Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Rituals for Writing, Writing as Ritual

As I shift my creative focus from art back to writing I remind myself of what I need to do to enter my writing life. Rituals are a good place to start. We all have our own personal rituals even if we don't identify them as such. We have mealtime rituals, bedtime rituals, morning rituals and perhaps exercise rituals. Here are a few of my writing rituals that I will implement once again.

Five rituals that get me writing:

  1. Cleaning my desk: The first step is to clear my desk of anything art related to eliminate distractions. Gone are the water glass, the paintbrushes, the art journals. All moved to another part of the room. The desk is then dusted and my mug of pens is placed in the corner.
  2. Setting up notebooks: I print labels for a notebook and binder for each writing project. Sometimes it is only one of each for a novel but often it is several. One for each flash fiction or flash memoir chapbook I am writing. Sometimes for a poetry collection in progress.
  3. Buying and/or reading books on writing craft: Somehow having books about writing in clear view acts as inspiration for me. Seeing them reminds me of my commitment to write. Admittedly reading these books takes up time when I could and should be writing. But a ritual is something we do all the time and this is one of mine. It has worked in the past to get things written and my mind back to writing so I will keep it around.
  4. Brainstorming: Keeping lists and outlines of future books helps too. Anything that gets me thinking about writing. Having a stockpile of ideas for fiction and memoir motivates me to keep writing.
  5. Taking online classes: Last but not least is taking classes. Once I hone in on a genre--poetry, novel or short fiction--I search or online classes related to the genre. I know just where to look too. I go straight to two websites: and These two sites offer classes all year round and there is always something to pique my interest in my chosen genre. I like to follow teachers too. Len Leatherwood and Melanie Faith are two excellent teachers who have kept me writing and revising despite life distractions. And when it comes to poetry I head for Lorraine Mejia at
Those rituals truly help to get me back on the writing track.

But writing itself can be a ritual. For me I need to deliberately set a time each day of day in which to focus on a work in progress. That may vary due to daily errands and life in general. The thing doesn't waver, or rarely wavers, is morning writing. Every morning after my other hygiene rituals I head to my desk, now cleared for my writing mind. I open a notebook, which must be a one subject, spiral bound, wide ruled affair, and begin to write. This might take the form of morning pages as per Julia Cameron and The Artists' Way. It might take the form of scribing a few poems from prompt books of which I own many. It could be writing based on a lesson for a class I'm taking or may even be some solid writing on a story. 

Like exercise, writing is best done early in the morning so you don't become distracted by other responsibilities. It sets up the day with some progress and keeps my mind on my writing life.

No matter how I look at it rituals help me be the writer I want to be. The writer I tell myself I am.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Manuscripts in Cyberspace

It's early morning and blue light drifts into my writing space. I open a one subject, wide ruled spiral notebook and begin the first draft of chapter 10. Writing first drafts in longhand has always been my approach to writing in any genre. The words flow down my arm and out through my hand in blue swirls across the page. And any time I wish to review a few pages, find a certain scene that needs tweaking or check my scene notes, there they are inside the bright covers of the notebook.

Things can get tricky however when those character arcs, plot twists, and back stories are converted to documents in a word file on my computer.

I've been at work on this present novel for several years. Over that time plots and characters have changed and hopefully the whole has become better. But there are files, files and more files related to the varied forms of this novel. Some on the computer, some on a flash drive. Up until the passed few weeks this has worked okay. But I have been struggling with finding the first draft of the particular version I want to actually finish.

I have searched every document and folder for this draft and had not been able to find it. Until today!

I decided to do one more search and finally was able to seize the draft I was looking for. There it was in a file, in a folder within a folder that was inside a folder marked "saved folders." One hundred and sixty-five pages rescued from the ether. Two thirds of a first draft just waiting to be finished. As in the play "Six Characters in Search of an Author," my characters were waiting in cyberspace to see what was going to happen to them next. Lovers caught in mid-kiss wondering what that kiss would mean to their futures. An abused and pregnant teenager not sure if my protagonist would be able to save her or not.

Well, now those one hundred sixty-five pages are printed, hole punched and secure in a blue binder never to be lost again. And my poor characters will now, finally, discover what their futures will hold.

