Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative by Melissa Febos

Body Work by Melissa Febos

This book can easily be gobbled up in a day, but the digestion would take several. Excellent. When I finished it I had so many papers stuck in the pages marking parts I wanted to return to that I essentially wanted to re-read the entire thing. Narrowing it down to these, some of my favorite quotes and what they mean to me below.

“I have found that a fulfilling writing life is one in which the creative process merges with the other necessary processes of good living, which only the individual can define.”

Every writing book I’ve ever read has tried to put into a single sentence what it means to be a writer. This is perfection though. It is going to be different for everyone. I believe it was Ann Patchett that got into an argument with another prominent writer over what it is to be a writer, because the other writer had some very exact proofs and Ann basically said, yeah but I don’t do that and I’m a writer. This sentence is the perfect yeah but. I have my ideal writing day (which has never happened), my usual writing day (most days of the month), and my uncommon writing days (kids get sick, it’s a perfect storm of deadlines and family visiting and the chickens have been attacked by a bear, or whatever). The bottom line is that my writing process isn’t the same from one day to another as much as I try to make it so. I’m no less a writer. And neither are you.

“I became a writer because the process helped me survive and it still does.”

I think I’ve mentioned before that I had a professor in college who essentially said, you write because you’re a writer, because you have to. I love the idea of writing for survival, although it all seems to very dramatic. Yet it’s true. I’ve never not written, which is a very double negative way of saying that if I’m not writing letters to friends and family then I’m writing in my journal, or posting on my blog, or working on a story or a novel or or or… We write because we must.

“The story that comes calling might be your own and it might not go away if you don’t open the door. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I only believe in fear.”

The most terrifyingly accurate thing I’ve ever heard about writer’s block. I absolutely believe we get to a point in our writing where we don’t know how to move forward, and it’s almost never because we genuinely don’t know what comes next. For me, I’ll become afraid that the thing I’m about to say is too unique to me to be understood by anyone else or that’s it’s too off-putting or that if I say this thing people might think it’s the autobiographical part of the fiction piece I’m working on or or or. But the bottom line is that I don’t stop writing because I have writer’s block. I have fear. I have fear around this thing I need to say and until I work through the fear, it’s not going to get written. That’s on me. I can’t blame the not-writing on writer’s block, only on my own fear.

“Empowerment often begins more subtly, with only a narrow ledge inside ourselves wide enough to hold a crumb of resistance.”

There are several paragraphs in this sentence. Stop resisting your own empowerment and write yourself off the ledge. (I say this to myself as much as to anyone else).

“Tenacity is often cited as the most common characteristic of successful authors.”

Once again, said in a different way and in a different voice, the bottom line is to keep going. Keep writing. Keep painting. Keep dancing. Whatever it is you do, keep doing it. The only way to fail is to stop trying.

“I cannot imagine nurturing a devotion to any practice more consistently than one which yields the reward of transformation, the assurance of lovability, and the eradication of regret.”

I hadn’t thought I wrote towards the “eradication of regret” but one of my stories proved to be so very autobiographical and soothing that I realized how lovely that would be. To be a memoirist whose words become the balm of their memory. I have always believed in writing (and reading) as yielding “the reward of transformation,” however, very much so. If you’re not being transformed by what you’re doing, what’s the point?

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? What are some of your favorite quotes? Have any book suggestions for me? I’d love to hear from you.

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

Writing Down the Bones

I have a shelf of books on writing (that’s a lie, they were on a shelf but they were being ignored and shelf space is at a premium, so I put them in a stack thinking “a stack of books could tip over; I will certainly read them if they’re stacked.” And I have been reading them so I guess there’s that). Amazing books on writing that I’ve collected over the years and I’m finally starting to read them. Last month I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Amazing. And this month I read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. These are some of my thoughts based on some of the things she said that really stood out for me.

“There is no permanent truth you can corner in a poem
that will satisfy you forever”

If you’ve been writing your whole life, it’s easy to look back on the things you’ve written and wonder who wrote them. A wonderful and also frightening thing. Isn’t it fascinating that the person you are now is so different from the person you were then? Isn’t it so incredible to be a person always changing, growing, becoming? Going through old writings is like running into someone I used to be really good friends with but we somehow grew apart and it’s sad and sweet to catch up with them again. I’m grateful when the catch-up is over and I can go back to the person I am now, the person I’m on my way to being, no longer waylaid by that trip to the past.

