Getting inspired

Revision update: I’ve been sick all week, so nothing done. Very frustrating.

This is my first writing for the week, thanks to a fast-acting yucky cold. I did a little revising last night as I couldn’t sleep — a byproduct of sleeping most of the day for the last three days — but other than that, I’ve done nada, and it’s bothering me. Today, I am feeling a bit better, but those few days away from my book have worked on my insecurities, and I’m feeling a little apprehensive about getting back to it. Nothing that jumping into the deep end won’t fix, but I figured I’d do this post first.

Given my lack of inspiration right now, I thought it was fitting that I found in one of the Yahoo groups I follow a link to Jennifer Blanchard‘s blog post 43 Most Inspiring Writing Advice Posts of 2009. (Thanks, Greg P., for the heads up.) Procrastinating Writers blog founder Jennifer Blanchard compiled the most inspiring blog posts she read over the year and shared them. I have a few favorites from her list (but check out the whole list, because you’ll probably find more that speak to you):

Seven Productivity Tips: This was probably my favorite blog post because it’s stuff I haven’t really thought about before, but it’s good, get-your-butt-in-gear stuff.

Learning to Accept Responsibility for Yourself: This is another great one, because so often, we use other things as excuses for why we didn’t write, but it still comes down to our choice.

You Won’t Break Into the Business By Imitating Other Writers: This is a writing post as opposed to a make-the-time-to-write post, but it’s all great advice.

Why You Shouldn’t Wait for Inspiration: This one follows posts I’ve written here on DayByDayWriter about making time to write consistantly.

How to Defeat Burnout and Stay Motivated: I tend to push myself hard and take on a lot, so I liked this one as a reminder that it’s ok to take it slow.

Get Rid of “Should” Once and For All: This is another great one, because we all have the tendency to say “I should be writing” too much. I know I do. And when I do, I don’t feel good about it. I feel much better when I can say, “I have written.”

What’s inspiring you today?

Now, on to my revision…

Write On!

P.S. How do you like my snow?


"Spanking the muse"

More busy days with my day-job, so I’m sorry these blog posts are coming slowly. But not it’s Friday night, work is over for the week, laundry is folded — almost — and I’m sitting in front of Becoming Jane, laptop on my lap and glass of wine by my side. Ahhh

Here’s number two of my posts from the North Texas SCBWI conference last weekend. Illustrator David Diaz, who won the Caldecott Medal (and he told us it is an actual medal, that’s quite heavy) for the picture book Smoky Night, talked about writer’s block and what he called, “spanking the muse.”

David’s amusing talk gave some interesting insight in the ways in which writers and illustrators deal with those times when they have trouble creating. Prior to the conference, he did a (non)scientific study on Facebook and found that many creative types use many things to bring on the muse, with alcohol rated quite high.

But from David’s advice from the study, here are a few tips:

  • Focus – on what you’re trying to achieve
  • Change your medium – write with pen and paper if you’re used to a computer
  • Slow down or speed up – too much technique can kill creativity; let it flow
  • Move your butt – go for a walk or something to change your environment
  • Feed your head – nurture your inner creative person by providing creative things (David said he spends much time combing magazines for inspiration)
  • Embrace your inner dinker – allow yourself the freedom to dinker (David’s word for procrastinate) as long it opens you up to let the muse come in

David showed a number of quotes about the muse, and here are my two favorites:

“One reason I don’t suffer writer’s block is that I don’t wait for the muse. I summon her at need.” — Piers Anthony

“I have a wonderful muse called alimony.” — Dick Shaap


I love both of these, and I think they both have the same message: Make your own muse.

I’m going off David’s talk now, but I’m a believer making your own muse. I used to write whenever I had the time, and I got writer’s block often. But since I made the commitment to write every day, writer’s block hasn’t been as much of a problem, and my muse mostly stays close by. To me, the muse will give to you whatever you give to her (him or it). Inspiration comes when you’re living your story, writing every day and keeping the characters in your head as much as often when you’re not actively writing. Do that, and you’ll always have somewhere to go in the story, because your characters will always be taking you somewhere.

