"For the Love of Shakespeare" by photograph_our_love -

Turns out when you’re a stay-at-home mom of a 14-month-old toddler, chances are slim you’re going to slip away for a 30-minute hot shower to bumping dance tunes to chase away the blues.  However, what did the trick for me was popping the movie “Shakespeare in Love” into the old VCR.  (Yeah, I know — shut up.)

Writers love stories about writers.  It’s like vicariously experiencing the touch of the Muse on your own shoulder, the thrill of inspiration within your own breast, and the immortality of your own words.

After William Shakespeare meets Lady Viola, he is possessed by the Muse, overcome with energy, inspiration, and excitement, and he writes all night.  The music rises with his passion as he cuts quill after quill, sets aside page after finished page.  At that very moment, he is but a contemporary playwright in this story, but I already know the words he’s setting down by heart:  “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?  It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”

What was that moment like for the real William Shakespeare when he set down those famous lines?  Did he experience doubt?  Did his inner editor grumble about his diction?  Did he have any idea that hundreds of years from that very moment, people would still be singing praises for his genius?

It brings me to tears to imagine the infinite possibilities of all of our efforts.  I wish that Mr. Shakespeare knew just how many millions of people he has touched with his gifted pen.  It reminds me that we, each and every one of us, possess that potential, that possibility.  We are alive, and all is well.

After that, everything was rosy.  Spent most of yesterday afternoon making the baby laugh, taking her for a walk around the neighborhood, making and eating a lot of babganoush, discovering that Good Earth’s Coco Chai Tea is even better than their Chai Tea, and having good conversations with a couple of wonderful friends.

And last night, somewhere in the wee middle, I was gifted with two short story ideas…proof that no matter how I’m feeling, I’m always a writer.  I always have been, and I always will be.

And yes — thank God — I did eventually get that shower. 🙂


"Blue" by SuperTerrific -

I’ve hit a wall.  It’s not surprising.  It happens every once in a while.  And even though it doesn’t make any logical sense that I can maintain a high level of energy and creativity indefinitely, it always takes me by surprise.

I have different ways of getting defunkified.  Sometimes it’s as simple as playing favorite music or taking a long hot shower.  Other times, it’s simply a matter of waiting it out.  It usually never lasts more than a week.

But the more pervasive the funk is, the more I have to look within myself and figure out what’s causing it.  Am I pursuing the wrong approach with a project?  Am I setting too high of expectations for myself?  Am I simply not liking what I’m working on?  Am I working on something I don’t enjoy?

I’ve been working these past several months with blinders on.  And they have served me well.  But now that I’m venturing out into the wild world of “marketing my product,” I am finding myself flummoxed by the sheer volume of hopeful writers hawking their wares.  I’m perplexed by editorial choices in some top-flight magazines, and I’m blown away by the level of some stories found in for-the-love markets that pay only in copies.  It’s a big world out there, and there isn’t always a clear-cut reason why stories find a home in one place and not another.

It seems to me that when I find myself in one of these Stage 3 Blue Funks, the only thing I can do is write my way through it.  I’ve gotta stop trying to figure out editorial decisions from the outside, and just work my way in through the inside…which means writing more stories, better stories.

That always turns out to be the best solution.  And it’s really all any of us can do.  Get to work and let the rest take care of itself.

Now I’m off to take an outrageously long hot shower with Lady Gaga on the boombox, and then it’s back to the Great Barrier Reef, where I left my characters last.

What about you guys?  How do you fight the Blue Funk?


For hard drive back-ups, I have an external hard drive; but for daily back-ups, I use the sexy little PNY 4GB Micro Swivel Attache Flash Drive, available for under $20.

Have you ever heard this before:  “There are two types of computer users:  those who have lost data, and those who will.”?*

Seems to me like almost all of the world’s computer users fall in the former category, but ladies and germs, fellow professional gonnabes, we don’t have to be a part of the latter category.

