It’s early in the morning here. Hubby has pedaled down the street for his early shift at work and I sit curled up on one end of the couch; the dog on the other end.
I get up two hours before I have to get ready for work so that I can write. And check Twitter. Not always in that order. Since its still winter here, the only light comes from the kitchen where the coffee pot waits to be turned on to provide me with a cup of heavenly decaf to take with me to the office.
The kids are still sleeping and the peace that comes with 5am is great for working on a novel, a blog post, a book review, or reading the book that needs to be reviewed…And for checking Twitter. The only sounds are the dog snoring, the heat coming on and the sound of my daughter’s fish tank filter humming in the background. And my cell phone when I get Twitter notifications.
Until around 6am. Then the alarms start to go off upstairs. They (the young people who live here) all wake up to different sounds. A sharp buzzing for the youngest son; the noise jolting me out of whatever sentence I’m writing causing the pen to veer off the page. The other son hits the snooze button to an annoying harp sound that, like Pavlov’s dogs, makes me want to drool and fall into a state of semi-consciousness while increasing my appetite until the boy hits that blasted snooze button.
Then there is my daughter’s alarm. It’s some hip teen music that gets me sitting up straight, tossing aside Twitter and ready to pound out 1,000 words. Until I realize her alarm doesn’t go off until about 7:20am which means I have to race through jotting down a final word, sending up a silent prayer that I won’t forget the thought/emotion I was just getting into the groove of and start getting ready for work lest I be late.
During this entire episode (that I repeat every weekday morning), I’m fighting back yawns and stretches and the desire to curl up under the throw blanket and go back to sleep. But that’s the life of a writer…well, this one anyway. Because I have a day job and a house full of teenagers. It’s the invisible world of the yet-to-be published author whose busy plugging away at the writing life one tweet –I mean one word at a time.
What about you? What’s your silent routine that pounds out the letters and words and sentences and paragraphs that turn into pages and books? Whatever your routine is, don’t give up. Stay the course, keep putting pen to page, dragging the chair up to the computer and powering up the laptop. Your words, your story/stories need to be told. And let’s face it…Twitter needs to be checked.
I’m certain it’s all about connection. The connection from one location to another or from one person to another. Six degrees of separation. Romantic connections between couples. The bond from parent to child. And who can forget the connection between readers and writers?
Not Brian Sanders, the CEO of the Penned app. He’s all about the business of connecting readers and writers and the words that both groups crave. I had the privilege of chatting with Brian on this lovely Saturday in March, both of us connected through Penned’s Marketing and PR guru who had the idea of a CEO interview.
Who is Brian Sanders?
A man known to his family and friends for his entrepreneurial spirit and bursts of creativity, Penned is one of Brian’s technological babies. The idea came to him through his combined interests of writing and designing apps. “I’d always thought of Wattpad as a place where folks could read free books and I had this idea to create something different”.
By “something different”, Brian was thinking about people who are interested in writing, maybe novice writers or folks who are just getting their feet wet with sharing their written words with others. And as we writers know, when we start sharing our soul with others, nice to start out a little on the smaller side; a chapter here, a poem there. As Brian puts it, Penned is the perfect place for “something bite sized”.
And where did he come from?
He grew up in Hawaii, born to his teacher mother and likeminded father who tends to have his own share of creativity and ideas that he enjoys talking about with his son. Brian moved to L.A. where he attended UCLA and received a degree in mechanical engineering, which makes him laugh saying “it isn’t related to either reading or apps”.
As he got into the workforce, he realized he wasn’t totally into mechanical engineering but worked in the field for a while and had a cool job. “I realized I wanted to do something on my own; like I’m gonna control destiny and do something big that helps people or does something fun for people that they can use”. He said he knew he “just wanted to make something bigger and be on my own”.
So he did. By donning his entrepreneur hat he gets to spend his time coming up with ideas and making things that people want to use. And Penned was born.
Penned was launched on December 20, 2013, just in time for the holidays and already has a fair amount of traffic. Since then he tells me “we’ve been trying to slowly, organically get users. We’re not trying to spread across the whole world instantly”. He’s working on the Android version now and “then we’ll try to reach everybody”.
The Penned team is small in number –Brian Sanders (CEO), Philip Tolk (CTO) & Sonia Chopra (Marketing & PR). For a young company with a new start up, they’re generating quite a bit of traffic on Penned so far. Brian and his team are excited that Penned “struck a chord with some people. Some folks add three stories a day. It’s great to see them engage”.
