Tag Archives: nonfiction

Facing the Blank Page…Again

Every writer I know has trouble writing. — Joseph Heller

The blank page taunts me again. It demands my attention, requires me to make the Big Decision. In order to do what they love, writers make sacrifices. Some writers don’t think of them as sacrifices while others feel guilty about them. Writers also need to really get to know how their minds work in order to survive writing. Curiosity rules the writer’s mind, especially a curiosity of why human beings behave as they do. Trouble writing can be about the writing itself (find the right words, editing, grammar, narrative structure, etc.) or about creating the conditions in a life in order to be able to sit at the desk to write.

Yesterday, a realization seared my mind. The Blank Page was throwing a tantrum in order to get my attention, and when I stopped long enough to pay attention, the thought marched through my mind like a screaming subtitle across the screen of my life: I needed to focus my attention and just do it.

What does that mean? For the rest of the day, I reflected, had discussions with myself in my mind, and finally realized that I’d been giving myself too many free passes. My Attention Butterfly flits from one interest to another, never staying too long in one place before moving on to something else. My imagination latches on to an idea and spins endless variations on it, testing different directions, capturing my attention away from what I know is most important to me in my life. Granted, it’s been a rough year lifewise, and that’s interfered with a lot. But it looks like my life will be settling down and now it’s time to return to my creative process and trust it.

My “Office”

What does that mean? The short answer: I need to laser aim my focus on my writing. I feel a tremendous pressure, both mentally and physically, to stop restlessly wandering and concentrate on my creative process, figure out what I need to do to nurture it now, and then spend the time I need to spend to get down on paper (or the computer screen) all the stories that have been skipping around in my mind lately. I’ve known for a long time that my ravenous curiosity can consume me, and what I need to do is put it on a diet of writing or writing-related food. It’s particularly helpful when I’m doing research for something, and I’ll need to ratchet it up to research questions that have been coming up as I’ve been working on the Aanora story.

So, the “blank page” I’m writing about this time isn’t actually a piece of paper or the computer screen, but the dedication to writing. I have writing projects lined up like planes on a runway. But the control tower isn’t paying attention.

I know what I need to do, and I’m determined to do it again as I have in the past in order to write and write and write, i.e. establish a writing schedule and cut everything else out of my life. A comment by a writer in a magazine yesterday also hit home — the writer was talking about how the more writing a writer does on a consistent schedule, usually daily, the better the writing becomes, the faster it hits the page. I experienced this in 2007 when I edited a draft of Perceval’s Secret, then immediately wrote the first draft of Perceval’s Shadow and half of the first draft of Perceval in Love in about 10 months before life stepped in front of that writing train and stopped it cold.  I would love to get that kind of momentum going again, even with a fulltime job stealing time away from the writing during the work week.

My imagination is ready. My mind is ready. What about yours?

P. S. If you’d like to read my first Facing the Blank Page, it’s here.


When Inspiration Strikes

Dust Sculptures in Rosette Nebula (Photo credit/copyright: John Ebersole

I wrote one of my favorite blog posts, “Inspiration Doesn’t Wait for You,” here almost ten years ago, and as I read it over this morning, I realized that it is the best description of my writing process that I’ve written. However, it doesn’t really describe how, when, or where inspiration can strike when it does strike. So how do I know when to be open to it? I’ve been thinking about this lately because ideas have been popping into my head at the oddest times.


One large project I’ve been working on (at the same time I’m looking for a fulltime job) is thoroughly cleaning my apartment. It’s not a huge apartment, but the clutter had been accumulating, as it usually does, as well as the dust and dirt. So I’ve been working on the cleaning a little at a time to keep this project manageable and not overwhelming. I detest housework of any kind. But I love it when my living space smells fresh and gleams. To distract myself while I’m doing this onerous task, I usually pick music I love to listen to while I work — could be classical, classic rock, or a Broadway musical.

I’ve just created conditions conducive for my imagination to come out and play. At some point while I’m cleaning, a thought will pop into my head about fiction or an essay that I’m working on. The most recent example occurred while I was cleaning in my bedroom — the thought came to me that my short story Light the Way was as much about different people having different expectations about the same thing as it was about the main character sharing her experience. I wrote a note to myself and finished the cleaning for the day. The next time I worked on that short story, I revised to make clearer the different expectations aspect of the story.

