What it Takes to Be a Writer: Part Three

You’ve revved up your brain, planted your butt in the chair, and now you’re ready to write. I sometimes envision this moment as that of a piano player: you place your fingers on the keys, expecting great music to pour forth….and nothing happens.

You freeze. You don’t know what to write. Or the words won’t come. Or you are so damn critical of the words that do come that you shut down the computer and decide to go clean up dog poop in the backyard.  Because dealing with that kind of shit is better than dealing with the crap you’re putting on the page.

Ahem. I have news for you. Writing crap is good.  Writing crap is desirable (at least in a first draft). GETTING ANY WORDS ON THE PAGE AT ALL IS YOUR ONLY GOAL.  So do it. That’s my first bit of advice:

Write Crap

Just write, even if that means reminding yourself how awful you’re doing as you go. My first drafts are full of all caps exhortations about what terrible work I’m doing. Like: THIS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE AND IT’S REALLY STUPID. Once I’ve gotten it out of my system, I can carry on with the rest of it.

Here is an unedited glimpse of what I wrote yesterday as I tried to get going:

Okay I’m just sitting here with the cat, staring at the computer.  What the f#%k. Staring never got the writing done. Just write something. This is where prompts are really handy!   Start with the image.

And I did. I started with the image and the scene flowed from there.  Writing crap, and reminding yourself of it, is incredibly freeing.

Write Crap Often

Like, every day. We already talked about making time and conserving energy for writing in part two.  Do your best to write as often as possible. It makes a huge freaking difference, I’m not kidding.  Doing this, you gain momentum. You have that lovely feeling that half of you is living in your fictional world.  And because of that, you’re in love with the real world you actually do inhabit.  And when you are in love, you want to spend more time with your beloved, correct? So you will be eager to return to writing your novel.  And that, my friends, is the power of writing every day. (Even if it’s crap.)

Plan Ahead

I’ve proven to myself over and over that I procrastinate and get distracted when I don’t know where I’m going.  This is why I like to write a loose outline for the plot of my novel, and why I’m such a huge fan of character dossiers.  The other thing I like to do is write notes to myself. I do a lot of “writing about” the project in my journal, and I just about always write little notes to myself in the manuscript as to where to go next.  Then when I open the file first thing in the morning, I know where I’m going. I often diverge from my plans, but at least I have a way in to get started.

Employ Systems

There’s lots of help out there for writers.  You can download Freedom, which will turn off your access to the internet for a predetermined amount of time.  You can use a Pomodoro timer that allows you to write in spurts (or just use your phone’s timer).  You can use Scrivener.  The point is, there are all kinds of tools out there that will help you in your daily writing. Find the ones that work for you and use them.

So there you have it. What are your favorite tricks to get words on the page?


Five on Friday: In Between Storms

After the storm

After the storm

We’ve been battening down the hatches here. One storm blew through yesterday, with much rain and some wind, and another is coming tomorrow–the remnants of a Pacific typhoon. The last time this happened was back in 1962, Portland’s infamous Columbus Day storm, and it was a doozie.  I’m in my element with all of this because I love me a good stormy day, although I get nervous when it gets too stormy.

Anyhoo.  Here’s what’s going on:

What I’m Reading: Casimir Bridge, by Darren D. Beyer.  Darren contacted me after seeing another review I wrote on Amazon and asked if I’d read his book. I’m a sucker for a good science-fiction novel, and hadn’t read one for awhile so I said yes. I’m enjoying it.  Check out his website if you’re interested in space-related stuff, like I am. (If I were younger, I would so sign up to go to Mars.)

What I’m Watching: This is Us, a new TV series. I’d seen the ads for this and finally decided to check it out. I loved it–very inventive storytelling. Really, you should watch it from the first episode, because of the way things loop around and surprise you.

What I’m Reading Online: Lots of good stuff coming out in advance of Nanowrimo (and because there’s always good stuff online):

Hook your reader early

Money and the writer.  Read the links she cites, too.

Nanowrimo Prep. I’m a HUGE believer in doing some prep work for your novel.