“In order to write about it, we have to go to the heart of it and know it,
so the ordinary and extraordinary flash before our eyes simultaneously”

Everyone says to write what you know. Everyone. More recently I hear writers giving the advice that one ought to make sure it’s their story to tell. That works too. I try every day to remind myself to look around me. There’s a light here that’s unlike the light of any other place I’ve ever been. They say the light in Paris is pink, something I’ve never noticed myself, and the light here, where I live is blue, sometimes purple. The light itself. Not the sky or the sunrise/sunset. The actual light, the molecules of air are tinted blue. It’s remarkable. And perfectly ordinary when you’ve lived here long enough to stop noticing.

“We are carried on the backs of all the writers who came before us”

I’ve always been an excellent myna bird; picking up a bit of slang here or an affected way of saying something there. I usually don’t even notice until I’ve said it a few times and then I realize I’m not speaking like me. It makes it easy to pick up the correct accent when learning a new language, difficult to shed when you’re trying to write something and it sounds familiar but you can’t place why. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, you’d think we wouldn’t worry about sounding like ourselves. What’s the point of writing if you’re not going to write yourself?

“I write because to form a word with your lips and tongue or think a thing and then dare to write it down so you can never take it back
is the most powerful thing I know”

A professor in college said something along the lines of “you write because you have to.” I forget that writing can be powerful because I’m so absorbed in the fact of writing, in the writing because I can’t not write. I love the idea of writing something powerful. I love even more than powerful, the idea that anything I say may matter to even one person.

“Finally, if you want to write, you have to just shut up,
pick up a pen, and do it”

And this is what it comes down to. I haven’t written any of my stories in three days because I’ve been dealing with sick kids and messed up sleep schedules and the general chaos that accompanies disease. I feel wound up, like I couldn’t possibly sleep even though I’m exhausted. I feel like I could stay up all night writing and not feel tired tomorrow. None of this is true, of course, because I’m 43 years old and a night without sleep is likely to derail my entire week. I know this. And yet…the not writing has created a sort of low frequency hum inside me. Sometimes, even if you don’t want to write, you have to just shut up and do it, because sometimes you have to write, there’s no choice in the matter.

What Success Means

What Success Means

I have the great fortune to be involved in a women’s group in my small town that’s full of incredible people. Every one of these women is very different. We meet as a group once a week to discuss a topic or do a craft or hear a speaker. The group was created to bring women in our small community together to support one another and connect on a deeper level. I am so beyond grateful to to the woman who created and runs the group, and appreciative of all the women who attend.

Last night we did a vision board craft. Everyone brought poster board and magazines, stickers, markers, glue. There was a lot of talking, a lot of laughing, a lot of connecting. We were all working on the same craft: vision boards. And every single board was different. Of course it was. We are all different. We all have different goals, different joys, different ideas of success. Of course we do. Of course our boards would all contain different images, words, colors.

Success’ literal meaning, dictionary wise, is the accomplishment of an aim/purpose.

That’s it.

You set a goal. You achieve it. Success.

That’s the magic formula.

Why then do we have these vastly wildly beautifully different ideas of what success is? Because everyone’s goals are different.

And if you’re truly lucky, if you’re really living your life, your goals are always changing, growing, getting better and different.

My hope for all these woman, myself included, is that our vision boards are reminders for our current goals, that we achieve them, that we create new vision boards that look radically different than these, repeat.

What does your vision board look like?

If You Could Be Someone Else

If You Could Be Someone Else

The easiest thing to do with today’s prompt is turn it into fiction: “If you could morph into anyone (alive, dead, fictional, etc.), who would it be and why?” But I can’t stop thinking about Elizabeth Strout, one of my favorite authors, and how I haven’t ever cyberstalked her to know anything about her real life, but how I’m so in love with her books/characters/writing style that I want to be her.

It wouldn’t make any sense, of course, precisely because I know nothing about her, and also because I don’t want to be anyone else. I love my life, my family, everything, I wouldn’t give up what I have for anything or to be anyone. It’s funny though, that I’m so enamored by her talent and style that I’d like to be her without being her. Does that even make sense?

So it’s not that I want to be her it’s that I want, in no particular order:

  • her talent
  • to have this amazing town created in my mind that I’m able to then describe in vivid detail to my readers
  • to have these fantastic characters with their idiosyncrasies that come to life on every page
  • to have already published multiple books
  • to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize
  • to be a #1 New York Times Bestselling author
  • to be a Pulitzer Prize winner

No big deal, right?

What I hear myself voicing is that I want to be an established prize winning author today, without doing all the grunt work that would get me there. Ha! But, yeah, I mean, essentially.

