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January 2 Writing Prompt

How was yesterday? 20 minutes every day is a great way to start the year. Today’s words are: stain, stock, endure, freight, proof, date, like.

Please let me know in the comments what you created. Happy writing!

January 1 Writing Prompt

Your first writing prompt of the year. Grab your computer or a notebook, copy down these seven words: abridge, loud, dividend, combine, waste, place, salesperson. Ready, set, write!

Please let me know in the comments what you created. Happy writing!


When I’m knee deep in writing, I find that losing myself in random words is the best way to get my creative juices flowing. As an undergrad, I took a college poetry class where I was required to write a poem a day for a semester. There were late nights in the campus library when I just couldn’t do it. That was when I turned to books in the stacks. I would grab seven of the closest books from the shelves, open each one to a random page, close my eyes and point to a word. Seven words later, I had a disparate list, and the magic would start. Sometimes it wasn’t immediate. Sometimes I hated all the words, but eventually, the synapses started firing and my brain started making connections. Some of my best poems and story ideas have come from this exercise.

When I dove back into writing a new book after the two-and-a-half-year Path of the Thunderbird whirlwind wound down, I choked…over and over. I finally remembered my old tricks from the stacks, and the words started flowing again. Now every morning I make a random list and dash off 20 minutes of writing driven by my list. Some days I force these words into my current characters’ lives; other days new, shiny story ideas pop up from nowhere.

At the beginning of 2019, I swore that I would keep up this practice every day. Almost two weeks in, the lists are growing. I figured, “Why not share these lists with others?” Are you a writer? Do you need daily inspiration? Stop by, pick up your list, start writing. I can’t wait to hear about the amazing stories that come from these writing prompts.

Are you on Pinterest? You can follow the 365 Writing Prompt board there for daily updates:

2019 Writing Prompts

January Writing Prompts

NaNoWriMo 2014 Word Tracking Spreadsheets and Tools

I found these NaNoWriMo word tracking spreadsheets design by Svenja Gosen.

NaNoWriMo Tracking Spreadsheets

Scroll down in the post, and you will see four options you can download in Excel format.  I’ll be using the Steampunk theme this year.  I like these because they are actually word tracking files for the entire year. After NaNoWriMo is over, you can keep tracking your progress for the remainder of the year.

Here is a great roundup by Tracy Lucas of writing meters you can use on your website for NaNoWriMo or any writing goal:

Free Writing Meters

I’m creating my word tracking desktop calendar for this year and will post it as soon as it’s finished. Happy writing!

Weird Al “Word Crimes”

If you are a word nerd like I am, and you haven’t seen this by now, you’ve probably been stranded on an island somewhere. It doesn’t matter how many times I watch it, this video by “Weird Al” Yankovic makes me laugh every time. Enjoy and happy writing!

Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2014

A lot has happened since I started this blog back in 2011.  It was just about this time of year, and it was this post (Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2011) that launched it all. It seems that every 2-3 years is the magic number for me because I’m gearing up for a third NaNoWriMo this year.

Let me catch you up on my writing life before and after NaNo 2011. I “won” NaNoWriMo in 2009 with 51,000+ words and promptly threw the virtual manuscript in a virtual drawer.  Then in 2011, I tried again with a historical fiction novel.  I still love that novel’s concept, but it was a slog to make it to 8,589 words that year. Needless to say, the novel was abandoned and lies like Frankenstein hoping one day to be shocked back to life. In 2013, I began reworking the 2009 NaNo project–this time with first-person narration. Let’s call this project, Project A. The new point of view really worked for me, and I pitched the first page at a writers’ conference page reading session.  What happened?  The agent was enthusiastic about my writing and asked for 50 pages at our private pitch session the next day.  She also asked about any other projects I had in the works. I pitched another idea off the top of my head. Let’s call that Project B. The agent gave me her card and asked for 50 pages of Project B, also.

