Perhaps We’re Looking at the “Work” of Writing All Wrong

One of my major writing philosophies is that there will always be work to be done.

PileOfWork-265x300Quite a few years ago, I started to look at the work of writing as a necessity. As a fact. I realized I had to accept that there will always be a ton of work: there will be revision, false starts, freewriting, and hundreds of pages that will never end up in the book. I’ve become very zen about the amount of work a novel demands. It’s an integral part of my process. I accept it. And I’ve never been scared of the amount of work to be done since.

But lately, I’ve come across a lot of writers who say the exact opposite to me. They say things like: “I don’t want to put in that much work and have to throw it out.” Or “I’m afraid to do this revision. What if it’s the wrong direction?” or “I don’t have that kind of time.” I’ve talked to them about how freeing it is to explore a story through freewriting and brainstorming. Or the benefit of writing scenes from other character’s perspectives. Or the value of barking up the wrong tree and the empowerment that comes from learning something doesn’t work! But I’m always met with frowns and furrowed brows. Everyone wants to get to the finish line faster. They don’t want to put in the work.

Or rather, they don’t want to put in work they don’t see as useful.

This aversion to writing has always puzzled me. Writing is supposed to be a joy. It’s supposed to be fun. When did that joy go away and get replaced with perfection and efficiency? When did writing really become work?

I had an ah-ha moment recently. I was reading Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer, and in it he makes a case for the importance of play in inspiration and the creation of creative works. Play! Not work. Only in today’s society, we frown on the concept of play. We see it as childish and unimportant, when, in fact, it may be the most important thing a creative person can cultivate. Here’s the passage that struck me:

Wonderbook“Inherent in the idea of play being immature and frivolous is the idea that, just like business processes, all creative process should be efficient, timely, linear, organized and easily summarized. If it’s not clearly a means to an end, it must be a waste of time. In the worst creative writing books, this method is expressed in seven-point plot outlines and other easy shortcuts rather than exercises to help encourage the organic development of your own approach. This bind in codification sometimes reflects fear of the unpredictability of the imagination and the need to have a set of rules in place through which to understand the universe.” – Jeff Vandermeer (Wonderbook)

Is it possible we’ve foolishly replaced the word “play” with “work”? In our need to be professional writers, productive students, and serious business-savvy authors, have we forgotten the most fundamental part of creativity? Have we forgotten to play?

I began to wonder if this was why I’m not afraid of the work it takes to write a novel. For me, writing isn’t work. It’s fun. It’s a creative exploration into my characters, their world, the possible points of view the story could be written in, or the possible scenes that could exist. It’s about exploring how wide and deep and wonderful a story can be, rather than seeing it as a straight shot from beginning to end.

PlayWhat if we’re thinking about the work of writing all wrong? What if we need to switch the words “work” and “play”?

“It’s not time to work on this revision. It’s time to play with this revision.”

“I’m going to open my manuscript and not work, but play.”

Does changing one word change our attitude toward revision, exploration, and the time involved? If we think about rewriting a scene as a chance to play, does it free us from the pressures of efficiency and organization? Does it make room for the story to break open and explode with inspiration and creativity?

What if working on a novel is efficient, but not effective? What if taking the long route – taking the time to play – will result in a more joyful writing journey? What if it will result in a deeper and more complex creative pursuit? What if it will open us – and our novels – up to the unexpected and the profound? Isn’t that worth the “frivolity” of play? Isn’t that worth abandoning short cuts and organization?

What if playing is what make us stronger and more creative? What if playing is what actually makes us effective writers?

Only one way to find out. I’ll see you on the playground.

It’s All About Taste

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about writing, publishing, and the importance of taste.

TasteMany of my friends are in the trenches of querying agents and submitting novels. They’re racking up long lists of rejection letters and wondering why they aren’t good enough. They’re asking: Why doesn’t this agent want my book? Why didn’t they connect with the material? What am I doing wrong? Should I give up writing?

