is actually going to demand of you (and how much it is going to teach you).

For those who might not know, two weeks ago I released my latest book, “An Adult-ish Toolkit: 30 Things I Have Learned in 30 Years.” It’s a book where I share all of the little pieces of wisdom that I have picked up over the years, on topics from body image to why you should celebrate your birthday to how to manage and maintain friendships.

I don’t remember exactly when I came up with the idea of a writing project in honor of my thirtieth birthday, but I am pretty sure that the idea started out much more casual then the end result turned out to be. Perhaps I would write a blog post. Or a short little essay to send out to my email list.

What did I end up writing? Over 30,000 words detailing the philosophies about how I try to live my best life.

I often didn’t even realize that I had such strong opinions on certain topics until I started writing on those particular topics. For example, my chapter “You Don’t Have to Finish Reading a Book You Don’t Like” ended up revealing a lot of strong feelings I have about how we value our time and also about how “classics” are thought of and taught. I have multiple chapters on friendship and how we interact with the people in our lives. I share my thoughts on food and cooking, exercise, finances, and why you really should make your bed every morning (not that I always do).

The book is broken down into thirty chapters, and I intentionally tried to keep the chapters down to just a few pages each. Because one of the things I have a strong opinion on is that none of us have a lot of free time these days, and I wanted this book to be actually be useful to people. In order to be useful, people need to actually be able to get through it. So even if you don’t think of yourself as a big reader trust me, you will be able to take this book just one chapter at a time and be able to get a lot out of it.

One of the things that I love about writing is that I often feel like I am writing equally for myself and for my readers. I learned a lot about myself and what’s important to me while I was writing this book, but I also wrote it because I want to help others to live their best lives. We all have things that we have had to learn the hard way, but the beauty of that is being able to share those lessons with others so that it can be a little easier for them than it was for us. As I say in the book’s introduction, “this is my love letter to everyone else out there who is just struggling to sort things out.”

This book turned out to be so much more than I had originally planned it to be, but I couldn’t be prouder of the end result. It forced me to dig deep about what I think, how I live, and who I want to be. Hopefully it will strike a chord with others out there, as well.


The book is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle. Check it out here.

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National Poetry Month and my friend Rae

April is National Poetry Month, so let’s talk a little bit about poetry.

As a writing major in college, I took one introduction level class about how to write poetry. I managed to get through the class with a somewhat decent grade, but poems were obviously not where my writing found its best voice. In other classes, I read the basic classical poetry, such as Keats and Wordsworth. But honestly, most poems don’t stick with me beyond an initial pleasure at how the words sound together.

But one of the many joys of being a writer is having friends who are writers, whose work can inspire you more than any long-dead author that you are forced to read for academic credit.

My friend Rae Hoffman Jager has a love for words and poetry that is infectious. She has dedicated the majority of the last decade to studying how poetry works and how to improve her own, and she has the degrees and publications to prove it. She is also one of the very few poets whom I actually enjoy reading and listening to, because her poems speak to what the world is really like and to what our lives are really like. Like anyone would, I first read a few of her poems simply because she was my friend and I wanted to support her. Then I kept reading them because those poems invaded my brain, took up residence, and made me think and feel things that I had been unaware of before. Those poems made me understand what poetry is and what it is supposed to do.

Rae’s words are woven with expertise, but also with a candid and relatable humor and truth. Her poems will make you laugh and break your heart, sometimes simultaneously. Don’t believe me? Listen to the one below, which is one of my personal favorites.

All of this brings me to the point that Rae’s first chapbook of poetry will be released this summer, and I cannot recommend enough that you check it out. Do it for a love of words and poetry. Do it to support independent artists. Do it just to humor me. But do it.

You can also read more of Rae’s work on her website, or listen to some more readings on her YouTube channel. Check them out, wet your poetic appetite, and then go pre-order her book. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Posted in Author Spotlight, Books, Poetry, Reading, Writing Craft | 1 Comment

A Note From the Trenches

I’m about three months in, working on my next book. This feels like a very long time and like I should have had a final draft weeks ago, but intellectually I also know that this is a pretty reasonable (if not rushed) time-frame for writing a full-length book. I’ve already far exceeded the word count of my previous projects, and I feel really good about what I have produced so far.

So, why do I feel this constant sense of failure that I am not producing MORE and FASTER?

Probably because I often set myself very unrealistic goals when it comes to my writing. And probably because I read too much about the work of Hugh Howey and how he can knock out a story during NaNoWriMo and have it edited and published well before the end of December. Hugh Howey is an amazing writer, and something of a machine when it comes to turning out work, and it has taken me a long time to convince myself NOT to hold myself to his standard.

