Off-the-Page Strategies for Revealing Your Villain’s Motive


The first rule of writing in villains: never let the villain be the one to reveal his or her own motive for being a meanie beanie jerkface.

Why? Because that’s what we expect a stereotypical villain to do. And while there are ways to twist around clichés to make them useable and just as enjoyable to read, you still have to thrust your own creativity into overdrive anyway, so why not go all in?

There is always a motive. And where there’s a motive, there’s both a character determined to figure it out and a reader hoping it’s not exactly what they predicted when the story first began (we’re talking to you, Pretty Little Liars fans).

Here are three strategies for revealing your villain’s motive that will both surprise your characters and satisfy your reader (your motive for writing in the first place, isn’t it?).

Surprise—the villain is actually a bigger “bad guy”’s minion 

A satisfying story—one that draws the reader in and manipulates their emotions as they turn the pages (that sounds darker than it should)—has layers. Not everyone is who we think they are. Enter “minion”—not the Despicable Me minions, come on, focus here—the real villain’s forefront, the one who does all the dirty work, probably for really crappy pay and no benefits. Your characters definitely don’t want to mess with her, unless they can persuade her to hand over classified information.

She probably won’t do it without putting up a fight—literally? On the plus side, though, he or she happens to know a thing or two about why the boss is so moody. Maybe the menace your hero thought they were fighting is just someone doing what they were told to do. But as we all know, with the dark side comes disloyalty, and there’s nothing better than two dark lords betraying each other and still losing in the end.

Have your “heroes” find the answers themselves

Sure, it’s convenient when there just so happens to be an all-knowing creature willing to share their knowledge with your MC, but convenience doesn’t always sell. Motives are a form of mystery within any kind of story, and the easier you make it for your character to find the answers to the questions, the less satisfied your reader—and probably you—will be.

Uncovering a motive should play out like a treasure hunt. As the story progresses, have the characters find bits and pieces of the overlying mystery. Especially if the motive isn’t the main plot point, you don’t want to build up mounds of suspense only to have the answers spill over all at once like an erupting falling action volcano.

And on that note, here’s a fun challenge: come up with a villain that doesn’t have a motive. They have no freaking idea why they’re evil. It’s a mystery within a mystery. Don’t have too much fun with that one. On second thought, please do.

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment.

Breaking the Silence: How Words are Helping Me Heal


If writing a novel were easy, everyone could do it. As someone who can’t back away from a challenge – and someone who often makes things more of a challenge than they need to be – I’m certainly not complaining about how hard it has been the past few months. Immiscible (still a working title) is quite possibly the hardest novel I’ve ever started writing. Ever.

I have a feeling I know what’s going through your head as you’re reading this. “What’s so hard about writing a book? You just make everything up.” Continue reading “Breaking the Silence: How Words are Helping Me Heal”

JulNoWriMo 2014: Update #1 – A Call for Undiscovered Authors

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It turns out July Novel Writing Month – JulNoWriMo for short – has undiscovered superpowers.

It is that time of year again – time for me to talk about my current novel as I plow through it 2,000 daily words at a time. Time for me to talk about my past writing successes, which I very rarely do, because I’m still getting used to the idea of promoting my own work. It’s scary and it’s necessary. Ah, the life of an aspiring novelist.

I’ve been doing this – taking on the 50,000 words in 30 or 31 days challenge twice a year – since my first year as a National Novel Writing Month participant in 2008 (UGH I’M GETTING OLD). My first finished book ever, which I quite honestly can’t remember the name of at the moment (maybe that’s for the best), came out of that first writing plunge. My second, which writers of the movie “The Vow” totally stole the plot line of, was the product of my first July Novel Writing Month experience. My third, “Lost and Found,” also from JulNoWriMo, I wrote the summer before I left for college to convince myself my college experience was going to be AWESOME. My fourth, “Queen Bee,” was the result of my third year of JulNoWriMo. Each year in-between has involved ideas I’ve loved, started and just haven’t been able to finish because of school and other commitments. No book I’ve finished has been read by anyone other than some family and a few friends. I, in other words, am accomplished and unpublished all at the same time. And it’s WONDERFUL.

Notice a pattern here? The good majority of the books I’ve finished since I started writing longer stories in middle school have been end products of JulNoWriMo. Logically, this is probably because there is more time in the summer to write excessive amounts of words, and more time after word counts end to finish the book that started on July 1. I like to think JulNoWriMo has special motivational superpowers, giving us an increased motivation and inspiration to start – and complete – novels of all lengths and genres. Maybe I’m overzealous. What else would you expect from a multi-year, multi-annual WriMo participant?

