When the Writing Gets Tough

Once, not long ago, there were 100 days before NaNoWriMo started. Silly me, I thought, sure, I can double what I’m currently writing and crank out two novels before November, and then write this idea that is simply burning inside.

[Burning means all my “spare” notes and words are spent flopping around in this idea but I haven’t made much progress understanding it yet. It simply takes over my brain with SHINY when I am not concentrating elsewhere.]

There are 36 writing days remaining. I wrote the second book to be 65k words, and I am about 21k into the third book. If I estimated it right and I don’t quit writing, I ought to make the goal. Scary, but possible.

However, I don’t feel like the words are flowing for book 3. Book 2 dumped out in nearly the same fashion as book 1 did last November. But I am always reading things about how to improve, and I tried writing this thing backward. I had the end from last November anyway, 892 words of it, and I wrote what came before that, and what came before that, and then I wrote what came in the middle, then I tried to write what came before.

I’m still trying. It’s difficult to envision where this thing is going when I feel like I’m doing it wrong. I know it isn’t wrong, but it feels off. Sometimes I feel like the whole book is right there, but because of how I chose to write this one, it’s all wonky. Today I ended up writing what came after what I wrote yesterday, because I wasn’t sure how that would fit if I didn’t put that scene in. And tomorrow’s writing might come after today’s. Which means I’m writing forward again instead of backward.

I keep wondering that If it feels so wrong, I ought to change it up, find the beginning, and start from there – except for one thing: I’ve never been good at finding the exact beginning of the story. I write backstory, then cut it off and find where the ‘real’ beginning is in almost every novel I’ve ever written. So I’m sticking with this method for now.

What do you do when the words aren’t flowing? When you feel a bit lost within the overall structure of your novel? Do you always use the same method to attack each novel you undertake? How do you write?

Life is what happens —

When you’re busy making other plans. (quote attributed to John Lennon)

The point is to keep making plans, right? The point is to figure out your direction and take steps toward it no matter what life throws at you.

I’m an optimist. I’ve learned to live with that.

My plan is to write. My plan is to keep telling stories. I’m often asked or told that no one knows how I do what I do, write with little kids. I don’t know how to answer. I simply do it when I have a moment. It’s not like I can turn off the characters in my head.

I learn by rolling with the things that come my way. Sometimes it is just about writing down goals and sticking to them. I love lists. But it’s also about when something happens and I forget to write, don’t accomplish anything, or completely become overwhelmed – I don’t stop. I am not afraid to give myself a pass for a day (or more) and try again tomorrow.

Then again, I’ve also been labeled as motivated, driven, determined, ambitious. I’m not sure any of us knows what we can accomplish until we make the attempt.

What have you attempted? What do you do to keep yourself motivated? I bet no one told the rocks they couldn’t stay there.

Garden of the Gods, CO

Garden of the Gods, CO

I Need More Fences in this Blog

Fences, you ask? I’ll get to it.Next week, preschool begins. It will be September, and it’s also a new session for my daughter’s activities. I’m looking forward to a new routine, though it always takes a little bit to figure out how to get everywhere at the right time.

I know a few moms who changed the sleep schedule so kids get up earlier, but my kids slept in the past two days and I’m enjoying that. In my house, sleeping in is defined as me staying in bed until 7 am.

Last night, I spent an hour catching up on social media, changing a few passwords, and adding a picture where it needed an update. The picture was the tricky part, because for some reason there aren’t that many pictures of me that I want to share. Most of them are old. Many of them have only my daughter. And it’s very rare these days for someone to take just my picture. It’s always with one or both of the kids.

My project is going well with 1500 words a day. Have 54,743 words and expect to spend less than two more weeks on Book 2 before moving to Book 3. The trick will be to find the writing time with the new schedule.

If I can wear my daughter out enough to nap, I could get some good writing time in. If I can focus, I can also get some editing time in when the kids go to bed. If I can find some quiet time, I can blog and catch up on social media, too. There are a lot of ‘if’s involved, but I think it’s worth doing, and I’ll find the time somewhere.

I even find time to read, because that’s the best way to get my brain to relax to sleep. I want to curse the authors who keep me awake past bedtime to finish one more chapter as much as I hope my readers feel the same about my work someday. At least if I read, I’m much less likely to be remembering new thoughts for the work-in-progress an hour after the lights are out, tapping them into Evernote in my phone.

But back to the pictures. I think I put too much thought into pictures. What should I use to describe editing? Writing? Some other activity? Do I put something else in as visual interest?

