10 Commonly Confused Word Pairs

Have you ever wondered which words are the right ones to use in a sentence? Or maybe used a word that turned out to be incorrect, when you didn’t understand why? Let’s clear the air a bit by looking at these commonly misused words and what they really mean.

Thanks for watching ibelonginabook! I’m Emily, and I am a writer with a masters degree in writing and experience teaching writing and English at the college level. Writing, reading, and talking about books and literature are my favorite things to do. If we have this in common, leave me a comment suggesting topics you’d like me to discuss in future videos, and subscribe to my channel for more videos like the one you just watched. Happy writing!

Writing Tools

blog.jpgEvery writer has favorite tools that help them hone their craft. From fancy computer programs to simple notebooks, here’s a list of tools I use or have used in the past, and what I like about them.

The Basics:

  • Pen and Paper – the old standard is still necessary for writers today! Even though I do most of my drafting with a keyboard rather than a pen, a good notebook is essential for brainstorming, outlining, and questioning a story. Often when I find myself stuck on a given work in progress, it isn’t until I go back to a pen in my hand and work through a bit of a draft long form that I am able to pull out of the slump. I use rollerball pens, and my favorite notebooks are the softcover ones with the stitched spines, like these.
  • Caffeine – the writer’s vice. But hey, it’s better than alcohol, right? A good cup of coffee or tea is nectar from the writing muse.

The Noisy:

  • Headphones or earbuds – sometimes I will sit at a desk or table for a half hour or more and wonder why I’m not making any progress – just can’t get into the swing of the writing thing. Then I realize, wait, there’s no music! Plug these babies in and watch the word count rise.
  • Pandora – what to listen to? I usually don’t enjoy writing to music with lyrics, unless it is a specific genre to help me get into the right mood or headspace for a certain character or setting. My standby writing music comes from two Pandora stations. The first one is made of action movie soundtracks, and gets my blood going for those stories or scenes with a lot of action or tension involved. The second is comprised of piano-based music. I love this type of music because listening to the keys of a piano helps my fingers to keep typing away at the keys of a keyboard.
  • Rainy Mood – if, for whatever reason, I don’t want to listen to music but I want some background noise, I use the website RainyMood.com, which plays a variety of rainy day sounds, from a light drizzle to a downpour to a thunderstorm.

The Fancy:

  • Scrivener – if you haven’t heard of Scrivener before, it is a computer software especially for writers. You can split your manuscript into easily accessible chapters and scenes, tag sections by setting, character, or timeline, link character profiles, store research and notes, view a “pinboard” or longform outline… and so much more. Yes, that’s a lot! This program can be overwhelming for me, especially in the drafting phase. It is easy to be so distracted by all the different settings, color codes, cross-references, etc that hours can go by without any actual writing happening! I think it is a great program that is really useful for lengthy WIPs that include multiple points of view or timelines, and a lot of characters.
  • Microsoft Word – the basic word processor, MS Word is still my preferred place to type and format a manuscript. Since agents and publishers will expect Microsoft Word files if they request your work, it’s nice to know that my manuscripts are already in the correct format and meet publishing world standards.
  • Write or Die – this free tool is really useful if you are on a deadline or trying to meet a self-made goal. The online program is free, and it provides a text box where you type for a given amount of time and attempt to reach a certain goal. If you stop typing, the page gradually turns red, and eventually plays and obnoxious sound to get you typing away again. Just make sure you save your work at the end!

The Inspirational:

  • Pinterest – when I’m working on a manuscript, especially in the beginning stages, I like to create a Pinterest board to collect images that put me in the headspace of that story. Whether it’s photos of people who remind me of my characters, images of settings I plan to use, artwork that fits the mood of the story, or links to websites with useful information and research, it’s nice to have it all in one place. If I have to take some time away from a WIP, I like to go back and look at this board to get into the right frame of mind before starting up again.
  • Library Card – writers read, and boy am I glad we can do it for free.
  • Bookstore – as wonderful as libraries are, they can have a bit of a clinical feel. People have meetings, do homework, come in to use the computer, etc in a library, so there’s something nice about bookstores – where the focus is solely on books purely for the sake of books!