The document is also stored on the computer, in the cloud, and on a flash drive, hopefully never to be lost again.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Getting back to writing a novel

It's been nine months since I wrote that last post and lots has happened--very little to do with writing however. Much to my embarrassment I haven't touched that novel since my critique group retreat in April. I do have an excuse though.

In May we flew to California and found a new home in a very nice apartment complex. It took many months to settle the details, pack up our belongings and drive from the east coast to the west. But now we are here and settled in and loving the sunny warm weather. We have taken care of details and acclimated ourselves to where things are in the town and now it is time I got back to business.

I have been making lots of art journal layouts and enjoying it immensely but it's time to get back to writing this novel.
It seems I do not have any of the previous material so I am beginning from scratch!

I set up my notebooks and have an idea where I'm going. I also signed up for an online class to outline the foundation of the novel so I can have a solid start. This is meant to be the first novel of a three book series and I hope I can recreate my notes for the stories.

I plan to post more often and share with you the process of turning my idea into a viable novel. I think writing novels is fun despite the hard work and headaches and time that go into writing. But I am up for the challenge.

Perhaps the warm winter here in southern California will provide inspiration.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Resolving a Plotting Crisis

This post is all about how, or how not to, resolve a crisis with your novel's plot.

First steps are sensing the crisis in the first place and then figuring out what the exact crisis is. In this case it amounted to the following:

  1. In revising a chapter to read to my critique group at our meeting this Saturday I found the writing flat and there wasn't much happening until page 5 of the chapter.
  2. There was a supporting character causing me some trouble. First there were incidents occuring that didn't work when I checked my research contact. Second in analyzing what I needed to change I realized this character wasn't adding anything to plot or doing anything that moved the plot along.
Once I put that all together I had to figure it out. I knew the flat writing could be fixed in the rewriting process and that some of the action, or lack thereof, in the first two chapters could be condensed and the meeting of the two romantic leads could be moved up sooner in the story. Easy-peasy.

The supporting character was a bigger dilemma. My resolution? Just ditch the story and start over. That didn't seem right since I've done that several times with other books resulting in a file drawer filled with unfinished manuscripts. I even considered giving up novel writing and going back to flash fiction and poetry, but that seemed a cop out since there is a little sign on my desk that yells "WRITE YOUR NOVEL IN 2016." And since in a few days I will be on retreat with my writing buddies I will have a good opportunity to fix all of this. Not to mention the fact that I have already written 200 pages of this story.

Discouraged and ready to give up I went to sleep. I woke up the next day at 5:00 am with a solution!!!

I would change the supporting character to someone else! She would be an adult so the issues with counseling a minor would be gone. She would have a darker story for my lead character to deal with--one that would help my MC discover that she needed to trust herself before she could trust men. This new supporting character would also provide stronger impetus for my MC to set about her goal of creating a safe haven for abused women in the rural town she's moved to which has no such place to women to go for shelter.

I've been using a process that combines some plotting/outlining strategies like figuring out inciting incidents and energetic markers (as per The Plot Whisperer), and listing scenes that have to be included later on in the book or the scenes that are coming in the next chapters I am writing. That incombination with a free flowing "pantser" act of writing my first draft in longhand in a spiral notebook.

I think the crisis is averted for now. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, February 19, 2016

How I Came to Write Romance Novels

As I sit and write page after page of my romantic women's fiction novel I recall how I came to write romance at all. After all, I started my writing life with poetry and was barely writing any fiction at the time.

It had to be thirty years ago. I was teaching creative writing in adult education classes and had met a few writers who eventually came together in a weekly writing group. At the time I was writing poetry and short stories. I didn't even read romance novels, thinking they were too formulaic and simple. Instead I immersed myself in literary fiction writers like Margaret Atwood, Gail Godwin, Joyce Carol Oates and poets like Rod McKuen and Sylvia Plath. 

One night at a local library several romance writers were coming to speak and my little critique group decided we would go and see what it was all about. The talk was interesting and still I had a negative view of romance novels. Of course I had never read any so I held my opinion until I picked up a couple and gave them a try.

The writing was technically good, but still the stories seemed too cute, the turning points too pat, the characters too simple and sometimes inane. So I put aside the idea and returned to the psychological depth of my literary fiction.

Fast forward years later, like the past five years, and my outlook has changed.

