Reading Diary: February 2021

I guess I was really missing the outdoors during all the snow and frigid temperatures last month: four of my six reads had a definite focus on nature.

I certainly don’t regret any of them! They were great reads and primed the pump for already getting outside a lot more in March (70 degrees and sunny? I’ll take that!).

What are your favorite wilderness reads? I’d love to hear from you!

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

Reading Diary: January 2021

Sitting, Reading, Wintering

January came and went quickly, but the days felt slow.

I’m still healing from a sprained ankle. The weather has been bitterly cold. My emotions have been all over the place after the sweet-but-strange little Christmas my immediate family had, feeling glued to the national news in the worst possible way, and the strange new beginnings that 2021 and my 34th birthday offered.

But it did make for a month of wonderful reading, especially Wintering by Katherine May, which I would like to gift to just about everyone in my life.

So here’s to leaning into the slowness and into winter.

Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane

A Warning by Anonymous

5 Tricks for Dealing with Writer’s Block

Strategies for Overcoming the Blank Page

No matter how prolific a writer you are, writer’s block is an inevitability we all face from time to time. If you’re like me, you find yourself sitting at your computer, fingers poised over the keyboard, and . . . nothing.

Vintage typewriter with blank page. Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash.

Maybe you don’t know how to start. Or you get stuck and can’t get going again. Or a few words trickle out, but it’s just not quite what you had in mind.

Whatever block you’re facing, I’ve found that these five tricks help me and my writing find our way again almost every single time.

1. Walking Away—or Just Walking

Taking a walk is my go-to solution for writer’s block because it’s the one that works the best the most often. Sometimes I’ve got too many different things floating around in my head—multiple client projects, maybe, or a long list of miscellaneous to-dos to tackle—and my thoughts can’t settle on the writing at hand.

Getting away from my desk helps because I can actually do the thing I’m thinking about (move the laundry, check the mailbox). And sometimes taking my mind off forcing the writing helps me return to the keyboard with fresh eyes and fresh ideas.

Still, I try not to give in to the temptation to walk away too quickly. If I notice that I’m struggling, I’ll make a note of the time. If 15 minutes or more pass and I haven’t managed to get anything down that I feel good about, that’s when I’ll call it quits for a bit.

For a bonus tip, take a page out of Ernest Hemingway’s book and stop in the middle of a sentence when you take a break. It often helps you pick up the momentum a little easier when you come back to your work.

2. Clearing Out the Cobwebs

On Mad Men, Don Draper goes to the movies because he says it “clears out the cobwebs.” He goes to the theater in the middle of the afternoon instead of staying stuck at his desk (was he ever stuck at his desk?).

Like taking a walk, allowing yourself to get lost in a book, movie, or piece of music does wonders for getting your conscious mind off your writing. It can also let your subconscious get to work instead. But, unlike going for a stroll, choosing an immersive creative experience has the added bonus of stoking your creative fires. Inspiration can come from the unlikeliest sources—and visiting other worlds through fiction or excellent filmmaking is often just the ticket.

If you’re not sold, take a lesson from Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, and think of it as an artist’s date. Julia says we all need, from time to time, to refill our creative wells—lest it dry up. So once a week, prioritize taking your inner artist on a date. She calls it “assigned play” and says it doesn’t need to be “artistic,” just something festive or whimsical or out of the ordinary.

Go outside, browse an interesting shop, make a vision board, build a playlist, take a drive. Come back inspired.

3. Starting at the End

A blank page can feel straight-up threatening, and the pressure of needing to start off with a solid beginning can quickly overwhelm. That’s why I often like to start at the end. Whether it’s writing the end-of-page call-to-action for marketing copy or the witty close to an essay—even the final line in an email I’ve been putting off—sometimes it’s just easier to work backward.

If I’m writing digitally (and I almost always am) I’ll often insert several returns or even a whole page break to visually remind myself that I’m merely skipping ahead a little bit and will come back later to fill it in. You’d be surprised how much of a difference this little mental trick can make!

