Ninja Writer Book Club: 1/27/17


Here are some books that Ninja Writers are reading this week. Take a look, add some books to your TBR list. Next Tuesday, come on over to our Facebook group and let us know what you’re reading.

(The links here are affiliate links. If you click one and buy something, you’re supporting Ninja Writers. Thank you!)

My personal contribution to this list is The Revenge of Analog by David Sax. I’m obsessed with this book!

I thought it might be interesting to some if I shared what I’m reading for my MFA each week, too. I’m working toward an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Sierra Nevada College.

Throughout this semester, I’m reading one story a day from Bradbury Stores: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales. The pace of reading in this program (ten books a month!) doesn’t lend itself to a slow immersion in any work, so it’s very nice to be able to spend time with this book instead of rushing through.

I’m also reading Mischling by Affinity Konar. This book is so beautiful and so terrifying and so heartbreaking. If you liked The Book Thief, I think you’ll find this one compelling.

My favorite book of all time is Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (I love this gorgeous cover.) In the beginning of that book, the March sisters read The Pilgrim’s Progress. I found a little illustrated version of that book at a used book store this week and I’m reading it. I did the same thing last semester when I read S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, and then followed that up with Gone With the Wind, which is the book Ponyboy reads to Johnny.





Thrillers + Mysteries

Young Adult

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The Art of Being an Autodidact: A Homegrown MFA

autodidactI’m right at the start of my second semester of work toward an MFA in creative writing at Sierra Nevada College. It’s a low-residency program, which means I go to school for 8 days, twice a year, and do all the work at home working remotely with a mentor.

This particular program features one residency for every two year program that’s outside of the US, so I got to spend 8 days studying in Jamaica at the start of January. Beautiful. Inspiring. Warm. Regardless of where it happens, though, there is nothing quite like submersion in writing for more a week or so.

There are definite benefits to an official MFA program at an accredited university. A big one being that it’s a terminal degree that will allow you to teach at the university level, if you choose to. The residency gives you a chance to connect on a deep level with your fellow students and working closely with a mentor for months is a great experience. It can also lend you some

But it’s also very expensive and not for everyone.

So, I was thinking . . . it might be interesting to think about how someone could do the work of an MFA, without the expense (or the benefits of an official degree.)

Let’s call it an NFA: a Ninja of Fine Arts degree.

An autodidact is a self-taught person. So, an NFA is an autodidact. Cool, right?

Here’s what’s involved in a low-residency MFA program:

  • Lots and lots of reading. (I’m required to read about 10 books per month.)
  • Fiction writing and revision. (I turn in about 40 pages per month, 20 of new writing, 20 of revision.)
  • Work with a mentor.
  • Workshopping with other writers.
  • In-person classes during residency.

Here’s how I think that could translate:


Read wide and deep. Read in your genre and in every other genre. Read craft books and do the exercises in them.

Keep a running annotated bibliography (go ahead and use the MLA format, it will make you feel official.) Annotation can be as simple as a note about what you liked or didn’t like about the book. Look at the book as a writer–what did you learn from it?

Keep a reading log. I just write the title and author of every book I read in a special notebook.

A good place to start is 10 minutes of reading every single day. No matter what. Also carry a book with you. Keep one in the bathroom and in your car and anywhere else you might have a minute or two to read a page or two.

Start to build a writing craft library. Here are some of my favorites to give you starting point:

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

On Writing by Stephen King

Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer


The goal is to consistently create new work. Be brave. Take risks. Write stories that you don’t feel ready to write. Write in formats that you’re not familiar with, in genres that make you uncomfortable. Stretch.

My recommendation, always: write at least 10 minutes every day. You’ll be shocked at what this tiny goal does for your writing career.

Ray Bradbury suggests writing one short story a week for a year. He says that it’s impossible to write 52 bad short stories in a row. I think this is a fine place to start. At the end of the year, you’ll have 52 short stories and some of them will probably be worth exploring as possibilities for expanding into novels.

Or write a novel in a year. A Novel Idea will help you with this. You can get access to that via Patreon.

Start to carry a writer’s notebook with you everywhere. Use it. Make notes on story ideas, on conversations you overhear, on places you visit


Seek out opportunities to learn in a classroom setting.

One idea is to check out the community education courses offered by your local community college. They often offer non-credit writing courses.

