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behind the scenes of finishing my book

Last Wednesday I called my dad and said, “I finished the book!”

I think I’ve finished Catchlight at least 6 times.

There was the moment I finished the very first super rough draft. It was 2009 and I was 24 years old. 

I was sitting in a coffee shop in Washington, D.C., where I lived at the time with my roommate and childhood best friend, Celeste.

I finished the book and I thought, I know it can be so much better, but I have no idea how to make it better.

Eighteen months later, I enrolled in an MFA program to help me do just that.

During my MFA I started the book over, from scratch, on page 1 – twice.

I finished my thesis, which was the first 100 pages of the book, during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. My husband Simeon and I lived in Long Island at the time, and my office in Queens was closed for a week. 

I sat at my dining room table for 7 hours a day that whole week and made those 100 pages as good as I could possibly make them.

I finished the whole book in the fall of 2013, sitting at my desk at that same house in Long Island. I had worked on it for an hour every weekday morning for three years. And now it was done.

I sent it out to more than 100 agents. I entered it in contests. Then, after about a year, I put it away and started working on some new projects. I started my business. I gave birth to my son.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I decided to enter Catchlight for the Fairfield Book Prize (for the second time). 

And this time I won. 

I got the news on June 19, 2019. My daughter was nine days old and it was my ninth wedding anniversary.

I was searching in my inbox for the date of an event when I saw an email from Woodhall Press. It was actually the second email they had sent – because I was fairly preoccupied with my brand-new baby.

I saw the email and burst into tears. I told my husband, then called my mom, my dad, and my sister all separately. I cried every time I shared that Catchlight was coming out into the world.

At the award ceremony for the Fairfield Book Prize, guest judge Phil Klay said, 

“Catchlight is a book that asks whether we can make art out of pain – and it’s a book that shows us how.”

It was one of the proudest moments of my life. 

I can’t wait to share it with you. I just finished making final edits. The release date is set for October 1, 2020.

I’m planning a world premiere event in Philadelphia, where I grew up, and a launch party in Stratford, CT, where I now live. 

And I’m planning something super special in the coming months to share a window into my creative process and more details about how the book was made. 

Stay tuned.

a sneak peek inside my retreat

Two weeks ago I led my first-ever writing retreat, and I want to give you a sneak peek inside. 

The location was magical: a retreat center on Enders Island in Mystic, CT.

The retreat center itself is Catholic, but the actual island feels much older to me – ancient, pagan.

I arrived on Friday around 11:00 with my friend Tam, whom I hired as my event planner and designer for the weekend.

Here’s what the meeting room looked like when Tam and I arrived: 

And here’s how Tam transformed it into a sacred space to share and practice writing: 

I designed the weekend to include some teaching time, tons of writing time, and time and space to share meals and build community.

I designed the schedule to include lots of open space. Several times women remarked, “Wow, we have so much time!” No one felt rushed. Basically, I designed the weekend to be the opposite of a business conference I attended last year, during which I experienced a 14-hour day without a single moment to myself.

Here’s what went well: 

  • Hiring Tam: best decision ever. Hiring my photographer, Daniel: best decision ever. Figuring out how to work with Tam and Daniel all the time is my new mission in life.
  • Shifting fully into my process of embodied writing. I taught a lot about embodied writing at the retreat and everyone shared that this work was impactful for them.
  • Getting to spend the weekend with six beautiful women writers was simply priceless. On Friday night, after dinner and teaching time, as we moved into our first writing block, I wrote in my journal: This is the greatest privilege of my life.
  • Showing up and being seen – I was really happy with how I showed up during the weekend. I cultivated my own power and used that power and energy to shape the experience.

Here are a few lessons learned and things I will do differently next time: 

  • I’m going to host the next retreat at a different location. Enders Island was perfect for my first retreat – and next time I want to level up and provide a more luxurious experience for my guests.
  • Right off the bat, I had some stressful interactions with the island staff. I watched myself slip into people-pleasing mode and had trouble holding my energy and asking for what I wanted and needed. The work in my future is with Dr. Valerie Rein, author of Patriarchy Stress Disorder, to help me show up more powerfully in situations like this.
  • I realized right away that I need next-level self-care during weekends like this. I did all my normal self-care, and I discovered that I needed more. In particular, I had trouble sleeping both nights. Tam taught me one technique that helped a LOT: grounding. There was a lot of energy moving through the group – we shared deeply personal stories, wrote through past dark experiences, and encountered healing. To discharge some of that energy, I would take off my shoes and stand barefoot on the earth. (Weather check: it was in the 30’s and very windy.) It felt amazing. I’m starting next week to work with a kinesiologist on other ways to “power up” my energy before these live events, and “power down” between sessions.

