Tag: writer’s block

Who’s Your Gatekeeper: Writer’s Edition

Sometimes I swan around with a pen in my mouth not unlike a writer might.

Today I saw a quote attributed to a writer, shared by a different writer, and then commented on by a bunch of writers.  Here’s the magical gem itself:

Writer’s block? I’ve heard of this. This is when a writer cannot write, yes? Then that person isn’t a writer anymore. I’m sorry, but the job is getting up in the fucking morning and writing for a living.

I’m not actually going to say the person’s name to whom this quote is attributed.  I will only refer to him as “him” or possibly “that crusty old knob”. This quote definitely got a reaction out of almost everyone who read it.  I found this quote (by an author I’ve never heard of) revolting on so many levels I felt compelled to dust off Ye Olde Bloggenfort to unpack the misery of the above statement.

Let’s open this fucker up with the first nugget of shit it’s composed of:  the dismissal of writer’s block as simply the choice to write or not write, evidence of laziness basically. No writer chooses to have writer’s block, to sit down to their desk again and again to find that the conduit between their thoughts and the page has been broken, damaged, or become blocked up. Typically, when a writer experiences this enough times in a row they become so frustrated with the shit that’s coming out that they take a break to clear their head. Then they come back again and hope they’ve shaken off the dust and unclogged the pipeline of clear thinking to workable words on a page. Sometimes it’s just a blip. You shake it off and get back to the work.

But sometimes this continues on for such extended periods that a writer begins to doubt themselves, starts listening to all kinds of suggestions for getting their word skills back that they were sure they used to have. Sometimes it’s the story they’re trying to tell that’s the problem and maybe if they work on something else for a while and come back to the stuck story later they’ll be able to sort it out. Sometimes it’s the life all around them that’s blocking up the brain-pipes. Writers write, but they also have lives outside the words and also bodies that can become injured, ill, or exhausted caring for other injured or ill bodies that fall within the realms of their responsibility. Other things that can clog the conduit of brain-to-page flow is emotional or mental issues.

That Old Crusty Knob of a writer is saying that you must sit down to the page every day and fuck you and your troubles. Real writers power through no matter what and suck it if you become deathly ill – didn’t write this morning? I’M SORRY BUT YOU MUST HAND IN YOUR WRITER CARD AT ONCE BECAUSE YOU ARE NO LONGER PRIVILEGED TO CALL YOURSELF A WRITER. What a cuntish thing to suggest. The only part that old crusty knob gets right, in my opinion, is that if you want to make a living out of writing you can’t simply wait to be in the mood or hope for inspiration to move words out of your head and onto the page when and if they do. It’s true that you need to write on a regular and consistent basis because you can’t sell what you haven’t written. However, that’s a very simplistic way of looking at this writing life.

I wrote nearly every day from the time I was 10 years old until I gave birth to my son when I was 30. I filled a hundred notebooks with poems and essays and attempts at fiction. I submitted many poems to periodicals. I published my own crappy little zine of poems. I did not get published through those efforts. I did not get paid a penny. I had only flashes of brilliance mixed in with a whole lotta slosh. But I sat down every fucking day and I wrote and I got better at it every day. For twenty years. TWENTY YEARS. I was 23 years old when I decided to tell people I was a writer. That’s when I realized that it didn’t matter if I got published, or paid, or known. I might die an unsuccessful writer but at 23 years old I stopped letting anyone be my writing gatekeeper. I write. I am writer.

But like I said, after my son was born I tried to keep writing and found myself dried up inside. I had plenty going on inside my head that I was desperate to get onto a page but every time I sat down to get them out they evaporated like meager drops of sweat hitting the hot rocks in Death Valley. What came out was a pale reflection of my previous ability to put what was in my head onto the page. I still sat down to write and tried day after day until it became so frustrating and demoralizing that I just gave up for months. That was my first bout of writer’s block and it was awful. Losing that conduit from the mess of my loud brain to the clarity and satisfaction of the page made me feel like I’d lost a vital function of myself. But I was still a writer. I was a writer who suddenly couldn’t write a decent sentence. I played that game where you just get words on the page and worry about making them good later in edit stage. You can’t edit what you haven’t written, after all. But I couldn’t even get editable shit on the page.

Here’s what I realized much later as I eased my way back to language: the brain is a fertile field that can be worn down hard by too many crops that deplete it to the point where nothing grows in it any more. Some writers are good at frequently replenishing their brain fertility by reading books, watching movies, walking in nature, traveling, doing other creative things, or taking classes. But sometimes, even if you do this, you may find you need to let the writing fields go fallow. Maybe for a few days. A month. A year. There’s no right or wrong to it. There’s no good or bad to it. You don’t lose your writer’s card because there is no card that anyone can give or take away from you.