Visual interest reminds me of art class in high school. My teacher always had us trying new things, even though our artistic vision might differ. Once, a friend had a painting of a snowman, with skaters on a lake, and a few trees dotted around. The teacher said she needed a fence. It was supposed to draw the eye around the painting. After that, whenever we finished anything – we always joked that you needed a fence in it. I thought of that last night when I read about adding images to posts in Google+. It’s just something to draw in the eyes when you’re trying to get them to read your text.

So here’s my fence:

Fence around Flamingos at Sacramento Zoo
Fence around Flamingos at Sacramento Zoo


When I was young and reading every spare moment, it seemed like everything in the speculative fiction section was a trilogy. Some of them became more than trilogies as the subsequent novels refused to wrap up the story.

I always wanted to be the one who had novels on the shelves like the ones I read. They were all in bookstores then as I browsed for something new to devour. The first trilogy I had planned was created while I was in high school. All the characters were named, pieces of the plot are still in my computer, and nothing ever came of it.

Yesterday I started Book 2 of a trilogy. It’s a real trilogy, I guess, in the way that it will be written. It will be edited, and as much as I can possibly manage, it will be professionally published.  On the bright side, if I average 1500 words a day, I can finish the rough drafts of both sequels by NaNoWriMo.

That would be good, because I already have a few ideas for November’s writing marathon. One hundred writing days to NaNo! (I haven’t written yet today.)

One of my friends told me that it was better to think in a series type capacity anyway, especially due to the amount of work it took to build these worlds in speculative fiction.

All I can say is I’m really excited about this adventure. I am finally writing a series.

Draft Finished?

Right. I know. I said I finished it. I felt good about finishing it.

So why is it that the little things I changed keep rummaging around in my head and whisper more little details to me? That’s not finished, that’s a work in progress.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. How do you know, definitively, that you are done? I’m struggling at the moment, but I will manage.

I’m moving on to the next draft, but I hope the susurrus moves to silence. After I fix that just. one. more. thing… After that, I also need to make that definite decision of what I’m doing next. I refuse to allow myself more than a week or two before making the next move. Only one manuscript will languish away in the drawer of death for five years. NO MORE!

Readers and Writers

Writers are readers. We can’t help it – what draws us to words is love. Sometimes I end up thinking about the writing side and neglecting the reading side, but not this week.

This week I went to a book club. It’s called Dagobah, and they focus on science fiction books. At least, I think they do. It’s a small group and they meet once a month to discuss the books they read. It’s different from what I often think about for a book club, where you choose one book and everyone reads and discusses it. 

[I know a friend currently trying to force herself to the end of her book club’s selection, and I hope she makes it. I also hope nobody has to do that with one of my books!]

The cool part about sharing books this way is that I get to hear about books I might not have chosen and I get to share books I love. It’s also a great way to keep me reading, because with limited time sometimes that is what falls by the wayside. 

It shouldn’t be, I know. It’s hard to keep up with a genre when so many books are published (traditional and indie). 

One thing I thought interesting: most of the people seemed to read older novels. It might just have been this month. And I can’t say much for myself, I’ve been listening to the BBC production of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

For the future: watch for news of The Art of Science ebook!

With the Nose

One of my weaknesses, writing-wise, is food. I know it seems like such an odd thing, because it isn’t like I forget to eat regularly. Actually, maybe that would help…

No, seriously, I won’t starve myself. I know one of my handicaps as a person is that I cannot smell many of the things that other people take for granted. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I called my friend to remark about how I could finally smell the laundry aisle at the store, because it was the first time I could remember having that sensation. At first she remarked, duh, but then we talked about how I was in the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy, and that it took that much to get me to smell those scents. My nose is more sensitive to certain kinds of aromas, and others I miss completely.

Unfortunately, I can smell diapers. I could smell the mulch outside my daughter’s preschool this week. But I can only vaguely remember what the flowers smelled like during my pregnancy. I’ve never smelled most of them on my own, but not for lack of trying. My husband (before we were married) would bring me flowers. I would bury my nose in them and inhale deeply. It isn’t because I can smell the roses – I literally can’t – but it is one of those automatic gestures I do when I receive flowers.

When I started editing Don’t Tell Your Mother, I have several places where the characters have food or it is cooking. My critique partners underlined them, asking what they were eating, what they smelled at that point, or something else along those lines. Sometimes, I just can’t even imagine what I’m supposed to put in there. Even when I can describe the actual food, whether there are cherries in the dessert or rosemary in the pot roast, I don’t always know if those things give off enough of a smell for most people to identify them.

[Yes, I’m still editing Don’t Tell Your Mother. I’m still struggling over some of these food descriptions.]

I started asking other writers about food in stories. A few of them find it brings out their experience to have these things described. To bring them into focus even though the food itself is not dragging the plot forward, in most cases.

