7 Tips for Getting More Use Out of Your Cookbooks

Here it is, one month later, and I’ve been itching with excitement to get back to you all! Like I talked about here, if you’re feeling creatively burned out (or, you know, just worn out from life) then taking a mini-sabbatical may be just what you need.

Even Penguin Random House, the largest U.S. publisher, gets that creative minds need to recharge a little now and then. Their sabbatical program is legendary for offering paid time off to pursue personal interests, and I know the editors there, especially, love hitting that 10 year mark and taking a month off to travel, volunteer, or even just staycation in blissful peace.

And just because writers, bloggers, and other creative kinds work for themselves doesn’t mean they shouldn’t give themselves the same benefits an employer would offer. As Ayn Rand would say:


ayn rand quote art print


Meanwhile, the wonderful folks over at The Kitchn were kind enough to have me on their site this month, sharing some of my ideas for getting more use out of cookbooks. And the conversations that sparked from that article were incredible! I was so touched to see dozens of readers leaving memories and tips about their favorite cookbooks and how they like to use them. There are so many touching personal reflections in that comment thread, and it honestly made me a little teary to think about how important and heartening our cookbooks can be to us.

As one commenter wrote:

“My mother passed away in April and I can’t seem to move on from her passing. Opening her cookbooks and seeing her notes, especially her hilarious reviews of recipes that weren’t so successful, brings her back to me. Cooking these recipes helps me keep her close to me even though she is gone. So, write in your cookbooks! Your daughters will thank you one day.”

If you also want to turn your cookbooks into well-used, well-loved family heirlooms, here’s the rest of the article!

7 Insider Tips For Getting More Out of Your Cookbooks

how to use cookbooks more to cook

Confession time: I make cookbooks for a living, but I don’t treat them nicely.

I treat my authors nicely — I love being their literary agent; it’s an honor — and I love the cookbooks we’ve made together (I hold them tight and sing them to sleep and feel all sorts of joy-sparks when I look at them). But let’s not be precious about it:

Cookbooks exist to help us cook.

They work for us, not the other way around. Cookbooks want more than anything to help you cook, and to cook damn amazing food — and sometimes better food than you could cook if left to your own panic-fueled decision-making. Cookbooks want to lure you away from that moment when you’re staring blankly into the fridge, fathoming the meaninglessness of dinner, and wondering why on earth you didn’t just plan something, like you swore you would.

Cookbooks will find you in that moment, wipe away your tears, and gently whisper, “It’s okay … I have an idea.”

So if you’re drowning in cookbooks but still parched for practical ways to get dinner done, you might need to reassess your relationship. Here are seven ways to make your cookbooks work for you like they mean it. They helped reform me from a hapless daydreamer to that stubborn soul that cooks a brand new recipe even though it’s 8 p.m. on a Wednesday, the fridge is empty, and the dog is on fire.

Click here to keep reading this article on The Kitchn!

And because I wasn’t lying when I said I’d been giddily squirreling treats away for you all, here’s a free download of that pretty watercolor kitchen pattern you see in my main graphic!

watercolor kitchen pattern utensils

Go ahead and use it wherever you’d like—on your blog, on Instagram, as a desktop background, or just print it out, fold it in half, and scribble a grocery list on it. I hope it’ll make some little corner of your life a bit cuter!

Click here to download this watercolor kitchen pattern.

What I’ve Been Reading

Big Magic (Elizabeth Gilbert): My goodness am I glad that I gave in to the hype and read this. I was worried it wouldn’t live up to expectations after all I’ve heard about it, but it really was much different than I expected and the perfect read for anyone taking a creative sabbatical (or feeling like they need to). The main gist of the book? Lighten up and play with your work. Never forget that you do this because you love it, and it’s okay to delight yourself, rather than torture yourself, with your creative work.

This Time Lapse Of 52,000 Books Being Shelved Is A Bibliophile’s Dream (Maddie Crum for The Huffington Post): This video hit me right in my weak spot. I could watch it for days and sigh happily at all the beautiful books and the beautiful home for books that the New York Public Library is. Sigh. (See?)

John Green on Failure (John Green via GalleyCat): In this video, John Green talks candidly about struggling with writing after The Fault in Our Stars became a massive success. This is a great tie-in to Big Magic, where Elizabeth Gilbert also reveals what’s on the other side of mega bestsellerdom. (Hint: It doesn’t get easier, but you can choose whether you’ll let the weight of expectations crush you or not.)

The Economics of Dining as a Couple (Megan McArdle for Bloomberg View): We’re big fans of McArdle’s book The Upside of Down, and this hilarious piece is worth reading with your other half before you head out on your next dinner date. As McArdle says, “A communist economy is a terrible idea. A communist dinner table, on the other hand, truly is a bounteous paradise.” (Hail to the fork and sickle!)

