Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Day After Christmas & Other Writing Prompts

You know you're exhausted. You're shopped out, tired of your relatives, sick of whatever left-overs are left, and you can't get that singing dog Christmas song out of your head. Don't worry--the post-Christmas syndrome will pass soon. If not, the New Year's Day hang-over usually takes care of it. In the meantime, put up your feet, pick a prompt, and write for ten minutes about....

--The day after Christmas....
--The writing project I'd like to finish in 2009 is....
--Janet appreciated the gift. It was thoughtful and expensive, but she had no idea what to do with a ....
--What are your plans for New Year's Eve? What's the most memorable NYE you remember?
Photo courtesy of Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo at

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Batch of Christmas Prompts

Are you ready for the big day next week? If not, maybe one of today’s prompts will help lift your yuletide spirits. Pick a prompt and write for ten minutes without stopping. Do your best not to cross out or backspace; don’t worry about spelling or punctuation.

--For Christmas dinner, Elaine decided to be different and serve….
--In Gertrude’s opinion, Christmas was far too….
--Did you ever have your picture taken with Santa?
--The pretty snow turned into a blizzard, which meant….
--Do you get all of your pictures printed promptly, or is it like a trip back in time when you get to see those images again?
Photo courtesy of Mark Barner at

Monday, December 15, 2008

Writing Group Meeting Dates for December

The Just Write Writing Group will meet as usual this week, Wednesday, December 17, 2008. We'll be on break for the holidays on December 24 and December 31. Regular meetings will resume on January 7, 2009. If you're a Las Vegas writer who would like more information about our writing group, please e-mail me.

Happy Holidays!
Photo courtesy of Lynne Lancaster at

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Recluse in the Making

Somehow, I’ve developed a dislike of talking on the phone. I decided to write about it, thinking that perhaps my phone aversion has something to do with being a writer, but I concluded that this phone thing reflects a deeper issue. I’m afraid it’s one more sign that I may be a recluse in the making. As I pondered my dislike of the phone, I had to admit that it is because I’d rather communicate in writing. I’m better on paper than I am in person. In person, I can’t press the backspace key. When I’m writing, I get to delete and edit scenes, sentences, and words, but in person this is not possible. On paper, I can explain things. In person, I just look like an idiot. Of course, then I get to write about my experiences later, but that’s another story.

For instance, let me tell you about a party I attended over the summer that epitomizes my recluse concerns. My friend, whom I’ll call Y, is an urbane, hip, sophisticated woman I know from a former profession. She throws great parties. Somehow, I missed the information about this party being a girls-only party. I found out when I showed up at Y’s house, ready for a regular cocktails-food-and-music party with my hubby in tow. The promise of one of Y’s fabulous parties was the only reason I’d been able to pry my husband from a birthday barbeque blast, clear across town, right before they served the food. At Y’s house, the ambiance was sedate. All the women were seated around the table for dinner. For the most part, they all work together; a few years ago, I worked there, too. I was aghast that I had misunderstood the invitation. I was dressed for a night out, complete with a full face of make-up and shirt showing cleavage, and I was the only one there gussied up so flamboyantly. Aside from my attention-getting personal appearance, there was also the matter of my husband, who decided not to go back inside to hang out with the only other man present.

Scorchingly embarrassed, I was relieved when Y showed me to the kitchen for a plate of food. She rattled off the names of the dishes, including one she said was soup of some kind. When I didn’t see bowls, I thought perhaps “soup” was a figurative reference, and I went to ladle some on my dish. “That’s soup. I don’t think that’s going to work very well,” Y said, showing me bowls I hadn’t seen before, speaking slowly, looking at me as though she suspected I was drunk. I almost wished I was drunk. It would have been a better excuse than stupidity. I took my plate and bowl and returned to the table, where I felt like a gigantic spotlight was illuminating me as the only one who hadn’t gotten the memo. I made my exit as quickly as possible. As I was leaving, one of the ladies at the table passed me on the way to the restroom. Inside Y’s house, where the lighting was better and the promise of escape was relieving my crushing embarrassment, I realized she was a woman I’d worked with closely years before. I was mortified that I hadn’t recognized her; she’d been sitting at the table with the rest of us. What could I say at that point? “I’m so sorry, but I have bad eyesight, and embarrassment and low light make it worse,” or “I honest to goodness am not crazy, just nervous and slightly blind, but it’s so nice to see you again.” No, nothing could be said other than, “Oh my goodness, I didn’t recognize you,” as I hurried from Y’s home. The next day, I sent a note of apology to Y. She politely responded to that e-mail, but I haven’t heard from her in about six months now.

Obviously, had I been writing this scene, things would have gone differently. Even if I’d been torturing a fictional character, I’m not sure I could have done better. As it was, this incident only added to my fears that I ought not go out. I’d love to tell you that this type of thing is an isolated incident, a rare blunder that gives me things to write about. However, that’s not the case.

I can’t entirely blame this on being a writer, although it is a convenient excuse. I’ve spent many years following one of my dad’s favorite pieces of advice: “Engage brain before operating mouth.” Of course, then I found that I could embarrass myself without opening my mouth at all. Like I said, I’m better on paper. In person, well, that’s another story.
Photo courtesy of Brenton Nicholls at

Windows & Other Prompts

You know the drill: pick a prompt and freewrite for ten minutes.

--Describe your view out of the nearest window.
--How do you and your computer get along?
--Do you have a pen name? If so, why? If you don’t, what name would you pick?
--Jacob loved spending money on Meredith, but even she was surprised when he bought her….
--“I think your home security has gone too far,” Alan said. “I understand the alarm. But do you really need….”
Photo information: My picture taken at Zzyzx, in the Mojave National Preserve, at an abandonded spa. Click to enlarge.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Traveling & Other Prompts

I'd love to visit Machu Pichu, pictured here, but I haven't made it yet. How's your sense of traveling adventure? Here are this week's writing prompts, beginning with...

--What’s a place you’ve always wanted to see, but haven’t yet visited?
--Helen knew she deserved the promotion more than Janet, so she decided….
--What’s a job or profession you would never want to do?
--Ben was getting angry. “There’s a lot of holes in the desert,” he warned Jim. “So you’d better….”
--Have you ever witnessed a crime?
Picture courtesy of Bruno Damaceno at

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Prompts

In between watching sports and eating too much, maybe you’ll feel like tackling a writing prompt! What’s your view on Turkey Day? Take ten minutes to write about….

