Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Writer's Day Off

I read an article recently which suggested writers should not work feverishly to complete a book. Instead, we should write for only one hour a day. At that pace, according to author of the article, the book will be completed and ready for publication at the end of a year.

I don't follow any hard and fast rules for how much time should be spent writing. Some have day jobs or small children, and so must write whenever they can. Others are able to spend large blocks of time writing and refining.

When I wrote my first novel, Innocent People, I had to force myself to sit for two hours every day and write. The more I wrote, the more comfortable I became. Now I have days when I don't pay attention to anything but my writing.

Today was not one of those days. I watched the morning news, took a shower, dozed a little, watched my soap opera (oops--my secret's out!), ate lunch, checked my email, browsed the internet, watched the evening news and, later, a movie. I never even opened the file for my newest work. I didn't attempt to enter one of the contests which ended today (I actually have nearly 3 hours left). Except for a few short emails, and my blogs, I simply did not write.

Each of us has to find a pace which works best. I prefer to run headlong toward the finish line, and then take a day off. Or two. And even though I love to write, I don't have to do it every single day. I didn't accomplish much today, but sometimes that's enough.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


I was recently told that some of my characters, at least in one section, border on the cliche. I respect the person who told me this. He has many years of experience behind him. But I respectfully disagree.

It is easy to fall into cliches. Sometimes I make a game of it. A character--someone who is older--will use a cliche. Another character will comment on this. Or a character will consistently use the same cliched phrase. We all know people who do this.

Growing up in the Midwest, I learned some great cliches. I'm not going to let them go to waste. My favorite one, which I heard several years ago, was "I wouldn't wear that to a dog fight." Descriptive, isn't it?

But of course we must be careful. And it is especially tricky when we give our characters life situations. Sometimes life seems to be one giant cliche. But we need to make our writing stand apart. Find something different. My characters, who do seem in the beginning to follow the standard American lifestyle, end up being very different.

As with everything else, using and avoiding cliches is a balancing act. All of writing is. And all of life is, isn't it?

Monday, January 29, 2007

The better word

First I must apologize because over the last two or three weeks I seem to repeat my posts. I don't realize this until the new post has gone out. I don't think I can blame my age. Fifty is the new thirty, isn't it? Maybe I can still blame the flu.

I was reading over a story I first wrote last summer. It's okay, but it's not ready for publication. What it needs, more than anything, is the better word.

Correct use of language is an exercise in precision. In a story or novel, it depends greatly on the character. While one character may say "guys," another most certainly would not. I must know my characters and sense their language, their habits. Everything.

And I must choose the best words. Should I use "come back" or should I write "return"? Again, it depends greatly on the character and the mood I want to set. Is my character a teenager? What is his or her level of education? How comfortable is he or she with language?

My premier character, Joshua, is very comfortable. That's his nature. So even after he completes his college education, he is more likely to use the casual word or phrase. Other characters though, like Evie and Brad, pride themselves on a vocabulary which exhibits a higher level of sophistication. Though it also depends on the circumstances. When Brad is relaxing with his brothers, his language is much different than when he is speaking with his boss. Isn't that true for all of us?

In a sense, I am again repeating myself. Words are everything to the writer. I have my own favorite thesaurus which I keep close at hand. It helps me keep my writing fresh and crisp. Dullness of expression will kill even the most interesting story or article.

Write carefully.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Gotta write!

I don't remember which movie it was in, but one of my favorite musical scenes is the one in which Gene Kelly sings, "Gotta Dance." And he does.

I just sent the final copy of Turbulence back to the publisher. It won't be long now. I felt relieved to be finished. When I told my mother, she asked what I will do now. I replied that I'll take a couple days off from writing before getting to work on the next books--Ripples.

I've tried to stop writing at various times, but without much success. I can go for two or three days before my fingers itch for the keyboard. And browsing the internet doesn't cure the itch. Nothing does, not even blogging. I must work on another story.

I'm in good shape now. I have three completed drafts to work on, and the first eight pages of another book. This morning when I woke up I daydreamed about where I can go with that story. It's in my queue.

I should be using my time to write articles or promote my books. But I gotta write. I guess that's my weakness.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The thrill of it

I'm nearly finished looking over Turbulence. It's nearly ready.

I'll probably take a break for a day or two, maybe even three. Then I'll get to work revising the manuscript for Ripples, the fourth book in the Echoes Series.

I wrote when I was a teenager, and of course I wrote in college. I actually enjoyed writing my dissertation, and even my doctoral exams. But for years after that, I wrote little. I was raising children instead.

I wrote as a teacher, but my creativity went into assignments and tests. Later I worked on curriculum and wrote three textbooks. I delivered papers. All of this filled a need in me.

But when I sat down to write Echoes, I found a thrill I had never before experienced. The words slid onto the page. It needed revisions, of course, but that book actually made me feel like a writer.

Now I can't stop. I try to ignore it sometimes and concentrate on other things. Usually I can't manage to do this for more than three days. The laptop calls me. The story lures me.

