I suffer from a complete lack of diligence. I’m on my editor’s schedule for April and the WIP I want to send her is less than 50% done. I can’t track my plot, keep track of my characters or figure out the ending. And I’m pissed off about it. No, I’m whining about it, completely different thing.

I started with big plans–an outline to keep me going the right direction, interesting characters with deep flaws that would impede their desires and make it hard to reach their goals, a fast-moving plot based on real-world issues that concern me. So what happened?

For starters, it’s hard(boo-hoo)to work at home. Maybe you deal with similar problems. Someone always wants food. I can and will make my son and husband prepare it themselves when(always)I’m deep in the weeds, but someone(me)needs to buy it. Laundry magically piles up and someone(me)needs to get it done. The dog needs a walk- or two-or three-and someone(me)has to take her.

If it sounds like I’m whining, you’d be right. I’m a big fat whiner, complainer, shirker and overall poor-me type of girl. If an excuse will do, I’ll make it. If a lie will suffice, listen up. If covering my ass with multiple layers of BS will make you believe I meant to finish that chapter, pick up your feet or you’ll step in it.

Characters have goals and desires which are often thwarted by internal and external forces working to deny them. Regardless of the obstacles, though, the characters most often overcome, and realize their goal. The journey and how they feel about it afterward is what makes the story either work for you or not.

If a writer(me)used a character like(me)in a novel, that character would be the one labeled TSTL(too stupid to live)and would disappoint, then disappear, in the first 25% of the story. She’s the one you wish was dead, and when she is, you’re happy about it, her neuroses and character flaws,(usually what makes characters interesting)so deadly dull you wonder why the writer included her in the first place.

Maybe though, the writer included her because she’s the hook, or even better, the inciting incident, the reason the story takes off in the direction it does. Ever think of that? Me either. In fact, I’m thinking of a story using that neurotic, annoying character as a jumping off point. She’ll fall(or be pushed)off a cliff and the Main Character will travel the remaining story trying to find out who and why(we know why–she was neurotic and annoying). Internal and external forces will try to keep the character from his or her goal, but in books, the main character’s job is to overcome the conflict and experience growth and change at the end of it all.

I suppose life it like that too. I strive to overcome internal(today it’s story structure) and external(the dog needs another walk)conflict in the desire to reach my goal(finished 1st draft).

I have to get out of the house to work on it though. There’s less distraction at a busy Starbucks. And no washing machine.

Who Knows What It Is They Don’t Know?

If you are a Millennial, the digital age exploded around you, collected you to its bosom and invaded your very DNA with the almost innate ability to understand. If you were born between 1980 and today, you are a digital native, born speaking the language.

Remember when you had to either write that 350 page novel in longhand and then laboriously type it out, or pay a professional to do it for you? I didn’t think so. Most of you aren’t that old.

I remember taking typing class in high school. Typing. On a typewriter. With paper. No delete key.

As far as I can tell, everyone these days is born knowing how to perform all keyboard functions, from typing to grabbing a screen shot. And using Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, etc.

I’m a digital immigrant. I have basic knowledge of the language but I’ll never become truly proficient. I know nothing about the mysterious workings of computers, software, or the Internet. I know just enough to get into trouble when it comes to my Mac, and not nearly enough to access the no doubt wonderful performance features within the machine.  I am able to read, write and reply to email, navigate–in the most basic way–around the interwebs, and (kinda sorta) use a writers tool known as Scrivener to produce fictional worlds for my readers.

The list of things I don’t know and can’t do is far longer. In fact, I’m so ignorant that I don’t even know what it is I have no knowledge of. I know, I know. That sentence makes no sense whatsoever. Like I said, I’m completely ignorant. Cut me some slack, would’ya?

I know this much: I still know how to type thanks to Mrs. McCulley in 10th grade, which was 33 years ago (do the math). I know (kinda sorta) what a hard drive is, and how to open a browser. I even set up this WordPress account so I can blog about things I know nothing about.

I also blog about things I know something about.

But not today.

Follow the Rules?

As a writer, I belong to critique groups. Most of you probably do as well. I love to receive feedback. Invariably, someone in the group points out a glaring plot hole, unrealistic dialogue, a timeline glitch or any number of other problems that appear in 1st drafts.

I love to offer feedback. I’m not always the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to pointing out problems but I alway find something that makes me smile and shake my head in envy of another writer’s way with description or sensory details, with dialogue or characterization.

One group is old school and follows the standard rules. In this setting it makes sense because we have a large membership and we try to accommodate every writer at every meeting, which means that comments must be succinct and on point. No rambling off-topic diversions please. Much as I love the folks in this group, rambling, off-topic diversions are a regular occurrence. Since we are congenial to a fault, no one takes offense if we run out of time before they’ve had an opportunity to share.