Publishing a Cookbook: How Do You Develop Recipes? (aka: How Destroyed Is Your Kitchen?) (Thriving Home): My lovely authors, Polly and Rachel, continue their behind-the-scenes series as they work on their first cookbook. We’re planning their recipe and lifestyle shoots for this fall, and the design inspiration they’ve been collecting is gorgeous. I can’t wait to share this book with you all!

7 Must-Haves to Make Your Home Cozy for Fall Reading (A.J. O’Connell for Book Riot): Blankets! Socks! Stretchy pants! I hope you’re as excited as I am to get extremely cozy with a book this fall.

Why Do Books Publish on Tuesdays? (Laurie Hertzel for Star Tribune): In case you’ve been wondering. 🙂

What have you been reading to kick off the fall? I’m in search of my next book, so I’d love to hear what you’ve been enjoying!

Why and How to Take a Writing Sabbatical

Happy Monday! I know that’s not a thing, but I so rarely pop in to say hi to you all on Mondays that I couldn’t resist. I hope everyone had a great weekend (we went camping!) and is feeling great about what’s on deck for the week ahead.

you can't rush something you want to last forever quote printable

Personally, I’m feeling fantastic about this week. And that’s because I’m changing up the routine.

I will be taking a blogging sabbatical for several weeks to do some much-needed refocusing and rebalancing.

This September I came back from our wedding and mini-moon blurry-eyed, blinking, wondering what’s next, yet still digging out from the to-dos that were pushed off for a year until after the wedding. We started a lot of sentences this year with “after the wedding,” and now that “after the wedding” has arrived, I feel like I need to shake off the head-down, just-get-it-done fog that’s been over me for much of this year. It’s time to resurface, look around, and get clear-eyed again.

It’s only September, but I’m already wondering where this year went. Maybe you are, too? Maybe you see the colors outside starting to change, but your eyes are pulled back to the computer screen before you can fully register them? Maybe you’re certain you don’t have time to stop and take a walk outside to enjoy the fall air? There’s so much to do, and walking isn’t very productive, right?

I hear you. I’ve spent most of the past year trying to maximize my output, and now that I’m finally over the hump and coasting down the hill, I want to hold on to that feeling a bit longer. I want a little more wind in my hair and a little less hunching over a screen.

a sabbatical break for writers

If you’re feeling that way, too, you might want to consider taking a sabbatical from writing, blogging, or other creative work. A sabbatical can teach you just as much as a work-packed month, and it will allow you to:

Read More

Greeting Cards for Writers & Creatives

Encouragement greeting cards for writers pin

But first, the publishing links worth reading this week:

How To Be an Author Publishers Fight For: And Get a Publishing Deal without Writing a Book Proposal (Chad R. Allen): It’s true–publishers often fight over the most desirable (read: platform-backed) authors. That’s what happens every time we take a book to auction, and it’s a situation every author wants to be in. Here’s a great look at how to be that lucky author.

Publishers’ Dilemma: Judge A Book By Its Data Or Trust The Editor’s Gut? (Lynn Neary for NPR): “Publishing is a notoriously risky business. A publishing house might give a first-time author a six-figure deal, only to see the book flop. It’s always been hard to predict what will sell. Now publishers are getting some help from data that tells them how readers read — and that makes some people nervous.”

10 Fundamental Ways To Boost Your Facebook Organic Reach By 193% (Diana Adams for CoSchedule): Understanding the Facebook algorithm is essential for anyone working to build their author platform. Here’s a great, snappy rundown of what you can do to increase engagement on the most highly populated social network out there.

Neil Gaiman on Why We Read and What Books Do for the Human Experience (Maria Popova of Brain Pickings): “The question of why we read and what books actually do for us is as old as the written word itself, and as attractive. Galileo saw reading as a way of having superhuman powers. For Kafka, books were ‘the axe for the frozen sea within us’; Carl Sagan held them as ‘proof that humans are capable of working magic’; James Baldwin found in them a way to change one’s destiny; for Polish Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska, they stood as our ultimate frontier of freedom.”

Literary Agents and the Hybrid Author: A Conversation with Bob Mecoy and Kristin Nelson (Sangeeta Mehta for JaneFriedman.com):  Book publishing is changing so quickly, and this is a great look at the hybrid author space, where authors can work with traditional houses while still self-publishing some of their works. As most people know, there are pros and cons to both approaches, and that’s why I think Kristin’s advice here is so essential: “Know thyself.” Only you can determine what your goals as an author are and what path will get you toward those goals.

Greeting Cards for Writers & Creatives

Remember last week when we talked about rejection? And I promised you all I’d give you something this week to cheer you up?

Well, they’re heeeerrreeeee.

