Category Archives: April Blogging Challenge

Giveaway Winner, Podcast Episode, and Mini Life Update

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Welcome to April 9! Or, unless you’re up late-ish and on the West Coast, April 10. Not that it matters. Let’s get to what you really came here to see.

On Friday I said that I was giving away a copy of Deborah Miller’s book Daughter: A Girl-to-Girl Conversation About What it Means to be One. And the winner is…(drumroll please…)

Shanna Miller!

Shanna, I sent you an email. Hopefully it comes through. Last time I emailed a winner who’d won a giveaway, I titled the email something like, “you’ve won!” And what do you know, it went straight to her spam folder. Ha. I guess “you’ve won!” is a pretty scam-y looking title.

In other news, Jenny and I did another podcast episode yesterday. It had been, like, a week since we’d last recorded, but it ended up being one of my favorite episodes yet. You can listen here, or you can find us on your favorite podcast app by searching for “Quarantined With Jenny and Emily.”

This episode is titled “Snail Mail and Snail Pets.” In it, Jenny and Emily discuss how to get books during quarantine, how to get someone to stop flirting with you and how to deal with disappointment. They also give some updates on their pets, both the cats and Jenny’s newest pets, snails!


Finally, I was going to end with a mini life update, but what even is there to update the world on? I’m just living life, serving Jesus, tucked away in a big white farmhouse in the Willamette Valley with a mother and a father and two sisters and one brother and innumerable cats that keep hiding their kittens.

Trying to do a million projects. Trying to Not Panic.

I have “sub for Chad” written across next week’s spread in my planner. But of course that’s not happening after all. Mr. Chad is no longer taking his trip, and I am no longer substitute teaching for him.

But I have taken on a funny little school-related project in the form of writing sentences for grammar class.

Dad continues to teach middle school grammar. I’m not sure how, but it involves YouTube videos and iPads. He wanted some extra sentences for the children to work on. They had to be simple sentences, with specific sentence patterns, and they all had to have prepositional phrases. This was harder than I thought it would be. The hardest part has been keeping the sentences simple (as opposed to compound or complex), and keeping out tricky things like gerunds and infinities.

But the most fun part is that I can make interesting sentences. Sentences about the students themselves, with their names in them.

Easter is coming up, and I think we may have a family sunrise service. What are your social distancing Easter plans? Anything fun/creative?

Take care, and stay safe and healthy!

Remember to check out the April Blogging Challenge posts Mom has been doing on her blog. She’ll post again tomorrow, and my next post will be on Monday, April 13.

The Best Writing Advice I Ever Received

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

In interviews, authors are often asked to give writing advice. And they always say the same thing. “Read a lot and write a lot.” I always feel frustrated by that answer. I mean yes, to be good at something you have to practice doing that thing. But that’s not real advice.

But every once in a while I find some writing advice that’s real, legitimately helpful advice. I collect it in the back of my brain, and today I’m going to share it with you.

1. Tell stories out loud, and pay attention to when people start to get bored.

I am sorry to say that I can’t remember where I picked up this gem. I know that a writer said it, and I know that as soon as I heard it I felt a rush of excitement that I was hearing something besides “read more and write more.”

But even better, I tried it, and it works.

When you tell a story out loud, you can watch when people’s eyes flicker with boredom. Those are the parts you should omit. Or maybe just switch to a different part of the story. If a dog was howling the whole time you had a funny conversation with a stranger, is it better to mention that fact at the beginning of the story, or the end? There’s only one way to find out: tell it to your mom one way and your brother the other way, and see who giggles more.

It’s easiest, of course, to use this strategy with actual stories that truly happened to you. But telling stories out loud and watching your audience carefully will help you hone better comedic timing in your fiction writing as well as your nonfiction. I mean, it gives you a better sense of timing in general. A better sense of what parts of the story to say when.

2. “That’s a Problem for Future You.”

This was the standout quote from Ally Carter’s book Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book? I don’t remember the exact context of the quote, unfortunately. But essentially, as writers, we get hung up on a lot of “problems” that aren’t actually problems for “now” us, they’re problems for “future” us.