--My earliest memories of Thanksgiving….
--“I hate you!” Melinda shouted, right before she spotted the pumpkin pie….
--What are you most thankful for this Thanksgiving?
--Justin’s favorite day of the holiday season was the day after Thanksgiving, when every single woman he knew….
Thanksgiving art courtesy of Gravity X9 at

No Writing Group Meeting 11-26-08

The Just Write Writing Group (formerly known as the Northwest Writers’ Group) will not be meeting tomorrow, November 26, 2008, since it’s the day before Thanksgiving. We’ll be back next week, December 3, 2008, at our usual time, 1:00 - 3:00 p.m.

If you’re a Las Vegas writer and would like to know more about our writing group, please feel free to contact me for more details.
Photo courtesy of Angel Norris at

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Beth & Roger & Other Prompts

Freewrite for ten minutes about....

--Beth was in love with Roger and wanted to marry him, but….
--If you could go back in time to the first Thanksgiving, what advice would you give to the Native Americans of Massachusetts?
--I like/dislike Thanksgiving because….
--The spotlight blinded Jerome as he….
--What’s the story behind your most visible scar?
Photo courtesy of melbia at

A Prescription for Self-Doubt: Blogging

Over 100 million blogs are posted on the Internet. With all those ideas and opinions out there, why would a writer want to throw her hat into the electronic ring? What could any of us say that isn’t already being said—in millions of other ways? You might not get rich and famous writing a blog, but blogging offers writers several benefits. It allows writers to create an online portfolio, establish an Internet presence, make new contacts, keep in touch with friends, and promote their work. It’s also a way to help overcome self-doubt.

If you think self-doubt is a topic strictly for self-help books, then go talk to a writer. We question ourselves about what we write, how we write, who we write for, and why we write. We worry about commas, spelling, dangling participles, and other technical-sounding English errors, even before we know their horrible names. And that’s before any work leaves our desk. Writers who seek publication play a bonus round of the self-doubt game when the rejection slips arrive, when the old adage “You can’t get accepted if you don’t get rejected” makes you want to scream. How can a writer confidently move forward without succumbing to self-doubt? Why does it matter, anyway?

Self-doubt sinks writers for two reasons: it clouds a writer’s voice and can prevent a writer from speaking at all. Who wants to read vague, watery, bland writing? What do you think when you read writing peppered with these kinds of words: seemingly, perhaps, might, apparently, reportedly, some say, they say. Reportedly, some say the smog layer might possibly be caused by fluctuating conditions. Yawn. Who needs Ambien? Spit it out, whatever you want to say.

Are you worried people will disagree with you? I assure you that some will. I have two words for you: so what. So what if you’re interested in something obscure, unusual, or unpopular. Write about it anyway. Be informed, do some homework, be fair as appropriate, and if you’re passionate about a topic or opinion, let your enthusiasm show. So what if you hate Oprah, think George Clooney is ugly, or feel the economy is just fine. If no one else agreed with you, would that change your opinion? Remember, it’s just like the teacher told us in school when she urged us to raise our hands: if you’re thinking about it, someone else is, too. (And remember that on the Internet, you never know who is reading—Ms. Powerful or Mr. Sexiest Man could read your rant about them; you never know.)

A successful writer has to be willing to put her opinions and ideas out there, and the blogosphere is a good place to step into the shallow end of the pool. Attaching our name to an idea can be as terrifying as walking out on stage. Yes, other people—people not related to you, not anyone you’ve met in your writing group—can read your blog if it’s posted on the Internet. But your audience will probably stay small and reasonable, at least in the beginning. Theoretically, fielding comments and e-mails from this smaller group will prepare you for the deluge of calls, letters, and e-mail you’ll receive once your work is on the best-seller list, or, more likely, for the day your mother-in-law finally reads your blog post about the time you fed your serving of her prize-winning stuffing to the dog.

Blogging isn’t the only way to banish self-doubt. Anything that encourages a writer to embrace his voice and opinion will work. I’ve found the blogging community to be supportive and encouraging, and the comments I receive from readers reassure me that my work is being read. Along with my writers’ group, writing blogs has helped me to keep writing, even on those days when I thought the only thing I should be allowed to write was a grocery list.

And I can’t say that I’ve given up on the thought that my blog will find a bigger audience. I know I said that you can’t expect to get rich and famous by blogging, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. You never know who’s reading, and that’s what makes it fun.
Photo courtesy of Elisabeth Fuchs at; also visit her work at

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sunrise & Other Prompts

Pick a prompt and write for ten minutes, without stopping. Resist crossing out or backspacing.

--The hour before sunrise….
--The best gift I ever received was….
--“I’m so sick of you and your obsession with….”
--The motel looked fine, but the truth was….
--Do you have house plants? How many? How did you acquire them?
--Do you know the history of Veterans Day?
Photo courtesy of Paula Pandey Chhetri at

Registering Your Work With the Copyright Office

I got a call last week from a writer with a question about copyright registration. This is one of the most common areas I get questions on; people want to know how to protect their work. The writer I talked to didn’t want to have to transmit credit card or other personal data over the Internet, and she was looking for the easiest way to register a manuscript via some other means. I logged onto the U.S. Copyright’s website and found that you have three options for getting your work officially registered. You can upload your manuscript and your payment, all via the Internet; you can complete an online form that you print out (the printed form will contain a bar code that makes it unique to you), attach it to your manuscript, and send it all in with a check via regular mail; or you can contact the Copyright Office and request all forms in hard copy so you don’t have to use the Internet at all.

Remember that your work is protected by copyright law from the moment you write the words, whether you insert the copyright mark © or not, whether you register it or not. The creation of it copyrights it automatically. Official copyright registration is a formal step so that if your rights are violated, you can demonstrate conclusively that the work is yours. In the event you had to prove work was yours, you could also show other supporting evidence such as files and notes (in what would be a civil law suit), but official registration is the gold standard. “Poor man’s copyright,” in which a writer mails himself a sealed copy of his manuscript so that the post mark can verify the date of creation, won’t hold up in court—there’s no way to prove you didn’t mail yourself an empty, unsealed envelope.

Your rights are violated when your work is used without your permission. What’s known as “fair use” is permitted so we may quote authors, but fair use is also limited use. Always give proper attribution when quoting someone. In the case of song lyrics, you’re better off to request permission to use any portion of the lyrics; music rights are more stringent in that regard. Some work is more prone to theft—movie and television scripts, for instance—and the copyright office has a special “pre-registration” process for these types of manuscripts. It’s an expensive process: $100 as opposed to $45 for regular registration.
Copyright image courtesy of

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Creativity: No Flowers Required

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “creative writing”? Do you restrict it to a specific genre, such as fiction? Do you have uncomfortable flashbacks to miserable days spent in high school English class reading short stories that mystified and bored you? Does it mean ornate descriptions and a profusion of fancy and inventive phrasing? I’m pleased to tell you that good creative writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, shares the same characteristics as all other good writing. Good writing doesn’t draw attention to itself. It tells a story.