Rejection seems to be a constant in the world of writing and publishing. The long-desired moments of praise and acceptance seem to be temporary and fleeting. Yet, rejection is something we writers deeply internalize, having spent hours, and months, and years creating our novels. We want people to see that effort as worthwhile.

Illustrated silhouette of a man sitting with his head in his handBut too often we believe that the rejection of a book is also a rejection of the writer. Slowly, brutally, I’m learning that it’s not that simple. In fact, I’m learning that a rejection has very little to do with me, and everything to do with the book. Or more accurately, sometimes it isn’t even about the book, it’s all about taste: the taste of the agent, the taste of the editor, or the taste of the market.

Let me take a moment to share three examples that have changed the way I look at submissions and rejection. Hopefully these will help you to see there is hope, lots and lots of hope.

1) My Editor Didn’t Want My Second Book

Last week my current editor (the one who adores my first book and bought it within two weeks of submission) just passed on my new novel. She said she “didn’t connect with it.” That’s the agent/editor kiss of death isn’t it? It’s a generic statement of rejection that won’t let me know how to move forward to what to change. Only – here’s what’s empowering about that statement. All it means is that this book doesn’t match my editor’s taste. Sure, I want my editor to love my books – all of them – but that’s unrealistic. This rejection doesn’t mean she doesn’t adore my writing. She would never have bought the first book if she didn’t think I was talented. All it means is she didn’t connect with this story. And after rejecting this book she promptly asked what else I’m working on. The rejection of one book is not the rejection of every story I will ever write.

2) Agents Want to Feel Goosebumps

goosebumps_2443265bA colleague of mine is the assistant to a top-tier agent at a large agency. Recently, I asked her what causes her boss to pass on a project or decide to represent a writer. She said: It’s all about taste. The book has to give the agent goose bumps. But here’s the part you need to hear: She also said that they pass on great books all the time, beautifully written books, books she knows will sell, books that she is certain another agent will scoop right up. So why doesn’t the agent scoop it up herself when she knows it will sell? The answer is simple: it didn’t give her goose bumps. It wasn’t something she loved. Finding an agent is all about finding the best advocate for your work, and that can only be done when both you and your agent adore the book. Would you really settle for an agent who doesn’t love your book?

 3) I Don’t Care if You’re a Bestseller

bestseller_graphicsmall1My last story is about a friend who is a New York Times bestselling author. She’s sold multiple book series, speaks at conferences around the world, and has had large publishing contracts. In all the traditional measures of success – she’s made it! But guess what, she’s currently self-publishing her next series. Why you ask? Because the market is scared. Her new series is a paranormal romance and well … we’ve all heard that market is dead. It doesn’t matter that she’s a bestseller. None of the publishing houses want to take the risk. Again, it isn’t about her or her writing, it’s about the book, and how scared the publishers are about the taste of the market. So what has she done? She’s taken the power back and is self-publishing the series on her own. She believes in her work and that the book will find an audience that loves it too.

Ultimately, we can only hand over so much of our power to others. You love the novel you’re writing and submitting. Have faith that it will find the right agent, editor, and reader that loves it as much as you do.

Yes, there are lots of gatekeepers on the road to publishing. But remember that gatekeepers are only taste-makers. They don’t determine what is great, they pick what they like. They pick what aligns with their own taste, and they gamble that others will have a similar palate.

Keep writing. Keep submitting. Write the next book.

Keep On Writing

I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this month. It’s a mad-sprint to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month, and we just reached the half-way mark. This means we’re wading through the murky middle of our novels when it feels like nothing is happening and it’s hard to keep our momentum.

If you’re like me and you need a little internet inspiration, I’m happy to provide these pep-talks of writing wisdom:

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Keep calm and write on

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Why are you still here?

I thought all that was pretty clear.

Get to your keyboard, and remember…

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Happy writing everyone.

The Case for Morning Writing

morning-windowI know everyone isn’t a morning person. I wasn’t always a morning writer. I used to be a mid-day writer, believing I was like a flower that fully bloomed when the sun was high in the sky. But in the last few years I’ve changed my tune. I’ve started to brave the dark cold morning hours away from my cozy bed. It isn’t easy. Who wants to give up those precious hours and minutes of sleep before the day begins? But I gave it a shot, and I’ve discovered I’m a lot more productive as a result.

