The Book Birth Plan


Keep Calm and Write On

If you read my last post, it was all about birthing a book. And since NaNoWriMo loometh, it’s time to talk about book birth plans.

Oh, she means outlines, you might think.

But no, in fact, I don’t.

Outlines are key for writing non-fiction manuscripts, in which the author needs to present information in an organized format, but fiction is a whole different animal.

In my novel-writing experience, outlines kill creativity. I’ve written a couple novels that stuck right to the outlines I prepared for them. I would write a scene, then have to look and see what to write next. I didn’t write anything without consulting the outline first because I was afraid of messing up what I wanted to happen later in the plot, but the result was that they read like someone dragging the novels along against their wills. Those novels are now collecting virtual dust because I haven’t touched them in years.

There is a time to tidy up your mess of a novel, and it’s the next stage: editing. When writing, it’s good to have bullet points, things that you know need to happen over the course of the story, but I am here to say that some of the scenes I thought were the most important at the start of a book ended up on the cutting room floor.

If you’re querying and have to provide an outline, you should create it from a book you’ve already written, not the other way around. But that’s not to say that I think books—especially serial novels—should be written without any direction whatsoever. This is where the book birth plan comes in.

If you’ve ever had a baby and tried to have a birth plan, you’re probably laughing. From experience, I can tell you that birth plans are often tossed out with the bath water (just not with the baby). It’s more about comforting the soon-to-be parents by letting them think they have control than actually checking off every box on the list.

So if you’re gearing up to start your novel on November first, what would your “birth plan” look like? How will you know you’re ready to tackle this huge task?

I have a file for “notes” for every one of my NaNoWriMo novels. For my first, I didn’t even decide to participate until late October, so there was no time to plan at all. I had a few scenes in my head and just let the story flow with a vague idea of what I wanted to happen. Once I started writing, I wrote notes, like a quick reference guide, so I wouldn’t have to scroll through the entire document to remember something like a character’s birthday.

The next two years, I had notes already written before I started, so I had a general idea of where the books were going, but like having a baby, they certainly didn’t cooperate with all my expectations. The one thing I wish I’d done with the third book in particular was to decide on how to begin the thing. That little hiccup had me stuck in front of a blank document for a long time.

So write notes, by all means, like how to start your book (who’s narrating? where does it happen? etc.). You can scrap that scene or put it somewhere else later, but at least it will get you rolling.

If you’re dying to write a scene but know you can’t until November, jot down the parts you don’t want to forget: “Brenda runs into her ex at the store”; “Josh’s future plans change when he doesn’t make it onto the football team.” Your character(s) may have a complicated family tree, or you may have a timeline that jumps all over the place. Write these down if you’re afraid you’ll forget, but don’t stay married to them! Therein lies the trap. Read over your “plan” before you start typing on November first, but then set it aside, and write whatever wants to be written. You may discover that your story has some surprises that you never imagined—and that wouldn’t be realized if you stuck to a rigid plan.

This year, I know how I’m going to start the book and certain events that I want to happen, but this one is more about the characters than the plot. And there is every possibility that these characters will be difficult. Actually, I kind of hope that they are. Since I won’t actually be having a baby, it should be fun to see how far this story deviates from the “plan.”

Birthing a Book (as told by memes)


If you follow my blog at all, you know that I’ve participated in both NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo for the past several years. If you’ve read my most recent blogs, you’ll know that I’ve been struggling to finish writing my latest book for several months now. Even dedicating both Camp NaNos to this book didn’t do the trick.

I find that writing is often akin to jumping on a treadmill—I keep going without actually moving forward. With this latest book, in particular, I already had the ending written and just couldn’t seem to get the story to go there. Yes, I wrote—thousands and thousands more words than I wanted to write. And I was still just as far away from the end as I had been when I started. Or so it seemed.

I’m glad to say that I finally made it (and completely changed the ending, of course), and in celebration as well as exasperation, I would like to document this latest writing experience via some memes that must have been written by some poor souls who’ve had similar experiences.


So you get an idea for a book, only to discover that



03 Madeleine L'Engle Quote.jpg

Yep, Madeleine L’Engle. At least you get it.

And Dory has some valuable advice, too:


So you do, but sometimes


Or you read over what you wrote yesterday and wonder,




And there are those times when the page stays blank because of


But no matter what,


So your days start to look like this:


Through it all, you have to remember that


By the end of the process, you think this is a pretty good approximation of your mental state while writing:


You’re glad you stuck with it, however, because


But you’re not quite there yet. You still have to


A Bookworm Without Any Books?

Borrowed Books 2016

A few of the books I’ve read

For the first time since I’ve started publishing a list of fiction titles that I hope to read in a year, I’ve actually managed to read them all—and in under 10 months! I didn’t assign any less books this year than previously, and some were even of the long or slower-paced variety. I’ve even gone astray and read extra books that weren’t on my list. If you’re interested, check out my activity on Goodreads, or read the 2016 list by clicking here.

