Tag Archives: The Writing Life

New Year, New News

I came unstuck!

In my last post, I wrote about being stuck on Chapter 9 of the first draft of Perceval in Love. Today, I’m writing about becoming unstuck and how I did it.  How did I do it? Haven’t a clue. But here’s what happened:

The day after that last post, I sat down at my desk, at my computer, at Chapter 9 and just started writing. I knew where the chapter needed to go, it was only a matter of putting the words on the page (or screen, as it were). So, I wrote and wrote and wrote — 6.5 pages that day. I finished the chapter! And I began Chapter 10.

The next day I wrote another 6.5 pages on Chapter 10. It felt great. It felt right in my bones. And I realized that maybe I had over-thought getting back into the draft. Over-thinking triggered fear, self-doubts, and more fear. To get beyond the fear and self-doubt, I needed to write about being stuck, to get it out of my head. So I am grateful to those blog readers out there who read that last post! Thank you. I am back on track with Perceval in Love.

With the New Year, I’m back to my Monday through Friday fulltime job and writing fiction on the weekends. And first draft writing work has awakened the frisson in me again between my creative life and my “work” life. Although I enjoy my fulltime job and the paychecks are most welcome, my creative life pulls, and pulls, and pulls at me. I have no idea why revision work doesn’t cause this frisson.

I’m always interested in novels set in the classical music world, and I ran across one whose premise really intrigued me because the protagonist was a concert pianist who is recruited as a spy during World War II. I began reading this novel this past Friday. The prose is, in my opinion, awful. The pace is glacial which is not a good thing for a spy novel. I thought about just tossing it aside, but I decided to continue reading it as a lesson in how not to write. Reading bad prose tends to be a good thing for writers in the end. I’ve read other bad novels in the past for the same reason. At the same time, reading this novel with its bad prose makes me sad. I think the characters and their story deserve better.

As I continue writing work on the Perceval in Love first draft, I feel relief and happiness that Evan Quinn is still talking to me…..



In our society today, we underrate silence. We prefer noise, sound, often music, but anything so that we won’t have to endure silence. The absence of sound.

I’ve recently come face to face with my need for silence. A neighbor has bombarded me with sound at night that has kept me from sleeping well. She responded to my request to turn down the volume by turning up the volume, which has led to lodging noise complaints against her. I need silence to sleep. Do any of my readers not need silence to sleep?

When I first began writing fiction in a serious way, I wrote with classical music on in the background. It sparked all sorts of ideas in my imagination, but didn’t help the actual writing. At one point, I would listen to classical music during my morning walks while going over notes from my writing on the current fiction project. I found this to be especially productive with generating ideas for scenes, character development, and dialogue. Music opens the doors and windows of my imagination with an invitation to come out and play.

But I need silence in order to write now. It is as if the words generate their own sound, each word its own vibration, within my mind. I need to hear it, to listen. It feels as if my imagination observes the writing process as if watching a play or movie, reviewing my work later in dreams or when I’m going over my notes. The silence allows me to think. The silence creates the space for the words to occupy and resonate. The shy words don’t want to appear when there’s noise or music or something else occupying that space. They want their own silent space.

I also now read in silence. Except on my commute to and from work when I’m on a bus or train car full of people. Sometimes those people concentrate on their smartphones and are silent. Most often, someone who doesn’t have earphones will play a video or music on the smartphone loud, irritating me and others. Sometimes, someone uses the smartphone to actually have a phone call — one day a couple weeks ago, I (and everyone else in the bus) were forced to listen to a woman doing a career coaching phone call in what I’m sure she believed was a normal voice but was in fact quite loud. It’s a wonder how much of a person’s business becomes public because of cell phones, but it’s apparently more important to make the calls than keep the business private. Or do these people think no one can hear them or are paying attention?

Who has the ability to block out the human voice or a video or hip-hop music? I don’t, especially when loud and in a confined space like a city bus or train car. I do love quiet commutes when the other commuters are silently engrossed in their smartphones and I can read. But there are always other sounds in the background — traffic, the sound of the bus engine or the train wheels on the track, announcements of the next stop, or PAs about not smoking on the train. I have more success blocking out those sounds, sometimes to the extent that I’ve missed my stop because I was engrossed in my book.

Silence. Underappreciated. I crave it. I need it for my writing.

What about you?