For instance, what do you think of Ernest Hemingway? Was he a creative writer? Undoubtedly. Read the opening to his short story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”

It was late and every one had left the café except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light. In the day time the street was dusty, but at night the dew settled the dust and the old man liked to sit late because he was deaf and now at night it was quiet and he felt the difference. The two waiters inside the café knew that the old man was a little drunk, and while he was a good client they knew that if he became too dunk he would leave without paying, so they kept a watch on him.

Read Hemingway’s paragraph closely and pay attention to all the adjectives. See if you can find an adverb. And how about all those run-on sentences and the lack of any commas after introductory phrases? So much for those red felt-tipped comments from your English teacher.

But this is fiction, of course, and many people want to tell a non-fiction tale. Can non-fiction still be creative? Absolutely. I’ll give you three examples, all of them the opening paragraphs of the non-fiction book cited.

A hermit crab lives in my house. Here in the desert he’s hiding out from local animal ordinances, at minimum, and maybe even the international laws of native-species transport. For sure, he’s an outlaw against nature. So be it.
--Barbara Kingsolver, in
High Tide in Tucson, her book of essays

Not long after I moved with my family to a small town in New Hampshire I happened upon a path that vanished into a wood on the edge of town.
--Bill Bryson, in
A Walk in the Woods, his story about hiking the Appalachian Trail

Straddling the top of the world, one foot in China and the other in Nepal, I cleared the ice from my oxygen mask, hunched a shoulder against the wind, and stared absently down at the vastness of Tibet. I understood on some dim, detached level that the sweep of earth beneath my feet was a spectacular sight. I’d been fantasizing about this moment, and the release of emotion that would accompany it, for many months. But now that I was finally here, actually standing on the summit of Mount Everest, I just couldn’t summon the energy to care.
--Jon Krakauer, in
Into Thin Air, his account of the tragic events on Mt. Everest in 1996

These examples should reassure writers that creativity doesn’t solely live in fiction or fanciful language. From Bryson’s simple one-sentence paragraph to Krakauer’s detailed description of the amazing view atop Everest, the creativity is apparent. The subject matter, the pacing, and the clean flow of language draws us into non-fiction just as it does to fiction.

Notice the grammatical sins that our English teachers would have dinged us for. Run-on sentences. A sentence fragment. A paragraph of only one sentence. Do these “errors” distract from the work? Not at all; just the opposite.

While some writers groan at the thought of ladling fancy words over their work, some are disappointed that their flowery phrasing, their “darlings,” must go. Remember, “creative” means inventive and imaginative, not dense, fictitious, or complicated.
Photo courtesy of Sanja Gjenero at

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Prompts 101

Let’s talk about prompts.

The purpose of a writing prompt is to get you writing—writing without stopping, over-thinking, or re-writing. It’s a spark for an idea. Sometimes the idea you get from a prompt may be something wildly outside the context of the prompt, or it might focus on a different aspect of the language. Let’s take Mary and Jacob, for instance, in the first prompt below. You might not have any idea what Mary said next, but perhaps it reminds you of a crazy trip you took. Maybe you know a woman named Mary, and her face popped into your mind. Whatever direction your creative impulse takes you, follow it! Remember, the purpose of a writing prompt isn’t to follow directions. It’s to write. If Mary and Jacob don’t inspire you, pick another prompt. Then give yourself ten minutes to write without stopping. Who knows what you might wind up with?

--Mary couldn’t believe what she heard her husband, Jacob, saying. “A vacation to where? No, I don’t understand! Why would you want to go to….”

--After hours of fiddling, Mark decided he knew the best way to fix his cranky computer. He marched into the garage and grabbed….

--If you were in charge of deciding when Christmas decorations and displays would appear, what date would you pick and why?

--Veronica knew her boyfriend had a bad temper, but she never thought he would….

--Does your home have a fireplace? Do you enjoy using it, or is it more of a bother than it’s worth?

--Charles was digging through old boxes in his garage when he found it. How many years had it been? Stunned at his discovery, he sat down to look at….

--If I could be anywhere right now, I would be….

--Diana’s notebook was sitting on the table. Linda knew she shouldn’t read it, but she couldn’t help herself. Linda rationalized invading Diana’s privacy by telling herself….

--Do you decorate for Halloween? Do your neighbors? What do you think about the growing popularity of Halloween decorations?

--Ted wanted a hobby, but he was having a hard time deciding on one. Finally, he decided to take up….
Photo courtesy of Ove Tøpfer at

Friday, October 17, 2008

Writing Group on Pause

I'm taking off for a road trip to Texas, so the writing group will be on hiatus until November 5, 2008.
Photo courtesy of Randa Clay at

Monday, October 13, 2008

Las Vegas Author Appearances and Book Festival

Although it might appear that the only thing to do here in Sin City is gamble and visit “gentlemen’s” clubs (we can talk about euphemisms in another post), we Las Vegans actually do read. And not just Keno tickets, either.

This Saturday, October 18, 2008, at 8:00 p.m., Joyce Carol Oats will be speaking at the UNLV Student Union Ballroom, courtesy of our local think tank, Black Mountain Institute. Read more about her appearance at BMI’s website:

Calling all dog lovers! John Grogan, author of Marley and Me and Bad Dogs Have More Fun, will be speaking/signing books at the Henderson Pavilion on October 26, 2008, 1-2:30 p.m. (While I was searching for information on Grogan’s appearance, I found a new Vegas book blog, – check it out!)

The Vegas Valley Book Festival will be held November 6-8 at various locations. Read about the event at The event is free and includes sessions from the Henderson Writers Group. Michael Chabon will give the closing keynote on November 8, 2008, at 6 p.m. at the Clark County Library.
Photo courtesy of Sanja Gjenero at

Do You Eat With That Mouth?

What’s your stance on using bad language in your writing? Is it totally off-limits, or do you consider it on a case-by-case basis?

Last week, my writing group had a spirited discussion about the granddaddy of all swear words, the F-Bomb. It’s ubiquitous these days; everyone from little kids to the vice-president finds a way to work it into conversation. Personally, I like to use it like pepper: sparingly and only in certain circumstances. Especially when I’m writing for a general audience, I prefer to stay on the PG side of things. (In case you didn’t know, a PG-13 film is limited to one or two instances of the word; any more, and the film generally gets an R.)