In the Shower

On Sundays, I like to have a relaxing, quiet day, and one of the things I do is take a nice, long, hot shower. My mind wanders all over the place, often thinking about the week ahead, what I accomplished in the past week, and my writing. Or I’ll start daydreaming about traveling or outer space, or being rich. Usually, when I’m almost finished, that’s when the idea will pop into my head. The most recent example of this occurred last Sunday. And the idea came to me with a physical jolt. I needed to rework one section of the Aanora story to add a little trip to another dimension for her to show another character something relevant to him in terms of character development and their relationship. It was one of those things of “Why didn’t I think of that before?” it was so obvious after I thought of it.

My suspicion: inspiration is like a cat stalking me, its prey, and that cat only pounces when she sees that I’m in the perfect position (or state of mind) to be captured. And I do often feel “captured” by a strike of inspiration.

Between Sleep and Wakefulness

Of course, it’s easy to think of inspiration striking while daydreaming or listening to music. That happens to me also, especially when I’m listening to music. But another fertile time occurs in the bleary state between sleep and wakefulness. I feel like I’m rising up or floating up or rocketing up depending on whether my alarm clock has gone off or not. The other morning, as I was slowly coming out of sleep, a sentence popped into my mind. Yep.  Just like that. I heard myself saying the words, and then I realized, oh my god, it’s the first sentence I’ve been seeking for Perceval’s Shadow. Now, I’m not working on the revision of that novel right now. In fact, I haven’t thought much about it because I’ve been trying to finish the short stories I have in progress. So for this gift of a sentence to come to me now is truly magical.

Inspiration can be courted but not coerced. Demand what you will from it, but prepare to be disappointed. Inspiration will not be forced. Invite it into your life and then provide welcoming conditions to entice it but don’t just sit around waiting for it to arrive. Do something! Write something everyday, read voraciously, clean house, take a shower, or take a nap….

Photo: Vasillisa/GoodFon.su

End of Year Writing Update

MC Escher: Paradox of being a writer

My writing year 2017 began with a successful essay for ClassicalMPR.org of an interview of one of the young composers participating in the Minnesota Orchestra’s Composer Institute and Future Classics concert. It was a great way to start the year.  I wish that momentum had continued.  Last August, I wrote a short update about my writing this year, but it’s been a year since my last full update. Rather than skip writing because of the holiday this week, I thought I’d do my annual end-of-the-year update/review today and take off next weekend for New Year’s. My next post will be in 2018!

Non-writing Employment: Working for others affected my writing this year far more than I’d anticipated or wanted. The first three months of the year, I continued to work part-time at the customer service job and receptionist position. At the same time, I continued to search for a fulltime job as my bank account dictated. In March, I accepted a fulltime position with a financial services company as their front desk receptionist. After beginning that job in April, it took me about three months to get used to the new work schedule. I wasn’t able to do any writing, but at least I did a lot of reading on my daily commutes. That position lasted until about two weeks ago, and now I’m back to searching for another fulltime job. My financial situation has now become especially precarious.  Although I’ve applied for unemployment insurance benefits, what I’ll receive barely covers rent. I’ll be working even harder, when not working on the job search, at selling my possessions as well as promoting my writing.

Perceval Novels:
If you have not yet bought your copy of Perceval’s Secret (only $2.99!), please do, and give it a read.  It’s available at Amazon and B&N.com. The reviews continue to be good to excellent!  I’d love to hear from readers through reviews at Amazon and B&N, or at Goodreads. And I could sure use the money!

I’m planning a couple promotions in the first quarter of 2018.  The first will probably be at GoodReads — a giveaway, if that’s possible for e-books. The second will be through BookBub. Please feel free to take advantage of these promotions, or encourage friends and family to take advantage of them.

As for the other novels in the series, all my files for Perceval’s Shadow, the second novel in the series, remain piled on my desk awaiting my attention. To be honest, I have not had much time to think about the Perceval series in 2017 except for handing out postcards for Perceval’s Secret to anyone interested and talking about that novel a lot.