Don’t worry.  This isn’t going to be some boring how-to followed by a bullet-point listing of all the different data storage options you have available to use.

This is called tough love.


This is serious.  Failure in this regard never results in a simple slap on the wrist.  Oh, no.  More than likely, you’ll get your neck whipped back from a backhand bitch slap into data recovery hell.  You don’t want to go there.  You don’t have to go there.  And in this day and age of SD cards, CD burners, DVD burners, online storage, email, external hard drives, and flash drives, you have no excuse to go there.

So… if you end up there — and I say this with love — don’t come crying to me.  Put on your Big Girl Panties and start backing it up!


* Don’t you just want to pinch the head off of whoever coin-snarked that lovely gem?

** This has been a public service announcement sponsored by the Writers Against data recovery Hell, or WAH for short.


"Pie Chart" by dugebag -

So I know what I was supposed to get done last month.  And I know what I actually got done last month.  And of course, there’s a little space between what was done and what was not done — okay, there might have been an entire atmosphere between done and not done.

But this month I’m hoping to close that space, even if it’s by a hair.  I can think of a few writers who do this by keeping meticulous track of their word counts, submissions, and minutes spent writing on elaborate spreadsheets.  As a result, these writers are extremely prolific and doing quite well for themselves.

Does that mean you have to be a data-crunching spreadsheet whiz to be prolific and successful?  Oh, God, I hope not.  You’ve seen my idea of a pie chart.

Perhaps one day I will join the ranks of the Spreadsheet Kings — you can’t deny their results — but in the meantime, I’m going to go with a simpler method:  paying close attention.

Maybe I’m oversimplifying things, but in this day and age, is that such a bad thing?  At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, it just seems to me that it’s the rule rather than the exception that people don’t really listen to each other, they don’t pay attention to what they’re doing, and as a result, they keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

I am often guilty of this.  I look up stunned at 3:00 in the morning, wondering how I blew two hours on the Net without anything to show for it.  Or I spend half an hour of the baby’s nap rustling up some grub, only to wake her up as I try to sneak back to my desk to eat.  I used to spend a lot of time journaling about what I needed to do and how I was going to do it, eating up a lot of valuable creative time.  And I still sit down in front of the computer too many times without a clear idea of what I’m going to work on.  That little bad habit wastes a lot of time just getting started.

I know my experiences are not unique.  The Internet is this generation’s boob tube, and that’s not likely to change.  And many of us sit down to write when we can, not necessarily when we’re at our creative peak of the day.

I’m not suggesting that you disconnect your DSL or quit your day job because it interferes with your creative flow schedule.  A girl’s gotta eat, right?

No, I’m suggesting something much more simple.  Just pay attention to what you’re doing.

Here’s what I’ve been trying:

1.  I answer emails every few days instead of every day.

2.  I make sure we’re stocked with snacks, particularly peanut-butter-filled pretzel nuggets.  Those keep me anchored to my computer.

3.  My creative energy is at its highest in the morning, so I try to work on new fiction then.  But if I manage to get up after the baby’s gone to sleep, I try to focus on tasks that require less creative energy, like prepping and formatting manuscripts for submission, researching markets, and blogging.

4.  I had to limit image searches for the blog — which I do so enjoy — to 15 minutes.  If I haven’t found the “perfect” picture by then, then I go sans image.  It doesn’t make sense to spend two hours browsing deviantART for a pic to accompany a blog post when I can write 2,000 words of new fiction.

5.  I gave up detailed journaling, in which I spent hours daydreaming.  Instead, I keep a work journal, and spend no more than 15 minutes to set out the tasks I have to focus on for the day.

6.  I always felt that I needed a significant block of time to settle into a project.  There’s really no such thing when you’re raising a baby.  So I’ve learned to break projects down into little steps and utilize those slivers of time throughout the day to fit those in.