Bad language can turn readers off and limit your audience, but in some instances, swearing can feel unavoidable. Soldiers in the middle of a war, for instance, are unlikely to be using “darn” and “golly.” This illustrates profanity’s effectiveness in characterization. For example, do all of your characters over 40 speak like church-goers? What about a female octogenarian who swears like a sailor?

Like several of my friends, I was raised to believe that swearing indicates a lack of intelligence and creativity. The only time I dropped the F-bomb around my dad, he turned to me and said, “I send you to school for this?” To this day, I mind my verbal P’s and Q’s in public—behind closed doors, all bets are off.

Besides discouraging me from swearing, Dad’s other cornerstone of guidance was that I should never take a job as a cocktail waitress. Dad was a bartender. As I reached the end of my teens, he told me, “I catch you packing a tray, and I’ll break your legs.” Clearly, some sentences don’t require profanity to be memorable.
Photo courtesy of Duchessa at

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Autumn’s Colors & Other Prompts

Ah, autumn, when the temperature cools and the trees give us their version of fireworks. Does fall remind you of anything? If so, perhaps you can use that on our first prompt--and if fall leaves you cold, then move on to the next one. Take ten minutes to write about....

--When Elizabeth went for her daily walk, she enjoyed the crisp, fall air. The trees dressed in their colorful leaves reminded her of….

--Delores thought she had tried everything, but she was still about to be evicted. On the brink of homelessness, she decided….

--Have you been published? What was the experience like?

--Herbert insisted on eating the same breakfast every morning, much to the annoyance of his wife, Gertrude. She finally asked him, “Why on earth must you always eat….”

--Are you mechanically inclined, or does the difference between a Phillips head and flathead screwdriver confound you?
Photo courtesy of Claudia Meyer at

Thursday, October 02, 2008

You're Fired & Other Prompts

Have you ever been fired? Or fired someone? Maybe you can draw on that experience to write about Harold and Lester. Take ten minutes to freewrite on any of these prompts:

--Harold stomped out of the office, slamming the door behind him. Now that Lester had fired him, everyone would know….

--Elaine lifted her champagne glass to toast the new bride and groom. She wished she could stop thinking about the conversation she’d overheard between….

--Would you ever consider becoming a vegetarian? Why or why not?

--Who is your favorite author? Why do you enjoy his/her writing so much?

--The dilapidated shack looked like….
Photo courtesy of Marcel Hol at

Monday, September 29, 2008

How Do You Define Success?

Last week my writing group tossed around an interesting question: how do you define success as a writer? We discussed this question in light of this quote from Danell Jones, author of The Virginia Woolf Writer’s Workshop, the book we’re currently reading. “Simply moving through the world with a writer’s eye, she [Virginia Woolf] would contend, gives us a richer human experience, a more expansive life, whether we ever succeed at communicating our experiences in words or not.” (p. 7 of The Virginia Woolf Writer’s Workshop.)

Here’s the question we boiled it down to: If writers are in the business of communication, but we fail to communicate the message we intended, yet still communicate a message (however far removed from our original idea), can we count that as success? I would offer that perhaps it’s all about the degree of interpretive accuracy. The further away our readers are from our intended message, I believe the less successful we are. However, with that said, I think that just getting the words onto paper in any form that resembles what we imagined is a success. When our work goes out to meet the world, we relinquish control over it, but first we must have something to send out. The simple act of writing is a success all by itself.

“Nothing you write, if you hope to be good, will ever come out as you first hoped.” –Lillian Hellman

A Word of Advice and Other Prompts

In prior prompts, I’ve asked writers to describe the worst bit of writing advice they’ve ever received; today, I’m asking the opposite. (And let’s all remember the words of Lillian Hellman , who said, “If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don’t listen to writers talking about writing or themselves.”) You know what to do: pick a prompt and write for ten minutes without stopping or correcting anything, even if Word puts little squiggly lines under your words. (You can turn that feature off, by the way.)

--Writers get plenty of useless/annoying/forgettable advice, but occasionally we get a really good tip. What is the best writing advice that you’ve received?

--Joyce did not like her husband’s business partner, Phil. She wasn’t quite sure what it was that inspired her dislike, but the more she thought about it….

--Do you have a writing space you can call your own? What does it look like?

--Have you ever golfed? What was your experience like?

--Jack was almost out of patience with his dog, Patches. Patches was barking and jumping at the back door like someone was there to see them. “No one ever comes out to see us!” he scolded the dog, but that was before he spotted….
Photo information: Photo courtesy of Steve Woods/Woodsy at

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


If you’ve been longing for some writing prompts, you’ll be happy to hear that I’ve got a bumper crop for you today. Here are all the prompts I’ve given my writing group since we resumed meeting September 3. So, pick a prompt. Write for ten minutes. No stopping, no crossing out, no checking the dictionary. Ready, set…go!

--Mildred hated her new home. She hated the house, the neighborhood, even the oak tree in her front yard. In fact, Mildred hated the entire state of California, and she never would have moved there if it hadn’t been for….

--“How’s about you give me the gun and we talk about it?” Fred said gently to Daisy. “I know you’re angry about….”

--Recent media reports tell us that the majority of kids today want to be famous more than anything else. Do you think that this is a new development, or has fame always been such a prized goal?

--Paula saw the note on the kitchen counter, the paper neatly folded in half with “Open this first” scrawled on it. She unfolded the paper and began reading: “Dear Mom, I don’t know how to tell you this, but….”

--Combine a broken vase, an arthritic cat, and a shovel in one story.

--Greg and Linda are at the mall. One of them has a serious case of wandering eyes and just cannot stop staring at other people. Which one of the two has the roving eyes? What does their conversation sound like?

--Judy heard tires squealing and horns honking right before….

--What’s your take on bugs? Do you tolerate them, or do you have a lifetime supply of Raid?

--Bill watched Carrie walking down the isle. She looked beautiful in her wedding dress. Bill was mesmerized by the sight until….

--You and motorcycles: have you driven one? Ridden on one? Do you think they’re dangerous or fun?

--Ben couldn’t believe his eyes. Sheila was supposed to be home, sick in bed, but here she was at….

--Jerry had just lit a cigarette when the waitress walked up to him. “You can’t smoke in here, sir,” she said, but Jerry was tired of being harassed about smoking.
“Don’t call me sir. And you can take your smoking rules and….”

--Are you fashionably late or always on time?

--Hector wanted to keep his trophies, but Louise said they would have to go because….

