One Writer’s Journey

January 23, 2017

Say Bye Bye to Clutter

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:45 am
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electronic-clutterOne of my favorite home and how-to bloggers is Karen.  She will tackle just about anything in her blog, The Art of Doing Stuff.  She’s laid a patio, put in a pond, built a chicken coop and installed shelving with hidden storage.  One of the things that she does every year, and challenges her readers to tackle too is to throw away 50 things.

As Karen puts it, you can “donate, ditch or destroy.”  Just make it be gone.

When I saw her challenge last week, I was in the midst of a shingles outbreak.  It was delightful said no one ever.  I wanted to use this challenge to get my office in shape but, to put it mildly, I was not in the appropriate condition to clean out the closet, get rid of another pile or three on my desk or clean off a book-case.  In fact, I wasn’t doing too much more than sitting on my fanny and napping.

What could I do while sitting around?  As I considered this, I clicked on my e-mail and inadvertently moused over my inbox.  I had 80 unread pieces of e-mail but something like 276 message in the box.  100 seemed like a lot and I had nearly three times that much.  No wonder I was having troubles getting some things done.

So that night, I finished going through my new messages and then re-sorted the old ones by sender. Nine messages from a single yarn vendor.  I quickly disposed of all but 1.  Another 10 back issues of a newsletter that I had saved to remind me to resubscribe.  Once I done it, the messages languished. Click and gone.  Soon I had deleted 25 old messages.

Each day, I read and the new messages.  Then I deleted at least 25 of the old.  My goal is to have fewer than 25 remaining by the end of this week.

The funny thing is that as old messages go, my productivity picks up.  I’m not having to sort through a huge list of messages to find the one piece of information I need for that newsletter article.  And I’m willingly dealing with things instead of sitting on them.

Is electronic clutter slowing you down?  Clean out your in-box.  Unsubscribe from vendors and lists if you regularly delete their messages unread.  Electronic clutter can be just as bad as paper clutter.  And once you get that under control you can tackle some of the things you’ve printed out.  Get rid of 50 pieces of clutter a month and you’ll be surprised by the progress that you’ve made.



January 20, 2017

Writing Short: Should You Bother If You also Write Long?

long-and-shortPerhaps because I’ve been judging a series of flash fiction contests, I’ve been noodling over ideas for short stories and articles.  In the last four years, my writing career has taken off and I’ve been writing a lot of books.  I turned in my 11th right before Christmas.  But before that I did a lot of shorter work and the reality is that I miss writing short.

Still, is it worthwhile to take time away from my book work to write short?  As I was wondering this, I ran across tbe Writer’s Edit piece “5 Reasons Novelists Should Write Short Stories.”  Reading it helped my own thoughts on the topic gel.

Diversity if a good thing.  Just as diversity is a good thing when you are talking about people, diversity is a good thing in your writing as well.  A book can take months to research and months more to write.  There are times you are going to get stuck on something — the fact you can’t find, the scene that hasn’t come together, etc.  You are going to need something else to do.  Why not write something short?  It will help give you that . . .

Can do feeling.  Short things generally take a lot less time to finish.  One problem that writers often have is a lack of validation.  We sit and work on something for months without that sense of a job well done.  Working on something short can give you that boost in much less time and sometimes we really need that boost to keep going.

Experience.  That’s another reason to write short.  The more you write, the more polished your writing becomes.  While you’re researching a book, you can be writing short pieces and developing greater polish.

Exposure.  And the more you get your work out there, the more exposure you will have. That’s important because editors google names.  This blog has helped me get work.  My short pieces on education web sites have helped me get work.  In short, having my name out there has helped me get work.

Yes, the time spent writing short is time not spent writing long.  But time spent writing yields experience, polish and exposure.  The three have generally served me well and, because of that, I’m going to continue writing both short and long.



November 30, 2016

Finally Fall: Writing in the Gray

ginkgo-1804045_1920Here in Missouri we had an unseasonably warm October.  Fall weather would bob into view and then bob away again.  It didn’t settle in until about a week before Thanksgiving.  But now the days are more gray than sunny and we’re getting those fall rains.  Personally, I love the sound of rain on the patio roof.

But I’ve also noticed that after a day or two, I’m not as productive.  I’m a little droopy and just don’t move as fast.  Part of the problem is that this is just a super busy time of year.  No matter how much I get done, there are dozens of things that I still need to do.  It can be overwhelming.  Here are a few tips to keep your spirits up and keep the words flowing.

Get outside.  As long as it isn’t a torrential downpour, spend a few minutes outside.  Weak sun is better than no sun.  And, as my grandmother would have pointed out, you aren’t going to melt.

