From Reader to Writer: Morning Pages

I’ve never been much of the diary type. I have a crate full of journals and a moderate journal-buying obsession, but if one were to scour the contents of these books, they’d find mostly random thoughts, embarrassing poetry, and doodles of rose vines and cats. While I always have a journal with me to record ideas or to regurgitate intense emotions, I’ve never been good at keeping a daily journal. I always start with good intentions then either forget completely or make excuses for not continuing.

Back in 2016, I discovered The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and it revitalized my creative process. It challenged me to reflect deeply and to make a practice out of writing. One of the vital elements of Julia Cameron’s method is to write morning pages every day. Recently, I’ve decided to go through Cameron’s 12-week process again and have been reminded of the importance of doing the morning pages as often as possible.

What Are Morning Pages

Morning Pages are three, long-hand, stream of consciousness pages of writing done every day, preferably in the morning right when you wake up. They can literally be about anything. They should never be shared and really, you shouldn’t read them for at least eight weeks. Most people destroy them after writing them.

Why Would You Do This?

I see it as a clearing. It sweeps away all of the things that clutter your head. From anxieties that you need to let go of or ideas that you don’t want to forget, the morning pages give you a space to exist in written form. Writing long-hand instead of typing on your phone or computer is a way to ground and re-center you without technology. There is something comforting about putting pen to paper and just letting the words flow in any way.

This is excellent training for writing a first draft. First drafts are tough. It’s important when starting out that you just get the ideas on paper. Revision and critiquing comes after the words get down, but it’s hard to turn that filter off even when writing the first time around. Morning Pages trains your brain to turn off that internal critique and let the words flow.

I’m not going to lie. I only get my morning pages done about half the time, but when I do get to them, my brain feels so much clearer. As I keep going through The Artist’s Way program in hopes of re-invigorating my creativity, I definitely am working to make morning pages a habit for both my mental and creative health.

Would you ever consider writing morning pages? Perhaps maybe give The Artist’s Way a try? Let me know what you think, and I’ll keep you posted as my writer’s journey continues.

Lit Pairings – NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”
 
Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

I’ve been in a reading slump for quite awhile now. Do you ever get in those? No matter what genres I picked up nothing could keep my interest! So what made me think a 692 page book would be the right thing to pull me out of my slump??? Well first of all NOS4A2 has been adapted into a TV series on AMC that started on June 2. The previews looked amazing and I hate to watch a movie or TV show that’s been adapted from a book without first reading it. And second the author Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. I’ve never read Hill before, but he’s been on my list for a long time and I’d heard great things about his writing style. NOS4A2 didn’t disappoint! It was just what I needed to get myself reading again. Now I just have to hope the TV series does the book justice.

I know you’re thinking this is an odd book to pair food with. And you would be 1000% right about that, but I loved the book so dang it I’m going to make it work! Instead of doing the obvious Christmas themed treats I want to focus more on Vic’s summertime at Lake Winnipesaukee. At the diner “Terry’s” she and her parents would have Frappes (you can’t call them milkshakes). This article will explain the difference between the two and give you a great recipe. I don’t think any summer diner experience could be complete without a really good burger. This recipe is great for those yummy thin burgers that are cooked on the griddle and get all kinds of crispy around the edges.

This is one of those books that you can enjoy in summer or around the holidays. I hope you decide to give it a read and maybe get inspired to make one or both of the recipes listed above.

Random Reading Thoughts: The Challenges of Reading a Series

Hi blog readers! I’ll be writing a monthly blog post, which will be posted the first week of the month. As the title suggests, each post will be some random thoughts I have about reading. Hopefully, they’ll be thoughts that our readers will find interesting as well.

