Archive for the ‘Flow’ Category


When Writing Leaves You Feeling Vulnerable

June 4, 2015

pub1Sometimes I shout inwardly:




I have a pen name all picked out. Many years ago, when I volunteered at the GLBT bookstore in Vancouver, one of my co-volunteers misunderstood my name Julie as Jubilee when we were introduced.

I was very excited by this miscommunication. JUBILEE! I excitedly responded. That’s awesome!

Isn’t that a great name? Jubilee sounds fun loving and sassy and bright. Jubilee is happy go lucky and doesn’t care what anyone thinks, so there.

But I have not been able to embrace this cool pen name. I have decided to be boringly ‘authentic’ and ‘claim my writing life’ as who I am naturally: Julie Johnson.

Also, I have been so keen to claim my writing identity, I have not been able to shut up about it. Everyone knows. Every one, near and far, in the Twitter-verse and down the road.

This leads to moments of horrible paralysis.

Moments of a very particular writing brain-freeze that is akin to stage fright.

Watch, as I enter the twilight realm of ‘what if’…

What if someone I know reads my finished work. What if, while publicly congratulating me on email, FB and Twitter, they secretly feel it’s terrible, scandalous, badly written and probably half of it is autobiographical…they are trying to work out what parts reveal my dirty secrets…is that Mr. Rutherford character based on a high-school boyfriend, for instance?

The worst will be people I interact with face to face. There we’ll stand, chatting about the weather, both of us keenly aware of page 119. Yes, I wrote that scene. Yes, I know you know I wrote that scene and I know you know I know, you know?


So very awkward.

This can be such a stomach churning sensation in my imagination that all further writing dries up.

What if my parents read this? What if my friends read this? What if my co workers read this? What if my neighbours read this? What if my kids, when they are all grown up, read this? What about my in laws? My extended family? The students I’ve worked with over the years?

The bus driver? The contractor who put in our front door? My chiropractor? The dentist?

What will they think?


In moments like these, I have to talk myself back into a better head space. 

I have to tell myself:

  • most people you know will not read your book, Regency mysteries not being their cup of tea
  • most people you know will just be happy for you that you got published and reached your goal
  • most people you know are polite, they won’t openly admit if they disliked it
  • and if they disliked it, then they did, so what?

It’s easier to think of strangers reading my books. So sometimes I try take the personal element out of it.

Sometimes I channel my feelings into the book. Guess what, main character, you are about to experience a cringe inducing moment of vulnerability in front of your worst enemy…

Because, it’s true, fiction can be autobiographical, though not in the way most people think…

Like most things in life, here’s how you handle it: you take a deep breath, and keep on going as you were, right towards your goal, right on through.

Write even though you feel vulnerable. Write until you feel strong in your voice again. And if you feel vulnerable again, here’s the plan:

Keep writing.


Figuring Out Your Subplot

May 20, 2015

plot threadsIn my first Regency mystery, my subplot was an obvious extension of my main character’s romantic interests and just sorta ‘showed up’.

TA-DAA! Heeeere’s your subplot!

In that first mystery, I had a Plot A, Plot B…and a Plot C. Too much plot? Perhaps. But I liked the trinity feel of it, my variation of the rule of three.

It developed organically and it all felt fine. I was diligent about balancing them out properly, so that Plot A was the shining star and Plot B and C the back up singers. (No plot coups on my watch!)

In the next book, the second of the series, I’ve had to put more thought and intention into developing my subplots.

Plot A has a very clear direction (though not necessarily a clear path).

But Plot B and C? Not so much.

In fact, I’ve been in such a hurry to lay down the beginning of Plot A that I completely forgot about the others. It wasn’t until I re-read what I had from the start that I realized how heavy and off balanced and one focused it felt.

Wait! I gasped, smacking my forehead. I don’t have a subplot! What the heck is my subplot?

First, a reminder. Here’s the definition of a subplot: “it is the secondary or subordinate plot in a literary work”.

Subplots are great. I love how they break tension and yet crank it up.

They interject the main plot, giving that plot a chance to breathe. By doing so, they also create suspense…you now have to wait to get back to the main plot! But they also mirror the tension of that main plot, acting like an extra music note played a half a second later…and they all get faster and louder and faster.

So in reality, there is no break in tension. That’s an illusion! Really all you’ve done is shifted in your seat to look out a different window. But you’re still in the same vehicle, one that is still hurtling forward, and the speed is steadily increasing–

Subplots add complexity and nuance.

They really are fabulous.

Great. So where do I get one?

I ended up looking in these places:


Family and friends of your main character are a great source of subplot material. This is, in part, what I ended up doing. I’m mining my main character’s relationship troubles.

Themes & ‘Big Issues’

Search out a secondary area that mirrors your ‘big ideas’. Does your story deal with issues of abandonment? Well, then, find an abandonment plot that connects or mirrors or is similar to the main one.  (In my book, reconciliation is something my main character struggles with. So finding other ways and means for my main character to obtain goal is part of my subplots.)


I’m writing mysteries and so it makes sense to have my main mystery be Plot A and then have some mini mysteries in my subplots.