Marketing: Marketing and promo for Perceval’s Secret this past year was catch as catch can.  It will receive more time from me in the weeks to come. I did talk more about the novel and hand out the postcards for it more often.  As I mentioned above, I plan to run a couple promotions in the first quarter of 2018. Still need to utilize the marketing tools at GoodReads, LinkedIn and Publishers Marketplace.  I continue to promote the novel on Twitter and Facebook.  I’ve been writing more posts at the Perceval Novels Facebook page, too.  Please go and like it, and visit often for updates on the novels.


New Novel Project: This project landed on the back burner this past year. I still plan to transform my original screenplay, Over the Rainbow, into a novel. While cleaning out some computer files yesterday, I opened the last draft of the script and read some random scenes, a bit surprised by how much I’d forgotten. I love the story, the main character, and the potential of it, so I hope to be able to work on it soon.

GoFundMe Project: What a crazy failure this was! I launched the GoFundMe fundraising page last March. I’d hoped to raise the money to pay off all my debt, especially the credit card debt.  I raised about $600.  I must give heartfelt thanks to all those who did contribute to the project, and I will be posting their names on my Appreciation Page on this blog soon.  During one promotion for the project, one person won the prize of having a character named after him in one of the last two Perceval series novels.  That will be fun for me too! I continue to very slowly pay off the credit card debt I’d been carrying from production, publication, and marketing expenses that I incurred to publish Perceval’s Secret as an e-book.  I won’t be able to even think about doing a paperback until the debt is paid off.

Short Stories: In July, I completed the first draft of my science fiction short story, Light the Way.  Then another interesting character, Aanora, entered my life, and I began writing her story.  It was slow going since I’ve only been able to write on weekends, but perhaps I can finish the first draft of this story in the next month or so. For 2018, I plan to continue to work more on short stories to get more of my writing out there for people to read.

Blogs: I continue to write posts at the Eyes on Life blog (as Gina Hunter) and here at Anatomy of Perceval.  My focus at the Gina Hunter blog has become a bit fluid: I continue to write “The Successful Patient” posts, but in addition I’m writing about the experience of being one of the Working Poor, so it’ll be about economics, money, working, etc. I also joined a blogfest called We are the World dedicated to spreading light in the online darkness, i.e. drawing attention to positive news about the love and compassion that human beings have for each other. Those posts appear on the last Friday (or Saturday) each month. I may also look into guest blogging, especially if they are paid gigs.

Essays/Paid Gigs: After the published interview/essay in January at ClassicalMPR.org, writing essays landed on the back burner. I plan to return to writing essays for ClassicalMPR.org (if they’ll have me) as well as research and investigate more markets for my essays.

Yager Editing Services: I closed this online business in May and took down the website.

Journal Writing: After an 18-month hiatus, I recently returned to my journal writing, although I’m taking a different approach to it than I have before.

The Successful Patient:
Nothing has changed on this project — still on the back burner.

Reading: I exceeded my 2017 Reading Challenge at GoodReads thanks to so much reading time on my daily commutes. Reading is an essential part of being a writer, and it’s been fun to read both wonderful and awful books this past year.  You can check out my reviews of them on GoodReads, and give me a holler while you’re there!

Right now, my life is one big Uncertainty.  Please keep your fingers crossed that I come through this time OK, and I don’t end up out on the street. While homelessness is an experience, it’s not one I want to have.  So, let’s hope I find that fulltime job that’s just waiting for me so I can return to my creative life.

Best wishes for a happy and healthful 2018!

Image from Pixelstalk.net



How do you write until you’re done?

Lately, I’ve been writing short stories to exercise my writing muscles in preparation for work on the second Perceval novel. Narrative structure has taken over my life. It’s so important for grounding a story, for keeping the action moving, and for knowing when the story’s done. Or not.  How do you write until you get to the end?

Hope Clark in her Funds for Writers newsletter brought up this subject recently in response to a writer sending her a plea for help. The writer wanted to know Hope Clark’s secret for writing to done.  Well, there is no big secret, and there’s nothing out there on the Web that could help with it.