Poison Study, Book 1 in the Soulfinder series by
Maria V. Snyder

Today, my thoughts have been swirling about book series. I love reading a good series, but sometimes a wrench gets thrown into the works or something else comes up that makes me long for more standalone books. For instance, an author has several books out in a series, hasn’t completed it, but stops writing to pursue other writing adventures (I’m looking at you Jim Butcher and Chris Grabenstein!). Or, a series gets marketed and advertised and sold as a trilogy (yay! only three books!) and then turns into a series of way more books, but now I have to wait a whole year for each book in the series.

Or, along the same lines, you start a series with the first book, and now you have to wait a whole year for each new book. I find myself wondering why I didn’t just wait until the series was finished before I started reading. I’m so impatient to start the next book!

Magic Study, Book 2 in the Soulfinder series by Maria V. Snyder

And that leads me back to what started me thinking about series in the first place. One of my book clubs read a fantastic book last month, the first in a series. I gobbled down the first three books in the series and immediately grabbed book four. Opened it, and realized that some really important stuff had happened that I had no record of! Lo and behold, the author interrupted the series and wrote a related trilogy based on one of the characters, and those three books have all the good stuff I missed. So, I’ll be reading those three books in anticipation of getting back to the original series.

I can’t decide if I’m annoyed with the author for doing that, or looking forward to getting more of the story from a different character’s perspective and seeing more of this fabulous world she’s built. What about you? How do you manage series? Do you wait until they’re finished or do you devour each book as they come out? Drop us a comment below and share what your favorite series is, as well as how you prefer to read them.

Fire Study, book 3 in the Soulfinder series by
Maria V. Snyder

PS: The series that has every bit of my attention right now is the Soulfinder series by Maria V. Snyder, and the trilogy that tucks in the middle is her Glass series.

From Reader to Writer: World Building Resources

Both readers and writers can agree that one of the best parts of stepping into an imaginative story is the immersive world building. From Tolkien’s Middle Earth to Rowling’s Wizarding World, the intricacies of creating an entire world are addictive. For genres like fantasy and science fiction that rely on otherworldly elements, it’s a writer’s ability to engage the five senses which hooks us into a story even more than writing plot or characters.

But when it comes to world building, the pressures of playing god can sometimes get really overwhelming. How do you keep it all straight? How do you determine the origins of your world, the climate, the geography, not to mention the cultures, races, plants, and animals that make your world not only believable, but habitable? How do you even know what questions to ask or what information is most important in your story?

As I’m working through my own writing, I’ve found that world building can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s immensely enjoyable to get lost in a world so different from my own, but world building is also an excellent excuse to create and create without really writing anything. I want to be careful not to risk getting “world builder’s disease,” an affliction that plagued even Tolkien where a writer creates every tiny, little detail of a world, inevitably running themselves into the ground and burning out.

To keep my thoughts organized, I’ve discovered this incredible resource. WorldAnvil is a free website that lets a writer, artist, or role-playing gamemaster organize an entire world in an encyclopedia format. The website has an article for various types of entries, and the articles prompt a range of questions that guide you through construction. WorldAnvil also has paid subscription options that offer access to more resources and functions in the website, but you can use the website without having to pay a thing.

I also found WorldAnvil’s YouTube channel and this video on tips for worldbuilding helpful. Beyond WorldAnvil, there are some great videos featuring advice from both seasoned writers and RPG game developers. This video on fantasy map construction is awesome!

Another amazing resource is best-selling author Brandon Sanderson’s lectures on writing. Many of his classes are available on YouTube including this one on worldbuilding.

When writing a story or even developing a world for a role-playing game, there are many elements and decisions to make. It’s intense and rewarding. Use this phase of your creative journey as an outlet to be eccentric and try things. When the real plotting begins, you’ll be so immersed in your story that much of the work will already be done.