Penned isn’t the first idea Brian’s ever had. After his engineering phase, Brian went through what he calls his “learning phase” when he worked on developing something that he never released to the public. That project was “a little bit related [to Penned]”. (I won’t share all the details in case Brian decides to someday release that project to the world!)
When Brian was first toying with the idea of Penned he had trouble finding just the right folks to help him get it off the ground and out to the world of writers and readers. This is where the internet came in handy as he scoured sites like Craigslist looking for just the right designers to join with him in making Penned everything it is today. –A mobile cross between a personal journal and a place to read and write poetry, short stories, or whatever else a body wants to weave together and share with others.
How does Penned work?
“You kind of figure it out as you go. If it’s too personal or just mundane life stuff, folks might not read it. This is about enhancing the diary idea and giving it a poetic language or making it more interesting. A place to test the waters and see if others will read it or not.”
There are three different kinds of things you can post on Penned: your whole story, your personal journal entries, and short pieces of work. Brian doesn’t know if “any of those are going to merge or if they can live simultaneously.”
Since the launch, Penned has already evolved some. When it started there weren’t any categories on it, but now there are several that are user generated. Brian explains “you can type in the box and choose your own categories. People are going to do what they do and if they create a narrow category and it doesn’t work out and it’s the only story in it, maybe they’ll post it in a different category. You kind of make a decision about where you want to post your story. Or you make your own category”.
What is Brian’s hope for Penned?
“To see it be the de facto place to go. Just like twitter is the place to go for social media. I want it to be the place to go for writers. It’s like your writing presence.”
Are you Penned?
I joined Penned the other day. Easy process. I set up a profile (Vickie_s_miller) and plan to do some writing of my own on Penned. But I tend to be technologically impaired so it may take me awhile to figure things out. I’ve been doing some reading though and have even followed a couple people. The writing I’ve come across is eloquent, personal, and touching. There is mystery there that entices me to come back for more. This app is definitely a place for readers and writers connect. The only question that remains is: are you penned?
Some say he’s “mastered the art of human observation” and has a “talent for detail” who pays “particular attention to sensory details”. And based on the portion of his novel The Alchemy of a Blue Rose that I read, I would agree. Especially with that last comment about sensory details…it was like being in Fergus’ pick-up truck in that first paragraph. I could feel the weather, smell the combination of scents –flowers, sweat, and the air. Incredible.
But what does Joe Wilcox think about writing, his journey into this field, and the rewards and challenges that writing brings? I’m glad you asked because this week, the spotlight is on Joseph David Wilcox.
Q: Why do you write? What’s your primary writing topic and how did it choose you?
A: I enjoy playing with words. They fascinate me. I love to move them around and try on new ones and listen to the sounds they make. I enjoy the challenge of conveying thoughts and feelings into words. Writing also helps me better understand the places and issues and ideas that interest me. It’s really only through writing that I can peel back the skin and get to the meat of something. And when I’m exploring like this, many doors open that take me into many wonderful realms and avenues of new discovery. I enjoy walking these paths and learning new things every day through my writing.
In my essays, I write a lot about my marriage to my Chinese wife and artist, Bovey Lee, and how we meld our distinct cultural backgrounds. Bovey exhibits her work a lot which means we travel often, so I also write about the places we visit and the experiences and the people we encounter. In my fiction, I tend to focus on relationships, familial and romantic. I like exploring family dynamics and also studying how people navigate romantic relationships.
I don’t know how these topics chose me. I’ve always been the type of person who needed to be in a relationship so I suppose I’m continually trying to understand why that is. The only time I really want to be alone is when I write. After I come out of my cave, I need to have someone there for me.
Q: When did you know you wanted to write?
A: I got interested in writing in high school during my sophomore year. My English teacher, Mr. Bonner, was passionate about writing and lavished praise on me and my writing in front of the entire classroom. He made me feel special and, you know writers, we’re a narcissistic lot, so that praise was like an adrenaline shot in the heart. I wanted to write something for him every day just to hear his praise.
Q: Is there anything that gets in the way of your writing? And how do you beat it into submission so that you can continue along your path? What is your favorite time of day or day of the week to write?
