“Vacation” as a Workaholic

Vacation. I’m not good at it.

In my school days, I made it 1-1/2 weeks into summer vacation before I started doing silly things, like buying next year’s text books, writing partial drafts of new books, and/or getting hugely addicted to television shows.

I didn’t know it then, but I need things to do. All of this culminates in the fact that I’m not very great at vacation.

But here I am on my last day of a one-week vacation in Florida. Let’s put aside that it’s November and this is my first vacation all year, and let’s also ignore the fact that the morning of my last day of vacation is being spent writing this blog post. I’m waiting for laundry. Cut me some slack!

So, what does vacation look like for a workaholic? At its worst, it can look exactly like work. At best, it can look like a proper magical vacation. I went into this vacation with 3 expectations.

  1. Relax. For real relax. Actually and properly relax.
  2. Work on the pitches for my contracted Book 2, which is due before Thanksgiving. And various other things due on an ongoing basis.
  3. Have new experiences and adventures.

That third item came from a good friend, and it was a motivator for having a good vacation and for finding inspiration for pitch ideas. So I went into my vacation with these directions, and I said yes to every invitation and plan and event.

I spent my mornings on a balcony overlooking the ocean. I walked a mile down the beach to a lighthouse, where I then climbed to the very tippy top. I went shopping at a resale store and found some great deals. I went to a butterfly and vegetation sanctuary and learned an obnoxiously wonderful amount of information about palms. I let my distractions take hold of me and fell down research rabbit holes. I sat on the beach and scribbled out pages and pages of ideas and plans while listening to the ocean.

I did and tried new things. Ate a whole artichoke. Swam in the ocean out to where I couldn’t touch the ground (scary!). Ate stone crab (holy hell is it expensive). Saw wild manatees bobbing in the waves. Climbed narrow steps to the fogged-windows of a lighthouse where you know you’re at the highest point possible even though you can’t see a thing to prove it. You just know it even if you can’t see it.

I had to remind myself that part of being an author and part of being on vacation means that you can’t force your brain into a corner and make it work. Not all the time, anyway.

Work doesn’t have to be a constant dredge. It shouldn’t be! It should be interspersed with new experiences, relaxation, and time to think and innovate.

Okay, now I sound like a workplace time management specialist wannabe.

Long story short: if you take a vacation and you’re a workaholic, don’t stress out about working or not working. Put aside time to wander. Make an effort to enjoy yourself, and let yourself exist and thrive in whatever way brings you joy. If that means you check your work email once per day after drinking coffee on an oceanside balcony, you do you, friend.

Enjoy. Relax. Recharge. And, if it’s enjoyable, go ahead and work.



My Dead/New Car, My Book, and Other Life Updates

It’s that time again! Where is my book, where is my life, and what IS life?

Ninja Car is Dead: My car has been dying not-so-slowly. The transaxle and fuel emission lights would come on about once per week (up to a few times per day near the end). A dead starter and a AAA tow, and I spent the weekend on the hunt for a new shiny car.

Now to welcome my new car (which I have not yet named)! It’s a gray 2014 Honda Accord–quite the step up from my 2001 Ford Taurus. A 13-year step up, to be exact. There are things that will take getting used to: like driving faster than 55mph on the freeway and bluetooth and rearview mirrors and actual acceleration.

60-hour Work Weeks: Through the last few months, I’ve been working 60-hour weeks. That’s a lot of hours. Multiple hours. Too many hours. That’s what happens when you love your job, you have a sudden and spontaneous deadline, and you don’t mind being the only car in the parking lot of an office building.

New Coworker: We’ve hired a new Technical Writer to our team! See the above 60-Hour Work Weeks fiasco. Having a new coworker that I have to train will mean more work for a while and then less work when they are trained enough to take over some responsibilities. Woo hoo for sharing responsibilities!

The Never-Ending Outline: I’ve been working with my editor on the outline for my debut book, THE NAMELESS QUEEN, for a while now. We’ve spent a good chunk of time (ie months) settling on the new structure and motivations. I’m finally at the point where I have a deadline for the revised manuscript! Labor day! That’s six weeks from now! Six…. weeks…… *panics* Nope, everything will be fine. Deadlines are encouraging and motivating. A bit of healthy stress, right?

The VACATION! The SOLAR ECLIPSE: I started my current job in 2014, and I’m finally about to take my first real vacation! A whole week! On August 21, I’ll be somewhere near Alliance Nebraska, in the Path of Totality for the first total solar eclipse to pass through the USA since 1979! The next time it happens in America is 2024. (Though, there IS an annular eclipse in 2023 on my birthday!)  For the rest of that week, I’ll be hiking in the black hills. Road trip!! (We will not be taking my new car, because of mileage and warranty reasons.) And with those long long weeks I’ve been working, a vacation will be just what I need.