Robert McKee, author of Story, said the key to overcoming writer’s block is research. For me, whether you’re actually researching some aspect of your story or simply thinking about your story and actively writing, it’s one and the same. Both keep your muse at your side.

One of the best talks I’ve seen on creativity (as well as David’s, of course) is from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Love, Pray. I’ve linked to it before, but I think it’s worth mentioning again. And this time I found the code so I could actually embed the video. It’s about 20 minutes, but it’s worth watching; you won’t be disappointed.

How’s your muse treating you?

Write On!

Inspiration in a difficult week

Sorry that I’ve been absent from this blog for most of this week. I’ve been absent from most things.

My husband and I had a loss Wednesday morning when our dog passed away. It was quick, which was a good thing, but it was a terrible shock for us.

My husband and I don’t have children yet, but Newton was our child, our boy. He acted like a very hairy five-year-old with a limited vocabulary. He even loved opening presents at Christmas. He went just about everywhere with us that dogs could go, and his absence has been very difficult to deal with.

SirNewton8x10Newtie is also the inspiration behind my Sir Newton books (the picture is the promotional photo we gave to kids at book signings), and when he died, I couldn’t imagine working on another book. I had a lot of plans for these books. During the last year, I’ve focused on my novels in an effort to get those moving along with an agent and publishers, so the next book in the series, Sir Newton’s Color Me Florida, has been sitting in my computer mostly done. I planned to finish it when I had more time, and I planned to expand the series to every state in the U.S. as well as every Caribbean island and then the world, each one following the same pattern as the first two and providing funds to local children’s charities in each area the books describe. With my real Sir Newton gone, I couldn’t imagine doing another book. But my husband said, “You have to keep doing them for him.”

You see, one of the amazing things about Newtie was how happy he was. He was always wagging his tail, even the day before he died, he was wagging his tail, bright eyed, tongue hanging out. The amazing thing about this is that Newtie had a lot of health problems throughout his life, but, to quote his vet, “to look at him, you’d never know he had been sick.”

Newton was born with a herniated diaphragm; part of his intenstines rested in his chest cavity, keeping his right lung partly closed. When we adopted him, Newtie had been on the streets of South Central, Los Angeles, for a few months, we estimate. He had horrible mange and a rotting ear (we have pictures and they’re not pretty). He was three days away from being euthanized at the pound, because no one would adopt a dog in this state, when a rescue worker with the Much Love organization picked him up. The group paid for all his vet bills to get him fixed up then found him a foster home, which happened to be some friends of ours. I went with our friend to pick him up, a hairless dog except for a little white mohawk with the best and most friendly personality of any dog I had ever met in a situation like that. I was immediately smitten.

Newton quickly became a part of our family, and was with us for around five years. He enlived our lives more than I can describe, and everyone who met him called him “the happy dog.”

Last year, he was diagnosed with cancer. I prayed and prayed for him, for my boy, and God answered my prayers. After his first round of chemo, Newt was in remission the following morning. He had had tumors the size of golf balls under his mouth, but when we woke up the next morning, they were competely gone. Our vet had told us it would take a couple weeks to see a difference, best case scenario a few days. But he was in full remission the morning after.

We continued his full treatment and, as happens with chemo, Newtie lost a lot of hair again. But he started growing his hair back two months before he was done with his chemo treatment, which the vet kept saying was “amazing.”