These are some areas where you can find subplots. I’m sure there are more.

For me, this is what worked.

I think it’s good to sort out your plot threads every now and again. I tend to write organically–I am an organic plotter, not of the ‘outliner’ persuasion–but sometimes an analytical approach is needed and I’ve got to pause to take stock…or else I’ll just have a knotted mess! Grrrr.


Fighting Off Writer’s Fatigue

May 15, 2015

novelist powers
I’ve hit that moment in novel writing, the moment when I’m worn out by the demands of such long prose.


A novel is a long-distance race. I don’t run long distance in real life, but I imagine there comes a point when the mind/body rebels and says: to heck with this, let’s go get pizza.

The impulse is to STOP RUNNING.

Just as, in my case, the impulse is to STOP WRITING.

A novel is a daunting project. It can’t be done in a day. Perhaps, a month? But, usually, much, much longer.

It is a long term project, requiring repeated declarations of commitment.

And, sometimes, the end point seems such a long way away….

Once again, I wish I were a poet. 

I think of William Carlos Williams, slapping em down on prescription pads in the middle of being a doctor.

Feeling the satisfaction of completion!

Of course, the creative process is never ending. Write one poem, up comes another. It’s never really DONE.

But, on a small scale, when one creative idea moves from being just a silly concept into the bold reality of fruition……well, that moment is indeed sublime.

Poets must feel it with more frequency than novelists.

Isn’t there’s a spectrum of creative gratification? With the most instant being on the one end (with oh, say, twitter poets and haiku artists) and novelists on the other? Perhaps mega-novelists should be at that end. Those whose single creative idea takes many volumes. (J.K. Rowling, perhaps? How did she write 7 volumes without ripping her hair out with impatience?)

My fatigue is based on my impatience. I want to get to the end without all the work.

Of course, the one thing I can do is narrow my focus. Forget the end point. Just look at putting one foot/word in front of the other.

How else do I get rid of my obsession with THE END?

Maybe I should just skip to the end and write backwards? That might diffuse the ‘ending’ of its power.

Take that, Ending! You have no power over me anymore!

PS. This comic was first seen in the post Why I Want To Publish but given that I reference William Carlos William and his poems-on-prescription-pads (which goes to show you can write ANYWHERE, no excuses!), I thought I would post it here as well.



What to Do When You’ve Got Too Many Writing Projects

April 30, 2015

toomanyprojectsThe other day I was struck by a really great idea for a novel…

And part of me did a happy dance. I love it when inspiration strikes!

And the other part went: WHAT? ANOTHER ONE?!

Another creative project to add to my pile?

Right now, this is what I’m working on, creatively, in my ‘spare time’:

And now I want to add:

  • a ‘comedic dystopian’ novel (does that genre even exist? No matter.)

I was so enamoured of this new writing idea that I wrote 600 words on it in a flash. I promised myself I would ‘make time’ to work on my main writing project, which is Regency mystery novel #2.

But I didn’t.

I ran out of writing time.

Because that’s how it works in our current universe. I can’t bend time or double time up. There is only so much time available.

That means I must prioritize.

Which is difficult to do.

Especially if my main writing project feels like it has hit a ‘plot hole’ and is at that point where the going is a little bit rough and…wow, look at that shiny, new idea! I’m going to chase after it! Woof! Woof!

It can be hard to keep focused.

On the other hand, I really like my new idea and the characters within are clamouring to be heard…the writing is more or less writing itself, ready to pour onto the page…it would be criminal to stuff that particular genie back in the bottle…wouldn’t it?

So this is the compromise I came up with:

  • non negotiable: I work on my main project, Regency mystery novel #2, daily
  • if there is time left over, I can play in my creative sandbox
  • go back to carrying around my writer’s notebook. (When the clamouring starts, pour it in there, as soon as there is a moment to be had).

In years past, I used to lock myself in the washroom. (Always a good strategy. No matter where you are, one is surely available. And no one bugs you in there.)

I’ve also written in my car.

I’ve also written on my phone and emailed myself.

I realize now that I have to go back to redefining ‘writing time’, which has come to mean ‘scheduled quiet time at the computer’ but really needs to become more flexible and intermittent. Perhaps I should call them: writing flashes. 

It’s not ideal. But it’s the only way I can think of right now to balance things out, and water my entire, creative garden so that all my projects get a little bit of love.

Also, I must remember: I’d rather have too many ideas than too little. (Because creative droughts suck!)


Never Give Up as a Writer

April 17, 2015

never give upSometimes I sit down at the computer and think:


I’m too tired, too unfocused, too preoccupied.

I am not feeling it. Not feeling the writer love.

I’m just sitting there with a sneer.

Even though I know about writing’s transformative power, having experienced it many times, I’m certain that this–this time, I’m sure–it will NOT happen.

Do you hear that Writing Gods? It’s not going to happen! *sneer*

Then guess what?

It happens.

My crotchety mind-set starts to soften. Slowly, I relax into the story again. It wins me over. It wines and dines me.

Time blurs: a montage of me studious and intent at the key board. Clickity-clack.

