April 2020 Monthly Wrap-Up

April was a lovely month! Georgia was under a shelter-in-place for pretty much the whole month, and I loved the feeling of having a (somewhat) blank calendar. I spent my time working (obviously–I work from home all the time, although I was glad to have a little less work this month), going to physical therapy for my chronic pain twice a week, and spending every Friday-Sunday at my parents’ house (it has been so much fun to just relax and play card games or hang out together). Here’s a week-in-my-life vlog from this month.

I also had some other doctor’s appointments (12 medical appointments total, including PT) and had voice lessons via FaceTime plus some other video calls with friends and family (like a weekly Sunday night FaceTime craft session with Kenna). My grandpa spent a week with my family after a tornado badly damaged his house. Joshua and I ended the month by delivering quarantine care packages to several friends (so fun). Health-wise, I had some pretty awful symptom days, but also had some days where I felt pretty energetic thanks to having less on my plate. I also fell and fractured a finger this month, lol. Finally, I wrote and mailed 40+ letters in April and spent hours almost every day at my sunny craft bench with my washi tape!

This month I’m…

Reading: This Too Shall Last, K.J. Ramsey. The Red Pyramid and The Throne of Fire (rereads), Rick Riordan. Bread and Wine, Shauna Niequist. Pride, Ibi Zoboi. The Fire By Night, Teresa Messineo (reread). Penny from Heaven, Jennifer L Holm (reread). Seeing Voices, Olivia Smit. A Time to Die, A Time to Speak, and A Time to Rise, Nadine Brandes (rereads and ugh my faves <3). I Have Lived A Thousand Years, Livia Bitton-Jackson (reread). 12 total. (I love rereading books I own, but I’m to the point where I either need the library to reopen or I need that stimulus check asap.)

Listening to: Rend Collective’s new album. Emma Carey’s “Chill” playlist. Lennon Stella’s new album (especially Jealous). My “cooking in the kitchen late at night” playlist (it’s a very specific vibe). My April playlist: golden thing, Cody Simpson. Daydreams, Maisie Peters. everything i wanted, Billie Eilish. Tattoos Together, Lauv. You & Me, James TW. Song In My Head, Madison Cunningham. Gone Again, Kevin Garrett. I Don’t Want To and I Choose, Alessia Cara. Dancing With Your Ghost, Sasha Sloan. if we never met, John K., Kelsea Ballerini. Teach You – Acoustic, Emily King, Sara Bareilles. Can’t Hold Us, Pentatonix. Hostage, Chris TMV. 25 in Barcelona, JP Saxe. SO MUCH GOOD MUSIC.

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Watching: Iron Man 3. Bringing Up Bates. Hamilton: One Shot to Broadway. The Scorch Trials (kind of timely, lol). The Great Gilly Hopkins (re-watch). Katie Mack’s YouTube.

Eating: Some meals went over better than others, lol–but this month I ate small portions of ham sandwiches and barbecue Lays; salmon and rice; canned biscuits; chicken tacos; quesadillas; Cracker Barrel biscuits; banana pudding for Easter; cinnamon sugar donuts (every Sunday morning); Olive Garden breadsticks; and shrimp with rice and green beans. Plus lots of Pedialyte and popsicles!

I also made a fun springtime meal for my family one night: Oven baked chicken breasts, baked Parmesan yellow squash, strawberry kiwi salad, toasted French bread, and “crownies” (cookie/brownie combo shaped like cupcakes–a new family and friend favorite). Here’s a Cook With Me vlog of that meal.

Writing: I started out the month intending to draft my current YA contemporary novel for Camp NaNo (my goal was 20k words). I got in about 6k words before I just got out of the habit of writing… and then I hurt my finger, making typing difficult. So that didn’t happen. But I worked every weekday, obviously (some days I only had two hours of work, but still made a lot of money!) and wrote some random things about chronic illness.