--Combine mud, lotion, and a notebook in one story/poem.
Photo Information: Courtesy of gerard79 at

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A Late Arrival & Other Writing Prompts

Time is a funny thing. For some people, being late is a form of disrespect. For others, time is strictly a relative measure. Today, impending tardiness faces the subject of our first writing prompt.

You know the drill. Pick a prompt. Write for ten minutes. Don’t stop while you’re writing. Ready, set, go!

--You (or your character) are late. You are very late. Even worse, you are late for….

-- “Mom! Mom! MOM!!”
“What? Why are you shouting at me like that?”
“Come QUICK! It’s a….”

--Are you a morning person or a night owl?

--Sally knew all she had to do was get in the back door, and she was home free. She slid the door open, and stared at the table. The package was gone! Now she would have to….

--If you have pets, how do you handle their meals? Do Fluffy and Spot get the gourmet canned stuff, or the bargain-buy dry food?

--Anna opened the door and saw a small, purple dragon. She shut the door, rubbed her eyes, then opened the door again. It was still there. The dragon squeaked at her, then ran inside her apartment….
Photo courtesy of Tory Byrne at

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Writing Group Meetings Resume September 3, 2008

Now that the Northwest Senior Center is closed, I don’t know what to call my writing group--we were the Northwest Writers' Group. Shall we copy Prince and be “The Group Formerly Known As…”? Maybe we could have one of our artistic members design a symbol for us.

Whatever we call the group, our meetings will resume on Wednesday, September 3, 2008, from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. at Derfelt Senior Center, 3343 Washington.

When I spoke to Amy, she said she’d had calls from people who said I had gone incommunicado – my apologies to anyone who was wondering where in the Sam Hill I had disappeared to.

I haven’t been to Derfelt yet to check out our new digs, although I’m very familiar with Lorenzi Park and the surrounding area. I had planned on driving over there before we resumed meeting, but I have to confess that I’m grieving over the Northwest Senior Center (which makes it hard to work up enthusiasm about the new place, honestly, although on the plus side it is much closer to my house).

And on that note, I’ll close with some pictures I took at Northwest after I heard they were shutting us down:

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Prompts Are Back!

If you’ve been waiting for new prompts, today is your lucky day! Grab a pen and paper (or fire up Word) and freewrite for ten minutes on….

--The boxes in Anthony’s garage….

--Have you ever rescued an animal?

--Before Darlene knew it, she was shouting at Drew. “It wasn’t MY idea to take a family vacation! What ever possessed you to drive me AND all four kids to….”

--Do you love the heat of summer, or are you always trying to escape it?

--“That’s just dandy,” snarled Jerry. “I should have known you’d move out just when….”
Photo courtesy of Carlos Gustavo Curado at

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Writer’s Cat Gets a New Home

It’s hard to believe that I haven’t posted anything on the blog since March 25—four months! Not long after my last post, my beloved mom, Barbara Hudson, became ill. She passed away on May 6, 2008.

I’ve done a tremendous amount of writing during these four months—an obituary, a eulogy, letters to creditors, journal entries—but the blog fell by the wayside. So to get reacquainted, let me introduce you to Baby Cat, the handsome fellow looking right at you. He was Mom's kitty, her faithful companion, and now he lives with me.
Some of the last things Mom asked about were her sister and her kitty. I promised her I’d call Aunt Aleta and take care of Baby Cat. Mom was a writer, and so Baby Cat and I had already bonded while I was trying to get e-mail addresses off Mom's computer. (Well, and there was that whole food thing--Baby doesn't like to miss meals.) Unlike my other cat, Gray, Baby Cat is laid back, a snuggler who likes to lick (and once in a while gets a little carried away and bites). When I set him up in my office, with a little hidey hole under an old desk in the closet (lined with a rug from Mom’s place), he happily settled in. He’s asleep there right now.

At first I nicknamed him Buddha Boy, but am considering changing his alias to Ninja Cat. I was worried about the guy—I mean, he had lived with my Mom for years and enjoyed being the only pet, a deeply loved pet who got as much attention as he wanted. I have two large, frequently ill-mannered dogs and one mostly behaved cat (Gray, who was almost feral when we took him in, and who had to be banished from my office because he lays on my work and blocks the computer screen). I was concerned that the shy little Baby who loved to come out and lay in his other bed (did I mention I made him two beds?) while I was working would have a hard time with the other animals, the child, the husband, and all our visitors. Most of all, I was concerned that Gray, Mr. Bossy, would hurt Baby. Then one morning I witnessed Baby kick Gray off the sofa—whapping him upside his bossy face with both a back and a front paw without even getting up from a reclining position. Ah, Ninja Cat, you sneaky fellow. I worry no more.
Note: For those of you who would like to read more about my mom, please read my entry, "A Long Road" on my Vegas Girl blog.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Prompt Extravaganza!

You know what to do – read these prompts, pick one that inspires you in some way, and spend ten minutes freewriting. Happy writing!

--Easter dinner was going fine, until….

--Pastor Jack Bradley has just purchased a home next-door to Dexter Umbert, a dedicated atheist. Tell us about their first conversation and/or encounter.

--Betty walked in the door just as the man yelled, “This is a stick-up!” Her first reaction….

--Mark was aghast that he’d lost Fluffy. Inwardly, he fumed, “I told them they shouldn’t leave me in charge of a….”

--“My friends call me Pear Shape,” said the man, “because….”

--Combine a child’s drawing, a cactus, and a stray cat in a story or poem.

--Jack had a gun, but Sam….

--The red wallpaper….

--One tree still stood….

--“You thought I didn’t know? About you and….”

--A child’s handprint….

--Dave started planning for Christmas in July because….

--Jody bought the $200 paperweight….

--When you were a child, did you have a “lovey”? A blanket, a stuffed animal, or some other irreplaceable object? (Or perhaps you still have this object as an adult??)

--The dogs smelled the cooking ham….
Photo courtesy of Dominic Morel at

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Northwest Senior Center Closing

Attention all Northwest Writers' Group members past and present: We received sad news yesterday from Amy at the Northwest Senior Center here in Las Vegas. Due to budget cuts, the center will be closing on May 30. I haven’t read anything about how many senior centers may be closing, or any other particulars on the impending budget cuts—I admit that these days I avoid the news because it’s rarely anything good.

Our group has spent six terrific years at the center; I can’t deny that I’m very saddened by the news we’ve lost our home. This session I was planning on collecting poems for a chapbook, but I am now considering collecting stories about our writing group and our years at the center instead.

