10 More Random Facts about Me

unsplash7.21. I am more scared of the slow ride to the top of the rollercoaster than of the rapid plummet down.

2. I always thought I’d leave Minnesota for college, but when I started visiting out-of-state schools, all I wanted was to be back in Minnesota.

3. My siblings and I were always creating clubs while growing up. We had the Friends Forever Club, the Exercise Club, and the Story Society.

4. Science fascinates me, but it’s the hardest subject for me to understand. This dates back to fourth grade when I couldn’t hook up wires and a battery the right way to make a light bulb light up. That’s the first and only thing I failed in school, kindergarten through undergrad.

5. My strengths themes are learner, input, achiever, strategy, and ideation.

6. I have a German and Irish heritage.

7. I love being a writer and would never trade those skills– but I very much wish I was a visual artist as well.

8. I have a very strong interest in etymology, especially in onomastics, the study of proper names.

9. For most of my life, I’ve had a curiously strong memory, to the point where it shocks people.

10. I’m quite claustrophobic. My nightmares often involve tight, closed spaces. I can barely stand the idea of being underwater or in space.

The Beginnings of a Book

beginnings of a bookSometimes I let ideas come to me; sometimes I go out to find them.

Here’s what that looks like.

1) I start at BabyNames.com, looking for the names of my next set of characters. I love names, so this is perhaps not a shocker. I have a penchant for short names that are uncommon without being ridiculous. It’s hard to explain how I know when I’ve found the right name– I just DO. Sometimes it feels more like archaeology than creation, as if I am simply unearthing what was waiting to be found as opposed to inventing what was waiting to be fashioned.

2) Armed with my characters’ names, I go looking for their pictures. Thank you, Pinterest. I’ll peruse board after board of faces till I find the ones that match my names. This part of the process feels like sculpture. I’ll find a picture and realize, “Oh, she’s got red hair!” then another and “Oh, and gray eyes!” All the while I am chiseling an image out of a block of marble until I find the “aha!” photo and say, “There. That’s her.”

3) I like to have very, VERY large-scale idea of the plot– even if it’s just one sentence: girl in foster care falls in love. Or wards of the state experience hospice care. Or girl runs away with the carnival. I’m completely okay with leaving this idea zoomed out to 10,000 feet at this point.

4) Meanwhile, my characters need to have something they care about. Preferably it will be something I care about– at least enough to research and write about and live with for the next couple years. This search often involves Wikipedia and Quora, the public library and the university one.

5) Now I need a hook. What’s one fascinating idea these characters can explore? Again, lots and lots of research, including books of anecdotes, philosophy, mythology, symbolism, trivia. I read and read and read until something fits and I think, “Those are deep waters, and I’m ready to go from the shallow end into the depths.” At this point, I usually request one trillion library books and read everything I can find about this idea online.

6) I need to get to know my characters better, so I fill out two specific questionnaires about them. The first set of questions comes from Gotham Writers’ Workshop.  The second set is from this Yingle Yangle post. By the time I’ve finished filling these out, I usually have a whole boatload of ideas for scenes.

Then, after all this …

7) I finally start to write.

How about you? What are your earliest steps of writing stories?

Related posts:
Idea Factory
All In: Ideas & Writing
Fiction: How I Start

Is Mental Illness a Spiritual Issue?


The question is complicated; my answer is too.

Yes and no.

As a Christian, I believe that basically everything is a spiritual issue because I believe in a sovereign God. My particular set of beliefs means that I believe that writing is a spiritual practice for me, that the food I eat represents my spiritual discipline, that my obsessive-compulsive disorder has a spiritual purpose (one that was hidden to me for many, many years) of refining me, showing me the beauty of freedom and the glory of grace. Because I am a spiritual person, all things are spiritual to me. There is no way that I can separate my OCD from my experience of Christ because it is so clearly evident to me the way that God has worked in my life through my mental illness, recovery from it, and subsequent advocacy. I would be a liar if I tried to tried to divorce these two items in my own head and heart and speech.

But I also believe that mental illness is an illness like any other. Just as I wouldn’t hyper-spiritualize someone’s fight with cancer or diabetes or even a common cold, so I wouldn’t approach mental illness as anything other than a medical illness. I wouldn’t assume that someone got pneumonia as a direct result of their sin … or that they were spiritually unfit … or that something demonic was going on. I feel the same way about OCD and other anxiety disorders. I feel no shame– spiritual or otherwise– over my OCD, just as I wouldn’t feel ashamed if I were to break a bone. (Granted, it’s taken me a long time to get to this point; a heaping side of shame comes quite standard with your plate of religious scrupulosity!)

So, do I pray about OCD? Yes, of course. But I pray about my headaches too.

I realize that this is a touchy subject for many people, and I hope that I’ve presented my thoughts in a balanced way. Because I believe that so many people would misinterpret my “yes,” I usually bellow out a resounding “no,” but in this post, I wanted to try to delineate my thoughts on each. I’d love to hear your thoughts and continue this conversation, and I hope that you’ll extend grace to me as I try to tiptoe through this minefield!

Related posts:
OCD, ERP, & Christianity
Why I Believe in God
God’s Sovereignty, OCD, the Cross, & His Purposes

Image credit: Unsplash, modified by me






Four Thoughts on the Writing Life

writinglifeIt’s so lonely.

Writing is quite solitary. Even though I am part of a writing community– and have so much support and collaboration with dear friends– in the end, I have to do the work alone. I can’t explain just how alone I have felt over the last month or so, especially being single. Theoretically, I understand that even if I were dating or married, I would still have to do the hard work of revisions on my own, but … I’ve felt a little untethered and singular. Very, very much solo in this treacherous territory.

It’s so hard.

Harder than I ever imagined. I’m not referring only to the actual act of writing here … but to the head game. I get to a point where I start to hate my manuscript … my beloved story that I’ve poured my soul, energy, and tears into. Do you know how crippling that is– how it folds your spirit into such ugly shapes that you worry you’ll never sort yourself out again? I’m back in therapy, folks.

But I still want it.

Things got pretty dark– to the point where I started questioning my identity as a writer, ultimately asking myself, Is this really what I want? There, in the darkness, I saw a pinprick of light: the certainty that my answer was yes.

And I’m not really alone.

My lovely new therapist asked me to picture the Holy Spirit sitting beside me, looking at our manuscript, saying, Look what we’ve made. It made me bawl. Of course. I so desperately want to honor God with my fiction. The thought of him looking on my manuscript with pride was such a reminder to me that no matter how lonely this road seems, I have a faithful companion.

Related posts:
Writing is Hard … but Worth It (I Think)
Writing and/or Life, Both Hard
The Good & Bad of Writing
Being Single and Writing a Book

Image credit: Unsplash, modified by me

Back to School: Book Characters at My Lunch Table

my lunch tableTom Mackee & Jimmy Hailer
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta | Thoughts
I just love these two. So much comic relief.

Ben Cassidy
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta | Review
He’s freakin’ hilarious. I can’t get over him.


Rudy Steiner
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak | Thoughts
That sweet impish smile.

Augustus Waters
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green | Review
For metaphorically-fraught meals.

Jamie Beaufort-Stuart
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein | Review
I just adore him.

Divergent by Veronica Roth | Review
Um, duh. Because he’s Four.

Richard Gansey III
Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater | Review
Top-siders and polos and his sweet Virginia drawl.

Risa Ward
Unwind by Neal Shusterman | Review
She’s brilliant, and I love her and want to be best friends.

Hermione Granger
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling | Questions
Always, always want her around.

How about you?

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke & the Bookish.