7.  I check my favorite blogs every few days, as they don’t tend to be updated every day anyway.

It’s not much, but it’s a beginning.  And I feel like I’m seeing results from these changes.  Eventually, I’d like to start keeping track of the actual time I spend working and exploit that data for even better results.  But for now, just paying attention to the things that trip me up over and over again is a good start.

Finally, although the focus of this post is about productivity and identifying and curbing bad habits, don’t lose sight of what’s most important:  spinning a good tale.  We’re here to tell our stories to the world.  Don’t hold back.  We are all waiting to see what you’ve got for us.  So tell us a good story.


"Party" by pincel3d -

A few months ago, it was determined between some writer friends that we should have a writer’s group to encourage, cheer on, and otherwise kick each other in the chairwarmers.

So yesterday afternoon, said members of our newly formed writer’s group showed up at my door bearing food…lots of food.  As one member put it, “We meet to eat.”  And so we ate.

Because the group is so new, we’re still figuring things out.  This was only our second meeting, so some of the members we were meeting for the first time.  We still have members who we haven’t yet met in the flesh.  One member actually posted an 80-page “short” story the day before the meeting.  <ahem – profuse apologies>  And we seemed to have trouble getting down to business and staying down to business.  So we definitely have to work out some clear ground rules for our little club.

However, all that being said, I wanted to highlight a phenomenon that seems to occur whenever we all get together, whether it was at our college creative writing class where most of us met, or in these meetings.  And as far as I can tell, none of us are isolated hermits living in caves, cut off from civilization.

But seeing us together, you might think so.  Something pink and shiny happens when we all come together.  Frankly, we geek out a little bit.  Okay.  We geek out a lot.  And I love it.  It’s just happy, happy, happy energy.

There are arguments for and against the effectiveness of writer’s groups, but I gotta say, nothing beats hanging around people who share your obsession.  For someone who’s not a writer, listening to people talk about word choice and diction, pacing and tone, revision and dialogue probably sounds a bit like torture.

I understand.  I’ve been caught between two beer brewer nerds discussing the superiority of IPAs as compared to straight lagers, wishing someone would knock me in the head with a beer stein to spare me all the hoppy details.  So fair enough.

The thing is, beer brewer nerds tend to enjoy their obsessions in the company of other beer brewer nerds while brewing and sharing their work.  Writers, on the other hand, unless they’re collaborating, are solitary creatures.  We work in the spaces between our children’s waking hours, work meetings, household chores, and the like.  We work alone.  And for the most part, when someone enjoys our work, they’re reading it on their own.

You’ll notice on PBS, they’ve got these art shows where you can sit with your mouth slightly agape and watch some guy transform a canvas of cerulean blue into a stunning mountain scene with a few well-placed swipes of his No. 1 brush.

You’ll also notice that there are no shows on television that feature some poor schmuck sitting in front of the computer, absently picking at their face or chewing on the ends of their hair.  Small wonder.  (Pity though.  Misery loves company.  I might enjoy that show.)

So when we get a chance to come together, to share feedback and reaction to each other’s work, to commiserate and share, I swear it’s like a holiday party.  We’ve already got our next date set.  It’s good times with good people, good writers.  And I’m sure all of us have given thought to what we’re going to bring next time, prose-wise and culinary-wise.

I’m bringing beer.


"Megaphone" by ArtisteHannah -

I finally finished the rewrite of my novella “Suiciders.”  I gotta be square with you — this thing has been sitting on my shoulders and crapping down my back for a year and a half!  Holy smokes!

Why’d it take so long?  I’ll tell you why.  Because I thought it was a difficult and complicated project.  That’s why.

When I worked in court as a stenographer, we’d sometimes get orders for entire trials on appeal.  We’re talking many times in the 2,000-page range.  But we were given 90 days to get it done.  90 days.  I always got my work done in four days.

Do you think it was because I was a rocking great reporter and jumped on transcripts the moment orders landed on my desk?  Hah!  Then you’re a fool!