Working this way can also be a nice reminder that writing is almost never a linear process. It’s okay to skip around and put it together like a puzzle as all the pieces come together. There’s no need to force yourself to write anything in the order it will be read, a common hang-up when fighting writer’s block.

4. Streaming Your Consciousness

Let’s take another cue from Julia Cameron with her beloved morning pages process, the practice of writing three pages (long-hand) first thing in the morning. The idea is, like going to the movies or taking a drive, to clear out the cobwebs of your mind. With stream-of-consciousness writing, you build up the habit of writing without editing or censoring along the way.

That’s the same trick you use if you’ve ever found yourself writing your way in to a piece. Often what we really want to say is buried under all the everyday stuff that clutters up our minds, those to-do lists and reminders and conversations with friends or colleagues. It’s once we get through all that junk that we can arrive at the good stuff.

Try it! Just start writing as though you’re narrating your thoughts. “Narrating your thoughts? Or should it be ‘narrating your mind’? Is that something I can Google? I CANNOT forget to buy dishwasher detergent. Maybe this is the year I actually write a book. I should go ahead and sign up for that painting workshop.” See?

You may have to scrap the first 10% (or even the first 90%) of your efforts before you find the words worth saving. But they’ll be there.

5. Changing Your Environment

Sometimes it’s simply a matter of where you’re sitting (or standing or laying down). Changing my environment is most helpful when I’m dealing with one of two situations. First, I might have been sitting in the same spot for way too long and I feel restless about the setting. Or the scenery around me may be much too distracting (whether because I’ve chosen to sit in the living room and Law & Order reruns are playing on a loop or because I’m somewhere new and I feel overly stimulated by the novelty around me.)

Simply turning the position of my chair and laptop 90 degrees can feel refreshing. So can adjusting ambient sounds—whether that’s turning off something distracting or putting on some white noise to fill the silence.

There have been times when I feel like I need to completely overhaul my surroundings or state of mind to feel like I can get into the flow, but most of the time it’s making a small tweak that reignites the process.

Were any of these strategies familiar to you? Do you have another helpful hint for getting through your writer’s block? I’d love to hear from you!

Reading Diary: December 2020

Annual Goal Met!

Well, whatever else there is to be said for 2020—an absolute beast of a year, if there ever were one—I did manage to complete my annual reading challenge by reading 120 books!

I’m wrapping up the Harry Potter series, reading about how to set healthy boundaries with technology, and reminding myself to enjoy the world around me even in dark and difficult times.

Capitalism: A Ghost Story by Arundhati Roy

Ladybird, Collected by Meg Heriford

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

Nothing Like I Imagined by Mindy Kaling

Garments Against Women by Anne Boyer

What are you reading (or looking forward to reading) in 2021? I’d love to hear from you!

Reading Diary: October 2020

Reading and Rereading

Do you like to reread books? I don’t find myself rereading often—my to-be-read pile is very high with new-to-me titles—but I do enjoy occasionally revisiting a favorite.

Last month I started the Harry Potter series again from the beginning. My feelings about J.K. Rowling aside, it’s always nice to get back to Hogwarts!

I also had the chance to read a classic for the first time, enjoy plenty of remarkable essays, and discuss a courtroom thriller.

What are you reading these days?

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Sometimes it’s just nice to revisit old favorites, and picking up this series from the beginning made for a nice distraction from current events!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

See above!

1984 by George Orwell

I somehow managed to miss reading this one until this year. I certainly understand why it’s a classic, but not exactly a comforting read in a year like this one.

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong

A gorgeous collection of essays about what happens “when American optimism contradicts your own reality.” Recommended reading for everyone!

Without a Doubt by Marcia Clark

This month’s book club pick was the story of the O.J. Simpson trial, beginning to end from the lead prosecutor’s perspective.