Take it a step further and sign up for a university writing workshop.

I offer two free courses, How to Develop + Test a Story Idea and a version of The Plotting Workshop.

Click on the Ninja Writer’s Academy tag here on this blog and check out those posts. Work your way through them.

Twice a year, clear your calendar and dedicate a week to immersing yourself in learning to be a better writer. If you can swing it, consider spending a weekend in a hotel, just writing without the distractions of home.


Join Ninja Writers on Facebook and reach out. Ask questions. Interact!

Join an in-person writer’s group. Check with your local library or book store, or if you’re in a city you might find a chapter of a larger writing group like Romance Writers of America or Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

If you can’t find an established group, put an ad in Craig’s List (or come over to our Facebook Group!) and try to get one started.

Workshopping with other writers is invaluable.

Try to attend at least one writer’s conference a year. You’ll meet other writers, including published authors who are at least a few steps ahead of you in the process, and have access to workshops. More importantly, you’ll be inspired to work.



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Life, Curated: Week Two (The Kitchen)

life-curatedweek-2-the-kitchenTo catch you up: Life, Curated is a program that is designed to help you (and me) find time for writing by getting the rest of our lives under control. Starting with a major home overhaul. For the first eight weeks, we’ll be doing major decluttering.

This is not a program designed to give you a Pinterest-ready home. It sprung from my observation (and life experience) that creative people also tend to be super right-brained and right-brained people tend to struggle with organization. This is about digging yourself out, if you’re so buried that you can’t take time for your art without feeling guilt.

You can join us on Facebook to share progress, get support, and see my after pictures.

Okay, onward!

This week we’re working on our kitchens.

I know this is a big one! Even a small kitchen can be stuffed with . . . stuff.


First things first, do the Fresh Eyes exercise on your kitchen. Take a good, honest look at the space and ask yourself these questions:

  • What needs to be cleaned?
  • What needs to be decluttered?
  • What needs to be repaired or refinished?
  • What do you need to buy for this section of your house?

Look at your kitchen the way a realtor might–someone totally dispassionate and unconnected. Someone who won’t have to actually do the work.

Keep your exercise in a Life, Curated notebook and hang on to your answers to those questions. You’ll need them over the next six months. I made a Fresh Eyes printable for you. If you’d like to download it and sign up to get weekly Life, Curated posts delivered to your inbox.


A major part of curating is decluttering–brutally. Get rid of anything in your kitchen that you don’t A) love and B) use regularly.

Here’s an example:

You might know that I have a thing for vintage . . . things. I love thrift stores and I have a hard time leaving behind cool mid-century stuff. As a result, I have a big collection of vintage Pyrex. And I LOVE it. But, I have some that I’ve bought, I store, but I’ve never once used.

So, I need to ask myself some questions. Is storing a bunch of Pyrex casserole dishes that I don’t ever, ever use stealing my resources? Do I have to spend time digging through it to find the thing I do need? Am I paying for storage? Am I spending energy cleaning stuff that I don’t ever use? Would getting rid of some of it free up time, money, or energy for writing?

This isn’t about minimalism. I can keep my Pyrex casserole dishes. Maybe there’s something I’ve been using that I don’t like as well. Maybe I can find a place to store my collection that will make it easier for me to use it.

But, the honest truth is that a less cluttered kitchen takes less time and energy to use efficiently and to keep clean. Those are minutes I can spend creating stories.

So, this week’s job is to go through every single cupboard and declutter as much as you can.

Last week I said that you should just get rid of what you don’t keep–donate it. I’ve had a slight change of heart. If you trust yourself to actually do the work of selling it, consider using your discarded stuff to fund your writing career. Use the money to hire an editor or cover designer, or to pay for a class or some craft books.


Okay — here’s the part that’s always a little hard. My before pictures. It’s pretty obvious, even before I do the Fresh Eyes exercise that I have a small kitchen with too much stuff. Every flat surface is COVERED. Especially behind the sink and my poor fridge.

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Last week I worked on my entry and hallway.

I ended up donating a huge black trash bag full of stuff, plus filled a box with things I think I can sell. I have the space in my garage to store the sell stuff for a while, but I’m not going to let myself hold on to it forever. When these eight weeks are over, the stuff is either sold or donated. Period.

(I’d just like to note that that filthy floor, caused by muddy conditions outside, has been cleaned!)


