Tragic revenge of forgiveness – WFMAD Day 12


Question 2: Do you do any editing as you go or do you puke it all out (so to speak!) then do all your revision once the draft is done?

Answer 2: Yes. And no. It depends.

Questions like this are tricky and I hesitate to answer them. I suspect that underneath this question is anxiety about the questioner’s writing process. He could be stuck in the middle of a project. Or he has completed a book, but is unhappy with the quality of it. Or he thinks he has a great idea, but is feeling unsure how to build on it.

I know the feeling!

It doesn’t matter how many books I’ve written, I have never written the book I am working on right now. In my experience, each book wants/needs to be written in its own way, much as every child needs to be parented in the way that best suits her, not necessarily what worked for her siblings.

 I also understand the desire to ask other writers about their process. I am a voracious reader of auther biographies and particularly like seeing other people’s marked-up manuscripts, like the opening of Charles Dickens Great Expectations, below.

(Read more about a facsimile version of Great Expectations)

All that being said, my books generally start with an idea and the voice of a character in my head. I scribble a lot; dialog, scenes, backstory, and often several different directions a story could go. When I get frustrated, I go back and try to figure out which scenes have energy and which ones are useless. I cut out the crap, often restructure what’s left, and fill in where there are plot or character holes. During the cutting and filling I will frequently polish those key scenes until they are pretty much ready to be printed, while others scenes are still incredibly rough (often just a line or two.) Why? Once I understand the emotional state, desires, needs, and weaknesses of my characters in those scenes, I have a clearer sense of how to pace the rest of that story.

But your mileage may vary.


Today’s Quote 

“Well, there are only three possible endings—aren’t there?—to any story: revenge, tragedy or forgiveness. That’s it. All stories end like that.”

Jeanette Winterson


Today’s Prompt: Choose one of the following character scenarios.

    1. Girl meets Girl

    2. Girl meets Boy

    3. Boy meets Boy

    4. Boy meets Girl

Now choose a setting: basketball court, bus stop, library, summer camp, elevator.

Then choose a problem: blind date, someone cheated, death of beloved pet, joined the military, lost movie tickets, earthquake, stubbed toe.

Finally, take one of the three endings proposed by Jeanette Winterson in the quote above: revenge, tragedy or forgiveness.

With those building blocks, start writing and see how far you can go.


Scribble… scribble… scribble…

Pearls of Memory – WFMAD Day 11



On Twitter and Facebook I’ve started to take writing-related questions that I’ll answer here. If you have one, feel free to leave it in the Comments section.

Question 1: Please explain your daily routine, how you revise, how you balance professional demands (deadlines etc) with creative/artistic satisfaction.

Answer: I am still looking for the answer!! I got serious about writing in 1992. I had my first book published in 1996. I quit my day job in 2002, and started supporting my family only with income from writing and speaking.

It’s been hard. Way harder than I thought it would be. But maybe that’s good, because it has helped me develop pretty decent work habits.

My daily routine over the years has ebbed and flowed depending on how many kids were living at home, how many parents we were taking care of, whether I was divorced or married, where I lived, and how many weeks/year I was on the road. Right now my routine is fairly simple. I wake up around 5am. Two days a week I spend the morning taking my father to the gym and breakfast, then doing chores and errands for him. The other mornings I try to get out to my writing cottage by 6am. Right now I am working very hard on my new YA, so I write as long as I can, usually until dinner time. I’m bummed because I haven’t had as much time as I’d like for running or gardening this summer, but I really want to get this finished ASAP.

The creative/artistic satisfaction is still there, even though the burden of producing can sometimes feel overwhelming. I wouldn’t be able to work this hard if it were not for the moments of magic, the times when I lost myself in the story and surfaced an hour or four later, without a clear memory of having typed the last ten pages. The satisfaction is enhanced when I get feedback from readers who connect with the story the same way I did when I was writing it.

The revision process? That’s an answer for another day!

Today’s Quote 

“Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” 
― Flannery O’Connor

 Today’s Prompt: Write about the time your mother really dressed up. Everything. All the details. All the secrets. All of the dreams and the sadness that you can dredge up.


Scribble… scribble… scribble…

Doubt & Desperation – WFMAD Day 10



As writers, we play “what if” all day long. “What if” drives every decision about characters and plot twists. It is probably the tool we use the most.

Sometimes the “what if” tool becomes the bewitched broom of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and winds up terrifying and controlling us instead of the other way around. We turn the “what if” on the quality of our work too early … and make ourselves miserable. What if this actually sucks? What if I never get published? What if everyone secretly thinks I am wasting my time? What if I AM wasting my time?????

I hate it when my brain does that to me.

There is a time and place for taking a giant step backwards and cooling critiquing the quality of your work. When is that? ONE: when you are revising, and TWO: when you are trying to figure out if your story or novel or whatever is good enough to submit.

NOT when you are trying to get into the daily groove of writing, or when you are looking for the door that will open the magic of a story.

When Doubt and Desperation creep into your brain and try to cannibalize your imagination, pick up something handy, like a burning torch or a double-headed axe, and drive them back into the shadows where they belong.

Today’s Quote

“It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.”

Virginia Woolf


Today’s Prompt: You (or a character) are trapped in a looming disaster. You are given a few minutes to find and carry one thing out of your house. All the of the people and animals that live with you are safe. All of your documentation; insurance paperwork, medical records, etc. have also been accounted for.

What is the first thing you choose and why?

You get to the front door and stop. You put down your first choice and run back and get a second item. Why? What is it?

Be sure to describe both the physical details and the emotional significance of the item.


Scribble… scribble… scribble…

Granddaughters of Title IX


Given how well the women of the USA have done in this Olympics, I’m going to call them the Granddaughters of Title IX.

I say this as a Daughter of Title IX.

Title IX gave me and my peers the chance to play and compete; the chance our mothers didn’t have. It is beyond awesome to watch the next generation grow strong and skilled and reach for the stars.

Crossing The Desert – WFMAD Day 9


 Image by Michael Howell


Those days when the words flow are magical, aren’t they?

The days when the words don’t flow? When all you hear is the hot wind blowing down the canyon, evil spirits laughing at you? They are hell.

Everyone has days like this. They can be managed. They can be endured and overcome. You will crawl your way out of the desert and drink deep again from the well of inspiration.

When the hot winds blow and I have sand in my brain instead of ideas, I will do one or all of the following:

1. Read a book written by an author I love

2. Go for a walk

3. Read poetry

4. Go for a run

5. Weep. Pout. Curse the sky. Stomp my feet.

6. Draw

7. Take the character who is giving me the most trouble and writing outrageous scenes with her/him. This kind of scene will have nothing to do with the book I’m writing, but is designed to help me get to know a character better.


Today’s Quote

“I’ve learned just to go to my room and plug away. It doesn’t take very long for most writers to realise that if you wait until the day you are inspired and feel like writing you’ll never do it at all.”

Anne Tyler

Today’s Prompt: This one starts with writing a few short lists.

Step 1 – write the names of three kids from your childhood (these do not have to be children you knew well or even liked).

Step 2 – write down five smells.

Step 3 – choose  a simple story idea. Don’t have one? Borrow one of these:  Surprise Party, Talking Roses, Exploding Toilet, Bus Breakdown, Burning Pancakes, Girl Scout Troop in Revolt.

Step 4 – Combine the elements from Steps 1-3 and write about the mixture for 15 minutes.

  Scribble… scribble… scribble…