A: Life generally gets in the way of writing. I have a full-time job working in the financial industry, so I have to work in my writing around my career, friends, family, and trying to keep my beer belly under control. The way I manage this is to rise early in the morning and put down my words before I get to the office. I usually get up about 4 in the morning and write for a few hours then get in the shower. I like to write in the morning because my mind is fresh and ideas pop into my head more readily at this time of day. There’s nothing like the promise of morning. Also, when I knock out my words before work, I don’t stress all day long about whether or not I will get any writing done that day. And writing first thing frees me to do other things after work like pounding out a few miles on the treadmill. Exercise is important to my writing because when I’m working out my mind relaxes which lets new ideas percolate up from my subconscious. Often ideas pop into my head and I use this time to explore them and to explore new story lines.
Q: Was there ever a time when you felt writing wasn't ¨allowed" or that you weren’t supported in your pursuit of a writing career? How did you handle that?
A: I’ve never felt like there was a time writing wasn’t allowed. Maybe the closest time I didn’t feel supported was right before I graduated college. My professor asked me what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to write. She told me writing would be a tough life. She wasn’t very encouraging and she was one of my favorite professors so that was disappointing. Like many writers, I struggle mightily with confidence. Are my stories good enough? Is my writing good enough? Perhaps this struggle did not allow me to write and I’ve given up many times. But there’s always been this voice in my head telling me to write which takes my hand and leads me backs to the computer.
Q: Some say writing is equal to breathing –do you feel that way? Or is it more of a hobby that you simply balance with your “real” life?
A: I think saying writing is equal to breathing is a little melodramatic. Of course, if I stop breathing I will die but if I don’t write I’m not going to drop dead. A life without writing would be bleak but there are a lot of great things in my life besides writing.
Q: How long does it usually take you to complete a writing project?
A: I guess it depends on the project. Rowman & Littlefield published my two primers and each of those took about a year. One primer dealt with the history of the Middle East and the other dealt with the history of China. I have a blog where I publish essays and it usually takes me a week or two to finish an essay. As far as novels, I’ve started more than I can remember and never finished one. But I’m very excited about my current novel, Alchemy of a Blue Rose. I started it three years ago and am on my third attempt to write it. I’ve probably written about 200,000 words but I believe all that time I was figuring out the story and who the characters are. I’m finally locked in and I hope to finish it by the end of the summer.
Q: Describe your favorite place to write?
A: My favorite place to write is my office at home. I close the door and draw the blinds and hide in there surrounded by all my books. It’s my sanctuary.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge/reward in being a writer?
A: Writing a novel has definitely been my biggest challenge. It’s so much harder than I thought it would be. Writing always came easy to me and when my novels languished I got very frustrated and quit. But I’ve made peace with what it takes to write a novel. I know I have the wherewithal and the talent to do it. I’m very determined to get to the end this time. Plus, I’m in love with the story I’m writing and the characters I’m creating. I owe it to them to get their story down.
As far as the biggest reward, that goes back to the whole narcissistic thing for me. I love praise. It’s like crack. It drives me like nothing else. I love to hear people tell me my writing moved them or made them feel something. It’s so powerful and emboldens me.
Q: You're newest book Alchemy of a Blue Rose is coming along nicely –where did the idea for this book come from? Do you relate to a particular character in it?
A: I live in Pittsburgh and there are a lot of street corners where you see guys selling flowers. It’s such an odd juxtaposition to see these tough guys living in this blue collar, working-class town battling the rain, snow, wind and the heat to sell a flower. I thought about what kind of person would it take to do that? What kind of life might a flower guy have? Then I started researching the flower industry. I read Amy Stewart’s Flower Confidential and I read Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s novel, The Language of Flowers. I discovered this whole new world I never knew existed. It intrigued me. So I started pulling together this story that weaved all these different elements, strong men who deal in this delicate world, the business of flowers, the poetry and the feelings and ideas flowers communicate.
I would say I relate most to Fergus. We’re both educated and easy going. We’re also driven and motivated to do something great with our lives. We’re both idealistic and hopeless romantics not huge on planning, preferring to push forward and let fate guide the way. Unfortunately, relying on fate makes for a messy life, leading to a lot of mistakes and learning from those lessons.
What words of wisdom would you give to a young person who dreams of being a writer/author?
As far as words of wisdom I'd give to a writer is to believe in yourself and never give up. For me, the biggest thing I struggled with as a young writer was doubt. Believing I wasn't good enough. And also not understanding how hard the writing life can be. You have to believe in yourself because there will be many days when writing steps on your neck and tries to choke you. Will you be able to get back up from an ass kicking like this? The only way is to believe in yourself, to persevere.
