Tag Archives: writefiction

close up of an eye

See it, to achieve it.

Dear Writer Friends, 

So, you are making the time. You are sitting down at your desk, bichoktam. You are doing the work. You honor your writing time and do what it takes to minimize distractions, whether that’s a focus app or a set morning ritual, or if you’re me–both. The war on your attention is real, and you are not a mere victim in that. Your monkey mind gets you all the time. It’s a practice and you will have good days and less good days, but you are keeping at it. 

This week I want you to focus on putting some energy into what your long term goal is, to really visualize it, because when we take the time to visualize what we want, we are more likely to believe it is possible for us. When we believe, we take the steps to make it happen with more confidence. So, right now, write down a goal you have for your writing within a specific time frame–three months? A year? Your choice. Now, close your eyes and picture the scenario. Don’t brush past it. Flash out all the detail just like you would in an important scene of your story. Set a timer for two minutes and stay in that visual. 

Go to this awesome web tool and write yourself an email set for an intermittent time between now and your goal. In the email, describe your goal in all it’s detail and remind yourself that it’s okay if you’ve gotten off track, but you are writing to remind yourself what it is you want. Remind yourself that getting off track is part of the process. 

Print the email you wrote yourself before sending, and tuck it away somewhere so you can pull it out as a reminder anytime you need it. Return to your visualization as often as needed to fend off self-doubt and bolster your confidence. 

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procrastinating mind

Dear Procrastination, (Part 2)

Dear Procrastination,

I’ve written to you before, but you didn’t reply. You look at me the way my grandmother used to when I asked a stupid question. I get it, you are necessary, and if I spend too much time with you, well, that’s my fault, isn’t it?
You are necessary. You are where the sketch before the painting happens, the outline before the outline. I know I said I would write and now I’m walking the dogs, stringing a beaded necklace, knitting a hat, cleaning the gutters, alphabetizing my books, dusting the cobwebs from the corners. Can you believe these things are part of the process too? Not always, but sometimes, when I’m meditating on story.
I’m sorry I came off adversarial before. I was trying to gather my courage to write. I did not trust you. I lashed out. I get it. I get it, you are part of the process. Can I possibly welcome you? Even find joy in you? Trust myself to know when to close the door on you and get to work, when to open the door again and go out to play?
I will try, dear friend, I will try.


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making of harry potter common room

Staring is necessary.

My IB students are reading The Things They Carried now and just finished The Great Gatsby. The order in which you teach books brings to light different aspects of them. I don’t believe I’ve ever juxtaposed these two titles before. So, as we read each vignette of The Things They Carried, the burden of being an observer in war is the thread I keep being drawn to. Both Nick and O’Brien seem to exist as a lens through which to view the story, take little part in the action, only rarely turn that lens on themselves. They are both writers. Go figure, I’m drawn to this persona, the observer. I know just what I’d do if I ever stumbled upon an invisibility cloak as Harry Potter did.
“Stare hard, retard,” people used to say when they caught me staring. And sometimes on my walks to work, I get so caught up in the physical details of the world around us that I just want to keep walking right past work, spend the day collecting images. I did this when I was in high school quite a lot. I’d walk to school, reach the building, decide to keep walking. I grew up in sister cities and I’d walk to the edges of them both, walk between them.
This is at least a part of why I prefer to walk to school even though Chris drives and works at the same place. This is why I prefer spring and summer days, because I can walk and walk without the extra weight of an umbrella or the inconvenience of getting cold or wet. I used to at least try to keep a journal collecting some of my impressions from the day. It’s been difficult to find time lately, but I’d like to try to get back to that practice, just a little writing before bed. *moves journal to night stand
I’ve sometimes felt ashamed of my observer personality (“Stare hard, retard”), but reading O’Brien I’m embracing that part of myself, feeling part of a tribe of storytellers. So, dear writer peeps, if this sounds like you, I have a challenge for you this week:

Spend 10-20 minutes sitting in public just observing everything you can.
Observe and record a conversation between two people you eavesdrop on.
Stare at an object. Stare again. Keep staring until you’ve written a two paragraph description of the thing.