What I’m Writing: Speaking of Nanowrimo, I’m doing it this year. I have a fun romance novel I want to write. I’ve got all the pieces of it prepped (see above) and I’m ready to go come November 1. Meanwhile, I’m finishing up a novella I started this summer.  I’ve spent the last couple of morning work sessions re-reading it. The plot has holes big enough to steer a train through, but I like the idea of it and I love the characters. So I’m telling myself all I have to do is finish the draft (I’m maybe 30-50 pages away).

Where I’m Going Next Year: The Let’s Go Write workshop will be held in Collioure, France in September, 2017. You can join us! Collioure is a lovely seaside town full of cafes and shops, and the mountains which rise up behind the town offer plenty of hiking among vineyards and fields.  Stay tuned for more info, but I’m also developing a list of interested writers. If you’re into it, drop me an email!

That’s it, that’s what’s going on with me? What about you? What are you reading? What are you writing?

(Part Three of What it Takes to Be a Writer will continue next week.)

Carry on.


What it Takes To Be a Writer: Part Two

(For the best part of this whole post, scroll to the end for the video. Seriously.)object_smiley_fruit_241984_l

When last heard from on Sunday, I was extolling the virtues of meditation and other such mental activities. Which might lead one to believe that one can sit in one’s chair and let one’s mind do all the work. Ha! Only if you have monkeys to do it for you. Too bad we can’t get them out of our brain and put them to work, right? But I digress.  Here’s the deal: YOU HAVE TO SIT YOUR BUTT IN THE CHAIR AND WRITE. You just do.  And worse, you have to do it over and over and over again, day after day after day to finish something.  You can’t just think about it. You can’t just ponder great, delicate thoughts about it.  You have to do it.  And I can’t help you with this. (Hell, I can barely help me with this.)  You just have to freaking do it.

And this is hard. It is hard for a couple reasons. Yes, because it takes time, and we have to find it, but really, that’s just an excuse. (A good one, and I rely on it often.) Because you can find time to write if you really want to do it. You can get up early, stay up late, sacrifice your lunch hour, give up Happy Hour with your husband, forgo watching TV.  You can, if you want to.  You (and I) just don’t. Because:

Energy and Bandwidth

What I think is a much bigger issue is twofold: having the energy and the bandwidth to do it.   We are all busy people, most of us way too busy.  (And we wrap that busyness around us like a shield at times, too. I know I do it.) And busyness is exhausting. Which leaves us with little energy for writing. It also leaves us with over-full brains.  Sometimes I want to write, but I just can’t connect with my WIP. Can’t find a way in. Can’t remember where I was, why I wanted to write the book in the first place. I simply don’t have enough mental bandwidth.  I’m exhausted, and so is my brain.

The antidote?

  1. Recognize that you’re exhausted and get some freaking rest. Sometimes you just have to say enough already and take a break. (For a helpful push in this direction, read Wayne Muller’s How to Be, Have, and Do Enough.)  I have a hard time doing this because its inbred in me to feel guilty when I take a break.  And then, funnily enough, when I do take a break, all I want to do forever is laze about.  Which may be why I resist relaxing in the first place, because I’m afraid I’ll never stop. (And now that I think about it, this is a clear sign of letting the busyness get to me.)
  2. Cleanse your brain. Besides meditation, which I’ve already recommended, the best way to do this is to watch what you eat. And, as far as I can tell, the only advice that everyone seems to agree on when it comes to nutrition is to eat lots of fruits and veggies. Beyond that, I believe that you need to figure out what works best for you. Some people do need to be gluten-free. Others can happily eat pasta and bread without a problem. And yet others, like me, need to be mindful of having enough protein at every meal to prevent energy crashes.  Only you can figure this out.  But remember that old adage from the sixties–you are what you eat–really is true.  And it affects our writing as well. (There’s also the issue of you are what you drink, but I’m not going there at the moment.)
  3. Take imperfect action.  When I get anxious and stressed is when I magnify things in my mind. I don’t just have to write a blog post, it has to be the best blog post ever. I don’t just have to write a scene in my novel, it has to be compelling and thrilling. Pretty sure this is the brain’s way of signaling overload.  But if you allow yourself to be imperfect and just do something, anything, you’ll feel good about it and then you can start to build some momentum.
  4. Say no. Or cop to the activities you’re saying yes to. What is more important to you–being volunteer of the year or writing your novel? I’m not asking facetiously, it is a serious question. Maybe it is most important for you to spend hours you could be writing at your volunteer post. No judgement. But if it so, then admit it and quit stressing about not having time to write. Just clearing the stress will open up mental bandwidth. Also, it is a good thing to say no. Period.