What IS life? New cars and coffee stains and computer keyboards. All of these things and everything else.

5 Tips for Women in the Workplace

After getting an office job almost 3 years ago, I’ve picked up some tips (aka: mistakes and lessons learned) for women in the workplace and for anyone looking to be more confident in their profession. Let’s jump right in:

1. Don’t say sorry when you mean something else. Say excuse me, pardon me, or Hello There.

  • Don’t say sorry when you mean “pardon” or “excuse me.” I caught myself saying “sorry” ALL the time when I would turn a sharp corner and almost bump into someone. And you know what? Other women would say “sorry” as well, but men almost NEVER say it.
  • If you round a corner to fast, try saying “Oh, hey there!” with a smile. Or just say “Pardon” and be on your merry way. There’s this misconception that women always have to be smiles and polite or else they’re being bitchy. Aside from being sexist, that’s just untrue.
  • Don’t say sorry in conversations with coworkers when what you mean to say is “Hey, I want to to say something, but I don’t want to interrupt.” Just say it. Or have a polite-interruption lead in, like “What about…” or “So what if…” Saying sorry isn’t polite. It’s an apology. Be polite, not apologetic. Be strong!

2. Walk in the middle of the hallway.

  • If it’s a long empty stretch of hallway and there’s no one around, take that middle road. Stride down the hall like you own it! Too often, I see women hugging the wall, when oftentimes we’re the faster-paced among the hallway walkers. I’m not saying barge into folks when they’re walking by you or to block the path forward, but this is just a small example of stepping forward and owning your own space.
  • Eye contact: I’ve found that people make eye contact with people they’re walking past you, but very briefly. The eye contact lasts for less than a second and typically occurs when they’re 3-6 steps away. Sometimes they nod and say hello, but most often the eye contact is brief and uneventful.
  • Also, a tip I’ve found (because I’m that weirdo who nods and either smiles or says hello to everyone I pass), is that if you’re going to smile at someone as you make eye-contact, make sure to keep your smile until you pass them. Peripheral vision is powerful, and I can’t tell you how many times out in the real world, I see people do the “polite” smile and then go back to grumpy-face or neutral face immediately afterward. I’m not saying you have to smile at everyone/anyone, but just that I find it to have a more positive impact on my own mood if I let my smile last a bit longer. Then, it’s almost like each of those small interactions are built to improve my mood.

3. In that same spirit, take the lead when walking with a group.

  • Don’t just trail behind (unless you don’t know where you’re going, in which case you should not lead the way haha). Oftentimes, you can kind of walk in an awkward group together, but you’ll find that some circumstances require more single-file movements.
  • If you have to file single file, pick up the pace and drop in line ahead of your coworkers or slip in behind them. Be the person to proactively adjust, because it shows forethought, spatial awareness, and initiative of group dynamic movements. Regain your position when you can.
  • I know it sounds like I’m over-thinking it, but just think about how often you take the lead and how often you just mill forward with the group. Really, you just want to take notice of where you’re reflexive behaviors are. Once you identify them, challenge them!

4. Another reflexive thing I see myself and others doing: folding in on yourself at meetings.

  • Try changing your posture. Sit up straight. Put your elbows on the table. Sit with your legs apart instead of crossed legs. Basically: rethink a thing that you do without thinking: posture.
  • If you’re tall, lower your chair to the proper height for the table. If you’re short, raise it up. Don’t be ashamed or afraid of fumbling around for the hidden level on the chair. Comfort is important. I’ve had many a ice-breaking conversation at meetings that start with “Geez, how do you adjust these seats?”
  • Keeping your elbows on the table is a way to lean forward and stay involved in the conversation. It says “I’m participating and paying attention, and I’m ready to learn and lead.” Plus, it can keep you from rolling away and fidgeting in a rolly chair (not that I do that).
  • I know it can be a comfort or a wardrobe or a body temperature thing, especially for women. But if you’ve ever had a guy sit across from you, wide stance, slouch with their arms spread out wide, and mansplain your job to you, you know there is power in posture. Try mirroring the posture of someone you respect. See how it changes your whole dynamic. It’s just super interesting to change the way you present yourself, because it’s SO automatic and subconscious. Challenge the way your brain works! It’s a fascinating experience!