Another way of looking at this, perhaps a more constructive way of looking at this, is to say that Elizabeth Strout is at a place in her writing career, where I too would like to be someday. It’s not that I want to be her, but that I look up to her. She’s my professional heroine. She has done the work I want to do but haven’t yet done myself and she’s done it extremely well.

I suppose that means I haven’t actually succeeded in completing today’s writing prompt, but such is life. And now, to go cyberstalk…

If you don’t know who Elizabeth Strout is, you can learn more here (something I will also be doing shortly, because I am now in active cyberstalk mode. My mission: find out everything I can about her and indulge in a little “if we were BFF’s” fantasy).
This #writethirtyminutes session was prompted very loosely from “A Year of Writing Prompts” by Writer’s Digest, available here

What If This is the New Normal


When COVID was raging and we were all waiting impatiently for it to be over, like watching the Twin Towers get hit by a plane or watching our child hooked up to hospital equipment, this watching and waiting and feeling like it must all be a dream, surely, and when will it be over, when will I wake up…at some point, later, around the end of that first full year, many people began to ask, what if this is the new normal?

I stole it.

I stole the question.

What if this is the new normal?

I apply it to everything.

And it works to keep me going, moving forward.

For example, I had this gnarly rash, a “classic food allergy reaction” but the rash didn’t go away. It didn’t go away with a massively limited diet, it didn’t go away with topical creams, it didn’t go away with oral medication, it didn’t go away with a full dose of antibiotics. It remained undeterred and unchanged. It was there for three months before I broke down.

I asked myself, what if this is the new normal?

I stopped sleeping all the time (a reaction to the massive doses of Benadryl I was taking in order to continue breathing), I stopped sulking, I continued drinking the morning smoothie that didn’t alter the reaction at all but made me feel healthier. If this was the new normal, I wasn’t going to let it derail my life.

I don’t even remember when the rash finally went away. I’d decided it was the new normal and worked around it and then it was gone.

Reactions are what I call time sucks, and they exist everywhere and pup up constantly:

  • the kids want to join soccer
  • my husband wants to start a business
  • we need to buck wood or we won’t make it through winter

And constantly I have to remind myself that this reaction is the new normal.

If the kids being in soccer and needing to go to practice twice a week and games once a week is going to suck a minimum of eight hours of our week away every week forever (yes, soccer has a limited schedule, but let’s follow the bouncing ball) how do I incorporate it into my life without putting my life on hold?

The things we all have to remember when trying to achieve our goals are:

  • our families goals are just as important as our own
  • no ones life should be placed on hold, ever
  • we can all reach our goals, separately and together

There are a million metaphors for how we’re like houseplants, etc. but the bottom line is, the current goal is our new normal, make it work.

Take five minutes, right now, and

  1. close your eyes
  2. take a deep breath
  3. visualize the current reaction, really look at all the ways it causes problems
  4. look at how to work the reaction into your end goal in a daily way
  5. really see how tomorrow will look working the reaction in, now the next day
  6. write it down

I find it helpful at night, right before I fall asleep, to lay there and think of three things I’m grateful for from the current day, then visualize the next day from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. It often starts like this:

“I wake up around 5:30am after getting as much sleep as I need…”

Your current allergic reaction is your new normal. Are you going to sleep all day, or are you going to live your life?



Two years I started this blog post below and had to walk away from it. I re-read it today:

“I’ve been reading this book by Ann Patchett, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, and in it she describes a weekend away. She needed to get some reading and writing done and simply couldn’t do it at home, so off she went to a hotel. No big deal, just up and off to a hotel where she did nothing but read, write, order room service, go down once to the pool. I read this and I’m so jealous I could spit. The idea of having time to read and write…glorious.”

I have to say, the idea still makes me so jealous I could spit. Although spitting is gross.

What’s hilarious, is that I can’t remember exactly what had me so busy…will I look back in two years on this point in my life and wonder what kept me so busy? Of course. Definitely. Without question.

Facebook also gives me these memories to look back on and in them I see my oldest going from a smoosh baby to a toddler and think, oh my gosh he was so little! And then I look over at him now, at six years old, and realize this is going to look little someday too.

Where does it all go?

How do I feel like I have zero time for anything and yet time is so clearly passing, and passing quickly?

And the thing is that I’m not anywhere near where I thought I’d be two years ago, and yet I’m further…or maybe just different.

Two years ago if you told me I’d be living in Montana I’d have laughed. Laughed and laughed and laughed. Because moving to Montana is something crazy people do. Who needs all that winter? Who needs all those prairies and cowboys and endless skies?