It’s important to push ourselves, to challenge ourselves, to set goals that seem impossible just to see if maybe they aren’t as impossible as we thought. But I’m also learning that sometimes it’s important to also cut ourselves some slack.

I’ve set myself numerous goals and deadlines of when I was going to finish this book, and I’ve already blown past several of them, but I am learning that this is somewhat of an injustice to what I feel is a very important project. I shouldn’t be rushing through to get something finished just so that I can have another publication under my belt. I need to give my words time to breathe, to grow, to say all that they need to say.

I’ll probably continue to set myself ridiculously optimistic goals, but I am also learning to just accept that as how I motivate myself. Shoot for the moon, and all that jazz.

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If you are curious about the new project, you can check out more here. Be sure to subscribe for email updates so that you don’t miss any important announcements, including when it’s available to order!

Posted in Goals, My Muse, Random, Writing Craft | 1 Comment

My Favorite Alt-Romance Movies

Love is in the air and Valentine’s Day posts and advertisements are everywhere (hey, that was like a mini poem). Some people celebrate with chocolate and flowers, with special time spent with their partner, or perhaps just with anticipation of the half-price candy the next day. I like to celebrate the same way that I celebrate most things: movie marathon.

I’ll be honest, though. I consider most Romantic Comedies and “chick flicks” to be crimes against decent storytelling and akin to emotional porn for women. (There are exceptions, of course, but that is a different blog post for the future) However, I do have my favorite movies to watch when my heart strings need some pulling.

These are all a little unique in their own way, the romances in them a bit flawed but more genuine because of it, and they can all set your mind to work and start some interesting discussions if you let them.

TiMER
I actually wrote about this movie back in October. It has a wonderfully fresh and unique premise, with the idea of wide-spread TiMERS (hence the title) that count down to the very moment that you will meet your “one”. The movie raises many questions about love, with the most prominent being whether or not you would really want to know when you will finally meet your soulmate.

5374ab7d8f6a69d5c179ef5be4a95494(500) Days of Summer
This movie is perfectly summarized by one of its opening lines, “This is a story of Boy Meets Girl, but it is not a Love Story.” Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are both phenomenal in this, and for me these are the quintessential roles for each of them.

This movie does a great job of showing what can happen when you create idols out of people and the idea of love. It can be so easy, after all, to create idealized versions of reality. But things get tricky once you are dealing with real, live people who have their own ideals, baggage, and needs. However, while this movie very clearly states that it is not a love story, it still brings an element of hope and of what love really is.

50 First Dates
I recognize that Adam Sandler is one of those comedians/actors that you probably either love or hate, but even if you fall in the latter category I still think you should give this movie a chance. Sandler and Drew Barrymore have done several movies together now (The Wedding Singer is another favorite of mine), but there is something about this one that just always captures my heart and attention. Sandler’s character, Henry, has a serious fear of commitment, but ends up falling in love with Lucy, Barrymore’s character. The catch? Lucy suffers from short-term memory loss where she forgets everything which happened that day when she goes to sleep at night. So, if Henry is to have any sort of relationship with her, he must introduce himself and get her to fall in love with him every single day. It might sound a bit cheesy, but Sandler and Barrymore have such chemistry and they play the characters with such sincerity that it all just works. It’s fun and light-hearted, but will still pull at your emotions more than you would expect.

d486a10386696fbd98c7012c261d06bdEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Jim Carrey is probably even more polarizing of an actor than Sandler, but if you have never given him a chance in his more serious roles then you are definitely missing out. (Don’t bother with The Truman Show, but you should definitely check him out in the bio-pic about Andy Kaufman, Man on the Moon.)

This movie is beautiful and weird and told in a sort of inside-out fashion. Kate Winslet is flawless, and it has a supporting cast of Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, and Tom Wilkinson. What more do you really need to know? In order to enjoy this one, it’s probably good if you have an appreciation for weird art-movies, and are capable of following a somewhat confusing timeline. But trust me, it’s worth it. It explores the reality that we don’t really choose who we fall in love with, and the fact that given the opportunity we will often make the same choices over and over again.

Stranger Than Fiction
This is actually just one of my favorite all-time movies. The love story in it is not even the main plot, in my opinion, but is still very important. It’s a story about life, and love, and fiction, and so it’s probably no mystery as to why it is one of my favorites. It will prompt you to consider what the important things are in your own life, and who the important people are. “You’re never too old for Space Camp, dude.”

