View From the Writer’s Desk

Kale: stir fry with ginger, soy, and garlic?

View: a little on the “meh” side this week.

I spent so much time staring out the window that I rearranged the physical view in hopes that my mental view would change. All week long I faced my laptop, but nothing much happened. I’m not sure why. No excuses here, but it got me wondering why it is that some weeks my output flows, and then others it fizzles to a barely discernable trickle.

It’s the weirdest thing. Nothing changed this week. No stressors. Ah, but perhaps that’s it. No stressors! Through last week I was gung-ho to finish a revision for an agent. I was PUMPED. The revision was a beautiful thing, and I knew to the core of my physical being that I was improving the manuscript. It just felt good, you know what I mean? I sent it off one week ago.

Then, this week — fizzle-city. I re-read where I’d left off on another revision, and after the headiness of my previous effort, this revision felt flat. Good news: I think I figured out what’s not right about it, thus far, which is a huge part of the battle. And I did get words down on paper — I did. Just not so much is all.

But, okay, in a fit of frustration I did buy the decorative kale you see in the image, and I did set piggy beside that sickly lily, poor thing. I kept pondering how to cook up kale, however. I like kale okay, but, come on now, not that much.

As a friend wrote in an email message this morning about her own window-staring: Taking a break, it seems.

Apparently, the brain wants what it wants at times, and no amount of striving and self-flaggelation on my part is going to change its stubborn mind. Hey, Brain, vacation’s over come Monday! Uhm, okay, pretty please?

FLOUNDERING | Indecisiveness Bringing Me Down

Which way should I go?

If decisiveness is the hallmark of a great leader, then I’m letting myself down in Writingland. I’m sitting here at my computer procrastinating — talk about being the queen of social networking. This kind of queenliness isn’t good for my fiction. This morning I handed over my sceptre to my flaky coregent, who should have abdicated long ago. Today, she reigns supreme first on Facebook, then on various fictionista blogs such as Murderati, The Lipstick Chronicles, and Jungle Red, and now, here, on my blog.

I simply can’t take her seriously at the moment. Off with her head!

Here’s what’s going on in the bigger picture of my fiction pseudo-career: For awhile now I’ve considered self-publishing because I’m getting no joy from the traditional route. I’ve been working hard (between one major bout of depression, one major bout of economic hardship, not to mention the day-job), folks, since 1999.

In the spring, I told myself to give the agent-hunting thing one more heavy push, and if nothing comes of it — that’s it, self-publish. I’ve revised my favorite unpublished novel, and I continue the agent process…

Meanwhile, here I am in Writingland, also known as the Land of Indecision, having handed over my power to the Queen of Procrastination. I take responsibility. I’m being foolish. I need to make a decision about what to work on RIGHT NOW.

I’ve been here before. My ailment is called between-project-itis. It’s an inflammation of the brain that causes me to flounder around for a few days — hopefully only for a few days — while I get my head around the notion of beginning something new. Picture me flopping around, like, say, that time in Hawaii when a wave floated me over a pretty coral bed, then retreated to leave me stranded atop said coral, frantic and splashing while my friends laughed at me (until they saw my bloody wounds — I still have scars on my legs)…

That’s me, flipping, flopping around in berserk fashion. I feel a pull in two directions at once, hence, my indecisiveness. It feels like I need to make a decision based on a career strategy, or some such thing, or else trust my gut…

1. Start a new novel that I developed last year. I’ve got the  major plot points, I’ve got the major characters. Will require what all first drafts require: tears and toil.

2. Revise an existing novel that I still feel has oodles of commercial potential. I now know how to revise it to amplify the potential. Will require major historical research.

I’m leaning toward the second option. I figure there’s no reason not to self-publish this novel while pursuing the traditional route with the other one. Right? Right. Did I just make a decision? (I can’t tell…honestly.)

Negotiating With Self

coffeehouse1Today’s signs of spring: Dog panting on our walk and me only wearing a hoodie over a long-sleeved cotton shirt.

I’m sitting in a local coffeehouse, feeling low-grade anxiety. This low-grade anxiety tells me I ought to be working on today’s day-job task. This low-grade anxiety tells me that straight-A students don’t delay the paying work for a few hours. This low-grade anxiety tells me that someone (but who?) will get mad at me if I don’t turn around today’s day-job task one minute from now.

But here’s the first thing: The immediacy of day-job tasks will always trump fiction if I let them.

Here’s the second thing: Which means that if I’m not careful I’ll accomplish less fiction than usual.

Plus this: Unfortunately, my creativity turns off at night because by then I’m brain-tired.

How could I not peek?
How could I not peek?

However: Since I always make my deadlines and the day-job task isn’t creative, I’ll get it done this evening for sure.

So: Here I sit in a coffeehouse about to complete a few hours worth of fiction. Take that, low-grade anxiety. Pipe down, you.