After I finish the Echoes Series, I have two more books to write. One is completed in rough draft form. It was my Nano novel. The other has only eight pages so far. But this morning I was daydreaming about where I can go with it.

My career could have taken many different turns. I could have seriously pursued a career in teaching college. Maybe I would be a dean by now. I could have stayed with teaching. But I'm dong what I love. I write. I must.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Words, words, words

I'm in the process of reading through the final edition of Turbulence. It won't be too much longer.

It's amazing how much a single word can make a difference. My intrepid editor caught and corrected some of those places where one word improved the sentence. I've found a few more.

I know of some people who agonize over every word every time they write something. That approach drives me crazy. In fact, if I had that attitude I would never finish anything. I plunge in, at the beginning. The important thing is to get the story down. Later I refine both the story and the way I tell it. And no matter how careful I am, there's always some work for the editor.

Words are powerful. I think we all learned that in elementary school, either as the bully or the one being bullied. A single word can elate or deflate.

And in writing a story, each word must carry the tale to its ending. But don't get too caught up. First concentrate on the story. Everything else can be smoothed out later.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Family Feelings

Before I write anything else, I want to note that today is my granddaughter's first birthday. 2006 was a rough year for me, and January was very rough, but everything was better when Aisha Jamila came into our lives.

I have found I can write story lines I wouldn't have been able to manage five or ten years ago. I know how it feels to see your children grow up and move away. I've had experience with teenagers--years of experience--and children in their 20s. And I know how it is to be a grandmother.
When I was young, everyone told me, "Write what you know." I've modified that advice somewhat. In every story I delve into less familiar territory. Heart attack. Federal prison. Disability--oops, did I give something away?

But I stick with the emotions I know. I understand having my husband gone for an extended period and getting by as a single mother. I know something of loss. And I have had a great deal of experience with teenagers. I'm glad I'm finally able to use it for something positive.

So my advice would be to write the emotions you know. I don't think I could have written about motherhood when I was a 20-year old college student. Not with the same level of emotion. At the same time, branch out. Learn something new and share it with your readers. Just make sure you have your facts straight.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


I don't want to give too many clues. I could name many more new minor characters, but I think I would be revealing too much.

Both my publisher and my editor said this is a much different book than they expected. And they liked it.

I can't wait until you read it. I really can't. I want to discuss it with you. But I won't say too much yet. Enjoy the revelations.

Monday, January 15, 2007


At its peak, the flu took a great toll on my body. I reached a high temperature--I'm not sure how high but I would guess around 104--and treated it only with water because most medicines bother me.

As I've rsecovered, I've noticed ways the fever affected my body. For several days my eyesight was weaker. I lost a great deal of weight. And for a while I was afraid I had lost my imagination.

In those early days of recovery, I tried to conjure up images and story lines. Nothing happened. Once I tried to imagine a room. My mind was blank. I was worried that my "imagination" brain cells had been damaged.

Fortunately, as my eyesight and weight have begun to return, my imagination is also returning. An imagination isn't necessary to live, but I have always depended on mine to take me to interesting places. And, of course, my imagination is what writes my stories.

Not everyone is creative, but I think the world could use more imagination. Approach situations from new perspectives rather than relying on the same old solutions every time. As John Lennon said, imagine a world where everyone lives together. No divisions.

I am very, very happy to have regained my imagination. Now I wish we had some in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Lack of imagination

I have always had an active imagination, but these days I feel it lacking. And I think I know why.

It's Maslow's fault. The 19th century psychologist stated that every person has certain needs. These are expressed in a triangle. At the bottom are food, water, shelter. The top is self-realization. We can't fulfill the higher needs, he said, until we take care of the lower ones.

So I'm still feeling a little sick. Not too bad, but it's there. How can I concentrate on wonderful things such as imagination while I'm working to get well.

I'm not sure that's really it. But it sounds nice.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A brief hiatus

I'm on an enforced writing vacation right now.

That's not quite true. I can always write poems, short stories, and articles. But I don't feel inspired today. And I'm anxious to get back to my novels.

Soon, I hope, the editor will send me the final polished ms for my perusal. I haven't read Turbulence for months, and while I could cheat--I have it here on my hard drive--I'll wait to look over that final copy.

After completing Rebounding, many ask when Turbulence will be available. Very soon, I hope.

Then I can get into my other novels, the last ones in the series. I'm anxious to polish Ripples and make it shine. And Silence, which still needs quite a bit of work, taunts me in quiet times like this as I inadvertently remember passages and think of how I can improve them.

All in good time. The writing life is a patient life. One who is not patient should never consider becoming a novelist.

Monday, January 08, 2007

I'm finally (panting) back

When I said last week I may be gone for a while, I wasn't kidding. It took me all last week to fight that flu. But I'm mostly recovered now and ready to go.

I haven't done any kind of writing, though, in order a week. Tomorrow I'll try to get back to you and present my report.

It is very good to be back.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Not today

No post today. I have the flu. Will be back soon, insha Allah.