If you believe in yourself and you work hard every day to become a better writer, you can achieve your dreams of a writing life. In my own experience, writing a novel is certainly the hardest thing I've ever tried. I've written drawers full of words but nothing ever saw the light of day. My current novel, Alchemy of a Blue Rose, I'm in my third year writing it and on my third attempt. I've completely scrapped two manuscripts, numerous characters and story lines just to get to where I feel good about where the novel is going.
I just bought The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin and in it she talks about her 8-year journey to write this wonderful book, her first novel. To achieve the writing life, are you willing to work this hard?
Is the writing life everything you ever thought it would be? If so, what contributes to that? If not, why not?
For myself, I won't believe I have achieved the so-called writing life until I'm doing it full-time. I've published two books and my blog limps along and I'm excited about my novel, but it doesn't feel like the writing life. I get up at four in the morning and write for a few hours and then I'm forced to put it all aside and go to work. The writing life will happen for me when I reach a point where, if I wanted to, I could sit around all day in my underwear. And just write.
I spent the weekend depressed. Friday, after a regular day at work, I came home and cut my hair. Other than trimming off an inch or so almost three years ago, my hair hasn't been touched by scissors.
At first, I was excited. Thought nothing of it. Until reality set in and I realized it was a bit uneven which meant I had to trim a little more to get it just right. I went from hair down my back to hair just grazing my shoulders.
It put me in a sour mood all weekend after I realized what I'd done. Taken my gorgeous hair and butchered it. I can't even really explain why. Except that it felt too heavy. And I was enamored by some pictures in a catalog I got in the mail last week where this woman is standing there in this great outfit with her short hair and smiling. Really smiling, like she was thrilled with life. Or just told to smile that big by the camera guy. Or they photo shopped the smile onto her face. Or whatever.
And it occurred to me. I haven't smiled like that in a long time. Probably not since last summer on vacation. When life felt full of promise and everything was carefree and fun.
Don't get me wrong. There is still a great deal of promise in life. I have no doubts about that. The carefree and fun parts just seem to be missing. Having been replaced with frustrations that keep piling up, a situation that doesn't seem to change and feeling more and more as if I'm sitting between a rock and a hard place. And the space keeps getting smaller.
I've never been one to stay down in the dumps for long. I tend to be optimistic to a fault and will find the silver lining if I have to draw it around the clouds myself, so I was surprised when this simple act of cutting my hair put me in a downward spiral that I couldn't pull myself out of. It's not like I'd never cut my hair before.
In fact, when my alarm went off at the early pre-dawn hour of 5am, I considered re-setting it for a more normal hour of 7am and crawling back under the covers which, would have meant ignoring my quiet time to write. If you're a writer reading this, you know what a shock that statement is.
Since I knew that would just make me feel worse and plummet me further into the clutches of a woe-is-me attitude, I ignored the strong pull of my cozy bed, set up shop at the kitchen table and decided to take a shot at finding something positive about this despair I've found myself in.
Lucky for Google searches, I did. It turns out that according to Coco Chanel:“A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.” It got me thinking that of all people, Coco Chanel probably knows a thing or two about this type of life situation.
And I figured I can take the quote one of two ways. That either I've changed my life for the worse now that my beautiful hair sits in the bottom of a trash can covered over with crumbs, empty containers drooling food juices and clumps of used cat litter or that I'm about to change my life for the better. That maybe, just maybe, the act of cutting my hair is about to propel me into something new and different and better than being stuck between that dreaded rock and a hard place.
Wouldn't that be nice? I realize it might mean I have to do some things different. And that change can be scary. But those frustrations piling up on top of one another haven't been a walk in the park either.
Yeah, that's what I'm thinking. How to change your life? Cut your hair. And maybe, don't look back.
How's your life these days? Are you ready for a change?
The value of life can be measured by many things. Money, treasure, success, material goods. Personally, I find the value of life in less tangible things. Like the love of family, the laughter of a child, and the creativity of the soul.
But what about time? Does one’s life have value if he or she has time? Perhaps. Though we all are allotted the same amount of time each day. If we measure the value of life by the hours on the clock, we ought to consider what we are doing with those hours.
Are we using the time we’ve been given to do something important? Like showing care and compassion to others or supporting our loved ones with words of encouragement? Are we taking the time to use our talents to further our dreams or practice a skill we've been taught?