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On patience in revision.

I’ve been thinking about the importance of patience this morning, how it is so necessary, but also something that has to be learned. Why, you ask, was I thinking about this? I spent the morning going through a first draft of a novel, charting all the changes to make before I begin draft two. I charted scenes that are currently in the novel in one column, scenes that I want to be in draft two in a second column. I charted POV, motifs, and details. I feel great about this slow process of revision, but it is something that has taken me twenty years to come to.

Maybe you, like me, came to writing in the first place because you loved the creative immersion, the flow, the story–and I won’t lie–the idea of being a writer? But that only gets you so far. Patience and discipline carry you the rest of the way. Suzannah Windsor Freeman wrote about this idea on Jeff Goins blog. Her post is worth a read. Maybe it will resonate with you the way it did with me?


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valentine reflection heart

Post-Valentine Reflection: Plans and Vampires

paintbrush heartI’m not entirely sure where I’m headed in this blog, though I do know there’s something I want to say, something that feels urgent. I’ll do what I do in these cases. I’ll begin by cataloging the pieces of this something big and urgent, trust I’ll get there in the end.


Doesn’t this typify so much of how writing works? Both Didion and O’Connor agreed. And this understanding lies at the heart of why I dislike structured approaches to teaching writing. But–that’s for another day, another blog. Today?


Post-Valentine’s, I find I am surprised how my day actually went versus how I planned it to go. I’ll get to that. But first…


Elementary school. Class lists. Those kid-made Valentine envelopes you’d put the coveted cards in. Just like the rules for food on birthdays, you had to bring enough to share with everyone. Of course, there were ways to create inequity. Saving the coolest cards for your besties, your secret crush. Writing an actual note, instead of just signing your name. Tacking on extra or the best candy.  Public school began our training in the economy of romance.


No wonder in fifth grade a crowd of girls, including me, circled the perimeter of the playground at recess singing along to the lyrics of Madonna’s Crazy For You as printed on the jacket of the 45. No wonder, so inspired, we wrote a group note to a boy in our class we each admired.


Flash-forward to now. Valentine’s Day. I’m walking around Target with my little sister who is nursing her two month old baby under a pashmina scarf while admiring educational toys. We are meandering and wind up in the children’s bedroom section where I see this bank. A savings bank for  little girls shaped like a wedding cake. Are you kidding me?


What I planned to do for Valentine’s Day was stay in my pajamas all day writing, maybe eat a bowl of that chocolate malt ice cream I knew was in the freezer.Why, you ask? Don’t I have a husband? Yes, I do, but since that lucky bastard happened to be enjoying an all expense paid trip to Rome, I had to make my own plan.


I like to think we love maturely, that we renew that love every day, and so, I decided Valentine’s Day alone afforded a ripe opportunity for some me time. Time to write and maybe take a bath and paint my toenails. Planning such a Valentine’s Day, I felt happy for Chris’s fortune to be in Rome and grateful to be in a relationship safe enough, nurturing enough that we both can flourish. Not always together. Sometimes in delicious solitude.


It’s no exaggeration that when that particular gratitude occurred to me I nearly fell to my knees right where I stood. Not so many years ago, I was living life in subjugation and denial. A life where I was running out of creative ways to re-frame emotional abuse. Even I who would settle for very little because that’s how I was raised, praise jesus. It was a strange combination of influences that finally strengthened my resolve to choose a different life: the igniting of a creative fire, a mysterious prowler waiting in the wings to smother my already oxygen-starved heart, and a truth telling friend willing to risk loosing the friendship in telling me truths.


The best-laid plans.