So you’ve got yourself all cleared and psyched up. Ready to go.  Your butt is in the chair. There you sit, ready to write. What next? That’s the topic of my next post. (I really didn’t think there were going to be three posts in this series, but this one is already pushing 800 words so it seems like a good idea.)

And, because we were talking about monkeys, and because I love ya, here’s a compendium of trunk monkey videos

What are you monkeys up to these days?


What it Takes to Be a Writer: Part One

asok_project365_mydesk_1059218_hWherein I talk about what it takes to be a writer, in my humble opinion, anyway.  To finish a book project, or even an article or short story.  To get the book out in the world, either into the hands of an agent and editor, or publish it yourself, which is a whole other enterprise. To hit the bestseller list. To rinse and repeat, which you’re going to need to do to build a career as a writer. What it takes to accomplish whatever your dream is.

Fresh off teaching a recent workshop in France, I’ve been pondering this.  Working with writers, listening to their hopes and frustrations opens my eyes over and over again, because their concerns echo mine in my own writing practice.  We are all gloriously different, right? And, at heart, we are also all very much alike.  To that end, here are two arenas in which many frustrations lie:

  1. Mindset
  2. Butt in chair

Let’s look at mindset,  otherwise known as the way you think, first.  It is easy to groan about this, to hold up your hands and say “Don’t tell me I am what I think!” But the cold, hard truth of the matter is that it’s true. If you think you can do it, you will be able to. But if you don’t think you can, you won’t. Sigh. You really do need to master your mindset about your writing.

But here’s a lot of the reason why—because after thinking about it, you need to do it. I know. Duh. But if you’re busy telling yourself that you can’t do it, you won’t. It’ll be too much pressure. You’ll get bored and wander away, take up archery or long-distance swimming or bird-watching.  Thoughts wear grooves in your brain and if you keep thinking you can’t, then your brain will believe you. And you won’t take time to write, because, well, you’re convinced you can’t. Or that you’re a bad writer. Or that the odds are stacked against you.

I follow a young woman named Jennifer Blanchard.  She is always ranting fervently about mindset and how important it is, how one must write down their goals every day, or at least re-read their goals. Etc., etc.  Part of me loves this stuff. Loves it. And part of me—the part that actually has to take the action—rolls my eyes at it.  But the thing is, everything she says about mindset is true.  You gotta get your brain in the right place to be a writer.  And that means doing whatever it takes, be that rereading your goals every day or monitoring those pesky negative thoughts.

Most of all it means you have to believe you can do it. Because if you don’t believe, you won’t make the time for it.  You’ll read knitting blogs (like I do when I get blocked), instead. Or you’ll decide the kitchen floor needs mopping. Or the cat’s nails need trimming. And the thing is—you won’t even realize why you’re indulging in these procrastination activities. You’ll convince yourself that it’s because there’s that spot of dirt, right there on the floor where everyone can see it.  Or that you absolutely must read that blog because you have to figure out where you went wrong on the sweater you’re knitting.  Or that the cat pulled up a thread on your gorgeous slipcover. Like that.

What’s the antidote to this? In truth, a lot of it is in taking action, which I’ll get to in a moment. Because the more you write, the easier it becomes and the easier it becomes, the more you’ll believe you can do it. Yeah, there is definitely an endless loop going on here.  But here are a couple other hints about mindset:

  1. Visualization has scientifically been proven to help. Not visualizing the moment you stand at the podium and accept your Nobel Prize for Literature, but visualizing yourself actually sitting at the computer writing. Thinking about how it feels as the words flow and your fingers range across the page.

Here’s an article that gives a good rundown on how to do it, and here’s one from Psychology Today on its benefits.

  1. Meditation and positive thinking. Activities that go hand in hand with visualization are meditation (you knew I was going there) because it quiets the damn monkeys in the brain enough to allow you to think positive thoughts about your writing, and affirmations. Yeah, I know. Dopey. I get it. But you can use them in the most casual of ways, as in when you’re thinking how you just can’t seem to get the scene right instead of berating yourself for being an idiot who can’t write, turn it around and tell yourself you know the story and you can figure out the scene. Just tell yourself that the rest of the day. C’mon, you’re a storyteller, right? So tell yourself a positive story. That’s all an affirmation is, in truth. You’re going to be telling yourself something all day anyway, it might as well be something positive.