His vet continued to be impressed with Newt’s recovery, and his follow up tests since he finished chemo were clean. Then a couple weeks ago, Newtie started to show signs of something being off. He was still wagging his tail and squeeking his toys and running up and down the stairs like a puppy, though. On Tuesday, I took him to the vet for some tests. They thought maybe his cancer had returned, and the next day, I had planned to get the results and see where we went from there. That night, I prayed again. I prayed and prayed that God would take care of him, to take care of my boy. After Newton passed away around 6:30 the next morning, my husband said God did answer my prayers; He did take care of Newton. He made it quick and relatively painless. That is a comfort. Newton was a very special dog — and I’m quoting my vet, so you know I’m not being biased (although I don’t mind if you think I am biased, because I am) — and he had had enough problems in his life. He didn’t deserve any more pain.

Comfort as it was, however, it’s still very hard to so suddenly have him not in our lives.

So, I’ve been pretty much feeling in a coma for the last few days. I had emails sitting in my inbox waiting to be answered. I haven’t done anything on my books. I haven’t even looked at my blog. Then, yesterday, my husband and I were talking about Newt — again — and remembering how happy he was all the time despite all the hardships he had to deal with during his life. And it was then that I realized that Newton was much better than me. I have none of the health problems he had, and although I’m generally very happy, I have my worries, concerns, over really small things. When Newton died, I didn’t feel like doing anything, not even one of my favorite things: writing. I want to be a novelist full time, to tell stories all the time, but when he died, I didn’t care about it. It just seemed like it didn’t matter.

But remembering Newt’s tail swinging back and forth, and his shining eyes as his pink tongue hung out of his mouth, his running around and squeeking his toy even though he only had one and a half good lungs, I realized that remembering is much better than mourning. Remembering all the wonderful things he did is the best way to honor him. And to aim to be as happy as him no matter what is the best way to be.

My husband encouraged me to return the emails I needed to return today, some from prospective agents, so I did, with images of Newtie wagging his tail at my feet.

Things will never be the same without our Newtie, our Sir Newton (who often lived up to his pen name), but I’m getting back on my horse, so to speak, and trying to remember that he wouldn’t worry or be sad; he’d smile and wag his tail.

This blog post is for him.

Write On

Never feel alone as a writer

Current word count: 22,588

New words written: 729

Words til goal: 17,412 / 415 words a day til the end of September

Another good writing day. I’m waiting the well to dry up! hahaha Hopefully, not til I’m done.

Writing is very solitary work. It’s just you, a computer or notebook and your story in your head. It’s great to have others that you can bounce ideas off of, but, sometimes that can be difficult as everybody has their own lives and no one else is as obsessed about our book as we are. 🙂

But as much as we’re the only one who can actually write our story, we are not alone as writers, and that has never been more clear to me than yesterday when I was catching up on some blog reading. We have friends on the blogosphere who are going through the exact things we are going through.

In blogs online, writers are talking about their experiences from all different levels, like Will (21st Century Paperback Writer blog), who posted a comment on my blog post yesterday and is a long-time reader who’s currently outlining his first novel; Brit (Dream the Dream blog), who’s currently working on her first novel; Katie Anderson (Plot This blog with Sarah Francis Hardy), who like me has written and revised her novel and is seeking an agent; Beverly (Prana Island of Witches blog), who has just signed with an agent; and Shelli (Market My Words blog), who has a number of books already in the market.

In the blogosphere, we’re not alone, no matter where we are on the writing road. And no matter what, we can always find help, comfort and encouragment in the experiences of others.

So, build up a set of go-to blogs, keep adding to the list whenever you find new ones, and anytime you feel alone, start browsing and reading. We’re all going through the same things in front of our computers.

And if you ever feel like you need help with anything, I think I speak for all bloggers by saying, just reach out. Post a comment saying what you’re feeling. You won’t be alone.

If you want help in setting up a go-to set of blogs, check out the ones listed on the right. And if you’ve got favorites you think I should add, post them in the comments.

Write On!