You can bet I’ll be taking lots of pictures during our remaining time at the center. It’s a beautiful little building, a converted house that epitomizes hominess. I’ve watched the ash trees in the courtyard grow into lovely tall trees, and every spring a mockingbird makes her nest in the ceiling supports of a building out in back. I’ve always wanted to go play the bocce court; I guess my time is running out!

We hope to be relocating our group to the Derfelt Center after our usual summer break. As soon as I have more information, I’ll post it.

Life is a series of farewells; only the circumstances should surprise us. –Jessamyn West

Is Just Write Just Prompts?

Prompts, prompts, prompts!! For quite a while now I’ve been posting just prompts (one of the most popular parts of my writing group), but it’s not because I haven’t been writing. I’ve been concentrating on my book. At this point I feel like I’m digging a swimming pool with a spoon. I also started homeschooling my son after Thanksgiving, which is fun, scary, and very time consuming. Until the dust settles around here, I have to admit I will be posting mostly prompts.

I’d love to hear about any stories my prompts helped create—I’m thinking of publishing a collection of my prompts with Please leave a comment or drop me an e-mail.

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Another Wednesday, Another Batch of Prompts!

Today I had an unusual experience - for only the second or third time in almost six years, no one showed up at my writing group! Considering the rainy, wintery weather, I can't say it was surprising. Here are today's prompts; a dream, an embarassing mistake, an outhouse... take your pick. Find one that strikes your fancy, and give it a ten-minute test run. Happy writing!
--Every night George’s dreams were filled with….
--Tell us about your most embarrassing social faux pas. Change the names of the innocent, if necessary (even the not-so-innocent, if that helps).
--Jason was shocked to find himself standing in front of so many people. The applause was thunderous! He reached into his pocket for his acceptance speech notes, only to find his pocket empty. Jason’s mind was totally blank when he took the podium….
--The house was such a fixer-upper that it still had an outhouse….
--Do you remember when airline travel was fun? What do you miss most about that era?
Photo Courtesy of: Viktors Kozers at
"To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub." --Shakespeare, Hamlet

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tax Season & Gobs of Prompts

If you've been wondering what happened to me over the past couple of weeks, I have two words for you: tax season. Those of you who are self-employed know just what I'm talking about. I even turned down lunch with my neighbor this weekend so I could focus my word-oriented brain on numbers. I don't think the damage will be lasting; I'm sure the insomnia will fade soon. :)

Here are some prompts from last week and this week. Remember, write fast and write without editing yourself. Take ten minutes to write on one of these:

--Have you ever won an award?
--Linda only drank lemonade….
--He hated wearing glasses because….
--Why is thriftiness such a forgotten value?
--My favorite science studies were about….
--When the earthquake hit….
--If you were unable to write, what other creative endeavor would you be most likely to pursue?
--The monster lurking in Shane’s closet….
--“We’re meeting at the bowling alley?” LuAnn asked. “But what about….”
--You are trapped in an elevator with someone famous. Who are you trapped with, and what do you talk about as you await rescue?
Photo courtesy of Linda Long at

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Barbed Wire & Other Writing Prompts

Did you know that barbed wire was once called The Devil's Rope? Perhaps that will help you attack the first prompt; if not, don't fence yourself in - move on to a different prompt. Take ten minutes to write without interruption on:
--Combine the following items in a story or poem: barbed wire, an empty beer bottle, and a smoke alarm.
--Claudia didn’t like snakes….
--The house was empty, except for….
--What are your first memories of using a dictionary?
--“You can bring a hundred red roses,” Diana said. “Nothing can make up for….”
Photo courtesy of Jamie Woods at

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Pardon Me, But Your Blog Is Showing

If you’re a writer, especially one who has embraced blogs, I have a warning for you. Despite your worst fears to the contrary, people are reading your articles, stories, and poems. People you will never meet will read your writing and form an opinion about your work, and possibly about you. Occasionally, you’ll hear from some of them, and this is both good and bad news. Take, for instance, an e-mail I received recently.

The writer (whom I won’t identify for fear that the Google Gods will once again bring my name to the Writer’s attention) sent me an e-mail about a post I had written on one of the Writer’s books. Yes, “Writer” with a capital “W” – someone published in a big way. Someone with an agent and reviews in large, national newspapers. Someone who gives interviews.

I marvel any time someone finds one of my blogs and takes the time to write. To me, it’s this incredible bonus because I enjoy writing so much, whether or not anyone reads my work. Honesty is a key ingredient in my writing, and I’m opinionated. I do my best to be tactful, but sometimes I’ve hit the “publish” button and felt my heart pound. A few months ago I wrote about a media panel here in Las Vegas, and I had a funny feeling when my post went up. I had given my very honest opinion about all the panelists, and I didn’t like all of them. Who will read this, anyway? I reasoned. Surely, even if they found my blog, the official Las Vegas media would regard me as nothing more than a speck on the windshield of the Internet, right? Just another irksome “citizen journalist.” Then I got an e-mail from one of the panelists – thankfully, he had given the presentation I liked – and I had to face the unpleasant thought that if one panelist had found my blog, then chances were good the rest of them had also.

Not until I got the e-mail from the Writer did I stop to re-examine my assumptions about who might be reading my work. The funny thing about the post that attracted the Writer’s attention is that I had labored long and hard over it, but not because I had concerns over what I’d written about the Writer. My concerns were over a segment about a local man, and I spent a day making sure that my words were fair and appropriate. The Writer’s e-mail was a surprise. Thankfully, it was a friendly counter-point to what I had written, one that gave me a chance to respond.

After the e-mail, I realized that making assumptions about who was reading my blog was foolish. Anyone might be reading my words – people from the other side of the world, famous people, angry people. Yikes. Talk about something that makes your heart pound! I had unwittingly envisioned walls and barriers that do not exist.

What about you? Have you heard from a surprising reader? Do you make assumptions about who reads your work?
Photo courtesy of Georgios Wollbrecht at

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Clippings Box

Maybe I love to read newspapers because my love of writing began with journalism. Maybe it’s because I still think newspapers are the best source of information, or because papers like The New York Times are an excellent source of good writing. Perhaps the real reason is that a newspaper is rich with writing fertilizer. Tragedy, irony, absurdity, comedy – a newspaper has it all, every day.

I’ve got an old cardboard box in my office that holds my clippings collection. The papers multiply so rapidly that sorting through them yields forgotten treasures – everything from an article about the school crossing guard shortage in Las Vegas to a story about labyrinths. Here are some of the other things I found in my clippings box:

Drunken Lemurs
Score one for the First Amendment. Here’s the headline: “Judge sides with man fired over Dilbert comic.’” Seems that the Catfish Bend Casino in Iowa didn’t care for David Steward’s sense of humor. Steward posted a Dilbert comic in which the dialog states, in part: “Why does it seem as if most of the decisions in my workplace are made by drunken lemurs?” The judge characterized Steward’s action as an error in judgment as opposed to intentional. Drunken lemurs everywhere are outraged.