First of all I leaned toward wanting to write romance because it seemed like such fun. And I wanted my writing to be be fun, for me as well as my readers. Besides, all the novels I had been writing contained some element of romance and I enjoyed the sparks between characters and the inherent happy endings. So I went to Barnes and Noble and perused and bought a few romance novels. I looked for writers I'd heard of and who were recommended to me and then further narrowed my search by finding romance series since that thought had entered my writer's mind.

I read series by Kristan Higgins, Susan Mallery, Brenda Novak and Robyn Carr. And what I discovered about the romance novels being written over the past ten years or so is that they have more depth, the events that occur between the hero and heroine seem more realistic and good and bad vibes occur out of backstory and fears rather than coincidence. I also found that these new romances carry a subplot that addresses deeper issues like spousal abuse, teen pregnancy and grieving. 

This has given me a renewed interest and a deep desire to write these kinds of books since I want my novels to include social issues and have some psychological meaning and yet I want the writing itself to be easily read and more commercial rather than literary.

It feels rather late in my life to be writing these books and to be just launching a novel writing career, but better late than never and I won't look back and stack up regrets when I can look forward and stack up pages, chapters, books and hopefully publications.

It's been a long journey but I have finally arrived.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Writing Success Breeds Writing Success

I was sitting in a Weight Watchers meeting one night when a member uttered this eye opening comment. "Success breeds more success." I clearly saw how it related to weight loss as each pound shed helped me believe I could lose more.

Two years later I am finally grasping how that mantra could lead to writing success. As I attempted once again to revive an old short story, and once again to start a new novel I intend to actually finish, I came upon that age old wall called writer's block. I never believed I had writer's block as I defined it as not having any idea what to write. My problem has always been having too many ideas and not being able to decide which to work on first.

My writing wall comes when just feel like all this writing, the time and the paper and ink involved will lead to nothing but file cabinets filled with half-finished or forgotten stories, novels and poems. I ask myself why bother? Why not just go out and have fun?

But then that little phrase nudged against my brain and I thought, well, I have numerous stories, essays and poems published so why not learn from them.

Personal essays have been published in a number of anthologies. Short stories and poems have been published in journals such as Persimmon Tree, Storyteller, Metro Moms and The Writer's Eye. That being the case my writing must be pretty decent. If I've published before then surely I can achieve some publication success again. I even once had a full novel manuscript requested based on my query letter. Though it wasn't accepted, it did make me feel somewhat successful. Well, at least I'd had a good story idea.

So whenever I feel like sitting at my desk writing is a waste of time, I remember that I have had moderate success as a writer. And that must mean there is more success to come. 

I have to keep going to my notebook and writing page after page of this novel until it is complete. Then I have to revise it. Then revise again and then submit.

Sooner or later that wave of success will return and I will be on my way. I cannot get discouraged. I must write on.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Short Story Writing

This is a difficult post to compose because as usual I have always waffled among many genres and that includes both writing and art. But I feel like I've had an epiphany and I need to voice it.

I've been reading Elizabeth Gilbert's book "Big Magic" and in it she talks about not "doing what you would do if you knew you could not fail" but "doing what you would do even if you knew you would fail." It strummed a chord for me. If I knew for sure I would never publish a novel I would never spend years writing one. If I knew I would never publish another poem or short story, or knew that my art would never see the light of day outside my little craft room, I would still write poems and short stories and make art. My career days are over and now it's time to spend my remaining years on what drives me creatively.

So I will continue to create art and I will continue to write poems and as for fiction my focus will be on writing flash fiction. 

I have two binders of flash stories that need to be sent out. I have ideas for several chapbooks of connected flash fiction stories. And since I have the attention span of a flea I suppose this is the right genre for me. 

My short story collection had moderate success and I've published individual stories in journals so I know I have some talent. I can build on past success by writing more and submitting more and settling into a writing practice that makes more sense for me. If I can write a rough draft in an hour, revise in another hour and then send out a story, I will feel more accomplished and successful and not constantly ruminate over unfinished work taking up space in my overcrowded writing/art room.

I know the advice is to read what you want to write, or write what you like to read. And it's true that I prefer to read novels. But writing them is not my style. My writing voice in novels seems flat while my voice in flash fiction seems to sing with more poetic flair. I will just have to intersperse novel reading with some anthologies of flash fiction and study the form a little more.

I just feel I'm onto something and I have to follow my voice toward a more prolific writing life.