Think Like a Writer

When I was a college student, a series called The Paper Chase was in reruns on some cable channel or other, and my mom and I enjoyed watching it together. It chronicled the lives of several Harvard Law students (and was much less glamorous than Legally Blonde makes law school out to be). The famously strict, buttoned-up Professor Kingsfield was known to tell his students on the first day of class, “You come in here with a skull full of mush … you leave thinking like a lawyer.”

I don’t know if Katharine Grubb had that line of dialogue in mind when she titled her newest work, and she’s certainly not the strict-professor type, but she and Professor Kingsfield have one thing in common: they know how to give people the thinking skills they need to do the work they want to do.

Katharine knows how to teach, and she knows how to teach writers. Here’s her cred: she’s a homeschooling mom of 5 (1 college grad, 2 college students, 2 current high-schoolers), a novelist, and author of three books for writers:

I’ve read, and would recommend, all of these — and I’m not even a novelist! (There was plenty of helpful information in Write a Novel for any writer, regardless of genre).

Today Katherine’s newest book for writers releases, and it’s packed with that same wise, funny, (sometimes) strict, “I get it” kind of advice that characterizes her other books. It was a privilege to get to read an advance copy of Think Like a Writer

TWEET: Set yourself up for success as an author by learning how to think like one – in 10 minutes a day: new book from @10MinNovelist

From the introduction to Think Like a Writer:

All successful authors, back in the beginning of their careers, to a mental leap and first saw themselves as writers. They set up their lives, physically and emotionally to achieve their writing goals. They all, for lack of a better term, had a writer mode in their settings, either analytical or emotional (or a combination of both) and tuned into it as they worked on their projects. 

How do you get into this “writer mode” Katherine speaks about? There’s definitely a lot of self-discipline involved — even if you only get 10 minutes at a time to work. She notes,

We can be better equipped to manage our lives around our art. I believe that time, tools, and habits can be organized in such a way that interruptions are minimized. Note that I did not say eliminated. I said minimized.

Massive success does not require massive action. What will make a difference, in the long run, is little work on a regular basis.

If you want to learn the power of small, manageable habits in your success as a writer (or your professional success in any sphere), Think Like a Writer is for you.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images courtesy of Katharine Grubb. All rights reserved.
I was provided a free advance review copy of this book, but no other compensation, for this review. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.
Purchase links in this article are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchase through these links benefits my work.

A Writer’s Conference, Friends Old and New, and More Selfies than You Can Shake a Stick At

CWCO_live_smMeet and greet: that was the name of the game at the Catholic Writers Guild Live Conference last week. (It’s called a Live Conference because there’s also an online version in the spring!)

I started right off meeting and greeting as I filled in at the registration desk, stuffing bags and checking in a few authors. My first conference selfie wound up being photobombed.

At the registration desk with Janet Willett. Photobomb courtesy of Ron O'Gorman.
At the registration desk with Janice Willett. Photobomb courtesy of Ron O’Gorman.

Why the selfies? There was a contest. That started off being just for fun, but then there were prizes!

2015-07-21 16.01.15
With Ellen Gable Hrkach, author and owner of Full Quiver Publishing, in the Trade Show booth.
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With the “Paper Pope” and volunteer coordinator Rebecca Willen. The folks at OSV were holding the “Welcome Pope Francis” sign.
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With @datechguyblog, a Catholic radio show host–who rocked the hat.

I am terrible at selfies, but it was fun.

More meeting and greeting continued at the Tuesday-night ice cream social. I got to meet my boss, Lisa Hendey of, who declared that I’m shorter than I appear on the Internet. Yes, before Tuesday, I had never met my boss or even spoken with her over the phone. Internet magic!

I got to meet authors and an editor at breakfast the next day. I wished I’d brought along my copy of Unleashed so Sonja Corbitt could have signed it. I suppose a hug will have to do.

With Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB and Erin McCole-Cupp, OP.
With Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB and Erin McCole-Cupp, OP.

I participated in a panel discussion on third-order religious life with Benedictine Oblate Margaret Rose Realy and Lay Dominican Erin McCole-Cupp.

The conference theme was Perseverance, and I listened to two excellent presentations on that theme.

From Pat Gohn:

God’s steadfast love is the basis for our perseverance.

From Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB:

Schedules matter; if you’re consistently off-schedule that means your plan isn’t realistic.

So true. I know all about unrealistic plans.

I enjoyed lunch with Lisa, worked a couple of shifts at the Trade Show booth where I answered questions about what the Catholic Writers Guild does and recommended some of my favorite books by Guild authors.

The Wednesday dinner table included me, one kids’ fiction writer, two sci-fi writers, one horror writer, one poet, one Sherlock Holmes fanfic writer and two fiction writers. I’ll leave the conversation topics to your imagination and promise that it was even more outrageous than that.