The other groups I belong to are more freewheeling and loose. There are snacks and drinks. We engage in conversation with the writer, offer constructive criticism and ask questions, which leads to more conversation. In general, we play off one another until we’ve sucked up too much time and  over-shared ideas for improvement and strengthening the manuscript in question.

Both methods are workable, depending on your group composition, the amount of time you have available, the patience of individuals, and the willingness of each group member to accept and offer criticism without taking or giving offense.

We discourage control-freak behavior and gently dissuade those who want to inject personal experience into another’s fictional world, ask if the work is autobiographical, or based on something that really happened. Save those questions for after the meeting. Never forget that writing fiction involves making stuff up. Stick to pointing out places you got lost or confused, or places you felt the writer fell into ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’.  Give praise for a turn of phrase you particularly admire, or a setting that puts you body, heart, and soul into that place and time.

We all desire to improve our craft. And allowing our critique partners to see what we’ve produced should open our eyes, strengthen our writing and help us get from the Page One to The End.

Alternate Universe


Car shows. Ever been to one? Do you have a vintage, rare, or muscle car that you’ve either kept in pristine condition or brought back to beauty from rust and rotten rubber?

I do not. However, my brother-in-law lives in this alternate universe, so my husband and I occasionally journey through time and space as a show of support. The parallel universe we visit is strange, other-worldly and peopled by aliens who appear human, but with whom we seem to have little in common.

As we wander among the contestants, (there are always trophies and prizes for various categories) we see cars from seemingly every decade, stretching back to the first Ford. Without fail, music from the 60’s (why this particular decade? No idea) fills the air. The scents of charcoal and hamburgers waft on the breeze.

To my uneducated eyes, the 1970 Volkswagen Bug has been restored to like-new condition. According to BIL, this is far from true. There are problems–here–he points to an area in the trunk, and here–to a spot on the rear bumper, and of course–anyone can see this blemish–on the inside of the drivers door.

The famous yellow Bug
The famous yellow Bug

Admiring attendees stroll by, many stopping to ooh and aah over the Bug. My BIL accepts these accolades with grace. There’s nothing like the approbation of other car-show aficionados to confirm your deeply-held belief that this is worth the work, the money, the hours spent in pursuit of perfection.

Most car shows are sponsored by communities, local clubs or other entities and serve as fund-raising mechanisms. Fees are charged to car owners who wish to participate, and that grill is usually selling those burgers, sodas and chips to add to the days take.

Regular participants find this a great way to make new friends. They save parking spots next to each other, notice and comment on the latest additions and efforts expended on others cars, and trade insider info about who’s selling what, for how much and whether or not the item is worthy of the asking price.

Like yard-sales, one can find a car show every weekend. Unlike yard-sales, no one at the car show wants to unload last year’s bundle of National Geographic, last decade’s VCR player, or last century’s TV. They want to bask in the glow of sun reflecting off paint so lovingly waxed it gleams, in the smell of upholstery installed to perfectly match the original and kitschy additions that make observers smile. The vase of fake flowers on the VW’s dash, the surf board on the Woody’s roof-rack, inflatable hydrant near the rear tire of the 1969 Chevelle.

It’s an odd, wonderful universe, one I never realized existed. Thanks to my BIL for inviting us to enter. We don’t visit often, but when we do, it’s always amazing.

Wrong actions/right reasons?

This morning–as most mornings–I entered my local Starbucks to Hi’s from the Baristas. We know each other’s names and they know what I’m going to order. The whole interaction is friendly, quick and trouble-free.

Today, though, things took an unexpected turn. After getting my coffee and returning to my car I encountered a homeless man who was rising from the blacktop and shuffling himself to the curb. How do I know he was homeless? The dirty clothes, the equally dirty pack stuffed to near bursting, the unkempt beard and hair, the smell of someone who’s been unable to take a shower for days or longer. I don’t know what he was doing on the ground. He may have fallen off the curb into the empty parking space before I came out the door. I suspect the man was under the influence of something. Nonetheless, there he was, and there I was.  He was far too friendly, to the point of making me nervous, but at 8:00 in the morning and lots of foot traffic in and out of the Starbucks, what could he really do to me?

As I often do, when encountering homeless people, I offered to buy the man something to eat or drink. He accepted my offer of a drink so I turned back to the door, thinking he’d wait for me where he’d left his pack. Instead, he began a rambling conversation about my excellent choice to buy American ( I drive a Ford). He offered the needless information that both of his parents drive Fords (do they know their son is homeless?) and then repeated all this as he followed me into the cafe, reinforcing my thought he was high. He could have been any number of things that ended in homelessness.

