All posts by Joanna Bartlett

eugene oregon writer

Weekly writing update – Oct. 13, 2017: Progress is progress

Well, I got stuff done this past week. Was it enough? Who knows. It was something, though, and that really is better than nothing.

I always want to do more than is reasonable to accomplish. Sometimes I can. And other times I have to settle for mere-human amounts of productivity. Given that I’ve published five books in the last 17 months, while working part-time and building an intuitive mediumship business, I should probably give myself a break.

Here’s this week’s writing update video:

Writing accomplishments

  • I finished the first draft of Signs from Spirit, which felt really good. It’s not super long. about 3,500 words and 12 pages. It’ll be my “mailing list magnet” – the thing I offer to readers as an incentive to sign up for my Alight Intuition mailing list (other than the obvious pleasure of hearing from me once a month).
  • I did the first interview for Led by Light, Book 3, with Ker Cleary from BlueStar Channeling. We had a nice long chat about all things related to starting and running your own woo-woo practice (she does channeling work, as you might be able to tell from her business name) and I took copious notes. Over the next few months, I plan to interview at least a dozen or so people in fields similar to mine, such as channelers, mediums, medical intuitives, etc., to get a good understanding of the issues people face when moving into professional practice in this work.
  • I fiddled with ad keywords for Led by Light, Book 2 on Amazon advertising. My ad was approved, as expected, and so I added a bunch of keywords. I checked on it today and it seems to be performing well, resulting in at least a handful of sales at a fairly low cost.
  • I researched print book pricing and decided I don’t need to bother about changing things. When I first started publishing, I priced all my books $x.99. Then, right before publishing Led by Light, Book 2, I noticed that a lot of print books are priced $x.95. Worried I’d been doing it wrong all along, I priced Led by Light, Book 2, $17.95, and thought I’d need to change the rest of my book to that pricing structure.
    After poking around on the interwebs and looking at my whole library of mind-body-spirit books, I realized there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for the pricing and I’m going to leave it how it is and not worry about it. While there is a certain part of me that wants everything lined up just so, I don’t think there’s any real payoff for changing things at this point.
  • I gave up on kindle coloring book idea (thanks, Amazon). Amazon rejected my coloring book in kindle format. When I wrote to them explaining how the coloring book can be used solely as an ebook, they decided to stick with their previous decision (of rejection). And I decided not to fight it and give up on the idea. Coloring books seem to be mostly dead at this point and, while I like my coloring book, I’m not sure it’s worth the energy of promoting it if it’s something that’s just not selling in the marketplace.
    I’d been toying with the idea of turning my Spiritual Symbols Dictionary into an ebook also, but I don’t think I’ll bother. It’ll be a lot of work on the back end to make it format well as an EPUB and MOBI file and, while you can add notes to an ebook, I think it’d be confusing and the benefit of being able to run Amazon ads on it isn’t really worth it. Especially if Amazon will reject it, too.
    Maybe I’ll revisit it at a later date, but I’m going to drop it for now.
  • I looked into recording meditations to go along with Led by Light books. One of my students who’s reading Led by Light, Book 2, told me she can hear me talking in her head, narrating the book as she reads it. And that she’d love a chakra opening meditation to go along with the book.
    I know I’ve recorded meditations during classes (I conveniently use my own book as reading/learning material in my mediumship classes), but I haven’t pulled them out of the overall class recording, nor will the quality be that great.
    But recording them fresh and doing it professionally shouldn’t be too hard. So I pondered that a bit this week and pulled out all the content from my two books that could be turned into recorded meditations.
    However, this isn’t on my priority list right now, and I need to be careful where I put my energy and not ignore some of the practical business-y things I need to do in favor of things that take my fancy, while also doing the work I have the energy and passion to do. It’s a balance and a dance.

This seems like a decently impressive amount of work for one week, especially given that kids didn’t have school yesterday or today and I’ve been a bit under the weather with whatever germs the darling monkeys have shared with me. Plus I’ve been dealing with various non-work stress (writing a personal injury demand letter from an accident I was in 18 months ago, getting one kid set up with a 504 plan at school to support his success while he deals with ADHD and anxiety, trying to convince my husband that we really should get a dog, and the usual fullness of life with kids and other people).