And what about time spent on you? Have you rested a little? Rejuvenated yourself so that you can take care of the demands life puts on you? Have you taken time to explore, dream or even treat yourself? Not wasting time doesn't mean that you have to be busy or rushing through life. After all, it takes time to cultivate a friendship, a romance, a hobby.
Take the time today to consider how you spend your hours. Find balance, take a trip, plan a family get together, laugh with a friend, read a good book. Don't forget to live a little in between and around the 9-5 work day.
Time is fleeting and is it not worth it to be able to look back and say we've done something with it? That we've shared or loved or laughed or created or inspired? Take the time...it'll be worth it.
How do you spend your time? Are you rushing around without enjoying what life has to offer? Missing out on time with family and friends? Neglecting your own needs and health and dreams? Take the time. Find the balance. Free yourself.
“A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.”-Charles Darwin
The key to being yourself -your true self- is to stop pretending to be the person everyone else thinks you should be...
Growing up, fitting in was never her forte. She was the middle child and never had anything in common with her siblings. Other than their parents. Her skin color is an in-between mixture of hues that don't fit exactly into any one race or culture. She's an introvert and if you're a fellow introvert, you know what that's like. Introverts aren't really what you'd call popular.
And throughout her growing up years, she ached to belong. The right clothes, the right style, the right friends. Planning the right future with the right career and the right husband who could help her produce the right offspring.
As the years blended into one another, none of that felt...well, it didn't feel right. And since who she was (and subsequently is) at her core didn't fit it in, she chose the path of least resistance. She settled.
For the guy who was deemed good enough. She put off the dream of her career and took jobs that were good enough to get by on. And lived in abodes that were good enough but lacked the welcomeness of home. Until her life became good enough with the exception of the bright stars that were the children that she was blessed with. But other than the kids, none of it felt...well, none of it felt good. And frankly, it wasn't enough.
She longed for more. For the dreams of her true self to come true. For the essence of who she was and who she longed to become to be able to thrive and live and be. So when good enough took a turn for the worse, she started taking risks.
And in the years to follow she started to rebel against who everyone said she was supposed to be according to their plan for her. Along that path she encountered the frustrations of others and sometimes herself when again she would find herself in a situation where she didn't quite fit in and was determined not to sell herself short in order to do so. There were moments of loneliness indeed.
She continued to choose the path of most resistance. From small things to big. From her clothes to her standards to her belief systems to her values. Along the way, she was rewarded with meeting someone who loves her for who she is. Her children and the ones they added to their brood delightedly have their own strong opinions and she smiles when she sees them and hears them and so enjoys getting to know them. And along the way, she found the one person she was missing the most all along. She found herself and this is what she learned:
“When I met me, I was surprised to learn I could like someone so much. That my wit and humor and compassion for others was a great joy to be around. I've learned that even when I need my alone time to recharge and reflect, I am a pleasant being. That my silence doesn't mean I'm lonely or standoffish or stuck up, but just that I'm taking it all in and listening and hearing and thinking before I speak again.
It turned out that when I met me, I was pleased to make my acquaintance. Because the key to discovering who you are is to stop pretending to be the person everyone else thinks you should be.”
Who are you? Are you being the person you were created to be? Or following the path of least resistance and pretending to be the person everything else thinks you should be? Are you settling for just good enough or reaching out to grasp your dreams and meet self?
It's apparent to me when I'm at a loss for words. My mind feels littered with incomplete thoughts just waiting for the right word or words to complete them and magically write themselves down on the blank piece of paper staring back at me.
The silence becomes overwhelming because there is no music playing and my brain is trying to keep up with whatever conversation is going on around me while trying not to panic about the fact that I can't think of a single word to write down. When prose escapes me and I can't lasso it because it has taken flight and landed among the stars. Too far away from me to catch.
All other skills show themselves inadequate when I'm at a loss for words. My listening skills are lackluster. My reading skills become an epic failure. My ability to function in daily life becomes a joke and my family steps away from me as they attempt to discern why I've gone from capable to incapable in the beat of a heart.
I imagine that when I'm at a loss for words it feels equal (or worse) to what my son experiences with his Attention Deficit Disorder. A diagnosis that until I watched him fight with it daily didn't think it was that big of a deal. Now, though, when I can think of no words at all, I think this is what he must feel like until the prescription medication kicks in and helps him make sense of the world around him.