Next thing I know, I’ve written 1000 words and my story has entered this new, fresh, sphere of existence. My main character is giving a speech, for gods sake! A speech I just wrote for her! How the heck did that happen?

This is why, my fellow writers, you must never, ever talk yourself into giving up.

Sit down and see what happens. Give yourself time to see what happens.

You never know what might happen!


Dealing with Self-Doubt as a Writer

March 10, 2015

the reminderI don’t think I’ve gone a week as a writer without self doubt creeping in along the edges, somewhere.

I’d think:

  • no one will ever want to read this
  • why am I writing? why am I doing this? what is the point?
  • Why don’t I just take up knitting as means of expressing my creativity? At least I can get a scarf out of it!
  • etc. etc.

Cue: angst

Cue: lots of self examination

Luckily, the time I spend in these self-doubt moments has gotten shorter and shorter.

Maybe its because I feel my age these days. Or because I am a busier person.

I simply do not have the time or the patience for writerly hand wringing.

My writing time is short, and if I’m lucky enough to be ‘in the flow’, I do not need to sabotage myself by suddenly wondering IF NO ONE WILL EVER READ WHAT I’M WRITING because it’s JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

That happened to me just the other day. I was happily working on a scene for my second Regency mystery when I was suddenly struck by the thought that maybe I was just a hamster in a wheel, spinning around and around with words no one would ever read…

Would anyone really care that Lady Melbourne and my character’s aunt, the Great Dowager of Haughton, are sworn enemies?

Oh, I know. Given that it’s the digital age, I could slap my work up on a self created website and the law of averages would decree that someone, somewhere would probably come across it at some point, even if all they did was click on the link by accident. Ergo, it would be read!

But that is not the kind of reader I am aiming for. I’m hoping for a reader who is invested in my story. Intrigued and invested.

I worry very much about what they think–and so I should.

As a writer you CANNOT disregard your reader. They are an invisible presence on your shoulder, nudging, and guiding. They are half-myself, too, because I write what I want to read and part of the EXCITEMENT of being a writer is discovering what would EXCITE me as a reader.

Oh my god, let’s make Lord Byron a jerk when we first meet him! As a reader, I would LOVE that!

(Honestly, I would).

But the reader on your shoulder should never take the drivers seat. Don’t even let them be a back seat driver.

Consider them the in-car GPS. Sometimes you follow their directions to your destination…and sometimes you don’t!

The problem with giving your inner reader too much leeway: their needs are too diverse. The ‘reader’ is part of an audience and an audience is made up of individuals, who each have their own preferences and tastes. You can’t please all of them. It’s impossible and as soon as I start trying (this plot isn’t tense enough, my characters aren’t funny enough, there isn’t enough romance…) that’s when the self doubt creeps in…

Cue: angst

Cue: no more writing

So here’s what I try to do:

  • notice when self doubt is happening
  • notice what it is saying
  • note the concerns and plan to revisit them another time to see if they are legitimate (like when the rough draft is done)
  • recommit to the writing craft
  • just keep writing

I will even say it to myself out loud (and repeat after me):  JUST KEEP WRITING!


Writer’s Daze: Do You Have The Symptoms?

January 21, 2015

writer's daze comicIt’s a wonderful thing when I’m writing and in the groove.

It can be hard to let that go.

But sometimes I have to let it go.

Most writers have more in their lives than just writing. Sometimes you have to STOP even when you’re smoking hot and the words are flowing fast and the ideas are popping in your head like popcorn. Pop! Pop! Pop!

Sometimes you have to STOP WRITING, even if you don’t want to.

You’ve got to go to work, pick up the kids, run a necessary errand, cook food.

(My ‘Time Bending’ and ‘Idea Projection’ super powers have yet to show up and solve this conundrum).

But–alas! Writing won’t let you go that easily!

Its hooks are in you. It remains cocooned in your brain, causing a wooly sensation through out the mind. A sensation that I like to call:


Symptoms include:

  • an unfocused gaze
  • mumbling to oneself
  • a propensity to lose things
  • a propensity to think you’re losing things only to find you’ve been holding it in your hand all along
  • a tendency to not hear what has been said to you
  • a tendency to interrupt what someone is saying to ask an off topic, writing related question
  • a tendency to interrupt your current task to hunt for a piece of paper because ‘you just gotta write this down’…’it will just take a minute’…
  • the above last for twenty-five minutes

Writers, do you suffer from this condition?!

I do. It’s happened to me many times. It happened to me today, in fact.

I’ve had to forcibly SNAP MYSELF OUT OF IT.

Julie, you are not in the nineteenth century anymore. You are in the grocery store, mindlessly wandering around with a list in hand, mumbling to yourself about Lord Byron’s letters to Lady Melbourne and what kind of hat your main character should wear. 

Julie, you need to return to reality and GET A GRIP!

The best antidote to Writer’s Daze is to completely ground yourself in your present moment. This is especially necessary if you are performing some important task, like driving a car or operating heavy machinery.

Reassure yourself the writing will be there. You can let it go. It will return to you and you to it.

The writing will always be there!

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