How I actually spent Valentine’s. Driving over to Lacey with my sweet, sardonic man-child to help my Aunt Sue move to retirement heaven near her grandchildren. We sipped our coffees and chatted on the way. Then, we helped load a Uhaul, had some laughs with family we don’t see often enough, looked at a few funny, old photographs.

Aunt Sue sent us home with a cool antique yard stick that may have been a paddle back in the good old days, two book shelves, and a hyacinth. (Sue, if you’re reading this, it is a perennial.)


On the way home, we stopped to deliver one of the bookshelves to my little sister. Her dogs, who I’ve been walking while she recovers from the cesarean, clearly were ready to be walked. So, Winston stayed to visit while I took the dogs on a walk around the block. And this was not a typical walk. Forces of the universe conspired to bring me a swarm of cats, two off leash dogs, and a murder of crows. It’s important to keep in mind that these are not little dogs we’re talking about. Two huge black dogs quite happy to chase a cat, a crow, or an off leash dog. A bit like a water skier careening out of control? I’m sure that’s how I looked.


It was now after noon and I was not yet in my pajamas writing, so I figured what the hell, I’ll go with the flow here. My sister, who looked like she could use some time out of the house, had texted me earlier asking if I wanted to go shopping with her. I was going to turn her down to write. It may have been the prospect of spending more time gazing on my niece’s sweet face that sent my heart spinning in a new direction. In any case, I confirmed with her shopping was still a thing, then planned to come back and fetch her as soon as I delivered my ever-patient son back to his computer screen.


We shopped for three hours for Valentine’s and baby things, browsing and talking along the way. I marveled at this new sister, vigilant milk-machine. This same sister who once curled up on a bag of rice at Costco because it looked comfy and whose curiosity broke a glass shelf in Macy’s (or Penney’s, or The Bon, I’m not quite sure) I can barely recall, except that she was little, therefore careless, and she broke something. Shame followed.

By the time I got home and settled in to write, it was late evening. The day had not gone as planned. And yet–my son, my sister, my niece, my aunt, my cousin, my cousin’s son, my cousin-in-law, my brother-in-law. I had planned to keep my time to myself, but instead shared it with them. And this time it was the right thing to do. It’s hard to know. Love is a curious balance of giving forth and taking time to replenish the self. This is harder to do when you’re in a vampiric romantic relationship.

The economy of money is tied up in the economy of romance and so many people are out there sniffing for fresh blood. Stay strong, my friends. Eat lots of garlic. Another Valentine’s Day has passed, but the shadow remains.


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stepping stones

One true sentence? Considering Hemingway.

My seniors are reading Hemingway, so, of course, I am rereading him too. And thinking about him and his oft-quoted advice to writers. Just one true sentence? The truest sentence you know?

When I first read Hemingway with a writer’s eye (in college), I became enamored with his concision and tried to mimic it. The result was stories that were puzzling. All that human emotion and thought left unsaid, unthought, left for the reader to pluck from the tone of a line of dialogue, the selection of a particular noun or verb. What resulted were stories that were good in parts, but that didn’t satisfy my own sense of what I needed to convey in writing. They weren’t in my voice. Plus, I’m always a little suspect of a narrator who hides entirely, offers nothing to the conversation.

I’ve learned I’m  no Hemingway, don’t desire to be. But I do take his one true sentence advice for a particular use. That moment when you are stuck as to how to get from A to B, one moment to the next. Your girl is standing outside the door about to knock. You are trying to get her inside. The scene that matters is beyond the door. Now is the time to invoke one true sentence. Write a string of true sentences to get you where you want to go.


Becca knocked hard, shoved shivering hands in jeans pockets, waited. The neighbor’s mastiff came sniffing into the year, off leash again.


Becca stood, moved to knock, paused. A car sped by. She reread the notes she’d written on the back of a napkin. She put on a smile, shook out the nerves, pushed the doorbell.

