What I Learned about Writing from the Author of The Book Thief

Note: While many people see me as a decluttering expert, I see myself as a writer first. I’ve been writing almost daily for over 10 years, whereas I’ve only been decluttering for 3. That’s why I wanted to share this experience even though it isn’t what I typically write about on the blog.


As I pulled myself away from tasks at home and got in my car, I wondered if the hour-long drive would be worth it. I hadn’t heard how other Markus Zusak events had gone. My brother just happened to see a poster that he was coming to the library. Since it was free and I still remembered being amazed by the beautiful writing in The Book Thief, I signed up.


Due to his Australian accent, it took me a few seconds to process the first words out of his mouth: “Can you understand me? It’s always terrible to get to the end of a talk, only to find that no one understood a word.”


As he spoke, I no longer worried that it wouldn’t be worth my time. And I was suddenly very glad I’d come prepared to take notes. Yet the most valuable thing I learned about writing wasn’t anything I wrote down.


I’m not sure if I expected a man who had sold more than 10 million copies of his book to be boring or pompous, but he was neither. He was nervous but prepared, entertaining yet simple. He was less like I imagined a man with great success would be and more like a best friend.


As I’ve been writing my book, I’ve heard about how anyone can write a book these days. In a way, it’s discouraging because I feel like just another person writing another book when there are already more than anyone could read even if they lived for centuries. Yet the more time and effort I put into my book, the more I respect those who have done it before. Maybe anyone could write a book, but not just anyone actually will. They have to believe in their message enough to carve out time to get the words down and then also to learn the process of getting them published.


And with every situation or thought that comes up telling them it isn’t worth it, they somehow have to convince themselves that it will be.


It’s easy now to look at Markus Zusak and think he’s a marvelous writer and of course he was born to be a writer. That’s why I love that he shared a story about his life as a writer before The Book Thief:


At my first book reading, no one showed up…but the best part is that the librarian still made me read an excerpt from my book just to her.


He thanked us for showing up because he remembered how it felt when no one cared that he was there. That was the most encouraging part of his message…just seeing how he’s like everyone else, but he didn’t let that stop him from putting time into writing another book.


He shared some great stories from his childhood, so if you ever get a chance to hear him speak, don’t doubt that it will be worth your time! But until then, here are the bits of advice he gave to writers.



Writing Advice from Markus Zusak


  1. The easiest place to start is with yourself. He told how a part of his book is something that happened to his grandfather. A group was asked who has neat handwriting. Everyone was scared to volunteer. A man pointed at his grandfather. He was given a writing task and everyone else, including the man who had volunteered him, was sent off to their death.
  2. Small details are really important in stories because it makes them more believable. He referred back to stories he’d told earlier in the evening, asking us what color the cooler was. We all were able to remember. He also told about how he lost his coat in the airport once. He went back to get it, and the person at the desk asked him to describe it. He mentioned the basics and then added that there was a crumpled note in the left pocket. That small detail is what made them believe it.
  3. Do the unexpected. He got his idea to write from Death’s perspective from participating in an assignment he gave to a class of children.
  4. An edited story is the best story. He has told this story over and over, which is why it gets such a huge reaction the whole time. Each time he tells it, he pays attention to what works and doesn’t work, and makes changes accordingly.
  5. Stories must have at least 2 levels. The problem is when they’re linear. Backstories must be told. It doesn’t all have to be in chronological order, and it shouldn’t. You need to use the past to inform the present.


I’d heard a lot of that information before, but it was great hearing it from someone whose work I’ve read and seen that he’s capable of forming sentence after sentence into something beautiful.


If you want to learn more about how to make a living writing, one of my favorite authors has an online course to guide you through the process step-by-step. It’s the reason I’m about to publish my first book. Seriously, it’s amazing and it works. And if you try it for 60 days and decide it wasn’t what you thought or wanted, then you can get your money back. It doesn’t promise a quick and easy journey. I took the course 3 years ago! But it certainly made the process a little faster and a lot less stressful. I can’t wait to hear how it helps you gain readers for your blog or publish a book that people actually pay to read.