The origin of creativity has a video of a great talk from author Elizabeth Gilbert about nurturing creativity. She talks about where creativity comes from and how in today’s society, when an author or creative person achieves a certain amount of success, there’s enormous pressure to do even better next time. Gilbert can attest after the huge (she calls it “freakish”) success of her Eat, Pray, Love. To relieve some of the pressure, she suggests that we stop thinking of successful creative types as geniuses (with the need to constantly repeat the genius) and instead adopt some of the ideas of the Greeks and Romans, who believed that creativity was a gift from the gods (thereby taking some of the pressure off us). Of course, Elizabeth Gilbert says it all much better than me, so I recommend taking 20 minutes and watching the video.

I totally agree with what Elizabeth’s saying. Sure we work hard at our writing, and we grow our talent and skills, but there’s more to creativity than that. And in my experience, that more is God. I believe that God gives us all gifts when we are born, and we can choose to use them, build on them, or not. And He can help, but we have to ask. That’s free will.

I also think He gives us nudges, pokes to get us going in the right direction. And hopefully we’re open to them, and if we follow through, follow His will, then everything’s beautiful — still work, but beautiful nonetheless.

When I got the idea for the Sir Newton books, I did nothing with it. I thought it was a good idea, but frankly, honestly, I was scared to do anything with it, to take a chance of failing. So I didn’t do anything. Then one day, when I was walking to work, the idea popped into my head again, but not a simple, “Hi, remember me?” It was like a tornado. The idea burrowed into my head and exploded into a heap of other ideas, about how the books would look, what kind of content they would have, why they would sell, etc. It felt as though something was shouting at me: “Hey, I gave you this great idea a while back, and you’re not doing anything with it. Here’s what it could be. Do something with it.” Needless to say, I did something with it and they have been a success.

More recently, I was doing the structural revision of my novel and I was revising a part that had made me stuck for days. I just couldn’t think of a good way to fix the problem, and I had gone over it and over it. My plan was to stop torturing myself and take a break for a couple days in the hope that inspiration would strike. But that night, I was at our local church sitting in our Adoration chapel (I was raised Catholic), and I was talking to Our Lord and telling Him the problems I was having. I asked Him to help and basically said that I believed God had given me the idea for this novel, but if I was going to do it well, I needed His help, because I couldn’t figure it out on my own. Despite planning to take a break on the revision, the next morning, I woke up early with the solution in my head. I jumped on my computer and had the problem solved in an hour, and not only was it solved, but I got all these other great ideas. Thank you, God.

A family friend who’s a priest told me once that I should pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance before I start writing every day. I don’t. I always forget. But I do pray about my writing regularly, and when I do, I can see the change in the work.

What drives your creativity?

Write On!

Day 22

I overslept and got a late start this morning, but I managed to do some revisions this afternoon for day 22 in my unofficial participation in National Novel Writing Month. I actually wouldn’t mind continuing, but I have a dog to walk and a grocery store to visit. We all know how that is.

In between work this morning, I found some words from Ellen Booraem, the author of The Unnameables, which I’ve mentioned a few times., on Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations blog. Ellen says that often, inspiration hits her most when her fingers are on the keys, and I couldn’t agree more.

As a journalist myself, I’ve also asked sources if I can call them again with more questions as other ideas might pop up after I’ve started to write. And working on this novel, I feel the same thing. When I’m stuck, I can get ideas while driving, in the shower, walking my dog (when I’m not reading a book) or wherever. But once I get going, it’s amazing to see character and action just flow through my fingers on the keyboard, seemingly without me even thinking about them.

I know all writers experience this, times when the story is writing itself and you feel more of a conduit than the author, just the storyteller speaking for the characters floating around in your head. Enjoy it. Use it.

All right, gotta go. My dog is pawing my leg.

Until tomorrow, Happy Thanksgiving and write on!

P.S. Ellen Booraem graciously agreed to do an interview for Day By Day Writer the other day, so look for it in the coming weeks. She’s a great writer, and her success story as a first-time author is inspiration to us all.


I was feeling very unmotivated recently (as you can probably see by the lack of posts on this blog — I apologize), perhaps because of the darker mornings, perhaps because of the ever-coming work in my day job. I don’t know that it was any one thing. I don’t think it’s ever any one thing. But whatever the reason(s), I needed a good kick in my butt.