As for meditation, just try it. Really. It is ten or fifteen minutes out of your day, and if it helps you become a better writer, isn’t that time well spent? I highly recommend downloading the Insight Timerfor your phone and using it. You can set interval bells so that the fifteen minutes doesn’t seem to stretch to fifteen hours, and there’s all kinds of cool ambient sounds you can meditate to, as well as a selection of guided meditations to try. Plus, it’s like social media for meditators. You can create a profile and interact with others all over the world.

Okay, so, alas, one cannot sit in one’s recliner and meditate and visualize and think positive thoughts all day and become a writer.  Would that we could. So I’ll discuss part two of the topic of what it takes in a blog post slated for Wednesday.

Until then, happy mind-setting. Or meditating. Or whatever.

And do tell what you think it takes to be a writer.


Book Review: Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents

jh-guide-2017-front-242x300This is the second time I’ve been given the opportunity to review this book, which is updated annually, by the publisher (New World Library). I always jump at the chance, not because I need the listings (I have a wonderful, amazing, fantastic agent) but because I love reading the articles that are included. More on that in a minute.

The heart of the book, and the reason why most people probably buy it, are the listings, which encompass publishing conglomerates (the Big 5), independent presses, university presses, Canadian book publishers, literary agents, and independent editors.  Herman’s book is an insider’s guide to the publishing world, with the scoop on everything. He’s an agent himself and knows whereof he speaks. What I most appreciate, though, is that I feel that he’s on the side of the writer all the way through.  The listings are funny, opinionated, even arrogant at times. But I always trust that Herman is delivering the truth.  And that he’s got the writer’s best interest at heart–he’s writing this book for you, for your use and benefit, and the tone of the articles reflects that.

In the agent listing section, Herman features interviews with agents. This is a goldmine, because through these you can glean tidbits about potential agents that may well help you find the right one for you.  My only quibble is that I’d love a rundown, with his typical insider’s view, of each agency itself.  Which would likely make the book run t0 800 pages (‘nearly 700 already).

I can’t quite figure out how Herman manages to write and update this book every year and still run a literary agency. But indeed somehow he does and he’s got a way with words as well. I just have to share a couple of his classic sentences.  On the slush pile: “But trying to get published through the slush is like trying to pay for college with lottery scratch-offs.” On email: “Dealing with inboxes today is like flossing teeth after a corn-eating orgy.”

The articles are my favorite part, as previously mentioned.  The essay, Literary Agents: What They Are and What They Do is excellent, as are his pieces on the query letter and the book proposal. Geez, even the glossary is helpful.

I like getting this book because as an author, its part of my job to keep up with what’s going on in my industry, and Jeff Herman helps me do that.  Bottom line, if you’re looking for an agent or a publisher, you need this book. If you’re not, it’s a good reference, but probably not vital.

Thanks to New World Library for sending a review copy of the book.


Home at Last: What’s Going On

Pont du Diable, in my beloved Ceret, where I just spent two weeks.

Pont du Diable, in my beloved Ceret, where I just spent two weeks.

After three weeks in France, I’m home again. Even though the Google and my phone still feed me the occasional search result or ad in French, it is nice to be able to understand the language people are speaking around me. (It’s always a shock to land back in a U.S. airport on the journey home and suddenly realize everyone is speaking English.)  It has been awhile since I blogged, with the exception of the prompt posts, so here’s what’s going on (a sort of Five on Friday on Saturday):

Reading — I’m reading the first book in the Cal Claxton series by Warren Easley. It is set in and around Portland, and I think it’s terrific.  I don’t read mysteries or male authors very often, so that’s saying a lot. By the way, he’s reading at one of my favorite bookstores next weekend–more info here.  I read a light novel by one of my favorite authors, Barbara O’Neal, while in France–she is great for frothy women’s fiction.  This one was called A Piece of Heaven, and is set in Taos, one of my favorite places. I also finished Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo, one of the books we taught at the workshop. It is not a quick read, but I loved it.

