Knocking off the rust

I feel like my blogging skills have gotten a bit rusty since the book tour. Sorry about that, friends. I promise to try harder.

Sometimes the problem is that the kind of thoughts that I want to put into a blog post feel like they will need hours of writing and shaping, and then I’ll have to find the right photo to go with them, or maybe a video, or maybe I ought compose an original tune for piano and mandolin, which means that first I’ll have to learn to play both instruments, and….

You get my drift.

This is the same kind of game my brain plays with me when it comes to my own writing. I hesitate to put any words down somedays because I can see all the things I need to do before I set the words down that will make those words shiny and perfect.


The critical step of writing – any kind of writing – is to pluck the words from your forehead and set them down on paper or screen. Write, don’t think. Just get it down. I am going to try to walk my own talk on this blog in an effort to knock the rust off my brain and encourage the words to flow again.


What kind of day is today? It’s a laundry day, a tying-up-loose-ends day. Trace Adkins on the stereo. And Big & Rich. Scaring the dogs as I sing along at the top of my lungs. Packing for this weekend’s writer’s conference. Planning a date with my husband. Wishing it was time to go to the gym. Ready to plant seeds in my soul.

How about you?



WFMAD Day 30 – your time is your currency

My friend Susan Campbell Bartoletti has a new book out: They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group.

You should buy it and read it. Five reviewing publications have given it stars (so far). Sue has written a fascinating account of her research trip to Arkansas to attend a KKK Congress. (They don’t call them rallies anymore.) She wrote four blog entries from 8/23 – 26 with details of the trip.

Thank you all for the questions you’ve been sending in. I will keep answering them in the coming weeks.

I’m impressed by all you accomplish: your writing, gardening, running, and family time. Could you discuss what you give up to make this happen -or- perhaps share your typical schedule?

This is an awesome question. And it has a partial connection to Sue.

Sue Bartoletti is one of the friends with whom I’ve had ongoing conversations (for years) about how to balance writing with life. And how to balance life with life.

If I do – occasionally – have my life in balance, it is because of friends like Susan, and Betsy Partridge, and Deb Heiligman, fellows writers and travelers on the creative journey who share my values. Lesson One: Seeking out kindred spirits is one of the most important things you can do for your own spirit and for your writing.

The second piece of my balancing act happened on September 21, 1981. That was the day that Sandra Day O’Connor was confirmed as the first female Supreme Court Justice in the history of the United States. If you are younger than 40, this probably does not seem like a big deal. It was HUGE.

I heard the news when I was driving home from my community college classes. I was 18 years old. The news was so shocking and amazing and world-changing, I pulled my car over to the side of the road and cried. In an interview later, Justice O’Connor said (paraphrasing here) that women can do everything, they just can’t do it all at the same time. I think that applies to both men and women and I think it is advice that applies throughout our adult lives. Lesson Two: Most of the time you can’t do everything that you want. So you have to be really clear on what your true priorities are.

The third piece of my balance started on a very scary night in a hospital about 12 years ago. My life was completely out of balance at that point and (not surprisingly) I was sick. A lot. One lung infection got out of hand and landed me in the hospital, jacked up on meds that made breathing easier and sleeping impossible.

The old woman in the bed next to me couldn’t sleep either. She spent the entire night talking to the very patient nurse’s assistant who held her hand. The old woman talked about how she regretted all the mistakes she made in her life that had brought her to that point. She was dying and none of her children or grandchildren would visit her.

I kept watching the second hand whirring around the clock on the wall. By dawn, I decided to change the way I’d been living. Because, Lesson Three: You’re going to die. So you might as well take charge of your life while you can.

It did not happen overnight. I was very good at taking one step backwards for every two steps I took forward. But I started to write more. To read more. To vent in my journal. To think about the kind of life I really wanted to live. I exercised. I explored art. I made peace with some broken relationships.

What did I give up? I gave up the bullshit. I stopped volunteering for causes I did not truly believe in. I stopped watching most television. I stopped trying to mold my life into the plastic suburban dream that I had deluded myself into believing would fit me.

And somehow I wound up here.

How you spend your time tells you as much (if not more) about your life than how you spend your money. If you have to dedicate 40 or 50 hours a week to a job that pays the bills, or to the care of people who depend on you, or to your education… or a combination of those three things, then I hope you have the integrity to pour the right amount of energy into those tasks.

Most of us squeeze our writing into the cracks of time that appear around the edges of our major responsibilities. Your time for your writing is precious and rare. How can you protect it?

I promise I’ll post about my daily schedule soon. Right now, you need to get to work.

Ready… “I’m a rewriter. That’s the part I like best…once I have a pile of paper to work with, it’s like having the pieces of a puzzle. I just have to put the pieces together to make a picture.” Judy Blume

Set… find a quiet place. If you keep a calendar, pull it out. Just for the month of August. After you read the prompt, turn off the Internet so you can ponder in peace.

