WFMAD Day 3: Pit of Despair

This will be a crazy day for me. (Update: It HAS been a crazy day!) I leave for the SCBWI National conference tomorrow, so today involves laundry, packing, cleaning, more work on speeches and an entire page of various and sundry errands. My short writing break is not listed on my MUST DO!! list. It is on the much shorter “want to do” list. That is a critical distinction.

I was going to finish the “Think Big, Write Small” post today, but a comment from yesterday took me down a detour, because it was so heartfelt and raw. This is what a
WFMAD participant wrote:

“I kind of feel like a poser. I have no characters fighting their ways out of my mind. I have no settings dying to be painted with my words and syntax. There no plot twists, messages, lessons, stories, anything waiting to be brought to life. No poems dancing across the page, or stabbing through the paper/screen with the truth. I have no essays filled with opinions, noticing, wonderings, or truths. I used to have all of these. Where have they gone? And will they ever come back? I am not sure if I can divorce myself from the teacher inside me long enough to stop saying, “That’s a really nice sentence. I should use this in a craft study on…fill in the blank… . That leaves me wondering if my identity as a teacher is eclipsing every other part of me. Has the inspiration for teaching engaging lessons sucked the life out of all other inspiration in my life?”

THAT, my friends, is why we write; to find our truth. Even when the truth is sucky because it contradicts what we want to believe about ourselves. I completely understand what this writer is feeling. I have been stuck there many, many times. (I suspect everyone who writes for a living runs into this.) She is a writer lost in a soul-draining fog. She’s out of balance. The thing that would help her recenter herself is the thing that feels the hardest: writing.

When I’m stuck in this kind of Pit of Despair, journaling helps me build a ladder that I can use when I’m ready to escape. I write about what’s making me feel bad, mad, sad, and scared. I vent big time about the conditions of my life. I can go on for page after page after page (this can take days, weeks, or months) and then, finally, the fog lifts. I find my rhythm, my voice. Inspiration is everywhere. I see interesting conflicts I want to develop and I can hear the characters. I have once again broken through that chainmail veil that separates this reality from the world of pretend. I feel like a writer again. The woman who wrote the question will feel like that very soon, as long as she’s willing to write about her struggle first.

Ready… Take a moment of gratitude. Be thankful that you’ve found the courage to follow your dream, even though it feels scary.

Set… Make sure your pets have done their necessary business outside, and any infants in your house are fed, dry, and comfy. Make sure that you are fed, dry, and comfy, too!

Today’s prompt: Write for fifteen minutes about what gets in the way of your writing. Write a detailed scene about a time you wanted to write, but then [fill in the blank] happened. Why did you let that happen? What could you have done differently? How can you prevent that from happening again?


Write about how you feel when your draft isn’t flowing easily. And what you are able to write is a stinking turd of a story that seems irredeemable. Why are you being so hard on yourself? What do you get out of pressuring yourself with unrealistic expectations (namely, that writing should be easy and that the quality of your writing should be higher)?


What would it feel like if you weren’t dogged by this poisonous sense of inadequecy and failure? Imagine (and write) what your life would look like – what would be different about your life – if you could find or recover the happiness of making up stories and writing them down. When we find ourselves in the Pit of Despair, it helps to acgknowledge that we put ourselves there. That means we can get out, too. What can you do this week to help yourself?

WFMAD Day 2: Think Big, Write Small, part 1

Wow! It is so exciting to read all the comments you posted to my blog, Facebook, and Twitter yesterday! I don’t keep hard and fast numbers about this challenge, but it sure seems like we have a record number of participants, with more joining by the hour. How cool is that!!??

So…. how did it go?

Did the words come fast or slow?
Did the characters whisper to you, or were you writing “from your head,” i.e. thinking things like “I must insert a clever foreshadowing of the B plot into this conversation”?
Did you feel triumphant or afraid? Or, perhaps, a little of both?

Do you have a specific writing question that you’d like an opinion on?

Yesterday I received this question, “I’m at a point where I’m stuck, and I don’t know where to go from here. Any advice?”

I feel your pain!!!

Writing a novel is an absurd idea. You have to create a world, nay, an entire universe, with a past, potential futures, personalities, sometimes a whole new culture, and then you insert the thump of a human heart and breath life into your clay characters and tell them to dance. You try to write down the steps to the dance, and make it flow, and make it interesting, and keep it under a billion words. Oh, and make sure that someone will find it marketable.

What kind of crazy person does that?

We do, my friends. We word-addled tribe of dreamers. That’s the good news and the bad news, because it’s easy to get lost when wandering in imaginary worlds. It is no fun feeling lost.

This is where THINK BIG, WRITE SMALL helps. You’ll use that in today’s prompt.

Ready… Give yourself a gold star (or ice cream) for making it to Day Two!

Set… Take a few minutes to shift gears from the outside world to the inside world. Close your eyes and breathe slowly. You are allowed to take this time for yourself.

Today’s prompt: Write down what you think might be the larger arc or issues or themes of your book. It’s OK if you don’t know for sure. You can change your mind down the road. If you don’t yet have anything as a specific as a theme, then try to summarize, in one or two sentences, the central conflict in your story. It can be the internal character conflict, or the external conflict he is facing in the world. (Or both!) This is your BIG PICTURE. It is the heading on your compass.

When you get stuck, reread your Big Picture statement(s). Say it aloud, write it in the sand, translate it into Bulgarian (or your language of choice), and then ponder:

1. What scenes can you invent that reflect the conflict of the Big Picture? Make a quick list of five such scenes.

2. Do you need to introduce new characters to complicate the Big Picture? Quickly write a few lines about five possible characters.

3. Your main character could likely use another layer or two of nuance. Which is a polite way of saying he needs some flaws. In one of your new scenes, or in conversation with one of the new characters, have your main character behave badly. Allow him to be a jerk, or make a foolish decision, or make a mistake.