So, yay me! I celebrate me.

Writing plans for the week

  • Edit Signs from Spirit and figure out how to make it look pretty. I don’t think Signs from Spirit needs rounds and rounds of editing. But it needs some, and I’d also like to make it look pretty. It looks like the inside of a book right now, rather than a pretty PDF.
  • Get Facebook ads set up for various books and get over my terror of them. I don’t know why it feels hard and scary to set up ads for my books on Facebook. I’m worried I’ll do it wrong somehow. But I know I can start small and figure it out as I go. I’m just a bit chicken about it and so I’ve been putting it off (and doing things like pondering making meditation CDs). So I need to just move through my uncertainty, figure out what it is that I feel stuck on and try some things.
  • Fix the typos in the Symbol Dictionary Workbook and Led by Light, Book 2 formatting errors. I taught Spoon Bending at my recent mediumship development circle on Wednesday and immediately caught a formatting error: the chapter started on the verso (left) side of the page rather than the recto (right) side. (FYI, I just had to look up which one was which as I wanted to use the proper terminology and also use it correctly.) Oops! Fortunately, it was only that chapter and the Appendix. I’m not sure how that slipped by me as I knew it was an issue when I was formatting the book for print and thought I’d found and fixed all of them. *le sigh* So I’ve fixed it, along with a typo in the Spiritual Symbols Workbook and need to upload the fixed files to Create Space and Ingram Spark. I dislike these fiddly bits.
  • Set up more interview for Led by Light, Book 3. I’d love to do one a week and keep moving forward with the research for this book, so I can begin writing it next year and publish it by next summer/fall. But that means organizing myself and reaching out to people. I do enjoy getting to know people and networking with my woo-woo community. It makes us all stronger and gives me people I can refer to as needed, which is great.
writing update 10-6-17

Weekly writing update – Oct. 6, 2017: picking myself up after a fall

Since July, I’ve been making (almost) weekly videos about what’s going on in my writing life. I have no idea why I decided to do this. I think to keep me honest and give me accountability.

Every week, I tell the world (or whoever’s willing to watch) what I have and haven’t done. I like talking, so this is fairly easy for me. Easier than figuring out what to write about on this blog, apparently.

Today, it occurred to me to write a quick blog post to go along with the video where I can link to resources or explain things in a way I can’t do in a few minutes of video. I’m trying to keep them under 5 minutes, so I can’t ramble on too much.

Demystifying independent publishing

There’s another aspect of why I want to do this. I want to demystify writing and publishing. Right now, I’m independently publishing my books, mostly non-fiction about mediumship development. I’ve been doing this since summer 2016 and have learned a lot. And there’s still a lot to learn. I want to share that knowledge with other people, as well as the frustration and triumphs. This is a lonely road to walk alone. We’re better off on it together.

I also have every intention of finding a literary agent whose a great fit with me and signing a fabulous deal with a traditional publisher at some point. I want to demystify that process, too. I think we need more openness in writing and publishing.

I realize this isn’t going to appeal to a lot of folks. And that’s OK. If you want to read about actual mediumship development, hop over to my other website, Alight Intuition, which has that information and videos about mediumship, intuition, meditation and all things woo-woo. I’m all about helping people trust themselves and their connection with Spirit over there. 🙂

This site is about me as a writer and helping other writers.

Actual writing accomplishments

Therefore, here are this past week’s writing accomplishments:

  • I went to the mid-valley Willamette Writer’s monthly meeting last night where Roseanne Parry talked about navigating the retail side of the book business, i.e. getting your book into bookstores.  It was useful and affirming in that I’m already doing some of the right things (yay!), like having IngramSpark as a POD distributor for my books (in addition to Create Space for Amazon).
  • I worked on a new ebook called Signs from Spirit: How to know if what you’re experiencing is real, or if you’ve just gone off your rocker. When it’s finished, it’ll be the giveaway I use when people join my Alight Intuition mailing list. Currently, they get a few pages of my coloring book as a PDF that they can print, which is kinda lame. I don’t think anyone is joining my list for the giveaway. But I’d like to grow my mailing list to people beyond clients, students and people who attend my events.
  • I started setting up interviews (OK, just one) for my next book in the Led by Light mediumship development series. That book will be about becoming a practicing medium or intuitive and I want to talk to current practitioners to get their take on what they wished they knew or were glad they knew when they first started out. I know what my experience was like, but I want to get feedback from others in the same and similar professions to make sure that I’m touching on the right information for new practitioners. Working with Spirit (and people) is great and wonderful — and there are pitfalls and bumpy bits.
  • I got some fiddly bits done: I finally fixed an embarrassing typo in my Intuitive Symbols Coloring book. (I spelled meditative coloring mediative coloring.) It turns out I do that all the time. And mediative is a word, so spell check didn’t catch it.
  • I’m also working on turning the coloring book into an ebook. This was suggested to me at one of the sessions I attended at the Willamette Writer’s annual conference in August. I’m not sure if it’s going to actually work, but I’m giving it a try. Having it as an ebook will allow me to run ads for it on Amazon, which I can’t if it’s not available on kindle. So we’ll see.
  • I got advertising set up on Amazon for Led by Light, book 2. It’s a cost-effective way to sell more books, or at least it has been for book 1. Once the ad is approved, I need to add and fiddle with keywords.

Writing plans for the next week

  • I have potentially more fiddling to do – around book pricing this time. When I first priced my books, I made everything $x.99, both ebook and print. But then I realized a lot of print books are $x.95 and ebooks are $x.99. So I made Led by Light, book 2, $17.95 in print. Which makes me want to change Led by Light, book 1 to $11.95 (rather than $11.99) and the Spiritual Symbols Workbook to $19.95 (rather than $19.99).
    I need to do some more research on this before I both with changing the price associated with the ISBN, getting a new barcode, changing the cover file, uploading the new cover to IngramSpark and Create Space, changing the price in both Ingram and Create Space. (I’m tired just writing about it.)
  • I also need to fix a typo in the Spiritual Symbols Workbook. I spelled an author’s name wrong in my acknowledgments/resources section. She pointed it out to me. Ouch!
  • I want to finish getting advertising set up for Led by Light book 2 on Amazon and also try out some advertising on Facebook.
  • I want to finish the first draft of the Signs from Spirit ebook. I don’t (or didn’t) expect it to be very long, so in theory it shouldn’t take me long. But…that’s what I said about Led by Light, book 2, and that turned out to be almost 400 pages.

The video

If you prefer to get this info in video, here’s the video. 🙂 Enjoy.

Trauma, vulnerability and moving into truth

A few weeks ago, I decided that when people ask me how I’m doing, rather than issuing my standard response of, “I’m fine,” I’ll tell them, “I’m having a full human experience.”

I thought I was being clever, but it turns out that may not have been the best idea. It’s been a bit of an overwhelming experience this past week or so. Perhaps more full than I bargained for.

I’m pretty open about having experienced abuse and trauma in my life. I don’t go on about it, but I don’t hide it. When sexual abuse and assault, emotional abuse, child neglect, PTSD and similarly light-hearted topics come up in conversation IRL or online, I’m open about what I’ve experienced if it seems hearing from a survivor might be helpful. Because it can be helpful to see someone who’s gone through hard stuff and now looks like they’ve pretty much got their shit together. Mostly.

When I talk with my students about meditation or opening up to your intuition and my own failures in those things at times, they tell me it’s reassuring to know that the person they look up to, the person teaching them, isn’t perfect. That the teacher is still learning. It makes progress seem more attainable.

So maybe I should talk more about this journey of healing that I’m on. Maybe I should go on about it, just a little bit more than I do. Maybe even sharing my feelings of frustration and seeming failure would be helpful. I’ve got a great life — loving family, great husband, smart kids, spacious house, growing career finally doing what I want to be doing. So you can have all that and still feel stuck and mixed up and unrecovered from everything that happened along the way here.

I went to the Terroir Writing Festival this weekend (which really should be held at a winery, rather than a community college, so we could appreciate terroir fully) and ended up doing sessions on memoir writing and writing after trauma. Both applicable to the feeling of stuckness that I have in a few areas of my life right now. It turns out they’re related.