Get moving.  Yes, you are super busy.  But be sure to take the time to move.  Twice a week, I go to yoga.  I am one of the most frugal people on the planet.  If I pay for yoga, I will go to yoga.  This is different from going to the gym because yoga meets twice a week.  There’s a schedule.  I also use my treadmill and my husband’s rowing machine.  I set a “calories burned goal” six days a week.  I am much more civil when I meet it because it means I’ve had to move.

Turn on the lights.  It gets dark earlier and cloudy days mean the house or office can be gloomy all day long.  Turn on an extra light.  Light a candle.  Put up a strand or two of holiday lights.  I’m not saying add holiday decorating to your to-do list, but make sure you have plenty of light.

As much as I love the sound of rain, too many gray days slow me down.  Fortunately I have a plan for how to deal with it.


November 10, 2016


Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:22 am
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chrysanthemum-991625_1920What is the saying about the well laid plans of mice and men?  I actually looked it up and found this in the American Heritage Dictionary. 

“No matter how carefully a project is planned, something may still go wrong with it. The saying is adapted from a line in “To a Mouse,” by Robert Burns, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.”

Usually when I approach NaNo, it is all a bit slap dash.  I’ve just come off a deadline and I dash in at the last moment and manage to rough about 8000 words before I lose my way in the story.

This time I actually planned.  I scrapbooked the novel, creating pages for my characters and my setting.  I didn’t get as far as I would have liked on material culture but I got a bit of that done as well.

Just as I was sitting down to work on my outline, I get hit with a rewrite.  It was due two days into NaNo.  No worries.  I could do that and then get the outline done.

Are you laughing yet?

By the time I got the rewrite done, I was a teeny-weeny little bit toasted.  As in completely fried.

Then we had three deaths — a family friend, a friend’s mom, and a friend’s wife.  I guess you could say that at this point I am deep-fried.

For two days I tried to work on my novel.  I managed to outline about 25% of it and wrote two and a half pages.  That’s something like 700 words which is much less than the 1600+ words you are supposed to write each day.  And it is really bad.  Not so bad that I’m going to throw it away because it helped me pull somethings together but it is only a wee bit of what I need to accomplish given that I should be about 15,000 words in.

The killer is that I really want to work on the book.  But right now?  I just don’t have the energy to do it.

Instead of writing, I’m doing some more research on the material culture.  I’ll get more information on how they do things — cooking and the like.  I’m also working on my outline using the Plot Whisperer to nudge me along.  I know I can do it but I am equally certain that I just can’t do it right now.

Does that make me a NaNo failure?  I don’t much care for the world failure.  I think I’ll just consider myself a late bloomer, like a mum.



October 25, 2016

When Someone Writes Your Book

A lot of the blogs I read feature children’s books.  That’s part of the reason that my library bag is constantly overflowing.  I see a book peeking-under-the-citythat intrigues me and I request it. But the other day I saw one that really rocked me back.  It looked like my book, or at least my idea.

I’ve been playing around with a dual story line picture book for a while now.  Part of my issue has been trying to settle the story line.  Part of the issue has been trying to do the research.  When I saw Peeking Under the City by Esther Porter, my first thought wasn’t “Wow, what a great book.”  It was much closer to “oh, no.”

The thing is that this is bound to happen.  Ideas don’t develop in a vacuum. They are the result of various external stimulus which are then churned around in your brain. But you aren’t the only one who has the stimulus.  You and someone else are bound to have remarkably similar ideas.  A friend of mine wrote an excellent book about an underground city right before The City of Ember came out.  We had already critiqued his manuscript and he had started to send it out.  The two books were so similar that it was spooky.

And that’s the first thing to do.  Get the other book and read it.  I’m sitting here with a library copy of Peeking Under the City.  It’s a fun piece of nonfiction about the various things that lie underground in a city.  Porter covers everything from utilities and trains to building foundations and fossils.  This is nothing like my idea or at least only very tangentially.  I am so relieved!

If the idea is very close to your own, you have to decide if you want to finish your book.  While I don’t want to tell you “don’t bother,” you do need to seriously look at the competition.  If it is very like your own idea, the two will be in direct competition.  Quite frankly, if the other book is flawed, that’s no big deal.  Plot holes and flat character may leave you enough room to maneuver.

But if it is a top-notch book, written for the same audience, by a big name author?  Then you have some tough decisions to make.


October 24, 2016

An Interesting Life Feeds Makes for Interesting Writing

cabin-and-truck“An Interesting Life Feeds Makes for Interesting Writing.”  When you saw that title, whose life did you think that I meant?