How to Stay Inspired to Declutter

Day 26

30 Day Decluttering Challenge

I’ve been writing about clutter for over a year now. I keep wondering when I’ll run out of stuff to say.

But I continue learning and trying new things.

Even when I’m not decluttering, I’m reading about it or studying other people’s behavior or just observing the clutter or lack of it wherever I go.

This naturally inspires me to re-evaluate my own clutter when I get a chance. It keeps me from getting bogged down in the same old thing.

Today’s Task: Try moving out of your typical routine in the next few days. Make it a competition with yourself or your family. Dress up just for your decluttering time. Invite a friend to join you. Actually set a timer. Review your chart of all your progress or look back at your Before pictures to see how far you’ve come.

When It’s Time to Stop Decluttering

Day 20

30 Day Decluttering Challenge

This may seem off-topic, but stick with me.

For those of you who don’t know, my dad was in the hospital from Friday night to Tuesday evening. Honestly, I think they should have kept him longer. I’ve been caring for him over the past, and it looks like it’s gonna be a long journey.

I’ve been freaking out about what this means for the blog. Web-hosting payments are due soon, and I wondered if I should just shut it down.

But some friends of mine have helped me realize that I won’t be able to continue the way I have for the last two years. I’ll have to make some adjustments, but I can create a new routine that fits my new life and still maintain a blog.

I can write out posts (or portions of posts) daily and then type them once a week or even once a month.

I’ve found this to be true for people trying to declutter.

We make ourselves feel guilty for not doing it, or we’re overwhelmed by something unexpected that comes up. So we want to give up on getting rid of clutter. Or we want to give up on that unexpected opportunity or challenge even though it’s important to us.

There will come a time when you need to stop decluttering. You’ll need to pause and give your attention to a child or a friend or even yourself. Getting rid of clutter can become an obsession as much as accumulating it can. It’s always good to take time to make sure our goals are still lining up with our priorities.

Today’s Task: Think about how you’ll handle something that comes up and leaves you with less time to declutter. Can you be ok with making less progress on your clutter? Will you still do 5 minutes a day when something keeps you from being able to declutter for 30 minutes? Do you want to be so stuck on decluttering that you ignore the fact that you’re sick and need to rest? Remember to be thankful for the people in your life. We want to see progress with clutter, but the whole point of getting rid of it is to focus on what’s important, to value people over possessions.

A Simple Guide to Tiny House Workshops

Will the workshop be worth the cost?

Will I be comfortable building even though I have little experience?

Will the terminology be over my head?

These are the questions I had before attending my first tiny house workshop.

For those of you who haven’t been to one, or who are looking into going to another one, my goal is that the following descriptions will help you in making that decision.


Let me preface my observations with this:

  • All 3 workshops I’ve attended (Deek’s, Dan Louche’s, and Tumbleweed’s…in that order) have been great for networking with people who have similar interests. I love the tiny house community and was able to connect with people on more than just tiny houses. I really enjoyed each workshop and gained a lot of valuable information.

  • The following contains my personal opinions. Even if you attend one of Deek’s workshops, it won’t be the exact same experience that I had. Also, some aspects of the workshops that I enjoyed may actually be the opposite of what you would prefer. Hopefully this article will give you an idea of which workshop would best fit your needs even if they are different than mine were. I realize that not everyone can attend more than one or two, even though I would gladly attend them all a second time.

  • I really appreciated that the speakers care about the reputation of tiny homes. They don’t want your neighbors to complain about your build, and they don’t want people’s first impression of a tiny house to be a negative one. Of course they want the movement to continue to grow, so they teach you how to avoid complaints and instead encourage interest in tiny houses.


A Simple Guide to Tiny House Workshops

  Dan Louche Workshop.jpg 

tiny house workshops guide.htm

Other Considerations when Attending a Workshop


  1. Cost. There are early bird rates, so attending the soonest one may not be best if you are on a tight budget. Go ahead and start your research now even if you know you can’t attend this year. It seems like new dates for upcoming workshops are continually showing up.


  1. Location. I wanted to find a workshop near me not only to reduce travel expenses but also in order to meet tiny house enthusiasts near me. This did not work at the first workshop I attended–many people came from the Northern U.S. to escape their cold weather. I still loved the people I met there, but it’s sad that I can’t connect with them again in person as easily as I can with those I met at other workshops.