The other problem with that novel is that it takes place on a farm, where the smells are different than they are in the city. Livestock is kept on the farm, and there are certain smells that I’m sure I haven’t delved into the descriptions nearly enough for people who have never visited one. Thinking of that makes me want to print off another copy and highlight all the places where I might have missed some smells or other sensory perception that would aid in creating my setting.

What is it you look for in a scene where food is present? Scent is supposed to be linked strongly with memory, so do you find it more interesting when there are smells, tastes, and textures along with the sights and sounds? It’s definitely part of the “show, don’t tell” advice to bring in all the senses to bear when using description. Or does all of that just get in the way of the narrative when you’re reading?


Always writing. It’s one way I know I am a writer, because I can’t stop. [See December, when I tried to take a break.]

750 Words is a site where I write privately. I’ve blogged about it before. Today they went to a subscription service to help pay for the site for new members, and asking older ones to donate when they can. I have donated this year, and if I have extra I will again soon.

As of today, I have been a member at 750 Words for 2 years. I have written on 675 days (of 731 total). I have written as few as 750 words and as many as 6827. I am currently on a 57 day streak. That break last December didn’t just break my habit, it made it very hard to resume. My average number of words per day came out to 994.

I find it much more satisfying to say I’ve written 671,196 words. It also makes me want to go add four more to today’s total. I’m quirky that way. It’s not even all the words I’ve written, between rewrites in the current draft and blog posts and a few other things that didn’t get captured in on the site because I wrote them without internet access. I’ve even done my 750 on my phone once because we weren’t connected to the internet any other way. With that much dedication I ought to have a longer streak than 57 days, but I will be patient and I’ll get there again.

It’s silly how much harder I try to do something like that when they tell me stats and give me little badges because I’m on a streak of so many days or I completed 500,000 words.

I think I need to do something special when I hit 1,000,000 words. Just because I can keep track of them now, not because I haven’t written that many in the past. I wish I knew when I hit that first million words, but it might have been before I ever joined 750 Words.  


I don’t generally give myself enough time to find excuses to not work on something. However, I have noticed that I’m working on a lot of things that are not the one with the deadline that’s about to whoosh by. 

The deadline is of my own choosing, so it isn’t like I’ll be in too much trouble if and when it whooshes past. I just want to work on something else, something different, something new (read: shiny). 

The last few days I notice a lot of shiny ideas around me. They are taking over my brain space and making it difficult to concentrate on the editing. I feel like I’m really close to being done. But it isn’t quite there, and that’s difficult to force my head around. There have also been a lot of distractions from spring break: My daughter doesn’t have preschool, but instead the museum has interesting traveling exhibits like the Insect Zoo and Instrument Petting Zoo.

Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big distraction. I remembered my daughter loved bugs, but I didn’t realize that would be over four hours of my week devoted to large creepy-crawly creatures. This is me holding my son and a Vietnamese Walking Stick and my darling daughter standing close, who couldn’t get enough of the bugs. Image


I’ll be working with the resistance. I still want to finish this novel by Sunday (the darling girl’s birthday), but it might slip a few days. Whatever else happens, the time with the bugs was well spent. (And a big thank-you to the “bug lady” Ginny Morgal for taking this picture and explaining so many wonderful things about her bugs.)

Speaking of bugs, remember I love science fiction and fantasy? Those lovely creatures sparked even more shiny ideas that threaten to keep me from that last bit of editing! 

The what-ifs are piling in my notebooks, and they need to wait. I have a novel to finish! If you have any great ideas (or even just good ones) for tackling resistance to the project, I’d love to hear them.

Did I forget to mention I am a writer?

Sometimes I struggle with this in my day to day activities. People who have known me for a long time have seen me shift from one kind of career to another, but a lot of my new friends and acquaintances only see me as mom running my kids around. Funny, huh?

All right, I’ll say it out loud. I’m a writer. It doesn’t mean I don’t do a hundred other things a day. It doesn’t mean I don’t have other career paths. However, this is what I love to do and what you can find me doing when I have any spare time at all.

Spare time? That’s another funny concept. Time doesn’t create itself in moments that can be considered empty or spare. I make choices about how to spend my time. Every time the little darlings go to sleep, I go to work.

I know a lot of people who get ideas. Some of them try writing from time to time. Others are writers like me. There is a difference between the ones who write occasionally and those who are writers. The writers I know have to work through the tough parts. They take each piece and examine it thoroughly. They never stop pursuing those pieces of story until they’re polished.

So I have worked other places, doing many other things. I get that faraway look in my eye when an idea comes to me and try to remember it long enough to write it down. I try to only choose things that are fun. And all of it, from that Scentsy party  to the towers we build at the Family Museum to the random tidbits I read, contributes to my writing.

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