How’s that for negotiating with myself?

My Father’s Lesson

cannonbeach11Yes, I’m procrastinating.

I submit a sunshine picture because two days of constant rain and gray ended — for now. Today brings blue — actual blue! — sky, sunlight reflecting through fluffed clouds, and aspen leaves lit-up gold. I’ll get the dog out for a real walk because her excess energy led her into the litter box — and out came the kitty rocas (crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, as my friend Bruce likes to say) all over the carpet. Nice waking up to that. Gag. What is it with dogs and poop?


I’m about to start the task I mentioned yesterday. I feel fine (not so sick). Why do I resist settling down to story-development work? It challenges me in a way I don’t like, perhaps because it’s such an organized act. First drafts, revisions: okay; but this? Anyone out there who can relate?

I’d let the task go except that the few times I’ve thought before writing (hehe) proved helpful. In the end, it’s a skill I need to practise. That’s what it comes down to…Have got to keep practising and improving on all writing fronts, even the fronts I don’t prefer (to put it nicely).

This reminds me of my father (and here I go, procrastinating further — what a shock). He owned restaurants. During college breaks I worked at one of them. It got so that he let me call in the payroll every other week, which was a heinous job. In fact, much of my father’s day was spent at tasks that appeared deathly dull, even painful at times.

So I asked him, “How can you stand doing all this stuff?”

He said, “Even the best jobs come with the parts we don’t like. We do them because there’s a bigger picture. That’s the way it is.”

(My father was a pragmatic man.)

That was a huge learning lesson for me. One of the best. In one casual moment, I learned that we gotta suck it up sometimes, even when we love what we do. I remember him when I’m trying to settle down to writing tasks that don’t thrill me. Like now!

Free-For-All Friday

(What is this? My very own meme, which could take the form of other Friday memes out there — random five or ‘fessing up — or non-Friday memes, or anything! Point being to have a little fun and get a little interactive.)


Two items I ran across that made me uneasy: This goes to the state of the publishing biz and our lot as novelists within it.

The Independent carried a piece about how novelists are under pressure to “dumb down” so as to appeal to a wider readership. It could be that publishers are rebranding certain authors more commercially — I call this the cult of personality in action — rather than let their work stand on its own.

Granted, these novelists stand to gain in the moulah-department if the publishers succeed in the marketing “remarketing.” But, I ask you, would you really want to see Cormac McCarthy rebranded as a thriller or action writer?

Simiilarly, The Guardian ran a piece about authors as “branding machines.” I’m going to quote a portion, because, for me, it says it all:

“…the obsession with “branding” authors is threatening to hamper new talent. Writing a book a year is the absolute minimum for an aspiring genre novelist, and this treadmill approach allows no let-up. Will new crime writers get the freedom of say, Dennis LeHane, Thomas Harris and James Ellroy to write the books they want, when they want? Or will they be squeezed out by rivals willing to fire off three or four books a year to establish themselves?”

Seems to me this scenario is pertinent to most novelists, not only crime writers. What are your thoughts?

An item that made me think: Sometimes another blogger’s pearl of wisdom takes me by surprise. One wee sentence on Quantum Storytelling’s blog was a welcome slap in the face: “Procrastination is caused by indecision.”

We could discuss whether procrastination is always caused by indecision, but, in point of fact, when I read that statement I realized that my procrastination of past weeks had indeed been caused by indecisiveness! Yowza. I outlined my tangled thoughts in a post last week. This week I decided to tackle point number one from that post (finish a revision). Low and behold, this week my work routines settled back into their good groove.

And, an item that made me smile: A writers-retreat-friend is doing well for himself these days. His name is Eldon Thompson, and he writes epic fantasy. I enjoyed perusing his website this week — and I’m happy for him. The bit that made me smile came out of an interview. He said this:

“…Most importantly, perhaps, it has taught me to simplify things—to toss out ideas that are too complex and to really focus on the emotional response of characters to whatever obstacles are thrown at them.”

I smiled because I tend toward too much complexity in my first drafts. Glad to know that I’m not the only one that’s learned a few lessons around this!

Add This Crazy-Maker Thought to the List

I’m having one of my crazy-maker thoughts.

Do you ever wish you were obsessive-compulsive? Just a little?

I do.

Because if I were, I’d be a little more like my friend V- who is in fabulous shape because she can’t not run her 50-60 miles per week. Or, I’d be like R- whose home is organized, efficient, labeled, and clean, and who finds home-improvement projects relaxing. Or, maybe T-, who sticks to his to-do lists and has grown a successful business and recently bought a dream house.

But I’m not like that. I know how to relax. I relax too easily. I relax at the drop of a hat.

Of course, I’m thinking of all this in terms of my writing. I could say that I’m obsessive-compulsive about meeting deadlines — that’s the good student in me. I’ve got that on my side.