For instance: “Will a publisher take my book seriously?” If you haven’t even finished writing the book, that’s a problem for future you.

Or, “I have a wonderful idea, but I’m not sure if I should put it in my current mediocre project, or if I should save it for my future amazing project.” If you run out of wonderful ideas, that’s a problem for future you. Right now, use everything you have to make your current project as good as possible.

3. Practice your writing skills by blogging

This is the advice I always gave back when I was a teenage author and kept getting interviewed by random publications I’d never heard of and they always asked me what writing advice I had to offer their readers.

I still stand by it. Although now I’d modify it and say, write long Instagram captions. Or, post long status updates on Facebook. Pick your platform of choice, and get wordy.

The point is, this is the Internet. You will immediately know what resonates with people and what doesn’t. And that feedback will be incredibly helpful in honing your craft.

(Of course you may also pick up some bad writing habits, like making extremely short paragraphs, that will be hard to unlearn and will be exactly wrong for some types of writing, like academic papers. Oops. I definitely got called out for that one in college, multiple times, LOL.)

4. “You can make a career doing something even if you’re not the Brittany Spears of it.” 

This advice came from one of my favorite youtubers, Safiya Nygaard, in an interview with Philip DeFranco, another one of my favorite youtubers. She was talking about creative careers, and how we’re often cautioned against them, or told that it’s an unrealistic dream. But there are actually more opportunities for careers in those fields than you might think. They’re just not always super glamorous careers.

And I mean, writing is the perfect example of this. There are so many ways to work with words. You can do copy editing, or marketing writing, or you can write children’s plays, or be a journalist, or write songs, or do line edits, or write magazine articles. The opportunities are vast, and so, so many people make their living by writing.

Being a writer is not an impossible dream. It’s very attainable, actually, so long as you’re willing to be in the field even if you’re not the next Ted Dekker.

5. “It’s like Mom always says. If you get on the road, and keep driving and driving, eventually you’ll reach your destination.”

This is what my sister Amy said to me when I asked her how she managed to learn another language (Thai). But I think it’s applicable to writing, too, or any task which seems overwhelming and daunting. Actually, of all the advice I’ve given so far, this one is the most applicable to actually writing a whole book.

You just gotta get on the road, man. And every day, you have to commit to keep driving. Montana may feel like it never, ever, ever ends, but it does. Eventually. But only if you choose to keep driving.

Or, in the case of your book, keep writing it.

(I guess I like the analogy in particular because I’ve been on a lot of road trips that seemed like they would never end, and then they did end.)

That’s as much good writing advice as I’ve collected. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard?

P.S. Remember, Mom and I are currently doing the April Blogging Challenge, where we each post every other week day. Head over to Mom’s blog to read yesterday’s post about her writing cabin. She’ll post again tomorrow, and I’ll be back on Thursday.

Book Review (and giveaway): Daughter, by Deborah Miller

(This giveaway is now closed)

Happy day 3 of the April Blogging Challenge! Today I’m going to be talking about the book Daughter: A Girl-to-Girl Conversation About What it Means to be One, by Deborah Isabel Miller.

I first heard about this project a year and a half ago, before it was even written, when my friend Janessa started telling me about her new editing job. She said that a girl named Deborah Miller was writing a book about father-daughter relationships, and she’d hired Janessa as a developmental editor.

Deborah Miller…the name rang a faint bell. Hadn’t I hung out with her once? I searched my memory. It must have been 2012. I was in my early 20s, and Deborah was still a teenager. Her family sings together, and they’d come to Oregon on tour. I heard that she liked to read books, so I asked her if she wanted to hang out and come to a bookstore with me.

Of course that was years ago, and we’d never kept in touch.

A few weeks after I’d first heard about Deborah and the book she was writing, Janessa asked me if I’d be willing to do some editing on the project as well. Deborah, Janessa, and I all met up at the trendy coffee shop in New Holland PA to talk about Deborah’s vision for the project, and what my editing role would be. And when I walked in, Deborah greeted me like an old friend, even though it had been years.

Turns out, she remembered me taking her to the bookstore. And apparently I’d given her some writing advice way back then. I had no memory of this, but I was delighted because it was just so full-circle…I gave writing advice, she remembered it, and then here we meet again six years later, and she’s writing a book that I’m going to do line edits for.