Maybe you first thought of the character’s life.  Certainly a character with an interesting life will be more fun to write (and read) about than a character who sits on the sofa, plays video games and eats chips.  Snore!

What I actually meant was that when a writer has an interesting life, it makes for interesting stories.

Lately, I’ve been doing the prep-work for NaNoWriMo.  I’ve finished half of my character interviews and I’ve scrapbooked the characters and settings.  This means that I’ve been doing a lot of research.

Google Image is my friend.  I’ve collected photos of historic iron mines, miners cabins, ghost towns, and a deserted mansion.  There are photos of Lon Sanders canyon, iron ore and old timey mercantile stores.  All of these things came into the story intentionally.

But as I was searching cabins (my main character has to live someplace!), I had an epiphany.  I needed exterior dairyimages but I needed to know the layout as well.  A number of interior artifacts would also be useful.  Where oh where could I find these things together.  Then it hit me.  My father-in-law has helped restored a log cabin.  In is now set up as a museum complete with wood burning stoves, a spinning wheel, and a kitchen.  Seriously, I can be so dense at times.  That’s a photo of the cabin and our truck, both restored by my father-in-law. Thank goodness I have such interesting people in my life!

Then something completely unexpected crept into the story.  What do they grow on this farm?  Originally, the farm where this cabin stands, included tobacco fields.  We know this because there is a tobacco barn.  My mother died of lung cancer and my father has COPD.  Yeah, I already really like this character and she is not going to grow tobacco.  Besides, I’ve moved the cabin to slightly different geography that is far too rocky for tobacco but there are cattle aplenty.

Guess where my family went this weekend? The photo to the right is my son drinking a soda in a calf barn.  We went to a local organic creamery.  Now, in my story, the Wilkersons keep dairy cattle and, by the end of the book, will be working towards having a full-fledged dairy.  I so did not see that coming and will have to go back to the real dairy (oh woe is me!), take the official tour and do some delicious research.

Spend time with interesting people.  Go interesting places.  Do interesting things.  They will find their way into your stories.



October 19, 2016

Sit and Write as Jane Yolen: How to Approach Your Writing

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:24 am
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typewriterAbout two weeks ago, I blogged about taking classes online.  The first class I attempted turned into a ball of frustration as I tried to locate, sans links, the course site and readings.  Because I take these classes for FUN, I quickly gave up and moved to the next course.  Creative Writing: A Master Class for which I downloaded the itunes app.

The first lecture was given by playwright August Wilson.  Wilson discusses his efforts to have his work accepted so that he could attend the National Playwrights conference.  Wilson described writing several plays only to have them rejected one by one.  It wasn’t until his fourth or fifth effort that his work was accepted.

What did he do differently that time around?  He says that that was when he realized that he was sitting in the same writing chair as Tennessee Williams and as Ibsen.  An unknown with no plays to his credit, he was in the exact same position that they were when they sat down to write.  He had to figure out how to get actors onto the stage and all of the other things that have to be accomplished in a play.

He had to do these things but so did the greats.

Think about your own writing.  Are you writing picture books like Jane Yolen?  Maybe you are writing early readers like Arnold Lobel.  Me?  Some day s I write nonfiction like James Cross Giblin.  I’m getting ready to work on a middle grade novel just like Bruce Coville.

No matter what you write, you are doing the same thing as the luminaries in your field.  You have the same goal.  You have similar tools.

Will this realization change how you write?  So often we are told to remember that we are in competition with every book that is in print.  Your work has to be that good or better or it will never see print.  And, that’s true enough.

But Wilson has definitely hit on something.  As soon as you sit down to write, or stand at an easel to paint, you have the same goals and the same means to get there as the greats.

You just need to make the work your own.  How about them apples? (To quote my grandmother.)


September 13, 2016

How-to Revamp Your Critique Group

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:43 am
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Over the past two years, attendance at our critique group meetings had fizzled.  At one point, we averaged 6 to 8 people per meeting.  Lately?  Two.

discussionIt was clear that something needed to change.  Maybe the day of our meetings was to blame.  I asked other members and yes Thursday had become less convenient but the time was still fine.  So we moved the meetings to Wednesday evenings.  At first, it looked like that fix had worked because we had three or four people per meeting. Then it crawled back down to 2.  We had even had 2 new members but with a schedule change one of them couldn’t make it, but he did say that 4:30 would be much better.

Again, I asked various members.  Would earlier in the day work?  Surprisingly, many of them said yes.  So now we are meeting at 4:30.  This past meeting we were back up to six members including one who had returned (evenings no longer worked for her) and a new person.