I’m going to also suggest that women experience a much harder time replenishing themselves while writing because, believe it or not, they are still the main caretakers of their children and partners and often ALSO have to work for income. We still don’t live in an equal world and I notice men find it much easier to shut their family responsibilities out so they can get their writing in and they have a greater expectation that their families will and should give them the space and time to do this. Even when women have really supportive spouses it’s difficult for them to shut out their family responsibilities to write. I did it to write my one finished novel and there’s no way in hell I would ever have finished writing my book (and then re-writing it over and over) if I hadn’t relegated much of the daily expectations my family had of me to my partner who did his best to give me the space I needed. It was hard on them and I’m not sorry I took the time and space I needed to finish my novel but I have ONE child and a supportive spouse, many women have multiple children and less than supportive spouses. Many women can’t do this without a great deal of guilt and push-back from everyone around them. So fuck anyone who doesn’t take into account that we do not all have equal situations, lives, experiences, spaces, monies, or time to write in.

Let’s unpack the other big hideous assumption the above quote makes: the assumption that every writer’s job is writing. Until you’ve broken through and already started making money with your writing you are most likely writing between other jobs that take up a lot of your time. For most people working towards a goal of writing for a living it’s a really tough balancing act that stretches resources and (as mentioned above) the needs of those in your life to the limits. The Crusty Knob who said that “the job” is sitting down to fucking write every morning is one who’s actually making money on his writing, so yeah, that’s now his actual job which is awesome. I don’t doubt for a single second that he worked his ass off getting to where he is. That is NOT in question. And most writers who make it commercially at some point put in a lot of writing time between other jobs and responsibilities and I am in no way saying you can achieve success as a writer without writing as often and as prolifically as your able to.

What I’m saying is that most writers aren’t making any money writing so writing is the dream job they’re working towards and not the actual job paying the bills and feeding the babies or dogs or self. We don’t all work at the same pace either. Even if every writer had all the time in the world and not a bill to pay, some writers can pump out books like a machine while others take a decade to finish a single book. Or a lifetime. I happened to take years to write a single book. I’ve finished exactly one book and it’s looking like I’ll have another one done possibly before I die. Maybe two if I live to be very very old. I’m envious of those friends of mine who finish a book a year or two books a year. Definitely jealous of them. But some people are jealous of my rapid pace of one book every decade or two.

We all have our own paces, our own processes, our own goals, and our own ideas about what success means to us. There is no right or wrong way to write and as long as you have put in a lot of time writing and working on your skills – taking your growth as a writer seriously – you’re a writer even when crossing a vast desert devoid of words. Once you’re a writer, you’re a writer. It isn’t just a “job”, it’s a passion and a driving force. If it wasn’t, writer’s block wouldn’t feel so much like a betrayal.

So let’s ditch The Old Crusty Knob’s entire quote now. Let’s toss it in the trash heap where it belongs and the next time you or I encounter another asinine opinion on writing like that, let it follow this one straight into the trash. Here’s what I want to put in its place: no one is the gate keeper to your writing life, your identity as writer, or your success as a writer except yourself.

There are enough challenges ahead of all of us who want to make a living being a writer without other writers breaking us down and telling us who we are or aren’t. I love listening to other writers talk about their processes, their struggles, their successes but I never want to be that voice that shuts another person’s dreams down.

I wrote reams and reams of poetry, short stories, and hideous attempts at novels and I became a writer doing it. Then I wrote blogs for years and even had an audience. Then I wrote and self published a novel that has gone exactly nowhere. I haven’t finished a single writing project for the last four or five years since I published my own novel because I seem to have been drained out in some way. I keep coming back to the page because I don’t know who I’d be if I didn’t still try to get words out. I might never finish writing another novel but I will be a writer til I die. Once you’ve become a writer inside yourself, once you know yourself to BE a writer, it ceases to be “the job” or even “the dream”, it becomes part of your identity as a human. I may die an unknown and unpaid author but I will die a writer.


Letting the Words go Fallow


I used to sit down to my blog every day with something to say. At some point everything I had to say became so difficult to discuss in a blog post that I couldn’t face the effort of diving in and dissecting a subject like I used to. Blogs have changed, social media has changed the nature of blog writing. At first blogging felt like a can opener that could rip the world wide open and let light into all the dark corners. Blogging created a geek paradise for those of us who have had a hard time finding our tribe in our own cities. But at some point the blog world started feeling like a cross between high school and a tacky advertising firm.

Writers sometimes have to stop writing in order to breathe, in order to live outside their own heads, in order to refresh and find the new page. I suppose I’ve been going through a lot of that in the past two years. I finally found the personal struggle I don’t feel comfortable sharing a lot of with the world.

