Category - Writing

Writing Lessons & Where I’m From


One of the things I’m enjoying in the New Year is taking my first writing e-course.  I chose this particular one because it focuses on an area I’m grappling with in my writing  – Finding Your Writing Voice.

Ally Vesterfelt {author of the book Packing Light} is guiding a small band of writing novices like me through exercises to help us not only hone our own unique voice, but figure out our message as writers.  {More information about her e-courses opening this spring can be found here.}

Our first writing assignment was a poem.  The thought of writing poetry practically sent me into a case of hives, but once I started writing, it unexpectedly and rapidly spewed onto the page.  This was my first time actually fleshing out a writing exercise like this, though I’ve seen variations of it before.

Mustering up my courage to share it in this online space isn’t easy for me, but doing so makes me feel like I’m finally starting to get to the heart of why I write.


 I’m from the cherry wood upright piano I learned to play on.

I’m from the tiny kitchen with the window above the sink and the closet in my room where I made a pretend childhood library from my young adult paperbacks.

I’m from my mother’s soft hands, and the way she took care of me when I was sick.  From “Does this mean I HAVE to take you to rehearsal?!” and “Love You, Sissy!” to her childlike rebellion.

I’m from Star Trek re-runs and Herbie Hancock and The Phantom of the Opera records.

I’m from the scent of her freshly washed hair and perfume, when I hugged her goodbye in the dark of the morning before she left for work at the hospital.

I’m from the bedroom at the end of the short hall with the light blue curtains and the twin bed.  I’m from Gammon Elementary across the street and the three-legged race at the National Awana Olympics.

 I’m from the First Bible Baptist Church and middle school choir anthems The Walrus & the Carpenter and The Prayer of St. Francis.

 I’m from the way she cursed and her handwritten lists.   From her astrology knowledge she espoused, then said she didn’t believe.  I’m from her heart and her excellent advice when wearing her nurses hat.

I’m from dinner in the living room while watching T.V. and Christmas Eve Gumbo and new traditions with my husband’s family.

 I’m from birthday cake in a metal pan and ‘Happy Birthday Sarah’ in thick icing letters.

I’m from love and fear and basement doors slamming and cassette tapes playing and simple means.

I’m from loving step-parents and the reserves of strength I never knew she had.  From a distant Father and “You’re My Favorite Granddaughter!”

I’m from divine saving grace of a Godmother and spiritual families.

I’m from 5 year old salvation at the church down the street, and the house on Dellrose.

I’m from more love than I’ll ever remember.


Day 9…My {Own} Favorite Blog Posts {& An Updated Playlist}


I’m going to level with you here.  While I am still quite excited to be writing for 31 Days this month, as anyone can see, I’m behind in my post writing. {Thank you Captain Obvious, right?)  

I had a theory when I picked this series topic.    I figured I would be able to churn out shorter posts than normal, so that I might have extra time for the practice of writing – through journaling, writing future posts and essays, I would continue my practice of this new calling more seriously than before.  While I now see the complete silliness in that thinking {If writing for 31 Days isn’t wonderful writing practice, I don’t know what is}, I am trying to find a way to ‘catch up’, if you will.

I don’t share my own blog posts here to be pretentious or an obnoxious self promoter.  I hope there’s truly a method to my madness.  I’m in the process of going through all of my old posts and editing and categorizing them.  I’m also making some of them private (the ones I can’t believe I put on the internet–ai-yi-yi).  Through this process, I’m learning what quality content is to me, and the kinds of things I want to write about in the future.

Because I’m thrilled to have had a playlist request, I’m also posting an updated playlist below from last year’s 31 Days of Playlists series – Songs of Autumn. 

These posts are my favorites for different reasons.  Some resonated with readers, which made me heart happy.   With some, I specifically loved the subject.  Others helped me write out out my heart.

Check out my fave posts below–I hope you enjoy my fall playlist!

The Book That Transformed My Creative Life

In Which I Interview Sarah Bessey

Bread & Wine & A Foodie Playlist

My Playlist Inspiration {Songs For Dad}

I’ll Cover You {31 Days of Playlists}

Books That Have Changed My Life

When Your Creative Outlet Changes


Songs of Autumn – An Updated Playlist

{if you cannot view the playlist below, consider clicking the above link to view the original post}

Do you have favorite posts on your own blog?  If so, share the link with me in the comments!

31 Days of Favorites Button -

Day 2…Quotes To Cure Writer’s Block {31 Days of Favorites}


Just like clockwork – busyness, procrastination and writer’s block have set in.

 On day two.

We are traveling this week to see my husband’s family, and have been in and out of the airport for two solid days, as our flights have been delayed, cancelled, then delayed again with the first winter storm of the year in the mountains.  {Ironically, we are flying to a locale where it is almost 90 degrees – gotta love traveling!}

Whilst writing day 2 of this series on day 4–this post’s theme felt perfect for today.

Today I’m sharing my favorite writing quotes, anecdotes and inspiration.  Whether you’re a seasoned writer, a newbie at writing for 31 days, or just a passing reader, I think these thoughts will speak to you in whatever creative process you find yourself in. 

