Fast Paced

Rev your engines — it’s almost NaNoWriMo time again! From November 1 through 11:59 on November 30th writers of all persuasions — plotters and pantsers alike — are committing to writing 50,000 words or getting within striking distance of completing an entire novel (see my post, “Thirty Days”). If you have an idea for a romance, fantasy, or thriller kicking round, you may want to consider jumping on board. If the idea appeals to you, here are some tips from Alexandra Suarez published in the “International Business Times” that might prove helpful:

1. Become an official NaNoWriMo participant: It’s free to join and it will help keep you focused and on target. When you sign up, you’ll be able to create a profile and share your experiences with fellow writers. You can also receive advice from well-established authors that may keep you motivated.

2. Take advantage of the NaNo website: The site offers videos and advice on story planning so you can make the most of your 30 days. There is also information on character development, story building, and plotting. Having all this information gathered in one place can be helpful and energizing.

3. Write. Write. And keep on writing: This is the perfect time to kick your internal editor and negative self-talk out of your head. Focus on meeting the word count you’ve decided works best for you — whether you’re going for broke and planning to write 50,000 words or you’ve set another target for yourself. Whatever your ultimate goal — keep your daily word count target front and center — and strive mightily to achieve it, even if you feel that some of what you’re writing is less than Shakespearean.

4. Commit to writing at the same time each day: This is a strategy that many established writers use and it’s one worth pursuing. Some people write early in the morning, before their “official” day begins; others write at night. Whatever time you choose, stick to it. When you make this decision, it simplifies your life considerably. By setting aside a block of time, you are making it easier for yourself to devote that time to your writing — and not to answering emails or running errands.

5. Stay connected: Even though you may have to put in considerable time on your own to hit your word count, don’t isolate yourself. One of the key reasons that many people jump on board the NaNoWriMo is the sense of community and shared purpose they enjoy by experiencing this intense writing challenge with others. Some libraries host NaNoWriMo events and some people partner up with one or more fellow writers so they can stay motivated and feel accountable. So, take advantage of the NaNoWriMo community.

6. Keep going: Writing an entire novel in a month is a crazy goal — but it’s not an impossible dream. Believe in your idea and keep getting your words down on paper. Some days, they’ll flow and some days, they’ll be slow. But if you keep at it by the end of the month, you’ll have the beginnings of a draft you can whip into shape over time.

NaNoWriMo-ers, unite. Start your engines — and write on!

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Sail On

“We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it — but we must sail,
and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes

Since today, October 12, is the traditional Columbus Day, a nautical theme seemed apt. And when I found this quote, it ushered in the feeling that I was meant to ponder the four paths that Oliver described. Here are some thoughts on the possibilities they offer us:

Sailing with the wind: When we sail with the wind, we make progress quickly and easily. The wind works in harmony with our vessel and we know the joys of speed and the satisfaction of feeling that we are moving in the right direction. We are unencumbered and free. These moments may be rare, but we’ve all experienced them: We’re in a state of flow — everything sails along as if we are sliding on glass. The ocean of words yields up its treasures to us and we experience a joyful freedom, even exhilaration.

Sailing against the wind: This is rough going all around: The ocean batters our frail bark and we fear we may sink and disappear, never to be heard from again. There are obstacles, there is friction, there is energy-sapping fatigue as we struggle against forces that seem to challenge our very right to do what we are doing. These are tough moments: whatever we’re writing seems to defy us and invite us to give up, give in, and let ourselves down.

Drifting: This is almost worse than sailing against the wind. When we sail against the wind, we know our opponent — we have something to battle. It can be fatigue or lack of confidence or external circumstances that buffet us and threaten to blow us off course. But when we drift, there’s no friction and no progress, however slight. We simply wander aimlessly and often stray off course, overcome by our lack of direction and purpose.

Lying at anchor: When we lie at anchor, we’re not even in the game. We’re not under sail and on our way somewhere. We’re not honing our gifts or charting our path or battling the elements. We’re safe and secure. We haven’t left our comfort zone and so nothing’s going to happen. We may talk a good game, but when it comes to putting pen to paper or fingers to the keys, there’s something holding us back. And so we never weigh anchor and sail.