Here is the problem… the hide-my-face-in-the-sand problem that I am almost too embarrassed to admit.  Although Project A was going well, prior to pitching I had only rewritten approximately 25 pages of the book.  Project B was an idea… in my head!  No words on paper, no character names. Nothing more than an idea. But I pitched it anyway.  Don’t ask for what you can’t handle.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I couldn’t handle the pressure.  What was I thinking? I came home from the conference and frantically worked to rewrite 50 pages of Project A while frantically working to create 50 pages of Project B and an entire synopsis for this book.  What happened?  I never sent either to the agent.  Chalk it up to putting the cart before the horse and a hard lesson learned. I still have the agent’s card sitting in my office as a reminder to NEVER PITCH A PROJECT THAT ISN’T FINISHED.

There it is–my dirty little secret I’ve been stewing about for quite some time.  Meanwhile, fiction writing went on hold (yet again) as I took on even more writing projects for work, and I took on even more volunteer opportunities at my boys’ school. I did have one more foray into the fiction world in the fall of 2013. After the impromptu pitch, Project B, although it wasn’t close to finished, took flight in my head.  I wrote almost 100 pages, polished up the first 10 pages, and submitted them to a writing contest last fall.  Although I didn’t win the contest, I did have some very helpful comments back from the judges. I was pleased with the new experience (submitting to a contest) and lots of great advice from the judging responses. Another notch carved in my fiction writing bedpost.

Then out of the blue in April, I got an email from one the contest organizers. I will quote the email correspondences below because although they may not seem like much to most people, these are the emails that keep me going when I think about throwing in the fiction towel.

Email #1:

“Hello Sara,

Below is a message I wanted to pass along from one of your contest judges.”
The Message from the contest judge:

“I judged this submission, and would love to talk to the author about his or her work a little more. It’s a story that stuck with me. If he/she is open to that, can you pass on my information and have the writer email me?” [NOTE: She says his or her because the contest is blind judged so she didn’t know anything about me except the name of my manuscript.]
Am I open to that? Heck yeah! I did a little research and discovered that the judge is a published author whose name I actually knew. So, I emailed her. She was really nice and very encouraging.  Here’s a snippet of her note:

Author’s Note:

“I mostly just wanted to say that I looked for your manuscript on the winners’ list and hoped you’d place in the contest. Contests are so subjective and I know I felt crushed after a few, so I just wanted to tell you that your voice and writing were strong and that I like to think I know a little something about the biz. Is your manuscript complete? And have you started querying it? I wish you the best with it and any other writing you do! :)”


Let’s put this in perspective. I am fully aware that agents ask for sample pages more frequently at writers’ conferences than they do from the unsolicited slush pile.  Even though I was dancing a jig when the agent asked for pages from two projects, I know that this isn’t an uncommon occurrence.  I am also aware that nice words and compliments from one judge do not get a manuscript finished, let alone published.  (No, it’s still not finished!) HOWEVER, it’s the little things that keep you going when you are new to fiction writing.  So, these little things are what keep me going. Thus the reason that I am using NaNoWriMo 2014 as an excuse to take the plunge back into fiction. During the hiatus, the characters and stories haven’t stopped pestering me, I just did a better job of keeping them locked in my brain.  November is the time to let them out again and FINALLY FINISH A DARN BOOK.

Communities of Learning…live curious

One of my mottos in life is “Live Curious.” In fact, I still have it on my list to track down one of those National Geographic “Live Curious” t-shirts.  Some of my most exciting moments as a child weren’t in a traditional classroom setting, but in alternative classroom experiences where I was learning to make a pin hole camera, or discovering that “King Peter Can Order Free Green Snakes” is a fabulous mnemonic device for remembering the taxonomic groupings of individual organisms in biology.

