Sunday, March 31, 2019

March Writing Challenge Complete

New t-shirt.
Seemed appropriate to wear today.
I’ve been blogging during the month of March since 2012. In 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, and now 2019, I have taken on the March writing challenge, thirty-one posts in thirty-one days. Every year that I’ve attempted it, I’ve completed it. It’s not easy.

This year the challenge was more difficult for me than in the past. I’ve been struggling in the past week to try and figure out why that is. I think that it might have something to do with trying to write the romance books at the same time. I’m struggling to find time to write for the blog and find time to write this book. I’m also trying to find time to parent, read, spend time with my family, walk the dogs, you know...have a life?

It isn’t easy.

There are people who make blogging look easy. They update their blogs on a regular basis and also seem to have a well balanced life. I don’t understand how they do that.

When I look at my blog posts for the five previous years I’ve completed the challenge, I noticed that no month ever has as many posts as March. Heck, in 2017 and 2018, a little less than half of the posts for the year came in March. I think that this much writing, for me, isn’t sustainable.

So why complete the challenge now? Why would I take it on this year when I already need to write more on another project? I think, for me this year, it was trying to remind myself to make writing a priority. I love writing this romance book. Well, that’s true most of the time. And yet, I began it last year in April with the goal of writing every day. (Which meant I wrote only a handful of times on my blog last April.) I did manage to write 27/30 days in my romance book last April. Writing became part of my life. I truly do not think I’d be this far into this romance series without writing daily for my blog last March.

The daily writing reminded me of my love for it, which made me believe I could write something that was in my heart begging to come out.

In life I tend to struggle with balance. When I read a lot, everything else falls to the side. Ditto to when I write a lot, when I work out a lot, etc., etc. I feel like my balance comes when you look at my life as a whole, not on a daily basis. I try to examine my life for a week and hope that I found time for everything that is important. But sometimes I get out of balance. The March writing challenge helps me reclaim the writing space in my life, forces me to put it in my everyday schedule, and I hope that spills over to a more balanced writing life come April 1st.

Tomorrow my blog will go back to sporadic updates. My goal this year has been to post about writing every Wednesday, whether it with interviews from authors or stuff about my own writing life. So far I’ve hit 12/13 Wednesdays. In an ideal world, I’d love to publish at least one more time a week, so roughly eight times a month. We will see.

For the rest of my writing time I’d like to get going on this book. In book two I’m currently on chapter 9, around 32,000 words. I’ve been writing about a chapter a week. I’d love to finish draft one of this book by the end of the school year, then go back and revise book one. I’m sure I’ll update as I go.

This writing needs to take place on the edges of a full life. Two track seasons - middle school and high school - have kicked off for Luke and Liam. Liam is also in concert band and Symphonic band. He’s also begun high school drumline practices and has drum lessons once a week. Luke has work at the local Italian restaurant, which doesn’t require anything from me other than dinner before he goes there. He has Prom coming up. I have a class coming up online for Choice Literacy (find out more HERE), a two day conference, and a presentation for a friend’s class at a local college. That doesn’t include orthodontist/doctor/ dentist appointments or the ACT. And that’s just until the end of the school year.

However, I look back at my interview with Penny Kittle this March. (If you didn’t see it, check HERE. She has exciting news at the end of the interview about what she’s writing next.) I’ve seen Penny speak many times and she always inspires me. Because I’ve seen her so often, I’ve heard her share this quote from Don Murray before, but it was exactly what I needed that day in March when I shared her post. Penny wrote, From my friend, Don Murray: “15 minutes a day, Kittle. Just 15 minutes a day and you’ll have a book in a year.”

And so, I look ahead to April and think to myself, 15 minutes a day, Sokolowski. I can do it.

Thanks for joining me on this March journey once again. I truly appreciate all of you for sharing your reactions to my writing. You motivate me to keep going and I thank you for it.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Stream of Consciousness Part 2: Writing Romance

Earlier in the week I wrote my thought process out as I procrastinated writing. (HERE) It was actually therapeutic to see what I do in a short time span and how it eventually led to writing. I talked to many friends about the post and they said it made them laugh. While that wasn’t my intention, but I’m glad they found the humor in it. I figured today I’d write out what’s going on in my brain as I sit down to write my romance book. It might explain a little about my mindset.