With (rear) Nancy Ward, Lisa Mladinich, Pat Gohn, Karee Santos, Lisa Hendey, Leticia Velasquez, (front) Jeff Young (the Catholic Foodie) and Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB.
With (rear) Nancy Ward, Lisa Mladinich, Pat Gohn, Karee Santos, Lisa Hendey, Leticia Velasquez, and (front) Jeff Young (the Catholic Foodie) and Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB.

Thursday’s breakfast banquet offered an opportunity to meet some of the wonderful authors I work with. The only drawback: there was a banquet speaker, so we had to eat quietly and listen, but all we wanted to do was visit with each other!

My St. Francis "bag booster." It's even more gorgeous in person!
My St. Francis “bag booster.” It’s even more gorgeous in person!

I met an illustrator and was asked for feedback on her manuscript. I chatted with a bookstore owner about the need for good Catholic books for kids. I did a little shopping–got a St. Francis “bag booster” from, a neat family business where Mom does the art and the teenage daughters do custom and unique beadwork. No two bag boosters are alike! And these are not cheesy plastic. That stained-glass piece is heavy and sturdy.

Tiny Nativity in a pottery "stable"--it fits in the palm of my hand!
Tiny Nativity in a pottery “stable”–it fits in the palm of my hand!

This little Nativity came from Ole Peru Imports. She had Nativity scenes of all sizes from Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. All are handmade and unique.

With notebooks by Jen Norton, illustrator. Her artwork is even more beautiful in person.
With notebooks by Jen Norton, illustrator. Her artwork is beautiful and unique.

And I purchased two notebooks from Jen Norton, who did the cover art for Sarah Reinhard’s Word by Word book, for which I was a participating author.

I met so many people whose work I admire, and so many others whose work I’m just beginning to know. It was a wonderful event!

Ten Minutes a Day

write a novel at 10 minutes a dayI’m not writing a novel.

But I need this book.

Author Katharine Grubb took a break after drafting her third novel to write a nonfiction book, Write a Novel in Ten Minutes a Day.

But the subtitle is where the action is: “Because your dreams are worth 10 minutes.”

In addition to detailing all the things an author needs to think about when crafting a novel (and there are a lot of things), Katharine has included 9 chapters of advice that any writer, regardless of genre, can use.

This is a writer’s workshop in book form. And it’s useful to any writer with a book in her heart.

Part One is the part I need to concentrate on the most right now:  “Arranging your writing around your life.” As Katharine Grubb observes in chapter one,

I knew that if I looked for big chunks of time or perfect conditions, they would never come. My theory was that ten minutes were better than none at all. And if I did this six times in one day, I would have written for an hour. An hour devoted to writing seemed like a luxury. (p. 5-6)

Want to learn why Katharine considers the party game “Two Truths and a Lie” an important soul-searching exercise?

Want to know the time-management strategies she employed while writing a novel as a homeschooling mom of 5?

Want to know how to write a book when you don’t have a private island, a year at a writer’s retreat, or even a garret?

You’ll find all this–and more–in the first 3 chapters of this very thorough guidebook.

I’ll be working through Chapter 2, “Organizing Your Time,” in great detail. Because my dreams are worth 10 minutes.

Full disclosure: I was privileged to read this entire book in unfinished form, as a “beta reader” for Katharine Grubb, in exchange for my honest feedback. I’m amazed that she asked me to read the book, because she knows that while I read loads of fiction, it’s not what I write.

Links to Write a Novel in Ten Minutes a Day in this post are  affiliate links. That means that if you purchase this book through my affiliate link, you don’t pay extra, but there’s a little cha-ching that goes toward my blog hosting costs.

Monday Morning Recap 3/2


Here’s what I’ve been writing this week at other venues:

finding Jesus logoAt Dynamic Women of Faith:

Finding Jesus: A CNN Mini-Series

FF-spice-FBAt Real Housekeeping:

Frugal Friday: DIY Spice Blends
(This was actually the week before, but I forgot to post it!)

cod piccata WAt Catholic Bloggers Network:

Meatless Friday Recipe: Cod Piccata

chicken lo mein WW (4)At Cook and Count:

Chicken Lo Mein


bakers dozen PB cookies CRUMBCookie Time: Bakers Dozen Peanut Butter Cookies



skillet chicken parm WMSkillet Chicken Parmesan

Writing Process Blog Tour

I was invited to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour by Erin McCole-Cupp. dyfamIf you don’t know Erin, she’s the author who got me hooked on Tomato Pie with her 1980s-themed Catholic murder mystery, Don’t You Forget About Me. Erin was also one of my roommates at the Catholic Writers’ Guild Conference last summer.

The idea of describing my writing process is a little daunting, because sometimes I feel as if I don’t have one. My desk is in the living room, and I write between interruptions.

