Why Writers Should Write vs Going Outside

View from the bluff top. You can see the Illinois River, Swan Lake and abundant farmland.

Leaving the house is hazardous when you are a writer. I’m just over 25% of the way through my middle grade science fiction novel. But this weekend was our anniversary so we went for a drive.

Bad, bad undisciplined writer.

Even those of you who live in the St. Louis area probably won’t recognize this view. This is looking out from one of the viewing platforms in Pere Marquette State Park. Up on the blufftop, you can see the Illinois River, Swan Lake, and farmland. Yep, Swan Lake.

In the center of the photo is a sail boat. It looked much larger in real life!

Once you leave the River Road and drive up the Illinois River to Alton, this is the view. On the right is the Illinois River with tugs, barges, and even sail boats. To the left, bluffs rise above the road and signs that say “Beware Falling Rock.”

In addition to the landscape, there were birds. We saw herons and other wading birds. Honestly, they may have all been herons. We never got a good luck at any of them. In addition to the wading birds, we saw turkey vultures. They rode the thermals, circling high above the bluffs. Sometimes they rocked side to side as if testing out the wind.

Tiny road to the right. Great big, rocky bluff to the left.

As we drove, I found myself thinking. What if those weren’t turkey vultures? What if they were something bigger?

In spite of the fact that I’m about 25% of the way through Airstream, I want to start playing with a new idea. It would be fantasy about a dragon, the local piasa. I don’t know if I would want to write a contemporary fantasy or a historical fantasy, but this idea is trying to turn my head. On the way home, I even found a creepy forest setting along the Missouri River.

Alas, I will be responsible and finish the other one. But this idea is going in my journal! And now I will put my butt in my chair and get to work on my current project.


Writers Must Recharge

Writing involves a lot of sitting on your behind, staring at a computer screen. It is amazing how much energy that consumes. To make certain you have the energy to write, it is important to recharge.

This weekend I went to one of my favorite “recharging” stations – the Missouri Botanical Garden. In general, I’m not a huge plant person, meaning that I don’t feel like I know an awful lot about them. But I love going to the garden.

One of my favorite places to visit is the Climatron – a great geodesic greenhouse. You’ll see a bit of it in the second photo. In front of the Climatron are rectangular reflecting pools. Each has a different type of lily pad. There are some the size of dinner plates. Different varieties have leaves with different colors and textures. The flowers can be yellow, pink or deep purple. But my favorites are these large bath mat-sized lily pads. Can’t you imagine riding across the pool on one?

I also love going inside the Climatron. There are tiny plants with variegated leaves. They hug the ground right up to the water’s edge. There are orchids. There are pitcher plants that digest the hapless insects that fall inside. There is giant bamboo. There are a variety of plants the produce food including banana trees, jack fruit trees, a cola tree, a coco tree, and more.

But my favorites are probaly the tall tree-like plants that reach toward the rafters. I say tree-like because, as I said, I’m not a plant person. Some might be trees. Some might not. But this is one of my favorites with long leaves much like those on a banana tree. I love the way that the central stem looks like a braid.

It is easy to imagine slipping into the Climatron for shelter and taking up residence for a short time. How long could you linger before you were found?

Where do you go to recharge? Does it inspire your writing in some way?


Podcasts: Learn about Writing and Find Inspiration

Recently a group of writers were discussing favorite pod casts. While I sample writing pod casts, they are not my favorites.

My favorites are informational and cover a wide range of topics. They include:

It is amazing how often I come away from one of these podcasts with a writing idea.

Writing podcasts are a great way to learn about writing and marketing, especially if you are interested in indie publishing. Here are some of those on my feed, in no particular order:

  • DIY MFA Radio. Gabriela Pereira hosts this podcast that offers a weekly interview with authors and experts in the publishing industry.
  • The Manuscript Academy. Another podcast that offers interviews. These are with agents, editors and authors. About writing, business, and the publishing community.
  • Helping Writers Become Authors. Author K. M. Weiland’s podcast on inspiration and craft.
  • Writing for Children. Katie Davis hosts the Institute of Children’s Literature podcast that is up to 241 episodes.

I listen to podcasts while I do dishes and fold laundry. Knitting is also a good time to listen. If I haven’t included your favorite, please add it in the comments below.