I’ll admit it – I love to learn and to exchange ideas with people who have really big brains. I have always been a person who wished she could have lived in the days of the salons of revolutionary France or the bars of Greenwich Village when the Abstract Expressionists held their impromptu salons fueled by booze and blowhardiness.  The reason?  In the midst of this blowhardiness was the desire to learn… to live curious… to continually challenge oneself and others with new ideas or new ways of looking at old ideas.

In college I was in heaven.  College provided a forum for intellectual salons. Fueled by cheap beer and our own blowhardiness, a few hours spent deconstructing how quantum physics may support the idea of reincarnation felt exciting and like a great way to spend time.  As an adult, with a job and kids and responsibilities, those hours felt indulgent.  The closest I could get to these gatherings of intellectual exchange were my book club or a writing critique group.  But in the midst of life’s minutiae, book club is more frequently spent deconstructing how third grade girls have become obsessed with chasing the boys on the playground. (When did this happen?  As the mother of a third grade boy, I’m not ready for the chasing and the crushes and the kissing.  He’s still my little boy.)

So, as an adult my “living curiously” has become mostly an independent pursuit:  voracious reading, an admitted addiction to NPR’s “Radio Lab” and a love affair with the internet because at any hour of the day I can find out details about obscure happenings. (For instance, did you know that in 1918 the residents of Gunnison, CO barricaded all roads in and out of town during the Spanish influenza epidemic. Train conductors warned all passengers that if they stepped outside of the train in Gunnison, they would be arrested and quarantined for five days. As a result of the isolation, no one died of influenza in Gunnison during the epidemic. This served as partial inspiration for the novel The Last Town on Earth.)

As a parent, I am watching my children’s education unfold.  It physically hurts me to witness the monotony of public education’s mandates.  Let me say that both of my kids attend public schools and they have some of the best teachers I’ve ever seen in action.  However, no matter how great a teacher is, our country is evolving into a “teach to the test” society.  I still see those moments of pin hole cameras and taxonomic mnemonics made fun, but the moments are fewer and farther between all the time.  I wonder what sparks of learning excitement my own children will carry forth into adulthood.

For all of these reasons, I was inspired by John Green’s Tedx called “The Paper Town Academy.”  If you have 18 minutes, you should watch it.  He talks about learning communities – both traditional and non-traditional – which foster an excitement about knowledge.  Many of his ideas surrounding learning are steeped in the use of technology (YouTube specifically). I don’t know that I am quite as convinced as Green is about the interactive nature of YouTube.  However, I do admit that channels like Minute Physics and Vsauce and Crash Course are providing a lot of intelligent presentations and sometimes interaction for those who like to live curious.  They certainly aren’t as interactive as discussing art over a beer with Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock at the Cedar Tavern.  But they are probably a lot more fact-filled and a lot less haze-filled than the latter.

What are your thoughts on the evolution of learning and the establishment of these online learning communities?  How can our children live more curiously inside and outside of the classroom? How can we find or establish our own learning communities as adults?

We write against the void…

wewriteagainst the void

A mental map of a writer’s mind

I have been to all of these places and will return to each a thousand times more.  I am currently headed to the Glade of Hopeful Aspirations after a bout in Crippling Insecurity-ville.  How about you?  Where have you been hanging out lately?

Hand in Hand – Advice from Writers

Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC, has a summer creative writing program called Shared Worlds. For Shared Worlds 2013, the program asked some of speculative fiction’s finest artists, editors and writers to write advice on their hands and send a picture. The result of the project is called “Hand in Hand,” and the words are inspiring and provide “a simple reminder that you’re not alone on this path you’ve chosen. Maybe you simply need to know that someone else has been there before–behind a different keyboard, holding a different pen.” Take a look at some of my favorites below or view all of the photos at Shared Worlds’ website.


Neil Gaiman


Lev Grossman


Karin Lowachee


David Drake


Garth Nix


Tobias Buckell


Ann VanderMeer


Sharon Shinn


Claire Cooney


Kirsten Imani Kasai

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