Finally, Daniel and I did a photo shoot and I’m stepping into a bigger, more powerful version of me. 

just say yes

I am saying yes to the business of my dreams.

Those words are written on a yellow index card, propped on my desk in front of my keyboard.

I read them dozens of times a day.

Every time I need re-centering. Which is often. It is NOT smooth sailing over here. 

It is chaotic. It is scary. It’s exactly like a roller coaster: the thrill of the ascent, the shock of the drop, the unexpected twists and turns, the wind in my face and tears in my eyes, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

But I’m holding fast to the vision: a business that feels as good on the inside as it looks from the outside.

A business that’s built on four pillars: selling books (Catchlight comes out on October 1!), leading writing retreats, coaching entrepreneurs who are writing books, and teaching online writing classes.

It’s simple. But not easy.

Elegant. But not straightforward.

My vision for the business feels amazing. And I am hella scared, most of the time. And I love that.

(Correction: I’m practicing loving that.)

Building the business of my dreams requires me to embrace the whole messy process. 

A lot of people online make it look like you can put in some hustle, add some Facebook ad dollars, pour in a generic idea, pull a few levers, and – bing! – a six-figure online business materializes in a shower of fairy dust.

Ha.

That has not been my experience AT ALL.

Come to think of it, the process of building a business I love is exactly like writing a book. 

You start with an idea. You’re so excited. You write dozens of pages. Then you hit a wall. Suddenly nothing’s working, you don’t know what happens next and your brain goes into overdrive.

Why are you working on this, anyway? This is a waste of time. You’re never going to “make it.” What’s the point of even trying?

Don’t listen to your brain. It’s just trying to protect you. 

But if you let your brain protect you – from feeling fear, from taking risks – you’ll end up with a 9-5 job that bores you to tears and evenings filled with cheap wine and endless Netflix binges to numb you from all the dreams you’ve let die.

Don’t let your dreams die.

Go after them with the wild, silly abandon of a three-year-old running gleefully through the aisles of Staples.

(That was Elijah last Tuesday, shopping with me for retreat supplies.)

Say yes to whatever’s calling your name. 

Just say yes.

P.S. Say yes to joining my brand-new virtual book club. It’s the funnest place to talk about books on the internet. Join the club.

when life comes full circle

As you’re reading this, I’m driving to Mystic, CT – one of my favorite places on earth – to lead the inaugural Darkness into Light writing retreat

I can hardly believe this is my life. 

I’m hosting the weekend at Enders Island, where there’s a small retreat center right on the Long Island Sound. 

When I was getting my MFA at Fairfield University, our only in-person classes happened during 10-day residencies that were held at Enders. 

Enders is where I rewrote Catchlight – twice.

Enders is where I accepted the Fairfield Book Prize, which included a book deal for Catchlight.


During this award ceremony, Phil Klay, winner of the 2104 National Book Award, said of Catchlight: 

“There is joy in the sorrow and sorrow in the joy. Not that many writers can manage that complexity of tone. … Catchlight is a book that asks whether we can make art out of pain – and it’s a book that shows us how.”

Literally one of the best moments of my entire life.

I’ve watched the sunrise and the sunset over these waters many, many times.

And I am just beyond thrilled to bring together a group of amazing women writers for an immersive writing experience. 

If you want live missives from the island, friend me on Facebook. I’ll be sharing Lives and photos all weekend.

And I hope you’ll join me at Enders the next time around. I’m about to announce the next set of dates … hit reply if you want to be the first to hear.

P.S. If you like to read, come join my brand-new virtual book club. The Book Lovers Book Club is all books, no wine, for book nerds like you and me. Totally free, because I love books and I love you. Join the club here.

reclaiming my time

via GIPHY

In 2017, Representative Maxine Waters blew up the internet with the phrase “reclaiming my time.”

This week I’ve reclaimed my time in a revolutionary way.

Over the weekend I listened to Brooke Castillo’s podcast episode Monday Hour One – her teaching on time management – and it blew my freaking mind.

The hilarious thing is that I’ve heard her teaching on this before –  more than once. I’ve implemented it – more than once. And I went into the podcast thinking, condescendingly, I’ve tried this and it just didn’t work for me

Which only goes to show that we can deceive ourselves so mightily. Because our brains want to remain the same! 

I’m going to explain the basic premise of Monday Hour One. It’s going to sound really simple. So simple it couldn’t possibly work

But if you’ve ever had trouble managing your time, I invite you to TRY IT.