3 Sources for Story Ideas

Some writers have more story ideas than they know what to do with. Others come up with one viable idea and work on it until it is done. Then they look for another. I’m in the first camp but partof the reason for that is I’m good at finding inspiration. Here are three of my go-to sources.

Articles on Writing

Not long ago, I spotted a Writer’s Digest article, “Forced Proximity: 50 Reasons for Your Characters to be Stuck Together.” This was a piece for romance writers. The idea was that romance can bloom if you get your characters together for a prolonged period. Me? I saw a list of story ideas. Take this premise – they are training for a team sport. Or, for middle schoolers, a mathalon. What happens when best friends end up on competing teams? 50 reasons = 50 or more story ideas.

Articles with character lists, setting suggestions and more can help prime the pumps and yield a story idea.

Photo Sites

Go to a site full of copyright free (CC0) photos and see what you can see. You can browse by subject (animals) or you can simply scroll through the latest additions to the site. The welcome page at Pixabay contained the three images that you see above this heading – a collage of a cargo ship, flamingos, and a fanciful rainbow rex. I could write an article about someone who turns a shipping container into a home, a group of kids who live in a shipping container (ala the Boxcar Children), how birds’ coloration depends on their diet, and a chameleon that sneezes ice cream sprinkles.

Use one image to link to another and fall down a rabbit hole of inspiration.

Your Reading

I also find inspiration from my reading. Sometimes an idea is sparked by a fact that I read in a sidebar. Or I might check out a book based on the title. “I’ve always wanted to read a book about the rusty-spotted cat!” But when I get the book home, I discover it is about a spotted cat named Rusty, not the smallest wild cat in the world. Yes, I’m disappointed but I have another idea for my list.

None of these ideas is complete and ready to go but each could provide the germ that becomes a story, article or poem. Where do you find your ideas?


3 Sources of Inspiration

Inspiration for readers. Inspiration for writers.
Photo by Prateek Katyal on Pexels.com

I try to get my posts for the week written by Wednesday. I failed to do that this week and was more than a little blue about that fact. “I’m so behind!” But then I got up Thursday morning and went on-line. I’m so glad that I had a post still open this week so that I could point you toward some inspirational people.

Dr. Jill Biden

As I’m sure many of you know, Biden’s degree is in education. She was chosen as the final speakef for this week’s American Library Association virtual conference. She pointed out that libraries are places that young people gather and grow. They grow into kind, compassionate people. “What you do matters so much,” she said. “In big cities and small towns, libraries fulfill a purpose that almost nothing else does. They’re a place of information for all; a place where people can come together as a community. It’s the aisles of books, the knowledge of generations collected and open to anyone. …”

Isn’t it wonderful to know that as writers our work is a part of this? You can read more about what she had to say here.

Darrion Cockrell

You know who Jill Biden is but I’d be willing to guess that most of you have no idea who Darrion Cockrell is. He was recently selected as the Missouri Teacher of the Year for 2021. Many children’s writers are teacher and he emphasized just how important teacher were, especially PE teachers, in turning his life around.

You see by the time he was 10 year-old he was a gang member. He later became a foster child. But because 2 teachers focused on helping him find a place at school, he became someone his entire community looks up to. He has an impact on students every day. What does he teach? PE.

I’ll admit. I can be more than a bit elitist and was surprised they gave the award to a gym teacher. Really? They gave it to a teacher who meets his students where they are and gives them a reason to love school. That’s something we as writers, me included, need to remember.

Check out his video statement.

Darrion Cockrell talks about the teachers who inspired him.

Amanda Gorman

I wrote about Amanda Gorman on my Facebook author page. Gorman is the young poet who read a poem at Joe Biden’s inauguration. Gorman grew up with a speech impediment which she overcame as a young adult.

What inspires me most about her? Since the inauguration, she has spoken about how overwhelmed she has been by the response to her work. She isn’t a young poet who walks around patting herself on the back.

She is someone who writes from the heart and her words connect with those who hear them.

We can’t plan to do that. It would be nice if we could. But what we can do is to keep putting our hearts into what we write, keep supporting our libraries, and our teachers and students. Because reaching out can make a difference.