I know morning writing won’t work for everyone. But I want to share a few of the ideas that influenced me to give it a try. Finding a process that works for you is essential to being a successful writer. For me, morning writing has become a staple of my process. It affects both my productivity and the quality of my work. Who knows, maybe it will work for you too.

Three reasons to consider writing in the morning:

1) It Helps You Find “The Zone”

One of the most inspirational reasons I started writing in the morning comes from Robert Olen Butler’s craft book From Where You Dream. Butler argues that to write you must enter a dream-space away from your intellectual thinking brain. This dream-space is a “zone” that lets you tap into the unconscious, which is where true creation comes from. Writing from the unconscious allows “a work of art to become an organic thing, where every detail organically resonates with every other detail.”

Realms Of Human MindTapping into this space is not an easy thing to do. Butler suggests writing in the morning because it helps you to find “a way to clear your sensibility of abstract uses of language,” which is important for helping you get into the zone. The problem, according to Butler, “is that we naturally use language in so many non-sensual ways all through the day. It’s helpful, then, to buffer those hours in which you necessarily use language in those analytical ways from the hours in which you dive into your unconscious and seek language in quite another way. One obvious way to do that is to put your night’s sleep in between. You go to your writing space straight from another dream state and go to language before you’ve had a chance for all those other uses of language to intrude on you. So after you wake up, don’t read the newspaper, don’t watch CNN; if you have to pee don’t pick up the back issue of The New Yorker in the basket nearby. You go to your fiction without letting any conceptual language into your head.”

Of course, there are different philosophies on writing. I was pretty skeptical of Butler’s “unconscious dreaming” concept. But I’d never tried it before. I’d intellectually talked myself out of its benefits before giving it a whirl. I’m a convert now. My writing has new depth because I write in the morning and I’m able to tap into that dream-zone.

For more information on this writing process, I highly suggest reading Butler’s craft book From Where You Dream. 

2) It Creates a Sense of Accomplishment

making-bedAdmiral McRaven’s gave a commencement address to the University of Texas earlier this year in which he said, “if you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” That may sound odd, but consider his outlook: “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”

Morning writing works in the same way as making your bed in the morning. Many of us say writing is a priority in our lives and yet we struggle to find time for it. If you start off your day by writing, then this important priority has been accomplished first. Now you can meet the rest of your day without guilt because you’ve already accomplished your writing goals.

3) Don’t Check Your Email

Email_Bad-resized-600Tim Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Work Week suggests you never check your email before noon. He makes a strong case, pointing out the importance of making room for the tasks you need to get done before you open your email and see what the rest of the world wants from you. Sid Savara adds to the conversation with his 7 reasons you shouldn’t check email in the morning. Both authors point out that checking your email first thing in the morning makes your day about someone else’s to-do list, not yours. Write first! Resist the temptation to check your email and put your priorities first.

Anyone else out there a morning writer like me? Have you found it beneficial? Please share in the comments!

NaNoWriMo Prep

TypewriterAre you participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year? It starts this Saturday (November 1st) and is a mad dash to write 50,000 words of a novel in one short month! I participated for the first time last year and loved it. It’s true, I was a big snob about NaNoWriMo before I tried it, but now I’m a complete convert.

If you’re taking the plunge and trying NaNoWriMo this year, I have a few quick suggestions that I learned from my experience last year. Hopefully these will help you stay on track and reach your 50,000 word goal.

1) Make an Outline

Make a list of scenes you want to write for your novel. This doesn’t need to be fully formed outline. All you need is a list of events or moments that you think might be a part of the book. The fun thing about NaNoWriMo is that you’re writing so fast that everything you try counts toward your 50,000 word! Even if you cut it later, you can try it now and it’s productive. You can pick a scene to write each day and see where it takes you. If it doesn’t go anywhere, try another scene on your list. You’d be surprised to see how many scenes will snowball into whole sequences, chapters, and eventually full novels! An outline gives you a place to start each day, and a new scene to jump to if the one your working on isn’t going anywhere.

