Archive for the ‘Flow’ Category


Writing Shifts: Where the Magic Happens

January 17, 2015

writing suprises picWhen I was twenty one, I did the whole backpacker thing. I went to Europe, Asia, Australia and a few counties in the northern part of Africa.

This was in the pre-internet era, when the closest thing to a GPS was a Star Trek tricorder. So I couldn’t easily look up locations and places to stay. I had to haul guidebooks around with me. From these books, I regularly made ‘a plan’.

It’s just like writing a novel. It’s very much the same. I have ‘a plan’. A map. I have a direction. An intention. My characters will go from A to B.

Well, I was reminded recently: sometimes characters don’t wanna go from A to B. They want to zig zag to point H. In fact, they want to abandon the alphabet altogether. They want to travel to location ^.

This can be frustrating. WHAT ARE DOING? you want to shout. THIS WAS NOT IN THE ITINERARY!

But it can also be delightful.

On a whim, you are in new territory. Like the time I went from Bath, England (planned, on the itinerary) to Glastonbury (not planned, not on the itinerary) — and loved it so much I stayed for four days. In fact, Glastonbury had such an influence on me, a decade later I HAD to include it in my Regency mystery. It became an integral part of my main characters past.

I also went from Barcelona, Spain (planned, on the itinerary) to Tangier, Morocco (not planned, not on the itinerary) and suddenly found myself taking a road trip with a Brit and an America. Morocco by station wagon! Genesis and Super Tramp on the cassette tape!  Quelle suprise!

This happens all the time in life, not just while travelling or writing a novel. So I should probably expect it. But I don’t. Whenever it happens, it feels magical.

I have been touched by the mystical ‘flow’.

So when, in my latest novel, a character suddenly, inadvertently, even reluctantly, becomes a Mary Wolstencraft/William Godwin type proponent for reform…part of me rails against the impulse. This will mean more research for me! This was not THE PLAN!

But, really, I am also thrilled: it’s perfect. It’s exactly where she was meant to be.

Sudden shifts like these = writing magic.

Enjoy the view, my dear. Enjoy the view!


Where’s the ‘real’ Finish Line?

May 2, 2014

done but not doneThe other day I wrote the last line in my novel. Yippee!

It has taken me years (I’m on the verge of saying ‘decades’) to reach this point. The road I took was long, winding, and, on occasion, headed in the wrong direction.

But I followed it faithfully.

And now it’s done! 

But it’s not done!

Next up, I’ve got editing and a massive rewrite. I have to lose *around* 30, 000 words. (That’s a lot of ‘darlings’ to kill).

Sometimes I wish I wrote less intensive pieces—limericks and haikus, say. Pieces that don’t require the endurance of an ultra-marathoner to get from A to Z.

Writing a novel is a vast enterprise. Like any long trek, you need fuel (by which I mean snacking at the computer), positivity (go! writer go!), stubbornness (not…giving…up) and a sense of humour (oh! I just spent two weeks working on a scene that didn’t work and it turns out I don’t need, ha! ha!).

Also: you need the wisdom to realize that even once ‘the work’ is polished and published and read by millions (?)…you’re still not done. There’s more stories to tell. New projects.

I’ve realized: my twinge of jealousy towards poets is misplaced. Poets don’t just stop at one (usually). And neither do novelists (usually).

We all keep running. Writers of all kinds are willing to go the distance.

When you’ve got a creative calling, is there ever a finish line? I say: No! So, pause for a moment to enjoy the milestones, but otherwise…just: GO!



There once was a writer named Julie

Who wrote all the time, so groovy,

She wrote and she wrote

‘Til the day that she croaked

Then she wrote as a ghost, yes, truly!

 Hmmm. Better stick with novel writing, amiright?




When Plots Go Wild! (a.k.a Have I Inadvertently Written a Series?)

April 2, 2014

when plots go wildI started my novel using Scriverner, which, if you are not familiar with it, allows you to write scenes within chapters as separate segments. It’s great for focusing on writing little bit by little bit, rearranging your scenes as need be (with a quick click/drag of the mouse), and looking at the parts of your whole.

Recently, I decided to put each ‘scene’ from Scrivener into a word document, so I could see how it read in a continuos flow.

I also wanted my word count.

Are you ready for this?

139, 918

And I’m not done yet!

Now, a typical novel is meant to be between 80, 000 and 100, 000 words.

Web sites dedicated to novel lengths will tell you: do NOT go over 100, 000 words, especially if you are a ‘new writer’ (i.e.: not JK Rowling, Stephen King or Geroge R. R. Martin).

In fact, you are better off leaving it at 99, 999 words because it seems that once that tally clicks over into the one hundred thoughsandths column, any agent you are submitting your work to is going to react with a facial tick–and a big fat NO WAY, FORGET IT!

Or so the web sites say.