“We must sail,” Oliver tells us: We’re either riding with the wind or sailing against it. Drifting along aimlessly or never leaving port aren’t viable options. So let’s ride the waves! Sometimes, they’ll carry us along with the wind at our back and everything will go smoothly: We’ll have a great few hours or even days on the page. And sometimes, we’ll be sailing against the wind, struggling to keep ourselves on course. But as so often happens in life, these moments of struggle create movement and open up new opportunities. Conflict creates change and change opens the door to fresh ideas and invention.

Let’s be wave riders — and write on!


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Fresh Angles

Brad Abraham is a former journalist and long-time screenwriter who’s soon making his debut as an novelist with his upcoming book, Magicians Impossible. In a recent on-line story,* he shared five lessons from screenwriting he’s applied to his novel-writing:

1. Structuring a story: “At it’s most basic, a screenplay is basically a set of instructions to production departments…All these directions are affixed to a story’s structure. What happens to whom and when. Act One is your setup. Act Two, the complication. Act Three is your payoff….A screenplay lives and dies by its structure. A solid one allows you to take flights of fancy, to divert, to experience the world; a weak one will leave you as lost as your audience…. To most of us, it comes down to this: Who is the hero, and what is their journey? What is the point of the story if not to follow a character or group of them, to see them face obstacles large and small, and emerge on the other side transformed into something else?”

2. Solving problems:  Screenwriting, observes Brad, is a constant series of problem-solving events, often handled under intense deadline pressure. In film and TV, there’s no luxury of time to slowly sort problems out: You have to come up with a solution quickly; it might not be the perfect one or even the one that’s ultimately used, but it keeps things moving. Producers and other key players want “to see that you’re capable and willing to try different approaches and aren’t married to the words already on the page. In what we knowingly call ‘the biz,’ it’s not so much about your first great idea as it is your tenth or twentieth….used to writing from the trenches, I was knocking down problems almost as soon as they popped up, finding solutions and implementing them…”

3. How to handle criticism: To weather criticism in the film/TV industry, you need a tough hide to survive, notes Brad. This ability to absorb and respond to criticism served him well in his novel writing. When he received several rounds of edits, “Years of screenwriting had conditioned me to taking my editor’s notes (and copy editors and line editors), reading them and implementing them….a good idea is a good idea; all that matters is what ends up in the finished work work. The biz also taught me that the biggest obstacle to your work is your own ego, and that if you can separate that ego from the work, you can look at it more critically, and make those hard decisions…”

4. Valuing your friends: In both screenwriting and novel writing, it’s important to surround yourself with people who will give you honest feedback, but also support you and stand up for you. Getting both a film and a book out is a collaborative effort.

5. Finding the joy: “A producer I’ve worked with for many years always asks when I’m delivering a script whether I ‘found the joy.’ Meaning: “Was this fun? Did you enjoy the process? Despite all the notes and drafts and arguments…did you hit that sweet spot where you felt some degree of happiness while working?….Finding the joy is crucial in writing because without it, what are you writing for?….If you’ve truly found the joy in writing, it’ll get you through your worst by showing you how you are at your very best.”

Pay attention to structure, be a creative problem solver, and find the joy in your work — great touchstones for us all as we write on.

* For the full Writer’s Digest story, visit:

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Today is the 156th birthday of Fridtjof Nansen, an amazing Norwegian explorer, naturalist, author and humanitarian. My curiosity sparked by a Google Doodle celebrating his birthday, I explored further and came up with some timely words of his to inspire us all:

“The first great thing is to find yourself and for that you need solitude and contemplation — at least sometimes. I can tell yo deliverance will not come from the rushing, noisy centers of civilization, it will come from the lonely places.”

“Never stop because you are afraid — you are never so likely to be wrong. Never keep a line of retreat — it is a wretched invention. The difficult is what takes a little time; the impossible is what takes a little longer.”

“Love is life-s snow. It falls deepest and softest into the gashes left by the fight — whiter and purer than snow itself.”

“Happiness s a struggle towards a summit, and, when it is attained, it is happiness to glimpse new summits on the other side.”

“Is it not in the struggle to obtain knowledge that happiness exists? I am very ignorant, consequently, the conditions of happiness are mine.”

“The history of the human race is a continual struggle from darknes sinto light. It is, therefore, to no purpose to discuss the use of knowledge ; man wants to know, and when he ceases to do so, is no longer a man.”

“I demolish my bridges behind me — there is no choice but forward.”

“Have you not succeeded? Continue! Have you succeeded? Continue!”