The thing is, what if you’re a writer with no deadlines at the moment? That’s where a little obsessive-compulsiveness would come in handy. Just a little, you know? It’s like the phase I went through in high school where I wished I’d grow a tapeworm, just a little tapeworm, so I’d lose weight. I’d have loved that.

Now I wonder, how can I grow a little obsessive-compulsiveness? It’s not like I can run around barefoot and pick it up. And hanging out with my OCD (just a little) friends doesn’t help — the reverse actually; hanging with them can tire me out. I can set up self-imposed deadlines…

Yeah, right! Like that’s ever worked!

This all comes down to a fear I have: Are the only writers who succeed those who don’t know how to relax? The OCDs? The workaholics (because what is a workaholic except someone with a little OCD)? If so, I’m hosed.

You can see why this is a crazy-maker thought. I’m not that nuts, am I?

Silly Spaniel or Sporty Spaniel?

Before dog ownership, I knew, just knew, I was a person who:

1. would never own a lap dog, and

2. would never, EVER own a shivery lap dog.

Goes to show. Pulled out Luna’s spiffy new coat this morning because the chill is officially on around here. Silly Spaniel or Sporty Spaniel? I can’t decide.

(Later – it’s official: She’s not Sporty Spaniel. The sight of the coat excited her when I pulled it out for her evening walk. However, once dressed, she jumped onto the couch for more sleep. I hereby change my choices to Silly Spaniel or Stylista Spaniel — or Slacker Spaniel.)


The chilly weather compelled a new pet behavior. First time the cat and dog have snoozed in proximity to each other. Cat’s still the alpha, of course, but at least they’re not engaging in space-heater turf wars. (Gotta buy something other than a bath mat for them to lie on though.)

Okay, back to work now…or would that be a cozy bubble bath instead? And, if bubble bath, can I say I worked if I read one of my research books while soaking?

Monday Morning | Anyone Else Procrastinating Out There?

Yep, yep, yep…And I’m looking forward to writing the next scene, too!


However, I procrastinated myself into a stopping point, and I’d like to thank novelist Kathleen Bolton for the most apt blog post. She quotes a passage from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (which I might have to buy now) that’s right on the money.

So, now that I’ve got my head screwed on straight, I shall dive into Chapter 41!

Call me Happy; the Words Flow Once Again

I’m sitting here in one of my favorite coffee houses, Palio, feeling relieved and happy. After weeks of slamming myself against the hump that is the end of my novel, I finally wrote five new pages.

I don’t believe in writer’s block. Yet I do get stymied sometimes. Seems like I spent most of April on a rollercoaster: Great idea! No, that sucks…A better idea! No, that sucks also…Talk about frustration.

I gave up the goat in May and completed other work on the manuscript and story, including lots of brainstorming (previously mentioned). This was probably good and necessary work, but when it comes to first drafts, I tend to discount effort that doesn’t produce shiny, new words on fresh new pages. I end up thinking to myself: What have I been doing with my time? And then feeling kind of crappy.

This week a couple of friends and I talked about the creative process. The key theme was “time.” As in: Creation has its own timeline. Ideas need a nurturing hand rather than my usual impatient whipcord.

What I wonder is: How much of my time away from newly written pages was legitimate (“filling the cup,” as the saying goes) and how much was excuse-making? What’s the difference between nurturance and procrastination anyhow? (And how can you tell the difference!?)

I sometimes wonder if I’m the only writer who faces this inner conflict. I’m sure I’m not, but sometimes it sure feels like it! What’s your take?


Bum Glue and the Devil Cat

devil-cat.jpgThis morning — resolute and annoyed — I stepped over drifts of shredded toilet paper and into my office. I would not let the mess distract me from my writing duties. I could clean the mess any old time; let it sit for awhile; let the devil cat from toilet paper hell have yet more fun with his kill if he desired.

I caught him in act last night. He woke me up. Yes, I laughed.

But this morning, giggles were beside the point. I mustn’t, I told myself, clean and vacuum; not yet. I could feel the procrastination mistress within, ever distractible she is, perking up at the thought of not turning on my laptop, not starting chapter 19, not settling into anything except the next chore or trip to the fridge.

I was reminded of a lesson from Write Away, One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life, by Elizabeth George. She mentions “bum glue,” a little something we writers must possess to keep our bums stuck to our chairs and in front of our writing implements. Ms. George quotes from one of her own journals:

…I suit up and show up. I sit down at the computer and I do the work, moving it forward a sentence at a time, which is ultimately the only way there is to write a book.

sleepy-cat.jpgAs of this moment (4:00 p.m.) the toilet paper is still adrift in the hallway. Amazing how big it gets when off the roll and shredded to bits. It’s the popcorn effect. But that’s okay, because I wrote my pages.

(By the way, I grabbed this shot just before I turned on the computer this morning. Looks like mauling the toilet paper tuckered the poor dude out, doesn’t it? Rough life.)