Tempus Fugit

For the last six weeks or so, I have been buffeted by my own mind which wants to get everything done. But there’s been this huge problem: time. It is out of my control. I would love to be able to add a couple hours to some days, delete hours from others, give myself an extra day especially on weekends (who wouldn’t?!), and add hours to each night so that I can get more sleep and stay healthy. It’s been a tumultuous six weeks dealing with the flu, a neighbor’s toddler who was screaming through the nights (a behavioral issue, not illness or anything else), and some winter weather that set records in the Upper Midwest, none of which I had any control over.

All through this, I’ve been working on the first revision to the second novel in the Perceval series. Every weekend as I’ve worked, I’ve felt an intense guilt for not writing a blog post for this blog. Tempus fugit. The conflict between writing fiction (or nonfiction, for that matter) and writing on social media only exacerbated my frustrations. There was simply not enough time for everything (and there hasn’t been since I began working fulltime to pay the bills). I know that I am not alone in this frustration. I’ve been writing this blog since September 2007, and with few exceptions for surgery, I’ve managed to maintain a posting schedule of once a week on Saturdays. At the beginning of this year, I realized that this schedule, and continuing to work on the novel revision, wasn’t realistic.

Writers and Social Media

As a writer, I am happiest when I’m writing fiction or essays. I enjoy writing blog posts, but I see them, correctly I’ve learned, as a way to put myself as a writer and my writing out in the world to build audience. The March 2019 issue of The Writer confirmed this while I was reading it this past week on my daily commute to work. Most of this issue is devoted to promotion and social media.

My takeaway? There’s no getting around it. Writers must have an online presence, and Twitter seems to be the place to be nowadays. Writers can pick and choose, however, rather than throwing themselves into every single social media platform. That was good to hear. So, a website is a must. Twitter. The rest would be frosting on the cake and dependent on time. I have a “website” — this blog. I’m on Twitter but for my nonfiction writing, not fiction. Does that mean I need to have another Twitter account? Apparently. I don’t really like Twitter, however. I’ve set up a Facebook page for the Perceval Novels, and I’ve done some networking at LinkedIn in the past. But I have to admit there’s one big obstacle for me to spending a lot of time on social media: I prefer to work on my fiction and essays.

Nicki Porter, The Writer’s Senior Editor, wrote a wonderful “10 Social Commandments” in her opening letter from the Editor, and I’d like to share them here as a set of guidelines for writers (and me) for dealing with the social media in our lives:

  1. Thou shalt not tweet only about thyself.
  2. Thou shalt never attack or criticize another writer (unless thou be fully prepared to deal with the consequences).
  3. Thou shalt always remember that social media be more about building connections than selling books.
  4. Thou shalt support other writers at every opportunity.
  5. Thou shalt never offer advice unless said advice is requested.
  6. Thou shalt not succumb to jealousy or nastiness at other writers’ fame and fortune, but rather have faith that thy own successes cometh in due time.
  7. Thou shalt never tag an author in a negative review.
  8. Thou shalt not self-promote in times of national tragedy.
  9. Thou shalt listen as much as thou speakest.
  10. Thou shalt NEVER, EVER pitch an agent or editor on social media.

And with that, I’ll now return to my work on the novel revision.


Being a Writer

My father

“You can’t write.”

My father said that to me, looking me straight in the face over a beef stew dinner, and with a voice that held finality in its tone. I’d just announced to my family that I’d quit my fulltime advertising agency job to write.

“Being a writer is the same as being a prostitute.”

My brother said that to me the next day when we were running Christmas errands for our mother. I remember we’d just exited the car and were trudging through a snowy mall parking lot toward the entrance. He went on to explain that even though the entire family read lots of books, no one thought of writing as a legitimate job. I held my tongue. At the time, I knew a high-priced call girl whose bodyguard was a good friend of mine, and she thought of her job as a lucrative business and quite legitimate.

When I made my announcement, I did not know where my family’s responses originated, only that they were against it, and once again, I’d be completely on my own without their support as I’d been in college when I declared my music major. Now I understand that my parents wanted me to live the life that they wanted me to live, ignoring me as a person, my desires, skills and talents. My brother was just parroting them. I really don’t believe he cared one way or the other what I did. But he did care about staying in our father’s good graces. I decided since they were ignoring me that I’d ignore them. By the next summer, I was earning money with my writing.

