Where Did My Inspiration Come From—Eight Days of Christmas?

I find inspiration all over. There is beauty and a storyline everywhere, just waiting to be written. Sometimes an idea comes to me fully formed and wrapped up with a bow. And other times—not so much. My process is usually to write out character sheets and a 1-3 page synopsis before I begin writing. I’ve written one manuscript with fully plotted scene cards. It was one of the cleanest first drafts I have ever written. The problem? I ended up falling short on word count and going back in and re-drafting it and adding in a second POV. Most of the time, I’m so anxious to begin drafting a story, that I don’t even have time to come up with every character name, or what their hair color is or even something big like their biggest flaw. I often find that when I’m drafting, my characters will flesh themselves out as I go and as I learn them more.

Plot: The inspiration for Eight Days of Christmas came when I first had the idea to write a holiday romance story. Christmas is my favorite holiday and it’s always been special to my family with lots of together time and traditions. I thought it would be so fun to combine traditions with lots of family time and what happens when family is spending so much time together. I had recently watched Sweet Home Alabama and came away from it with all the feels. It’s one of my favorite romcoms. The writing of both, the enemies-to-lovers and the second-chance-romance is pure genius. I thought, what if I wrote a book that had similar vibes and gave readers all those same feelings I get when I watch that movie? But have it be at Christmastime.

Character Names: Leo and Isabella’s names came to me quickly and as soon as I labeled these two characters, I never changed them. And I always knew that Isabella would be nicknamed Izzy and that would be a part of the story as well, how a nickname can be so important when called it by a special person. I had this vivid picture in my mind of Isabella, dark hair and eyes, a turned-up nose, a strong woman. For Leo, I had pictured someone tall, and I knew he was a former hockey player, so he had a nice physique. In my mind, he also had dark hair and eyes. And a perpetually three-day beard.

I have a note in my note’s app with name ideas for future manuscripts. I keep a list of first names and last names. But I never had to open my app for these two. I actually had Leo’s brother’s name—Landon—picked out right away too. Leo and Landon seemed to go well together and for the appearance of his characters as well. I’ve only known Landon’s in real life who are nice guys, and this Landon is not the exception. Though he has a bit of a player’s personality, so I pictured him being an attractive guy. Too attractive for his own good. Isabella’s siblings’ names Norah and Finn came to me quickly as well. But Finn took the longest. It was hard to find a name for the girls’ brother that went well with Isabella and Norah. I pictured Norah as a little taller than Isabella, sienna-brown hair, slender, and a bit like the actress Zoey Deutch.

Playlist: Music is a HUGE inspiration to me. And with this book, that was no exception. Part of the second-chance-romance was inspired by one song. Yep, you read that right. Now regardless of your feelings on country music, I believe they can tell a fulfilling story in about three minutes. So country songs are almost always on my book playlists. You guessed it; the song is a country song. Greatest Love Story by LANCO. If you don’t know the song, it’s about a couple that are teenagers and opposites but they are in love. The two go their separate ways when she goes to college and he stays in their hometown. She dates someone else until she returns and they realize there is still something there between them. It’s such a sweet and catchy song. Besides that one song, there are about fifty more songs on my book playlist. Feel free to check them out under: Eight Days of Christmas, account name: Starla_writes.

Setting: Pineridge is a fictional town in Colorado. I knew I wanted Leo and Isabella’s hometown to be a small town and since this book was going to be set at Christmas, it needed to be snowy and mountainous. In my mind, I pictured somewhere like Breckenridge, Vail, or Aspen Colorado. But I also included some inspo from the shopping in my own town that’s also a resort town near a mountain. Plus inspo from growing up in Canada, the deep snow, and the ice rink at my elementary school.

Again, there is inspiration everywhere. In the shows and movies I watch, the music I listen to, the people I follow on social media, my day job, travel, even a trip to the grocery store can spark creativity. You never know where a story idea could be lurking.

To see my inspiration Pinterest board for this book, please visit: https://www.pinterest.com/starlawrites/book-eight-days-of-christmas/

So You Wrote a Book—Now What?

*The topic of today’s blog is in regard to fiction. While I have learned quite a bit about the process of publishing nonfiction, I’m no expert.