2) Create Scene Cards

After you make your outline, create scene cards for each of your scenes. These cards outline the major action and emotional change of the scene. This will help you to make sure you have a plan and direction when you write. This way you won’t sit down and stare at a blank page. When I re-read my novel after NaNoWriMo, one of the big things I learned was that scenes I had a plan for were worth keeping. Scenes I didn’t use a scene card for often got cut. Read more about scene cards and see examples here: Scene Cards Blog Post.

3) Don’t Edit

I know it seems counter intuitive to not edit. Part of writing is choosing the right phrase and sentence to communicate your ideas. But when the end goal is word count, editing is your worst enemy. NaNoWriMo is about getting your ideas on the page and moving forward. It isn’t about writing a masterpiece in the first pass. That’s what revision is for. Who cares if you’ve added adverbs everywhere. Who cares if you spend half a page describing a character’s hair style. This draft is about creating the raw material that you can shape and mold later. It’s easier to revise a novel once you have that raw material to work with, rather than trying to come up with a brilliant and perfectly crafted page out of nothing. Yes, your NaNoWriMo novel isn’t going to be spun gold. That’s not the point. The point is to get material on the page that you can revise with.

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4) Write the Fun Scenes First

We often think we have to write in linear order. We also think we have to finish scenes. I give you permission leave scenes half-finished and to write out of order! Write the scenes you’re most excited to write first. Those scenes are going to have the most energy and excitement behind them. They’re going to create inertia that gets you excited to get up and write again tomorrow. If a scene isn’t going well, don’t finish it. Leave yourself a big note that says: finish this scene later and move on. Don’t worry about it right now. There are going to big plot holes, sure, but you can fix them in revision. Focus on what is fun and keeps you excited to keep writing this project. That’s the trick to writing faster than you should. Have fun and forget all the rules you’ve made for yourself in the past. Create, enjoy, and fall in love with your story.

5) Write in the Morning

Not everyone is a morning writer. I understand that. But personally, I’ve have found that writing in the morning during NaNoWriMo keeps me motivated. It allows me to get through my 1600 words a day early on. This also means any additional words I write that day are a bonus and help get me closer to 50,000 words faster! If you get behind in NaNoWriMo it can be discouraging. So don’t wait. Write first thing and make it a habit. One of the great side effects of this exercise is the way it motivates you to work on your project every day.

Looking for more tips to help with National Novel Writing Month? Try these:

How to UP Your Word Count and Write Like a Boss! (Part 2)

Keep calm and write onGuest Post by Sheryl Scarborough

We shouldn’t be surprised or amazed when our writing suddenly starts to click. After all, this is what we’ve been practicing, perfecting, mastering and perhaps even MFA’ing, right? So it makes sense that as we grow as writers we will become more proficient. We will find our centers and words will flow.

But as all writers also know, the magic word faucet can suddenly and inexplicably develop a clog. So for those times – and regular times, too – I asked some of my successful writer friends to share their methods.

My friends publish a LOT of books and I’m predicting this blog will be relevant for some years to come, so I’m not listing their recent sales next to their names. Instead, I’m including a link to their websites where you will find the most up-to-date info on their publishing successes. Please do yourself a favor and check them out.

Kelly Barson, and Melanie Fishbane, don’t worry about word count per se but both of them try to get through a complete scene in one sitting. Then if they feel like they can go further, they do. I call this PACING YOURSELF.

The prolific Kekla Magoon, admits to not being very scheduled or orderly, but she writes up against DEADLINES so she sets daily goals for herself depending on chapters, pages and scenes. She also swears by Scrivener, saying it has enhanced her productivity. Kekla’s method seems to be GUN-TO-THE-HEAD + PROPER TOOLS = WORDS ON THE PAGE.

Carrie Jones, sets ridiculously low word count goals for drafting, then celebrates when she goes beyond that goal. She also points out that failure to meet her goals would result in starvation, so there is that. I’m calling Carrie’s method SURVIVAL as MOTIVATION.