Lit Pairings – The Night Visitors by Carol Goodman


ALICE gets off a bus in the middle of a snowstorm in Delphi, NY. She is fleeing an abusive relationship and desperate to protect…

OREN, ten years old, a major Star Wars fan and wise beyond his years. Though Alice is wary, Oren bonds nearly instantly with…

MATTIE, a social worker in her fifties who lives in an enormous run-down house in the middle of the woods. Mattie lives alone and is always available, and so she is the person the hotline always calls when they need a late-night pickup. And although according to protocol Mattie should take Alice and Oren to a local shelter, instead she brings them home for the night. She has plenty of room, she says. What she doesn’t say is that Oren reminds her of her little brother, who died thirty years ago at the age of ten.

But Mattie isn’t the only one withholding elements of the truth. Alice is keeping her own secrets. And as the snowstorm worsens around them, each woman’s past will prove itself unburied, stirring up threats both within and without.

I first read Carol Goodman years ago when I picked up The Death Orchid after hearing from someone that it would appease my never-ending hunger for all things Gothic. It did, and I loved her writing style. I haven’t read all her books but those I have read never disappoint.

The Night Visitors is very atmospheric, but is lacking a little when it comes to inspiration for a food based blog. So I’m hoping you will forgive my lack of original recipes and just be excited about how fun this book is!

Now on to the food! At one point in the story the characters are preparing for a big winter storm and what goes better with a storm then a nice slow cooker Chili?!?! Then in the morning when you wake up and find yourself snowed in you can make the other great recipe from the book, Pancakes, and I think this recipe is just the ticket!

I know pancakes and chili aren’t new or exciting, but I promise you this book is! If you enjoy the book drop me a line and let me know.

Lit Pairings – Elevation by Stephen King

Although Scott Carey doesn’t look any different, he’s been steadily losing weight. There are a couple of other odd things, too. He weighs the same in his clothes and out of them, no matter how heavy they are. Scott doesn’t want to be poked and prodded. He mostly just wants someone else to know, and he trusts Doctor Bob Ellis.

In the small town of Castle Rock, the setting of many of King’s most iconic stories, Scott is engaged in a low grade—but escalating—battle with the lesbians next door whose dog regularly drops his business on Scott’s lawn. One of the women is friendly; the other, cold as ice. Both are trying to launch a new restaurant, but the people of Castle Rock want no part of a gay married couple, and the place is in trouble. When Scott finally understands the prejudices they face–including his own—he tries to help. Unlikely alliances, the annual foot race, and the mystery of Scott’s affliction bring out the best in people who have indulged the worst in themselves and others.

When a Stephen King book releases you better believe I’m one of the first ones to read it! However, I wasn’t so sure about Elevation. To begin with it’s just a tiny little book??? I mean we all know King’s books are these huge mammoth tombs that you risk being crushed under while trying to read. And this one isn’t horror?!?! But, with all that being said I devoured this book and it was AMAZING! So sweet and touching in all the right ways. Anyone who thinks King isn’t capable of writing anything but horror really needs to give this one a go.

So, on to the food! In Elevation there is a lesbian couple who is trying to make a go of running a Vegetarian Mexican restaurant however, most of the locals refuse to eat there. I say it’s their loss because that sounds super delicious to me! My version of Vegetarian Mexican would start with one of my all time favorite recipes Crunchy Black Bean Tacos. I’d serve them with Avocado Cream, and Fresh Juice Margaritas. Then finish the meal with Cinco Leches Cake.

Let me know if you try one or all of these recipes. Bon Appetit!

From Reader to Writer: Finding Courage to Work

Do you remember what you were like when you were a child? You were fearless, unbridled, and free of the smudges left by other people’s opinions and motivations. If you said you were an astronaut, you were an astronaut despite the technicalities of school and space travel. But somewhere along the way, you grew and fear within you grew as well. The fear of expectation, failure, and entitlement took over and before you knew it, you couldn’t bear to call yourself an astronaut, let alone become one.

This is what happened to me. My oldest memory is that of calling myself a writer. From age three on, the answer I always gave to every adult who asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up was a writer. “Writer” became my identity. It didn’t matter if the writing was bad or if I never finished a project. I knew that somehow it would all work out, and I would find my name on a glossy, well-bound book on the shelf.