I started writing about the years I spent in Barbados (age 10-14) because I got stuck in processing the trauma of my life. I’m a big supporter of mental health treatment and counseling and had been seeing a therapist for a while at that point, just to deal with the stresses of life, divorce and remarriage, and, somehow, attempt to face all the baggage I kept bringing with me. Talking about it only got me so far. And then I didn’t know how to move forward.

I believe that, when you take steps on the path of your highest good, the universe rises up to meet you, putting people, ideas and opportunities in your path and lighting them up so you see them, even if it feels like you’re stumbling around in the gloom.

It occurred to me to start writing. I was working through a book of writing exercises, taking one slow step after another on my treadmill desk in the basement, when a new story started flooding out. I realized it was a book being birthed and I kept at it. It was, overall, a healing experience. It brought up a lot of old stuff — much of which I knew about, some of which I didn’t. It allowed it to all rise up to the surface and say, “Hey, look at me. I’m still here. This still needs to come up and out and be dealt with.”

That’s a good thing. It’s healthy.

It’s also messy. And then it’s there, waiting to be dealt with, unwilling to get packed down beneath the surface again.

So I’ve been unpacking it, looking at it, deciding what I still want to keep and where it lives now, and what doesn’t work for me anymore. Beliefs about myself. Beliefs about life and other people. Beliefs about how and why things happened. It turns out that I learned a whole lot of lessons growing up, but I didn’t necessarily take away the right meaning.

Writing and revising an entire book’s worth of beliefs and ideas was worthwhile work. And then I got stuck.

But I have stamina, mostly fueled by determination (aka stubbornness). I used to think I didn’t have the stamina to finish writing a book. I’ve now written three and published two, so there goes another belief about myself that doesn’t work for me anymore.

My determination led me to keep looking for ways around my stuckness. Ways to process the trauma differently. Talking got me part of the way. Writing got me further. But if I want to take that writing and shape it into a story that resonates, then I need to take it further. I need to take myself further.

So I tried EMDR. Basically, it’s a type of “psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.” My mental health counselor specializes in it and is one of the reasons I went to see her in the first place. And yet, I’ve avoided it for several years. Processing trauma is hard. EMDR gets it over with quicker than talk therapy, but it felt brutal. There were times during writing when it was hard to do that and maintain competence in anything else (like earning a living and getting dinner on the table). EMDR felt similar. I made it through two sessions, with a break in between, the first taking me through an ex-husband’s suicide attempt, the second through my first sexual assault. I’m made of some strong stuff, but even thinking about that second session makes me tear up.

Deep breath.

In the meantime, I’ve been meandering around on my professional path. What is it that i do exactly? I’m an…author…content marketer…medium…editor…freelance writer…teacher…musician? All of the above? Being all of those things means I have to keep refocusing again and again and again. (Basically, it’s like meditation, where your mind wanders down one track and then another and you keep bringing it back to your breath. But, in my working life, what is my breath?)

Once again, the universe rose up to meet me.

I took a business course with Heart of Business and it brought, not just clarity and support on what I was doing in my professional life, but a whole lot of unexpected healing as well. I also saw a local medium (an unlikely thing for me to do, but this felt right) who told me I had stored trauma in my body that wanted (and needed) to be released.

During that time, my counselor suggested I try TRE (Tension, Stress and Trauma Release Exercises) and taught me how to go through the exercises and how to allow my body to tremor. Once I did, my body started producing tremors and contractions so strong they irritated my lower back. I made my sessions shorter. And I went to see my chiropractor.

Something in the combination of stuck energy and an adjustment made my back muscles go haywire. Maybe they didn’t want to be told to release before they were good and ready. Maybe it was asking just a little too much. Instead of graciously accepting the adjustment, they went into protective mode and tightened up, fortifying the defenses to not release what wasn’t quite ready to go.

My back locked up. I was in so much pain muscle relaxers + narcotic pain meds felt like they barely made a dent.

It’s funny how life stops when our body insists on being paid attention to. I couldn’t drive (pain + pain meds). I couldn’t cook. I could barely get my pants on.