Although I feel oh-so accomplished, there is a problem: What’s a girl to read when she can choose any book in the world? I just so happened to buy several not-on-the-list books this year that I have yet to read, and they’ll tide me over for a while. But even so, I’m three months ahead of schedule, so what will I read in 2017?

The problem is always in the choosing. There are many books I would like to read or even re-read, but guidance is always welcome. So if you’ve read something that really moved you or that you think fits my profile (again, see Goodreads), please recommend away. The bookworm grows restless!

Fundraiser Books

More books to read and re-read

Face Time

FaceTime logo

There’s a good reason why Apple chose “FaceTime” as the name of their video-calling product. Unlike a regular old phone call, it allows people with the FaceTime app to chat face-to-face. It’s something my husband and I used recently when our kids were out of town. I’m so grateful for the benefits of modern technology, but I also have to be careful not to let those same benefits turn detrimental.

I fought getting a Smartphone for a long time. My husband had a Blackberry for a while, and no offense to Blackberry, but it was a piece of garbage. I know now that it was just an inferior model, but its rudimentary GPS that only worked when you didn’t need it and super-slow Internet search capabilities left me underwhelmed. Not to mention that I would rather stay in the stone age than learn how to use new technology. Update the operating system on my computer, and I get all ticked off that the icons look different. You’d think I’m more like an octogenarian than a millennial.

I did finally break down and get an iPhone. A longtime Apple user, I knew that it would be user-friendly and easy to learn, and I wasn’t disappointed. But I had heard about people becoming glued to their Smartphones, compulsively checking email in the middle of the night, over-stimulating their brains by browsing Facebook instead of reading a book before bed. I was afraid I would turn into a Smartphone zombie, and the games and apps available soon had me trapped. I was playing Words with Friends at stoplights and browsing shallow entertainment articles when I could have been doing just about anything else. To lure a bookworm away from her books is quite a feat.

There were other issues at play—I can’t place all the blame on my iPhone. When I purchased it, I had a months-old infant and was mired in the depths of postpartum depression. It was easier to engage in mindless pursuits and live on autopilot than try to do… anything. Fortunately, the depression was temporary, and once I was myself again, I realized what was going on: I had allowed myself to be seduced by technology.

I deleted all the games I’d downloaded, and I moved the ones that I couldn’t delete off my home screen. I started to read again. I came out of my funk and remembered that I liked to write and edit and decided to try my hand at making some money on the side.

Thus began my transition from pro bono editor to freelance writer. I once again let technology take over. While I wasn’t necessarily playing games, I was writing articles when I should have been a mom. My wake up call came in the form of my elder son telling me that I wasn’t always very fun. I knew I had to make some changes, and you can read about them in my Work-At-Home Covenant post.

But working at home is just a part of it. Parents who work 40-plus hours a week outside of the home are just as susceptible to the likes of Candy Crush and Pokémon Go (or so I’ve heard—I engage in neither). I’ve set a few rules for myself. I don’t use my phone at all after I’ve gone to bed, unless responding to an emergency text in the middle of the night. I used to check emails if I awoke in the night, only to wake myself up so completely that I couldn’t get back to sleep. Also, after recently reading an article (written by a non-millennial) about how young people are unable to start their day without technology, I decided to buck that trend by starting my days with at least five minutes of contemplation. Sometimes this means that I fall back asleep (oh, well), but I usually spend it thinking about the people in my life who are going through tough times. If I tell you I’m keeping you in my thoughts and prayers, that’s not an idle promise—I’m doing it every morning.

So I’ve insulated myself when I need to sleep and when I wake—what about the rest of the day? Such as when I’m being a wife and mom?

It just so happens that when I was watching the news this morning, the resident “expert” seemed to be talking directly to me. The story was all about how harmful it is for parents to be on their phones when they’re around their children. It could be texting, spending time on social media, reading the news, or checking emails—it doesn’t matter what the parents are doing so much as what the children are seeing. They’re seeing that their parents are engaged with technology rather than the family.

The news story made me rethink my own use of technology, how I will sometimes read a stupid article with a catchy headline, which is followed by something like, “Readers who liked this also liked 50 Hairstyles You Don’t Care About and That Will Steal 10 More Minutes from Your Life!” I didn’t buy an iPhone to read vapid tripe like this. I use the camera feature when my kids are doing something cute; I use the alarm to keep to my schedule; I access dictionary apps when I need to look up a word—but the email and social media and all the rest is like so much icing, pleasant in moderation but sickening if I overindulge.