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And my donations:

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And my sell pile:

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Life, Curated: Week One (The Entry)

life-curated-week-one-the-entryYou might be wondering–what in the hell does housekeeping have to do with writing?

If you’re an adult and you live in a house, especially if other people live there with you, the answer is probably quite a lot. Because it’s hard to take anytime at all to write when every minute of your day could be filled with three other things.

Write, or make dinner.

Write, or clean the toilets.

Write, or vacuum the living room.

You get the point.

So, here’s the plan. We’re going to get a handle on all the adulting stuff this year, so that we can open up some time for writing.

First things first though: right now we’re making a non-negotiable commitment.

Ten minutes of writing and ten minutes of reading every day. No matter what. Even if you have to sneak them in the bathroom. That’s twenty minutes a day and it’s okay if it’s a struggle right now. We’re going to work on that. Lean into the struggle. Do it everyday. Like Ray Bradbury said, then see what happens.

Okay, now that’s out of the way, here’s what we’re going to do.

  1. Divide your house into eight areas. Mine are: entry/hallway, kitchen, dining room, living room, other room (for me this is the den/office), bathrooms, master bedroom, Ruby’s bedroom. Do what makes sense for you.
  2. This week we’re going to start with the first section and give it a good hard look. For me, that’s the entry and hallway in my house. I’ve got a coat hanging area, a coat closet, a mail center, and a linen closet. Also, a railing around the stairs to the basement that often gets used as a hanging rack for all manner of things. (I’ll describe the Fresh Eyes exercise below.)
  3. And then we’re going to give it a brutal decluttering. I want you to look at everything you own that’s hanging out in that first section of your house and ask it this: is keeping you around worth my writing time? Do I like you that much? Have I even looked at you in the last year? Will I be sad a year from now if you’re not around?
  4. Take before and after pics. If you want to, you can come share them in our Facebook group.
  5. Keep up with the 7 Super Habits. They make a difference.


The Fresh Eyes exercise works like this: take an honest look at the section of your house you’re working on. (I’m just going to assume it’s your entry and hallway.) Ask yourself these questions:

  • What needs to be cleaned?
  • What needs to be decluttered?
  • What needs to be repaired or refinished?
  • What do you need to buy for this section of your house?

Your goal is to look at your house the way a realtor might–someone totally dispassionate and unconnected. Someone who won’t have to actually do the work. Go ahead and list things like painting or getting a new front door, even if you’re not sure how or when you might actually do them.

Start a Life, Curated notebook and hang on to your answers to those questions. You’ll need them over the next six months. I made a Fresh Eyes printable for you. If you’d like to download it and sign up to get weekly Life, Curated posts delivered to your inbox.


We are curating here. Life curating.

Curating means to pull together and sift through. I am not a minimalist and I don’t think I ever will be, so I’m not here to tell you how much stuff you need to get rid of.

What I’d like you to think about is this: every single item that you own takes a little bite of your time and energy and resources. At some point you’re going to need to use it, clean it, dig through it, dig for it.

The point of the next eight weeks is to really look at everything you own and ask yourself: is this thing worth the amount of time it takes away from writing?

Real life example. I own probably 20 pairs of shoes. I regularly wear two of those pairs. A huge reason why I only wear two of those pairs is because digging through all the rest to find something else I want to wear is too much to even think about. So I don’t even think about it. I just slip on my sneakers that are probably sitting in the middle of the hallway. Everytime I need something out of my coat closet, I have to brave an avalanche and take time to spelunk into that space.

I’m looking forward to this, you guys.

What about all the stuff you declutter? My advice is to jut get it out of your house. Donate it. Give it away.

You’ll have to check in with yourself about whether or not you can trust yourself to put stuff aside to sell. Will you actually have a garage sale or do the work to sell stuff on eBay or Craig’s List? Or is boxing stuff up to sell just redistributing the clutter?

If you have the space to store things to sell later, go for it. Mark a box SELL and put stuff in it. Make the decision that after we’re done with this six months, you’ll give yourself a set amount of time to make that sale. If you don’t meet your deadline, donate those boxes.


Okay, here’s where I get brave. Some quick and dirty before pictures of my entry and hallway. It’s muddy and slushy outside and you can see that not having a rug is making the floor pretty gross. And that the coat rack is a major clutter catcher.