(Although I want to make sure I give credit where credit is due: I only really went through the manuscript once, whereas Janessa was working with Deborah very closely, draft after draft after draft.)

Obviously, since I’ve spent so many hours in these pages, and since I’m friends with the author, this review may be a little biased. But here’s what you can expect from the book Daughter: A Girl-to-Girl Conversation About What it Means to be One. 

First, the tagline calls this book a “girl-to-girl conversation” because Deborah is in her mid-twenties, and only a few years older than her intended audience. In this way, the book isn’t condescending or preachy, but reads more like a conversation with a good friend. Even though Deborah has a beautiful relationship with her father, the father-daughter dynamic is not something she’s fully figured out, but rather something she’s still figuring out. She speaks from her own experience when she can, but she brings in a lot of other people’s experiences and expertise to round it out.

Second, the book is about father-daughter relationships, but there are two angles to this. First, of course, it’s about a daughter’s relationship with her human father. But second, it’s about her relationship with her heavenly father. These two themes are woven together throughout the book. They work hand-in hand. But the heavenly father relationship is, of course, prioritized.

However, while the book is absolutely coming from a Christian perspective, it’s not overtly coming from a Mennonite perspective. It’s meant to be applicable to any young woman of Christian faith.

The book is a mixture of stories and practical insight. But I’ll confess that sometimes as I read through it with a critical editor’s eye, I was so focused on switching up wording to make sentences flow well, adding paragraph breaks, and deleting repetition, that I’d miss the full impact of some of that insight. Sigh. Editor brain. Takes all the fun out of things.

Still, there was one passage in particular that broke through the editor brain and stopped me in my tracks with its insight. Here it is, from pages 143-144

In my relationships, I’m learning to give thanks for what is, instead of complaining about what isn’t. Affirm, bless, encourage, and give thanks in the areas where your dad is doing things well. Recognize the places he has taught you something valuable about God and life. For instance, my dad isn’t the best at initiating connection and conversation with me. He assumes that if I’m not asking to talk about something, everything is fine. Sometimes I’ve been hurt, feeling like I have to be the one to initiate connection between us.

I’ve had to learn to appreciate what my dad does do for connection. Even if my dad is a poor initiator, he is a great communicator when we do take time together. Instead of putting more pressure on him to initiate, it’s important for me to thank him and speak well of the way I can have healthy, understanding conversations with him.

Maybe your dad is a workaholic. That isn’t something to praise. But there’s a good chance that, even in this weakness, he has taught you attributes of diligence and hard work. You don’t have to mimic his obsession with work, but you can thank him and bless him for the positive life lessons he has taught in spite of his weakness.

Maybe your dad seems passive. This can make following his lead complicated. But there’s a good chance he has also shown you gentleness and patience through his quiet personality. Bless those attributes instead of criticizing the ways you wish he would lead.

I could see so many things like that in my own relationship with my dad–places where he had a weakness that had a corresponding strength. Like the way he never told me I was beautiful as I was growing up, because he didn’t want me to think that my worth came from my appearance. Honestly, I would have liked my father to call me beautiful. But I could criticize him for that, or I could choose to affirm and thank him for never making me feel like my worth was tied up in how I looked.

Now, I should add one caveat here: This book is helpful for girls whose fathers, while flawed, genuinely have good hearts and love their daughters. Obviously if your father is manipulative and abusive, or just straight-up absent, there’s no way to “fix it.” You can’t just ignore your father’s negative traits and try to find something positive to focus on. Deborah actually addresses this at the beginning of the book, but I just wanted to make a note of that here as well.

Anyway, if you want your very own copy of this delightful book, I’m giving one away! Just leave a comment either on this blog post or on my Facebook link. (If you leave a comment, I’ll assume you want to be entered, unless you explicitly state that you don’t want to be entered.)

The giveaway will close on Wednesday, April 8 at 11:59 pm PDT, and I’ll announce the winner on Thursday.

Finally, I’m sorry to say that this giveaway is only open to people with a USA mailing address. Sending books overseas is expensive, yo! However, if you live overseas I can always send it to a friend or family member for you, so long as they have a USA mailing address.