What tools do you find important to your writing process? Any that I didn’t mention? Let me know!

Character Types: Protagonist and Antagonist

Have you ever wondered what the terms “protagonist” and “antagonist” mean? What about the difference between the protagonist, the narrator, and the main character? This is the video for you! We’ll even look at examples like The Great Gatsby, Sherlock Holmes, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Thanks for watching ibelonginabook! I’m Emily, and I am a writer with a masters degree in writing and experience teaching writing and English at the college level. Writing, reading, and talking about books and literature are my favorite things to do. If we have this in common, leave me a comment suggesting topics you’d like me to discuss in future videos, and subscribe to my channel for more videos like the one you just watched. Happy writing!

Short Story VS Novel

What is the difference between a short story and a novel? How does a writer approach each type of story? What are some examples of good short stories? Find the answers to all this and more in today’s video.

“Kleptomania” by Emily Vander Ark

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

“What You Pawn I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie

Thanks for watching ibelonginabook! I’m Emily, and I am a writer with a masters degree in writing and experience teaching writing and English at the college level. Writing, reading, and talking about books and literature are my favorite things to do. If we have this in common, leave me a comment suggesting topics you’d like me to discuss in future videos, and subscribe to my channel for more videos like the one you just watched. Happy writing!

5 Craft Books I Recommend

There are so many craft books out there, all claiming to show you how to defeat writer’s block once and for all, or how to make time to write every day, or how to turn your first draft prose into Newberry-worthy sentences. No one wants to waste time reading a book that doesn’t have much new to say when you could be writing, and it can be difficult to know which books are actually helpful and worth your time. I’ve read my fair share of craft books that left me unimpressed, but I’ve made a list below of the books I find I’ve gone back to again and again. I hope you find them helpful, too!


No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty – This book by National Novel Writing Month founder Chris Baty is perfect for beginning writers. Whether or not you are seeking to draft a novel in 30 days, the tips and advice on character creation, plot, structure, and theme can be helpful to any writer.



Writer to Writer: From Think to Ink by Gail Carson Levine – Gail Carson Levine is best known as the author of Ella Enchanted and many other fairytale retellings, but among writers, she is also known for her wonderful blog on the art of writing. Her thoughtful posts and writing prompts are enriched by true discussion in the comments are writers discuss the challenges they face. Writer to Writer draws from these blog posts to answer reader questions and give writerly advice, as well as excellent writing prompts at the end of each chapter to get your creative juices flowing.



Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott – Writers everywhere are grateful to Ann Lamott for giving them permission, through the pages of this book, to write “***** first drafts.” Lamott’s best-known piece of advice from this book is that all first drafts are crap, and if you recognize that in the beginning of the process, you’ll be able to allow yourself to just get the words down. Once you have the first draft, you can turn it into something pretty.



Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway – I can’t count how many times I have returned to this book since taking an undergraduate fiction writing class. While it is technically a textbook, it is an invaluable resource for those who are serious about learning the craft of writing. I remember being overwhelmed in a class where we were asked to write short stories. There were so many elements of fiction covered in this book – how could I possibly bring them all together in less than ten pages? Now that I have more experience and education as a writer, I find this book an excellent tool to come back to during the revision process as each nuance of a manuscript is carefully edited.

20181Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell – Another textbook, this one focuses closely on the plot of a story, from beginning to end. I find it useful at both the beginning and the revision stages of a manuscript to work through the exercises in this book. Rather than providing exercises based on developing a variety of skills as Burroway’s book does, this one asks you to bring a work in progress to the table, and apply each of the plot exercises given to that story. As a writer who struggles in this area, I love the guidance in this book!


Did I leave your favorite craft book off the list? Tell me about it!


Around and About

Hello there! This is just a quick post to share where I’ve been on the internet so far this year.


  • A revised portion of my extended critical thesis from my MFA at Spalding University was published as book reviews back in January in the journal Children, Youth, and Environments on JSTOR! This was such a cool experience, and it gets me pretty stoked to see my name on the same database where I’ve gone to research papers, articles, books, and stories since undergrad. The journal is behind a three-year moving paywall, but here’s the link anyway, as proof!
  • My poem “Found Along Lake Michigan” was published in an anthology of Michigan poets in February. You can purchase a copy of the anthology here or on Amazon.com.