Don’t immediately shut down possibility by thinking, “Oh, that wouldn’t work for me because  I’m a mom … I have a boss … I’m not in control of my time …

Step one. Get a notebook and a pen and write down every task that you need to get done this week. Include rote things like reading emails, weekly team meetings, eating lunch. Include self-care and pleasure in this list

Step two. Assign each task a time limit. This is the amount of time that you are committing to completing that task. When that time is up, you may spend no more time on it. If your brain is thinking, But I don’t know how much time X thing is going to take, go listen to Brooke’s podcast.

Step three. Schedule every single item on your calendar. Including your lunch break. Including 30 minutes a day to process email. (Side note: the shift from “checking” email to “processing” email is blowing my mind.)

Step four. When your calendar says that you’re supposed to be doing X task, do it.

Crucial distinction: don’t schedule time to “work on” something. This is where I was getting stuck before.

For example:

I was scheduling two or three hours a week to “work on” edits for my book, Catchlight. I felt like I was barely scratching the surface of what needed to be done.

So with this revolution of reclaiming my time, I sat down during my Monday morning Writing Circle Live and made a list of all the edits that still needed to be made. 

It looked like this: 

  • Revisit prison scene
  • Weave in Jonah’s Phish obsession
  • Decide whether to keep or remove sex scene in childhood bedroom {juicy, right?!}
  • Cut J/T subplot
  • Make dialogue changes per Chris’s notes
  • Rewrite opening scene
  • Double-check days during the week of the funeral scene
  • Make change to the ending that Chris and I discussed
  • Full read-through with an eye to trim

Then I decided how long I would spend on each of these edits.

My brain wanted to tell me that I had no idea how long it would take to rewrite the opening scene. I decided to give myself half an hour. 

My brain wanted to tell me that I had no idea how long it would take to do a full read-through of the book with an eye to trimming some sections. I decided to give myself five hours.

Revolutionary.

On Wednesday morning I was working through a handful of these edits at Starbucks. I noticed myself start to get distracted – I was cutting the J/T subplot and then wondering if I should combine that chapter with another chapter. I spent several minutes scanning through the previous chapters to see if there was room to condense, when I caught myself. 

I could look at how those chapters read together during my full read-through. 

That was not the task I had set myself.

So I redirected myself, finished what I’d intended to do, and moved on to my next work item.

Revo-freaking-lutionary.

This week I accomplished more in 3 partial days (working from 9-3 because Jacqueline is still sick) than I normally do in 4 9-5 days.

Are you ready to reclaim your time? Listen to the Monday Hour One podcast here

I don’t have it all together.

I don’t have it all together.

How about you?

Both of my kids have been home sick with the flu all week. I’ve completed about 8% of the work I planned to do.

Our Christmas tree is still up. (I can’t believe I’m typing that on Valentine’s Day … but it’s true.)

I talked to my editor to get an extension on the final edits for my book.

And this morning I reconciled our budget … for October, November and December. Doh.

But instead of resisting all of those things, this week I’ve leveled up.

I’m embracing the suck. You know, the sucky parts of life. I decided to stop telling myself this shouldn’t be happening, I should have it all figured out, I should be more put together.

I decided instead to just embrace it.

“So what” is my new motto.

Christmas tree is still up … so what. I’m a little behind on edits … so what. (The release date for Catchlight is still on target for October 1.) I’m a little behind on our budget … so what.

My kids are both sick … and I get to stay home and take care of them. What a privilege. Not everyone has the opportunity to do that. I get to stroke foreheads and cuddle and give extra kisses and if the price of doing those things is to watch unending hours of Blippi (a children’s YouTube personality), I’ll take it.

I’ll tell you what I DO have together … plans for the Darkness into Light women’s writing retreat, which is happening in Mystic CT in two weeks.

It’s going to be absolutely luscious.

It’s basically a writer’s dream: lots of silence, a waterfront setting, time to hang out with women writers, and writing exercises that are going to draw you inward. Plus: it’s a whole weekend where someone else feeds you.

I mean, that alone is worth the price of admission, amiright?

If you’ve been thinking of joining me, let me know what’s stopping you.

Because here’s the truth: the party won’t be complete without you.

Apply here.

There’s one space left.

(Side note: I’ve always planned to bring six writers … and this morning I suddenly had a vision of 7 writers in our circle. So if you’ve been wanting to come with a friend, ping me and I’ll see what we can do. 😉

sharp pen, thin skin, open heart

The Taylor Swift documentary on Netflix, Miss Americana is EVERYTHING.