Not to say that I haven’t been writing. I managed a good couple weeks of getting up early and sitting in front of the computer every morning, and some mornings, I actually got some good stuff done. But it always felt tough, like I was dragging myself.

Then one morning, I was stuck on a particular section and I allowed a distraction to get to me, I started reading the writing blogs I subscribe to on my iGoogle page, and, after following a few interesting links, I got to author Holly Lisle’s website. While browsing her nav bar, I found gold: How To Quit Your Day Job. Eureka! I keep thinking that if I could just quit my day job, I’d have so much more time to write.

I devoured the six-part article looking for some part that would say, “Quit now! Just do it! You’ll be all right. And if you need money, just wish for it and the out-of-work-author’s money tree will come to your rescue.”

Ok, maybe I wasn’t that niave. But I did hope that she would offer some secret way to start working as a full-time novelist before you’re a full-time novelist. But, she didn’t. She pretty much said what I already knew: work on your novel while you’re doing something else, save your money and don’t quit your day job until you have enough savings to support you for six months to a year AND you have the strong prospect of money coming in either through signed contracts or a book sale.

Even though the information was all stuff I had already figured out, it felt really good reading her article, because she talked about when she did it — and she had to do it twice, the first time to much warning from her family and friends and the second time permanently. It felt good to know that someone else was in the same boat as me at one time, working hard to balance family, a day job and writing, and she stuck with it, busted her butt and became a full-time novelist. If she can do it, I can do it.

And you can do it too. November is National Novel Writing Month, where you sign up and join thousands of other participants in writing a 50,000-word novel in one month. It’s doable; lots of people have done it for the last few years. It’s not important that you write a masterpiece in that time. It’s just important that you write. It’s a way of encouraging people to do what we’re always talking about on this blog: sitting down — or standing if you’re so inclined — and writing, no matter what you’re writing, whether it’s brilliant or dreary (that’s what editing is for), just so long as you’re writing.

I didn’t sign up to participate because I’m in revising mode, and I couldn’t figure out a good way to enter word counts when I’m not writing something fresh. But, with Holly Lisle’s inspiration pushing me along, I’m going to unofficially participate in National Novel Writing Month by making sure that I write every day.

Want to join me? Let me know if you’re writing with NANOWRIMO, or, if not, be an every-dayer like me. I tell you what, I’ll check in with a blog post every day to let you know I wrote, and you can do the same. I set a goal that I would be finished with my novel edit by the end of November. I’m behind on that and don’t know if I’ll make it, but working every day, maybe I will.

Good luck and Write On!

Bust your ass

J.A. Konrath has another great blog post up. (I know I link to his blog a lot, but what can I say, the guy makes sense.) In his post “Brain-Check,” Konrath lists eight instructions for writing success. They’re all good (click the link to read), but No. 8 is perfect for those of us who aren’t writing full-time, who are balancing work and writing and trying to keep our momentum amid other obligations. No. 8 says: “Bust Your Ass: If you aren’t driven to succeed, you probably won’t. How bad do you want this? If the answer is: really bad, then you have to prioritize accordingly.”

This reminded me of one of my earliest posts on this blog, Making The Time. Konrath is right. If your passion is to write, you have to write. If you want to be a successful writer — a full-time writer — you have to write, and that might mean (at least, for me it does) getting up at 6 to fit in writing time around the other stuff in your life.

Coincidentally, today I got an email letting me know of a message someone had posted on a thread on the SCBWI message board. You have to be a member to get in (but you should still check out the website if you’re a children’s writer), but the thread was started by a new mother who was saying her muse was gone and she didn’t have the same desire to write that she used to. The new post was from another mom, who advised that when she adopted her children, she didn’t feel like writing and took time off to just be a mom — nothing wrong with that. But later, a story that had been formulating in her head 10 years ago popped back into her conscience and took over. The drive was so big that she got up early and wrote, wrote while her kids watched TV, wrote while they ate breakfast — wrote whenever she could. She said that some nights she would get five hours of sleep, and most days she went through the day feeling tired (I feel the same often — and I don’t have three children!). But the important thing for her was that she was writing.