1) What am I working on?

My priority project right now is my cooking blog, Cook and Count. I’ve had a cooking blog for years, but I started this one to refocus my efforts on recipes that include carb counts for Type 1 diabetics. The original blog, Mom’s Fridge, was just a place for me to store family recipes and, sometimes, weekly meal plans. I’ve stopped posting on that blog, but am pulling recipes I’ve already posted there and adding them to Cook and Count along with nutrition information and photos.

I also coordinate the Meatless Friday feature at and contribute Tech Talk and book reviews, and I maintain a blog and social media for Room Two Productions. There’s a nonfiction-book project up my sleeve, but I’ve put that on the back burner for now. I need to concentrate my energies on feeding my kid right now.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Most recipes for diabetics are targeted toward Type 2 diabetics, who mainly control their disease through diet. Type 1 diabetics must use insulin to control their disease, so their diet is less restricted, but they need to know the carbohydrate count of everything they eat so that they can select the proper insulin dose.

3) Why do I write what I do?

In November of 2013, my then-11-year-old son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes after a two-week illness. I started Cook and Count for two purposes:  to keep track of the carbohydrate information I computed for recipes I’ve been using, and to help and encourage other parents of Type 1 diabetics who need to know this information.

This blog is not just for diabetics and their families. The recipes are good for any family; they’re generally child-friendly and most of them don’t require a huge investment of time, expensive or exotic ingredients, or special equipment.

wpid-0526142019.jpg4) How does your writing process work?

I have a notebook where I scribble information about recipes while I’m cooking. This is especially important when I’m making a recipe up as I go along. Before I found the online nutrition-label generating tool, I had to add up carbs ingredient by ingredient. (Since math is not my favorite subject, I was motivated to write things down; the last thing I want to do is compute the same recipe more than once.)

After I’m done cooking, I write up the recipe. I begin by listing the ingredients in the order they’re used. Then I write detailed directions for cooking the dish. Finally, I’ll often add an introduction with the story behind a particular recipe or something we liked about it. After adding photos, I’m ready to publish the recipe.

Because I know that my older son uses my blog as an online recipe book, I am motivated to keep my directions clear and precise. This utilizes skills I learned when I worked as a software tester before my children were born; I had to give clear descriptions of problems within the software to computer programmers whose first language was not English.

Next week, stop by these blogs to learn about their authors’ writing process:

I just realized that all of these three authors are Jersey girls just like me! They’ll be sharing their stories on June 16.

Living Social

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Beat the Clock

Beat_the_Clock_logoWhen I was a little kid, I used to enjoy watching the game show Beat the Clock, in which teams would have to accomplish silly tasks within a certain time limit.

And I always wanted the game “Perfection.”

It’s all about a race against time.

In the past few weeks, I’ve started using the principles behind those games to my advantage when I’m working at my computer. Read more at…


Conference Time

CWCO_live_smI’m getting ready for an adventure this week:  I’ll be attending the 3-day Catholic Writers’ Conference that’s being held right here in my home state. It’s more than an hour away (and way more than that given the traffic on the major highway that leads to the conference center) so my family has graciously agreed to hold down the fort here while I *stay overnight* for two whole nights.

(Does anyone have any idea how far out of my comfort zone this is? I’m a homebody to the max. I don’t like to stay overnight anywhere that’s not my own bed.)

So there’s a bunch of stuff–some silly, some not-so-silly, that’s on my mind. I figured that maybe if I write about it a bit, I’ll be able to make some sense of this nonsense. If not, well, then at least I’ve gotten it out of my head, and sometimes that’s half the battle right there.

  1. I haven’t written a book. I do have an idea for a book, and part of the reason I want to attend this conference is so that I can learn what to do with that idea to turn it into a reality.
  2. I worry about talking about my idea for a book. It’s a nonfiction topic, and I guess there’s some fear that if I talk about it, someone else will hijack it and write the book before I do. How awful is it to have that fear when we’re talking about a faith-based topic and a faith-based conference…but there it is. I am hoping that at this conference I will be reassured that this won’t be a problem, and that I can gain valuable insights from people with whom I discuss my idea.
  3. I’m an introvert (in case you hadn’t already guessed). And I’ll be rooming with people I’ve never met “in real life!” One of them seems to have the same Introvert Problems I do, so at least we’ll have a mutual understanding that sometimes we just need to hide out.
  4. Here’s the really shallow part:  I’m worried about wardrobe. I want to look nice…but I have very few clothes that fit properly around my abdomen after my surgery (why didn’t that doctor give me a tummy tuck while he was there?) There’s going to be a good amount of driving on 2 of the days, and plenty of sitting in uncomfortable chairs on all 3 days, and I know what that does to me when I’m wearing my comfiest clothes, never mind “business casual” wear. I’m devoting an awful lot of mental energy to this problem.
  5. I’m also worried about budget. I’ll have to get about 6 meals (including 2 dinners) while there, in addition to lodging. And there’s the Catholic Marketing Network going on, and I’ll want to get stuff.