More than talking about myself and my own book this month (I really try not to do that too often), I want to highlight YOU! Yes, you, the aspiring writer who has yet to ‘officially’ publish a novel, or who wants to quit sending out query letters because no one is responding, or likes to write books but isn’t sure if that’s the ‘career path’ you want to follow, part-time or full.

Here’s my philosophy: if you’re a writer, even if you’ve never published even a less-than-optimal blog post, you’re worth recognizing. There are people out there who want to be writers but never practice writing. And then there are people out there like you, who write, write, write, but no one ever seems to notice. Or maybe they notice, but all you ever get is a nice “you write good stories, can I read more?” from family and close friends. You have a story to tell! Even if your current project isn’t ready for even scrutinizing editors’ eyes, you have a personal story. You somehow started writing one day, and everyone’s ‘writer’s timeline’ is different. Who/What inspired you to start writing a book? What are your ‘noveling’ plans for the future? I want to read your story – and then, I want to share your story with the Internet, because who doesn’t love a good personal (and possibly inspirational) story from an undiscovered author?

Come on. You know you want to tell yours.

Email with the subject “TCN Undiscovered Authors” for more details. Interviews will be conducted via email correspondence.

Check back for more JulNoWriMo updates from me – and maybe from a few new faces.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

How to Take Over the Internet: Writer’s Edition

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It’s every writer’s dream, to see your name (real or penned) all over CyberWorld. Google yourself: what comes up? The first thing that comes up when you Google me is my Twitter account, which is sort of a let-down unless it gets more people to follow me (not that my tweets are interesting or anything). College Lifestyles talks about me a lot, which I appreciate, since my life outside school and work with CL is virtually non-existent (emphasis on “virtually”). I’ve run with Team World Vision. Awesome!

There are specific keys (not key words) to plastering your work all over the Internet without being a total jerk about it (but really, those people exist, and dear God I hope I’m not one of them). If you want your writing recognized (and why wouldn’t you?!), you can’t keep it to yourself. Keep the three P’s in mind: pitch, produce, promote. And repeat.

Know what you need to (and can) give up.

The more time you spend writing, the less time you have for…well, everything else. The more time I take out of my day, the less time I have for life’s current necessities: running, eating, sleeping and studying organic chemistry. If I want to make it a goal to write X number of articles this summer, I will not have as much time as I’d like to run long distances or sleep enough (which I never do anyway, so whatever). I can’t, however, give up things like food or passing chemistry. Identify what you need to let go of, what you can wave goodbye to, and what you’re willing to put on hold in order to make writing your current priority. When you make time for your art, you make more art. It’s a simple formula, really. This one is my favorite:

Taking over the Internet = (coffee) + (chocolate) – (sleep) + writing – (Facebook).

It works. Sort of.

Always be on the lookout for opportunities.

I’m always reading articles, and as I’m reading articles, I’m looking to see if publications are looking for submissions. Does someone need a writer? You don’t have to pay me (though that really would be nice). Pitch everywhere – some will say no thanks and some might take you up on a small offer. Seek, strive and succeed. I really like alliteration.

Take advantage of waves of motivation as they roll in.

As I’ve said on many occasions, it doesn’t do you any good to try to write when you’re not “in the mood.” Spurts of inspiration really will come and go, so hold onto them when they’re there, and don’t sit around and wait for them to show up when they’re not. The unwritten law of inspiration: it always hits you when you least expect it, at the most inconvenient times. I get really good ideas when I’m in the shower. You can’t write down an idea while you’re in the shower. The second you stop staring at a blank page, something will come to you. And when it does, run with it.

Never be ashamed of what you’ve published.

Even if it’s a fan-fiction short story, hey, at least it’s something. Something is always better than nothing. Be proud of anything and everything you publish, and share it with everyone you know! The more often you get your work “out there,” the less awkward you’ll feel about posting links to it for your friends to see. Promoting your work is similar to actually putting it together: it’s not easy at the start, but it only gets easier from there.

If your Bucket List is telling you to get off Facebook and open up a new Word document, listen to your Bucket List (even though it’s an inanimate object, it’s okay in this case. I promise.). Don’t let your delicate writer’s brain waste away because other peoples’ lives are more interesting than yours (side note: so not true). Creativity is like a muscle (here we go again with the thousand and one ways my dietetics major keeps appearing in this blog): if you don’t use it, you’ll know it – and you’ll regret it later. Literally.

Keep creative and keep writing. Is there a meme for that? Probably.

I spend way too much time on the Internet. Obviously.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Three Ways to Turn Nuisances Into Short Stories

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Warning: Excessively facetious blog post begins…now.