Nope.  I always got my transcripts done between Day 86 and Day 90.  And yes, I have stayed overnight two nights in a row at work trying to make a deadline.  What an idiot.  And I’d swear time and again I wouldn’t do that to myself…only to find myself at my desk at 3:00 in the morning wondering what the hell that noise was coming from the hall.

Why did I do it?  Simple.  Because I absolutely hated doing transcripts.  And the more I brooded on it, the more difficult and complicated it became.  Ugh, that’s the trial with the Albanian DNA specialist who grew up in Australia and ran auctions in his spare time.  I didn’t understand a word he said.  And wasn’t that the trial with over 500 exhibits?  God, the indexing alone….

So what happened with this story?  I mean, I thought it was a fairly good story when I first wrote it.  My most science-fictiony story to date, so for that, I was proud.  I cleaned it up right nice and threw it out to a contest once.  But I knew there was something wrong with it.

So I got some feedback.  Great feedback.  Feedback that made it clear I was going to have to perform some major surgery.  Dang.  It was clear I was going to have to change the whole structure of the story…which meant I needed a lot more new scenes.  And it’s a long freaking story (17,000+ words).  And then the baby came and I was distracted for a good while.  When I came back to it, the darn thing had gotten rusty and stiff with age.

So deadlines are helpful.  Eager to submit this piece to my writer’s group for this month’s meeting, I committed to finishing it.  If I didn’t finish, I wouldn’t have time to work up another piece.  It was either this one or empty hands at the meeting.  It was time to do or die.

Not wanting to die on a 17,000-word hill, I hunkered down and forced myself in front of the darn thing.  The way I did that was I told myself all I had to do is just reread the darn story, see what it feels like after all this time.  Easy-peesy.  Of course, I ended up making notes as I went along.  Cool.

But I had a ton of edit notes…like 20 pages of edit notes.  But reading is easy, right?  Just read through it, get a feel for what was happening in my brain at that time.  I can do that.

Then I decided I had too many notes to consider and needed to simplify things for myself.  So I told myself all I had to do was print up my edit notes, then scissor and tape the necessary stuff onto the draft.  (It sounds crazy, but it really helps me.  I’ll post pictures sometime.)  Cutting and sorting through edit notes and taping them into a draft?  Easy.  Got my jams playing, feeling the groove, cutting and taping, dealing with one paragraph at a time.  Kind of relaxing actually.

When I was done, I had one draft copy with all the notes I was going to need taped in their appropriate spots, and a big pile of stuff I didn’t need that went straight to the trash.  It always helps any project to clear away the junk.

What I had left was a very detailed blueprint of the story as it needed to be.  So then all I had to do is go from beginning to end at that point and follow my own instructions.  Look, I told myself, I know this is one big mammer-jammer, but the first 30 pages just need line edits.  Just go through and fix those little edits.  Easy.

After that, I hit a spot in the manuscript that read:  “Insert death scene here.”  Oh, man!  This is where it gets complicated.  I don’t know if I should focus on the modality of death, or simply — uh-bup!  No, no.  Just write the one scene.  One scene!  Surely, you can write one scene.  If it comes out ugly, we’ll make it go away.  I promise.

So step by baby step, I easy-talked myself into doing my work.  And I find that I often have to talk myself into doing my work.  I’m okay with that.  As long as I’m doing my work.

This technique, by the way, works great with chores.  Just wash one plate, see how you feel… So if you feel overwhelmed by what’s before you, just remember to talk it easy. 🙂


"We Humans" by theflickerees - - licensed under Creative Commons

“In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.”

~Robert Heinlein (1907 – 1988)


I announced at the beginning of the year that I was hanging out my shingle as a professional writer.

Usually, when a person sets out to pursue a more traditional career, there is a clear-cut path maintained by the trampling feet of thousands.  If you want to be a teacher, you go to college and take all the prerequisite courses.  If you want to be an investigator, there’s pre-outlined courses for you, too.  Same for those who want to lawyer, doctor, or account for things.