And OMG, the inside of that coat closet. Here’s where my declutter time will be spent. Also–just not having to dig through that mess for boots and shoes everyday will open up at least a minute or two of time every day, right? Dang.

Okay. Are you ready for this? Come on over to our Facebook Group for support. I’ll be posting pictures during the week as I do my own work. I love you, you awesome Life Curator!

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I Love Mail! (Post-Jamaica Version)


I have this thing about mail.

Not bills and grocery store fliers. I mean–good mail. Letters. Magazines. Books. Little surprises. Lovely fun things that make me smile.

I was excited for several reasons to come home: my bed, hot showers, a return of winter, my kids, my husband, my dog and cat.

And also: my mail. Eight days accumulation. It took 20 hours for me to get home, starting with a fairly harrowing four hour bus ride through the jungle to get to the airport. And I really was excited to see what was waiting in my little pile.

I thought I’d share:

This actually came just before I left, but it was one of the nicest things I’d found in the mail ever. I posted something on Facebook about dreaming about these Blackwing pencils (but at more than $20 for a dozen, they weren’t something I’d probably ever buy for myself) and then one day there was a package on my doorstep. My brother, Kyle, sent them to me! And now, I’m totally hooked (they write like a dream) and will buy them again. I sent him one back, plus one of my favorite Rhodia notebooks, so that he can start a logbook for his little bitty farm. Because this pencil and that notebook is a magic combination. Also, Freddie clearly approves.

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I joined the Letter Writer’s Alliance, which costs $5 for a lifetime membership. You get a little membership card, an adorable (seriously) patch, and a cute postcard. Plus, you can ask the folks who run the alliance to match you up with a pen pal. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes! My membership packet was here when I got home from Jamaica.

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I had an issue of The Letter Exchange waiting for me as well. It’s a sweet little thing that’s full of interesting information about letter writing and a collection of anonymous pen pal ads. Membership includes a service where you ship your letters to them, with your new friend’s membership number, and they forward it on–so that you don’t have to share your address until or unless your comfy with that. The ads are so awesome. I went through with a highlighter and marked some like these:

I LOVE Rocky movies.

Lost with a husband and child.

Wal-Mart is like going downtown used to be.

Retired teacher likes gardening, cats, old movies, the 1950s, volunteer work, and playing the violin.

Courage to grow old, love of the natural world, Annie Dillard, David Brendon Hopes, Baily White, Billy Collins, non-religious.

Everyone has a story. What is yours.

That’s it: each line is a whole ad. Just a little conversation starter. I’m pretty excited to respond to some of them

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My Zine-O-Matic subscription envelope was here! I’m obsessed with zines right now. I was really excited to get my hands on some. I signed up for the medium-sized mailer and got three big zines, two smallish ones, and some little extras, including 100 Hong Kong dollars and a sweet 1980s cat and bird sticker.

I’m really excited about the zines. One looks like a coloring book to me and I will use it that way, whatever the original intent. I love that I can just stick one in my purse and have it to look at when I have a few extra minutes. That’s important for me right now, because I have to do so much official reading for my MFA. Little bits of purely pleasure reading are exciting.

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My February issue of Writer’s Digest was here. I subscribed during Barnes and Noble’s black Friday sale and got a whole year for about $10. You can subscribe on Amazon and get it in both print and digital formats for one price (About $20 for the year.) Writer’s Digest is another one of those things that I like to have to read when I have a few minutes here and there. Sips, not gulps.

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My January Ipsy bag was here. I love this little subscription box. It only costs $10 and it always has cool stuff in it. This was my second delivery. Every box comes with a cute little zippered bag. I filled the December bag (it was pink velvet) with Sharpies and gave it to my artist daughter for Christmas.

And two books:

My copy of Dinner: a Love Story. If you’re responsible for making dinner for anyone (including just yourself), you’re going to love this book. I’ve never wanted to actually read a cookbook from cover to cover before. This book reads like Jenny Rosenstrach is your bestie and she’s sharing all her best ideas with you. You can read her blog, too.

And Stolen Sharpie Revolution by Alex Wrekk. This is the fifth edition of this tiny little book–it’s just palm-sized, but it’s filled with such good information. I devoured it in my travel-fevered state and it planted this little seed about starting asubscription mailer, filled with Ninja Writer-created zines. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think. (Especially if you happen to have a zine.) You can buy the book directly from the author at the link above and support her work, which is almost startlingly thorough with regard to zines and zine culture. (It’s a dollar off right now.)

