Sunday, June 30, 2013

this old story

I spent a couple of days in Pittsburgh last week lending a hand with some touch-ups to my son's new house. Well, okay--we did more than just a few minor touch-ups. Because, even though the house is new to's actually quite old, and sadly it hasn't been well-tended over the years. There's quite a bit of work to be done--cleaning and painting and decorating. Still, it's a sturdy house and he's off to a good start with it.

While I was working, it occurred to me that revising the first draft of a novel is a lot like renovating an old house. Your manuscript may have been collecting dust for years.

And, even though the basic structure is solid, there may still be a lot of work ahead...especially if you didn't tend to things as you went along. You have to clean it up before you can share it with your friends. There may be problems with the plot to hammer out and holes to fill in. Parts of it may need to be torn out and discarded, or re-imagined with an eye toward creating something better. It may need a splash of color here and there and a few personal touches to make it your own... chapter at a time. One room at a time. Both projects can be exhausting and overwhelming in scope. Time-consuming. Downright discouraging at times. Still, if you take your time, do the necessary dirty work, pay attention to the details, and add your own creative touches, you can be proud of what you've done.

Happily, revising a novel can be done in air-conditioned comfort at your laptop with a cold beverage at your side. Renovating a house in the summer heat and humidity wrings the sweat out of you and leaves you limp. 

Just don't give up on it. And don't be afraid to ask for help. You may need it.

If you don't finish your house, where will you live? If you don't finish your story, what will you do?

Good news! My short story, "Absolution", has been accepted for publication by U.S. Catholic...which really surprises me because it's a humorous and fairly sarcastic look at the Sacrament of Reconciliation...which is sacred ground for traditional Catholics. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

writing prompts

It seems like just about everyone has some trick or technique or process they want to promote to encourage creative thought in writers who are stuck. Workshops are built around them. Books are written about them.

"Writing the Mind Alive--The Proprioceptive Method for Finding Your Authentic Voice" with Linda Thrichter Metcalf, Ph.D. and Tobin Simon, Ph.D. is one. Another is "Writing Begins with the Breath" with Laraine Herring, who uses meditation and body work to foster creativity. In Lynda Barry's workshop, "Do You Wish You Could Write?", she encourages participants to doodle while they think...specifically, to draw continuous spirals until inspiration strikes.

And all of them depend upon writing prompts--timed writing prompts--to get the writer to the page. For some people this seems to work. For me? Not so much. Nothing shuts me down like a prompt I have no interest in.
Write for ten minutes about eating cantaloupe. No.
Write about two completely different kinds of feet. No.
Describe a full moon from the point of view of someone who cannot see. Really?

I mean, I get the point. You challenge yourself. You write about topics you would ordinarily avoid. And so, you grow as a writer...unless, of course, you panic because you only have so many minutes to get something down, and you paid a lot to attend the workshop, and sooner or later you'll be expected to read what you've written...which is garbage. Your mind spins helplessly while everyone else is writing fluently and lyrically and intelligently. This actually happened to me at a workshop I attended. It brought me to tears of frustration and self-reproach by the second day.

I need to feel emotionally engaged with a topic before I can produce anything but gibberish. So, because I'm starting to nudge my way into creative nonfiction, I've been looking for nonfiction prompts to inspire me.
How to spend a snowy day. Yes.
Who do you know who carries a heavy burden but doesn't let it show. Yes!
A childhood secret your parents never knew. OK.
Do you like writing to a timed prompt? Or does it frustrate you? What other methods work for you when you're stuck?
“The groove is so mysterious.
We're born with it and we lose it and the world
seems to split apart before our eyes into stupid and cool.
When we get it back, the world unifies around us,
and both stupid and cool fall away.
I am grateful to those who are keepers of the groove.
The babies and the grandmas who hang on to it and help us remember
when we forget that any kind of dancing is better than no dancing at all.”
--Lynda Barry--
   We're expecting a good old-fashioned heat wave this week. Summer has arrived.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

conflict and tension

Twiddling my thumbs. Pacing. Puttering. Waiting. Waaaaaaiting! This is the hardest part of writing for me: waiting for the idea to come to me so that I can put it into words.

I've been working on my second novel for about a year now. I thought I had the ending nailed down tight. I thought it was tense, surprising, and plausible, that it tied up each of the plot points and brought the story around full circle.

Now? I'm not so sure. So I've been trying to take the story down a different path...but it just won't come.

The question is, will it ever come to me? Frustration sits at my right hand, Impatience on the left. This week they had the nerve to suggest that I should give up on this one. Put it away and concentrate on something I can handle...say, trimming the shrubs or cleaning the garage.

I tried to explain that I've had other things on my mind lately. A wedding. A face to face encounter with a rabid raccoon (yes, it happened!).
Well. not this exact raccoon, but one just as cute until it
started to stagger toward broad daylight.

 An up-coming trip to Africa. Still, I hate to leave this book unfinished.

Enter: My muse (hark...a distant fanfare!).

She wraps a consoling arm around me. "Sweetie," she says, "you don't need more action need more depth." And she's right. My politically correct, normally constrained, conflict-aversive protagonist is about to commit an horrendous act of sabotage and I need to plumb his thoughts and feelings about it, his emotional reaction...especially since it's bound to escalate the PTSD he struggles so hard to keep under wraps.

Remember: conflict and tension can be psychological, emotional, and mental as well as physical. In fact, it should be.

What do you do when you're stuck for an idea? How do you summon your muse?
"How often
--even before we begin--
have we declared a task "impossible"?
And how often have we construed
a picture of ourselves as inadequate?
A great deal depends upon the thought patterns we choose
and on the persistence with which we affirm them."
--Piero Ferrucci--
My book, "Empower! Women's Stories of Breakthrough, Discovery and Triumph", is now available at One Good Woman Need something to read at the beach this summer? Looking for a gift for a friend? It's also available on Amazon at