Grateful for: Just everything in this season of life, honestly. New traditions, Amazon Prime, beautiful weather, learning more about God, days when I didn’t have excruciating abdominal pain, snuggling with my kitty and puppy (not at the same time HA), that my grandpa was okay, time to be creative and do things I love.. . Besides a few emotionally hard days with medical stuff, I felt really happy, relaxed, and fulfilled for the majority of this month.

What did you do in April? What are the social distancing guidelines like where you live?

How to Write A Letter to Someone You’ve Never Met

I love writing letters. I’ve been a regular letter writer for as long as I can remember. And since discovering the joys of washi tape recently (and promptly acquiring almost 200 rolls in the span of a few weeks–thanks Hanne), I’m churning out more letters than ever: I mailed seven yesterday and have four more to write today. (And I wonder why I have carpal tunnel.)

Each weekend I generally write my grandparents, a few close friends, and respond to any letters I’ve received during the week. And often, I write letters to strangers–for example, someone I’m connected with on social media but have never met in person. Social media is a great way to find new pen pals, but it can sometimes feel awkward to write to someone you don’t really know. So today I thought I’d share some of my strategies for writing letters to strangers.

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First, I like to start off with something we both have in common: “I noticed you like to read. I like to read, too.” Sometimes this requires a little social media stalking! You can also simply say, “I love following your blog because ____.”

Next I’ll often talk about what I’m doing right then. Whether it’s raining outside my window, my cat is trying to swat at my pen, or I had to start over decorating the envelope three whole times because I kept getting blood on it (true story, just ask Grace Anne), this is a nice section to add to the letter so the recipient can picture what you were doing while writing.

At that point I typically back up and introduce myself a little bit. I live north of Atlanta and I’m a full-time freelance writer. I enjoy reading, dancing, and snuggling with my cat (the rare times she wants to snuggle with me).

Then, I ask the recipient some questions. Questions can be a tough balance: I don’t want to ask boring or basic questions, but totally wacky would-you-rather’s aren’t going to help build a relationship either. Some of my go-to’s are:

  • What’s something you’re excited about right now?
  • What’s the last book you read and what did you think about it?
  • What causes are you passionate about?

In general, I try to make the letter sound very conversational, and I close with something lighthearted.

Not sure where to start writing letters? I’ve used the following services or tactics over the years to find a pen pal (or someone to write a letter to):

If you’re at home bored with extra time on your hands right now, write a letter to a friend–or a stranger! And if you want a letter from me, email me at haileyhudson@thehardworkingcreative.com or DM me on Instagram with your address and I’d love to send you one 🙂

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Do you write letters? What are some of your best tips for starting a pen pal relationship off on the right foot?

“Seeing Voices” book release blog tour!

My amazing friend Olivia Smit wrote a book called Seeing Voices that’s coming out on April 15th–you can preorder it here. Keep reading for an exclusive author interview with Olivia! I’m so excited for her and am also super excited to be on her launch team! Definitely pick up a copy of the book to get a great story to read while you’re at home sheltering in place 🙂

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Tell me a little bit about yourself, how you started writing, and what kinds of things you’ve written besides Seeing Voices.

Hi friends!! I’m so pumped to be here! If you spend any time with me, either online or in person, you’ll figure out pretty fast that I LOVE reading. Love it FOREVER. I read the Chronicles of Narnia when I was 6 years old (it took me an entire year to get through and I did have a little help! I remember reading The Horse and His Boy and not knowing what an “is-land” was because I’d only ever heard “island” said out loud … I’d never seen it written down before).

Besides reading, I really like to sing with my siblings, bake bread, and write books of course! I started writing when I was a kid (I used to dictate stories to my mom … I think we still have a few of those little booklets lying around somewhere) but I got serious about writing books after taking the One Year Adventure Novel course in grade 8! I wrote my first fantasy novella that year, and then I wrote a full-length novel with NaNoWriMo when I was 14. I dabbled briefly in sci-fi and his-fic, but in the past few years I’ve written YA Contemporary. I’m querying another book right now, actually! I’m writing another contemporary, too, and planning one … although I have a few faint ideas for a fantasy book (with dragons??) floating around in my head. Someday …

When did you first draft SV? What was the publication process like and how long did it take?