I can’t tell you when it started, but something snapped along the way. I found it uncomfortable to call myself a writer. Then I found it uncomfortable to write at all. Even after years of school, years of practice, and years of reading books, I still couldn’t seem to feel confident in the work I was doing. What was the right story, the right character, the right word? Soon, the fear became a dull excuse that manifested into too exhausted or too busy or too uninspired. Now it’s been months since I’ve touched my work, and that dream I was so sure of as a child is drifting further and further out to sea.

Unused creativity is not benign. If you find that you are called to create something and you resist that call, it will slowly eat away at you.

– Elizabeth Gilbert

I believe this to be true. I find myself resenting authors for their successes. I resent myself for my lack of discipline and confidence. And I miss my work. This must mean that the ideas and stories and characters that keep boggling my brain want to be heard. They don’t want me to leave them behind. Perhaps there is art that you have left behind too whether writing, drawing, dancing, film making, or singing.

Here are three resources that might help you find the courage to work:

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

This is more of a class or workshop than a self-help book. Cameron provides concrete exercises and techniques to move you past your block or fear and into a space of making things that feels genuine and authentic.

Big Magic: Creative Living beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

This book validates what you might be feeling. Gilbert uses her own experiences, and her perspective on creating something from nothing to challenge you out of your comfort zone.

Magic Lessons Podcast

Bringing Big Magic to life, this podcast features people who are struggling with creating and ask Elizabeth Gilbert for advice. Besides giving her own information and encouragement, Gilbert brings in professionals like Cheryl Strayed, Neil Gaiman, and Brene Brown to share their stories of how they conquer their fear and come to a place of fulfillment in their work.

I hope these resources might kick start your creativity. Let me know if you have ever felt fearful of making things or sharing your art, and I’ll be back with another post about my journey from reader to writer.

Lit Pairings – Popular Diets

 

Welcome friends to the magical month known as January. Or as I like to think of it, Diet Month! I’m sure we’ve all done this little dance with ourselves once, twice or several times. You stuff yourself in the fall (or all year long, am I right?) and then you decided to pull it all back together and jump on the diet train at the beginning of the year.

A few years ago I had amazing success loosing weight and feeling great when I adopted a plant based diet. It was a game changer for me and was unlike anything I had ever tried before. I read Kimberly Snyders’s book,     The Beauty Detox, and jumped in with both feet! When I decide to do a diet or a lifestyle change (as popular media wants you to think of it) I want to lose weight but I also want to do something healthy that’s going to make me feel better. And I did feel better for around 2 years but as with most diets I slowly started letting the junk food creep back into my daily eating and then it all went to crap. I stopped eating well, so I started feeling bad and then I stopped working out!

I let myself just eat whatever I wanted to for awhile to see how I would feel and I’ll tell you I felt horrible! I was always hungry so I was constantly eating. About 6 months ago I decided to try Whole30. This was a great way to cut out the junk and remember to just limit my meals to simple, real food.

After doing Whole30 I started to hear a lot about Keto. Apparently it was the most Googled diet in 2018. So I pick up this book…

Let me start by saying if you are interested in doing Keto, please do your research because there is way more to it than just eating bacon and cheese! I’ve read several books, listened to podcasts and absorbed a lot of good and bad information online. I started my Keto journey and so far my results have been great. I feel good, I don’t have bloating and most importantly I’m not being ruled by constant hunger! How long will I stay on Keto? Who knows, but right now its the right thing for me and I think that’s what this magical month of January is all about – finding what works for you and hopefully helps you feel better in 2019.

 

 

 

What’s Ashley Reading?: Girls of Paper and Fire

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

First line: Our shop is busy this morning.