And if you’d like to buy a copy of Daughter for yourself, you can do so at this link.

I hope you’re having a relaxing quarantine. Remember to head over to Mom’s blog to see yesterday’s April Blogging Challenge post. She’ll post again on Monday, so stay tuned!

The 2020 April Blogging Challenge

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Congratulations, we survived March! What year is it? Where are we? Is it over yet?

For a few years, I’ve teamed up with various members of my family to do the April Blogging Challenge. Last year we took a break, and this year, none of my sisters were interested in taking on the challenge. But Mom was game. So for the month of April, you can expect a post every single weekday on either my blog or my mom’s blog. I’m posting today, tomorrow Mom will post on her blog, I’ll post again Friday, Mom will post on Monday, etc etc.

During this quarantine I’ve taken on so many new hobbies and projects that I don’t know how I can possibly keep up with everything. It was probably kind-of a dumb idea, because since I usually work from home I don’t even have that much more free time than I did before.

But, confession: I adore hobbies, and I adore projects. So I’ve been sewing things, learning French, making podcasts with Jenny, making videos, taking on more writing projects, reading more, trying to watch all the Marvel movies, playing more games and puzzles with my family, and cooking more often. Why am I doing this to myself? I’m baffled.

I say all this to warn you that this April Blogging Challenge, on my end, will probably be a bit more diverse and project-oriented than it has been in previous years. I’ll likely write about the projects I’m doing and the books I’m reading. I’ll post the podcast episodes, and if I can find the time to figure out the complicated open source video editing software I downloaded, I’ll post some YouTube videos.

Let me talk about the podcast a little bit:

Jenny and I thought it would be fun to record some silly rambling podcast episodes while we’re quarantined. We’ve been recording roughly every Tuesday and Saturday. The best way to listen to our episodes is by using a podcast app on your phone, such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, Google Podcasts, or PodBean. Up until now, I’ve been posting all the episodes on my blog as well. I will continue to do that, but because of the April Blogging Challenge, I won’t necessarily post the episodes here as soon as they come out. I might wait several days, and I might post several episodes at once.

That being said, here is our latest episode. In it, we talk about how we think this time of corona will change the world as we know it. We also brainstorm April Fools Day prank ideas.


I hope the April Blogging Challenge will help liven up your April! Remember to stop by Mom’s blog tomorrow for her first April Blogging Challenge 2020 post.

When Tech is No Longer Exciting


I was born in 1990. My entire childhood and adolescence was defined by this idea that, every six months to a year, something new and absolutely mind-blowing would enter my universe.

A computer

A color monitor

A color printer


A digital camera

A pager



Instant messenger

Dial-up internet

USB drives

Cell phones


Flat-screen computer monitors


Flip phones

DSL internet

Cell phones that takes pictures




Digital music


Kindle ebooks

The smartphone.

Since this is already an astonishingly long list, I’ll stop there. But look it over. All the items are things that are now so commonplace that nearly everyone uses them (or an updated version of them).



It’s been a really long time since anything has given me that awed, the-world-will-never-be-the-same feeling. In fact, the last time I remember feeling it was ten years ago, when my brother Matt bought his first smartphone.

Since then, we’ve had a smattering of new things that made small splashes. The iPad came out in 2010, and was pretty hyped up, but now they’re mostly used as child-entertainers and small-business-cash-registers. I first got Instagram in 2012, and it’s gone on to become almost as well-populated as Facebook. The Apple watch was sort-of cool, and some people bought it.

And we’ve gotten lots of big promises that never really delivered. Things like Google glass, and VR, and self-driving cars.

But I feel like the entire attitude surrounding tech has changed in the last 10 years. Instead of tech being new, exciting, and always changing into something we could never imagine, tech has become scary.

We’re afraid that smart phones, which have now lived comfortably in our lives for ten years, are destroying a generation.

We’ve got more smart devices, from crock-pots and light bulbs that we can turn on with our phones, to Amazon Alexa. But with more smart devices comes increasing privacy concerns, and fears about all the new ways we’re potentially vulnerable to hackers.