  • In January, I was interviewed for “A Day in the Life” – a series on the blog of Spalding’s MFA alumni association. You can read it here.
  • Finally, in March I contributed to a post on The Mitten, the blog from the Michigan chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I attended the annual SCBWI conference in New York in February, so I was able to share a bit about my experience as a first-time attendee. You can read the whole article, including content from two other writers, here.

Thanks for stopping to read, and I hope you find something of interest to you!

Favorite Books of 2017


The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russel

I read this book early in the year, while the bitter winter swarmed outside my windows, much the way it does now. It was a pleasure to read, bringing light, warmth, and happiness right into my brain. I learned quite a bit about the little country of Denmark, but even more about making the most of situations that might be seen as less than ideal – choosing happiness wherever you are.


All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I listened to this book on audio, and it was one of the most beautiful reads. I’d recommend it to anyone. There are multiple timelines, multiple, rounded narrators, and tension, sadness, and beauty enough to touch any reader.

Young Adult

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I think this book is Green’s greatest achievement yet. It is a crafted work showcasing a teenager’s mental illness, through which all other elements of the story are flittered. As such, it is a story bigger and more important than one teenager’s obsession with another, and must have been indubitably more difficult to accomplish. I recognized inner dialogues and anxious tendencies of my own, through exponentially more severe, in Aza in a way I haven’t experienced in a fictional character before, which made her feel true to me and caused her inevitable situations during the book’s climax to be all the more heartbreaking. Despite the darkness and terror in Aza’s mind, Green manages to instill his ending with his customary hope, and even purpose, without dishonoring Aza’s struggle. “Love is both how a person is made, and why,” he writes, and I say well done.

Middle Grade

Summerlost by Ally Condie

This story about a summer theatre company, loss, friendship, trust, and curiosity is more than I expected from Condie and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Picture Book

Swimming With Sharks by Heather Lang

This picture book focuses on the life of marine biologist Euginie Clark. She was a female pioneer in the sciences, particularly marine science, and made it her goal to educate people about sharks, which were not monsters to her but fascinating, beautiful creatures.

Novel in Verse

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

What can I say about this book? It is a work of genius, from Alexander’s use of existing poetic forms to his invention of new ones, his use of just the right words and his ability to get kids, even boys, reading his “rap poetry.” I had the pleasure of seeing Kwame speak and read/rap from this book at Spalding University back in May, and it was an incredible experience. If you haven’t read The Crossover yet, I highly recommend it!

Honorable Mentions

Walden on Wheels by Ken Ilgunas (nonfiction) – a memoir about a man who made it his goal to pay off a massive college debt by hitchhiking around the US, working at a truck stop in Alaska, and living in a van on campus parking lots as a grad student.

Geekarella by Ashley Poston – a fun Cinderella retelling where Prince Charming is the lead man in a sci-fi show reboot and the palace ball is a fan convention.

Winterfrost by Michelle Houts – a young girl loses her baby sister and goes on a magical, Scandanavian quest to get her back.

Disappearing Act: A Search and Find Book of Endangered Animals by Isabella Bunnel – a search and find book of endangered species.

The Watch that Ends the Night by Allan Wolf – the story of the Titanic in a dozen or more voices, most notably the Iceberg, which tells readers in chilling iambic pentameter 0f it’s goal to bring the great ship down.

Why I Love Halloween

It’s October.

The air is crisp, the leaves are crunchy, the cider is hot, the sweaters are chunky.

There are apple and pumpkin flavors of everything – if you’re into that.

It’s a sweet relief from summer’s heat, but a barrier against the long cold to come. A cozy hat and mittens that aren’t yet hidden by puffer coats.

I think it’s safe to say that most people like autumn. A lot of people even love it. Even the people who mourn summer can usually find something in this season to celebrate, even if it is just the looking ahead to the holidays.

But aside from all of this, there are lots of people out there – autumn lovers and others – who lose all that excitement at the mention of Halloween.

It’s the devil’s holiday! It’s a day to worship ghouls! It’s about death! Blood! Sexy costumes!

(Okay, that last one might be truer than I’d like to admit.)