Inspired and emboldened by these words, let’s all write on!

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Misty Mornings

“A misty morning does not signify a cloudy day.”    Ancient Proverb

It’s a misty morning right now in my neck of the woods, which makes pondering these words of wisdom seem perfectly natural. Who among us hasn’t let our heart sink when it’s grey and rainy outside — and allowed that somber tone to color the rest of the twenty-four hours we’ve been gifted with? And on the flip side, how many of us have felt our own inner eagerness spill out into the day and transform it, no matter what’s happening outside us?

Whether it’s raining where you are or sunny, let’s count a few of the ways in which “a misty morning does not signify a cloudy day” — the ways in we can thrive and be fruitful today:

We can remember that misty mornings are often followed by sunshine: However “overcast” and grey we’re feeling when we come to the page, just the act of working can help lift our mood. At any moment, we can find a great word, an elegant phrase, a new idea — these can make the sun shine for us. Our mood can lift in an instant.

We can remember that mist often disappears on its own: Even if our energy feels low and our idea bank seems empty, we can still set to work with a will, confident that “the work itself will teach us,” and that our feelings of inadequacy or confusion are just temporary. As we get more involved and focused on what we’re doing, the fog often burns away revealing the truth of just what we need to do next.

We can remember that mist nourishes the earth: Just as mist brings much-needed moisture to the earth and fosters growth deep inside it, so moments when we can’t quite see where we’re going can ultimately be very fruitful. They force us to work on just what is in front of us, to be in the present, to find our way through one moment and then the next. Sometimes not being able to see what’s ahead of us is exactly what we need to concentrate.

We can remember that mist is magical: When mist shrouds the earth, it creates endless possibilities: It can envelop the entire day or lift and reveal the sun. It can soften the edges of things and change their relationships to each other. It can be comforting and encourage us to turn to our inner landscape and explore it. It can remind us of fairies and gnomes who may be holding court and frolicking, unseen by human eyes. Who knows?

So if like me, you’re having a misty day, count yourself lucky and write on!


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Something Wonderful

In the Library

The library always smells like this:
an ancient stew of vinegar and wood.
It’s autumn again,
and I can do anything.

Dorothea Grossman

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Audio Interlude

Sometimes it can really help to mix up your regular routine and do something different. Right now, I’m recovering from eye surgery — every day, I’m getting better, but it’s going to take a while. Reading can be tiring, so my wonderful husband David took a quick trip to the library and loaded up with a big, juicy pile of audio books for me — everything from Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman to The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle, author of A Year in Provence. Right now, I’m listening to Dorchester Terrace, a Victorian-era mystery.

Listening to large swathes of books instead of reading them is a new experience for me, but there are many wonderful writers, Laura Hillenbrand among them, who believe that listening to books is a great way to hone their craft: to sharpen style and pacing. I can see why. Here are a few thoughts on how listening to strong writing can be fruitful:

It forces you to pay attention to the balance between dialogue and description: Sharp, brisk, witty, and revealing dialogue really stands out when a book is read, especially by a skilled actor or actress. Deft description drives a story forward instead of bogging it down.

It highlights character tics and differences: When one reader is playing all the roles in an audio book, it really accentuates the skill — or lack of it — a writer brings to characterizing the different players. Verbal tics, speech patterns, pacing all are accentuated. Characters  can seem annoyingly long-winded or reliably witty. Hearing a book really drives home the need to write full-bodied characters even when you’re creating bit players.

Subplots are stressed: Listening to a few mysteries has really shown me the value of  strong subplots, especially in giving secondary characters a chance to shine. A good subplot both advances the main story and provides a rewarding diversion from its tensions. Memo to myself: Need to work on this in my novel revision.

Sunsets matter: Listening to one lighthearted mystery, I was surprised at how long the author took to wrap the whole story up — maybe even too long. Still, it was clear that the author wanted readers to feel that every loose end was tied up and to have a clear idea of the fates of the characters once the last word was said. So many stories seem to drop off a cliff in this area: after the climax, there’s a race to the ending, leaving readers feeling stunned because it doesn’t given them time to process everything that’s happened. Memo to myself: Need to really craft my novel’s ending with care and flair.

Audio books — I’m now a fan! I look forward to finding some classics to hear and learn from Are any of you big audio fans? I’d love to hear about it. Write on!



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