Movies — I didn’t watch as many movies on the long plane rides to and from Paris, because I was reading, but on the way I enjoyed the Melissa McCarthy movie The Boss and another one I can’t remember. Which says a lot about it, right?  On the way home I watched Me Before You. We taught this book two years ago and I’d loved it and the sequel and really wanted to see the movie. And I did. And I liked it.  A lot.

Writing — I’ve decided to do Nanowrimo. Want to do it with me? C’mon, it will be fun. I have an idea for a romance that I want to get out. Between now and then, I’ll be doing some prep work, and also taking the time to finish a novella I started this summer.  And maybe try to figure out how to rewrite the novel I finished a first draft of last year. That ought to keep me busy for a bit.  And by the way, my Bonne Chance bakery novel is in the hands of an editor, so think good thoughts, please.

Cooking — I woke to rain this morning, yay. I love the rain and I’ve been so looking forward to the return of fall weather.  “Live starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” F. Scott Fitzgerald.  This turn in the weather coincided with the arrival of a new cookbook yesterday.  Called 30-Minute One-Pot Meals, it is full of things to cook now that it’s cooler out. (We mostly grill all summer.) You know how some cookbooks you get and there’s some stuff you like, but tons of stuff you’d never consider making? In this cookbook, there’s like two things, period, that I can’t imagine cooking. Score!

Fiber — I carefully toted my knitting with me to France, because I found the year before that it calmed me in times of anxiety (like when I had to mail a package at the post office).  But this year I didn’t pull it out as much.  Now that I’m home, I’m back at it.  I’m actually going back to the basics and trying to re-learns some things. I’ve knitted all my life, but first learned from my 4-H teacher and then taught myself stuff, which has meant picking up bad habits and missing a lot along the way. So I’m following the simple patterns on this site and I’ve already learned some cool new things.  There’s a lot to be said for the beginner’s mind.

And that’s it, that’s all I’ve got, except for this: Debbie and I are meeting on Monday to begin planning our 2017 writing workshop in France. We already know where it will bee–Collioure, where we stayed last year, a wonderful seaside resort town full of picturesque scenery, cute shops and fabulous restaurants.  Leave a comment or pop me a line if you’re interested and I’ll put you on the list.

What is going on with you? Do tell. I’ve missed you.


Because I Know You Love Them: September Writing Prompts #4

And here you have them: the last set of writing prompts for September.  Hope you’ve enjoyed them, and stay tuned for news of the release of a writing journal of prompts soon!

–Not in this lifetime.

–If ever I should leave you….

–What are the parameters of your main character’s world? Is he an international traveler, or someone who has always stayed close to home?

–Whatever. Just don’t expect any help from me.

–When was the last time you got to say, I told you so?

–They ate pie for breakfast, brownies for lunch and cake for dinner.

–I love staying in hotels so much that I think I was raised in one in a previous life. How about you? Do you have any feelings about how you lived in a previous life?



Of Course You Can Do It: September Writing Prompts #3

September is Writing Prompt Month! Actually, I have no idea if that’s true, but it sounds good, doesn’t it? Here are your prompts for the week:

–What a fool he was. Yet still she was in love with him.

–Rise and Shine! Bright, shiny new day!

–Oh God, do I have to?

–They argued all day and all night and then got up the next morning and argued some more. What are they arguing about and why? Figure that out and then write a scene.

–He had the most unlikely business idea. And yet, it was brilliant.

–What is scarier: clowns or mimes?

–And when it is all over, at last I’ll be able to….

Okay, go to it! And have fun.


Guest Post: Nurture Your Relationship With Your Imagination

I’m delighted to welcome author, speaker, and transformational coach Theresa Nutt to the blog today! Read her wonderful post below, and then be sure to check out her website–and her new book! Take it away, Theresa:

Theresa Nutt eyeballNurture Your Relationship With Your Imagination

Once you have created a sacred space in your internal and external world to call your creativity home (read my previous post Calling Your Creative Home), it’s time to discuss how you can nurture your relationship with your imagination.  Nurturing a relationship with anyone or anything requires tending.  I like to think of it like tending to a small child, a pet, or a special plant you love.