All Hallows Evening is a Catholic celebration meant to remember the dead, including saints and martyrs. Our western Halloween has combined that with the traditions of the harvest season (think corn maze, pumpkin patch, cider mill… yummy). It’s a time to celebrate a successful summer and store up for the winter to come.

I love Halloween. Every year, people ask me why. Why do you, an adult, like dressing up in a pretend costume? Why do you, an adult, like to give out candy to kids? Why do you, an adult, like a holiday that consists of cotton spider webs and bedsheet ghosts? Scary movies? Backyard fires? Candy corn and caramel coated apples?

(You were licking your lips there at the end, weren’t you? No? That’s okay, I don’t like candy corn, either.)

I never know how to answer these questions. Why do kids like all this stuff? Why does anyone?

Because it’s fun.

Scary movies? Fun. Sitting around the fire with friends, roasting s’mores? Fun.

Fun. Kids love candy. This might be the one day left in the year when it’s okay to eat all the Snickers, Reeces, Milk Duds, and Sweedish Fish instead of sugar-free Kool-Aid and low-calorie carrot cake. (As a kid, I always made my Halloween candy last until Easter.)

Fun. Costumes (the handmade ones) make me happy. I love choosing a character and making their wardrobe real, lending a bit of their world to my own.

Fun. Remember pillow forts and hot lava? The invisible baddies you’d flee from when riding your bike? The sweet fencing moves you learned with a stick in your backyard?Who doesn’t want an excuse to have all of that back? Just for one day, to have the freedom to pretend again?

The marketing department might put zombies on my chocolate bar and spiders on my jelly beans. Your neighbor might overdo the styrofoam tombstones and wax hands. The college girls in your town might wear too many sexy costumes.

But what is this holiday all about?

Maybe the harvest is a time to store up food for our minds and hearts as well as our bodies. To remember what we’ve loved and lost, and celebrate what’s just out of reach, beyond the world as we see and know it. There’s a hint of mystery always in the air on October 31st, and the breeze smells sweet, the moon casting shadows that might make us jump.

Halloween is about pretend. Imagination. Childhood. Joy in the little things.

I think we could all use a bit more of that.

Don’t you?


Click here for a video where I talk about some of my favorite Halloween books.

Click here for a post with Halloween movies, TV shows, more books.

Click here for my Ana (Frozen) costume.

New Job, New Projects, New Adventures

bubenchSince my last post, I have finished a book draft, edited, and started teaching full-time. Talk about a full plate!

OH, AVERY is now a book that exists. Once I get feedback from a few trusted readers, it will be time to start on a new list of agents to query. In the meantime, I’m super excited to be attending the Michigan chapter of the Society of Childrens’ Book Writers & Illustrators conference this coming weekend. The keynote speaker will be Gary Schmidt, author of The Wednesday Wars and Orbiting Jupiter, and while I’m there I’m having the first 10 pages of Avery reviewed by an agent. It should be an exciting time, and I’m hoping the writing community interaction will help me feel less jealous of all my Spalding friends who are gearing up for residency in a few months.

My full-time position was offered to me on the phone about a week before Caleb and I left on an epic 17 day west coast adventure. With a class load almost double what I was expecting to teach, it’s been an adjustment. But, I have an office with a window looking over the campus moat, and I’m anticipating getting some good writing done in that room on the side.

On the horizon, I’m looking to work out some problems with a few picture books I’ve been sitting on while I choose which of three long fiction projects to work on next – two are young adult novels in various stages, and the other is a middle-grade fantasy (?!) inspired in part by our time in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. I’m curious to see which one wins out!

On a reading note, the extensive amount of time we spent in the car during our trip (and the coincidental location!) meant that Caleb and I powered through the 16-hour long audiobook of Wildwood by Colin Meloy. I’ve tried the book once before in book form and once in audio, but never could make through the first few chapters. We stuck it out together, this time, and once the pace picked up a bit we found it an enjoyable homage to so many things we love: the woods, talking animals, Narnia, and the whimsical lyricism of the Decembrists. If you’ve got a road trip coming up or you just have crazy amounts of free time, give it a go!

If you are starting a new school year I wish you well! Happy writing and may the wind be ever at your back.