There are a variety of reasons that attendance may be flagging and, of course, the fix will vary according to the reason.

Does the day/time still work for most people? This one can be trickier than you might think to diagnose.  Many of the people who came to our meetings swore that evenings were still better.  They said that, but they didn’t come.  You may have to try more than one new day/time to find one that consistently works.

Do you still have a genuine critique group?  Socialization is well and good, but your group will only hold the attention of serious writers if you critique.  This means managing the chit-chat.  Give everyone fifteen or twenty minutes to chat and then get to work.

Is there a shark in the waters?  Sadly, a single member can sometimes be the problem.  If you have someone in your group who pulls every conversation back to themselves or who lashes out when a manuscript doesn’t match their views of science or politics, some policing may be in order.  It is never easy to tell a fellow adult to use their nice words or shush, but sometimes it is necessary.

Do you just need a pick me up?  If everyone is feeling a big jaded, start each meeting with a fun writing exercise.  Or bring cupcakes to celebrate the birthday of a noteworthy author.  Or you might take a field trip to a local archive or library.

Is the group too small?  Once a group reaches a certain tiny size, it doesn’t function well.  Three regular members mean that an absence takes it down to one or two.  Put out a call with local writers groups.  Or get your group listed on a web site.  I brazenly introduce myself to writers at various meetings and workshops and invite them to our group.


Sometimes your group will need a little TLC to keep it in peak performance.  It’s well worth the effort.


September 12, 2016

Writing in the Post 9/11 World

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:56 am
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new-york-77639_1280We spent a certain amount of time reminiscing about where we were and what we were doing when the towers fell.  At the time, I had a 2 year-old on my hands.  I spent a great deal of every day telling him not to eat that bug, don’t throw the train car at the window, and for goodness sake get that BUG OUT OF YOUR MOUTH.

Suffice it to say, I did not watch a lot of television at that point in my life and that was before we all carried cell phones with us on a regular basis. About the time the first tower was hit, I got a phone call from my father.  He told me what was going on but I didn’t believe it.  I turned on the TV.

I didn’t think my toddler was paying much attention until we went outside.  You see, we lived in the flight path of our local airport.  Predictably enough, we hadn’t been outside too long before a jet passed overhead.  As soon as my son saw it, he took off for the house.  He had learned enough to think that hiding from aircraft was a good idea.

One of the things that I learned from this experience was that children understand a lot more than we assume.  Respect that.  It doesn’t mean that everything that we write should be edgy.  But it does mean that we are writing for small people who in many ways resemble sponges.  They absorb a lot.

What we give them to mull over needs to be worthy.  If you are writing for their entertainment, writing something that is engaging even if it is a little twisted.  Amuse them and amuse them well.  If you write to educate, don’t write down.  They may be small but they are surprisingly sophisticated for people who need to be told not to eat that bug.




August 31, 2016

Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Freelance Writer?

night sky 2I more or less lucked into my career as a writer.  It all started when I took a continueing education class with Pat McKissack.  I had just gotten married.  I worked days.  My husband worked nights.  I loved the class and I had time to write.  I still remember when I called my mom and told her that this was what I wanted to do.  “It’s about time you figured it out.”

Thanks, Mom.  Way to motivate a girl.  Just joking.  She had spotted the signs that I had the three traits essential to success in this field.

You have to be self-motivated.  When I started writing, I worked full time. Many new writers do but it would have been really easy to eat dinner on the sofa watching Spanish soap operas or go out with my girlfriends.  I realized that although Pat said encouraging things about my stories, they weren’t as good as what I saw in print.  If I wanted to sell, I was going to have to work and no one was going to tell me to do it.  Fortunately, I love to research and that helped keep me going before I started to sell.  And it also leads into another “essential trait.”

You have to be curious.  You have to learn the markets, what’s been published and what is selling.  If you are going to write nonfiction , you have to be eager to research and research some more.  Lucky me, I’m what my mother referred to as “insatiable.”  If there’s a drawer in a desk, I want to know what’s in it.  Crumbling buildings hold treasure or at least curiousities.  The internet is an endless rabbit hole. For some people, the number of possible paths are too much, because as a writer . . .

You have to be willing to take a chance.  Whether you are deciding to write this story vs that one, submit to X publisher, do a requested rewrite for an agent, or write an e-book, you are taking a chance.  Very seldom are you going to see an opportunity and know beyond a doubt that it is a sure thing.  That means that you have to be willing to try and fail and try again.

Keep trying, learning and pushing yourself and there will be sales if you have what it takes to get there.



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