Unorganized chaos. Miles of sticky notes that are out of order and have illegible notes scrawled on them in multiple colors and even more languages that a uni-lingual individual can't decipher. An owner's manual to the most complex of appliances written in Sanskrit; a language I am not familiar with. That's what it feels like when I can't write. When words escape my brain and even the dictionary looks like a novel covered in Rorschach inkblots that make no sense at all.
Until I remember the magic that releases the tension in my mixed up mind and organizes the chaos. When I flip the switch on the right utensils and create a heavenly blend of music, everything changes.
Unorganized chaos puts itself in order. The sticky notes arrange themselves chronologically and the illegible notes become the most beautiful of all penmanship. The languages translate into English and owner's manuals become “Writing for Dummies” texts. Rorschach inkblots become colorful pictures drawn by the hands of happy children.
When I'm at a loss for words, I turn on the music, and words flow and all is right with the world.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with author Wendy Orr . Wait. Scratch that. She lives so many miles away from me that google maps couldn’t configure directions from my place to hers. So, we didn’t get together for coffee, but I did have the honor of e-mailing her some random questions about her life as a writer/author. And she was gracious enough to respond…
Author Bio: Wendy Orr was born in Canada, and grew up in France, Canada and USA. After high school she studied occupational therapy in England, married an Australian farmer, and moved to Australia. They had a son and daughter, and now live on five acres of forest near the sea.
Wendy started writing seriously in 1986, with her picture book Amanda's Dinosaur. In 1993 Leaving it to You was shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia awards, junior readers; Ark in the Park won the same award in 1995 Peeling the Onion a young adult novel based on Wendy’s own car accident, was awarded internationally including the American Library Association Best Book for older readers, and the ALA Best of the Best list: (top 100 books in the past fifty years).
She has written more than 30 books for children, teens and adults, and has been published in 26 countries. In 2008 Nim's Island became a Hollywood feature film starring Jodie Foster, Abigail Breslin and Gerard Butler. The sequel, Nim at Sea, was released as Return to Nim’s Island in 2013, starring Bindi Irwin. Her most recent books in the USA are the Rainbow Street Animal Shelter series.
Q: What gets in the way of your writing? And how do you beat it into submission so that you can continue along your path?
A: Life! Life’s ups and downs affect creative work more than many other jobs – you can push through fatigue or a cold to do routine work, but it’s very difficult to create when not feeling well. Luckily that’s rare for me, but when it happens, I try to manage this by catching up on that routine work until I’m up to par. I’m also sometimes tempted to catch up with friends for coffee etc. instead of working, so I try to balance work with the legitimate need for socialization and leisure by going out one morning a week to a singing group or coffee with a friend. I also think it’s very important that if writing is your job, say, ‘I work from home,’ even before explaining that the job is writing. People tend to believe that writing, especially children’s books, is only done when inspiration strikes, and couldn't possibly take too long – so of course you have time to go to a Tupperware party, run a bake sale, etc. (Of course, like any other full time worker, you can do any of those things, but you do have to prioritize.
Q: In Counseling Magazine (Volume 56 #8) Laurie Meyers talked about “Quieting the inner critic”. How often are you berated by your inner critic? What do you to do silence him/her?
A: Oh, that meano voice! (My editor’s technical term for the inner critic.) One of the hardest things is recognizing that it’s there, that it’s the voice of your doubts and not The Truth. Sometimes I can just ignore it by reminding myself that this is the first/fifth/not quite the final draft and it’s not supposed to be perfect yet. If he’s being exceptionally persistent I sometimes use EFT – emotional freedom tapping – to get my energy up to defeat it. Knowing my own patterns is helpful too: I know that around the time of the copy edit, I read through the manuscript I’ve spent the last 12-18 months writing and know that it’s such terrible crap that it should be burned. Reminding the voice that it always says this at the same point is quite a powerful tool.
Q: Some say writing is equal to breathing –do you feel that way? Or is it more of a hobby that you simply balance with your “real” life?
A: It’s an integral part of me. Most stories live with me for several years before they start to appear on the computer screen or paper; I can’t imagine living without thoughts for stories and characters fermenting in my head.
Q: When did you know you wanted to write? And from where did the first idea come from that sparked your first book?