Mystical Book Experiences
Read Michelle Slatalla’s account of her attempts to find synchronicity in anonymous book exchanges (via in this NYT Article: “Love That Book? Then Set It Free.”

One More Reason To Persevere
Did you know that Elie Wiesel’s classic Night was rejected by 15 publishers? Read Rachel Donadio's NYT story: “The Story of ‘Night’

A Battle of Statistics
An NYT article by John Markoff said Steve Jobs (of Apple) feels Amazon’s new book reading device, Kindle, is DOA because 40% of Americans read one book (or fewer) every year. I took heart from an AP article by Anick Jesdaniun that says 62% of 18-30 year-old Americans use the library. Further proof that statistics couldn’t be more flexible if they practiced yoga.

Personal History

On November 23, 2007, USA Today (along with most papers) reported on the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assignation. In USA Today, the article was just a side-bar blurb. The brief story took me back to the 70s, to a car ride with my Uncle Newman and Aunt Thelma from the airport in Dallas-Fort Worth to their farm, just outside Ballinger, Texas. Uncle Newman pointed out the infamous book repository to me as we drove past it. I was maybe ten, and although I had heard of the assignation, at that time I had no idea what a powder keg of history it was. I was more interested in hearing about Bonnie Parker, of Bonnie and Clyde gangster fame, who was born in Rowena, a town in Runnels County not far from Ballinger. I suspect Uncle Newman knew that I’d appreciate his observation about the book repository later; he was a historian and writer. Now I understand that personal history intertwined with public events enriches both narratives.
Photo courtesy of Oláh Zoltán at Presumably, all these lemurs are completely sober.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Door Bell At Dawn & Other Writing Prompts

Think back to a time when someone unexpectedly appeared on your doorstep at an odd hour. Did your visitor bring good news or bad? Perhaps that memory can help you with the first writing prompt. If door bells leave you cold, pick another prompt for inspiration. Remember, this is a ten-minute free-writing exercise, so write quickly and limit your self-correction.
--The doorbell rang just before dawn….
--Write a story in which one of the characters has lost at least one of his/her five senses.
--Ryan paid for the three-karat ring before he discovered….
--An explosion shattered the night….
--Spicy food….
Photo courtesy of Lisandra Barros Mendonça at

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Endless Edit

"When do you know you're done?" is one of the most common questions I get about writing books. I always tell people that you don't know when you're done. You decide. Does that mean you should send out half-baked work? Of course not. But here's what I've found: rarely will you be 100% happy with your work, not today, not when you see it in print. Without fail, I find things I would change in my published work.

But what happens before publication, when you're stuck in what feels like an Endless Edit? I'm not talking about the perfectionistic editing that is only an avoidance strategy. I'm talking about necessary work. Over the weekend, I printed out the first three chapters of my book. I just finished the proposal package. When I read Chapter One, I realized a few unpleasant things. First, it needed significant work. Second, my proposal package was now more thorough and well-written than the book. Third, I was going to have to tell my husband that my book required more work before it met the world. He didn't look particularly happy to hear that.

I'm not happy to be in the limbo of the Endless Edit, but I am grateful for the opportunity it presents. Someday, when I pick up my published book, I'm sure I will find things I would like to change. With the persistence and hard work an Endless Edit requires, however, I believe my chances of being published are much higher. This is the phase that separates many writers from their final dreams. It's easy to run out of patience during editing. To avoid the feelings that the Endless Edit brings, writers may declare their work is finished when it isn't. I refuse to let the Endless Edit defeat me. Patience and perseverance are what is required. Well, and a little bit of stubbornness, but we'll talk about that another day.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Make the Time to Write

From H. Jackson Brown, author of Life’s Little Instruction Book: “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”

When I had a day job and writing was strictly my passion instead of my work, I fantasized about what life would be like as a full-time writer. We all know this scene, right? The afternoons at the coffee shop, the blissful hours of contemplation and reading. Uninterrupted hours of time would replace the constant struggle to find enough time after work, dinner, homework, housework, a husband, a kid, and life in general. Then I made the leap into freelance writing and found that it was like moving to your favorite vacation city. I no longer had time to do all the fun stuff I had visualized in my happy little writing fantasy. Suddenly, I was writing all day, but it wasn’t the paradise I had envisioned. I didn’t always have control of what topics I wrote on, or even when I worked (deadlines do not care about holidays or weekends). I enjoyed everything I was doing, but my days were often filled with research, interviews, and clients. I faced an odd situation: I was a full-time writer, but I still felt I didn’t have enough time to write.

My to-do list remains long, but I do my best to keep things in perspective with this quote. It inspires me to turn off the TV, and helps me think about my priorities. It’s hard to sit down at the computer at 9:00, just when Larry King is coming on and my mind is shifting into low gear. It’s all too easy to fall asleep on the sofa, laptop on but unused, CNN turned down to allow dozing. Is this a waste of time, or a necessary break at the end of the day? I ask myself that question constantly. I’m not unraveling the space and time continuum, or creating timeless masterpieces of artwork, or tending to the sick and poor. I’m just a writer. But everything, on whatever scale, requires time and attention. We have to make the time to write; if we wait to find the time, we’ll always be searching.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Crime and Other Writing Prompts

--The crime (or criminal) I remember most vividly is….
--For one moment, Dale thought he would reach the summit. When he lost his hold on the rock and started to fall….
--“Everyone is happy at Kathy’s Kindercare,” said Kathy, who both owned and operated the day care. “So your daughter obviously….”
--My favorite time of day….
--Comment on this Van Gough quote: “Your life would be very empty if you had nothing to regret.”
Photo courtesy of scol22 at stock.xchng;

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Photography and Writing

Those of us who like to write are often also involved in other creative pursuits - painting, dancing, acting, and so on. I love photography. It's an art form in its own right, and it's also a wonderful way to take visual notes. Take my photos from Friday, for instance, at the Clark County Heritage Museum. What stories do these pictures tell?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Striving for Clarity

Last spring, my family spent a night in Flagstaff, Arizona. One of the places we visited was the Lowell Observatory, where Pluto was discovered. The evening we were there, overcast skies prevented any stargazing. It was May, but it was snowing. We were still able to see the Clark Telescope, the first telescope installed in 1896. Inside the unheated, domed building, we saw the huge, historic telescope and learned how men at the turn of the century developed systems to easily re-position the six-ton instrument. A few lucky kids got to come down and see how easy it was to move the telescope, and my son was one of them. The lighting was low and I was shivering, but the photo I got of him is remarkable.