If you have a younger sibling, obnoxious neighbors or a cat (currently, I have all three). you know have a picture to smack down beside the definition of “annoying” in the dictionary (literally, you actually might have a picture – just don’t smack the actual person). While they might be interrupting the creation of the most significant plot twist you’ve ever thought of, they might also have the potential to become the most significant character you’ve ever sketched.

The same goes for just-can’t-handle-this situations (super long lines in grocery stores, emails that start with “Hi,” just to name a few). You might want to cut everyone in line or intentionally ignore a few thousand emails (and those are gentle reactions). You can’t, though. You can’t let nuisances turn you into the Hulk. But a fictional character can go to extremes to eliminate all the annoying things in his or her life, and if he or she gets in trouble for it – well, you don’t even have to write that part, if you don’t want to.

You are a writer. Use your Wannabe Novelist/Poet/Playwright/Journalist Superpowers to turn that wall you want so badly to punch a hole through into your next greatest literary accomplishment.

How? Well obviously I’m going to give you a few suggestions. From, ahem, personal experience.

Walk straight from Annoying Situation X to your laptop.

Don’t wait, because all that frustration and feeling like you need to pull all the hairs out of your head one by one has to go somewhere. Even if you have to scribble it down on a napkin or the back of a six-month-old receipt, something is better than nothing. Act on your negative spirt of emotion before it passes; if you’ve been looking for motivation to write something new, at least you have something to jumpstart your newest project. Don’t let it sit in your head too long; it might just end up giving you a migraine instead of morphing itself into a useful addition to your Idea Bank.

Don’t hold back.

As long as you’re already busy venting your frustrations in literary form, go all out before your wrists and fingers cramp up. You’ll feel much better once your character has finished saying everything you just barely stopped yourself from screaming twenty minutes ago, word-for-word, maybe with a few choice phrases added in (not that I recommend colorful language when it’s not needed, let’s be modest here). Even if it’s a “fake letter,” don’t even feel an ounce of guilt about everything your Source of Unnecessary Stress is hypothetically reading as you’re writing it. This is for your sanity. Let loose and be proud.

For once, don’t write for a specific audience.

Every writing professor I ever had in college is cringing at this tip. Hang on, let me explain myself. If you’re writing about a person, one who, unfortunately, is the current source of your frustration and hair-greying stress, you’re probably going to want to imagine up 101 Ways to Push Person X Down Six Flights of Stairs Without Getting Caught. There is nothing wrong with this violent urge – just think about how many stories involving violence have become huge literary successes. But don’t write that story with your readers in mind, because at least for now, no one should read what you’ve written about an actual human being. Wait until you’ve cooled down a little, go back and reread your masterpiece – if it’s a little too over-the-top, tone it down, do a few subtle name changes, and then hand it off to your wannabe literary agent. And scene.

The best stories we write are the ones fueled by the emotions of our personal experiences. I believe you can do it. Let’s work together, decreasing the national prevalence of physical violence one short story at a time.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

How to Keep Your Idea Bulb Turned On

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The age-old literary debate: is Writer’s Block a myth or the real deal? Sorry, I don’t have any peer-reviewed scientific research to back up anything I’m about to write, but I have an English degree, not a Bachelor of Science (yet). I’m in the clear. For now.

Is Writer’s Block a myth? Certainly not. Sometimes our ideas and our motivation to follow through with them don’t correlate when we want them to.When we have an idea and we’re motivated to carry it out (i.e., after we’ve had over half of our venti iced latte while sitting outside Starbucks), we’re good to go. What can you do to keep your ideas and your drive to turn them into tangible products working hand-in-hand? Here are a few – haha – ideas.

Keep an idea book with you. 

Spiral notebook, pack of Sticky Notes, iPad – as long as it fits in your bag and gives you space to scribble down an idea, it’s good enough for your creative brain. It may be creative, but creativity often comes in spontaneous spurts. You might have a day or even a week where ideas flow nonstop, and then a few days or a week where nothing seems to come to you at all. When the ideas keep coming, you can’t just sit at home and type them all out at once. Some get their best ideas while running, showering or maybe even grocery shopping (if you’re a nutrition writer like me). If you’re out and about and you get an idea for a character/story/novel/song/poem/article/memoir, have something you can use to make note of it so you don’t forget. And who knows – that one idea may lead to a dozen others, which you can proceed to write down underneath the first.

Never stop reading.

How often do you spend reading? As often as you spend writing? Even though you can’t plagiarize someone else’s idea in your own writing (even copying an idea is illegal, not just specific words or phrases someone else already wrote), reading can help spark a new idea you might not have thought of if you hadn’t been reading that book or article. I try to read as often as I can – if I don’t have time to read another Jodi Picoult novel, I’ll take a 15-minute study break and read an article or two online just to keep my brain alive. Read what you like and do it as much as you can: you’ll be surprised how much it can help you out when you feel like every idea you’ve ever thought of has already been thought of before.