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Life, Curated: Getting Started


So, of course I have this big grand idea right when I’m on my way out the door to spend 8 days studying for my MFA in Jamaica.

The Life, Curated idea is so exciting to me! And I can’t wait to get started. But, I’m not going to be able to write much (or at all) about it until I get home on January 12.

If I’m going to have problems, that’s one I’ll take.

What I’m going to do today is talk a little about what I think the next year will hold for this program. And then give you a exercise that will keep you going until I’m home.

Life, Curated is based on this premise: Creative people are different. We are idea people. We’re great at starts and suck at follow through (sometimes.) We’re right-brained folks who do struggle with the little steps that get us from here to where we dream about being.

If that sounds like you, you are definitely in the right place. Welcome to crazy town. I’m super glad you’re here, because it’s way more fun with company.

Here are some things I have planned for next year (remember, I’m right there in right-brained world with you, so these are subject to change!)

We’re going to get our houses in order. For real.

Know what sucks? Feeling guilty about writing because you have roughly eleventy billion other things you could be doing with that hour. (Or even those ten minutes.)

I don’t know about you, but a bunch of those eleventy billion things are related to housework and are things that I pile on myself because I’m so naturally disorganized, I have way too much stuff (because it all has a story!), and I’m great at setting up plans for doing better, but suck at actually doing it.

I have a plan, though, that works with my right-brained tendency and that I think will work. I’m willing to give a try, anyway. And sharing it with you guys? Big part of it. I definitely need a shot of accountability.

It works like this:

Divide your house into eight sections. (Mine are: Entry and hallways, kitchen, dining room, living room, other room (for me this is my den/office), bathrooms, Ruby’s room, and the master bedroom. Our son Nick and Kevin’s parents are grown-ups and I’m not taking responsibility for their spaces!)

We’re going to take three passes through each section. First, we’ll spend a week in each one and declutter. I mean brutal declutter. Get rid of everything that doesn’t make you happy. We’re curating, right? THIS is the curation.

Then we’ll go back and spend another week in each space doing a deep clean. Floor to ceiling.

Finally, we’ll make one more pass and do repairs, make changes, whatever needs to be done.

So, eight sections, three weeks in each one, that’s 24 weeks. That’ll keep us busy, right?

Fresh Eyes.

So, the next two weeks, while I’m gone, here’s how you can get started.

I’ve already done this exercise, to test it, and it was surprisingly fun. It’s adapted from the Sidetracked Home Executives book. Pam Young and Peggy Jones are for sure my organizational mentors, even though they’ve never heard of me. If you’ve heard of the Fly Lady, that all started with these ladies. Fly Lady didn’t work for me, but I love Pam and Peggy.

Think of yourself like you’re a real estate agent. Take a walk around your space–whether that’s a house, an apartment, a trailer, a bedroom in your parents house. Whatever. Look at each room as if you were seeing it for the first time. Look at it as if you were about to try to sell it.

Ask yourself four questions:

  • What needs to be cleaned up or decluttered?
  • What needs to be repaired or replaced?
  • Where does clutter gather in your space?
  • What do you need to buy for this area?

You can just keep a sheet for each room in a notebook, or I made a worksheet for you that I’ll be happy to send if you leave your email address here:

Other Stuff

I have ideas for the rest of the year. Things like:

Curating outside spaces

Curating  storage spaces  (wait until you see pictures of my garage!)

Curating personal spaces (your bag, your side of the bed, your side of the bathroom sink, your car, etc.)

Curating personal finances

Curating health and fitness

You get the idea!

I’m really excited about this. Make sure you join our Facebook group so you can share how your Fresh Eyes exercise is going and get some moral support.

Get the Life, Curated: Recipe for a Fresh Start Course for $7 in January!

To set you off on the right foot, I’d discounted the Life, Curated: Recipe for a Fresh Start Course to $7 for subscribers. To get the code (and the worksheet), enter your email address right here:

The course gives you a powerful seven day program that you can use to kick yourself out of a rut anytime you feel stuck. I do it every January, but also anytime things just aren’t going the way I want them to. There’s nothing like a Fresh Start!



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