5. Think first, then ask. But don’t overthink.

  • I can’t tell you how many times I take an immediate question to someone else without really thinking about it first. Then they ask a question I don’t know the answer to, and I realize I’ve basically made a gut reaction of complaining instead of thinking about the issue. Take some time. Think about it. Don’t just react. When I see something dumb, and I *immediately* wheel around and tell someone. Which is cathartic and lets me move on, but it isn’t productive for the unlucky soul I keep distracting (sorry, David). Communication, as with most things, requires balance.
  • I’ve also had the opposite issue, where I reach a problem, come up with a complicated solution, only to have someone say “Oh, we can just do THIS, and it’s all fixed.” Working in a vacuum bubble is never good. Vacuum bubbles are a straight ticket to a world of popped balloons.
  • Basically, there’s a long gray smudgy line between not thinking enough and overthinking. I wish it was clear-cut, but it’s not.


If you have any tips you’ve picked up at your office, let me know! I’m a weird nerd who pays too much attention to social dynamics and physical behaviors, so I’m always looking to learn more!

Getting Published: Setting Achievable Goals

My life goals typically look like this:

  • Acquire matching socks.
  • Acquire fingerless gloves.
  • Buy a stupid mango and actually eat it instead of forgetting it exists and throwing it away two weeks too late.
  • Acquire fresh produce and cook a meal. It’s been a while, and I’ve gotten lazy at this.
  • Accomplish list of things required to maintain the frimbly facade of being an adult (including, not limited to: go to bank, schedule ophthalmologist appointment, research cars, probably call internet company?)

Basically, my lists are now-oriented. I’m not a big fan of Bucket Lists or Life Goals. Why? Because I want attainable goals that I know I can accomplish. I want to dangle the cookie just within reach, because then I’ll fight for it. I don’t want to hang the cookie on a distant star in outer space where I can only see it through a very expensive telescope that I can’t afford.

There’s a metaphor in there, I promise.

Anyway, my goal lists are always concrete and reasonable. This goes for things like basic human functions, and larger scale goals that are linked to my passions.

So when I set the goal as a wee child to publish a book, I knew I had a lifetime to do it. It was my cookie in the stars. But as I grew up, I broke that goal down into cookie-on-a-string tasks. Here’s a brief list of goals I set:

  • Write 100 poems and 100 short stories during high school.
  • When, among one of those stories, a premise had enough promise to potentially be a longer story, I set the goal of writing a novel.
  • I set the goal of finishing it while I was in high school. Two years later, as my high school graduation neared, I finished it with less than a week to spare.
  • My first year at college, I set the goal of writing my first NaNoWriMo book during my first year of college, where I wrote 12,000 words on the first day, and I finished the book by that January.
  • I set a goal to revise my first book and write my first query letter.
  • Then I read the entire Query Shark archives to actually learn what a query letter is supposed to look like.
  • I set the goal of researching and querying 10 agents.
  • After I graduated college, I had written three books, and I gave my first manuscript another pass on revisions.
  • Then I gave myself an end-of-year goal: apply to grad school for creative writing or get a job. I got a job as a technical writer three months out of college (which I love).
  • Instead of moving on, though, I entered Pitch Wars 2015 on the last day of submissions. I’ve talked a lot about my Pitch Wars experience here (and feel free to ask questions about it here), but a hop, skip, and boat ride away, I got multiple offers from agents. Then I got multiple offers from publishing houses. Then, suddenly, I had a book deal for two NAMELESS books.
  • But my goals didn’t stop there. Now, my goals have been things like:
    • Cut the opening 100 pages to 50 pages.
    • Write my first outline (it ended up being 13 pages long!) to guide my revisions.
    • Write an outline for book 2.
    • Do line edits for a friend’s book (which I’ve never successfully done before) ((and guys, she’s awesome))

Things are crazy. This place I’ve found myself is crazy. Setting goals makes it seem less crazy and stressful and makes it seem possible. It makes it achievable.

At times, it’s incomprehensibly and phenomenally lightning fast. Sometimes it trudges like dregs of unmixed hot cocoa: delightful and painfully out of reach. Sometimes its simplicity is astoundingly sharp.

Sometimes I get to write blog posts about the hundreds of tiny steps and goals, the relentless and torturous ambition, and the unending thrill of finally being so close to my sky-cookie that I can taste it.

And guys? It tastes like starlight.*


*not literal starlight, which tastes more like electric blue and unsaturated nebulas… so I’m told.