An article in the December The Writer sparked this memory for me today. In “Girls Like Me,” Anna Kahoe wrote about the voices in her life that told her the things that she couldn’t do, and as a result, she thought she couldn’t do what she wanted to do, i.e. write. Eventually, she figured out that it was her choice, her decision, and she started writing. She described confiding to an actress that she wanted to write, and the actress told her “Writers write.” The actress went on to tell her that not everyone was an artist, but Anna held onto that truth: Writers write.

Being a writer means a lot of things, but above all, it means writing, choosing words to craft sentences into paragraphs that build one on another to become a story for people to read and enjoy. And there it is — story. Whether writing nonfiction or fiction, writers tell stories. Without a story to tell, the words have nowhere to go, nothing to say. This is the part of being a writer that can’t be taught — coming down with a story that gives the writer a fever of creation and the visceral need to express the story in a creative way unique to that specific writer. Everything in a writer’s life informs the imagination, the creative process, and leads to the stories.

I write. I tell stories. I am a writer.

How do you define Success?

Success. Everyone wants it. But what is it, really? I’m also curious to know if different countries define success differently based on their cultures. That curiosity arises from American society’s fixation on financial success as the only kind of success that counts. Writers need to figure out that writing for money can be a huge mistake, but it’s hard to ignore that it takes money to live, to pay the bills, obtain food, shelter, clothing. I’ve written about success before at this blog. In that post, I explored the idea of “commercial success.” Now I want to explore the notion of “success,” that is, success unencumbered by money.

Athletes can define success in two ways: when they win a competition, and when they attain their goals whether in training or in performance. Writers can learn from the example of athletes. Success is in how you define it, in other words, not how society defines it. Society will always define success in financial terms. For writers this means in sales. So let’s forget that and return to the athletes.

Photo by William Warby


Writers competing with other writers — do writers really do this? From my own experience and my voracious reading, I have a tendency to compare my writing to that of another writer’s. But I’m not thinking in terms of competition. I’m thinking in terms of noting what the other writer does well, doesn’t do well, and how I can learn from it. Competition exists, however, with writing contests. Every time you submit a story, a poem, a novel to a contest, your submission is in competition with all the other submissions. Do you submit writing to a lot of contests? I haven’t done this much in the past. Winning or placing well in a writing contest looks very good on your publication credits. Sometimes winning brings extremely favorable publicity, a bump in sales, or attention from agents and/or publishers. But is winning a competition success?

If you define it as success, then for you, it is. Maybe just entering a competition could be the success.

Attaining Goals

I set goals all the time — to do lists for housework chores, shopping lists, to do lists for business chores, setting a number of repetitions for an exercise (like sit-ups, for example) and setting a goal total to work toward.

In writing, wonderful possibilities exist for setting goals and then celebrating success by achieving them. For example, a daily word count. I used to do this when I was writing fulltime. My daily word count goal was 1000 words, or about 5 pages, double-spaced. When I reached my goal, I could either celebrate by stopping work for the day, or continue writing. My choice. But the success was there in writing those 1000 words.

I’ve set goals like this throughout my writing life. I set a goal to finish a short story by a certain date. I set a goal to start a short story on a particular day. I’ve set a goal to get off my butt and find a good editor when I began the production process to publish Perceval’s Secret. During the month of November, there’s a quite well-known activity called National Novel Writing Month when writers set the goal to write a novel first draft by November 30 (or December 1, if you want the entire day of November 30). If I were to participate, I’d be overwhelmed thinking about the entire month, so I’d probably break it down into a daily word count goal. Completing the month with a finished first draft is definitely success achieved!

Nowadays, my goals tend to be a bit different, so my definition of success is, too. If I manage to carve out 2 or 3 hours on a weekend to write fiction, or work on Perceval’s Shadow, I consider that a success. At the beginning of this year, I set a goal to finish the first revision by December 31. For a long time, it didn’t look like I’d come even close to achieving that goal. As time went on, I began to think in terms of chapters — my goal was to finish 17 chapters by December 31, then 15 chapters. Now it’s 12 chapters, or half the novel. I have 3 months to finish the revision of 12 chapters. So far, I’ve done 3 chapters. I am so slow!

Success According to You

Everyday, each of us has the opportunity to enjoy success, or even many successes. It depends on how we define success and if we’re willing to truly claim each success achieved.

Think about it. What will you do?