Kristen Kittscher is another author/friend who advocates SCRIVENER. “Scrivener helped me speed up immensely because I feel freer to jump around and write where the energy is,” she says. I call this creativity freed through proper tools.  FORGET WILLIE… FREE YOUR CREATIVITY!

nanowrimo_logov101Heather Demetriios-Fehst just offered up two words – “Use SCRIVENER.”  I’ll forgive her the brevity since she has already released TWO books this year. This is the third vote for Scrivener… It’s starting to have an impact on me.

Tammy Subia did something she never thought she would do. She wrote a complete first draft of a novel in four months and she was anxious to share her secrets.

Tammy has identified three things that really worked for her and they might work for you, too.

  • One: she set weekly word goals instead of daily ones, but she kept a daily chart of what she accomplished. She said just seeing the progress each day spurred her on the next day.
  • Two: She read her first chapter to a non-writer friend who really loved it and kept asking to hear more. Consequently, she wrote more to satisfy her friend.
  • Three: this might be her most important technique of all. Tammy described feeling like this book needed to be written. She wanted the story to be told so badly she couldn’t stop writing it! I’m going to call this DRIVE (and for the record I’m picturing Nick Cage behind the wheel of a muscle car when I say this.)

PICK YOUR TECHNIQUE:

Everyone seems to employ a different technique. Below is the full list. Feel free to be creative. Try on different ones. Pick and choose. Combine two or three. Experiment and see if you can’t UP your output. And if you do… write to us and let us know.

GET A RUNNING START Hold something back for the next day
DEVELOP A ROUTINE Write everyday.
KNOWLEDGE + TIME + ENTHUSIASM Know what you’re going to write, put in the time and be excited about your story.
PACE YOURSELF One word after the other until you get to the end.
RESPECT DEADLINES You can’t blow ‘em, so you get it done.
WRITE FOR FOOD You can’t eat promises and I should’ves.
DRIVE Find a story that demands to be written.
KEEP A WORD COUNT Set word count goals, daily or weekly. It piles up.
USE SCRIVENER Yay for sophisticated writer tools.

As for Scrivener – I’m going to buy it and use Scrivener for my revision process. I will report back in my next blog.

Here are some Scrivener tutorials that came up in a search on Youtube.com. I haven’t looked at any of them yet… but I plan to.

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Be sure to read the first half of this amazing two-part series: How to UP Your Word Count and Write Like a Boss! (Part 1)

More guest posts by Sheryl:

Sheryl Scarborough - Photo by Russell Gearhart PhotographyOver the years, Sheryl Scarborough has written: TV series, cartoons, comic books, graphic novels, magazine articles, Business Plans, Direct Music Marketing letters (as Mariah Carey, MC Hammer and others), Corporate Newsletters and Restaurant and Theater Reviews (for free food and great seats!) Now she writes what she really loves which are YA mysteries and thrillers.

Follow Sheryl on Twitter: @scarbo_author

Read more by Sheryl on her blog: Sheryl Scarborough Blog

 

How to UP Your Word Count and Write Like a Boss! (Part 1)

Guest post by Sheryl Scarborough

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I just finished the first draft of a new novel… my third.

I wrote it fast, with a vengeance.

280 pages, 63k words, 10 weeks. BAM!

That’s Wham, bam, thank you ma’am speed. Finishing this novel so quickly has restored my writer power. I’m excited and enthused, ready to roll up my sleeves and settle in for the revision stage. But looking back I’m a little amazed at my accomplishment. So, before my process becomes a hazy memory I want to document it and understand it, so I can do again. (And again… and… well, you get the idea.)

But before I get into my process, let’s take a look at how the Big Dog (and even some little dog) authors muscle through their drafts. You’ll find this interesting.

Sheryl_HemingwayErnest Hemingway… averaged 500 words per day.

… would begin his writing day in the early morning and stop around noon. But here was his trick: he would be sure to stop at a place where he knew what would happen next. He did this so he would have a place to start writing the next morning. I call this a RUNNING START.