Today’s prompt: Answer the following questions:

In the last month:

1. How much time, on average, did you write every day? Every week?

2. What did you have to give up to do that writing?

3. Do you wish you wrote more? What could you have done to make that happen?

Looking forward…

4. Who are your kindred spirits? How often can you get together with them?

5. What are the essential priorities in your life?

6. What habits steal time from your priorities?

7. In anther ten years, which of those habits will have brought you a deeper sense of satisfaction in your life?

8. What do you need to change to create time and space for writing (and other art) in your life?

9. What is holding you back from making those changes?

10. How do you feel about that?


WFMAD Day 29 – Question Day Two

More questions today, with the added bonus of answers!!

::shoos chickens out of way::

Not sure if you can answer this, but how do the covers of books get chosen?

It’s kind of a mystery to me, too. Publishers have departments of people who are artists. They have other departments filled with sales and marketing people. Near as I can figure, when it’s time to design a cover, the members of the three departments gather in a secret location and hold a massive game of Rock, Paper, Scissors to determine which dept. gets to take the lead on the design. The other two depts. have input, but too a limited degree.

I don’t know how much input other authors have on their covers. I seem to have none. I like most of the covers of my books and love a couple of them. Whenever I have tried to make suggestions about cover art, I’ve been gently reminded that I am an author, not an artist or a member of the sales and marketing departments. So my approach is to focus on what I can control – my writing – and leave the other stuff to the people who know more about it than I do.

1st person verses 3rd person ~ or do you feel it matters?

How do you know which character’s person if first person?

The point of view (POV) from which you tell your story is hugely important. But sometimes you might not be able to figure which POV to use. Or, in the case of 1st person POV, which character is your POV character.

This might help: Do a quick and dirty draft in the third-person POV – from the first page to the last. By the end of the draft you’ll know who the most important person is in the story. Experiment with writing a few chapters from that person’s POV. If it feels natural, then run with it – turn your first revision draft into an exercise of shifting the narrative from 3rd to 1st POV.

I wrote the first eight drafts of FEVER 1793 in 3rd person. Then I shifted to 1st person, did another five revisions and finally wound up with a book that someone wanted to publish.

Yes, it seems like a lot of work. But sometimes it’s what you have to do.

How do I weed out the “fluff”, to see the forest for the trees, so to speak, no matter how awesome the fluff may be?

How do you know when a story is worth the time of others for a critique?

How do you maintain confidence when success rate is like 0.1%????

These questions are all connected. And I will answer them all… on Tuesday.

Ready…. “Ideas are the cheapest part of the writing. They are free. The hard part is what you do with ideas you’ve gathered.” Jane Yolen

Set…. three days left in WFMAD – you can do this!!

Today’s prompt:

1. Write out the steps you need to take in order to finish your current work in progress. Be as detailed and precise as possible.

2. Give yourself deadlines.

3. Now double the deadlines and write the dates down on a calender. Do you have a writing buddy you can share this with? Someone who will hold you accountable to your deadlines?

4. Write out your vision of the most perfect things that could happen to your story and to you after you submit it for publication. Be detailed and precise about this, too. And have fun with it!


WFMAD Day 27 – Friday five for your writing

Bookavore, bookseller extraordinaire at WORD in Brooklyn (and my oldest kid) has weighed in with a resolution to remedy the mud-slinging that seems to be heating up between adult “literary fiction” authors and adult “genre fiction” authors. (You haven’t heard about the feud? Details here.) If you, too, were a Model UN nerd in high school, this will completely make your day. Even if you weren’t a Model UN nerd, this will make you smile.

Ready… “Too often, as we leave the tribal culture of childhood – and its sometimes subversive tales and rhymes – behind, we lose contact with the instinctive joy in self-expression; with the creative imagination, spontaneous emotion, and the ability to see the world as full of wonders.” Alison Lurie Don’t Tell the Grown-Ups: Why Kids Love the Books They Do

Set… before you tell the world to go away so you can write, make sure you have blocked out writing time tomorrow and on Sunday.

Today’s prompt:

1. Go for a walk. Bring something to write with and on whilst walking. (Bonus points if you can walk in a park where kids are playing.)

2. Write down five things of nature you see on your walk. F. ex: brook, dead salamander, clouds.

3. Write one sentence about each item from your POV (point of view).

4. Choose the face of a child from this website.

5. Write one sentence about each of your items from that child’s POV. Then choose the item that is most intriguing to that child and write as much as you can about how it came to be there, about what its purpose is, or about what is going to happen next to that thing. Don’t judge your work, don’t impose your adult vision on the words. Be more chill and let them tumble out.

Scribble… Scribble…Scribble!!!