First of all-Congratulations! You wrote a book! That’s amazing! You have accomplished something only 3% of people who’ve set out to write a book actually have. According to Google, 97% of people don’t even finish writing their book. So celebrate! It’s a big deal. And don’t let anyone tell you differently. Whether it took you four weeks to finish or four years, (or more or less or somewhere in between) YOU DID IT!

After you’ve celebrated, the real work begins. Oh, you thought writing the book was the hard part? Guess again haha! Writing the first draft is just the beginning. Because after the first draft comes, you guessed it, the second draft, and so on. However many drafts you decide to write is completely up to you. And something you’ll likely find takes less drafts to feel ready the more books you write. Ready for what you ask? Well, once your manuscript has been through as many drafts as you feel comfortable with, then you’ve got to revise it. And then edit it. How do I know when my manuscript is “ready”? I always know when mine is “ready” when I feel confident enough to send to beta readers and critique partners, (CPs). These peeps should read your manuscript before any publishing professional.

Beta Readers – Next, send to trusted beta readers. I wrote a blog post about beta readers here: https://starlawrites.com/2020/02/10/why-beta-readers-are-awesome/ I touched on what you should look for when choosing readers. They are valuable and the good ones will stick it out with you, even through the bad rough drafts, (Yes, someday, after you’ve grown in your craft, you’ll cringe and realize you sent them your manuscript before it was “ready” haha!). 

Critique Partners – They are invaluable as well. I love mine and I am so grateful. I have some who have critiqued several of my manuscripts and others who have only critiqued one. It’s fun to swap with another trusted writer friend for a book here and there. I also have a critique group. We typically meet once a month, each taking turns. It’s been an amazing experience.

Revise again based on feedback/critique – Compile all of the feedback and let it simmer for a few days. I like to process it before I dig into editing and implementing. You don’t have to agree. Or change your book. But you should keep an open mind and ask questions. And you should always be kind and respectful. I once had a critique partner tell me that I received my critique with grace. And that stuck with me. I always want to do that.

Traditional or Self-Publish – Again, I’m not an expert on self-publishing. I haven’t attempted it. I’m not writing it off. But for now, it’s not a route I’m prepared to take. Maybe someday I will. For now, I’m going the traditional route, and may self-publish in between. We shall see. I know a few very successful self-published romance authors, (shameless plug for my friends Savannah Hendricks and Rachael Bloome). Either way, I will say, you’ve got to have a polished manuscript. For self-publishing, it’s a good idea to pay an editor. There are some fantastic ones your Twitter or Instagram friends can recommend. If traditional, it’s not necessary to have it professionally edited. In fact, I’ve heard literary agents say it’s best if you don’t because then they can see how your future manuscripts will look if they should decide to offer you representation.

Speaking of literary agents, let’s move onto querying.

Query letters – Once your manuscript is all shiny and practically flawless, you need to write a query letter. There are so many amazing resources online for writing a query letter. It’s basically a 3-5 paragraph/1 page letter introducing your book, giving the details, (genre, age category, word count, comparative titles) a general summary of your characters, setting, and premise, (much like the back cover of a book, and without giving away the ending) and an author bio. Sounds simple right? It’s harder than it seems. But once you practice it enough, it gets easier. Send this out to critique partners as well.

Synopsis – People tend to think this is the hardest part of the process. But it all depends. Sometimes I find it grueling but other times, it’s fun. Sometimes I write the synopsis before I draft the book. Sometimes I write it after. There are fantastic resources online for this as well. Basically this is where you tell all of the details of the plot. This is where you give away all the twists and spoilers, including the ending. Typically, you want to keep your synopsis between 2-5 pages. I like to have two versions, one longer and one shorter. That way I have both because different agents/publishers have different requirements.

Literary Agents/Publishers open to unagented writers – Now comes research. Again, there are many resources online for this. But your most valuable resource is your writing community. Ask your writing friends, CPs, (usually in private) about agents. Who represents your genre and age category, who has a good reputation, are there any with red flags. There are sites like, manuscriptwhishlist.com and querytracker.com. Google agencies. You can also pay for a membership to publisher marketplace if you want to see the agents sales info. If you’d rather go straight to a publisher, these are sometimes smaller pub houses but not always, it just depends who is open to unagented writers. Google and research is your friend in this area as well.