My goals got much smaller. Teach class on Friday. Go to the writing festival on Saturday. I rescheduled appointments, asked lots of favors (cook dinner, take kids to school, drop them home, fill in for me and sing on Sunday). That part was hard. I don’t like to ask for help. I realized that it’s because of all those times when I was younger and felt vulnerable and reached out for help, only to find none, so I had to suck it up and figure it out by myself anyway. I try and protect myself now by just doing it myself in the first place. But I didn’t this time. Not all of it, anyway.

I also realized that the pain — which was truly terrible labor-like pain — and my unprocessed trauma was, and always had been, connected. The back pain I endured for two decades before having spinal fusion surgery may have been technically caused by a car accident when I was a teenager, but was really the trauma trying to get my attention and get out. It wanted to be birthed and allow something new to live and grow and thrive.

I’m a lot better this week. I made it to my conference on Saturday, almost 2 hours away. It wasn’t a comfortable experience. But those sessions gave me some more tools to use as/when I revisit my first book. I learned a new word: autofiction to describe what I want to create from my memoir.

The sessions also gave me permission to approach the work in whatever way I need to, to be able to get close enough to get to the heart of it, without getting overwhelmed. That’s partly what stops me. I want to dig in, but I don’t want to be consumed by it. I want the rest of this life to keep working, for the kids to be fed, taken to where they need to go, to be scrubbed before bedtime and read books to, and for me to keep going with the rest of my writing and teaching life. I’m afraid of falling apart. And yet…it’s not going away, the need to tell this story.
So I’m going to follow my body’s lead. I’m trusting it to let me know how fast or slow to go. I want to do some more trauma release work this spring and into the early summer and then make space for myself to delve deeper into what’s going on in my memoir and craft it into the powerful I know it can be. The story of a girl, willing to travel across the ocean to find home and family on a tropical island, but who instead finds something very different from the promises of paradise in the shiny tourist brochures.

Local Eugene author interview with James Aaron

Before I became a writer, I was a reader. I learned to read when I was 4 or 5 years old, in my first year of school. I remember sitting on the floor of my English classroom, deep into a book about a magician and a dragon, completely oblivious to what was going on around me.

I don’t remember the name of the book or the author, or even specifically what the story was about. But I remember the feeling of being transported into another world. No matter what was going on in my young life (and there was a lot that was hard), I could pick up a book and be somewhere else. That may sound like escapism, but books, along with music, kept me alive and kicking through some difficult and trying years.

I still go to books when life feels overwhelming (and even when it doesn’t). Nothing helps me cope like a good story.

And in an effort to support other writers (and justify my love of reading), here’s the first in hopefully many blog posts about fellow Eugene authors.

James Aaron

Eugene author James AaronLast March, I was in what seemed like a minor car accident — just a rear-end collision at fairly low speed. But it gave me a concussion and a whole lot of nerve pain in my left shoulder and arm (which is still healing). The concussion bowled me over, as far as its impact on my life. For more than a week, I sat on my couch in a daze, unable to drive or work or do much of anything.

I wrote about the experience a few days later in this blog post. That short post took me a couple of days to write and edit and post, because I could stand to look at a screen only for a few minutes before my brain was exhausted and I needed to rest.

Fortunately, I discovered that I was able to still read. So I sat on my red couch and read a whole lot of books, took some naps and let my brain rest enough to get better.

Emerald EmergentOne of the books I read during that time was Emerald Emergent by local Eugene author James Aaron, whose book I had recently stumbled upon in a lovely series of small events.

I met James at last Spring’s Wordcrafters writing conference the weekend before the accident. He sat next to me, tapping away on a clackity smart typewriter thing with a tiny screen. He introduced me to the tall guy (Justin Tindel) in the EWA (Eugene Writers Anonymous) shirt and got me hooked up to their Facebook group.

Which is where James posted a link to Emerald Emergent, on sale that week on I bought it, downloaded it, and got on with life, until I got whacked over the head by the universe.

So, there I was, sitting on the couch, wondering how to occupy myself, and opened my Kindle and found James’ book. Away I went, on an adventure outside of the confines of my healing body and brain.