Life & Book Updates — June 2016

Hey there! It’s May (June? It’s June? Wow, I forgot what month it is. Month #6). Here’s a random list of the things I’ve done over the past year:

  • Got accepted into Pitch Wars, and sort of got second place (in that there were no places, but I had the second-highest number of requests from agents).
  • Signed with literary agent extraordinaire, Pete J. Knapp, at New Leaf Literary & Media Inc.
  • Went on submission prompty thereafter, and sold North American rights for my debut novel, THE NAMELESS QUEEN, to Phoebe Yeh at Crown Publishing of Penguin Random House.
  • Spent 6 months waiting for the contract to be finalized so we could announce the deal.
  • Got an edit letter from my editor (can I scream and fall over yet?)
  • Announced the deal on Publisher’s Marketplace! (*screams and falls over*)
  • Got interviewed for my own job (so I can get through the red tape and become a permanent employee)
  • Finally got the internet at my apartment after a year and half without it.
  • Launched the Ask Authors blog on Tumblr (where you can ask questions to over 100 writers!) (@AskAuthors)
  • Rebuilt the transmission on Ninja Car for almost what it cost to buy it in the first place.
  • Systematically broke my laptop through a series of accidents that were totally not my fault (at least one of them was my fault).
  • Have not yet purchased a new laptop.
  • Saw an innumerable number of fabulous movies (mostly kid animated) and watched way too much television.
    • New Movies of note: C.A. Civil War; Zootopia; SWFA; Inside Out; FINDING DORY THIS FRIDAY;
    • New TV shows: Lucifer; Supergirl; Sherlock s03e04;  binge-watching Supernatural
  • Got a second credit card.
  • Bought a lovely new set of throwing knives.
  • Spent a lot of time on Twitter.
  • Taught my sister and nephew how to throw knives. (And also slightly disassembled my grandmother’s deck to retrieve a stray runaway knife.)
  • Received the official offer for my job! (You’re lookin at a professional Technical Editor, kids! Woohoo!)


Do you have questions for me about any of this? Ask me!

Designing a Writing Portfolio

wp-01I have to apply for my own job. I know. It sounds weird. It is.

I’m getting hired as a permanent employee instead of a contractor, but they still have to go through the interview process.  Part of that involves updating my resume, which is a whole different beast. But part of it is pretty straightforward:

Have a stellar writing portfolio.

Writers are in the unique position that it doesn’t matter as much what your experience or job history is. What’s important is the writing portfolio. (The same goes for designers and illustrators.) You could have 2 years of experience or 20, but if your writing/art is stellar (or crap), then that’s what counts. It’s what they look at. Beyond that, they look for typical interview stuff: do you fit will into the team, are you clever, a fast learner, organized, filled to the piping brim with initiative?

Putting aside interviews and resumes, I’m going to talk about how to tailor your writing portfolio to the job you’re after, and what really makes it shine. (Grain of salt: if I don’t get my job back, then feel free to ignore this advice and also give me free cookies since I’ll be terrible and despicably jobless. Oatmeal raisin.)

  1. Diversity of writing samples
    • You better believe I’m including an excerpt of THE NAMELESS QUEEN in my portfolio.
  2. Purpose of the writing samples.
    • This is where you want to describe what the goal of the piece is. Developed for a specific client? To display data or communicate a specific message? Charity work or a paying gig?
  3. Demonstrated skills of the writing samples.
    • What does this piece of writing say about you as an employee and worker?
    • Does it demonstrate collaborative skills, translating technical material, long-term project management?

Materials for Your Portfolio

Technical Material

If you can, include material that demonstrates you either have knowledge in the area tey are concerned with or that you are capable of communicating content clearly when you don’t have a background in it.

Example: Chemical Analysis Report

  • Prepared and presented analysis of “science something” for collegiate faculty at Symposium of Science Stuff. [purpose]
  • Demonstrates ability to understand and communicate technical materials to a specific audience. [demonstrated skill]
  • Involves collaboration with other writers and technical personnel. [demonstrated skill]

Here’s what this says to an employer:

  • This employee can understand materials that they don’t necessarily have expertise in.
  • Can work collaboratively with others when necessary and deliver a final product.
  • Can display and interact professionally and present work to authority figures.

There you go! You just took that science presentation from college and made it into a business experience asset! And make sure that if they ask you about your writing samples, you expound on these skills.

Remember, they don’t necessarily care WHAT your writing is about, but what it says about your skills as a writer!

Creative Material

An interview and portfolio is NOT the place to discuss how you’ve written five books, 231 short stories and 23,000 poems but still haven’t gotten published. You might think “look how much I’ve done!” but they’ll think “and you don’t have ANY publication credits, yikes!”

Avoid the bitterness and suppositions that come with the numbers. Focus on the hard work of the process. There’s a method for using creative material to your benefit.