Well, and then there’s Helga. Evil, evil, Helga.

Starbucks envelops me in a hug the minute I walk in. Not literally, of course, but I swear if I was monitoring my heart rate minute by minute from when I was in a parking lot to walking in the door, it would lower drastically upon crossing the threshold.

I’m grateful to see open seating. The parking lot was a mad zone of crazy and I assumed the place was packed. I had forgotten that H&R Block is next door. Tax time, you know. Hope they get a refund.

Opening Twitter upon sitting down was probably a poor choice.

Strike that, definitely a poor choice.

Reading the tweets from @JenReadsRomance was likely a mistake. Let me start with the fact that I love her Twitter feed. I listen to her podcast, Fated Mates with Sarah Maclean, and actually squealed like one of my students in excitement when I heard she was a teacher. She lives in Chicago, so obviously we should be best friends. If you’re looking for romance recommendations, her website is somewhere you must visit ASAP. You can find it HERE.

So today, a few of her tweets got in my head:

First, for my non writer friends, POV = point of view. My thought was immediate panic. I mean I am writing a series where there is a first person POV (female lead) and a third person POV (male lead). I picked that on purpose, but it does not alternate every chapter. Often there is both POV in one chapter, sometimes just one POV. It depends on the scene. So my immediate panic was that I’m a rookie writer, what the hell do I think I’m doing.

Deep breaths.

Then I read this tweet.

Well, hell. This is me. Jen went on to tweet:


So, I don’t do well reading books with too much conflict. It makes my anxiety so much worse. I have frequently described the book(s) I’m attempting to write as Gilmore Girls meet a serious romance book. Or small town romance with a hug. I absolutely believe talking can change people, and that is mirrored in the series I’m attempting to write.

Crap, crap, crap.

So many more tweets made me stop and think. This isn’t to say I don’t love Jen’s Twitter feed. I think she’s brilliant. If you love romance and you are on Twitter, I absolutely recommend following her.

What I’m saying is that sitting down at Starbucks and reading her Twitter feed right before attempting to write was to give that evil witch, Helga, some authority in my head.


Then I went on to scan Twitter. Some of my favorite romance writers were popping up in my Twitter feed this morning. Everytime another one of them came up, Helga’s voice got stronger.

You’ll never write like Courtney Milan.

I growled to Helga, thinking I don’t read historical romance. Shut it, Helga.

She was back, Look, Penny Reid, Kate Canterbary, Kristen Ashley...they write contemporary. You’ll never write like them either.

I rolled my eyes while I continued scanning. Whatever. I love them. I can aspire.

The doubts kept coming.

Should I be rewriting the first book right now instead of moving on to the second?

Did I have enough conflict in the first?

Did I rush the couple together too fast?

What on earth did I think I was doing with the current scene in the second?

Did the vision I had for the characters work?

Why did I want to write anyway? Maybe I should just focus on teaching middle schoolers and reading. So. Much. Easier.

And then I looked to my right. I’m sitting at a communal table at Starbucks. There is a guy to my left typing away. A man and his young son in front of me. His son is super excited about the donut he’s eating. And, over in the armchair section, there is a couple. The guy is in the armchair, the woman is on the footstool, pulled between his knees, her legs draped over his. They’re about my age and apparently we don’t exist in their current reality.

They made me smile.

So does this guy and his son, who just offered his dad some of the donut. His dad’s reply, “No, but thanks for offering.”

A woman just came to the other armchair in the section with her toddler daughter. They have a full spread of deliciousness laid out on the side table. The toddler just gave her an open-mouth kiss on the cheek.

I remember toddler kisses. They are the best. My teenage sons don’t show unabashed love for me like that anymore.

In the corner is an elderly couple holding hands across the table. In line are two women, also holding hands. At a side table are three high school aged girls, all looking at their phones and talking at an amazing speed.