And then, of course, there’s the whole Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal. And I feel like everyone just sort of wishes they could quietly leave tech behind for a while.

But we can’t. Not really.

Technology has become our abusive husband that we can’t leave, because we’d have nowhere else to go.

My basic thought is that in the last 6-10 years, technology has stopped giving us new exciting things and has instead permeated our lives, becoming more scary than exciting. But even though this is the general attitude I observe, I’ve looked for articles on the subject and can’t find any. Any such articles, as well as your personal experience/ideas, would be welcome.

This has been ABC post 29, my very last day of the April Blogging Challenge. Tomorrow, Mom will close out this month.




April Giveaway Winner+8 Random Thoughts

The winner of my book giveaway is Celina Lynnette! Congrats, Celina!

Sorry, I am too tired to do the whole draw-a-name-out-of-a-hat-and-take-pictures-of-the-process thing.

That means that this post is super short and lame, and not really a proper April Blogging Challenge post. Maybe I’ll go all Emily-of-ten-years-ago and post some random thoughts.

8 Random Thoughts:

  1. Today I had a grand fight with the printer. The printer won. #secretarylife
  2. I’m reading “Franny and Zooey,” by J.D. Salinger. I wasn’t an enormous fan of “The Catcher in the Rye” (three stars), but am finding that I really enjoy his stories about the Glass family.
  3. Favorite line: “I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.”
  4. I used to be appalled when I saw people compare Obama to a monkey/ape. I thought it was extremely racist. But now I see people compare Trump to a pig, even photo-shopping a pig nose onto his face. Can we just not compare our leaders to animals? Thank you.
  5. How many seasons does Oregon have? I’m quite sure we don’t have four. I think we might just have two: Summer and Wet. Thoughts?
  6. I like to read magazine articles about really innovative artsy interior design ideas, but all I can think is, “how would you even dust that?”
  7. I actually wonder the same thing when people have stuffed animal heads hanging on their walls.
  8. There is nothing like the wonderful feeling of discovering another person that loves “The Blue Castle.”

Seven Reasons Why Single People Become Cynical

I think cynicism may be the great vice of single people. It’s been such a struggle for me, especially in the past few years, that I’ve begun to think of it as part of the universal single experience. I may be wrong on this; I’ve certainly known singles who’ve seemed to avoid this path, and goodness knows I’m trying very hard to do the same.

In any case, here are my seven reasons why I think single people, particularly those over 25 or so, have a tendency to become cynical.

1. We become cynical because the world is a funny place. (Not in the ha-ha sense, of course.)

I had to read the odd-but-funny short story “Orientation,” by Daniel Orozco, in multiple short story writing classes, and the following excerpt always stuck with me:

Amanda Pierce, who tolerates Russell Nash, is in love with Albert Bosch, whose office is over there. Albert Bosch, who only dimly registers Amanda Pierce’s existence, has eyes only for Ellie Tapper, who sits over there. Ellie Tapper, who hates Albert Bosch, would walk through fire for Curtis Lance. But Curtis Lance hates Ellie Tapper. Isn’t the world a funny place? Not in the ha-ha sense, of course.

I, like most single people, am very aware that the world is a funny place, but not in the ha-ha sense. The guys you like never like you back, and the guys who like you (or an idealized version of you) are guys you just can’t muster up any feelings for.

In fact, based on my own experiences, it seems strange that enough people have liked each other at the same time for so many marriages to have taken place in the world. The odds of that just seem pretty slim.

2. We become cynical because we are rarely forced to be vulnerable.

Learning vulnerability as a single person vs a married person is sort of like trying to learn French from an app vs taking classes. Doable? Sure. But it requires so much discipline and intentionality and choosing to keep on even when you feel stupid and could just stop if you wanted to.

Also, it’s worth noting that it’s hard to be vulnerable around people who don’t understand what you’re going through. At a ladies’ retreat last year, I decided that the time had come for me to learn vulnerability, and I told my prayer group that it was hard for me to admit that being single was difficult for me.

“Oh, don’t rush into marriage,” said a kind, well-intentioned older woman. “My daughter is 20, and I just tell her, ‘don’t rush into marriage.'”