I loved the book. I won’t attempt to summarize the plot, so I’ll just say that it’s a fast-paced young adult sci-fi adventure with characters I connected to and a world that I totally got into. My only complaint was that it wasn’t longer. And that there are terrifying dog-sized spiders (not really a complaint, but they were terrifying).

The Voices in the WoodsHere’s the thing that I also loved. I found a couple of typos in the book and contacted James about them through Facebook. (“Hi, I just read your book and it was great, but here are some typos I found…hope you don’t mind.”) He was gracious and grateful to know about them, and sent me an advance copy of the next book in the Emerald of Elegaia series, The Voices in the Woods, which I happily proofread for him.

Sadly for me, James has been taking a break from the Emerald of Elegaia series to work on some other books — he published two more novels last year (making a total of four in 2016): Ground Private Parvel and The Dead Miner’s Mother. And I’m sure he has more in the works.

An interview with James Aaron

Fortunately for all of us, James was happy for me to pepper him with questions about his books and how he goes about writing and publishing them. As an independent author, he gets to do the whole thing himself, figuring it all out along the way.

How long have you been writing books?

I tried to write my first novel in high school and got my first taste of professional rejection when Del Rey sent me a very nice form letter. I wrote another novel in my twenties.

It’s only in the last two years that I’ve been focused on writing in a dedicated way: writing every day, taking part in writing groups, and submitting to magazines. I guess I’ve been thinking about writing all my life, but the conditions to actually be able to write have only presented themselves recently. There were other times when I thought I wanted to take a class or join a group, went once, and just never went back. I don’t know why the thought of it made me so anxious back then, but something clicked two years ago and it’s been a lot of fun since then.

Why did you start writing?

I started reading seriously when I was thirteen or fourteen, and something about the experience of reading made me want to try it myself. I wrote mostly imitation back then. I guess if fanfiction had existed, that’s what I was writing. But it was fun and it gave me something to do after school. I had a computer and I wasn’t allowed to play games on it, so the only thing I could really do with it was write.

Where did the idea for Emerald Emergent come from?

I’m fascinated by the idea of the eternal return, that civilizations have risen and fallen across the millennia and their bones are always waiting to be discovered. I wanted to create a world where people live with the effects of those previous worlds, where your backyard might turn out be filled with ancient tech that might hurt or help you. . . so that was the seed of what became Emerald’s story. Now I’m on the process of building out some of the events that come long before her time.

What was the reception to it?

Readers have really enjoyed it, but there haven’t been as many readers as I would have liked. In publishing Emerald and Voices, I learned a lot about how Amazon works, what the readers there are looking for, and it lead me to change directions with the latest novels. I’ll still go back to the other stories to finish them. I wrote more to reader expectations with Ground Private Parvel, and it’s already beat the sales of the other two books in just two weeks.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

I wanted to learn about publishing as it currently stands. I was part of a small press from 2000 – 2009, and spent a lot of time editing books, designing them, getting them printed and then selling through bookstores and online. We quit just before the ebook revolution really took off, so we missed that boat. I went to a few talks with authors whose books were so professionally produced that I didn’t realize they were self-published. That was a huge wake-up call for me that the market had changed, and it was possible to produce a book yourself that could compete and succeed in the market.

I also like the level of control self-publishing allows, and that I can quickly experiment and then shift to something new if what I tried doesn’t work, without spending a huge amount of money. I like that I can see nearly instantaneous sales data. I’ve also found a really supportive community of authors who share information from an abundance mentality, making it possible to be more successful with what I try.

What have you learned from the process so far?

Community is one of the most important parts of writing these days. Find yourself a writing group. Whether you’re focused on the traditional publishing route, self-publishing or something in-between, there are other people in your area or online doing the same thing. It’s so much more fun when you can share your wins and commiserate over your losses, and hopefully help someone else avoid the same mistakes. Writing is work, but it’s so much more fun when you like your co-workers. The idea of the author struggling alone is a myth that no longer holds true.