And considering I’ve been open about my struggles with suicidal ideation, that’s saying a lot.

In spite of all of this, the urge to sit down here in my small corner of the public universe and talk about everything I’m thinking about, hearing, seeing, and worrying about is super strong. I’ve sat down to write something a million times and tried to unburden my mind only to find that no matter how loud the detritus in my head rattles I can’t shake any of it loose. Over the last ten years I have driven myself to produce ever better content, to become a better editor, a better photographer, to make stronger arguments, and to give something worth stopping for to those who stumble into my universe. Writing here has absolutely made me a much stronger writer, has made me accountable to an audience, has made me see my writing outside of myself.

But I forgot how to simply let myself spill like I used to. I’ve forgotten how to sit down without a specific agenda and let everything tumble out naturally and wildly. I’ve forgotten how to let a subject unwrap itself in a stream of consciousness flood. It’s the difference between only planting things in your garden that you buy at the nursery or seeded yourself on purpose and letting a forest of volunteers burst up out of your soil that you have to cultivate and watch until you discover whether or not you want them to take up permanent residence in your garden. I’m a big fan of volunteer gardening because it’s the only kind of surprise in life that doesn’t fill me with dread.

The most gorgeous pink hollyhock I’ve ever seen sprouted up in my McMinnville garden as a ghost of a previous garden. I’ve never successfully grown a hollyhock on purpose. This one sprouted and I was curious to see what it would become, I had no idea what it was when it first popped up. I let this mysterious thing grow up behind my blueberry bed and I kept waiting to see what it would become, withholding judgment until buds swelled on its stem and I knew it was going to be marvelous. It wasn’t until the buds fully opened that I discovered its true identity.

Sometimes good ideas must germinate in untended fields where they are free to develop un-selfconsciously. I believe great writing happens in this narrow place where wild ideas are allowed to rise from craggy soil but are then pruned and cultivated with great care.

What I’ve been calling writer’s block is nothing more than letting my writing go fallow.

I’m just beginning to understand that during this fallow period I need to let my writing go wild. I need to let it wander, explore, and try new things. I must remove the editorial restrictions necessary for great writing and let it develop awkwardly and gorgeously by turns without imposing my cerebral ideas of what it SHOULD BE. I need to let it be ugly, gnarled, convoluted, and strangled at times. I need to let it go to seed and get weedy.  I need to let it be silly, stupid, shallow, heavy, thick, short, curt, and raw when it wants to be.

It’s in my nature to want to control everything. I have learned to let my garden and my quilting be free from restriction and perfection so that they can instead be meditations of discovery. There are precious few areas in my life where I indulge my childish side and allow curiosity and a sense of adventure lead me forward. Where I allow myself to be unapologetically imperfect and rough.

So many times in my life I’ve written words on paper even when I had absolutely nothing to say because forming letters on a page with a pen was so soul satisfying and necessary to my sense of well-being that it really wasn’t about having something to say. The ink had to always be flowing so that it would be ready when I had something important to say. I kept myself oiled and in practice with a whole lot of stupid nonsense and I never felt shame that I wrote notes like “I’m just writing this because I love to form the letter “a” with my pen on this particular paper”. It was all part and parcel of a much bigger whole. Somewhere along the way I started thinking I could only write when I had something to SAY.

I like to sign my name to things. Not because I really love my name. I’ve had so many last names that my identity isn’t wrapped up in them at all. I like signing my name because when I was a lot younger I worked hard to develop a signature that would be satisfying to scrawl, that would be visually pretty and distinctive and that I would enjoy writing. I get compliments on my signature all the time. People think I’m fancy. The truth is that I waste no opportunity to lushly enjoy forming letters with a pen because I’m in love with my alphabet and my language. That isn’t fancy, that’s geek-love.

There is so much fomenting just under the surface. I’ve had more than one epiphany recently about the projects I’ve been working on that have been unclear and difficult, yet felt too important to ignore. It’s been a little fraught all up in this brain of mine. Now that I’m beginning to understand how important it is for my brain to go fallow I’m relaxing the vigilant anxiety that I’m not moving fast enough, working hard enough, and that I’ll never get to the finish line. At least a little bit.

There’s a big corner I’m approaching. I can feel it. If I think about how big it is I’ll lose my nerve and retreat deep into my sleeping life. I’m trying not to look it in the eye or say it out loud but I know I’ll have to to make it real, to make it rise from its shallow grave where I buried it in a fit of vile fear.

I could die tomorrow.