Many parents, conscious of the overstimulation of so much technology, limit the amount of time their kids watch TV, play video games, and spend on their phones doing who knows what. I do the same. So this morning, when my elder son asked if he could watch TV and I said, “No,” he pulled out the iPad. “That’s the same thing—you’re still watching a show,” I told him.

You’re using technology,” he said.

I was. I had my laptop open, ready to write this post. Touché, little man.

I closed the laptop and pulled out my novel. I helped my four-year-old cut some shapes that his brother had traced for him. And long after I’d planned to let my son turn the TV on again, he was still sitting on the couch, looking at one of my old scrapbooks.

It’s not all about technology, but rather about being present. Technology just happens to be the biggest culprit. So the next time you pull out your Smartphone or tablet or sit in front of the computer, take stock of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Is it useful? Can you do it later? When was the last time you played a board game with your kids or sat at the table as a family, all phones switched off? Do you remember when you last had actual face time?

Why Not Sign Up for Camp NaNoWriMo?

Fiction Fix Typewriter

For those who may be learning about Camp NaNoWriMo for the first time, it’s offered twice a year – the months of April and July – as a kind of warm up for the biggie, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), in November.

Last year, I finished editing my previous NaNoWriMo novel at the end of June and signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in July to work on an old, unfinished manuscript. This past April, I signed up again to work on a different novel that I’d started in December.

So why am I writing this when it’s almost halfway through July? To be honest, I almost gave up on the idea of participating this time. No, I haven’t finished the novel I worked on in April (although I did achieve the word count goal I set for myself). What happened is that I came up against a writer’s roadblock that I’ve written about numerous times: the mid-novel slump.

There is little more frustrating for a writer than knowing how your novel will end but then getting lost on the way. It reminds me of the family vacation we recently took, in which my GPS simply wouldn’t believe that our destination was on Sugarloaf Road. It was glad to take us to an empty field on Sugarloaf Mountain Road. While it’s a little misadventure we can laugh about now (and others who have been mislead by GPS can commiserate), at the time, it was aggravating because we knew where we wanted to be, just not how to get there.

Of course, with my novel, I can’t blame GPS. I was cruising along just fine and decided on the perfect twist to give my story more tension. The only problem was that I wrote myself into a hole in which I couldn’t write myself out.

Not knowing what else to do, I committed a big no-no: I went back to the beginning and started editing. Although it’s cost me a lot of time, I’m glad that I did. I’d written quite a few things that I’d forgotten, so I took notes along the way. I also trimmed a lot of extraneous words. And as I went, I realized what I would have to do when I got to that problematic scene that had effectively stopped my forward momentum: I would have to cut it.

There’s still tension, just not nearly as much. Although my scene isn’t the shocker that I originally planned, it’s no longer stalling the manuscript. It meant cutting 20 pages out that I spent days writing, but sometimes that’s what you have to do. I’m just glad that I’m moving forward again.

So now that I know what I’m doing, even though it’s 13 days in, I’m signing up for Camp NaNoWriMo. I am giving myself a low word count goal (12,000 words) because I hope that’s all it takes to finish this novel. Knowing my propensity for verboseness, it’ll likely be longer, but that’s okay. It’s often the scenic route that is most memorable.


Read. These. Books.

It’s already July – that time of year when I look at the book list that I created on January first to assess how well I’m keeping up. This year, I am pleased to say that, of the 27 novels I hoped to read, I’ve already read 22. I hope I’m not speaking too soon when I say that 2016 may be the year I’ll finally read every book.

Of the books I’ve finished, I would like to highlight the multitude of teen fiction titles that I’ve recently read.

Florida Teen Reads books

Read these books!

I mentioned in my book list post that my cousin’s wife is on the Florida Teen Reads committee. Last fall, she gave me a pile of the books she’d read for the committee, assuring me that there was a little bit of everything: sci-fi, romance, mental illness – you name it. I was excited to add them to this year’s list.

As always seems to happen, I read a few books from my list, and then I deviated some – that’s life, right? By May, I’d only read one of teen books I’d borrowed, but a message from my cousin-in-law gave me the little kick I needed to keep going. She would need to get two of the books back by the fall because they’re Florida Teen Reads finalists. I read both titles back-to-back – Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone and Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. It was apparent why these books were finalists, and since I was on a roll, I continued reading the other FTR books, too.

Some of these books shine brighter than others. Knowing his taste, I had my husband read some of them and not others. One I had to twist his arm to finish, and he was glad he did. Another was the first book of a series, and Thomas liked it so much that he bought the whole trilogy – we both read them all.

Girl in PiecesIn the middle of reading all this teen fiction, I received an interesting opportunity: to read and review a teen fiction novel that hasn’t been published yet. While I’ve read books prior to publication before, it’s usually because I’m editing them, and that’s a completely different experience than being able to read a book to enjoy it. In this case, “enjoy” is a little too tame a description – I devoured Kathleen Glasgow’s Girl in Pieces in two days. (Read my review on Goodreads, and purchase it this fall.)