I never got to meet Jay Lake, but I remind myself of his advice almost every day as I think about my writing journey:

  • Write a story every week (for me this is write every day)
  • Finish everything you start
  • Don’t self-critique while writing
  • Work on one thing at a time (I am mostly good at doing this)

I remind myself that writing is a journey, and I won’t get anywhere if I don’t get the words out, share them, and keep moving forward. We live in a time where feedback is everywhere, in reviews and writing groups and places you least expect. . . don’t let negative feedback stop you from telling your story. Think about the feedback from all directions but don’t let it stop you from creating. The worst thing you could do in response to negative feedback is to stop creating.

I still work full-time and don’t plan on leaving my day job anytime soon, so my writing process is based on getting up everyday at 5am and doing the work. Some days I’m better at this than others, but I’m doing my best. I finish everything I start, and I write at least a thousand words a day. They might not always be the best words, but I feel better once I’m done.

Anything else you want to share?

I love to hear from readers. You can email me at or join my newsletter list at

Being part of a community of writers and readers is the best part of all of this for me. I love to read/hear a great story, and if I’m able to share my own and have it connect with someone, that’s the best feeling.

Knitting love into Christmas stockings

For the past 3 Christmases, I’ve found myself knitting Christmas stockings for folks who don’t have one.

Honoka's christmas stockingThe first one was for our exchange student, Honoka. Christmas in Japan isn’t anything like it is in the U.S. and, even if she had a Christmas stocking, it’s not like she would have thought to pack it and bring it with her.

I had no idea what I was doing, really, but I’d knitted enough socks that I decided I could figure it out. I poked around on a few websites and came up with some designs and just went for it. It turned out pretty well, for a week-before-Christmas project, knitted on the sly to surprise her Christmas morning.

Cecilia's personalized Christmas stockingIt went over so well that, when we hosted, Cecilia, a French student intern, the following year (last year) I decided to knit another one. I didn’t want to keep the same pattern, though, so I got out some graph paper and experimented a bit. The snowflakes didn’t quite turn out the way I’d envisioned, but Cecilia was polite enough to smile and say thanks anyway.

This year, I had no one to knit a Christmas stocking for and I was a little sad.

Then, an online friend of mine posted that she was having a hard time this Christmas. We met 12 years ago on an online forum while we were both newly pregnant with our first kiddos and have kept in touch over the years, along with many of the other women also on the forum at the time. I was one of the first of this group of friends to get divorced and have my family change form. She’s one of the more recent friends to go through the experience, and this Christmas is particularly tough for her in terms of who has kids when.

Not only would she not get her kids until the afternoon of Christmas day, she said. But their dad, her ex-husband, wanted the stockings that his mom had knit for the kids. Fair enough. But it really bummed her out. She’d been the Santa of their family since the kids were born, the one staying up to fill the stockings and place presents under the tree. I’ve been through that first Christmas without the kids. I know how it feels.

Hand knitted personalized Christmas sstockingsSo I asked if I could knit them new stockings. It seemed like a small enough gesture. It wasn’t going to fix not having her kids Christmas Eve or morning, but maybe it’d bring a little Christmas joy back to her life — to know she’s loved and that, while traditions may change, it can still be OK. I couldn’t change any of the family stuff, the grief of loss after divorce, the heaviness that the holidays can sometimes bring. But I could make sure her kids had another set of Christmas stockings, hand knitted with love.

She gladly accepted, gave me the kids’ favorite colors and I got to work. Red for Charlie, yellow for Jack and purple and blue for Eva. Ten days later, the 3 stockings were done, and (with some financial help from the rest of our online group of mom friends) I got them in the mail (global expedited) to fly across the country to her in time for Christmas. Phew!Personalized Christmas stockings

I’ve decided to incorporate spontaneous and deliberate acts of kindness into my life. I want to live in a world where people do good things for others. Where people leave love notes from the universe on car windows and toilet stall doors. Where people buy coffee for the people behind them in line. Where friends reach out to each other and offer unexpected ways to help and offer love and support. Where schools are funded, neighbors offer hot showers when your power is out, and people come together in times of need. And a whole lot of other things, too, but you get the point.

I’ve always liked the (mis)quote attributed to Ghandi – Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Here’s the actual quote, which works even better for me. For me to live in a world with those qualities, I must embody them, in my actions, my thoughts, my words.

