Archive for February, 2012

Leap of Faith

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

There’s a book I’ve been working on for a long time.  I love this book, yet I struggle with it, particularly in that vast grey middle where the heavy lifting of plot gets done, where I can’t help but think of Douglas Adams’ pithy title The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul. 

I’ve always known there was a part missing, something crucial.   I could never bring myself to send it out to make the rounds of agents and publishers, not seriously.  I put it in the metaphorical drawer for years, after working on it for years, only bringing it out again a few months ago.  For a time, I hummed along on the sheer joy of recommitment.  I would finish it this time, I’d let my unconscious work on it enough, I’d make the middle sing!

At least, that’s what I thought until I got there, after  a few happy weeks revising the first few chapters   Apparently my unconscious hadn’t figured it out yet.  My muse was giving me the silent treatment.  My other half-finished books began their siren call, work on me instead, bits of plot flotsam for each floating up to capture my imagination.  (The fact that I have all these unfinished books is another blog post.)

I sternly reminded myself that I’d made my usual over-dramatic pronouncement to the writers’ group that this was the book I had to finish before I could write anything else.  The fact that I had to be stern with myself was almost enough by itself to send me running back to my chick-littish LA mystery.  Writing is supposed to be fun, isn’t it?  I’m supposed to love writing!   And here I was, letting my day job get in the way of my writing again!

Maybe it was over-dramatic, but when I said I needed to finish this book, out loud, to a roomful of people I love and respect, I remembered I was saying what I believed, and the saying it out loud was an act of faith.  I do need to finish this book.  And that meant having faith I could shape the dull void in the middle that obscured what was on the other side, not only an ending I love but the rest of the middle.  Is that what I’ve been afraid of?  Is part of the block fearing that I might come up with something that will affect the rest of the book?

Could be.  I’ve always known that there’s a “darling” or two (or three or…) that might have to go.  But here’s the thing:  the last two prompts in group  (see Barbara Mayfields “First Video Writing Prompt” and stay tuned for Susan Rathjen’s upcoming post on her prompt about completely reversing a belief) have let in some light.  I have a brand new proto-scene.  The void is vanishing.  And joy of joys, this scene actually calls back into the manuscript one I’d liked but abandoned long ago (ahh, electronic storage devices) when it was more of a digression than a furthering of the plot.

Faith works.




Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

We all know the advice about writing every day, that consistency is the best way to keep the momentum going. Oliver Stone said it best when asked what it took to write a script. Answer: “Ass meets chair.”

But what if you sit down one day and you just can’t do it? You are mired in your middle or you can’t get to the next plot point without sounding inauthentic. Or you simply don’t have time. These are the situations when our momentum is in danger of breaking.

Here’s a solution someone in my mom’s creative writing group shared: If you can’t/won’t write, sit anyway. Sit and do nothing. Chances are the rest will do you good. It might relax the knot in your scene. Or it might get you antsy to start scribbling.

And if you don’t have time? Take one minute. Everyone has one minute. Sit and do nothing. Nothing is space and creativity grows best where it has room. If someone asks what you are doing there looking idle, you can say, I’m working on my writing!

Calling a little corner of your day your writing time, whether you actually pick up a pen or not, means the structure is always in place for your writing to happen. Oliver Stone was right!



First Video Writing Prompt

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Video Writing Prompt: “OK Go” Rube Goldberg Machine – Amazing

A FaceBook pal turned me on to the OK Go band videos, which seethe with creativity, whimsy and wisdom. Last Friday, we watched this video as our writing prompt.

I find Rube Goldberg machines, especially one as spectacular as this one, inspiring and enchanting. I asked our writing group to write a piece with these thoughts as a jumping off point:

1. Have a seemingly small, innocent action set off a string of oddball, wacky, outrageous results.

2. Whimsy

3. What materials would your character use to create a RG machine?

Happy Ash Wednesday from Barbara Mayfield


Writers and Writing Process

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

I’m a bit obsessed with writers and writing process. Well, at least, I thought I was the only one until I went to my first writing conference. Now I know that writers in general, want to know about other writer’s process. We spend an unusual amount of time alone. We need to know what our peeps are doing so we feel normal.