{Unless otherwise specified, all quotes in this post were found in the fantastic book, A Year of Writing Dangerously: 365 Days of Inspiration & Encouragement by Barbara Abercrombie–a writing professor at UCLA.    For writers at all levels and stages, this book is highly recommended!}

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!

~Anonymous (originally attributed to Goethe)


The only way you learn to write is by reading and studying the kind of thing you would like to write–and by writing.                 

~Barbara Abercrombie


There is a door we all want to walk through, and writing can help you find it and open it. Writing can give you what having a baby can give you: it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up. But publishing won’t do any of those things; you’ll never get in that way.

~Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird 


I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are at their best, creatively.  They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like?  Is there music?  Is there silence?  Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside?  What do I need in order to release my imagination?

~Toni Morrison


I believe that–if you are serious about a life of writing, or indeed about any creative form of expression–you should take on this work like a holy calling.

~Elizabeth Gilbert


When that voice starts chirping in your head and chipping away at your confidence, here’s what you do:  Listen to another voice, the sweet, calm voice that’s saying, Just do the work.  Tell your story; it’s important.  Have faith.

~Barbara Abercrombie



Working writers aren’t those who have eliminated their anxiety.  They are the ones who keep scribbling while their heart races and their stomach churns.  

~Ralph Keyes


Discover your voice.  Determine how it is different from all other voices.

~Gordon Lish


We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.



Eight Ways To Sabotage Yourself

  • 1. I have nothing original to write because everything interesting has already been written.
  • 2. I don’t have enough time right now.  I’ll start writing later.  I’ll write someday.
  • 3. What if someone reads what I’ve written?
  • 4. What if nobody reads what I’ve written?
  • 5. I have to mow the lawn, clean the closets, wash the car, run a load of laundry, order something online right now.
  • 6. I have to check my email.
  • 7. I have to answer a few emails.
  • 8. I have to check my Facebook page. [Or Twitter. Or Instagram. Or Stats.]

~Barbara Abercrombie

I didn’t start writing until I was forty-seven.  I had always wanted to write but thought you needed a degree, or membership in a club nobody had asked me to join...It was a long time before I realized that you don’t have to start right, you just have to start.       

~Abigail Thomas


Everything has been said; but not everything has been said superbly, and even if it had been, everything must be said freshly, over and over.  

~Paul Horgan


Stanislanski’s book An Actor Prepares was my Bible when I was an actress.  Reading my underlined copy now, I realize how pertinent all this Russian wisdom about acting can be for writers.  “Don’t act ‘in general’, for the sake of action; always act with a purpose,” writes Stanislavski.  “If an action has no inner foundation, it cannot hold your attention.”

What is my motivation?  is a question method actors ask themselves before doing a scene.  What do I want and need?  This is vital for writers too, in both fiction and nonfiction.  Think about what’s at stake…what your characters or you are after. This need, this want, becomes the subtext of every compelling scene, acted or written.

~Barbara Abercrombie


I have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re 5 or 500. There are three things that are important: First, if you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair. And second, you need to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great writers who teach us how to write. The third thing is to write. Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour — write, write, write.” 

~Madeleine L’Engle


Its the idea that won’t go away that you must write about…

~Barbara Abercrombie

Inspiration is to work everyday. 

–Charles Baudelaire

What are some of your sources to fight writers block? 

Where do you go for inspiration?


All The Things I’m Not Writing About


I hate the fact that I’ve only blogged in spurts and starts these past few months, but the truth is, there’s a reason for that.  I’m writing alot more by hand and a lot less on the internet these days, because, life has seemed to be dealing me and my family heaping doses of loss in the suffocating heat of summer. I don’t want this to be a pity party of any kind, but I’m also not here to air any dirty laundry or family secrets.  I made a promise to myself when I started this blog to find a way to write the truth of my life out while also fiercely respecting the privacy of my friends and family.  I wish I could write with the candor and bravado of writers I love, like Glennon Melton or Sarah Bessey.     As I continue to grow in my writing practice,  perhaps I’ll find the balance that works for me, while still giving you words that sparkle and sing.

All that to say, my heart is grieving the impending loss of another family member, and it has hit me hard.  There are various aspects to the situation that have made it a little more difficult than usual (sorry I’m being cryptic, but I think you understand), and my words have dried up, except when they pour into the pages of my leather-bound journal.  I have also been doing my best to write down my gifts of gratitude in my happy list to help me keep the faith, and perhaps I will share those with you here soon.  (Its been awhile since I’ve shared that kind of post, and I think its needed).

For now, know I’m not writing about the waiting and the grief, and the lingering smell of her perfume in the air and not eating at all only to grab the bag of caramel popcorn and the fear of walking through the door of another funeral home and reading Madeleine’s life giving words once again and feeling so much exhaustion I feel drugged and the sweet glass of rose wine shared with a life-long friend on a sweltering summer night and the most supportive husband in the world and the piles of prayers I’ve offered up next to one of my last living immediate family members and the multitudes of moments and thoughts swirling through my mind with such ferocity that I can only tumble them onto the page without punctuation.