Speaking from experience, I can forget and neglect myself, and therefore, at times a pet or special plant in my life.  But there are ways to make it easier to remember to tend to the intentions we have for our lives.  Here are my top tips for nurturing your relationship with your imagination.

Top Tips to Nurture Your Relationship with Your Imagination

  • First, it helps to create a routine that fits into how you already go through your day. What can you marry your relationship to your imagination with that you already do?  For instance, when you brush your teeth, can you ask your imagination if there is anything it needs to let you know?  Or maybe as you are showering, you check in with your imagination.  It’s not necessarily about doing something new, but about changing your attention when you are doing routine activities.  This way you never send the message that your imagination is the one more thing that you just can’t find time for in your day.
  • Second, consider mapping out time on your calendar.  If you do best when you have appointments or to do lists, use what you know as a connection with your imagination. I have appointments for creative expression on my calendar and I treat them just like any other appointment.  A little tip here – if you see your creative time as negotiable and keep cancelling your creativity appointments to do “more important things,” you are sending a message to your imagination that it is not valuable.  This may not be the right technique for you if you keep bumping up against this challenge.  Or you may need to ask yourself how you can strengthen your commitment to your relationship with your imagination if this is a technique you want to use.
  • Third, create a list of commitments that you can review each day.  How will you have your imagination’s back?  The more you review this list of commitments, the more you will live them out in your daily life.  Here’s a sample of my commitments to get you started.  “I will always value the voice of my imagination by making time daily to check in.  I will make routine time that is nonnegotiable to connect with my imagination in ways that make it feel loved and supported.  I will give my imagination just as much weight and understanding as the louder voices of responsibility and the need to care for others.”
  • Fourth,invite more fun and playfulness into your life and let go of the need for specific outcomes.  Here’s where it gets joyful!  Imagination thrives when you make space for fun and playfulness and let go of the need to produce a specific outcome.  Even starting your day by asking, “How can I invite more playfulness into my day?” is enough to get this process flowing.  Imagination will thrive in an environment where play and experimentation are welcome guests.
  • Finally, stay inspired and seek support.  Here are 2 of my favorite links on the topic that will give you additional ideas for staying connected to your imagination. Tending the Neglected Side Yard, and Nurture Your Creative Life.

It’s Simple to Nurture Your Relationship with Your Imagination!Theresa Nutt stairs

It really is simple.  Take the time to nurture your relationship with your imagination.  A daily practice of some kind is going to help you create a life that gives you the inner spark and sense of feeling alive inside that you crave.  There are as many ways to do this as there are people to come up with the ideas.  Be creative, be inspired, and have some fun with this process while being consistent.  Do something every day to signal to your imagination that it is super valuable!  You are tending a delicate and new relationship and it will serve you well.

Please share your favorite ways to stay connected to your imagination in the comments below.

theresa nutt headshotTheresa Nutt is an Author, Speaker and Transformational Coach.  She helps very competent and capable women who feel empty and disenchanted with the daily grind to become vibrant, imaginative, and unforgettable.  Her favorite topics of discussion and exploration are transformation, feminine presence and power, and creativity.  Her creative pursuits include writing, singing, pastels, dancing, and cooking.

Her new book, “30 Days to Reignite Your Inner Creative Genius” can be found at www.theresanutt.com/resources/




No Excuses: September Writing Prompts #2

I’m in a prompt kind of mood (or at least I was when I wrote this post, before I left for France) because later on this fall I’ll be coming out, with a wonderful co-author, with a writing prompt journal that you will be able to hold in your very own hands! Exciting, no? But in the meantime, because its Monday and you need to write this week, here’s a week’s worth of prompts for you. Go to it.

–He never knew that his aunt had turned into a hoarder, but now he edged along a narrow path that skirted the huge pile of junk in the living room.

–It will all be over soon.

–I don’t like you, but I love you. Seems like I’m always thinking of you. (With thanks to the Beatles.)

–The pile of notebooks threatened to topple over at any second.

–But, after all….

–You main character’s favorite way to spend her free time.  Drinking wine, pursuing a hobby, watching TV, having sex, hiking, reading, what?

–My neighbors collect gnomes and have them all around their yard. Sometimes they find new ones that friends have left in odd places. What do you collect and why? How about your main character?

Okay, you’ve got your marching orders for the week. Go to it! And if you write something you want to share, put it in the comments!