One page at a time: Trust the writing process

Trust the writing process.

Many writers are asked about their writing process. As with most things that take any amount of effort–working, parenting, creating art, running, marriage–no one seems to go about it in the same way. And while I’m sure there are less-productive ways to do it, there are certainly lots of different ways that work well for some people, and don’t work at all for others. 

Take running, for example. My husband and I started running together back when we were dating. It was something we could do together that was healthy, fun and, even better, free! Since we’ve been married, we have run three marathons and a boatload of other races together. They weren’t all perfect. We sometimes annoy each other or struggle to keep up if one of us is having an off day. But in general it’s something we really like to do. However, agreeing on a route around our neighborhood for training runs? Forget it. He’s happy to include laps around the high school track, repeat the same streets, or hit the steep hills. Me, on the other hand, I’m never one for doubling back where we’ve already been. I think running laps is torture. And I’ll take a long slow hill over a steep one any day. But somehow, we both get our training done. 

When it comes to writing, I’m constantly fascinated by the different habits and methods other writers follow. Some of them I absolutely know wouldn’t work for me. Turning off all social media between Monday morning and Friday afternoon to avoid distraction is one particular one that comes to mind! But I’m sure there are others that I could learn from. In the end, I know the way I write isn’t perfect, but it’s my own particular style and, for now, I’m trusting the process. Here’s a tiny, but honest glance into the way I write.

The Writing Process

Do you write every day?

Definitely not! With a full-time day job, kids, pets, a husband, and a list of things to do that never seems to get any shorter, I don’t write nearly as often as I would like to. When my kids were younger and had a more predictable schedule, I was a little better about fitting it in, but it’s definitely slipped more in recent years. I would very much like to make it more of a priority, because I find it very relaxing and therapeutic. 

Do you have writing goals or timelines? 

I have tried, on occasion, to set word count goals, but I don’t find them to be particularly realistic or motivating. I have to be in the right mood to get productive writing done. Forcing myself to work on something when I’m not in the right headspace ends up being a waste of time. In the end, I just get it done when time allows, one page at a time.  

Where is your favorite place to write?

On my couch with my dog curled up beside me. I sit at a desk all day for work, so I like to put my feet up when I’m writing otherwise it feels too much like a task and not a pleasure. (Gratuitiously cute dog picture, for reference!)

Do you outline a story before writing it?

I have tried very hard to be better about outlining, but I find it just doesn’t work for me. I have written two books and started a third. The first two started as a scene I saw very clearly in my head that I had to write down. From there I built a story around that scene–why were the characters there, what brought them to that moment, what did they do next? 

In the case of the second book, which ended up being the book that eventually sold and is being published, I did a loose outline for where I thought I wanted to take the story. But as I started to write it, the book just didn’t go in that direction and I ended up abandoning the outline. For the book I’m working on now, I started with a type of person in a certain situation that I wanted to write about. I know that there are particular things I want to include in that person’s story. But I don’t think you really get to know your characters until you start to give them some room to breathe. For me, that is what helps determine the arc of the story.  

Where do you get ideas for your writing?

It definitely varies. The most obviously place is from the things or people closest to me, and in a roundabout way that was the inspiration for Eleanora. When my kids were very young I thought a lot about their safety and would worry about something bad happening to them. In the book, Eleanora’s 4-year-old son goes missing from his bed in the middle of the night–really a parent’s worst nightmare. So writing about it was a way to exercise those anxieties in a safe space and say “what if the worst were to happen?” 

In other cases, I’ve been inspired to write about things I like to do, like traveling to different countries. Or in the case of the new book I’m working on, I’m writing about a topic that I find particularly interesting to research. 

What is something you now know about the writing process that you didn’t know before?

That you will read your own book MANY times! Between the writing, drafting, and querying, plus all the rounds of editing, a lot of the time you have to dedicate to writing is actually spent re-reading your own words, over and over. And even then, there are new things you will catch every time!

Spring 2022 Reads – Best Books of the Season

I’ve read so many fantastic books already this year. And somehow my to-be-read pile never seems to get any smaller! Here are a few of the best ones from this spring. A story of witchcraft in 1893…or perhaps a story of women’s rights, power and potential throughout all time. A story of mysteries and lies beginning to unravel when a man searching for a lost woman finds an isolated community of people living in the woods, cut off from society. A tale of humor, empathy, strength and love when an interpreter takes a new job working for a headstrong DeafBlind man. And, lastly, a mother-daughter short story by one of my favorite authors.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow

What I was expecting to be a typical fantasy story about witches and magic turned out to be much more. This was a multi-layered reflection on the injustices that women have endured for centuries. The characters embody the ingenuity, cleverness and guile necessary to succeed as a woman in society. And their success depends on the strength and bravery women find through the bonds of sisterhood.

The Eastwood sisters seek to bring about the next age of witchcraft, but not for any nefarious purpose. It is simply because they are tired of seeing womenkind suffer at the hands of men, or be subjected to their every whim or want. The sisters end up discovering far more than witchcraft. They realize that every woman possesses a little magic, she just needs to find the will to use it.