I’ll be back here soon to share more music, interviews and the inspiration of life, but I need to be by the side of my loved ones while we pray and love and grieve.

Thank you again, dear readers, for the gift of grace.

When Your Favorite Bookstore Is Sacred Ground {Eighth Day Books}

I have wanted to blog about my favorite bookstore in the world for years now…but the task seemed daunting in my head, and created loads of writer’s block.  See, this place has been special to me for a good deal of my life.  I grew up going there and discovering  books, worked there during and after college, and have constantly returned to it’s hallowed walls year after year for incredible reads, inspiration and conversations with some of the most loving and brilliant people I know.  Quite frankly, it is almost as holy to me as a cathedral or temple, and often I feel the presence of peace and the divine in those walls more than I do at church.  It is a God-filled, light saturated, grace-laden place of beauty.  It is my happy place, and I’m so honored to share it with you.

 Eighth Day Books is publishing a book to celebrate their 25th anniversary this fall.  They have called out to everyone from famous authors to bloggers, customers and long-lost family members to share what Eighth Day has been to them in whatever art form they choose to express.    I’m sharing my essay for the book here with you on the blog today, along with some of my favorite photos.   I want you to know it and love it too.    Eighth Day has a wonderful website and blog, and you can order from them by mail, online or by phone.  (By talking to an actual, real person – gasp!).  They mail books all over the world, and people visit from far and wide.   Some of my favorite authors {hello, Lauren Winner} and musicians {Over The Rhine, anyone?} are friends of Eighth Day.  {To find out more about their upcoming book and anniversary, head over here.}  



I deeply believe Eighth Day Books is sacred ground.  I was humbly blessed to work there for a few years (or so) in the late 90’s, at the cusp of my college graduation.   I learned volumes from owner & proprietor Warren–it was an utmost privilege to work with him.   He’s the only person in the world who calls me Sarai, which makes me unspeakably happy.   My fellow staff members were kindred spirits, as well as incredible thinkers and writers in their own right, and I was honored to learn from them as well.


How can I describe my favorite bookstore in all of the world with the grace and utmost that it deserves?  Through the years, as I’ve returned to the Heartland after travels from the East coast to China,  every time my feet have walked through the glorious ‘Eighth Day Blue’ doors, my soul and spirit have taken a God-filled breath that is recognition of the deepest ‘yes’ to being home.


The music echoing through each nook and cranny is integral for me to the consecrated peace of Eighth Day.   Warren’s firm belief (with few exceptions) that the best music for reading is wordless led to my discovery of a bevy of tunes that are still a part of my personal musical library.   I still remember the joy of working alongside writer Bill Coleman, as Warren treated us to George Winston’s ‘Cast Your Fate To the Wind’ on repeat for hours on end.   (We happily retaliated with the smooth vocals of Ella Fitzgerald.)    Books are best served at Eighth Day with a side of piano, guitar and contemplative melodies.


I have been educated to the n-th degree in these wooden and stain-glassed walls about the richest and truest books I know…   It was at Eighth Day that I found my beloved copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking On Water that has been earmarked and travelled the globe with me.  Eighth Day was the place I discovered the ‘wall of C.S.Lewis’, as I re-read The Chronicles of Narnia in college, and fully realized the incomparable beauty of story as truth.  I was overwhelmed in the best possible ways by the shelves of theology and poetry, and my artistic spirit began to break open when I first discovered Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet and the wonders of  Czeslaw Miloscz.  These days, I return again and again to the shelves marked ‘If You Want To Write’ for inspiration and a writing education.





The ‘Spirituality’ room – which is filled with my favorite kind of books — feels like the most sacred room to me–the altar, if you will.  A pot of coffee always sits on the table, and sometimes a leftover baked good or two finds it’s way to a hungry reader during the holidays.  The stairs make a lovely and comforting creaking sound when you walk up to the second floor that feels like you’re coming home after a long day.   The tick of the clock by the stairway often hums in perfect time with the music.  The reading nooks scattered throughout are perfect for solitude or a good soul bearing conversation between friends–of which I’ve had many.


I usually prefer to first greet my friends behind the counter, then settle into the comfy blue chair (if its open – it’s pretty much the best seat in the house), perfectly located in the center room next to the Mediterranean spices for sale concocted by Warren’s wife, Chris.     I remember when musician Rich Mullins sat there, as we compared favorites books, and engaged in fun and feisty dialogue about the writings of Dorothy Sayers.   It’s the perfect place to chat with fellow kindred spirits, survey the beauty of the icons hung from floor to ceiling and breathe in the intoxicating scent of coffee and books.


When I feel stressed or displaced, when I need to write,  or I’m simply needing inspiration,  Eighth Day provides a sacred space that allows me to breathe, to read, to heal, to find rest and restoration.   Eighth Day has been a touchstone for the holy in my life – a respite in this fallen world.


 What are some of your favorite ‘sacred spaces’ in the world?  

{Next Monday, I’ll be sharing my Eighth Day Playlist!}