Before you say, “I’m not a teenager – why would I read any of these?”, let me assure you that teen fiction is not just for those in the 13 to 19 demographic. When I was in college, I took a class on young adult lit, and it was a rather recent genre classification at the time (in fact, much of what we read had previously been grouped with children’s lit). Books that fall into the YA genre star characters who live the issues that real young adults face. Okay, yes, sometimes the teens in these books are being chased by dragons, but they’re still coming of age and having all the issues that that entails.

Parents may find some YA issues uncomfortable, such as substance abuse, suicide, sexuality, and mental illness. Guess what? These are tough issues, but we can’t just put our heads in the sand and pretend they’re not there. When I read about a girl who hung with the cool crowd at school while keeping her OCD hidden from her best friends, I was glad that such a book was out there. It’s normal to read about the underdog succeeding – and I love those books, too – but to read about a cool girl with issues? Well, isn’t that life?

Today’s teenagers can only be sheltered so much. As a parent, I understand being protective, but I also would rather supervise my child’s exposure to these issues by handing him a book and then talking about it than praying that that kind of thing never happens. Who knows? My kids may have friends who face these issues one day – and many of these books list resources that provide support and help. Even within a fictional (and sometimes fantastical) setting, teens are capable of applying what they read to real life.

Read these books! Then share them with a teenager you care about.

Creation Station Summer

So the school year is over at the Cotchaleovitch residence, and it is time to sleep until 9:00 every morning, let the kids binge watch TV while I kick back with a book, and only change out of pajamas and emerge into the real world when we’re down to our last Capri Sun. Once we’ve recovered a little, we’ll consider a vacation.

Well, not quite. But by the last day of school, I was feeling pretty elated that we’d all made it. There were a lot of firsts in the 2015-16 school year: it was my first year teaching full-time; it was Ian’s first year in school; and it was Peter’s first year with an in-school reading resource for dyslexic kids, which meant I didn’t have to run him to a tutor twice a week.

We were on the home stretch. Other teachers commiserated with me when I noted that my students needed a second spring break. Like a permanent one. For the last month of school, we were all just holding on. That’s not to say that there weren’t good days, but there comes a point when a child can only take so much, and then every new bit of info you try to cram in their brains just comes spilling out of their ears. I’m sure parents felt much the same way (read one mom’s hilarious recap of her kids’ end of school year experience here).

Then, when it seemed that all the end-of-year events were falling into place, my eight-year-old got sick. I mean three-trips-to-the-doctor-in-six-days, two-different-antibiotics, absent-for-six-days sick. My husband, my parents, and I took turns watching him, and I stressed out over what he could possibly have (at the third appointment, the conclusion was bronchitis, but the fever that wouldn’t quit is still a mystery). Believe me, I was ready for some uninterrupted home time.

But there’s a part of me that knows what will happen in the fall if I just totally deflate and turn into a zombie for the next two-and-a-half months: everything my kids have learned in the past year will be relegated to their mental back burners, and the readjustment period come mid-August will be painful for both them and their teachers.

I had a rough idea of what my kids needed to accomplish this summer. Peter has a summer reading book, and so he doesn’t forget all his math skills, we need to play some math games that his teacher showed me. As for Ian, he’ll need to work on his fine motor skills. From working with four- and five-year-olds, I know that strengthening his fingers can be as simple as letting him put beads on strings, practice cutting with safety scissors, color, and play with Play-Doh.

So now, to implement all of these things into the days we spend at home. It was actually during Peter’s sickness that it all came together for me. One day, when his was fever was down and he had the energy get creative, he made this cute monster-Mickey-Mouse-ears thing:

Monster Frame.jpg

Ian loved it so much that Peter made another one for him. It shouldn’t have surprised me that the boys had so much fun inventing crafts from their own imaginations; after all, it’s what we encourage kids to do at school when we set up a table full of various supplies. It’s called “creation station.” At his age, it’s not the kind of thing Peter does much anymore, so it’s particularly enjoyable for him to do at home.

Creation Station.jpg

This is something that I can let my kids do with supplies already on hand and minimal brain power on my part. So many moms see crafts on Pinterest and then get stressed out because they think (I don’t know why) that their children expect perfection – or for them to spend hundreds of dollars on obscure supplies at craft stores. I promise you, they don’t. The kids I taught all year were usually happy with paper and crayons. While it may not be as easy as letting the TV babysit them, it keeps their little minds engaged without them even knowing it.

And the creation station portion of each day has an added benefit for me; it gives me a dedicated time to do a little prep for my class next year… and to do a little creating of my own.🙂

Creation Station II.jpg