A: I knew I wanted to write from the time I first learned to read and write in English, the language we used at home – we lived in France so I first learned to read and write in French. I think the experience of reading a proper story in my own language was extremely powerful and I started writing my own ‘books’ immediately. However as an adult I didn’t take it up seriously till I was 32. My first published book was initiated by seeing a competition for a picture book text – I’d never considered picture books before, erroneously believing that you’d have to be or work with an artist. The story itself, Amanda’s Dinosaur was sparked by a friend who had all sorts of pets, and wondering what sort of pet her children could possibly ask for!
Q: Do you have a favorite place to write? If so, where is it and how did it choose you? What is your favorite time of day or day of the week to write?
A: I’m very boring: I like writing at my desk, in my office. And I like to be there working properly by 10, after urgent emails and dog walks, and try to wind up about 4 to walk the dog again, but usually go back for another hour or so later. That’s Monday to Friday, and my rule for weekends is I can write if I really want to, but I prefer to catch up on paperwork, fan mail and questionnaires, etc. – or actually take the time off!
Q: What words of wisdom would you give to a young person who dreams of being a writer/author?
A: Read as much as you can, and as many different genres as you can; write as much you can, listen to criticism but learn to be sure of what you want to say and why. And only do it if you go on loving it!
Q: Is the writing life everything you ever thought it would be? If so, what contributes to that? If not, why not?
A: I didn’t have much of a vision of the writing life, I really just wanted to write and have a book published, with very little awareness of what that would mean in terms of publicity and demands, and of probably an unrealistic expectation of financial rewards. However the life itself has been much more rewarding and exciting than I’d have ever dreamed; it’s taken me to places as diverse as Minneapolis and New Delhi in India, to walk red carpets, and meet truly amazing people around the globe. It still often surprises me that so much can come from these imaginary people that I’ve managed to convince to settle onto a page.
Q: And last but not least: If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
A: I’d love to be a falcon or a wolf, but I suspect I’m a Labrador dog.
Thanks so much for letting me (and my readers) get a glimpse into your life as a writer. I've enjoyed perusing your website, sharing in e-correspondence with you, and I just ordered a copy of Peeling the Onion. I look forward to reading it.
Vickie S Miller
Yesterday I didn't write. With the exception of a poorly composed sentence that I completely abandoned for three back-to-back episodes of Parks & Recreation. Followed by taking a much needed nap.
Last week a business trip kick started a series of nights plagued with insomnia. Then, on the 8th I exorcised Rachel James (MC of The Caged Bird) from my system. While only managing two miles of physical exercise all week. Followed by eating two brownies after dinner last night.
Since then? Yeah, I've written nothing. I couldn't even come up with 140 witty characters to tweet about. So I spent some time finding witty characters to follow on Twitter. I re-tweeted and favorite their wit. It’s a good thing Twitter ensures instant credit given to original tweeters or I’d have quickly been slapped with plagiarism charges. Yikes.
It’s not like I’m lacking things to write about. No. I have a list. I have an author interview for Wendy Orr to put together. My wall-sized whiteboard has been wiped clean and is waiting for the research plan and multi-colored outline for my next novel: A Boy & His Bakery (the working title while I wait for just the right title to present itself). The Caged Bird needs editing. The personal essay I wrote needs revised. A blog about who we are is simmering in my cerebral cortex. I’m pondering what kind of short something-s I could possibly write about for 365 days in a row.
I’m also pondering: why I didn't buy a pencil sharpener when I bought this package of No. 2 pencils made out of recycled newspaper during my last trip to Barnes & Noble? (I’m using one of those pencils to write out this blog entry on paper in the early morning hours before work.) And how I’m going to make it through work today on yet another night of poor sleep. What others will think of my new paisley dress. If the shoes I’m wearing complement or hinder the look of the dress. Why anxiety had to ride in on the coat tail of sleeplessness. I have enough to worry about when I’m this tired. Will the wind ever stop blowing? And about how much I dislike Daylight Savings Time and the power mankind has over the clock.
See, it’s not as if the muse has left me. I believe even motivation is still here. I think my body is just refusing to bridge the gap between where I’m sitting and the desk chair in my writing studio long enough to reign in these wandering thoughts to get something –anything!- down on paper because my brain just won’t shut up long enough to let the body get a full night’s sleep. Followed by another and another and another. So that I can just function like a writer. Or even a human
Since I wrote this blog out this morning, the following have been accomplished: I brought home a pencil sharpener for my lovely No. 2 pencils. I managed another day at work w/out caffeine. I received no comments about the blue paisley dress (but who cares, I LOVE it!), so I assume the shoes worked just fine or were so hideous no one dared to fake a lie about how great I looked. The wind has not yet stopped blowing, though is predicted to slow down to a mere 10 mph by tomorrow. And I still dislike Daylight Savings Time because now that it’s daylight until after 9 pm, I may never get to sleep.