4 Ways Writing Is Like Assembling a Puzzle

1000 pieces and a great deal of time.

Sometimes writing is a lot like putting together a puzzle. How? Read on to find out.


Stories and puzzles come to you in bits and pieces. Puzzles come precut, loose in a box. The number of pieces is printed on the box so, at least in theory, you have some idea what you are getting into.

When you write a story, sometimes the first piece that comes to you is the premise, a character, or the setting. As you gather those first pieces, you poke around in your imagination looking for more. Before long you’ve got a handful of pieces on the table in front of you.

A Picture

A puzzle comes with a picture on the box. This is how it is going to look. You pick out a particular puzzle because the image appeals to you in some way.

You think you know how your story is going to look. Fantasy has some element of magic. Science fiction takes the latest and greatest science and pushed the margins. Romance? Will they get together in the end. You pick the type of story you want to write because it appeals to you in some way.

Some Assembly Required

Even with the pieces and a picture, getting that puzzle put together is tricky. Above is the one I just finished. When I picked it out, a paid attention to the beautiful painting. I didn’t consider just how many of those tiny little pieces would be white. Or white with a black squiggle.

Putting a story together is, more often than not, tricky. You have a plan in mind but the opening scene feels contrived. Your character’s third failed attempt to solve the problem just doesn’t increase the tension the way it should. You have to pull things apart and start that scene all over again.

Takes Longer Than You Think

Honestly, most puzzles take me, at most, two months to put together. We’re talking 1000 piece puzzles like the one above. But this one took me from just after Mother’s Day until December 30, 2020.

Writing a new manuscript often takes longer than we think it will. Sometimes the problem is that we put it off. It is, after all, a lot of work and not coming together very easily. Other times it takes careful study to connect the chapters and tie up all the loose ends.

Whatever the reason, it takes longer than you expect before you type the last word or fit that last puzzle piece into place. Fortunately, both are worth the effort.


The Best Advice I’ve Heard for Writing During the Pandemic

Coronavirus, Corona, Quarantine, Isolation, ProtectionIf you are an SCBWI member who registered for the Summer Spectacular online conference, I hope you’ve found the time to watch the sesssion with Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple.  This mother-daughter team was the most inspirational session I’ve seen so far and that’s saying a lot.

Someone asked how to write during the pandemic.  I’ve heard a lot of variations on this theme since March and Jane gave the best advice that I’ve heard yet.  She reminded us that if the pandemic is overwhelming, we don’t have to write about it.  Instead, we can harness the emotions we are feeling and write a story steeped in these emotions.

This suggestion started me thinking about pandemic themes and stories that share these themes.

Write a story on loss.  This could be a story about a child who loses a treasured object.  Think Knuffle Bunny. Or it could be a book about divorce, the loss of a pet, or the death of a family member.  Each of these stories could have something to do with virus or nothing at all.  It depends on the story.  Write a story steeped in loss and it will ring true with readers who have suffered loss.

Write a story about uncertainty.  Your character’s family could be moving, because of a job loss.  But they could also be moving because someone got a new job.  Two of my friends have experienced moving during the pandemic. Your character could be starting a new school.  We’ve all seen stories about a character who moves and goes to a new school or moves up a grade and starts a new school.  But what about a character who changes schools because of redistricting or a school closure?

Write a story about confinement.  Your character’s family could be in hiding, in an internment camp, or in quarantine during a plague.  Your character could be recooperating from an injury, snowed in, or stowing away.

Take a truth from our current reality and use it to build a story.  I’ve got fairly well developed ideas for two stories and nuggets that may yield several more.


Three Things I Learned about Setting Goals from Octavia Butler

Recently I told a friend that’s I just learned about the writing of Octavia Butler.  No, it isn’t because she is black and I read no black authors growing up.  It is because I didn’t read any fantasy until I was in middle school.


And then I met a group of kids who introduced me to fantasy.  So I read the same books that they did, the ones on their parents shelves.  Tolkien and Heinlein and McCaffrey.  I still adore McCaffrey.  And then someone on the Gutsy Great Novelist boards said that she wanted to write like Octavia Butler.  And the next week someone on Twitter mentioned an inspirational story by Octavia Butler.  Then this week I saw an Open Culture post about a motivational note that Octavia Butler wrote to herself.  Me?  I think I’m meant to learn something from her since I’ve heard about her so often lately.