No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin

This was a lovely read, made even more so since I got to read it in a single sitting while on a pre-election-week camping trip!

What are you reading (or looking forward to reading) this month? I’d love to know!

Reading Diary: September 2020

30 books in 30 days (ish)

Last year was the first time I attempted the #30BooksIn30Days challenge and I made it to 22; this time I got to 26!

Books that had been on my nightstand for longer than I care to admit, brand-new books straight from the publisher, books that I’d been eagerly awaiting from the library. Rereads, audio books, book club selections. Fiction, nonfiction, how-tos, and even a screenplay.

I always enjoy a reading challenge and I’m delighted with the way this one went. And, of course, there’s always next year to get to 30!

Hope you’re surviving—or, better yet, thriving—and staying healthy!

Untamed by Glennon Doyle


#VeryFat #VeryBrave: The Fat Girl’s Guide to Being #Brave and Not a Dejected, Melancholy, Down-in-the-Dumps Weeping Fat Girl in a Bikini by Nicole Byer


The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy by Elizabeth Kendall


Death Rings a Bell by Will Buntin


Radical Kindness: The Life-Changing Power of Giving and Receiving by Angela C. Santomero


Bad Kansas: Stories by Becky Mandelbaum


Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker


The Illustrated Crystallary: Guidance and Rituals from 36 Magical Gems & Minerals by Maia Toll


Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson


Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout


How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One by Stanley Fish


The Undying by Anne Boyer


The Last Dance: The Skywalks Disaster and a City Changed by Kevin Murphy


The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison


Burn It Down: Women Writing about Anger by Lilly Dancyger


Table for 9: Supreme Court Food Traditions and Recipes by Clare Cushman


Martin Luther: A Life by Marty Martin


OMG WTF Does the Constitution Actually Say? A Non-Boring Guide to How Our Democracy Is Supposed to Work? by Ben Sheehan


An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz


Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto by Cinzia Arruzza


Awkword Moments: A Lively Guide to the 100 Terms Smart People Should Know by Ross Petras


The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9–5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss


The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders


How to Connect by Thich Nhat Hanh


The Inner Coast: Essays by Donovan Hohn


Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith


What are you reading and loving this fall? Let me know!

Reading Diary: August 2020

Data and privilege and reexamining life

Another month, another round of book reviews! I finished ten books in August and am getting caught up with my 2020 reading goal (120 books).

I read lots of really great books this month—and admit that I’m also getting better about abandoning books I’m not really into using the 50-page rule (don’t give up on a book until you’re at least 50 pages in . . . until you’re 50 years old, and then you can lower that number by a page a year).

August brought lots of data-heavy titles and some heavy big life stuff (acknowledging privilege, breaking away from overwork, saying yes more, reexamining this country’s beginnings), but this year seems like a good time to dig into those things.

Hope you’re surviving—or, better yet, thriving—and staying healthy!

Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World by Matt Parker

book cover for humble pi by matt parker

This was such an interesting and delightful read about the subjectivity and trickiness of math on a large scale. I admit I didn’t really grasp all the logic—“I’m an English major; you do the math!”—but I loved it anyway.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

book cover for such a fun age by kiley reid

This book was worth the hype! Flawed protagonists, complex themes like gender and race and privilege, a surprising plot, exceptional writing.

Pretty. Damned. Fast. by Will Buntin

book cover for pretty damned fast by will buntin

I highly recommend having a friend who’s a screenwriter! Loved this one—a story of hot rodders and ghosts and going home to face your past. It’s a perfect read for late summer.

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch

book cover for because internet by gretchen mcculloch

I started this pre-COVID and then lost the thread while I watched the world start to fall apart, but I came back to it in August and zoomed through it. A really fascinating exploration of language and how it’s changed rapidly over the last couple of decades in an internet world.

Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US by Lenny Duncan

book cover for dear church by lenny duncan

My church recently held a white privilege discussion group that was guided by this book. It was a much-needed perspective on American Christianity, and the ELCA church in particular, and an important read for white congregations.

Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving by Celeste Headlee

book cover for do nothing by celeste headlee

I love reading books that encourage a break from our hyperconnected worlds—this year especially. A much-needed reminder that work is not the end-all be-all when it comes to how we measure self-worth, happiness, and even success.

Yes Man by Danny Wallace

book cover for yes man by danny wallace

What if you said yes to every question or suggestion presented to you? This was a fun read about turning your routines on their head, leaning into a personal experiment, and staying open to new and unexpected opportunities.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez

book cover for invisible women by caroline criado perez

This book shook. me. up. It was no surprise, of course, to learn that there are data gaps when it comes to women. But it was stunning to read about the breadth and depth of those gaps; women have been willfully ignored (or carelessly forgotten) when it comes to anything from seatbelt design and pharmaceutical studies to city planning and how we expect people to work.

I strongly recommend this read to anyone who is convinced women have achieved equality with men and to anyone working in planning and leadership roles.

You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe

book cover for you never forget your first by alexis coe

I’ve never read a Washington biography because a 700-page love letter to a founding father has never really piqued my interest. But I loved this short and conversational look at his life—and the myths that we’ve accepted about the first president.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

book cover for nothing to see here by kevin wilson

A unique and surprising story about friendship and resentment and parenting and visibility. A friend recommended this and I’m so glad she did!

What summer reads have you loved? What are you looking forward to this fall?

Back-to-School Vibes

Even when you’re no longer a student

It’s been over a decade since the last time I was a full-time student, but this time of year still gives me the warm fuzzy feelings of back-to-school excitement. New school (or office) supplies, fresh notebooks, a renewed sense of routine . . . okay, maybe that last one is a long shot this year.

Still, even in the midst of a global pandemic and ongoing anxiety about time, September feels like a great time to hit the reset button on the year. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be taking stock of 2020 so far, preparing to make the most of the last quarter, and starting to look ahead to 2021.

Gathering the Supplies

I may not need any #2 pencils or a new set of watercolors, but I did do some online supplies shopping to restock my go-to pens, the 2-by-1 sticky notes I use to mark my favorite lines in books, and even a disco ball (because why the fuck not).

I’ve also been following a recommendation from my favorite feng shui consultant and cleaning my desk each week: When I shut down for the weekend, I pull everything off, wipe it down with lavender-scented cleaning spray, and then put everything (or rather, everything I want to keep) back with intention.

stack of new packages on desk: a disco ball, post-it notes, and sharpie markers

Setting a Curriculum

Like day planners and cookie recipes, when it comes to goal-setting programs I have no brand loyalty and I’m keen on trying them all. I’ve written SMART goals and intuition-led intentions, and I’ve focused on quarterly objectives and on “the one thing” each day.

But this year, I’m really digging the Chalkboard Method. My summer “chalkboard”—it’s actually poster board because chalk gives me the creeps—is part to-do list, part goal tracking, and part manifestation tool. And it’s been working out marvelously, helping me stay on track with everything from networking to paying off a credit card and to seek out dreamy new clients.

Getting Good Grades

Two years ago, my business bestie and I started a new tradition of getting together around this time of year for a couple Get-Shit-Done Days. We hang out in Denver, where we drink coffee and eat cupcakes and admire the mountains and set our laptops up to tackle the big picture things we’ve putting off.

Like everything else this year, our 2020 business retreat is going to look a little different—but we’ll still make the time to dig in and care for ourselves and our businesses and each other. And it’ll make all the difference in preparing for Q4 and beyond!

Are you a grownup who still gets excited for back-to-school season?

What are you doing to take advantage of the rest of this year?

Tell me about it!

Reading Diary: Summer 2020

Catching Up on May, June, and July

Did I post about time flying by and feeling untethered last time?

