The magic of words.

We all know by now that I’m on this writing journey with my pre-teen daughter, and I can confirm to you all that it’s been one of the best things I’ve done in my life. My girl turns 13 this year, and we’ve just spent the summer together doing a variety of things (which, I’ll admit, includes a fair amount of time spent re-viewing Gilmore Girls on Netflix), but most importantly, we’ve sat together and finished our first draft of the second book in our American Dream series. It took us a year to get that done (those are the realities of working with a hormonal adolescent who would sometimes rather watch Barbie furniture building how-to videos on YouTube than read through a section of a manuscript again to get it just right), but last night, as we sat in her bed under the Christmas lights that she has draped around her room, we emailed the edited draft out to our beta-readers, and it felt AMAZING to say we’d completed this project.

And by “completed” I mean we’ve written it and taken turns reading the chapters out loud, making our changes and haggling over word choice and description (the final editing will be mine to do once we get feedback). But that’s the magic, really: the words. The ones we wrote together, the ones I listen to her read, and the ones we debate over. They’ve kept us working together, side-by-side, like glue. They’ve kept us from drifting into a land where she holes up alone in her room like a typical teen, keeping her words to herself or only sharing them with friends. Instead, she shares them with me. As we write, we talk about other “stuff”–boys, mean girls, fashion, music. I mean, we talk a lot anyway, but this gives us a safe place to make silly jokes and to apply the situations we write about to real life. This book we’ve just finished gives us the chance to talk about what mean girls are like in middle school in 2016, and lets us ponder what sort of messages we want each book to impart. (For the record, she talked it through as I listened, and we ultimately decided that this book is about believing in yourself and overcoming whatever obstacles or limitations life throws in your path.)

Writing also gave us something to talk about on our road trips this summer. We sat next to pools in Buffalo, Wyoming and talked about our next book: who will our main character be? Where should she be from? (Russia, we’ve decided.) What state will she move to in America? (While driving to an abandoned gold-mining town outside of Bozeman, Montana, we determined that she’d definitely be moving to a horse ranch in the “Treasure State”.) And as we power-walked through a pool in Spokane, Washington like a couple of middle-aged retirees on a water aerobics mission, we even got to daydream about a time when we had enough books published that we could go on an indie bookstore tour, setting up tables and autographing books for our rabid fans. (Hey, a girl can dream, right?)

I know there are a few more weeks of summer and I shouldn’t be mourning its end just yet, but teachers go back to work three weeks from today, so…the end is near. I have some final editing to do on my own book, and I’m hoping to have both of our books out in early September (it always takes longer than you think it will!) The covers are done, the drafts are written and in their final stages, and–as always–I’m eternally grateful for the magic of words.

Designing a small office on the cheap.

So we have this playhouse–this adorable little space in our backyard that can’t be more than 5 feet by 6 feet–that my husband built entirely from instructions he found online about eight years ago. It started out as a playhouse for Holly, and we picked pink for the walls, filled it with plastic food and dishes, stuffed animals and dress-up clothes, and then let her make up games and play with friends out there. (These pics are from Labor Day weekend 2010–oh, how I miss that tiny girl!)

At some point we put a desk in there and added some “writing stuff”–books, inspiration boards, and our collection of red birds and rabbits–and she and I used it to work on our stories together. lady & lou

But this summer she’d finally stopped playing out there when friends came over, so we got rid of the last remnants of pretend food, gave away the tiny table and chairs where she’d used her plastic cash register to sell imaginary burgers and fries, and talked about making it a more inspiring space for both of us. She was loathe to say good-bye to the pink walls, but I finally convinced her we should try something new, and we agreed on blue.

I didn’t want to go crazy spending money on redesigning such a small space, so here’s what we did:

  • sold the old desk and chair set on Craigslist for $40
  • Bought a gallon of paint (“Resolute Blue” by Sherwin Williams)–$25
  • Printed 4×6 copies of all 5 book covers (ours, mine, and the one I wrote under a pen name) and bought frames at Target–$20 total
  • Purchased a 2-shelf white stand at Target (and convinced the hubby to put it together!)–$25
  • Found a gold cup, clock, and a white candle at Target to add some interest–$25
  • Picked up a white rug at Target for under the desk–$30
  • Moved a small white IKEA desk and chair out of our guest room and put it in the writing room (already had these)
  • Dug up an old lamp that Holly once used in her bedroom, cleaned it, and put a new light bulb in it (already had these)
  • Used our collection of books and those lucky red birds and rabbits for decoration (already owned all of this as well)
  • Brought a heavy ceramic box from my step-mum (she found it in a charity shop in the UK) down from a shelf and used it to hold paperclips and post-it notes, and to offer inspiration, as it says “NEVER NEVER NEVER GIVE UP” on the lid (already had this)
  • Total: $125, minus the $40 I made from the old desk set. So the grand total I spent to remodel and re-charge our writing space is $85–I’m pretty happy with that!

Here are some of the “after” shots (we ended up turning the desk towards the wall for functionality, but it could really go either way):

I’ve already been out here for most of the day–I think I’ve found my new “happy place”!