How to “Candy Bowl” Yourself…And Why You Should.

When I was in high school, my favorite classes were almost always (go figure) my English classes. I loved the smell of old books and the discussion of ideas and the thrill and terror of writing an essay in 45 minutes.

I was also extremely lucky. During my time at school, I had many brilliant English teachers, and as we all know, a teacher can make or break a class. My English teachers taught me not only about the importance of storytelling as a form of communication and about the craft of writing the perfect AP essay but also about my own voice.

Back in high school, I had very little faith in myself or my own voice. As much as I liked to talk (and I did like to talk, as any of my English teachers could attest!), I didn’t really believe that I had anything important or worthwhile to say. I didn’t think that I was worth anyone’s time.

And sometimes, as an author, I still feel that way. I sit down at the computer, fully ready to write and tell my story, and find that I just…can’t. My brain gets in my own way. I get judgmental: No one cares about what you have to say. No one is going to like this book. Why do you think you’re so special that people should want to read your work? Who do you think you are, you poser? Remember that one really mean review you got on Goodreads? That person was right. You should never write again. Around and around my brain goes, twirling circles around my thoughts and feelings, keeping them from escaping out onto the page.

As an author, my thoughts and my feelings are my business. So, if I can’t get those down on paper, then I’m not doing my job, which adds another layer of guilt and frustration to the whole process. At that point, I’m angry not only about how terrible of a writer I probably am but also about how useless I am. Oh, so you’re a lazy writer in addition to be a terrible one? 

But this, strange as it sounds, is where my high school English teachers come in. Well, one teacher in particular. 


My sophomore English teacher used to have a system she called “The Candy Bowl System.” At my high school, we used something called The Harkness Method, which basically amounted to discussion-based learning around an ovular table. So, every day, when my sophomore English teacher walked into the room, she’d place a big bowl of candy in the center of that table. And if you made a point that stirred her, or affected the conversation, or impacted the class in a meaningful way, she’d point to you and say, “candy bowl,” at which point you were allowed to pick a piece out.

Now, when I explain it like that, it sounds like she was bribing us to participate in our reading discussions. But that wasn’t it. It was a reward (a tangible, exciting reward) that acknowledged, in front of everyone, that our voice mattered, that we had made an impact in our own, small way.

So…Why am I telling you this? Well, because sometimes, I think we could all use our own candy bowls.

When I’m in one of those writing ruts, I’ve trained myself. I open a small bag of candy kept in the cabinet for emergencies, dump them into a glass, and place them on my writing desk, just out of reach. And I write to the candy bowl. I write with the hope that before the session is over, I will have had at least one sentence or phrase or paragraph that makes me say, “Yes. My voice there mattered. That small fragment of this story is worthy of being heard.”

I give myself a piece of candy, and then I move on. I, like that high school teacher who helped me find my voice in the first place, force my stubborn brain to admit it: I am not a loser who has nothing to contribute. Even when I feel like I’m at my worst, I can still create something worth reading.

This advice won’t work for everyone. However, I think it’s a fun exercise to try at least once. It’s very easy to get weighed down, to accept the lie that we don’t matter, so forcing yourself to acknowledge (even once!) that your voice is important and that you can create beautiful, meaningful things can be enlightening beyond belief!

So, dear reader chums, how do you remind yourself of your worth as a writer? What are some tips and tricks that I can learn from you about getting out of these self-doubt ruts? Leave your answer below in the comments or tweet me at @writeralys!

Alys Murray is the author of the Hallmark novel, The Christmas Company, available in-store from Target, Walmart, Meijer, select Hallmark Gold Crown stores, and from the fine retailers below. 


Additionally, in 2019, Alys will be releasing Tea and a Cowboy from The Wild Rose Press, as well as Society Girl from Entangled. For updates on her writing and for chances to win exclusive prizes, be sure to sign up for her newsletter here!

The Two Things You Can Do to Make Feedback Easier

To call putting your creative work in the hands of someone else “difficult” is probably the understatement of the century. When you create something, you put pieces of your heart and soul into that work, which means that, sometimes, giving over your work to another person feels like you’re asking for them to judge you personally.

That, of course, isn’t true! They aren’t judging you at all. In fact, they’re helping to make your work the best it possibly can be. They’re trying to make you and the story you created even better than it already is.

But just because it isn’t true doesn’t make it feel any less true. In the past, no matter how many times I would tell myself, “they’re just talking about the story. Their feedback doesn’t mean you’re stupid or a terrible writer,” it was difficult to feel like they weren’t trashing me personally.

As I’ve gotten more comfortable with myself as a writer and started becoming more and more confident in sharing my work with other people, I’ve had to find ways to combat that feeling. These two tiny tricks have helped me immensely, and I think they’ll help you too!

  1. The Pre-Send Paper

Before I hit “send” to an editor, my agent, my CP’s, my beta readers, or even my fiancé (who is always the first to read any new work on mine!), I take out a clean sheet of paper and write the date and the title of the book on top. From there, I write a list of everything I’m proud of in the work I’m about to send. This could be anything as big as, “I’m proud to have written a book that tackled X issue,” or as small as, “I think this one particular line is hilarious.” Once I’ve written down everything I can possibly think of, I put that letter in a special place, easily retrievable, so that any time I feel bad about my work, get feedback that stings, or even a one-star review, I can pull that piece of paper out and remember just how excited I am by the book! Getting negative (or even neutral!) comments on your work can cloud your brain and lead to catastrophizing (such as, “this one random internet stranger hated my book, which means I’m a complete failure and no one is ever going to want to read my stories again! I should just give up!”). The easiest way I’ve found to break that catastrophizing cloud is to read my Pre-Send Paper and remember all of the ways in which I rocked that Manuscript!

2. The Feedback Notecard

Next, whenever I get an email labeled with “Feedback,” I grab a notecard and a pen, label that notecard with the book’s name and the date, and then write something to the effect of, “I love this book. I love this story. And no matter what feedback this person gives me, I will remember that we are all just looking for the best way to tell this story that I love. Everything that this email has to say is in service of the story, and I am grateful to this person for taking time out of their lives to try and make my work the best it possibly can be.”

This may seem like a silly thing to actually have to write down, but I find it useful because the act of putting pen to paper and listing out all of the reasons why the feedback is good, why the person who wrote the email is my friend and not my enemy, and why we’re all doing this hard work of revision in the first place forces me to meditate on and internalize those facts.

And then, of course, if that still doesn’t work and I still get my feelings hurt by the feedback, I can go to my Pre-Send Paper and get a little boost!

This is how I help make revisions a little bit easier on myself, but I’m always interested in hearing from other people! How do YOU get through revisions and editorial feedback? What’s your strategy for keeping your skin thick and your attitude one of gratitude and determination? I can’t wait to hear from you all!