Learn to be brave.

Whether you’re hesitant about a new idea or you’re not sure you’re ready to go out and do field research for a story, project or school assignment, put that fear of the unknown behind you. This is something I’m trying to work on as well. (I didn’t want to be on my school paper in high school because I hated the idea of interviewing people. Ironic?) Thinking about the probable success of an idea or current project is terrifying, I know. As successful as we strive to be, the idea of actually getting there can actually hold us back from following through with what our minds don’t want us to let go of. Stifle that voice that keeps telling you it’s not good enough, it won’t ever make it in the industry, no one will like it. Do YOU like it? Then stick with it. Even if it never “makes it” anywhere, it’s still something you created. Be proud of it.

Be patient. Sometimes you need a long walk, a different project or a good night’s sleep to recharge your creative batteries. It doesn’t do  anyone much good, unless you’re in the middle of a Wrimo (and if you don’t know what that is, try not to tempt yourself to find out) to keep trying when your head literally isn’t in it. Walk away; come back later. You might walk outside to take the garbage out, see something on your way to the dumpster and BOOM – you’re ready to get going again. You really never know.

It’s what we don’t know that motivates us to do what we can to find out – even if it’s fictional. No one knows what happens when the world ends, so writers like to make it up. If that’s your thing, go for it! It’s certainly better than nothing.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Why Twitter is the Best #WritingCoach

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And it’s not just because it’s free.

What can you say in 140 characters or less? A lot, actually, if you know at least a little bit about what you’re doing. Some writers will argue that the more words you can cram into a piece, the better that piece is. I don’t necessarily agree. You probably don’t, either, if you’ve ever written something that had a 500-word or one-page limit and realized you couldn’t fit every adjective and colorful phrase you wanted into a pesky yet necessary word or page restriction.

You won’t have much of an audience if you don’t learn how to say what you mean as efficiently (a.k.a., quickly) as you can. Thank goodness for social media and its ability to teach us how to shorten what we say so our followers don’t just scroll right past our posts. Here are a few examples of how Twitter in particular can help you become a #betterwriter, right now.

Use as few words as possible.

It’s like when I write out directions to a recipe – a sentence can still make sense even with fewer words inside. I’m not to keen on using the phrase “word vomit,” but think about what happens when you get super excited about an idea and can’t type as fast as your spontaneous mental rush. You’re naturally going to type out whatever comes to mind, which is 100 percent normal when drafting an original work. That’s why we go back later and engage in my favorite literary activity of all: editing.

It’s less work for everyone later if you start out using as few words as you can to get your main point across. Tweeting is a wonderful way to practice this, since you have a limited amount of space to say what you want (not to mention adding a link, tagging 500 of your friends and squeezing in as many #hashtags as your character limit allows). Facebook lets you go on and on, but Twitter stops you before you’ve said too much. Quite literally.

Learn the power of active voice.

Starting your sentences with a verb – something the #GrammarNaziUniverse calls “active voice” – will help you eliminate many of those extra words you’ll automatically find yourself tempted to throw into your posts, statuses, novels, whatever you’re working on at the moment. Prepositions are great, but not in excess, sort of like chocolate chip cookies. Okay, maybe not. I could eat plenty of those and never get sick of them. Personally.

Moving onto my next point. Apparently my brain is #hungry. I wouldn’t want to give you a bad example of point number three…

Captivate your audience from the first word.

There’s nothing that bothers me more about a piece of writing than having to skim through multiple layers of imagery and sensation to find a thesis. It isn’t that I don’t support these beautiful qualities of writing – it is an art, however, one that takes millions of words and sometimes years of practice to improve. There is a way to incorporate those stylistic attributes without drowning your reader in an ocean full of mental pictures.

Start with your main point and branch out from there, but do it in a way that will catch someone’s attention (or even catch them off-guard). Don’t just stick with the cliche “attention-getting questions.” Did you know we’re getting sick of them by now? Use that creative (and sometimes scary) literary brain of yours. Don’t fear it; embrace it. Especially if you want someone else to embrace, and pass on (retweet) what you’re saying.

Since we’re talking about Twitter, have you followed me? Do so here. And don’t judge me for the plug. Social media is where this all began. Never underestimate the things it can teach you.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

How to Turn “Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda” Into “A Work In Progress”

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“I wish I could have gotten to know him better.”

“I should have paid more attention in that class.”

“If it weren’t for my part-time job, I would have spent more time writing.”