We stood in line, Matthew nattering on about the Juice-It-Up next door (of all things), as I grew more uncomfortable. The other customers eyed us as if I’d lost my mind. You could almost hear them thinking What the hell is she thinking? Two employees started to tell the man he wasn’t allowed inside, but I when mentioned I was buying him a drink, they backed off.

I now understand that Matthew must be a regular problem for the cafe and they don’t want him inside their doors for what I’m sure are good reasons. By offering the man a beverage, and him entering the cafe with me, I no doubt angered or upset the partners who greet me with cordiality, remember my name and my coffee choice and do their best to make sure my visits are positive. I broke an unspoken rule when Matthew followed me into the cafe.

Next time I visit, I’ll apologize and ask what they recommend if this happens again. I had no wish to upset the employees who deal with this every day in whatever way Starbucks Inc. has decided is in their best interests. The Baristas only want to do the best job they can and make sure their customers enjoy their visits. If the homeless man in line with me had the effect of spoiling the visit of another customer, the Baristas are likely to be held responsible. For that, I am profoundly sorry.

This is how I feel about today’s encounter. Homeless Matthew and I had a moment of human to human contact. Most of us see homeless people every day. How many of us speak to them, or make eye contact? How many of us mumble, Sorry, I don’t have any change when they panhandle? How many of us pretend they don’t exist?

I agree many don’t use the money they beg for food or shelter, and that drug and alcohol addictions are likely contributing factors to their circumstances. I disagree that they are pariahs, that being homeless is a criminal activity, worthy only of police harassment and public rudeness and/or incarceration. When I offer to buy someone food, am I making it worse? Enabling them to stay on the street another day? Am I acting only to make myself feel better?

The paths that culminate in homelessness are many and varied. It’s not in my capacity to cast moral judgements on anyone. I will say this…Matthew had an experience today that transformed him for a few minutes from scary, nuisance homeless guy to ordinary guy getting a beverage at the local Starbucks. Thanks to the partners who allowed him the dignity of those few minutes.

How many homeless live in your city or town? How many of them go hungry day after day, eating only what they find in the trash or because someone had a generous impulse? Do you ever think about ways to house the homeless or feed the hungry?

I hope that next time a scary, nuisance homeless person approaches you, you’ll at least think about some of this for a quick second and make a decision based on your safety, your previous experience, your willingness to render moral judgement and your ability to look beyond the dirt and smells.

Best Places to Get Your Write On

I don’t know about you, but there’s something about an empty, quiet house that disturbs my creative process. I know, I know. Common sense would indicate the opposite. A quiet, distraction-free environment should be conducive to free-flowing prose, world-building and plot points.

Instead, I find myself caught up in the minutiae of everyday life. Laundry, defrost something for dinner, run off to the store for a few items, the never-ending phone calls from nobody I ever heard of and have no intention of speaking to… Escaping to the hubbub and controlled chaos of my favorite Starbucks is less distracting.

Which is where I currently sit. My favorite drink (grande Flat White with an add-shot and heavy cream) at my elbow. Outside the window, a trio of local cops have a couple of dudes on the curb after a pat-down. Eventually, they cite them and let them go. I amuse myself wondering what type of offense they allegedly committed, and whether the one with the awesome dreads, capri-length pants and sweatshirt with cut-off sleeves will find his way into the story.

Conversation hums around me. The air is filled with the scent of coffee and the hiss of steam. My chair rocks–the slightest bit–on the uneven tile floor. Customers of all types pass me on their way to the counter while I compose the new scenes, develop plot and character arcs for my protagonists, build more complex and believable bad guys.

If I had a daily target word count, I’d be close by now. But it’s cheating to count blog posts. That said, my characters are calling. They want to know how I’m going to get them out of this latest dilemma. The only way to find out is to dive back into the story.

I don’t know about you, but that’s how I get my write on.

Having Friends Who Understand is the Best Thing Ever

As a writer, I often find myself sitting alone in a room, trying to decide the best way to torture my characters, throw roadblocks in their path and otherwise make them miserable before they finally win through to their happily-ever-after.

The solitary art of making things up doesn’t come easily, and I’m often frustrated–or distracted–by other things. Any shiny object in my peripheral vision (I’m easily diverted) throws me off the track.

When this happens, I reach out to friends in my writing community. They are always willing to listen, offer advice, give me figurative pats on the back and generally redirect me. We share excerpts from our works-in-progress, discuss craft, conferences, editors, the state of publishing today, and our plans for the future.

In future plans, we’ve discussed a retreat to a Swedish summer cottage. Spending several days writing, drinking wine, sharing, and exploring the countryside sounds conducive to writing, doesn’t it? It does to me. I can’t wait. Of course, the planning, arranging, packing, and all the rest that goes with an overseas trip will take time–time that could be used for writing.

Did I mention I’m easily distracted?