So I read through her motivational note and here are three things I learned about setting goals.

Be Specific

She didn’t write I want to be a world-class writer.  What would be considered world class?  No, she was specific.  “I shall be a bestselling writer. After Imago, each of my books will be on the bestseller lists of LAT, NYT, PW, WP, etc.”  Her goal was to be a bestselling author with her books on these specific lists.

Dream Big

So often we are told to set “managable goals” or goals that we have control over.  Don’t say I am going to publish a bestseller.  Instead say I am going to write 500 words a day.  Those serving-sized goals weren’t enough for Octavia Butler and maybe they shouldn’t be enough for us either.

Cheer Yourself On

There are going to be days when you may be your only advocate.  Be prepared to cheer yourself on.  In the words of Octavia Butler, “So be it! See to it!”



5 Places to Find Inspiration

Where do you get your ideas?”  That’s a question I dread because, I suspect, that my answer is atypical.  I find them wherever I happen to be, whatever I am reading, watching or paying attention to.  And my own story idea is often fairly unrelated to what inspired me.

For the past two days, I haven’t been feeling all that great.  So I spent this morning with grumble gut sprawled on the sofa.  While I crocheted, I listened to The Splended and the Vile, a book that focuses on Churchill and England during WWII.  I have had no less than three story ideas pop into my head while listening to this.  One was thoroughly substandard so I didn’t write it in my journal.  One I wrote down in my journal.  And the third I roughed this afternoon.  It has absolutely nothing to do with Churchill, England, WWII, or aeroplanes.

So where should you look for inspiration?  Among the things that interest.

  1. Look for ideas while you read books you enjoy. You never know when some side comment while inspire a book or article idea.
  2. Pay attention when you are watching movies . . .
  3. Or documentaries.  Some background event or character may grab your attention.
  4. Take notes when something throws you.  Sometimes I read something wrong and have to scroll back.  “There is no way that said…”  Other times I’ll click on a story or request a book only to discover that what I thought I had found is something else entirely.  The piece I wanted to read?  I jot that down.
  5. Doing tedious tasks.  Yes, you read that right.  Scrubbing the shower, weeding or watering the garden are highly inspirational because when I do things like this my mind wanders.  And when it wandered last night while hauling water to the new apple trees, I came away with an even better ending for my new picture book.

Ideas are everywhere.



Inspiration: Seeking Story Ideas and Energy

St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church

For almost two weeks, one of my writing friends who lives in New Hampshire is staying at the Writer’s Colony in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  Friday, I turned in my latest teen nonfiction manuscript and my husband and I hit the road.  I knew I was just happy, Happy, HAPPY to be away from my desk because the time on the highway, five hours no less, passed in a flash.

After two or three wrong turns, we met up with Ann and then walked a mile to the historic district.  After dinner, we strolled back to her house-for-the week.  Walk through a Victorian-era town after dark in the autumn

Some places just beg to become settings and Eureka Springs is one of those places.  As you can probably tell by the name, it is the home of a number of springs that are believed to have healing properties including at least one miraculous recovery.

Dormitory, hospital, now Crescent Hotel

There was a girl’s dormitory.  I’m not sure if that had something to do with one of several hospitals or a school.  There was a Carnegie Library that is still in operation.   At least one of the medical institutions was a full blown snake oil and cruelty situation which rather begs for a book.  There’s also a Frank Lloyd Wright house there.

Flatiron building

If I managed to learn this much in just over 24 hours, I can’t even imagine how much is lurking, waiting for discovery.  We will definitely have to make a trip back there although we will NOT go during October-fest, the War-Eagle craft fair which has over 100 vendors, etc.

Are you feeling tapped out and unable to come up with new story ideas?  Then you may need to take a break.  I know a trip isn’t always possible but what about a stay-cation?  I’m an hour away from a zoo, science museum, botanical garden and miles and miles of trails, several historic cemeteries and more.  I can think of several places I’ve yet to explore.

Why someplace new?  Favorite places are good, but sometimes you need new experiences to really fuel your creative fire.