If all of that isn’t enough, then here is the simplest guideline of all: Go. Just give one a try. Attend any tiny house workshop. I really believe you’ll be glad you did.

Do you still have questions about these workshops? Leave a comment below, and I’ll be happy to try to assist you further.

 To learn 3 ways to stop wasting time and money now, get my free e-book Living Tiny Starts before You Own a Tiny House.



Deep Well Ventures Giveaway

This is an amazing business just getting underway, & I’m so excited about it. Even if you don’t enter the giveaway, go like the Facebook page to let them know they have your support!

Stainless Steel Water Bottle (H2OPE)

Not only do I love the creative & meaningful logo on their water bottles, but I love the fact that they support mission work from providing clean water to caring for orphans. Plus, I love drinking water & encouraging others to be healthy. These water bottles are great reminders, & you can sign up today to win one along with a Starbucks gift card! You’re welcome.


So you don’t miss deals like this in the future, & so you can keep up with other fun posts, please sign up for my newsletter near the top right of the page. I hope to include special info and opportunities that I haven’t even posted on the site. These emails will only be sent out once or twice a month for now, but I hope to make them something you wish would be more frequent! 🙂 Maybe I’ll be able to arrange that. And of course you’ll be able to unsubscribe any time if you end up finding them to not be useful.


Thanks for reading…and may the odds be ever in your favor!


Live Tiny; Dream Big!

My Little Shop

Welcome to my little shop! I’m so glad you’re here and honored that you took the time to check it out. Half of all that is paid to me goes to missions. Please let me know any questions you have about these products.

Crocheted tie-on heart Fingerless Gloves/Wristers Headband Towel Toppers Scarf

Kitchen or Bathroom Handtowels



Lewis Teapot

You can’t find a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.


To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love.


This is the setup I had for a recent craft fair:

Craft Booth


Although this quote is what Mr. Knightley says to Emma in Austen’s novel, I realized it could also work as a Mother’s Day card. $5


Bootcuffs, $20



Accessory hearts, $1 each. They can be tied to bobbypins, zippers, hairclips, hair-ties, or used as ornaments.

Heart on Hats Hearts

If you’re interested in any of the above, leave a comment or email me at mcstarbuck{at}gmail{dot}com. If you have PayPal, I would be glad to send you an invoice for the item you choose.


Missionaries I Support

So far, my site has 12 countries represented with missionaries I support through selling my creative works (crocheting, painting, etc).

If you would just like to make a donation, go here.


Here are the amazing people doing great things:


Kayla Wadford, Peru

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I met her at her yardsale to raise money for her 2-year medical mission trip with Campus Outreach. She has a great story and is obviously a courageous woman who loves God and people.


Phanith Ngy, Cambodia

I met Phanith Ngy while I was in Cambodia, and he has a great heart for his country. He has an amazing story that he shared with us and took us to the place dedicated to the lives of those lost in the Cambodian genocide of 1975-1978 (pictured with him above). You can see that inside the building are bones of many of those people who died at that time. He is an assistant pastor who teaches English to people in his country using English Easy Reader Versions of the Bible. Everyone there wants to learn English, so it has been a great way to also teach new people the truths in the Bible. He needs about 50 of those Bibles per year because he gives them to the students. He has been able to buy them in Cambodia, but hasn’t been able to find them recently. They are $10 on Amazon, & I have his address so that I can hopefully mail at least 4 at a time in order to have free shipping.


Abby Twarek, China

I met her on Jon Acuff’s 30 Days of Hustle. She will be working with preschool children in an orphanage. She has been to China before and is excited to return! She is selling super cute t-shirts on her blog to raise support.


Audria Ratterree, Haiti

I met Audria when I when to Thailand and Cambodia with her in October of 2013. I’m so excited that she’s going on another trip! She will be working with children and teaming up with churches there.


Heidi Newberry, South Africa

A friend from college, Heidi is raising money to spend 2 years in South Africa. For such a young person, she has already done tons of mission work. So glad she loves it like I do!



Christina Langley, Cuba *Update: Funded!