Which leaves me wondering…am I looking forward to a drastic edit? As in shave off, oh, 40, 000 words (ha!) or…am I somehow in the process of writing TWO novels and just didn’t realize it?

Have I inadvertently written a series?

I will admit it, in writing my novel, plot has been my arch nemesis, the aspect with which I’ve struggled with most.

As I’ve discussed in previous posts (like Determining Plot: Time for a Coin Toss?), I’ve tried outlining the plot events (oh believe me, I’ve tried) but can’t seem to be that specific. I tend to thrive on the process of discovering the finer details of plot by plodding my way, step by step, through it…deliciously surprising myself in the process.

I have a general guideline in my head of how events are going to play out but I also love putting my characters in situations and then seeing ‘what developes’. This is fun and rewarding–and also maddening. It has lead to bouts of back tracking,  rethinking, grasping at straws…

I believe the technical term is called ‘painting myself into a corner with no idea how to get out (yet).’

(Oh, the hours I’ve spent ruminating on plot problems. Ha Ha good times.)

I tend to be one of those go-with-the flow writers…but ‘my flow’ runneth over, it seems.


Or, if I turns out I’m writing two books, I don’t have enough plot yet.

In either case, yet another plot pause and a rethink may be required.




How To Get Back Into Writing After a Set Back

February 26, 2014

step8 2Well, if you’ve read my previous post (entitled ‘Writer’s Despair‘) you’ll know I suffered a setback recently.

Thanks to a corrupt file, I lost some writing–pretty much everything I’d worked on this past month (about three big scenes). Luckily I have everything up to that point–thanks to myself emailing a copy to myself at the end of Jan–but it looks like I will need to re-write those three scenes I’d written.

Here’s a time when I wish I had a photographic memory!

Times a’wasting, I keep telling myself.  You have to sit down and just get started. Take a look at the jagged end piece you’ve been left with, and start sifting through the rubble of your mind to figure out what is supposed to go next…

This sounds so easy and practical–just start writing–but the truth is writing is an emotional event. I find it incredibly emotional. The loss of those three scenes–hardly much in the scheme of things–has hit me hard nonetheless.  I’ve cursed the universe (why, universe why?) and (drama queen that I am) even shook my fist at the sky: well, forget it then! You win! I’ll never write again! NEVER!

It seems, frankly, like too much work. Better just to curl up into a corner and whimper: ‘I used to be a writer once’. *sniff*

But no. I cannot allow such a thing. So here’s my list to myself and to any other writers out there who want to Give Up When The Going Gets Tough. This how you get back into it!

1. Moping is OK–for a little bit. But don’t let it go on too long. In my case, it took me at least 24 hours and a night’s sleep to even be able to talk about ‘the incident’ without my voice cracking.  So I knew I needed some time and space. I gave myself a deadline. I gave myself two days. Then I sat down at the computer again…opened my old writing file again…

2. Start slow if you have to. I read/wrote my novel for ten minutes. That’s it. I’ll try a bit more later on. And a bit more later on.

3. Go back and re-read. Reconnect with the energy. Start reading from the beginning or just the last few scenes (which is what I did), or even random scenes or favourite scenes. Get back in touch with the feel of it, the characters, the world, the vibe. GO GET YOUR WRITING MOJO BACK!

4. Realize you may idealize. Of course I’m convinced that the writing I just lost was The Best Writing Ever. I will try to convince myself that what I re-write now needs to be the same–in other words, perfect! But that is impossible (and, realistically, it wasn’t perfect to begin with). So I need some flexibility. I need to get back to that sense of play, recreate the scenes in the way that they flow now, as they come to me now. The point here now is to: just let it come.

stephen king says 7. Rekindle your kinship with writers everywhere. A couple of posts ago I mentioned the Legend of Stephen King, and    told the tale of how, in the midst of working on his first novel, Carrie, he tossed it in the trash. In a fit of frustration, the mighty Stephen King threw what he had written into the garbage… and his wife rescued it…and…somehow, someway, he found the resolve to start working on it again…and the rest, as they say, is history…

So you see, it happens to writers. All kinds of writers. It’s part of the Writing Life for some of us. Moments of self doubt and frustration and I-give-up-ness.

8. AFFIRM. Moments of I-give-up-ness can come from anywhere, not just from a corrupted file and loss of work. Here’s a few common scenerios: the my-writing-is-crap, the I-have-no-time-for-this-what-about-my-day-job, the no-one-gets-why-I-have-to-do-this-so-why-am-I-doing-it, the I-will-never-make-any-money-doing-this-will-I doldrums.

The very act of sitting in front of the computer or picking up the pen is an act of defiance against those voices that tell us NO. It is act of affirmation. it doesn’t matter what comes out of the pen/keyboard. Maybe don’t work on your main writing piece. Jot a poem, a haiku, a journal entry, a blog post, a writing exercise based on a writing prompt…JUST AFFIRM THE POWER OF THE WRITTEN WORD. Get that affirmation, that sense of writerly strength again. You ARE a writer. You CAN do this. You were MEANT to do this…so by god/goddess grab that pen/keyboard, fire up that keen mind of yours…AND GO AND DO IT!