Example: Novel Excerpt

Let’s see that same format again, but this time for creative material.


  • Involves long-term time management, dedication, and marketing.
  • Represented by New Leaf Literary & Media.
  • Large scope approach to writing project through various stages: drafting, revision, copy-editing, and proofing.

Mentioning the representation is sort of an ethos thing to prove that my work has the snuff to get represented and published. If you are citing work that isn’t published or represented, make sure to keep it succinct and clear.

Here’s a (not-so-secret) secret about writing: people think it’s easy. They think you write a book as a weekend hobby, and then you’re magically a mythical portmanteau between JK Rowling and Stephen King. They think you’re a Jphen Rowlking. Or something.

So if a potential employer asks about your Work-in-Progress (or even if you’re published), make sure you give them just enough insight to show them the hard work involved, but not enough to seem like a bitter wannabe.

Here’s a good example:

Interviewer: “Oh, I see here you’ve written a book? Are you going to get it published?”

You: “That’s the dream, isn’t it? Writing a book is all about time management and dedication, and it really involves a complex process of drafting, multiple revisions, fielding external feedback, and then marketing the book for representation.”

Did you hear all those buzz words in there? If not, I bolded them for effect. You can turn writing a book (what most people think of as a hobby for old folks and hermits) into a business venture. If they ask for more details, be prepared to discuss your life’s greatest passion as if its a logical business project. In reality, it is. You want to make sure your attitude and tone reflect that. After all, you’re after a job here, not validation for your personal work.

Picking a Good Excerpt

If you’re struggling with what to pick, just do the first 250-300 words. That’s the equivalent of the first page, which should be a stunning example of your writing. After all, that first page has to convince agents, editors, and readers alike to keep reading–so why not convince your future boss? If you’re not feeling confident enough to include it in your portfolio, don’t. It’s better to have a few excellent writing samples than a bunch of crap ones.

Remember When I Mentioned Diversity?

Be prepared to include unique forms of writing and associated work. Especially if you’re lacking a good number of pieces to include, it’s a good way to pad the portfolio and display diversity.

In fact, try not to have more than one of the same type of work. Don’t include three excerpts from your various unpublished books or two essays about similar renaissance literature. You want to display DIVERSITY. Show them your broad range of skills.

  • Did you make a style sheet while copy-editing your book (or at a previous job)?
  • Did you design a landing page for a local business on a school assignment?
  • Did you do any writing-related support work? For instance, I’ll be included some HTML/CSS web page layouts that I created, because I also did the writing for them, ergo: totally acceptable for the writing portfolio.

A lot of what you put in there will depend on what the job description is and if you have anything that can remotely display exposure or expertise in those areas. This is the same as the technical materials section. Use what you have to show how adaptable you are.

The diversity of your portfolio should shine and show that you are capable of tackling different types of projects with different types of content.

In the Interview and On Paper

They’re going to ask you about your writing excerpts. Or at least they should. Or at the VERY least, they’ll be holding onto the portfolio to look it over when you’re gone.

If they DO ask about any of your writing/work samples, make sure you can speak about each of them in an educated, professional, and objective way.


If you use fancy English terms, like syntax, copy-editing, proofing, etc.,  know what they mean! And know how to explain what they are or how you do them to an interviewer who may not have writing experience.

For instance, if they ask about your book excerpt, etc., be prepared to discuss (briefly and succinctly, as always) the differences between drafting, revision, and proofing, and the different tactics and timetables for each. Or be able to display that you know that different areas of writing require different focuses.

Know You Aren’t a Secretary

Be prepared for people to think you are a secretary or that a secretary can do your job. Be prepared, but don’t believe it.

Like I mentioned before, people think writing is easy. They think anyone can write.

But not everyone can be a writer. This is something that a lot of people (and maybe even your boss or boss’s boss or coworkers or friends/family) don’t understand. So if you’re being hired by someone who knows a lot about writing and English in general, that’s great. Prove you know your stuff.

If you’re interviewing with people who don’t quite understand what goes into it, be sure to give them the “creative writing as a business venture” impression. Throw in some technical jargon that gives them flashbacks to High School English. Mostly, make sure they have a sense that you know that solid technical, professional, and creative writing are all difficult and challenging pursuits with a myriad of details to know and tackle, but also make sure you convey that you are more than willing to do that hard work.

This goes for any interview, really. Don’t make it seem like your job will be easy, because they’ll think you’re just not trying hard enough or you’re not equipped for it. Make it seem like a challenge you are willing, ready, and motivated to take on.

In the end, that’s the type of employee they want to hire.