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Back to the Christmas stockings. If you’d like to have a go at making them, here’s my version of a pattern to guide you. You can also download the PDF here.

Hand Knit Personalized Christmas Stocking Pattern

Here are the basic knitting instructions. I knit these toe up on 2 circular needles. I use Lion’s Brand Vanna’s Choice yarn, as it’s nice and thick and has a good loft, on 5.5 mm needles.

Choose several Christmas-y colors (red, green, white, blue, purple, gold) and choose one color as the main color for the toe, heel and cuff.

Then pick the designs you like most for the foot and leg. If you’re new at intarsia knitting, go with simpler designs with two colors. Knitting intarsia in the round is also different from knitting it regular style (whatever that’s called – flat knitting, I think), as you’ll need to keep the yarn moving around the piece, rather than having several separate balls of yarn. You’ll also have a lot of yarn in the back of your work. Apparently this method breaks the rules of intarsia knitting — and yet it works just fine for me. Remember to not pull the strand(s) of color you’re not actively knitting too tight. Don’t leave them all loose and loopy, either, but allow them to have a bit of give. (It turns out I probably don’t do intarsia “correctly” in flat knitting either, but I manage to live with myself.) If you’d like to make some designs yourself, I used to make the ones below.

Clearly, I’m not much of a rule follower and usually follow knitting patterns about as well as I follow recipes or anything else I’m told to do. I use them for the structure and foundation of the piece. And then I change things… So use this pattern as a guideline and feel free to make changes as you see fit. You hereby have my permission. 🙂


With main color, cast on 16 stitches using Judy’s magic cast on.

Round 1: Knit all stitches

Round 2: Increase 1 stitch on each end.

On first needle, K1, M1, K each stitch to within one stitch of the end of the row, M1, K1.

Turn to second needle and repeat.

You’ll increase 4 stitches total.

Repeat these 2 rounds until there are 32 stitches on each needle (64 stitches total)


Knit 30-32 rounds in pattern and colors of your choice.

Now you get to decide on the pattern you want to use. You can do plain stripes or fancy them up a bit with squares different colors. It’s your choice.


Switch to main color and knit 2 rounds.

Turn heel using your favorite method. I use a short row method, wrapping stitches, that I learned from a book about knitting toe up socks. If you’ve got some other method that works for you, go for it. If you do it the short row, wrapped stitches way, knit short rows until there are 16 live stitches (that aren’t wrapped) and 8 wrapped stitches on either side.

Once you’ve turned the heel, knit 2 more rounds in the main color.


Time for more pattern creativity.

You’ll knit about 50-52 rounds of pattern before you knit the name. So choose an intarsia pattern or two. Most of the main patterns are about 21 rounds (snowmen, santas, large trees, poinsettia). I usually do 1 main pattern plus 1 smaller pattern (small trees, zig zags or holly), then 3 more rounds of fancy stripes.


Create a chart for the name you want to knit onto the stocking. I use a chart I once found online at, which I can no longer find on their website (but here it is on Pinterest). This chart is a little problematic for longer names as the letters are quite fat, but you can find lots of charts online and I like to adapt them with some graph paper and my imagination.

Knit 2 rounds in the color that will be the background for the name. Then knit the name chart, and knit 2 more rounds.


Switch to the main color (if it’s not the background for the name.) Knit 2 rounds.

Next round: knit 2, purl two in ribbing.

Knit 7 rows of ribbing.

Bind off loosely.


Cut 3 strands of yarn in the main colors used for the stocking and braid. Knot together at the cut end in a loop knot. Thread one end of the loop through the top of the stocking about 3 rows down and pass it back through itself to create the loop of the hanger.

The patterns:

Fancy stripes

fancy stripes for Christmas stocking


Holly knitting pattern for Christmas stocking

Simple tree

Simple tree pattern for Christmas stocking

Zig zags

Zigzag pattern for Christmas stocking


Poinsettia pattern for personalized Christmas stocking


Santa pattern for Christmas stocking


Snowman pattern for Christmas stocking

Christmas tree

Christmas tree pattern for Christmas stocking