Any time you are stuck, really. One clean, objective sentence of description. Then another and another. A true sentence? Hold on there, Hemingway. Truth is a funny word that holds power only until you start to probe it. One real sentence? Yes. That works. Write one clean, objective sentence located in the reality of your story. These sentences, for me, act as stepping stones. stepping stones


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What it took.

I woke at four, made coffee, walked the dogs. I sat down to write a little bit later than usual, but only about five minutes. But five minutes turned to fifteen once I followed the impulse to check my email. I felt cold, so I got up to get a sweater.

“Getting dressed?” Chris asked.

Startled, because he usually sleeps another forty-five minutes, I said, “I’m cold. I’m getting a sweater.”

“It’s warm here. You can come back to bed.”

It would have been sweet if it wasn’t so torturous. Shivering, on five and a half hours sleep, going back to bed seemed like a damned good idea.

I sat down and tried to write. Chris groaned in disgust at something in his newsfeed. Don’t ask, I told myself. Don’t do it. I looked at the clock. I had a half hour of writing time left and this space, usually a space where I can easily slip in and out of solitude was alive with distractions. I thought about giving up. I even texted my writing buddy that I was quitting for the day after a paltry, distracted output.

Then, an idea hit. Though I still had a half hour of lounging in my pajamas left on the clock, I got dressed, gathered my things, and left. I walked the two miles to the Starbucks across from the high school where I teach.

I sat down with exactly thirty-five minutes left on the clock before I’d have to cross the street to work, start my day. In half the time I normally would have taken, I wrote 500+ word count (over my daily goal). I’ve had a lot of success lately getting the writing done because of the routine. This morning I was reminded how sometimes the opposite gets the work done. Change the routine and the scenery. Take a walk. Try again.

Here’s a sentence from what I wrote today: “In the light of the full moon, they moved the last of the boxes from the Uhaul into the house which had already begun to change.”

Wishing you a prosperous writing week, however you make it happen.



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zen accident

Zen Accident

I began writing poetry at fourteen or fifteen, some terrible lost and vulnerable age. I wrote reams of poems about how profoundly I didn’t understand anything, using juxtaposed words like vomit truth and playground nightmare. It seems I’d always been a gawker, but I started to write little snippets of what I saw in my notebooks: man at bus stop shaving his feet, woman screaming fuck you fuck fuck on her way to the library, or an orange is a globe of light. I also started to write down the sentences from what I read that sent a charge of delight up my spine. If I could write like that!

I’ve identified as a writer from a young age and over the years I have continued to write, record my observations, and collect sentences with inconsistent commitment. This blog is dedicated to the commitment I’ve made to make time for writing in spite of the real and imagined demands on my writing time. I’ve been distracted by so many projects during my adult life including running a marathon and earning a Masters degree, both of which took far less effort and commitment than writing a book does. I’m not saying I shouldn’t have done these things, not at all. One can’t write every single moment of every single day. When you are not writing, though, everything else is a potential distraction.

Over this past winter break I had a moment of epiphany regarding my sometimes absurd cycle of professing I need time to write, then getting that time and struggling to write three sentences, then drowning my sorrows in a glass or two of red which of course completely kills my impulse to write and clouds my thinking. Of course there are other times where the writing flows and I finish my writing time absolutely buzzed by the feeling that I’ve created something dangerously close to what I want to say and with some tweaking, by God, it just might do. I’ve strategized ways to induce this kind of creative flow. I’ve turned corners of rooms into writing nooks, made signs for doors warning: Writer At Work, snuck away to cafes, bought noise-canceling headphones, and on and on.

We’ve just moved to a new house and by winter break we’d been there nearly a month and I hadn’t even once sat in the writing nook I fashioned in one corner of our bedroom. I’d written, but never there. And that’s when a new way of looking at the whole situation struck me dumb. Over the next few days I sat to write at our family computer that is literally wide-open in the middle of the house in the family room, the most unprivate spot one could possibly occupy.