And the list, probably, goes on. And on. And on. No matter what we accomplish – in that internship position or working for this company or earning some degree – we will always ask the “what if?” questions. What if I’d majored in journalism instead of English? What if I’d spent a little more time studying and a lot less time cramming everything under the sun into one page’s worth of a resume hardly anyone might ever read?

The answer to these questions, and the millions out there just like them, is always the same: it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you could or couldn’t do, what you apparently should or shouldn’t have done, what you would have done if this or wouldn’t have done if that. What matters is what you can do, and will do, right now.

So you didn’t graduate from college summa cum laude or climb aboard the “ring by spring” bandwagon your senior year. You can’t go back and change that (no matter how much you might claim you would give up to do so). What you can change is your attitude – and the goals you tack onto that Bucket List I mentioned yesterday. You won’t get anywhere in life if all you do is wish things were different. Here are a few ways to make sure you’re always looking straight ahead instead of over your shoulder.

Spend a little time reflecting.

There’s a big difference between reflecting and regretting. Whether you’ve recently graduated college or you’re just in a suitable place (literally or figuratively) to do some healthy looking back, take advantage of the opportunity to remember both good experiences and not-so-good ones. It really is true what they say: we learn from everything life tosses our way, whether it makes us smile or shudder. Everything we go through has the power to pave the way to the future we’re meant to indulge in; all you have to do is take a deep breath and walk that unfamiliar road.

You don’t have to let what you didn’t accomplish send you into a dangerous plague of remorse. When you think about what you didn’t accomplish, consider the reasons why. What sorts of barriers prevented you from crossing that goal off your list in the past? Is it a goal you can still work toward now, with a little motivation and support? If it’s a goal you literally cannot achieve (i.e., publishing a novel before graduating college – and no, this wasn’t actually one of my goals, I promise), you might still be able to get it done another way, no matter how long ago it might have been.

Pick a goal and make it your “current project.”

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when we try to do too many things at once. While there’s nothing wrong with learning to multi-task, don’t try to accomplish everything on your list right here, right now. Think of it this way: if your Bucket List has five things on it (and it might, and that’s 100 percent acceptable) and you accomplish all five of those things in the next six months – well, for one thing, you’re a pretty epic individual and I’ll probably want to meet you just so I can soak up a little of your awesome just by being in the same room as you. But if you all of a sudden sit back and realize you’re [insert relatively young age here] and have already accomplished everything you ever wanted to….now what?

For now, pick one of those five goals (or however many big dreams you have stored up in that smart-person head of yours) and make it your work in progress, your “current project.” As you read in my last post (or maybe you didn’t, but you totally should now), any bigger agenda you have is going to have to be broken down into a multitude of smaller tasks if you’re ever going to accomplish what you’ve set out to do. Make those smaller tasks your main focus. You might not feel like you’re accomplishing anything at first, but just wait until those smaller completed tasks start adding up. Which brings me to my next point.

Learn to be content with slow but steady progress.

This is something I’m definitely in the process of working on, so if nothing else, you’re certainly not alone. If you’re one of those people who wants everything done now, to see results now, to do it all now now NOW (guilty), and I mean it figuratively when I say this, take a good-sized chill pill and sit still for awhile. Breathe in the fresh air. Close your eyes. Think about everything you’ve done since yo woke up today. More than likely, you’ll realize you’re doing more than your to-do list says you are.

I think we all need to learn that slow and steady is better than quick and messy. The little things you do every day, even if it’s just writing down a few ideas for a new scene or chapter or a doodle of a character on your napkin, eventually become the puzzle pieces that make up your biggest accomplishments in life. You never know what that chicken-scratch note or cruddy napkin sketch could lead to. You might think you know – but oh, no. You don’t. No one does.

The absolute truth is, we are not superheroes; we physically cannot accomplish everything we will ever want crossed off our Bucket Lists. You can try to be Super [Insert name here], but more than likely, you’ll burn yourself out before you get a chance to do that one thing you want to accomplish more than anything else. I’ve learned the hard way that even coffee can’t make it happen (and for the love of God, don’t even try proving me wrong). The book of your life will one day come to the final chapter, and there will be things you suddenly realize you never did. That’s okay, and more importantly, that’s human.

All you can do right now is live in the moment, keep your dreams at the corner of your eye and dare to refuse to give up. Never define yourself by your failures or by what others tell you they wish they could have seen you accomplish. Put the past behind you; write that book, or start up that company, or whatever your dream is. The only person holding you back is – you guessed it – you.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

How to Treat Your Bucket List Like a Starbucks Menu

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“I want to write a book.”

Well, that’s a wonderful ambition to have set for yourself – I’m guilty of it, obviously, which means I’m 100 percent biased in saying it’s acceptable (and I bear no shame in this, either). Yes, a wonderful ambition to have – and yet, extremely vague. And that’s one thing you do not want to be as a writer: vague. Not all the way through your pieces, anyway.