Another woman is sitting alone across the room, looking at her computer and laughing out loud.

I feel like I’m surrounded by love and happiness. It permeates.

And so, I open up my doc and sit down to type. I know I will likely make many rookie mistakes in these books because I am a rookie. Jen’s tweets were also a reminder that my books, whenever they are finally published, won’t be for everyone. I tell my students that all the time, it’s just hard to see that in print - even when not directed at you.

But I’m doing it. I’m writing the stories I want to read and will just hope that someone else will want to read them too, want to read books about people in a small town, falling in love, with quirky characters. Books that come around you and envelop you in a hug, just like Starbucks did for me today.

Because this is what I know, this is what I love.

Friday, March 29, 2019

My Most Requested Recipe

Tonight I made one of my most requested recipes for dessert.
I can tell you the recipe from memory:

2 sticks salted butter
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon (or a bit less) of salt (I use Coarse Ground Kosher Salt)
2 ¼ cup of all purpose flour
2 cups of chocolate chips

Now, if you have baked any cookies in your lifetime, you might recognize this recipe. It’s from the back of the Nestle’s Chocolate Chip bag.

So why, might you ask, do I get requests for cookies all the time? I’m not sure. But I’ll tell you here what I do that isn’t on the bag. 
  • One - put the eggs and butter on the counter for about an hour before making the cookies to let them come to room temperature.
  • Two - cream the butter for at least a minute by itself.
  • Three - cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed for at least two or three minutes.
  • Four - if it’s hot or humid, you might have to increase the flour by ¼ of a cup.
  • Five - once you add the flour, do not over mix.

When the batter is ready, I scoop the dough out by ice cream scoops onto a parchment lined cookie sheet.
The dough balls need to sit in the fridge for at least an hour, two or three are better.

You can bake them right from the fridge - smaller scoops - 10-11 minutes at 350/ larger scoops (like the ones pictured) 14 minutes at 350.

I usually make a few cookies, and put the rest of the chilled dough balls into a ziplock back and place them straight in the freezer. They can be pulled out and cooked at the above time and temp, no thawing. (Maybe an extra minute, just watch them.) We only cook a few cookies a night, but one batch can last a week or more in the freezer.


Thursday, March 28, 2019

Age Poem: Forty-five

For the last three years I’ve written a poem about age each year with my classes. You can
find my poem about forty-three HERE and forty-four HERE. I am purposefully not looking at
them until I write this year’s poem because I don’t want them to influence this one, unless
that’s what happens to come out. This is a writing activity I will be doing with my students in
April. I give them links to my poems as well as the resources I’ve pasted in the ones from
2017. Here goes:


Looking in the mirror
I marvel at the changes
In my skin.

Was the texture always
This way?

I feel like I could bathe
In moisturizer
Never to be fully hydrated again.

Forty-Five is wondering
When your hands began looking older.
Looking at marks and wondering if it’s a freckle
Or an age spot
Or if there is a difference.

It’s wanting to do better by my body
Treat it more kindly.
Fill it with food that nourishes
Instead of just fills.

Forty-five is the age of knowing my sons
As soon-to-be adults
And enjoying spending time with them.

At the same time,
Wondering if they will bankrupt us
With the grocery bill each week.

Forty-five is attempting
To come to terms with loss
Each year it gets bigger
Each year there is more.
Saying goodbye to loved ones
Is not something I’m good at.
Or that I want to be good at.

It is the year of:
Our twenty-six year together
Our twenty-third wedding anniversary
My twenty-third year of teaching
Our seventeenth year of parenting.

The numbers get bigger,
The memories grow,
And I wish time would slow
For just a moment
Or two.

Forty-five is growing into my skin,
A little bit more.
Praying for forty-five more years
So that I can figure it all out.

Forty-five is listening
To Jason Isbell’s
If We Were Vampires
And knowing that forty years
Will never feel like enough.

Forty-five is being grateful
For every single day.
Appreciating the beauty
Of a sunrise
Of a walk with your dogs
Of a night at home with those you love.

This is forty-five.