And that’s basically the key: you have to Bust Your Ass.

Despite my encouragement to others on this blog to do just that, I have been slacking off lately. So, I’m making a renewed commitment to Bust My Ass. Who’s going to join me?

Write On!

Finding ideas

One of the most asked writer questions — I’d be willing to bet, but I haven’t done a formal study — must be “Where do you find your ideas?” I’ve been asked it a lot, and I’m not a well-known writer. I’d guess J.K. Rowling could feed a school-full of children for months if she got a penny for every time she’s been asked this.

There is, of course, no one answer. Some people get ideas in dreams, and some people get ideas everywhere from walking around the supermarket to driving to taking a shower.

Driving and showering are often creative times for me, apparently, according to articles I’ve read, because those are times when your brain is on autopilot, requiring little concentration (although judging by most drivers, we might be on autopilot a little too much on the roads) and allowing our brains to wander. I’ve also gotten quite a few ideas, and solved a few plot problems, in church (it’s wonderful to sit there quietly alone, very peaceful).

Dreaming is the same, a time when your brain can play and new ideas can pop up. The difficulty with dreams is that many of us don’t remember our dreams. I’ve read the advice to keep a book next to my bed to jot down ideas as soon as I wake up and before they dissipate, but it doesn’t often work for me, as my dreams seem to go bye bye as soon as I open my eyes. Some people can have just a scene, an image that sparks a story (how Stephenie Meyer was inspired for Twilight), or the entire story can unravel in a dream. The other day, my husband told me his dream, which was a fully fleshed out short story, complete with twist ending and social commentary. I’m so jealous.

Sometimes dreams do stay with me, however, and those are the ones I figure I should try to pay attention to, as they must have fought hard to stay in my brain. I had one such idea the other morning. There was more to it when I was dreaming it, but when I woke up, all that stayed with me was the title and a vague idea. But it’s promising and I think has the makings of a good picture book. Better yet, I told me husband the idea, and he filled in the ending. Maybe he had the same dream I did.

One writer I chatted with on JacketFlap one day said her stories come from a title. I had been complementing her on the fun titles of her books, and she said the titles pop into her head and she formulates a story around them.

However the ideas come, the important thing is to write them down — no matter how small — and allow them to seed, grow and produce fruit in our brains and on the page.

So, I’ll ask it: Where do you get your ideas?

Write On!

Reading to write

I’m back on the novel. Last week was still really busy, but I jumped into the rewrite of my novel anyway. Time to start waking up at 6 am again! New goal: Finish the rewrite by November.


I’ve also made strides with the Sir Newton Color Me Florida book. Drawings are completed and fixed up in the computer. All that’s left is finishing the layout and final editing.


During my novel hiatus, I still worked on it through reading. Any time I’ve been stuck in my writing, reading has helped bring me back. The more you read, the rhythm of the story, pacing, dialog — it seeps into your brain like osmosis. To get you in the mood — so to speak — for your own work, read books that fit what you’re writing. If you’re writing a fantasy, read a fantasy. If you’re writing in first-person, read a book that’s written in first-person. Also, read what’s hot, what your target audience is reading.


How can you find the best books in your area? Librarians are a great place to start. They’ll be able to tell you which books kids are checking out the most. The message board on the SCBWI website is a good source too, if you’re a member. You can also try the good old Internet. I found a great link for this while I was doing some research yesterday: A message thread on Amazon detailing the best books to get middle grade boys to read. (Click here to read the thread. Make sure to read the post from Julie M. Effertz.) Write down these books, and that’s your must-read list.


What books are you reading right now? What’s on your must-read list?


Write On!