That has only gotten worse, of course, with continued physical distancing requirements and recommendations to stay home as much as possible . . . and then my unexpected positive test result for the COVID-19 virus itself in late July. (I’m doing OK, just more tired than usual and now extra diligent about my mask-wearing and hand-sanitizing efforts.)

Anxiety and fatigue have made for a roller coaster of emotions, not to mention the effect they have on keeping track of time. Which is why my monthly reading blog post went unwritten in May . . . and in June . . . and in July. You don’t mind too much, do you?

Keep safe and stay healthy, friends!

Reading summary for May, June, and July 2020. 
Number of books read: 23.
Number of pages read: 6,072.
Longest book: The Stranger Beside Me.
Shortest book: The Quilts of Gee's Bend.
Favorite book: The Writing Life.

Here I Am: Using Jewish Spiritual Wisdom to Become More Present, Centered, and Available for Life by Leonard Felder


“Present, Centered, and Available for Life” seems like an excellent aspiration, particularly this year. I very much appreciated Felder’s stress-management practices, which are rooted in both spirituality and psychology.

Arcade Game Typography by Toshi Omagari


I’ve never really been drawn to video games, but this was a fun and fascinating look at the typography used by popular and niche games alike (and how limited it was by the pixels available in early game design).

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby


Irby’s essays have delighted me before and this collection was no different. Awkward, relatable, and hilarious. I read this one in paperback, but her audiobooks (narrated by the author herself) are a great choice too.

Nancy: A Comic Collection by Olivia Jaimes


My husband gave this to me as an anniversary gift and I quickly read it cover to cover! The strips are irreverent and witty, and there’s also an adorable children’s book (Nancy’s Genius Plan)by the same writer/illustrator that we gifted to our nieces and nephew.

The Illustrated Herbiary: Guidance and Rituals from 36 Bewitching Botanicals by Maia Toll


I was introduced to Toll’s work at a (virtual) conference in the spring and I am smitten with her beautiful books on paying attention to the natural world around us—and how certain herbs, fruits, and flowers can help us access our intuition. Also includes oracle cards!

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine


I distinctly remember a copy of this book floating around our childhood home—and that it was one of my sister’s very favorites. I don’t think I ever read it myself and was glad to check out this Cinderella tale.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins


I was excited to be back in the universe of Panem with this brand-new prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy, even if I wasn’t quite sold on Coriolanus Snow’s origin story.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix


This book was described as “Steel Magnolias meets Dracula” and that seems apt. A strange and gory and sometimes quite funny story of, well, a Southern book club and the slaying of vampires.

The Illustrated Bestiary: Guidance and Rituals from 36 Inspiring Animals by Maia Toll


I loved this one just as much as the Herbiary. Toll profiles 36 powerful animals and shares rituals, readings, and reflections to access their special energies. I cannot wait for her third installation, The Illustrated Crystallary,to come out next month!

Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chödrön


Have I mentioned that my anxiety has been through the roof for much of this pandemic episode? I’ve found great relief in books like this one, which offer important reminders of starting where you are.

They Did Bad Things by Lauren A. Forry


I joined the Fantastic Strangelings Book Club (out of Jenny Lawson’s Nowhere Bookshop in San Antonio) a couple months back and this has been one of my favorites. It’s sort of a Gen X retelling of And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie’s classic mystery.

$9 Therapy: Semi-Capitalist Solutions to Your Emotional Problems by Megan Reid


A quick little guide to offering yourself some love and care, even if you don’t have an abundant expendable income. “Take self-care seriously without taking yourself too seriously.”

The Quilts of Gee’s Bend by Susan Goldman Rubin


Before the pandemic lockdown, I’d read another book—that I’ve since forgotten—that mentioned these incredible quilts and I quickly requested it from my library. Once the libraries opened back up, this one became available and it was a great little surprise to read.

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott


Historic fiction relaying the saga of getting Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago manuscript out of Russia. An intriguing story—and one that encouraged me to start Zhivago itself for some light reading.

Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice by Belden C. Lane


I was surprised to find that Lane is actually from St. Louis, not far from my own home in Kansas City, and shares many of his backpacking experiences in the Ozark and Mark Twain National Forest wilderness.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix


A clever novel styled as a catalog for an Ikea-like furniture store, Horrorstör tells the story of three employees working a special night shift to investigate strange goings-on before management finds out.

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard


I borrowed this book from the library but immediately put in an order to my local bookstore after I finished it. A sweet, funny, and wholly relatable collection of essays about the writing life.

How to Houseplant: A Beginner’s Guide to Making and Keeping Plant Friends by Heather Rodino


One of my new hobbies is trying to keep some plants alive. (I confess that I’ve managed to kill several basil plants and more than one aloe plant.) This was a great place to start and gave me the confidence to actually go to a local nursery and pick out a few new friends!

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule


Our book club pick for July was this true crime classic about serial killer Ted Bundy. Surprising, horrifying, and fascinating.

The House on Mulberry Hill by Will Buntin


A classic horror story of a reputed haunted house in the British countryside. It’s a quick and well-written script that I flew through in a single sitting!

How to Be Successful without Hurting Men’s Feelings: Non-threatening Leadership Strategies for Women by Sarah Cooper


I wish that these helpful tips and useful illustrations didn’t feel so spot on, but they do—and the effect is a laughter-through-tears kind of read. Quick, pointed, and funny.

The Ones We’ve Been Waiting for: How a New Generation of Leaders Will Transform America by Charlotte Alter


Watching any facet of American politics today feels terribly, terribly depressing. This look at Millennials in political office certainly doesn’t portray a Utopian future, but it does make me feel a little more hopeful about the years ahead.

We Unleash the Merciless Storm by Tehlor Kay Mejia


The sequel to We Set the Dark on Fire, a YA novel about friendship and love and resistance and power. I admit I liked the first one better, but I enjoyed the story’s finale.

What summer reads have you loved? What are you looking forward to this fall? Drop me a line!

What on Earth, 2020?

Living during a pandemic

To say that this year has been tough is not new or unique, but it sure is true.

I know I’m not alone in struggling with the fear of the pandemic, with the heartbreak of racism, with the weight of work, with the deterioration of mental health. The last time I posted something here, it was tips on maintaining productivity and a little sanity while working from home. It felt like an upbeat cheer for finding success in the midst of a strange time.

But, Reader, that already seems like a very long time ago. Today, I’m just trying to take it day by day without losing my ever-loving mind.

One day at a time

During a recent Zoom call with a business mastermind group, I confessed that I’m still learning—two years after leaving corporate life—to let routines go when they’re no longer serving me. There are days when a checklist from “make coffee” all the way through to “evening gratitude journal” is what I need to feel grounded and productive. But there are also days that seem to require both a long morning hike and an afternoon nap to keep me feeling like a competent human being.

I’m realizing they can both be right. Today can be whatever I need it to be.

With unending uncertainty about the future and so many of my pre-pandemic self-care tricks (impromptu lunch with my sister, book club in a friend’s living room, dinner and drinks with my parents, a weeknight movie) off the table . . . It’s okay to take each day as it comes, doing what I need to feel like the best possible version of myself before I see another headline that makes me want to punch a wall or find another canceled vacation that’s still showing up on my calendar.

Protecting what’s most valuable

That means some days I log nine or ten hours at my desk, and some days I only check my email to make sure I haven’t missed anything urgent and then take myself for a long walk.

And—maybe most importantly—I’m learning to count both those days as wins. I’m trying not to worry about the things I’ve left undone while I’m on a trail or enjoying a novel. My mental health is just as valuable as any item on my to-do list, and not just because it’s a means to staying productive the rest of the time.

What good is it to make it through 2020 if I end the year feeling completely burned out or hollowed out?

I’d love to hear from you! How are you holding up? What is helping you survive (or thrive!) during this strange and difficult year?