Gratitude Writing Exercise and a Casserole Recipe to Save Time

Heya! I want to blog a bit more. As I mentioned in my newsletter, I have NO idea what that means or what form that will take, in part because all of my sage advice can be summed up thusly: Do what works for you. I trust you will figure it out. If you don’t know what works for you, experiment to find those results. (I write this with no irony whatsoever… None at all…) It is the way. There may be a lot of discussion about the “right” way to make art, but there isn’t one singular process that works for everyone.

Today, as I embark on a new manuscript, I am reminded why I did not start this particular story before. Two reasons. First, I wasn’t ready to. And second? I have no idea what is going to happen after it’s done. I don’t mean this in a “Oh, that’s just how the business works!” sort of a way. I mean there’s a good possibility it might not find a home and it shall gather dust on a shelf and be forgotten. Or, the exact opposite could happen. It’s a crap shoot. Experienced novelists used to writing for themselves will likely read this and know exactly where I am right now with respect to my personal storytelling. I’ve been here before, multiple times, but never like this. This story requires the kind of trust I didn’t have before. The faith that this story needs to be told even if it’s never read by another living soul.

I have what I need now, because eventually I figured out I had to make peace with the unknown. My current status allows me to carve time out of my day to work on something for myself and it’s uncomfortable as f***. TRUTH BOMB!

Gratitude Writing Exercise

To help me remain focused, my friend Shveta Thakrar has a wonderful writing exercise we use to ground ourselves before writing.

Simply, list five things you’re grateful for. It’s quick and takes far less time than an A-to-Z gratitude exercise would. Having those five things in writing really crystallizes things you’re happy about and it does help when venturing off into the unknown.

Ham and Green Chili Casserole

Winter is a great time to make casseroles. They are also good for another reason–they help carve out time so you can write. The prep for this mega-Midwestern casserole takes about ten minutes. You can make this for breakfast or have it for dinner.


1 pound cubed ham
1 pound sour cream
1 16oz container fried onions
1 pound shredded cheddar
1 4oz can diced green chiles
Large bag frozen potatoes (cubed)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the ham, sour cream, cheddar, and chiles together in a bowl. Spray nonstick cooking oil in a 9 x 13 pan. Spread the potatoes down first in a layer. Then, take your goop (that’s a professional term, by the way) and spread the mixture evenly across the potatoes.

Bake the casserole for thirty minutes uncovered on the middle rack. Remove, then spread the fried onions across the top. Place back in the oven for twenty minutes.

Serves an army.

Writing Exercise Inspired by Cupcake Wars

Mushu Avatar

Of all the reality TV shows to get addicted to, I’ve discovered I like Cupcake Wars(1). In fact, I like it SO much, I have turned into a cupcake snob myself. No longer are plain chocolate or vanilla cupcakes acceptable. Oh no… Even when utilizing store-bought frosting(2), I’m forced to sift cinnamon and add a garnish.

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I rather like the themes they explore, too. Science! Tim Burton! SDCC! Roller Derby! My next mission is to make filled cupcakes, only they’ll likely be cherry-almond a la these Dexter babies from Have You Nerd. I have the butcher knives, already(3).

There’s another side effect of watching Cupcake Wars, however, and that is falling in love with how the cupcakes are described. “It’s a raspberry-mint cupcake topped with a chocolate-hazelnut buttercream and garnished with a raspberry-shaped marzipan and mint leaves.” It reminds me why I love to read about food in the first place!

I’m not sure if you’re inspired just yet, but I am! Food can bring out a fantastic detail in worldbuilding, as feasts have a lot of allegorical and visual impact. The very first descriptions I remember were from The Lion, the Witch, and the WardrobeTurkish Delight–and the tea party/cakes from Alice in Wonderland. Why are these foods so memorable? What about their description entices us?

I find that writing about food is a great exercise in highlighting how detail can make something more enticing to the reader. Is it a chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting? Or is it a homemade chocolate cupcake made with organic eggs, milk off the farm, and cocoa beans from Brazil, topped with milk chocolate ganache? Which one would you be more likely to eat? To practice writing about food, I find that picking a specific type of food–in this case, cupcakes–and then finding a picture to describe it is a fantastic method to facilitate visualization.

Here’s a picture of a cupcake featured on Cupcake Wars.

Double Shot Mocha Lattee Cupcake

How would you describe this cupcake? What ingredients do you think are in this chocolate confection? After you’re done, compare how you’ve imaged this cupcake with the original recipe.

(1) Beware the auto-play. Sigh.
(2) See also: because I was cleaning while baking, and couldn’t multi-task without sprouting extra arms. Or, alternatively,
(3) Fondant is “teh evil”, and I have yet to unlock its mysteries.

    Mood: Let bachelorette weekend begin!
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Let there be coffee.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Not enough.
    In My Ears: Nameless dubstep beats.
    Game Last Played: Ugh. This jewel-addicting monstrosity.
    Book Last Read: The Silmarillion by Tolkien
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Ghost in the Shell
    Latest Artistic Project: Thinking about it.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update and My Departure from the Conan RPG.

Guest Post: 3 Science Fiction Writing Exercises at Apex

This month, I decided to offer a few writing exercises for those of you who want to work on your science fiction stories. This post is especially timely for me, because I’m working on a new novella for a setting that has a lot of different features within it. It’s not a post-apocalyptic setting, but rather one that has elements of religion, politics, breaking technology, alien races, etc.

Here’s one of the exercises from the article:

Create an Alien – Whether you create something that’s humanoid or the size of an amoeba, designing an alien can be a lot of fun and help spark a few story ideas. There are a number of different methods that you can work with to add a bit of chance to the results. One approach you could take would be to write several types of adjectives on small pieces of paper. Toss them in a shoebox and then randomly pull out a string of descriptions. Another method would be to pick an environment, like a Martian desert, and design an alien based on how they’d survive within it. If your goal is to create an alien for a dark fiction setting, you could try creating a cute alien first and then twisting it into something predatory. After you have your creation in hand, you can then explore several different options to flesh out your alien. You could determine how they reproduce, if there are any other types of aliens within that species, what type of pets they might have or food they might eat, etc. — SOURCE: Three Science Fiction Writing Exercises at Apex Book Company

If you’re interested in chiming in, be sure to drop by Apex Book Company and the blog. They’ve also got some great books to put on your summer reading list, too!

Monica Valentinelli >

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

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