Whether you want to publish a novel, start your own magazine or become the next Barbara Walters (guilty of being inevitably inspired, sorry, not sorry), writing those kinds of broad goals out on a piece of paper and taping it to the wall above your bed isn’t going to get you very far. Yes, you want to keep the big picture in sight, always: my choir director in high school always told us to look at our list of goals every 36 hours or we would never achieve them.

No matter your dream – no matter how big – you have to start smaller. I’m thinking baby steps, here, not settling for anything less than what you’re willing to work toward conquering. Before starting small, though, you have to start with the big picture first. Okay, I’m confusing you, aren’t I?

Let’s, as they say, break it down. And of course, because of my nutrition background and almost-addiction to coffee, I’m going to use a food motif. Think Starbucks. Think giant over-the-counter menu with so many choices you can’t see straight. That’s where we’ll begin.

Start with creating a generic menu.

My personal Bucket List is not a perfect example of the best way to live out your dreams – honestly, I haven’t updated it in awhile, and no, I haven’t been looking at it every 36 hours (now that I do feel a bit ashamed of, sorry Mr. R). If you’re going to create or update your own Bucket List, you can’t possibly list out every step it’s going to take to achieve every single thing you want to accomplish before you die – not in the master list you paperclip to the inside of your planner, or tape to your journal, or whatever your 36-hour strategy.

When you sit down in Starbucks with your best friend or significant other (or your laptop) at a table in the furthest corner away from the door, you’ve either already ordered or you wanted to claim your spot before all the sassy Java Chip-drinking preteens get there. You probably have a usual or like to stick to the same kind of drink (always a skinny latte or usually a Frappuccino with espresso infused into every drop). Have you ever really studied their menu, or have you recently? In case you haven’t, it’s HUGE. But you don’t see bullet points underneath your die-without-it White Chocolate Mocha listing out each individual ingredient. That would be too much to take in at once. Right?

You can’t ever hope to accomplish anything if you try to do too much at once, or too much right away. I tried starting up my “secret project” (more info to come soon!) back in January and had to put it on hold because I couldn’t accomplish everything relating to it that I hoped to so quickly with school and other responsibilities taking up my time. Now I’ve mapped out my “plan of attack” in smaller steps, but I still have an entire menu stored in my head of what I want to offer my “customers.” Start with where you want to end up – your final product. I.e., your first novel. Break it down from there.

Figure out the specific ingredients you need for each item.

The most basic of skinny flavored lattes includes skim milk, vanilla-flavored syrup and espresso. Someone in Starbucks Management Land has to make sure all these ingredients are purchased, in stock and ready to use as soon as that cute barista home from college on summer break takes your order. In the case of your own Bucket List, that manager just so happens to be you.

Let’s use my personal Bucket List goal of falling in love (sticking with the cute barista theme here, and YES, this is ACTUALLY on my Bucket List) as an example. I can’t just walk into Starbucks and fall in love with Taylor the Latte Boy. No, I actually have to get to know him before I can tell him I love him, or write a poem about him or whatever. To get to know him, I have to talk to him. To talk to him, I have to walk up to the counter and say more than, “Can I have a venti skinny vanilla latte?” Now if he asks me why I’m paying for 20 ounces worth of adrenaline, we can have a nice conversation about how I’m not actually hooked on caffeine, this is not a normal thing, I’m just trying to pass organic chemistry, etc. I might have to say, “I’ll have your favorite kind of latte – which is?…” Which I would never actually do, but this is just an example.

Ingredients for my venti vanilla latte: espresso. Vanilla-flavored syrup. Steamed nonfat milk.

Ingredients for falling in love: a cute barista, the ability to flirt without sounding like a stalker, $3.55 in quarters.

Ingredients for your first novel: a main character with a problem, a beginning, a basic plot line, a laptop, a word processor.

Now you don’t just have to get from nothing to a 100-word book. You have something to start with, the ingredients that will help you create said 100,000-word novel. Now it’s a lot less scary. Maybe?

Put together a purchasing list.

In foodservice, this is how management figures out how much it’s going to cost to buy the ingredients their establishment needs. Someone in Starbucks Management Land needs to know how much money he can and will spend on skim milk, flavored syrup, etc. Similarly, you can’t decide to set out to achieve the biggest goal on your Bucket List without assessing what it’s going to cost you. Falling in love will eventually cost me multiple hours of alone time each week, which I need as an introvert (who also happens to be a writer, and if you’re either or both of these things, you understand). Writing a novel will cost you time, deprive you of sleep and probably rob you of your sanity as well (if you had any to begin with, which most non-novelists will claim is the case). You have to be willing to pay for what you want, literally or figuratively. Sending out query letters takes time (I’ll learn that as soon as I finish the book I’m working on now). Buying a new laptop or Microsoft Office takes a big hunk out of your paycheck (especially if you work at Starbucks). But if it means crossing off something on your master list, it’s literally worth every second, or penny.