I started writing “Seeing Voices” in 2015, when I was seventeen years old. I’d puttered around with a few ideas over the past few years, but hadn’t written anything that I was passionate about in a while. Even after Skylar popped into my head, it took almost a year before I could figure out what her story was going to look like! I wrote the first draft of “Seeing Voices” during NaNoWriMo of that year …. and then spent another two years polishing and editing! I only started sending query letters out after finishing the 9th draft and hearing feedback from almost 10 beta readers!

Once I started querying, it took about 10 months to sign a contract with WhiteFire. They were actually one of the first places I queried (and they were my very first personalized note in response – I got auto-replies from everyone else at first!), which just goes to show how slow the publishing world can work sometimes! But after spending a lot of time at the Go Teen Writers blog, it was a secret dream of mine to publish “Seeing Voices” with WhiteFire, so I was THRILLED when they made me an offer! I was sitting in class when the email came in, so I quietly excused myself and called my parents and my boyfriend from the hallway, pacing in excitement as other students walked by and gave me strange looks!

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In what ways are you and your main character Skylar similar?

I think Skylar and I have a similar internal monologue – she and I both tend to coach ourselves internally as we’re going through stuff. I don’t think I’m as clumsy as she is, although I certainly do have a knack for blurting out the wrong thing at the wrong time!

What gets the creative process kickstarted for you?

Usually, the only way I can kickstart the creative process is to just sit down and write, even when I don’t feel like it. Sometimes I’ll get inspired by a really great book or TV show, and that’s AWESOME because I can sit and pour out a couple thousand words without blinking!! But most of the time, I have to put some hard work in before the passion starts to build.   

What are you writing now?

I’m working on another YA Contemporary novel, tentatively called “Stealing Time”! It’s about a teenager named Ember who copes with grief by shoplifting. When she’s sent to live on her cousin’s horse farm, she has to figure out a way to move on from her loss without completely sabotaging her own life … and the lives of the people around her.

I’m also querying a book called “Love, Darcy” (you can follow my journey – mostly rejections so far, LOL – on Twitter). When Darcy’s mom walks out on their family, Darcy is determined to keep her absence a secret at all costs – even if that means smothering her mounting anxiety and lying to the people she loves.

I am in LOVE with both of these books and I can’t wait to see where they (hopefully) find homes with agents or publishers in the future!

What does a day in your life look like and what hobbies or pastimes do you enjoy?

Normally, I split my time between going to classes at my university (I graduate this month with an Honours Specialization in Creative Writing, English Language, and Literature!) and working as a youth ministry assistant at my church. When I have free time, I send out more query letters or read for fun. During the school year, most of my reading time goes towards books for class, but I try to pick up a book I love in the evenings before bed!

My non-literary pastimes include baking (I like trying new recipes, but my favourite things to make are bread and pie) and singing with my siblings! I also enjoy horseback riding and going for long walks with my boyfriend.

What’s a question you wish someone would ask you about yourself/your work/SV, but no one ever has? Answer it for us!

This is a super tough question to answer! I had to give it some thought before coming up with an answer.

Not many people ask what I would have done if WhiteFire hadn’t offered to publish “Seeing Voices” … but it was a possibility that I had to consider! Early on in my querying journey, I made a plan: I decided to query “Seeing Voices” until I had another book ready to go. No matter how many rejections I received, no matter how many years it took me to get my next book ready to go, I promised myself that I wasn’t going to give up on this story. If WhiteFire hadn’t offered me a contract, I would simply have kept querying. I love Skylar’s story so, so much, and I’m so glad I found a publisher who believes in her as much as I do!

Hailey, thanks so much for having me on the blog today! If your readers want to get in touch with me, they can find me on Instagram and Twitter or at my website.

Olivia Smit bio: Olivia Smit loves baking, visiting small towns, and writing stories that face hard truth with hope and encouragement. Olivia has an Honours Specialization in Creative Writing, English Language, and Literature and lives in Canada with her family. Seeing Voices is her first novel. Preorder it here!