When I meet a writer, I want to know everything. Here are some questions that come to mind. What time of day do you write? How long do you write at a time? Do you write before you get out of bed, or do you need coffee first? Do you have a daily routine, or how do you organize your day? Where do you write? Do you have an office that’s like a cave, or is it filled with light? What’s on your desk that you must have in order to write? Do you write privately, or in coffee shops? Do you write by hand or use a computer? What kind of pen do you use? (I want to say that last one is my favorite question, but they’re all my favorite question.) What weight is your paper? Do you feel guilty that you use so much paper or have you been able to let that one go? Do you have a ritual that gets you started? Do you light a candle, meditate, do a breathing exercise, or stretch?

In my twenties, I thought of writers as having crazy, un-brushable hair, sitting at manual typewriters in a sea of wadded-up papers, chain smoking, and drinking gin, straight. However, at the age I actually started writing, it was more about hand writing everything the first time around, drinking a decaf soy latte plus trying to remember to drink all the water I could possibly stand, and stretching every once-in-a-while. Where did those stereotypes come from?

To feed my obsession, please tell me about your writing process.


Valentine’s Day

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is

limited. Imagination encircles the world.-Einstein


Perhaps we can encircle our writing today with the idea of love,

specifically, romance versus reality. A few quotes to

guide us:

I was nauseous and tingly all over. I was either in love or I 

had smallpox.-Woody Allen

Love is grand. Divorce is a hundred grand-Anonymous

The trouble with women is that they get all excited over 

nothing-and then marry him.-Cher

I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.

-Groucho Marx.


To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But

then one suffers from not loving. Therefore to love is to suffer,

not to love is to suffer. To suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy then is to suffer. But suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy one must love,or love to suffer, or suffer from too much happiness. I hopeyou are getting this down.-Woody Allen


Prompt: Write a scene where your character explores romance v

romance vs reality. This can be love of a person, (romantic

or not) an idea, place, thing or situation. For example: we

may be so attached to what we think as love, we miss the

reality. Or vice-versa.










“What is Your Goal This Year”

Saturday, February 4th, 2012
Double rainbow seen on the way to Santa Fe

Double rainbow seen on the way to Santa Fe

I’m posting this article by C. Hope Clark. I subscribe to her newsletter at – and y’all might like it. This particular article has blown off my socks. Thank you, Hope Clark, from Barbara Mayfield.


Nope, this is not another New Year’s resolution piece.
I simply want you to define, in one sentence, what you
hope to accomplish in 2012 . . . with your writing.

Sounds simple, but many writers can’t do this. They
actually fight it. Focusing on writing might mean they’re
accountable, when many writers want the freedom of no
deadlines or parameters. After all, isn’t that the definition
of an artist? Complete freedom of expression?

The problem is, most people cannot function when they have
no limitations. How do they know when to do something?
When is it due, or late, or accomplished? Then others make
lists, spreadsheets and notes on calendars. Benchmarks and
tallies. And that’s as far as they get.

Pick one project that will represent you well in 2012.
Then center your world around it.

Let’s say . . . write a novel.

When you’re enticed to enter a contest, don’t do it, unless
it’s for a novel. When you see a retreat, don’t go, unless
you go to write the novel. When you attend a conference,
only go to further your novel. When you see a Chicken Soup
that catches your fancy, only do it if you’ve already worked
on your novel for the day.

Nothing gets done unless it’s affiliated with the novel.

What if you write magazine articles?

Quit reading about self-publishing. Quit puttering with
short stories. Put aside the poetry. You are a magazine
writer. It’s what you breathe each day. You have magazine
editors on your Twitter account, and scout for them to
mention their needs. You read magazine blogs leaving
comments in hopes of being recognized by the editor.
You pitch to print, online and blog editors, trying to
break in from any angle.

Focus and diligence. We hear it all the time. But all too
often it’s only after we drop in the bed and take note
of our day, that we realize we let it slip by. We didn’t
touch the novel. We didn’t find a new magazine market.

But we’re multifaceted creatures. Fine. Just keep your
priorities. Don’t play and dabble in other writing until
after you’ve worked. Your 2012 project is your job.

Build a fire under your 2012 project. It’s the only
thing on your horizon. It’s difficult, but if practiced,
by the end of the year, you’ve become an expert and
accomplished enough to be proud of.

Define your 2012 goal. Then use it to define yourself.