Meet your new pep talk cards for writers:

Encouragement greeting cards for writers pin


These greeting cards are perfect for any writer, blogger, or creative in your life who’s feeling down-and-out about their work. You can print them out on nicely textured paper (this Classic White Laid Card Stock #100 is my favorite and what we used for our Save the Dates, but any nicer paper you have lying around will work well, too), cut them out, and fold them into little greeting cards. Use them two ways:

For yourself:

When you’re feeling inspired, motivated, high on life, just all around on top-of-the-world, write yourself a note about how it feels and why it’s worth it. Scribble down why you have so much to be proud of and how very good those triumphs feel.

Then tuck it away until that rainy day when rejection comes calling. (But tuck it away someplace you’ll remember, because good lord, I would lose it in a flat second.) When you have that day where you feel defeated, depressed, and very, very done with it all, pull out your card and sit with it awhile. Remind yourself that this feeling will pass, and you don’t have to be so hard on yourself until it does.

You can print 10 pep talk cards and sprinkle them around your house, or do just one at a time when the mood strikes you. As long as your little card makes you feel a bit less alone and sad, it’s doing its job in the world.

For a friend:

Know a friend going through a rough patch or creative drought? Sending her a cheer-up card will probably mean more to her than you can imagine.

Just last week I was curled up on the couch after work, moaning to Jarrett about how overwhelmed I am (the whole close-on-4-books-and-take-2-business-trips-just-3-weeks-before-my wedding-thing has been my dumbest idea to date). Then he handed me a package that had just come in the mail. It was a gift! For me! From an author! (My actual reaction had many, many more exclamation points to it than this.)

But that small little gift and the thoughtfulness that went into it cheered me right up. You have the power to do that for someone else, too.

So go right ahead, print these bad boys out, and go cheer up someone who’s having a rough day. They’ll love ya for it.

Click here to download these greeting cards for writers and creatives.

Encouragement greeting cards for writers


Printable Summer Bookmarks

Free Printable Summer Bookmarks

The publishing stories worth reading this week:

The Ultimate Guide to Bestseller Lists: Unlocking the Truth Behind the New York Times List & Others (Chad Cannon): There are a lot of posts on the bestseller lists out there, but I think this one really is the ultimate guide. If “become a New York Times bestselling author” is on your bucket list, this is an important read.

Nora Ephron on Women, Politics, and the Myth of Objectivity in Journalism (Brain Pickings): “I’ve never believed in objective journalism … because all writing is about selecting what you want to use. And as soon as you choose what to select, you’re not being objective.”

8 Reasons You’re Exhausted, Overwhelmed, and Unproductive (Michael Hyatt): In case you haven’t read the now-classic New York York Times article “The Busy Trap,” start there. Then come back to Hyatt’s article for some actionable advice.

If You Just Keep Writing, Will You Get Better? (Barbara Baig on JaneFriedman.com): “When most of us think about practice, we’re imagining what Ericsson calls naive practice, the kind of repetitive action we do to learn a skill and then put it on automatic pilot. We learn a lot of things this way—cooking dinner, for instance, or driving a car. The trouble with this kind of practice is that it will never help us improve our skills. For that, we need a different kind of practice, one Ericsson calls deliberate practice.”

Are you a bookmark user?

I’ve found this is a surprisingly divisive question! Jarrett swears by them, and I usually want nothing to do with them.

He’ll use anything: a scrap of notebook paper, the library receipt, a tattered old rag of a real bookmark. One time I caught him holding his spot in a book with an entire piece of mail, still in its envelope. This is by no means normal.

Me? I couldn’t keep track of a bookmark if my library card depended on it. I find it a hassle to place it down somewhere and make sure not to lose it/crumple it/splash a beverage on it. Instead, I get a sick thrill out of challenging myself to remember where I was in the book. I’m a fairly visual person, so I can usually remember whether I was on a verso or recto page and on what approximate paragraph. But no, this process is not time-efficient. And no, it’s by no means normal, either.

But then again, is there a true “normal” to any of our reading habits? We can’t all neatly tuck into bed, read for exactly 60 minutes, mark our spot with our perfect bookmark, and turn over for our perfect 8 hours of sleep.

(Although that 8 hours of sleep sounds pretty great and should really be a non-negotiable, says every scientific study ever!)

So today I designed a little treat for you, for your summer reading pleasure:

Free Printable Summer Bookmarks

If you’ve been using a scrap of paper as a bookmark (ahem, Jarrett…), try swapping it out for these.

If you’re not in the habit of using a bookmark but have always aspired to (ahem, me…), give these a go.

Click here to download the bookmarks.

You can print them on regular paper, but if you have thicker paper, they’ll have much more durability to them.

And I’d love to hear if you guys are naturally bookmark users! Do they drive you nuts or can you not live without them?