Jennifer Weiner…

Sheryl_Jennifer W“When you have an editor with deadlines if you wait for a muse to get you there, you’re going to be out of a job.”

Jennifer Weiner starts her day with breakfast, getting kids off to school and hot yoga. She strives for 3,000 words per day.  She has a ROUTINE.

Jodi Pincolt…

Doesn’t believe in writer’s block. “Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands. You might not write well every day but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”  JUST WRITE… edit later.  

So, the research started sounding like same thing, different day or, what we’ve always heard about writing. Butt in chair… just write… nothing really new and different. And then I discovered…

Rachel Aron…

Sheryl_Rachel Aron bookAron, a sci fi author, figured out how to go from 2,000 words per day to 10,000. That’s right. I said it. 10,000 words per day.

Aron had a new baby and a book on deadline. She arranged for childcare four days per week. And during those four days she needed to produce 4,000 words per day to meet her deadline. When it turned out she was only putting out 2,000 words per day, she got busy and figured out how to pump it up.

The minute I read Aron’s explanation I realized two things: 1.) she really has something here. And 2.) I had stumbled onto the very same method.

Read the basics of Aron’s method here. Or, an expanded e-book version. Aron’s thinking is amazingly smart and sound – and it’s a definite improvement from the evergreen butt in chair, blah blah blah. She gives some real, solid advice.

Even if you’re not a really fast writer, I believe you could use Aron’s method to increase your output. Here is the nutshell version:

TIME + KNOWLEDGE + ENTHUSIASM =

BOSS LEVEL WORD COUNT

Time – There’s no substitute for that, you still have to put it in.

Knowledge – Knowing what you’re going to write each day before you sit down to write is essential. Otherwise, you’re wasting valuable writing time figuring things out. When you come prepared to your writing time the words fly.

Enthusiasm – LOVE what you’re working on and the words will flow faster. Then when you get to what Aron calls “a candy bar” scene your word count for that day will go through the roof.

This is exactly how I wrote a 280 page first draft in 10 weeks.

My story is told in alternating chapters between a boy and a girl. Each morning when I woke up I would contemplate the scenes I would write next. I would figure out which character should instigate a scene and which should react to it… which might start something… which might finish it off. By the time I figured it out I couldn’t wait to get to the computer and get started.

So, for me it was exactly as Aron predicted. Knowing what I was going to write and being excited about it, plus putting in the time resulted in a very quick and energetic first draft.

As Jodi Pincolt says, “You can’t edit a blank page.”

Check in later this week for part two of my theory on How to Up Your Word Count, where I query my successful author friends to see what tricks they employ to get their fabulous words onto the page. I’ll be sharing what they have to say.

In the meantime here are a few links and tips to maybe inspire and power your word count progress:

ONLINE RESOURCES TO BOOST DAILY WORD COUNT:

  • A variety of word count meters can be found here.
  • The Secret to Writing 4000 Words Per day (A variation on Aron’s process, but he calls it daydreaming instead of knowledge. And I like that.)
  • The Pomodoro Technique, an interesting focus booster, read about it here.
  • The Daily Routines of Successful Writers – my source for the facts in the above post. Reading about the authors I didn’t include in my blog is interesting, too, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your daily word count. Read it here.
  • Inky Girl has a word count challenge complete with stickers and banners here.
  • And finally, Chuck Wendig weighs in on Word Count Uppage. He’s foul and funny. Don’t miss him.

Stay tuned for more great tips from Sheryl on how to up your word count. The second half of this article comes out later this week!

In the meantime, read another post by Sheryl:

Sheryl Scarborough - Photo by Russell Gearhart PhotographyOver the years, Sheryl Scarborough has written: TV series, cartoons, comic books, graphic novels, magazine articles, Business Plans, Direct Music Marketing letters (as Mariah Carey, MC Hammer and others), Corporate Newsletters and Restaurant and Theater Reviews (for free food and great seats!) Now she writes what she really loves which are YA mysteries and thrillers.

Follow Sheryl on Twitter: @scarbo_author

Read more by Sheryl on her blog: Sheryl Scarborough Blog