My college roomie & friend for life has been a youth pastor for about 3 years now. She is raising $1500 to go to Cuba this July. I have gone with this girl to Israel, & she has also done short term mission work in Africa, England, & South America.



Nicole Shute & her friend Alyssa, United States (All 50!)

I met Nicole through an amazing, inspiring group of people who set 30 day goals. It’s like New Year’s Resolutions that actually last. 🙂 Anyway, she will be traveling in 2015 to all 50 states with a friend and stopping to do some type of volunteer work in each one. I’m so excited to hear about all she does. You, too, can follow her plans on her Facebook Page. Also, you can sign up to be a prayer partner for their huge undertaking. They will send you prayer requests as they go.



Faith Campbell, Haiti, Update: Funded!

I went to school with Faith for many years, and she will be going on her first mission trip this July! She’s an amazing woman with a lot to offer. She will be working with some other wonderful people I know, visiting children in an orphanage.  All the kids who know her love her, and I believe those in Haiti will, too.



Stephanie Berbec, Tanzania, Full-time

I had the privilege of traveling to Kenya & Uganda with this fun, creative college friend. She and her husband are now preparing for a move to Tanzania to work side-by-side with coffee farmers. I can’t even describe all the great things they’re doing, but you can donate to them directly on their site if you like what you see there.


Catherine Smith, The Grace In His Eyes

Catherine works with the XXXChurch to help people with sexual addictions, and they give away “Jesus Loves Porn Stars” Bibles to those in the porn industry. Her blog shares her stories and answers many questions about this important program. I’m so encouraged to know something like this exists.


Niki Hester, Thailand

She drove a few hours to a spaghetti dinner that was to raise money & awareness for my mission trip to Thailand. We had never met, but it was great fun! She really loves the people there and wants to be a long-term missionary there.


Heather Heisey, Dominican Republic

We became penpals through Brio when we were teenagers! So of course when I found out about her trip, I wanted to help.


Ashley Atkins, India, Update: Funded!

Another great college friend! So excited that she has this opportunity to go with her church.


Chris Pochiba, Cycling across America to raise money & awareness for refugees in Thailand, Update: Funded!

His video says it better, but he is traveling with a group from Seattle to NYC! If they don’t raise the money by May 22, they don’t receive any of it. The site he’s using seems similar to kickstarter, & I personally am excited about the perks of receiving postcards from them or of getting a disposable camera of photos from the trip! Check it out. *If you decide to donate, I’d like to know so that I can add it to the total that has been donated through this website. No pressure, though. Thanks!

Chris Bushby, Rwanda, Full-time

I found out about her at a writing conference when a woman there said I remind her of her friend who was in Rwanda. I have been receiving Chris’ newsletters ever since, & they are wonderful…short but full of inspiring work and beautiful pictures. She is a full-time missionary doing so much! They host different classes for women and children and have all sorts of celebrations. So glad I was introduced to her! And as you can see, she is pregnant. I was so excited to read this announcement in her newsletter, and she is returning to the States to have her baby and to raise funds as being a missionary with a little one is way more expensive.



I hope to get more images uploaded into my shop soon so you can choose from other items I have for sell. But if you would just like to make a donation, you can do so here. Please let me know if you have any questions!


If you are a missionary & would like to be included on this page, please let me know more about what you’re doing! I’d love to support you. If you send people to my shop and they make a purchase, they can just let me know that they want their donation to go to you specifically. Hope this helps! I remember the days of raising money for my trips. So grateful for everyone who helped me. Just wanting to pay it forward. Keep dreaming big, everybody!



Looking for a house-warming or wedding gift? These kitchen or bathroom towels make great additions to gift baskets.

Sick of finding dishtowels on the floor? I love that you can lift these towels up to wipe your hands on them, & they don’t fall off! My sister has 5 kids and loves these.


These are two I have finished with a few more in the works & several more waiting to be crocheted. The towels are new, & I add the crocheted part along with the button. They are $10 each or $15 for two. This includes shipping, and at least half of that money goes to missions.


Which one is your favorite? What colors or theme is in your kitchen? (This could influence my future purchase, so I’d appreciate your input!)