Summertime and the writing’s easy…or not

[Note: Here’s an old newsletter article I wrote for Rose City Romance Writers that I found while looking for something else on my hard drive. I’m still having the same troubles!]

Summer is a terrible time in the Pacific Northwest. Terrible for writing, that is.

July through September, the Pacific Northwest offers some of the most spectacularly perfect weather on the planet (all the more marvelous when compared to the weather October through June) with outdoor adventures that range from ocean beach tidepooling to mountain biking to high desert rock hounding. In other words, it can be hard—very hard—to sit inside, staring at a computer, getting words on the page.

As if jaunts to the coast or forests weren’t distracting enough, I’m also a gardener. Gardens can be as all-consuming as a 100,000-word work in progress. In fact, I learned a few writing tips from my garden that help me make the most of summer’s joys.

Time your fallow season

Like gardens, stories—and writers—often benefit from down-time. In a small but hard-working garden like mine, that period of rest and recuperation is winter, when nothing else is going on anyway. For my writing, I try to time my fallow moments—those times when I’m letting a story sit between revision, when I’m brainstorming a new story (which I equate to plowing under rich compost), or when I’m critiquing my writing partners—when I know I’m going to be distracted by things like sunshine, watermelon (it’s impossible to eat watermelon around a computer), and camping trips.

Work in concentrated bursts

Despite its small size, my garden has an amazing capacity to grow weeds. The thought of tackling the whole space at once is daunting (and gets me itching for a backhoe and a load of quick-set concrete) so I pick one area and whack at it for a set amount of time, then relax. For example, on a hot day, I weed the shaded north-side beds and reward myself with a popsicle in the sun. Same with my writing. I set myself goals that play to my strengths—and weaknesses. Since I like to laze around on summer mornings, I don’t even pretend I’m going to write. But in the hot afternoon when my black dog is begging to get inside out of the sun, I go up to my office with her and get my words in.

Experiment, have fun and get dirty

In the more sober and contemplative months of winter, snuggled in at my desk, I find it easier to concentrate, kind of like my winter garden pared down to evergreens and stark branches. But all work and no play… Summer in the garden, with its bright colors and sweet fruits, is a great time to try those fabulous tropical annuals, to yank things out and move things around, to go a little wild. Like a solar charger, I read more in the summer, get excited about new stories and take that energy with me back to my writing.

And never worry about excessive summer distractions. Trust me, the rains will return.


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My mission this year was to eat every single blueberry on these bushes. I may have to concede defeat. Although the birds have stolen a few, and the dog who is supposed to chase away the birds has instead decided she likes to eat the ones they peck off the bushes, I have been gorging on blueberries until I groan and this is when only one of the bushes is at peak. The rest aren’t even a quarter blue!

Still, I will do my best to eat as many as possible.

OCD word counting

I’m guest posting at Savvy Authors today sharing my desperate spreadsheet attempt to struggle through daily word counts. I am the slow tortoise of writers and my shell is made up of Excel formula cells. Come download the spreadsheet and join me in my trundling race toward The End.

Us Versus Them

Warning: If you are purely a reader, you might want to skip this post because it’ll be like watching your parents fight.


Declawing writers is considered inhumane since they use their claws for defense, and even indoor writers need their claws for snagging nearby cups of coffee.

I’ve been reading a lot about Us Versus Them lately in the publishing world. Reality television has apparently gotten the better even of us book people. The “nuh-uh she dint?! yuh-huh she di!!” has crept into all my loops as constituents in the various camps light their torches. Writers are good with words, and good writers are great with conflict, so you can imagine how much fun we are when we aren’t on deadline and need to keep our skills sharp (emphasis on sharp).

I read an interesting article the other day about how prejudice might be advantageous on an evolutionary basis. Staying with your kind kept you from being exposed to pathogens against which you had no defenses. On the flip side, scientists have found that women seem unconsciously attracted to mates with different genetics which — in theory — could give the offspring advantages of biological diversity.