The more you cross off your Bucket List, the more you’ll want to add (if you’re like me). With every destination there’s some form of road to get there. Every menu printed starts with a single recipe. That recipe takes money, ingredients and time. Your final product, whatever it may be, makes up the menu of your life. Keep adding pages. Never stop dreaming (even if it’s just a fantasy about your mystery barista, who may or may not be named Taylor).

And as always, keep drinking copious amounts of coffee.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

I Volunteered As Tribute – And I’m Still Fighting for the Victory I Deserve

I am exhausted. I am worn out. But I am not finished; I have a dream to chase.

Why am I wearing myself out to pursue a fairly vague dream? It’s a loaded question, but certainly not a load of B. S. (not the way you’re thinking, anyway).

If you don’t know my story, you’re not alone. Not many do; I don’t talk about it much. And why should I need to, now that I’ve graduated from college with a degree in English? The possibilities are endless – right? I can do whatever I want, now that I can wave that diploma around. Right? As long as I change the name of my blog (again) and apply for every editing job I can find on LinkedIn – RIGHT?

Sorry – wrong. I’m not quite finished yet. With college, I mean.

Have I confused you yet? Good. That was my intention. It’s called a lead. And now I expand on the vagueness of my previous statements. That might just leave you more confused, but that births the opportunity for you to start a conversation with me about it. If you want to. But you probably won’t.

Let me start by admitting something to whoever happens to stumble upon this post: it has taken me a very, very long time to put it together and adequately prepare it for your eyes. And I don’t use adjectives like ‘very’ too often anymore. That’s why I haven’t posted since January (you’re heartbroken, I know). It takes time to process truth before you can write about it. And what I’m about to ‘talk’ about, it isn’t even the whole story. The world isn’t quite ready for that nonsense (and, as long as we’re being honest, neither am I).

Notice my use of the universal ‘we.’ I’m inviting you into my circle, temporarily. Sit around this figurative campfire with me while I tell you at least a fraction of my story. It’s not that interesting, but even though I don’t have a nice plot twist or a tear-jerking ending for you yet, every story does start with a beginning, and I at least know that well enough to tweak it, type it up and share it with you.

Whether you read it or not, that’s up to you. I’ll never know. That’s the beauty behind the Internet: if you know me, and read about my life, and want to judge me for what I say, you never have to do it to my face. If you don’t know me, and still want to judge me, and choose to comment and let me know so, I can just ignore you.

My story starts with a friend I met online.

Calm down, it’s not what you’re thinking. After finishing high school a semester early and sitting through half a semester of community college gen eds (snore), I realized (or at that point my mom reminded me) I still needed to find a roommate to live with once I left for ‘real’ college in the fall. I (naturally) hopped onto my university’s Class of 2014 Facebook group and hovered over the discussion boards, zeroing in on the one created for other girls to post about searching for roommates. So I posted, too – and a few people messaged me to start conversations, hoping we’d be compatible. Only one conversation lasted more than a few days, and that fellow novel-writing, Gilmore Girls-loving future Olivetian would become and remain my roommate for the next three years of my life.

Living with her was life-changing, and even after deciding to ‘separate’ and live apart for a year, I still consider her a friend I would not still be here without. It was hard living with her at first, though, watching her fall in love with her core education courses, hearing the plans she had for her life, knowing she was going to be a great teacher and realizing I didn’t know if I could be a great writer, or a great anything. I loved her; I still do. But then, I hated that she had such a vibrant, solid dream.

For years I wanted to study nutrition, but the excuses always outweighed the reasons. I didn’t want to be my mother’s shadow. I didn’t want people telling me I couldn’t do it because I’m terrible at math and science. Most of all, I didn’t want anyone to look at me and wonder why ‘such a good writer’ was giving up her dream of becoming a novelist to study dietetics.

First of all, who says I’ve given up on that dream? Of course I haven’t. I still work on my current book as often as I can, when all the priorities that fall before that one have been crossed off the list. Second of all, stop saying I’m a good writer. Either you’re a writer or you’re not, and it’s no secret that I’m a writer (honestly, just Google me. I’m not being vain; I’m being honest). The problem with my author’s ambition is that, for years, that’s all I thought I could do. The only thing anyone ever said was, “I can’t wait until you publish your first book.” Really, I could. Wait, I mean. Publishing a novel seemed too easy to me, too probable. Most significantly, the idea of publishing my work didn’t scare me. It excited me, but it didn’t frighten me. And that’s why I found myself so restless, so hungry for something more.