For a writer, there is no list of courses to take to become a professional writer, no minimum number of on-the-job hours for credit, no easy-to-follow path.  And there’s no guarantee.

Folks made of lesser stuff view this reality as a formidable mountain to climb.  But you and me, the positive-thinking, this-is-your-year-thinking, gonnabe writers, we see this as complete freedom.  We are in control of our own success.  We get to dream it, design it, and engineer it any way we please.

We do that by setting goals.

In his book “Booklife,” Jeff Vandermeer has a wonderful chapter on “Creating and Managing Goals.”  He writes, “A goal must be specific, measurable, and be attached to a timeline.”  Amid lots of detailed and insightful advice, Vandermeer suggests having a five-year plan, a one-year plan, a list of monthly tasks, and a list of weekly tasks.  I advocate a list of daily tasks as well.

If it seems like a lot of commitment, then you’re probably not ready.  But if you’re ready to get serious about your writing career, then this probably sounds like a lot of fun to you.  It does to me.

1.  Five-Year Plan ~ You’ve probably been dreaming about the type of writing success you want for years.  Ask yourself, for you to have this dream career, what has to happen in the next five years?  Do you need to sell a book?  How about two books?  Maybe you want to be represented by an agent?  Are you desiring to write graphic novels or screenplays?  How do you imagine yourself to be marketed as a writer?

2.  One-Year Plan ~ What do you have to accomplish in one year’s time in order to further yourself towards your ultimate goal?  Maybe your goal is to have a polished draft of your novel in the mail to an agent.  Maybe you have a more modest goal of completing a handful of stories.  Or maybe you’re of a more aggressive mindset and are looking to complete several big projects and generate a positive income flow.

3.  Monthly Tasks ~ This is pretty simple to me.  Figure out how much time you need to accomplish the things on this year’s to-do list and plan it out.  Schedule the time you need for each project.  This not only helps you determine whether or not your goals for the year are attainable, but it also helps you stay focused on what you need to work on each month.

4.  Weekly Tasks ~ Know what you need to accomplish in a given week to meet your monthly goals.

5.  Daily Tasks ~ Setting down a list of daily tasks seems cumbersome to many folks, but I find that it helps lighten the load.  If I know on a particular day my focus must be on getting in a certain word count or finishing a draft of a short story, then I don’t waste any time or energy worrying about other projects.  Their day is coming, and that’s when I will deal with them.

This does not have to be a long and complicated process, nor does it have to become some sort of burdensome record-keeping.  Keep it simple.  Post your five-year and one-year plans up where you can see them every day.  Same with your monthly and weekly tasks.

On the days when you need focus, you need only look down at your list of daily tasks and focus only on what needs to be done next.

On the days when you feel lost and need inspiration, you need only look up to find your long-term goals, your North Star to the bright future you have written for yourself.


"Colour Caps" by Bavenmark - - licensed under Creative Commons

Not only is it encouraging, but it’s motivating to take a moment every once in a while and pile up your daily achievements to see how big of a hill you’ve made.  It makes you focus on what you’ve done and not what you didn’t get to.  🙂


In January:

  1. I wrote 28,767 new words. (17,640 of those words were of the novel; 11,127 of those words were short stories.)
  2. I wrote four new short stories, two of which have been finished (meaning they have received feedback and revisions), one of which is out in the world meeting new people.
  3. I submitted four short stories, one of those twice…so five submittals total.
  4. I received one rejection.
  5. I refocused the blog and posted 10 entries/articles.
  6. I read half of a research book.
  7. I completely overhauled all my boxes of writing crap and got everything organized after 20 years…no small feat.


How did everyone else out there do in January?  I hope you all kicked my butt!  Tell me how you did so I can give a cheer…or a whipping, if need be.  😉