With that sort of push-pull of wariness and attraction, I think the Us Versus Them battles are inevitable to some extent… At least until we remember that we have a frontal cortex and needn’t succumb to the amusing train wrecks sent up from our amygdalas. 

So srsly? Give UVT a rest. It seems to me the only people churning the UVT sludge are people who aren’t happy with where they are. Which isn’t necessarily a bad place to be. Discontent makes you try harder. But you gotta aim that discontent AT YOUR FREAKIN’ GOAL, not at other people.

If you are a NYT bestseller, you go, girl! If you self pubbed a gazillion copies of a hundred titles, woo-hoo! If you are still churning out the desperate words of your very first manuscript, rock on! And if you are somewhere in the middle of those extremes, you most definitely should stay away from UVT since you very recently were Us/Them and still have a ways to go to be Them/Us.

Use you words for good, and happy writing.


Resistance is (usually) futile

Crossposted from Silk & Shadows

Currently working on: Plotting new story
Mood: Puzzled (like puzzle pieces)

So, the other night I had a dream. (Collective groan, I know, but it’s my blog post.) I was at an RWA conference and I was
creeping through the halls (which were lined with dessert trays). Everybody was freaking out because the power had been cut (although I could still see the dessert trays; I have that superpower in real life too) but I knew who had done it and I knew I had to fight… Larry Brooks!

My hard-core writer friends are LOLing while everyone else is arching one eyebrow in polite disinterest. Larry Brooks is an author as well as a writer of non-fiction writing craft books. He did a two-day workshop for my local RWA chapter recently, and I’ve been re-reading his STORY ENGINEERING: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Success Writing, which I highly recommend to my writer friends. I’ve been using the 6 Competencies as one of my resources as I plot a new story that wasn’t quite working out.

It’s no surprise my subconscious dredged him up as a convenient villain while I wrestle this recalcitrant new story. Discovering a story isn’t working is always annoying. One of my character flaws is I hate being told I am wrong. I especially hate being told I am wrong by my subconscious, who isn’t even trying very hard to ease into the fact I need to rethink the story. Yeah, subconscious, I got it, you’re handing me how-to-write books off my own bookshelves, thanks so much. And BTW lining the path with imaginary desserts isn’t really sweetening the deal.

I’ve mentioned here before that I consider myself a dedicated plotter. I like to work out the big steps and many of the smaller steps before I really dig into the rough draft. I use a lot of worksheets and spreadsheets and beat sheets and blank sheets of paper. I like to plot, and I like my stories better when I plot. I like MYSELF better when I plot. (Not coincidentally, all my loved ones like me better when I plot too.)

And yet I am always shocked at how often I DON’T do the things I need to do. I started this new story, on a whim. The heroine’s voice popped into my head and I wrote pages and pages of scene snippets, mostly dialogue and interior monologue in the heroine’s fun, snarky voice. Then I thought, hey, this could be a book, or even a bunch of books. So I wrote synopses for a trilogy, just off the cuff. And then I started writing the first book, sorta randomly. And now I’m forty thousand words into this BOOK THAT DOESN’T HAVE A DAMN PLOT!

Writers who are “pantsers” or organic writers (people who don’t mind not knowing the damn plot while they write) probably aren’t freaked out by this, but I am. Hence, the dream. Reminding me what I need to do to get back on track. I need to MAKE a track for myself, which means going to the plotting board.

Trying new techniques is great, but I don’t think that’s what I was doing by skipping my usual plotting routine. I think, instead, I was trying to avoid the hard work. In my dream, I was creeping around in the dark, with a nefarious scheme against Larry Brooks, rather than doing the work I knew I had to do.



I don’t blame myself for being lazy. After all, lazy is a good strategy when it works. Why do hard work when lazy gets it done? Unfortunately, lazy wasn’t getting this story done. Apparently only a damn plot will do that.

So now I’m doing the work. Got my Word docs, Excel spreadsheets and Publisher charts all scribbled on. Hopefully there will be some real dessert trays in my future.

After I get this story plotted