What happened? Yes, children interrupted me. Dogs too with their endless need for ear-scratches and lap time. I’m pretty sure Chris also asked me where I had put the coffee filters, which were right in front of his face where they always are, just tucked a little toward the back. As all these disruptions happened, I didn’t react resentfully to them. Each disruption happened, then I returned to the writing. This is how I finished the novella I’ve been working on for six years.

Happy accident? Result of a recently revived meditation practice?

I don’t know, but I’ll take it.


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Dear Present Moment,

Dear Present Moment,

The click of keys. The ponderous pause. The long-distance stare. Alert, alive, creating. The problems to solve are diverse, complex, and many and I must be some kind of brainiac because I am solving problems left and right. What is the mood here? What is the consequence? Will this seem real to a strange reader? Will it break his heart? What’s the story? A comma here?
Present moment, the struggle emerges when you elude me, when I focus on the future goal or that time I left critique group with a fresh bruise on my cheek, a deep scratch on my collar bone.

Seeking you,


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lion pose

The Power of Play

At risk of sounding like the worst of self-help gurus, I’m going to sound off about the power of play in nurturing (yes, I said nurturing) a consistently productive creative practice. And at risk of insulting the dead, I’m calling for an end to the tortured, self-loathing writer. I’ll begin by telling the story that inspired me to write this.
Despite all my prayers that my son and only child would not struggle with the reticence and hyperconsciousness that I struggled with and that his father struggled with even more and despite the fact that at home he is opinionated and animated (and I mean animated like a cartoon character), he assures me, he is “shy”. Assures isn’t the word—he insists he is shy. So, I try not to dwell on it, not to smother him with encouragement, but to encourage him–damn it–encourage him. Though he was leery about playing basketball for his middle school because of the public spectacle of the competition, he loves to play. He was worried about being on the student news station they show every morning in home room. He was just worried that he’d be too shy to succeed. I acknowledged his feelings and made him try. Now, if he was that shy, there would have been no pushing him. It was to my relief that he reluctantly conceded the point.
How happy was I when he returned from his first practice red-cheeked and smiling? So happy! I knew he would sail through the first three weeks—only practice—and prayed that come time for his first game, camaraderie would trump “shy”. That didn’t exactly happen. The first three games weren’t painful, but I could tell from his reports that he was holding back on the court.
Now, here’s where I get to the point. Friday after the third game, his coach set up a practice based solely on play. He came home elated—chattering about kids laughing so hard they couldn’t dribble.
“You know how I’m usually so shy when I dribble?”
“Uh-huh.” I said.
“Well, today I wasn’t…and he was laughing so hard he couldn’t shoot…and I played so hard.”
“Uh-huh.” I said.
“The point guard said I should be point guard…he said I should be on varsity.”
“Uh-huh.” I said, thinking Yes! Yes! Yes!
And, what do you know? The next game he scored three points and said, “Now that everyone knows I can dribble, the expect me to…”
Yes! Yes! Yes!
I am overjoyed that he is conquering his self-diagnosed shyness, and every day when he comes home, this pattern of growth continues. Yes! Yes! Yes!
What does this have to do with writing? In order to push forward in producing work in spite of all the obstacles we face, there is this too often untapped resource—play. Here are some ways to not take yourself too seriously and so write more and feel better about it:
1. Put on your favorite dance tune. For me that’s Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”. Let loose.
2. Get outside and play first, then write. A tuned-in walk about town? Frisbee? Fetch with the dog?
3. Give yourself permission to write the worst lines. Do it on purpose. Write the sappiest, most trite, worst stuff you’ve ever written. Read it aloud.
4. Bite, poke, or otherwise harass a friend on facebook.
5. Brig a whoopee cushion to your writer’s group.
6. Kick your feet while you write, or engage in playful fidgeting of your choice.
7. Wear a funny hat while you write.
8. Write upside down (intentionally left up to your interpretation).
9. Doodle in the margins.
10. Fill a page with writing. Then, fold it into a paper airplane and send it sailing.


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