Once you have a polished manuscript, (with the correct word count-Google!) a polished query letter, a synopsis, completed research, with a list of agents/publishers, you’re ready to begin querying and hopefully land an agent and/or a publishing deal.

It’s a long road for most. Having a supportive family helps. Having a writing community to commiserate with is ideal. Though the odds are low, (last I heard, there’s a 3% chance of landing an agent or 1 out of 1,000 gets an agent) if you never even try, they are impossible. If being a published author is your dream, like it’s been mine for many years, put in the work and at least try. It’s a roller-coaster ride of emotions but I’m thrilled to be on the ride!

Self-Care During a Pandemic

Just like the rest of the world, all of us are experiencing life during a pandemic for the first time. And for many of us, it has been challenging. Some of us are learning how to navigate a job during this new time, some of us are figuring out how to teach distance learning to students or some of us are parents and attempting to figure out the best schooling for their children. And some of us are doing all three.

While we’ve all likely missed opportunities, had to cancel or change plans, have been separated by loved ones, or maybe even lost loved ones, the last thing we’re thinking of is taking care of ourselves. But in the same way a parent is told to put on their oxygen mask on a plane before assisting their child, we should be making self-care a priority. But what does that look like during a pandemic, when places and events are closed and when we’re practicing social distancing and kids are home doing distance learning school? You’re likely not even getting alone time, never mind self-care.

A few weeks into the pandemic, after the five of us had been crammed in the house, working from home, doing school from home, restaurants closed, church closed, sporting events, and concerts canceled, I realized this wasn’t going to end anytime soon. And instead of taking it a day at a time and hoping for the end, barely finding the joy in the small things, I had to change my thought process. I decided to focus on what I still had and what I was getting in return, rather than thinking of what was being taken from me as a result of the pandemic. For my family, it meant creative meals at home, movie series binging, music dance party nights, and VR gaming challenges. With three teenagers and one graduating and going off to college this fall, we realized quickly, that we were given the gift of time as a family.

While I’ll likely always treasure the additional family time, there was still something missing. Something BIG. Something I was lacking. Self-care. It’s the one thing I always put on the back burner but I knew I needed to make it a priority. For me, one of the best self-care things I can do is alone time. But how was I going to get that when I was always home surrounded by people? Just thinking and dreaming about alone time made my mental health even worse. Because I knew it was unlikely I would get this anytime soon. At least not unless I made it a priority. Here are some things I have been trying. I hope they help you. And I’d love to hear some of your ideas or things you’ve tried that have worked. Please comment below 🙂

Self-Care Tips That Worked For Me:

  • Invest in noise canceling headphones
  • Separate yourself from the rest of the family–even if it’s a different room, or outdoors, or even a closet–it can do wonders
  • Take a hot bath or shower in the evening
  • Listen to music
  • Get outdoors–even if it’s not great weather, a few minutes outside breathing fresh air is so good for the body and mind
  • Cuddle with your pet
  • Drink a hot soothing beverage in the evening
  • FaceTime a friend or family member you’ve been separated from
  • Read a familiar, favorite, comfort book
  • Watch a familiar, favorite, comfort movie
  • Go for a drive–even better if there’s no destination
  • Journal–either making a gratitude list or a bucket list
  • Try a new workout routine
  • Unplug from social media
  • Order take-out for dinner
  • Set boundaries during this new normal
  • If all else fails, demand some alone time from your family, (if you have littles, put on a movie and don’t feel the mom-guilt) and take it!
Here’s me with my son’s VR Oculus headset on playing Beat Saber. I was super focused! Ha!

New Year-New You? Nah…New Year-Better You!

*WARNING* Real Talk ahead…

I intended to write this post in January, after taking a couple of weeks off. But after a few events unfolded, they altered my post. I had planned on talking about your yearly writing goals and how to stay motivated. I had a ton of positive ideas on how to encourage you to reach those goals. But creating a list of goals and accomplishments felt jaded in light of those events.