A dream isn’t worth fighting for if it doesn’t absolutely terrify you. I figured that out the moment I walked into the registrar’s office and declared a second major. It was a big deal then, because even doing that threw me so far outside my comfort zone it made me dizzy. While I shivered out there in the unfamiliar air of the unknown, though, I decided I didn’t want to stay curled up in the boundaries the world had set for me so long ago. I wanted to stay in the unfamiliar darkness and breathe in that air until it became part of my new safe haven. I didn’t want to crawl back into boredom; not yet.

I stood up and decided to face what scared me – then, and many, many times after that. That didn’t mean my dream was any less frightening. If anything, the deeper I ventured into the unknown, the more often I found myself afraid. But it became something more than that; in a way, it gave me a sense of thrill I’d never known I’d deprived myself of for so long.

In becoming a dietetics major, I established a dangerous – and exhilarating – relationship with fear. I had to, or I knew I would never make it over the hurdles of the undergraduate dietetics program that appeared one by one before my watering eyes.

If you’re going to judge me, now might be when you’d start.

Declaring a major in dietetics at a four-year university is exactly like the meme that appropriately follows this sentence.

I Volunteer2


I realized very quickly (there goes my uncharacteristic use of ‘very’ again) that declaring a major in dietetics was quite literally like changing my name to Katniss. CALM DOWN, I am not comparing my former dietetics program to surviving the Hunger Games or any affiliated persons to President Snow. They are not trying to kill off their tributes (I mean students). In fact, they want as many majors to make it out alive as possible – and for good reasons. Kudos to them for that.

But in all seriousness (okay, I can’t actually ever be serious for more than a paragraph, I’m sorry), I had to fight battle after battle if I had any hope of making it to graduation having earned two degrees. Scroll back up to the first few paragraphs of this post. Are you with me now? The ugly truth is, I fought for my dream, I became a tribute in a sea of dreamers just as capable (or incapable) of reaching for similar goals as I was, and I did not succeed. In all essence, I, at least temporarily, failed.

Now you understand why I can’t compare declaring a dietetics major to the Hunger Games, because if they were synonymous, I’d be – you guessed it – dead.

The difference between the Hunger Games and the standard four years it takes to earn a Bachelor of Science in dietetics is that you don’t have to quit once your time is up. And you certainly don’t have to wait for everyone else to drop out (a.k.a., die) before you can call yourself a victor. I did not walk across that stage this past weekend to receive a degree in dietetics, but by no means have I given up on that dream. Instead, I’m choosing to spend thousands of extra dollars to finish the 14 credit hours that now stand between me and a B. S. degree.

But why? WHY spend so much extra time, energy, money – all things I do not possess in excess – on finishing a second degree when I already have one?

That’s why they call it a dream. Not only is it potentially mortifying, almost like a nightmare in disguise; it doesn’t always align with the most basic logical thought processes. In retrospect, it makes absolutely no sense for me to do what I’m doing over the next six months: finishing the degree I started two and a half years ago. After all I’ve been through, the only thing that would make sense would be to quit.

However, you have to know this: I do not quit. Ever.

It took me three tries to pass general chemistry; I did not quit.

I barely knew how to boil water my first semester in a foods class; it was embarrassing, but I did not quit.

Standing in front of a room full of people I knew hated me, presenting a semester’s worth of research I did not choose to conduct, telling as much of my story as I knew and remembered myself, I struggled. I had just found out a significant influential figure in my life had died and I had to somehow pretend it was okay so I could carry out the task I said I’d do.

I wanted to, but I did not quit.

When things fell apart, I did not quit.

And I won’t quit now, even though textbooks are expensive and math is hard and I’ll probably break a hundred test tubes in the next month.

It’s my dream. If my dream hasn’t given up on me, why should I give up on it?

There is a crowd of people out there shaking their heads, saying I’m out of my mind for thinking I can still stride down the same path as before my life turned into a hurricane. Yes, the Internet is a beautiful thing. Anyone who thinks I’m going to quit, I can just ignore.

For all those out there who think I’m not going to keep chasing after what I hunger for, there are a thousand more who know I will. For all those out there who think I’m going to fail, I know how you feel. There have been times I regretted making the decision to pursue dietetics as a career. There have been times I was deathly afraid to fail. But I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve proven myself wrong. With every failure comes another chance to succeed.

In December, I’ll have my degree. And that will be enough for me to consider myself a victor in this real-life Hunger Games.

I changed my mind: I like this metaphor. I think I’ll stick with it, or die trying.

Love&hugs, Meg<3