Go watch it this weekend.

I loved seeing Taylor’s evolution. At the beginning of her career, it was drilled into her to be a “nice girl” who does what she’s told, smiles, and exists to receive approval and make other people feel good.

As she grows and matures, she starts using her voice to say what she really believes. After she’s groped by a DJ during a press event (and then sued for getting him fired), she speaks up politically.

She is fired up against Marsha Blackburn, who was running for Tennessee Senator and who had voted against the Violence Against Women act.

Taylor speaks her mind, against the advice and wishes of people very close to her, including her dad and people on her team who are worried for her safety, her image, her reputation, her sales. (Because country music stars don’t talk politics. And if they do, they don’t talk liberal politics.)

She does it anyway.

I was blown away by her bravery.

Sometimes I’m afraid to post things on Facebook because I’m afraid of what people will think of me. (You know, my 500 friends.)

When Taylor posts on Instagram that she’s endorsing Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen, it’s on every news show. President Trump comments on it. It’s part of Stephen Colbert’s monologue on The Late Show.

And 50,000 young people register to vote.

Talk about using your voice.

Marsha Blackburn still won the Senate race. So Taylor writes a song, Only the Young, about how the young will change the world.

Only one thing will save us / Only the young

At the end of the documentary, Taylor says, “I want to have a sharp pen and a thin skin and an open heart.”

And I thought, YES.

That’s what I want to.

I want that for myself.

And I want that for other women.

I want to help women writers claim their authentic voice. That’s exactly why I created the Darkness into Light women’s writing retreat.

It’s almost sold out. There’s one space left.

It’s time. It’s time to speak your mind, claim your voice, and write the thing that is calling to you.

Apply here.

So. Obsessed.

Follow your obsessions. 

That is my new favorite piece of advice, especially when life is feeling a little drab, a little dull. (Does this happen to anyone else in late January?!)

Quick, make a list of the 5 things you’re obsessed with right now. 

It could be anything: a new podcast, a book you just started, a food, a song, a work project, a person. 

For example: anyone who knows life coach Susan Hyatt at all knows that she is obsessed with Beyonce. 

When I first started following Susan (way back in 2017), I remember thinking, Are we allowed to like Beyonce?!

“We” meaning smart, successful, feminist, liberal women. 

Because I was fresh off a university MFA program where elitism was kinda revered. (My very first residency, a professor I respected made fun of two of my favorite books – Eat Pray Love and Harry Potter – and the program director made fun of my favorite wine – which was the time was moscato.)

Listen. Not only are we ALLOWED to be obsessed with Beyonce, but letting yourself be obsessed with what you’re obsessed with GIVES YOU LIFE. 

Susan talked about Beyonce on social media so much that she got a message from a follower while she was planning a luxury retreat for clients in NYC. Would you and your retreat participants like to take a dance class in the NYC studio where Beyonce rehearses?

Hell. To. The. Yes. 

That follower, Robert Hartwell, is a Broadway performer and led an unforgettable class for Susan and her clients. (Robert and Susan ended up becoming best friends.)

Lesson: love what you love.

Unapologetically. 

Unashamedly. 

Because life is too damn short to do anything less. 

Here’s a list of what I’m obsessed with right now: 

✨ Reruns of Queer Eye (also googling WHEN IN THE HELL the next season, set in my hometown of Philly, comes out)

✨Anticipating a kid-free weekend with my husband in NYC (STARTS TODAY!!)

✨Daydreaming about my book launch. DREAM COME TRUE.

✨Pineapple-spinach-banana green smoothies

✨Celery juice (gives me SO MUCH ENERGY)

✨SLEEP. 

✨Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg

✨Patriarchy Stress Disorder, by Dr Valerie Rein (oh, I will have SO MUCH to say about this book and everything it’s bringing up for me, as soon as I integrate it for myself)

✨Designing my women’s writing retreat – think windswept enchanted island, tea by the fire, acres of silence, and lots of time to write. 

Your homework for this weekend:

Make a list of your top 5 obsessions right now. 

Go indulge in one of them. Comment and tell me all about it, just for fun. 

If you’ve been in the online business world for any length of time, you will inevitably come across messages about what it takes to make it.

They almost all boil down to the same thing: hustle.

Work harder, longer, tougher. 

Gut it out. Get ‘er done. Go get it. 

Go, go, go. Push harder. If you’re not willing to work harder, get outta the game. 

I’m calling bullshit. 

That’s how I approached my business from September 2018 to March 2019.

It. was. miserable.