The Once and Future Witches is a beautifully researched story, perfectly placed at an exact moment in history when witchcraft was still deeply feared and those accused were cruelly persecuted. But the story spans time, ripe with issues that STILL haunt women today.

A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw

 I don’t tend to read suspenseful books. I don’t enjoy them because I generally feel that life is scary enough! But this book drew me in, and I loved it.

Maggie St. James has been missing for five years. Travis Wren has been hired to find her. He walks into the woods where she was last seen…and doesn’t come out. Deep in those same woods lives a secluded, fearful community, cut off from the outside world for many years. When they start to find traces of Maggie and Travis inside their borders, even though none of them have ever seen the couple, their whole reality starts to unravel, and suddenly, they aren’t sure what to fear most anymore.

Side note: I listened to the audio version of this book (beautifully done!), but it is ill-advised to do so on a long solo road trip at night, as I did. I promise you’ll start to see eyes watching you from the darkness at the side of the road…

The Sign for Home by Blair Fells

The Sign for Home is told from the point of view of both a DeafBlind man and his interpreter. It touches on the ideas of what it truly means to care for and about someone, how the limits of someone’s body doesn’t limit the abilities of their heart or their mind, and what it takes to find the strength to stand up for what is right.

This is a truly beautiful story, with complex character who don’t get everything right. But they are a joy to get to know. There is also a huge cross section of minority groups represented – people with different religious beliefs, those with hearing and/or vision impairment, immigrants, LGBTQ community members, some with substance abuse – all trying to find their way forward. It is clear that none of them – gay, straight, sighted, blind, hearing, deaf, able, disabled, or otherwise – has it any better figured out than anyone else. But as long as they are willing to open up and put their ego aside, everyone has something to learn from each other.

My Evil Mother by Margaret Atwood

I was cruising through this new short story by Margaret Atwood, enjoying its wonderful weirdness. (To be fair, most stories by Ms. Atwood do lean toward the wonderfully weird side of things) Then, all of a sudden, near the end, she goes and throws in a gut-punch of a tender mother/daughter moment. It makes the grown daughter stop and rethink everything she has always thought about her mother. And it reminded me – the mother of teenagers – just how insane (at times even evil?) loving a child can make all of us. Do we do things that seem crazy? Who hasn’t talked to themselves? Given the evil-eye to an “enemy”? Muttered a curse under their breath? Made pacts with the devil to get your child to just. Go. To. Sleep.

Just saying….Maybe there’s a little necessary evil in every parent, at least in the eyes of our children. The little angels.

LOVE & Writing in Philly – 2022 AWP Writers Conference

AWP 2022

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend AWP 2022 – the annual conference hosted by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. After 3 days I headed home with an overwhelming number of new ideas, inspiration, tips, and techniques I am dying to put into practice. I also left with a huge pile of new books, subscriptions to half a dozen new writing podcasts, a list of literary magazines to submit to….now just need to find the time to get to it all!

I met so many wonderful writers at the conference who were kind enough to share their experiences. They ranged from publishing poetry in tiny literary magazines to writing multiple best-selling novels with the biggest publishers in the world. Everyone’s stories were different, but there was a common message at the heart of what everyone said. No matter what, no matter how hard, no matter how down or tired or rejected or unsure you feel about what you are doing…just keep writing. 

If you’ve ever had the urge to write, then you know it’s a constant battle. So often the words are inside of you — it just everything else in life that gets in the way of writing them down. It can be painful to let those words go unwritten, even on the days when you struggle to find exactly the right ones. But just hearing the reminder across the entire conference population to keep going was pretty awesome.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Maya angelou

Woman – Mother – Writer – Me

I attended a number of sessions with panels of mother-writers. They covered a few different topics, but all inevitably ended up touching on the theme of “how-do-you-fit-it-all-in”? And boy, do I feel that.

In the end, the answer is the same for any art form, passion, or hobby – finding time to write is absolutely critical to keeping yourself sane. I think the same is true for whatever it is you do to feed your soul, whether that is dystopian paranormal romantic poetry,  yoga, kick-boxing, getting lost in a book, competitive roller-derby or hiding in your car with a latte and a candy bar while scrolling social media – you gotta make time to do your thing and be you.

One Angry Mother

One of the best panel of the conference focused on writing about women’s rage. In particular, the panelists talked about how unacceptable it is to write angry female characters. Angry men are allowable as characters because their anger is understood – we get that they have stuff to be angry about. But angry women are not only unlikeable, they are also thought to be unreliable, overly sensitive or insane.

It’s a ridiculous double standard. Anger is a perfectly normal human emotion, especially for a group of people who have been historically undervalued (coughWOMENcough). Just thinking about it makes me, well, kind of angry! And then makes me want to write some very bad women. (Pause here as new book ideas start to formulate….) 

“Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

—Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

Writing can often be a solitary and even lonely pursuit. Likewise, publication is an exercise in learning how to accept repeated rejection and criticism. But finding a supportive community of other writers and learning about what has kept them going through their writing careers can be game changing.

Having the time and space to connect with other writers, even for a few days, was far more valuable than I could have imagined – even if it’s just realizing there are so many others out there who understand how terrifying empty pages are, how hard it can be to find the right words, how incredible it is to see your name in print, and how cathartic it can be to get to THE END.

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