What are some of your favorite cinematic love stories?

Posted in Holidays, Love, Movies, Valentine's Day | Leave a comment

What’s the Deal with Red Carpet Pictures?

The Golden Globes were last weekend, and so the Internet has been flooded with pictures of celebrities in their awards show finest.

And perhaps it’s because lately I’ve been reading lot about Body Image and the messed up ways that advertising and the media has us viewing ourselves and others, but I can’t help but ask the question, why do we care so much about what celebrities wore to an award show?

I’ll admit, I’ve scrolled through tons of the pictures myself. I’ve constructed my own commentaries on the “Best” and “Worst” dressed. But why? Why was this a thing that it even occurred to me to do? Why would I be interested in people that I don’t personally know, wearing designer clothes that are completely impractical in other settings?

The thing that gets me the most worked up is the “Worst Dressed” lists. For heavens sake, all of these people spent hours getting dressed up for this event and they each picked an outfit that spoke to them for one reason or another, and hopefully each one of them spent the evening feeling beautiful and stylish. Why must we then attack them just because we don’t happen to agree with their particular style choice? What’s the point?! It’s not like any of them were out there punching babies while they wore that particularly unflattering color/cut/style of dress.

I’m not one to say that we should only focus on “important” news all of the time. I like a bit of whimsy, I like “fluff” pieces, and I like enjoying beauty in all of its forms. What I don’t like is when we start criticizing and tearing people down and then call it “entertainment.”

All of that being said, Emma Stone had my favorite style of the night.

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Posted in Award Shows, Fashion, Golden Globes, Random | Leave a comment

A Happy New Year & Snow Days

2017-01-06-19-37-03I always love the New Year. Though I am not one for resolutions, I do like fresh starts. And January always feels fresh and free.

I think that one of the reasons that January always feels so freeing is that I generally spend the last few months of every year at a breakneck speed. Starting with my birthday at the end of October, into my marathon-writing in November, and then all of the holiday festivities in December, by the time that New Year’s Eve rolls around it is nice to be able to just sit and breath for a while. And after all of the family and social obligations that come with the holidays, January is a time that we all get a chance to step back and re-focus on our own priorities and lives again.

What do I have planned for this new year? So. Much.

I have already been making some serious progress on my newest writing project, and should have some exciting announcements concerning that soon. If there is one trend that I have noticed with my writing for the last few years, it’s that the beginning part of the year is always my most productive. I’ll be capitalizing on that going forward this year.

Do you have any goals for this new year? Like I said, I’m not one for making resolutions but I do like to use the beginning of the year to renew my dedication to a lot of my on-going goals. Writing more, reading more, eating healthier, organizing my life better, these are all things that I am always working on and so it’s good to take time to stop and evaluate where I am and where I would like to be.

What are going to be working on? And what are some strategies you plan to use to help you succeed?


img_20170107_100650_655We don’t usually get very much snow here in North Carolina, so snow days can be pretty exciting.

As an introvert, I especially love the guilt-free feeling of not being able to leave my house even if I wanted to! (Plows and salt trucks are barely even a thing here, so roads are usually not very safe)

In reality, since I work from home (and it was the weekend anyway), it’s not like the snow actually changed or disrupted any plans that I had. But there is such a holiday feel to days like this! After all, it’s important to seize on little pleasures, such as watching your 12-year-old dog romp through the snow like she is still a puppy. It’s also important to appreciate and get back in touch with the natural world. I always spend so much of my time indoors that I feel like sometimes I forget what weather even is, and so it’s fun to take hold of opportunities to actually get out there and experience it once in a while. I never got around to building a snowman (though I had planned to) but I did get out there, breathing the clean air, and marveling at how quiet everything can get.

Not a bad start to 2017.

Posted in Beginnings, Holidays, Nature, Seasons | 2 Comments

Just Read a Book Already

The number one piece advice to writers is always, “Sit down and write.” However, closely following this (very obvious) piece of wisdom is, “Read constantly.”

There are periods of my life when I will become suddenly horrified at how little reading I am actually getting done. This horror doesn’t come from some notion that I “should” be reading more; instead, it comes from the knowledge that I enjoy reading and want to be doing more of it. (And that I have a never-ending reading list to tackle.) Yet somehow I just fail to make the time for it.

There is such validity to that advice to “read constantly”, though. When I actually make time to read, I feel more inspired in my own writing. I feel more engaged with the world around me. I feel more productive. My mind and imagination are being stimulated, and that seems to make everything else in my life fall into place.