Summary: In a land where the inhabitants are separated into castes, the lowest caste is the Paper caste. Eight girls each year from the Paper caste are selected to serve the king. When Lei, a shop girl from a small village, is taken from her family to the palace she is determined to not let her fate be decided by the king. While learning the lessons of a consort she does the unthinkable and falls in love. However, danger and intrigue are entering her life and she must decide where she stands in the coming conflict.

Highlights: The cover is absolutely stunning! This book reminded me a lot of The Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor. The world building is beautiful and the characters are very unique. There are three castes in Ikhara. The Paper caste are humans. The Steel caste have human and animal features. And at the top is the Moon caste who are completely animal in a human form. The descriptions were wonderfully done of each character and their appearance.

Young adult books are slowly becoming more grown up and inclusive. I really enjoy this even though the themes are sometimes hard to deal with. I liked the relationship that Lei forms while living at the palace. It was a nice slow romance that built rather than just happened instantly. The author delves into scary issues such as rape and slavery. While reading these are hard it is a real thing in this world. I think it was handled very well. We know it happens but it is not overly graphic. It also shows the girls dealing with it afterwards. Having each other to talk to about it helps them deal with their situation which is important.

FYI: Trigger warning is sexual abuse and violence.

The Dreaded Reading Slump

Lovely library patrons, I must confess something absolutely atrocious. I have been in a reading slump. I can feel you clutching your pearls as you read those miserable words. As readers, we delight in the stories, the characters, and the magic of a book, but sometimes, our minds turn dreary and our attention spans rival that of a two-year old. Sometimes, we just don’t want to read.

This slump couldn’t have attacked at the worst possible time. With only a month left in 2018, I’m seeing my goal of reading 100 books for the year drifting further and further away. It’s a shameful thing, but I am determined to break this slump and return to the hours curled up with a world in my lap. Here are five tips to ease this burden if you find yourself sitting with the slump monster.

  1. Don’t Read.

How can I say such things?! Have I betrayed my clan of librarians and forever ruined our good name? No, because frankly, we’ve all been there. Reading should be fun. It’s a hobby, a leisure activity, and just like sometimes you get tired of sewing or scrapbooking, you can get tired of reading. It doesn’t mean the love of it has left. It’s just taking a vacation. So take a vacation too. Don’t force yourself to read. Binge watch that Netflix show, take walks with your family, start up a new exercise or just stare blankly at the wall. A part of you is telling yourself that you need something whether it’s rest or re-connection. Instead of pushing that away, listen to it and soon, you’ll find yourself craving a book.

  1. Make It Social

Reading is primarily a solo activity, and that can make isolating. To get out of a slump, try mixing it up by adding others to your experience. Join a book club (we have some awesome ones) or even read a book informally with a friend. I’m currently reading a book recommended by one of my good friends who heard about it through Reese Witherspoon’s book club. Once I finish it, we’ll meet up to discuss!

  1. Start Small

When the slump monster shows up, it’s not the time to bust out Anna Karenina. It’s the time to give your brain a little breather with a shorter work. Try reading a book that’s less than 100 pages or something light in content. Remember, it’s perfectly acceptable for grown-ups to read middle grade and kid’s fiction! Also feel free to give poetry a try. There’s a pretty awesome collection of poetry books to download on Hoopla!

  1. Read a Favorite

Why visit something unknown when you could return to a world you know and love! A reading slump is the perfect time to revisit an old favorite story from childhood or your favorite book from a few years ago. You’ll gain something new from your current perspective, and it might be just the push you need to get you back on track.

  1. Mix It Up

Seeing your reading slump as an opportunity instead of an opposition can be a helpful shift. Try diving into a genre you would have never explored before or an author that you’ve heard a lot about but never given a chance. Also use this time to mix up the way that you consume stories. Download an audio book or give e-books a try. You might even want to read a play or script. It all counts, and it all can help in moving you forward.

 

No matter what you do, remember that reading slumps aren’t forever. A book will come along and re-spark your interest or time will pass and you’ll find yourself reaching out for a great story!