On the upside, I’m looking forward to meeting Ellen Gable Hrkach, Daria Sockey and Pat Gohn–I think we’re all transplanted Jersey girls! I live in South Jersey now, but grew up in North Jersey, so I’m a “transplant” as well. South Jersey is pretty much a whole different state.

And I’m looking forward to learning everything I can, and to being among people who love to write!

This, That and The Other Thing: Freelance Edition

You know what’s cool? When they pay you to rant about stuff that you’d probably rant about anyway. At least, that’s what I get to do over at one of my shopping blogs. As long as I can segue over to a coupon at the end, it’s all good. Over there today, I tell the story of what happened last night when Middle Sister was getting ready for her friend’s birthday party.

You know what’s not cool? Learning a real-life lesson about intellectual property…the hard way. I was hired to write some articles for websites that focus on building a personal brand and developing an “online portfolio.” I was asked to provide a biography and a photo. About two weeks after completing those articles, more were requested. I visited the websites to get an idea of other content on the topics I was assigned, and I found one of my articles from the first batch, attributed to someone else who (according to the person who hired me) is a fictional persona. Let it be known that in the future I will be a lot more protective of the copyright on any of my writing, because clearly I cannot claim authorship of those articles for my own online portfolio. Notice the irony there?

That led to a whole big dilemma for me last weekend, culminating in my decision not to do any more work for that group of websites. I was very afraid that I would burn a bridge, because I do have a very good working relationship with the person who hired me to do that and several other projects. Fortunately she was understanding (and as surprised as I was about what happened) and she asked me if I’d like to continue working on future projects with her (yay!)

It was a tough couple of days, but my husband and kids stood behind me and encouraged me not to work for someone who would put a different person’s name on my articles even if it meant a loss of business. And once I sent out that email explaining why I would not do more work for that website group, I felt so good. I knew I had made the right decision and was so happy to learn that I have not burned a bridge when it comes to other projects.

Guess What!

I totally forgot to talk about this, and I really should have said something TWO WEEKS AGO when it first happened, but I am one of a bunch of new contributors to the “Tech Talk” daily feature at!  (How cool is THAT?) 

I’ll be writing every other Tuesday about techie topics that are near and dear to my heart as a Catholic, a mom, a Secular Franciscan, a parent of teenagers…

I never considered myself a “Techie,” though I suppose the signs were all there.  My younger brother got a computer when I was in high school (a Radio Shack TRS-80, and if you’re old enough to know what that is, you’re close to my age).  I used that computer as much as he did, learning to write BASIC programs that would print my name 50 times and other useful things like that.  Senior year, I suffered through a half-year of trigonometry so I could enjoy a half-year computer class.  Never popular, I suddenly found myself in demand as students teamed up to work on projects and I was one of the few who knew how to make a computer print my name 50 times.

There wasn’t much wiggle room in college for me to take electives, but I took Intro to BASIC as my math requirement (more making computers print my name 50 times) and found room for a one-credit course on computer applications in education.

After two years of teaching, my career path took a turn for the educational-software industry, where I was paid to break software and tell non-English-speaking programmers what I did to break it so they could make the software student-proof.  (I rocked at that job.)  Eventually I freelanced for that company as a software author, writing lesson “scripts.”

Down the road, I learned about Internet message boards, blogging, Facebook, Twitter and more.  My husband (who’s been a computer programmer since 1995) has kept me in gadgets starting with my very first Palm PDA up through a Kindle, iPad and iPhone.

I enjoy using technology in a variety of ways and look forward to sharing my favorite apps, websites and more, every other Tuesday at  I also look forward to reading what the rest of the “Tech Talk” team shares, and am extremely grateful for this opportunity.

Today’s feature is Digital Prayer, in which I talk about the apps you can use to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

Grammatically (In)correct

Middle Sister is working on a school report for music class–a biography of Billie Holiday.

Since my degree is in English, my children take advantage of Mom’s Editing Service before turning in their reports. I show them where they need to fix spelling, punctuation or sentence fragments, and sometimes point out spots where something seems to be missing.

Last night she left a draft of her report at my desk, and this morning she looked at it and complained.

“Why can’t I say it this way?”

“It’s a sentence fragment if you say it that way. Read it out loud.”

“….Oh, yeah. It is. But I don’t like it the way you fixed it. It’s more boring that way!”

Apparently sentence fragments give sixth-grade papers that little extra something. I hope her literature teacher doesn’t introduce e. e. cummings to the class anytime soon, or she’ll stop using capital letters too.