Part Two comes tomorrow!


Write Fifteen Minutes a Day Challenge – Welcome!

It’s August! That means the Fourth Annual Write Fifteen Minutes A Day© Challenge is here!

Get ready to scribble!

The rules are simple. In fact, they aren’t even rules. They’re more like guidelines, the Pirate Code of Writing.

1. Commit to write for 15 minutes a day for the entire month of August.

2. Just do it.

Seriously. That’s all there is to it. You don’t have to sign up anywhere, or meet minimum word count goals or complete a whole freaking novel in 30 days. You can write fiction, non-fiction, memoir, or poetry. Personally, I don’t think blog writing should count because that is immediately published and you always have your audience in mind. I think this month should be a chance for you to go deeper inside yourself. But if blog writing makes you happy, go for it.

Just. Write. Every Day. This Month.
15 Minutes.

This is not the time for editing or outlining. Just keep your pen, pencil, crayon, or fingers on the keyboard moving for 15 minutes. You can use the entire time to write “I don’t know what to write and LHA is crazy” the whole time if you want.

I’ll give a prompt a day for anyone who is feeling stuck. But you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to.

I would love it if you guys checked in with me by posting in the comments section. Tell me where you wrote today or for how long, or what you were working on. Tell me what kind of resistance thoughts cropped up as you were writing, or trying to start writing. Tell me what it felt like when the 15 minutes were up.

I will be doing the same thing. I’ve been juggling several books in my head this year; it has not been pretty. And we’ve been renovating our house. I will try very hard not to whine about that. (BUT IT IS TEMPTING!) And it’s August, so it’s hot. And I leave for the SCBWI national conference in a couple days. And…



You see, it’s always something. ALWAYS. There are always things that will get in the way of your writing. Writing can be uncomfortable and awkward. That’s why we procrastinate about it. That’s why we often choose to put writing as our last priority instead of in the top five. We like thinking about writing, and talking about writing, and blogging about writing, but when it comes to the actual writing? Too often, we allow life to get in the way.


I’ll cut some slack for certain groups of people. If you have a new baby in your home, if you’re recovering from major surgery, if someone you love has recently died, you have all my compassion and permission not to worry about writing until your life settles a bit.

But the rest of you?

You can easily carve out fifteen minutes every day to write. You could probably find more time, but I think baby steps are more fun and effective then setting massive, unobtainable, sure-to-backfire goals. This challenge (known as WFMAD for obvious reasons) is about support, not scolding. I like to focus on how we can pick ourselves up off the ground, instead of focusing on the fall.

I can’t promise you a book contract, but I will promise you this: writing every day will help you find yourself again. Writing every day will restore creativity to your life. Writing every day will help you discover balance and bring in more opportunities for happiness. Honest!OK, that’s enough blathering.

Disconnect from the Internet (as soon as you finish reading this post!)

Turn off your phone and tell your family and friends not to interrupt you for fifteen minutes, unless there is a fire or someone is bleeding from an artery.

Today’s prompt*** Why do you need this challenge? What project have you been afraid to start? Think back on the past six months. What were your time sucks? Why did you allow yourself to go days or weeks without writing? And what will you do differently this month to give yourself the gift of at least fifteen writing minutes a day?


***LEGAL STUFF: These prompts, like all the rest of the stuff I write for WFMAD and my blog entries, are my material and, thus, under my copyright. You have permission to reproduce them for classroom use only. Yes, you may link to these posts. Spread the word! The more the merrier!!

Taking advantage of the longest days & WFMAD anyone?

Sorry to have been to absent from blogging, my friends. We’ve been taking advantage of the long days in the garden. A very generous friend showed up with a pick-up truck filled with herbs. The herb garden by the cottage that I was going to work on this fall is now on an accelerated schedule! We’ve been eating peas and watching the tomato plants. The basil is ready, too.

(Have you ever made mozzarella cheese? I think I need to try that.)

(Second random comment – my experiment with clover and buckwheat as a cover crop is still very experimental. Have any of you used it in between rows of veggies to crowd out weeds?)

I’ll post my ALA schedule later today. I’m really looking forward to the conference – both to see old friends and to start talking up FORGE, which comes out it 118 days. (Gulp.) Have I shown you the cover yet?

What do you think?

In other book news, WINTERGIRLS has been translated in Spanish and published in Spain.

Any thoughts on this cover? I’m told it should be available soon in Mexico. Here’s an early synopsis en español.

::shifts gears::

For as much fun as I know ALA is going to be, I must admit I am very impatient to get home and get back to writing. I hope to fill a lot of pages between now and mid-October, when the FORGE booktour gets underway. And since I’ll have the writing process on my mind, are there any of you who want me to the Write for Fifteen Minutes A Day Challenge? (Link takes you to the first day of last year’s challenge.)

The rules are simple. In fact, they aren’t even rules. They’re more like guidelines, the Pirate Code of Writing.

1. Commit to write for 15 minutes a day for the entire month of August.
2. Just do it.

Seriously. That’s all there is to it. You don’t have to sign up anywhere, or meet minimum word count goals or complete a whole freaking novel in 30 days.

Anyone up for it? Leave me a message in comments or on my Facebook page or on Twitter, please.

My to-do list for the next 12 hours has now exceeded two pages, so I must either start crossing things off or set fire to it. Or maybe shred for use in the chicken coop.

Chicken Update & suitcase

The chickens continue their nuclear growth. Now they have tail feathers that look like a Victorian lady’s bustle. Here’s a quick clip filmed by Queen Louise of me in the temporary play yard with them.

I’m off on a research trip for my Abigail Adams picture book. Not sure if I’ll be blogging or vlogging from the road, but I’ll try!