I constantly compared my numbers (my email list size, open rates, number of sales calls, revenue generated) to other people’s numbers. 

I set big crazy audacious goals and then fell flat on all of them. 

I felt like a failure all the time. 

I felt suffocated by busy-ness, all the time. 

No. More.

Now I have totally different goals. 

Instead of pushing myself to hit $200K (or even $100K) this year, I mostly want my business to feel good

Because I *finally* realized that there’s no point in racing to more revenue in pursuit of freedom … if I can just claim that freedom now. 

So I’m making room for writing every day. 

I’m making time to meditate and journal and exercise.

That means I have less time to work. And while, yes, I’m raising my prices and all that good stuff, I’m also accepting that this impacts my bottom line.

And I’m 100% fine with that. 

This week I listened to Brooke Castillo’s podcast episode What I’m Doing in 2020. She said, “I’m planning for 2020 to be a no-growth year for my company, revenue-wise.” 

My brain exploded, because Brooke is all about growth, and she’s aiming to hit $100 million a year in her company within the next 10 years.

She said of that goal: “I’m not in a hurry.”

Mind. Blown.

She wants to grow right. So this year, she’s focusing on dialing in all her systems, growing her team members, and training her new COO. 

I asked myself: How would my business feel if I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere?

Answer: Amazing.

So I’m building a business in 2020 that feels amazing, entirely by choosing projects, clients and tasks that feel amazing (or as close to amazing as possible) every damn day.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t do things I don’t want to do.

That’ll happen every day.

It just means that I get to choose my shit sandwich, as Liz Gilbert says, and I’m choosing not to eat the hustle shit sandwich. 

Instead, I’m going to enjoy where I am and enjoy the process of growing.

The funny thing is that as soon as I got to this place, I considered the goal of hitting $100K this year in my business and realized that my brain thinks it’s inevitable.

Even though I haven’t done it. YET. 

And when I consider the plans I have for my business this year, they feel AMAZING.

I’ve been subtracting instead of adding. 

Here’s what my business plan looks like for 2020: 

  • Offer 2 phenomenal writing retreats.
  • Help 3 clients write books from start to finish.
  • Help 6 coaches per month create kick-ass content via 1-hour Copy Consultations.
  • Launch my novel, Catchlight, which is set to come out October 1.

My whole soul is obsessed with the simplicity of it. 

And I’m going to get there with a whole lot of deliciousness and leave that hustle nonsense behind.

Who’s with me?

wild geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

-Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

I had a tough and a beautiful holiday.

It was beautiful because of so much family time.

My son is 3.5 and he was so overjoyed with his presents. His delight is just delightful.

My daughter is 6.5 months old and despite the fact that she isn’t sleeping well at night, she is such a sweetheart. She has a smile that can light up a room.

And it was tough because of so much family time.

My son is 3.5! My daughter isn’t sleeping!

We also traveled to see extended family, which was lovely, and also trying, because see above.

And this makes me feel slightly guilty, because I have close friends who recently lost a child, and I have close friends who have longed for a child for a long time.

Shouldn’t I be overwhelmed with gratitude all the time?!

Well, yes. I consciously choose gratitude every morning.

And also, I’m human. And let’s face it, being human and parenting are not constant states of joy and bliss. And that’s okay.

On New Year’s Eve I totally crashed. I couldn’t get out of bed. And then yesterday, after yet another night of being up from 3:30-5am, I felt like I was losing my mind.

So I did what I’ve learned to do time and time again.

I honored what my body needed, instead of constantly fighting against it.

I stayed in bed for hours. I drank green smoothies. I took walks by myself. I let go of the plans I’d had for the day. (And they were such great plans!)

I’ve learned to let the “soft animal of my body love what it loves.”

I’ve learned to take care of myself before the situation gets too dire.

I didn’t always know how to do this.

Six years ago, I continued commuting 2 hours each way to work, through a mystery illness.

The illness was so severe that my doctor ordered an MRI of my brain to rule out a brain tumor, or multiple sclerosis.

I walked out of his office with the MRI prescription in my hand and I thought, Hmm. Maybe I should stop working. Maybe … maybe this is really serious.

At that time in my life, I needed outer validation to confirm how desperately sick I was.

So this is a huge improvement.

What I’m still learning how to do is to rest before I get to this tired, starting-to-get-burned-out place that I’m in now.

And how to do that with two kids, during the holidays?

I’m not sure yet.

I do know that I learn the lesson more deeply every time.

I was able to hit ‘pause’ this time before things got too dire.

We’ll call it progress.