9. Remember: there’s always words! So I lost some words. More words will come. It’s taken me years but I’ve finally come to accept that, in spite of the occasional pause, the words are there. Writer’s write. The words are there. The words will ALWAYS be there.

Well. 9 points of support. That’s not a bad way to start, is it?


(Writers are a resilient bunch, aren’t we?)


Writer’s Guilt

February 4, 2011

I’ve been taking a break from my novel lately. Partly, this is because I had the flu for a week. And partly, this is because we…um…(facial tick happening) we…uh…(eyes are darting around nervously) we really just needed a break.

Alright. You got me. I’m lying!

I’m not taking a break! I’m avoiding the damn thing! I’m running away. I’m In Hiding. I’ve put on my camouflage, I’m ducking and covering and sneaking past the computer on tip toe, shushing everybody: Be Quiet! Don’t wake it up!

And for that I am suffering a serious bout of Writer’s Guilt. Uhg.

Come on. You know that feeling. The I-am-supposed-to-be-writing-but-instead-think-organizing-my-socks-is-infinitely-more-interesting-and-its-not-just-so-my-hands-can-be-busy-while-I–mediate-on-my-plot-problems sort of feeling.

It’s avoidance, pure and simple.

Every writer knows deep inside when they need to take a break from their writing (to let the ideas settle, to gain perspective, to mull things over) and when they are out and out procrastinating.

Why? That is the question to answer. I know I love my characters. I know I love the process of creation. I know I want to finish it. I just can’t seem to get near it right now without feeling like a skittish filly.

Why? Perhaps I’m intimidated by how much work I have left to do. Perhaps my Inner Critic is overly active right now and I’m feeling sensitive.

Still, I need to jump back in. I need to re-read where I’ve been, get back in the vibe, maybe do a bit of free flow writing, just play and let the ideas come, the writing equivalent of jazz.

The remedy? Face my fears, I guess. JUST DO IT.

And I will. I promise. Maybe once this episode of Murdock Mysteries is over…

Oops. Nope. I better take care of this now.

My novel is barking at me. I better let it back in the house.

PS. Writers,  how do you overcome Writer’s Guilt?


Why Writing a Novel is Like Shopping For A Pair of Jeans…

December 14, 2010

Sometimes writing a novel is like trying to buy a pair of jeans….

With this latest scene I’m working on, it’s like I’ve taken 50 pairs of jeans of all kinds—low rise, boot-cut, sequined, dark fabric, light fabric and acid washed—and dragged them into a small, cramped, badly lit change room to wrestle with. And each time, I’m twisting this way and that, catching every angle, trying to decide—is THIS the one?

But nothing is FITTING right.

I’ve rewritten this scene a dozen different ways, providing minor alterations to the details (in jean parlance: button fly vs. zipped) as well as major alterations (in jean parlance: skinny legs vs. baggy). My characters have tried arguing, making nice, kissing, witty banter—and now I’ve got him skipping out on the meeting altogether—the heroine is left stewing in her second hand clothes, wondering why the Devil he’s stood her up—.

And yet even that doesn’t feel/fit right…

Sometimes the writing flows and other times it’s like this and I have to try every word on, evaluate, discard. Try another word on, evaluate, discard. Repeat, repeat, REPEAT. Until I have a heap of words in the corner of the change room and I’m storming out in a fit of pique…

Worse than going jeans shopping, I tell you!

Anybody else out there have this problem?


Blah Blah Boring

September 24, 2010

I’ve a character in my novel who needs to explain a few things to the heroine. He needs to tell about what happened when he went to the Red Lion Inn a few days ago…its very important to the plot, so it must be done. This information must be revealed and he has to tell her . It can’t come across in flashbacks or a dream sequence or any other writer-trick, because the book’s written in the heroine’s voice, first person. He tells her the news and she tells the reader, and, of course, she reacts and converses back at him and tells the reader all about that, too.

Sounds simple?


It’s actually quite painful to write an explanation. Though necessary, the detail is tedious and it feels like it takes too long to impart. I’ve tried breaking it down into chunks, and delivering it via dialogue, interspersed with the heroines’ wry observations and her own lively reactions, but still it comes across like some kind of boring legal document, overloaded with detail after detail:

And so, in part a, subsection i, sub-subsection 1.0, the man then followed the other man down the street to the physicians.

In part a, subsection i, sub-section 1.1, the man waited outside the physician’s house for the man to reappear…

Either that, or I have a bad case of the “and then’s”, such as:

And then he followed him down the street. And then he waited outside. And then he saw a body being carried to a horse cart. And then…

ARG! How do I make this explanation less boring? Any and all suggestions greatly appreciated!

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