But getting on those reading kicks is not always easy. It can take some planning and foresight. Here’s what I have found works for me:

Where am I using my time? I spend an unreasonable amount of time on social media, and I’m sure that I am not the only one. I will scroll through Facebook, even after I have seen every single update on my Newsfeed. I will scroll through Pinterest, even though there is nothing in particular I actually need to look for. To combat this horrible habit, I try to keep a book handy at all times. If I can pick up the book just as easily as I pick up my phone, I’m more likely to make the wiser choice. If you don’t mind reading on your phone, this is even easier to accomplish because you can put whatever reading app you use on your homescreen in place of whatever social media app happens to be your guilty pleasure.

2016-11-28-15-29-42What am I reading? Sometimes my problem is that I just don’t really care about whatever I am trying to read. My “before bed” reading is always the biggest problem, because falling asleep is difficult for me anyway and the wrong book can seriously impede my wind-down time. I try to avoid non-fiction, because it can be too stimulating, but hitting the sweet spot with fiction can be more difficult than you would imagine. I don’t like suspense or too much violence. As a writer, I am hyper-critical and so need the writing itself to be quality and up to my own weird standards. Sometimes, even if I am enjoying a book I will still struggle to read it if it doesn’t have the right tone for bed time. For example, I was recently reading 1984, which is an excellent book, but with all of the political upheaval these days it was not exactly a calming way to end my day. I am now reading The Once and Future King, which is much more pleasant and something I actually look forward to picking up every night. Remember, if you are not in school anymore, there is no reason to read a book that you aren’t enjoying.

What is my goal? A vague idea like “I should read more” is not super helpful. Sometimes I like to challenge myself to just read as many books as possible in a given month. Sometimes I’ll have a specific author I want to read, and will just work my way through everything of theirs that I own. I’ve already stated my issues with my “before bed” book, but I also try to read one or two non-fiction books during the day whenever I have down time or just need a break from whatever I am working on. Anything that I can do to get myself excited about these books helps tremendously, and I’ll manage to find pockets of time to read throughout the day.

Are you reading as much as you want to? What do you struggle with? What have you found that helps?

Posted in Books, Geek, Goals, My Muse, Reading | 1 Comment

How I “Fail” at NaNoWriMo, and Why That’s Okay

We technically still have one whole week of NaNoWriMo left, but as Thanksgiving approaches, more and more of my energy is focused on grocery shopping and to-do lists rather than on any of my creative projects. And that’s okay. Part of life is about learning to recognize where you want to direct your time and energy, and during the holidays I don’t mind giving up some of my creative time in favor of quality time with my family.

But Thanksgiving hasn’t completely taken over my brain yet, so I’ve been doing some reflecting not only on this year’s NaNoWriMo but on previous years as well.

One of the things that I appreciate on the NaNoWriMo website is that by creating an account, they store your projects and stats from previous years. Since I first participated in 2012, my total word count has varied each year between just under 10,000 and  just over 16,000 words, far short of the 50,000 goal but still nothing to sneer at. In my most productive years, the majority of the writing was done in the first two weeks. None of these projects have amounted to much (yet), but they are good reminders of what I am capable of in a short amount of time. My steadiest year (when I updated my word count consistently for the entire month) was also the year that I wrote the least amount of total words. What to make of all that? Beats me.

The different tack that I took this year did not result in an impressive number of words (I’m not even close to 10,000 this year), but it has by far been my most productive year as far as ideas and planning for future projects. I’ve felt re-energized towards my writing, and so I feel that the projects I began this month are ones that I will be able to continue once November has ended.

For me, the key thing about NaNoWriMo is that once a year, for an entire month, I get to be unashamedly excited about my writing. I get to lock myself in my office, and not feel bad about all of the other things in my life that I am neglecting. It gives the people in my life a shorthand for what I am doing with my life and why I don’t always have time for them. It allows me to be the writer that I struggle to be for the other eleven months out of the year.

Will I ever accomplish writing 50,000 words in 30 days? I honestly don’t know. There is a lot that I am still learning about how to be a writer, including how I actually write. Will I keep attempting to write 50,000 words in 30 days? Absolutely, because it brings me joy. And even a single sentence that did not exist before you wrote it is worth writing.

Happy Thanksgiving! And be sure to give thanks for all of those things that bring you joy and add purpose to this crazy thing we call life.

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Posted in Goals, Holidays, My Muse, NaNoWriMo, Writing Craft | 2 Comments