The dim lighting looks other-wordly, and Cameron’s clothing is blurred with the motion of his steps down three wooden stairs. The docent’s back is to us, but Cameron’s upturned face has a ghostly clarity, caught in a moment of true awe. To the left, the historic telescope is in focus just enough for you to recognize its antiquity. I love looking at this photo every day, but it didn’t start out this way.

When I first printed the picture, the lighting was purple (a bad printer cartridge). Everything but Cameron’s face was blurry. Because nothing stood out clearly, it had a blunted feel to it. Through the miracle of photo editing software, I corrected all those things. I sharpened the interesting points around Cameron’s face, changed the color, and installed a fresh printer cartridge. A frame is all I need now.

The process of writing is similar. Within the rough idea, one thought is in focus. It’s up to us to clarify the details. When we edit, we’re sharpening the view to focus on our most interesting points. We give texture with the background, but it shouldn’t be distracting. One focused idea takes center stage, where it blossoms.

Fortunately, no one has created software to automate this process for writers. Can you imagine? One click to replace passive verbs with active ones, another to red-flag flat characters. Yikes! Considering what nutty suggestions Word’s grammar check gives, can you imagine? I’ll stick to my old-fashioned methods here at my desk. Maybe this is why photography is my hobby. I love that a few easy clicks gave me a wonderful picture of my handsome little boy experiencing the thrill of discovery; clear writing is much harder.
Photo information: My photo of the telescope Clyde Tombaugh used to discover Pluto, on display at Lowell.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Joe’s Resolution and Other Writing Prompts

I’m sure you’re familiar with the success statistics on New Year’s Resolutions. If you have a gym membership, you can actually watch the resolutions dissolving. On January 1, you’re waiting to use the equipment. By the end of the month, you can have your treadmill all to yourself. Who knows what Joe, in my first prompt, has resolved to do? It’s your job to find out.

Take ten minutes to write without interruption on one of these prompts. Turn off your inner critic, forget about a dictionary, and just write!

--Joe could see that keeping his New Year’s Resolution was going to be tough. Not ten minutes into 2008….
--When was the last time you saw a show on the Las Vegas Strip?
--During 2008, I want to write about….
--Greg decided to hunt ghosts as a hobby because….
--She looked down and saw the droplets of blood on the floor….
Photo courtesy of Laura Nubuck at

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Flashing Yellow Caution Sign of Writer's Block

Writer’s block is a popular topic. Visit any writing-relating web site and you’ll find something on the subject. Googling the term returns close to two million hits. Clearly, the inability to make our words behave properly is a common affliction. Sharon Lippincott at The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing recently wrote about it in her post, “Write On.” As I wrote in a comment on Sharon’s blog, I’ve learned that writer’s block is like a flashing yellow caution sign for me: writing danger ahead.

Writer’s block arrived in my life when I was on the second or third draft of my book, The Department, my account of 20 years behind the scenes with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Until that point, working on my book was consistently the most fun I had every day. If you’ve been swept away by the rush of a writing high, you know what a wonderful feeling it gives you. When my muse left town, I was in the middle of chapter seven. No more rush, no more joy, no more words. My muse left no forwarding address.

In my prior career in law enforcement, there’s only one answer to the question of an undone task: work harder, work faster, work longer. Cowgirl up. And this was how I attacked my first serious case of writer’s block. I no longer wanted to run to the computer in the evenings, but I sat down anyway and did my best to squeeze out a couple hundred words. This became an unpleasant exercise that involved lots of hair pulling, cursing, and backspacing. Eventually, I abandoned my full frontal assault and re-read my book from page one to try and unravel why my muse had left. I read somewhere that writing about your writing – or in my case, writing about not writing – can help you overcome obstacles in your work. I began journaling about the book and the mysterious block. By doing this, I began to understand why my writing had skidded to a stop. I realized that the events I described in chapter seven held serious underpinnings for the rest of my book, and that I had more emotional connections to that particular period of time than I’d realized. I also saw that the pacing of the book needed to pick up at that point to correspond to the spiraling, runaway train feeling that my career acquired. By slowing down and re-examining my direction, I realized I had to make changes.

After that, I thought I was done with writer’s block. When it returned as I was slogging through the proposal package, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. Who gets writer’s block on a proposal package? Wasn’t that like getting writer’s block on a memo? When I sat down to work on it, I felt that I was drowning under the immensity of the proposal’s components. A synopsis, an overview, a chapter by chapter outline… the first three chapters as perfect as I could get them… it was almost as icky as doing my taxes, only it was taking much longer. As the months passed and I barely chipped away at the thing, I decided I had a good excuse to shelve it. I had too many pieces due right away to devote much time to the book, anyway, so I just accepted that I was stuck. I began to wonder if I would be one more person with a book manuscript moldering in a banker’s box stuffed in the back of a closet.

Months passed. Over the summer I sent my manuscript around to some friends and family, hoping to reinvigorate the project, and I got back a unanimous response: “We love it! But it needs more.” That was when I realized how valuable the writer’s block had been. I had learned a few things after the proposal muse went MIA, like how to ask people questions about their comments. More importantly, I understood what people meant when they gestured widely and said, “You know, more, just more of what you have here.” I’d read innumerable manuscripts from other writers who needed “more,” that extra texture that paints the three-dimensional world in your head. It’s a nebulous, hard-to-pin-down quality, but I knew what my friends were talking about. When the proposal first ground to a halt, I only had a glimmer of understanding about More. Writer’s block, it appeared, had once again prevented me from charging ahead before my book was ready.

Today, the proposal package is back on the front burner. I’m working on More and marveling at how perceptive my subconscious is. The flashing yellow lights of writer's block have sent me in a new direction, one I'm hoping is free of slow-downs. But if I see those flashing lights again, I know what I have to do: Hit the brakes. Pull over for a while. Find a new road.
Photo courtesy of Margan Zajdowicz at

Monday, January 07, 2008

Happy New Year!

I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday season, and that 2008 sees every writer I know overflowing with creativity, free time, and spare dollars for treats at the coffee shop. This week I'm getting back into the swing of things after being off over the holidays -- a vacation I initially took rather unwillingly, I have to admit. This holiday season I had to learn first-hand (again) the wisdom of Stephen King's famous quote: "Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around."

Happy 2008!