The issue here is maintaining momentum and motivation. It’s different for each piece, I think.  A novel, or series of novels, requires a very long term commitment compared to a short story or essay.  Sticking with it, though, still demands more than only commitment. It demands practically an obsession with the piece and a determination to overcome all obstacles to finish it. It demands a willingness to struggle, wrestle with it, to do the work.  In short, you (the writer) are the protagonist in the story of how you wrote that short story or this novel.

At work at computer. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Writing is hard work.  It’s a struggle. You have to want to do it in the worst way. Hope Clark writes, “Any story that goes down on paper easy is not a good story.” Some days, I do not want to write. Those are the days I need the most to sit down and write something. That’s what writing is all about. The work. Transforming the imagination into the reality of a story on paper. Finding the right word or image, structuring an elegant sentence, searching the just the right active verb. It takes time, thought, and hard work.  I don’t know how many people I’ve run into who, when I tell them I’m a writer, always comment that it’s so easy to write, anyone could write. No, not just anyone can write and truly write well.

For me, when I’m working on something, I’m obsessed with the mystery of what happens next. Usually my characters very wisely withhold everything from me and parcel it out on a need to know basis. That doesn’t stop me from asking them a lot of questions right from the beginning. More days than I can count, though, I’ve not wanted to work, but to read, or watch a movie, or do something else that’s a lot easier than taking the narrative structure bull by the horns or learning to dance with my latest protagonist. Sometimes I just want to throw my laptop out the window I get so frustrated. At other times, life and its demands frustrate me because they keep me away from the writing, the work I love. Because there is absolutely nothing like the feeling of writing “the end.”

There is no easy way to write to done.  You just do it. And if you don’t go through the blood, sweat, and tears, it will show in your writing, your characters, your story, and the structure of it. And do you want to be known for sloppy, schlocky writing? Or known as a writer who doesn’t care enough to do the work? I don’t.

Just do it.


Grammar Matters

This morning, I began reading the October 2017 issue of The Writer. October already! One of the articles concerned the verb to be and how it weakens prose. Have you ever gone through a piece of writing specifically to root out all the to be forms and substitute action verbs instead? The author of the article (“Not to be”), Gail Radley, suggests using the find function in your word processing software to find and replace all forms of to be.  I like to print out what I’ve written and circle all the to be forms in red first, then work sentence by sentence to find the best replacement verbs. Radley shows in the article how often the to be form is near the verb that needs to replace it and she provides examples. An excellent article.

This article sparked thoughts about grammar in general. If you don’t think grammar is important to your prose, consider this. I occasionally agree to review novels when asked at GoodReads or elsewhere although I’m not a professional book reviewer. I’m usually happy to help out fellow writers and enjoy reading their work.  But there have been two times when I’ve agreed to review a novel but decided once I began reading that I could not write the review.  Why? Because the novel had been so poorly edited and contained so many grammar issues that the prose was nearly impossible to read. For both of these writers, I sent private e-mails with my assessment and that I would not review their books publicly.

Grammar exists not only to organize words but also to insure that the words make sense when put together. For professional writers, no reason exists in this world to justify not insuring that the grammar in their writing isn’t the best. Do you want readers to understand what you’re writing? Do you want readers to read your writing easily and with enjoyment? Do a close edit for grammar issues, whether you’re working on a novel or shorter piece.  If you feel rusty or unsure of your grammar usage, invest in a good usage manual like The Chicago Manual of Style and a grammar guide like Barron’s A Pocket Guide to Correct Grammar. Enough grammar reference books exist in libraries and bookstores that there is no excuse for a professional writer to not write grammatically correct prose.

We have editors – copy editors –  to help us in the later stages of completing a piece, of course. If you don’t feel confident in your grammar, a good copy editor is worth the cost, i.e. a professional copy editor who knows English grammar and usage. If you want your writing to be the best it can be, the clearest and easiest to read, then you have to put in the work and effort to accomplish that goal.

I will continue to review books, and accept the occasional request to review at GoodReads or post my review at Amazon or B&N.  If you self-publish, please be sure to hire a good copy editor before publishing your book.  It makes the reading and review process that much more enjoyable to me and all book reviewers.