Me in my paisley dress writing out my #MondayBlog
I attended the San Francisco's Writers Conference for the first time this year. It was incredible. I learned a lot about things like plot, setting, social media, and the art of pitching my novel idea to an agent. Along the way I also met some interesting people.
Kemble Scott shared with me his insight on pen names and encouraged me to avoid an alter ego. With that encouragement, I burst out of the shadows and onto the writing scene as yours truly. I learned about the importance of social media and “purchasing my name” from Rusty Shelton. His teachings were excellent, to the point, and fairly easy to get on board with. –After I read a how-to website on the intricacies of Twitter.
And then I met Trina Robbins. She is equal parts grace and spitfire. Her passion for research is inspiring. She makes it sound so simple and fun. But honestly, research freaks me out. You mean I have to pick up the phone and ask someone to tell me all about brain surgery? Or fossils? Or how a crime scene is processed? What if they ask me why I want to know? Do I dare tell the person on the other end of the line that I’m writing a book?
I imagine the outcome following that utterance will be the expert dissolving into a fits of laughter at the very idea that I, of all people, can even begin to write the next great American novel. Can you hear it too? “What are you Ayn Rand?” Click as the phone call is ended.
Thanks but no thanks. I’d rather not write.
I can’t believe I just wrote that down. Because it’s not true. Really it’s not. And now you probably think I’m a chicken and a liar. But I’m not! I swear! In the words of my daughter, I pinky promise.
I’m a brave person actually. Spend a day with me and you’d see that. I’m not mountain climbing, lion taming brave by any stretch of the imagination. But I engage in small acts of bravery daily. And I’m not a liar. Really I’m not. I’m just…prone to hearing voices.
You know. The kind that are entangled in one’s past that ensnare innocent hopefuls (like me) into believing all the negative things ever said about her are true. That “not knowing” something doesn't mean I’m still learning but that I’m stupid. Can you relate?
When the truth –the real truth – is that we are learning every day. All of us are.
I’m intent on honing the craft of writing. On improving my skill and writing/selling the next great novel. First though, I have to banish this inner critic who is intent on belittling me and chipping away at my courage and hope and belief in myself with a hammer that is tiny yet sharp with hateful words. If I don’t banish this character once and for all, then I’ll do it regularly and harshly so that his voice doesn't impede my learning, my researching or my writing.
I think I will choose a small topic to start with and work on accomplishing a small act of research. I will shore up some inner grace and spitfire, the likes of Trina Robbins, and forge ahead as I learn about something. Any suggestions?
By the way, my first interaction with Trina was great. Seated around an elegantly set lunch table in a beautiful hotel on Valentine’s Day 2014. Each person’s table setting was lovely and directly in front of the soup bowls sat a small and prettily decorated chocolate cupcake. Several of us were still chatting and hadn't begun eating yet while Trina picked up her cupcake and ate it. As the meal continued, soup bowls were removed and replaced with the main entree. Shortly after, coffee was poured and still there were several chocolate cupcakes sitting on the table in front of those of us who were fortunate to be seated by Ms. Robbins.
At one point, just before the keynote speaker for the day was introduced, Trina casually mentioned “None of you ladies are eating your cupcakes”. A few replied they were saving theirs for later. I said nothing as I was debating whether or not I wanted to eat mine at all. I love chocolate but am not a fan of frosting and was mentally wondering how it would look in such a setting if I were to scrape the offensive frosting off of the pretty dessert.
Trina then asked a question: Is anyone not going to eat their cupcake? –It was a fine example of research and one I don’t think I’ll forget. A woman to her left said that she was not going to eat hers. To which Trina replied, “I’ll eat it if you don’t want it then”. The woman handed the treat over. –And the research paid off in spades.
After observing this and then chatting with Trina about the art of research, she encouraged me to not be afraid of mining the world for the information that will help my writing stand out and to attend the breakout workshop she was teaching the next day on the subject. I knew I had to go (and I did!) –how could I not? Research is a serious weakness of mine and it would surely pay off to learn from this expert who shares with me a love of writing and chocolate.