In 2019 I was blessed with a new and unexpected friendship. She gave the best hugs and was encouraging me to say “no” to help me to not overcommit myself. Three days before Christmas she suffered several strokes and nearly lost her life. Miraculously, she not only survived, but grew stronger each day. She drew strength from her faith, family, and friends. She’s back home with her husband, two young boys and dog, (who won’t leave her side). When I got my first hug from her after she went through this ordeal, it felt the same as I remembered but also different. She’s a new person. She’s been given a second chance at life and she’s not taking it for granted.

So instead of a long list of goals for 2020, I’m trying to look at the big picture. I’m trying to look beyond 2020. But I’m also trying to take it one day at a time, focusing on making the best of each day. Last year I spent many days sick over worry and anxiety, bogged down by stress and depression. I’m hoping that in 2020 I find a way to feel refreshed rather than all the former mentioned. I hope the same for you.

This is the first year in quite a while, I haven’t written out my goals. Sure, I have some tucked away in my brain. Once in a while, I whisper them and on occasion, I shout them into the universe. My 2020 word isn’t RESOLUTE for nothing. I still have big hopes and dreams. But writing out a list of things I want to accomplish felt small in comparison to thinking what could be on my friend’s list for 2020. I’m assuming things like: Be thankful for each day, Make the most of each day, Tell family and friends you love and appreciate them, Grow stronger each day.

Sure, I still have dreams to publish all of my books, go on a fantastic family vacation before my son leaves for college this fall, and find a way to balance the day job/family/volunteer work/home/writing. But those felt minor in comparison to some big picture things. They say if you’d like to accomplish your dreams, you should say them out loud. I hope you’ll try it too. Here’s me, saying mine out loud:

My hopes for 2020:

  • Focus on today
  • Don’t allow the negativity of others steal your joy
  • Don’t give into anxiety; take control of it
  • Say NO; don’t overcommit yourself
  • Focus on what you actually have control over
  • If you feel yourself spiraling from depression, talk to someone
  • Don’t give up

I hope 2020 is off to a fantastic start for you! And if it’s not-well, we still have 11 more months to turn it around 🙂

Finding a Writing Group

Finding my writing group was both the most frightening and fantastic thing ever. After I picked up writing again after I had taken time off while my kids were young, I had been writing solo for about a year. While writing is mostly a solitary activity, I knew I needed to find support and community. I had already found a solid group of beta readers but I needed support and encouragement from other writers. When things get tough, when you feel like quitting, when you feel uninspired, or frustrated, or like no one in your life understands your passion and calling, having other writers who support you is priceless.

I found my group by Googling writing groups in my community. There were a few but the one that caught my attention for a few different reasons was a part of Meet Up called Shut Up and Write. For one, it was free to join-no membership fees. Two, there wasn’t any read alouds or critiquing involved. And three, I figured I could survive the 15 minute meet/greet at the beginning and end because there was a solid hour of silent writing time in between. I found the idea of chatting about myself/my project intimidating but the accountability intriguing.

When I went to my first meeting at the coffee shop, I was nervous. But everyone was friendly and welcoming. I decided to go again. And again. Each time it got easier and easier. Soon, I developed a friendship with the other members. Now, we talk about our projects, bounce ideas off of one another, and talk through writer’s block. Sometimes we talk about our favorite authors or craft books.

These people have become my community and my friends and I’m forever grateful to have joined. Having people like this during your writing journey is essential. I hope you have your own group and if not, that you have the opportunity to find one near you. Here’s a link for Shut Up and Write to check if there’s one in your area. https://shutupwrite.com

Benefits of Writing by Hand

There is something about writing by hand that I find therapeutic. When I have a pen in my hand and a new, blank notebook in front of me, it takes me back to when I first began writing. It reminds me of the joy and love I felt long ago. As the words bleed from my fingertips, it feels raw and thrilling. The ideas seem to flow faster than when I type. Sometimes I cross things out as I go or add to the margins. I find that my best and cleanest first drafts are the ones I write by hand.

My typical process: Hand write first draft, type second draft into the app/program *Storyist, then email it to myself and create a Word document.

I find that if I’m feeling either stuck or uninspired, writing by hand helps get the creative juices moving again. Next time you’re feeling that way, maybe give it a try.

*Storyist; is a program that is similar to Scrivener though I’ve heard it is a bit more user friendly and a bit cheaper. I love it because it formats your manuscript correctly so it’s professional and clean and ready to submit to agents or publishers. https://storyist.com