Read newsletter online at:


1/20 Prompt — Birth Story

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

For some it’s our conception, others our birth, that begins our personal narration.  Literary characters are no different–Athena, Moses, Jesus, Despereaux, just to name a few.  These are characters whose birth, or conception, laid the groundwork for the story to come, whether it was a story of meeting that potential or rising above it.

So for today, consider your character’s beginning, not your story’s.  Does it define them?  Do they use it to redefine themselves?  Is it a thing of myth?  Or just the everyday?

Sorry about the delayed post…



Groundhog Day

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012


Since that hilarious movie of the same name came out, Groundhog Day means more to many of us than the question, “will winter’s remainder be mild or severe?” We now think of Groundhog Day as a time when the same thing happens over and over, with no stop in sight.

When I get a rejection in the mail, or more often now, in my in-box, I can’t help but think, it’s Groundhog Day! The letters are almost always the same, “Sorry but your project is not right for our list,” or, “After careful consideration….”

George Clooney has some great advice for actors. He told students at the Actor’s Studio, (I paraphrase), “You actors are the house–meaning the casino. You get nervous and down on yourself and worried you’ll blow it, but what are you really risking? You don’t have the job when you walk in, and chances are you won’t have the part when you leave. You’ve lost nothing.” When he realized this, auditions got a heck of a lot easier for him. And now that he is often the one doing the casting, he sees how nervous the folks are on his side of the table, worried they won’t find the right actor for the part, panicked money is hurtling out the window.

We writers are gamblers, too. We can waltz into the publishing casino and throw those dice without a second thought. And one of these days, our long winter of rejections will surely come to an end.



Barbara’s Path to Authorhood, Part 2 – Improv Storytelling

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012
Writing prompts are everywhere.

Writing prompts are everywhere.

The house where the improvisational storytellers meet is built into the side of a mountain, eight slow minutes from the Santa Fe plaza, down a washboard dirt road.

At 3 p.m. on my first Wednesday, eight normal-looking, mature women showed up. Snacky food was set out. We each took a seat around the coffee table in the cozy, rustic living room. I was introduced. Welcomed with reserve. The process was explained to me and we began.

Here are the Rules and Guidelines for Improvisational Storytelling:

  1. The Designated Prompter reveals what she has brought as prompts for the day. (Photos, oddball toys, stones, rocks, sticks, seashells, the contents of a junk drawer, empty candy wrappers…)
  2. Everyone has 30 seconds to choose an object with which to jump into the abyss.
  3. The group splits into partners. Two by two, move through the house to find a quiet place and sit opposite each other.
  4. Set the oven timer for three minutes. It’s loud enough to be heard in every room.
  5. The first teller begins a tale inspired by some aspect of the prompt she chose. There is no “figuring it out”. Allow the first few words to fall out of your mouth and watch as a story is born on the spot. OMG!!!
  6. When the timer sounds, the listener has one minute to praise what she liked about the newborn story: any detail, name, fragment that held her attention.
  7. Reset the timer and switch. The listener allows her story to happen out loud for three minutes, and her partner then offers her appreciations.
  8. Everyone returns to the circle and it’s time to tell the stories again. One by one each story is retold to the group. Something happens between the first and second telling. I can’t explain it. Just go with it.
  9. Sit there and listen. Be amazed, enthralled and enchanted.
  10. Come back in a week and do it all again.

On the day when I told my first story out of thin air, I was hooked and have stayed hooked. I don’t remember my first prompt or the story I told, but I do remember sitting in a straight-backed chair feeling like I was sky-diving.

That day I heard one lovely, gutsy, outrageous, untidy tale after another. Stories I didn’t want to end. And after each story, the praising comments were made. I liked that newborn creations were not hit with bats in this group; newborns were encouraged to grow.

At the end of the meeting, the leader shared a bit about how the group was started, and about how stories are upstream from everything, and about their motto: Tell Me a Story I Won’t Forget.

After several years of listening and telling in the sacred space of the group, stories in the voice of a little girl started happening for me. I liked these stories so much I did the unthinkable in an improv group: before driving back out of the canyon, I sat in my car and wrote the stories down.

Later, I had the dream where Mrs. Iptweet came to me in a bus and spelled her name.  And so those first-person stories in the voice of a nine-year-old became The Magical Mrs. Iptweet and Me and I added Author to my list of life adventures.

Ursula and I still meet regularly and do improv storytelling together.

Thank you, Ursula.