Episode 22: Two mini-lessons about character (and #Girlboss)

We’re back!

Episode 22 of Scratch Paper is live!

Newsletter readers, click the button below to go to my blog to listen. You can also subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher (just search “Scratch Paper Podcast”).


Writing update: Working on a new novel tentatively called “Wait,” while my other novel, “Finding Lucy,” is still out on submission. “Wait” is about a psychic named Lia helping an evangelical Christian family whose foster daughter has stopped talking. “Finding Lucy” is about a missing woman, and it’s told from the perspective of her, her mother, and her sister.

Reading update: Me before You by Jojo Moyes. Highly recommend; read it in <24 hours.


I’ve been watching #Girlboss and I LOVE IT. It is “loosely based” on the life of Sophia Amuroso, founder of Nasty Gal and author of the book #Girlboss. Kay Cannon wrote the show (and also Pitch Perfect).

Here’s a question: Do we (the readers, the audience) have to understand why a character is unlikable? Or, do all characters have to be understandable?

Are there any characters out there (Dr. House?) who are unlikable, but for no reason?

I REALLY WANT TO KNOW! Please comment below or tell me on Twitter or Instagram.

Also, if you try out any of these exercises, tag them on Twitter/Instagram with #scratchpaperpodcast! I would *love* to see how they work for you!

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An update and a request

Hi, friends and fans,

Thank you for keeping up with me–I’ve taken a break for the past few weeks to spend some time with family and to finish my novel (not done yet, but getting close…closer!).

I’m writing today to ask you to help me win a contest. It’s run by Submittable, which is the platform most literary contests and journals use to let people submit their work.


The contest is a video contest about life post-MFA. Mine is about keeping up with my friends Larry, Jennie, and Craig, and there are even (cartoon) portraits included.

It would mean *so* much to me if you would click on this link, click “Login to vote” in the top right hand corner, and give me a thumbs up (vote).  You can log in with your Submittable account OR with Facebook, and it will only take ten seconds.

Here’s the link again: https://post-mfa.submittable.com/gallery/b4dedbdb-b030-451b-9693-2105920e4495/8004863/

Right now, I’m in third place, so I actually have a shot! It’s very exciting, and the winner gets a “tailor-made career booster.”

If you do vote for me, please comment, send me an email, or tag me on Twitter (@likesoatmeal) or Instagram (also @likesoatmeal) so I can say thank you.


And  I will be back with new Scratch Paper Podcast episodes, new life updates, and even (gasp) a new writing guide soon!


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Scratch Paper Podcast, Episode 21: How I got out of a writing slump

Remember last episode, when I mentioned getting up to page 70 of my new novel?

I was slowing down big time, and I got stuck. I wanted to quit at page 75.

Scroll down (newsletter readers, please click through) to hear what I did to beat back the slump and write 30 more pages (!!!).

Reading update:

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Servants’ Hall by Margaret Powell

Writing update:

I’m working on a new novel about a psychic named Lia who is helping an evangelical family whose foster daughter has stopped talking. Last episode, I mentioned reaching page 70. That was three weeks ago–and I totally stalled out by page 75. But great news! I got out of my slump and am now on page 105.

Show notes:

A few things I did that helped me get out of my slump:

  • I use an outline. This helps me so much. (Also, I said “arch of the story” in the podcast, but I definitely meant “arc of the story.”) If you don’t use an outline, try brainstorming the end of your story, or just the next part–a little bit of planning might help!
  • Taking a break helped me the most.
  • Taking a break made it possible to read–which also helped!
  • I upped my word count goal for each writing session. Usually, I write ~2 pages when I sit down to write; I tried writing for longer, about 2-3 hours, and started writing closer to 5 pages.
  • Do the math! I calculated that I had 25 pages left to write, and at my former rate, it would have taken me three months to finish.
  • Make a checklist with very very small goals–I get to check off every two pages.
  • Celebrate!! When I reached page 85, I went shopping at Dry Goods Seattle and became obsessed with embroidery.
  • Related: tell someone when you reach your goals. I text my husband and email my writing exchange pal Larry.

Things that have worked in the past:

  • Just make yourself write one page.
  • Take a whole day to write (side note: if you don’t know what to do with a whole day to write, you might like DIY Writing Retreat: A guide to getting away–it includes an hour-by-hour schedule).
  • Get a change of scenery.
  • Ask your friends for help!

How do you get out of a writing slump? What works best? Please share in the comments, or tag me on Instagram or Twitter.

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Scratch Paper, Episode 20: Finding the right words

This week’s lesson is about actually writing–a craft lesson related to detail and tone.

It includes how to choose words that will make your reader catch onto the tone WITHOUT EVEN NOTICING.

I think this trick is like magic. I think it is the difference between OK writing and good writing. It’s what I try to do. It’s what I am thinking about most as I’m working on my new novel.

Click through to listen to the full episode:



Writing update:

I have written a few more pages of my novel. Reveal! It’s about a psychic (Lia) who is helping an evangelical family whose foster daughter has stopped talking. I’m on page 75 and I am working towards 100 pages, but I’m stalling out.

Reading update:

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (who also wrote The Swan Thieves, HIGHLY RECOMMEND!)

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is another really good, really long book.

Black men and public space by Brent A. Staples is a brilliant essay about race in an “elevated” tone. Here is an example from the intro:

My first victim was a woman-white, well dressed, probably in her early twenties. I came upon
her late one evening on a deserted street in Hyde Park, a relatively affluent neighborhood in an
otherwise mean, impoverished section of Chicago. As I swung onto the avenue behind her, there
seemed to be a discreet, uninflammatory distance between us. Not so. She cast back a worried
glance. To her, the youngish black man–a broad six feet two inches with a beard and billowing
hair, both hands shoved into the pockets of a bulky military jacket–seemed menacingly close.
After a few more quick glimpses, she picked up her pace and was soon running in earnest.
Within seconds she disappeared into a cross street.
That was more than a decade ago, I was twenty-two years old, a graduate student newly arrived
at the University of Chicago. It was in the echo of that terrified woman’s footfalls that I first
began to know the unwieldy inheritance I’d come into–the ability to alter public space in ugly

See those words? Uninflammatory, billowing, menacingly, earnest–that’s what I’m talking about.

This essay, published in 1986, is unfortunately still relevant today, and I highly recommend you Google it.

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