Should I, I wondered, inform her that I was 27, not 20, and could hardly be accused of “rushing into marriage?”

I just kept quiet. So much for vulnerability.

3. We become cynical because we’d rather be single than married to your husband

There’s a certain stripe of married people that like to tell single people they’re being too picky. They should lower their standards. Give that guy a chance, even though he was boring and had a bad taste in music.

There’s another stripe of married people that like to tell single people we idealize marriage too much. Marriage is hard, they say. Some even whisper in our ears that, “don’t tell anyone this, but I should never have gotten married at all.”

So maybe we’re cynical because we feel like married people give us advice without even understanding what we want. We don’t want marriage for the sake of marriage. We’d rather be single than married to your husband. We just want to marry someone we really like. We don’t think that’s an unreasonable expectation.

4.We become cynical because we’re tired of our problem being more noticeable than your problem

My friend Dolly was born with short arms and only three fingers on each hand. Recently, I was talking to her about her experience having a very visible disability, and how this made other people treat her.

Dolly told me that in reality, while having short arms was somewhat inconvenient when she wanted to load a top-loading washer or put a pie in the oven, it’s nothing compared to the depression she’s always dealt with. But no one thinks to feel sorry for her because of her depression. Everyone always feels sorry for her because she has short arms.

The noticeable problems are not always actually the bad problems.

I think we single people feel a little resentful that our problem is more a visible problem than it is a terrible problem. Yes being single is hard. But while many married people have it even harder, no one notices and bombards them with unhelpful platitudes, visibly relieved that they’re not in their shoes.

5. We become the cynical single because we don’t want to become the sad single.

Once, in my very early 20s, I happened to be in a car with two older single women who were very sad about their marital status. They talked about singleness for the whole car ride, bemoaning the fact that the older single men they knew never seemed interested in asking girls out. And then one of them said the following:

“I learned that I need to have an open hand for God to give us gifts, but I can’t close my hand around that gift, because God might take it away again. Like once several years ago, the guy I liked was on the same volleyball team as me. That was a gift from God. But then the next time we played volleyball, he wasn’t on the same team as me. That was God taking the gift away again.”

I sat there in the back seat, completely baffled that someone could take their romances that seriously.

“Do you want to get married?” one of them asked me.

“Sure, if the right one comes along, but I don’t mind being single,” I said.

“See, it’s girls like you that always end up getting married,” she said resentfully.

I determined then and there that even if I didn’t get married, I was not going to become the sad, pathetic single.

Cynicism is, in a way, an overcompensation.

6. We become cynical because you got married at 22 and still think you know what it’s like to be single.

Single Mennonites and married Mennonites like to argue online about who has it harder. But the married people come across as having an extra inch of smugness because, since they were single before they got married, they think they understand both sides.

Don’t get me wrong. We singles have no idea what it’s like to be married, and are full of false assumptions. But unless you were over 25 when you got married, you don’t understand the older single experience either.

7. We become cynical because we’re tired of being treated our lives are incomplete because of something we can’t control.

At a recent ladies retreat, the ladies all stood up and introduced themselves by stating their name, who they were married to, and how many children and grandchildren they had.

They also said how many of their children were married, and how many were “still at home.”

A woman and her husband came to visit our home. The woman mentioned her three daughters, and then proudly said, “they’re all married,” as though that were their greatest accomplishment in life.

A single guy I follow on twitter once wrote, “So I taught an adult Sunday School class last Sunday. An older visiting brother was in the class. His 3rd question after class was ‘who are you married to?'”

Maybe this is a Mennonite problem more than a society problem. But when marriage becomes such a defining factor of who you are, those of us who never even had that option become a little cynical.

I realized, after I’d already composed the majority of this post, that if I consider cynicism to be a vice maybe I should have written a post on how to combat it instead of a post about why it happens. On the other hand, how can a problem be fixed if it isn’t even understood?

I hope that this post helps you understand the single experience a little bit better. Please leave your insightful thoughts in the comments, and your platitudes at home.

P.S. There is still time to enter my book giveaway

P.P.S. This was day 22 of the April Blogging Challenge. Amy posted yesterday here. Tomorrow, Mom will post here.