Well…me, it turns out. I need them.

Two years ago we were gearing up to live in our trailer for a few months while we purchased a property in Oregon.

One year ago we were moving to Montana, to a property I’d only ever seen pictures of and to a home my husband described as “live-able.”

This year I’m reading a post from two years ago wondering how I could have possibly thought I was busy then, when I’m so obviously much busier now. What a laugh. All of it.

Today has been about breathing. Fears are constantly popping up in my mind:

  • I don’t have time for this
  • I haven’t made time for my #writethirtyminutes yet and won’t have the time
  • How is it possible that I’m constantly making food for two creatures who survive on air
  • My husband is so excited right now, that makes me excited, he’s doing what I have to do, that’s scary
  • I signed up for that webinar but I’m going to be late cause the kids still need to be dressed, brush teeth, take vitamins
  • I don’t have time to eat lunch with these boys because I need to do that thing for my husband and I still have to #writethirtminutes and I need to get that roast in the InstaPot (“Insta” my a$$)

It all comes down to fear and mostly fear around time. So my mantra for today has been:

“I have as much time as I need to do what needs to be done”

It’s been proving itself true, so far. I made it to my webinar just as it was starting, missed nothing. I was able to do a little bit of homeschool prep stuff during the webinar while still digesting the meat of the course. I still need to do that thing for my husband (and for myself once I confront my fears), but I will do that after I get the roast started and the InstaPot insta-ing.

The day is proving that I absolutely have as much time as I need to do what needs to be done. And the thing is, if it doesn’t get done today, it didn’t need to. Remembering to breathe, remembering to focus on the now, remembering to “sit and know I am sitting” as the Ten Percent app guru says, has been tremendous.

The days will always be packed.

The key is to recognize that there is only so much you can do, only so much you can reasonably expect from yourself, or anyone, and that when it comes down to it, I have as much time as I need to do what needs to be done.

Progress Every Day

Progress Every Day

They say that to reach your goals, you just have to make a little progress every day. I suspect there’s truth in that, although it doesn’t feel like it. For example:


I’ve been doing a daily meditation on the Ten Percent app after having read the book Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris. I do whatever the daily meditation is, for however long it last. The first one is roughly two minutes and they gradually get slightly longer. I have no idea what I’ll do when the free meditations end…maybe it will be like the Calm app, when the free ones are gone, so am I…but I’d like to think that because I’m making slow and steady progress in daily meditation that I’ll continue on my own when it’s required of me.


My boys are still young enough that there’s not much involved in homeschooling and I tend to get by with all the Q&A of daily life with an added dose of weekly Outschool classes and daily book reading. Still, I’ve been creating meetups for my local homeschool group and researching ideas and and and…. My daily progress on this end has been reading one chapter a day from the Homeschooling and Loving It! book by Rebecca Kochenderfer and now that I’ve finished it, I’ll be reading a chapter a day from The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer.


My daily progress is tracked by my #writethirtyminutes, catalogued here on the blog and doesn’t include any behind the scenes writing I do (although to be honest, I haven’t been doing much). I’ve been allowing myself the excuse of keeping up with my inbox which includes emails from Authors Publish and Writer’s Digest as well as reading a chapter a day from whatever writing tomb I’m reading, The Savvy Writer’s Guide to Productivity by Bryan Collins is the current pick.


There’s also this thing called life, which, dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through. Life includes making three meals a day, doing dishes from said meals, laundry, going to/from soccer practices/games as well as karate classes, the weekly running of errands, making kombucha every five days, cleaning the house, doctors appointments, etc. Nothing everybody doesn’t already deal with, but things we tend to ignore or consider unimportant because everyone deals with them. These things, however, are a major time-suck and it behooves us to be honest about just how much of our time and energy they take.

What’s My Point?

I don’t know.

Okay, seriously, the point is that it doesn’t ever really feel like I’m making any progress towards my goals, but I am. The going is slow because the progress is slow because it’s daily. These things aren’t about immediate gratification. It’s not painting the bedroom where one day it’s off-white and boring and the next day you’re surrounded by sumptuous color that immediately makes you recognize just how badly you needed to paint. This is stuff that goes the distance.

I want to make meditation a part of my daily life forever, so the effects of the meditation, less anxiety and longer fuse, are going to be noticeable as early as a week from starting, but the bedroom of my mind isn’t going to be painted overnight. It will take a lifetime.

And the same goes for everything else I’m attempting. There will, hopefully, be small wins all along the way, but the path is long and winding and I’m learning to be okay with that.