If I die tomorrow instead of living, I would like to have let my writing, my mind, my childhood, my loves, my thoughts, and my spirit graze freely in a field of wildflowers where weeds are beloved and everything exists on the same level of marvelous. If I die tomorrow instead of living, I’d like to know that my last blog entry wasn’t trying to be more than it is, more than it should be, a pompous studied mess of attempted perfection. If I die tomorrow instead of living, I would like everyone to know that my last thoughts were curious free thoughts without boundaries or fake polish.

If I die tomorrow, I’d like my last words to include a heinous typo that will haunt editorial perfectionists for the rest of time.

I’m not a nice person.

A Minor Epiphany: Remembering to Let Go


You can’t play music well if you’ve never played it poorly. I don’t care what parents of prodigies say, no one picks up an instrument for the first time and plays no wrong notes.

I was discussing my writing problems the other day with two writing friends and had a mild epiphany: this writer’s “block”, or whatever it is, is the same thing I experienced for so many years that I actually gave up on writing fiction. I have folders full of notes and starts of novels, middles of novels, bits of novels that never came to life. I couldn’t make them catch fire and growing discouraged I abandoned them and decided I’d just stick with writing creative non-fiction. I gave up my life-long dream of writing novels because I believed I didn’t have it in me to write them.

All those novels were alive, vibrant, important, cool, fun, charged, and insistent INSIDE MY HEAD. But I couldn’t get them out in the same condition. What came out of my head were dead versions of my stories. Stagnant, poorly written, boring, nowhere versions of the living stories inside of me.

I realized that what I’ve been experiencing ever since finishing Winter; Cricket and Grey is the same thing as before when I told my friend Kele that it’s like the conduit between what’s in my head and my pen/laptop is broken. That’s how it felt before.

In 2009, when I finally fixed that conduit and wrote the first draft of “Jane Doe” it felt incredible! I was finally doing the thing I’ve always supposed to have been doing and I knew it because – well – how do you know you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing? It’s hard to quantify or describe that feeling and I imagine it’s not the same or all people.

I just felt right in my own skin and in my own head.

So how did I fix that conduit and how can I fix it again?

In the most simplistic terms it was all about letting go. Letting go of expectation, doubt, expectation, pressure, interference from others, expectations of others, and letting go of control. The first time it happened resulted in chaos and a manuscript that, five years later, is still in a state of chaos. Maybe it always will be. That’s not as important as I used to think it was. That release of control let the stuff in my head come out and live on the page. I had to release it in raw form. I had to let the stories and characters come out imperfect because that’s how I got the power to change them and edit them into something better. They had to get to the page pure before I could make them better.

Humans are messy beings. Their stories are also messy. If we lived life like a well edited story we’d die of constriction. We don’t live our lives like that. That’s how others may see us and our lives, but the reality is that in the moment we are messy with mixed emotions and motivations and our paths are littered with junk our psyches drop like old skin.

After finishing the first Cricket and Grey book I think I set myself up for failure with a return of expectation. Now that I finally finished a novel and actually printed it and people have read it – I rebuilt the expectation that I should be able to sit down and write with control. But the control of writing is an exercise in multiple steps. First you get the crappy draft down, but you let it be colorful and melodramatic if that’s how it comes out, you let it come out live and imperfect, then you begin to shape it and perfect it through edits.

Everyone’s process is different so I can’t actually say this is how it is for all writers. What I’m saying is that this is how it is for ME.

Part of the power of my blog writing, the stuff people tend to comment about, the stuff that makes people think I’m a good writer, is that I let stuff come out unfiltered. Some of my best blog writing is late at night after several beers because my walls are down,  my instinct to control everything I say is gone. It comes out raw and living and definitely dramatic. Sometimes I wake up and hate what I wrote because it’s embarrassingly earnest and as melodramatic as a teen experiencing their first passions in life. I hate that shit. HATE IT. But that’s the same well from which my poetry comes, my best words, my most creative and inspiring writing comes from that same place.

It’s also the same well from which my nightmares are drawn.

You could say that the best and the worst all comes from the same well. My psyche.

I can’t draw on that unless I let my defenses down, let go of control, let the living moving magma out of the mountain.

Part of it is about trust too. Trust that I can take the raw material, the wildly stupid messy narratives, and shape them into something worthy the way they play themselves out in my head. Trust that the first draft is not an indication of the worth of the story but merely the lump of material from which a great story is chiseled or molded or built.

Pick the metaphor that works best for you.

The thing I can’t account for, the thing I miss and want and need is that energy that pulls me back into the process every day. The energy that makes everything else in my life feel less urgent than getting back to the page. That sense of excitement, discovery, and purpose is like a drug, I suppose. I have heard nearly every successful writer say that becoming successful is about showing up to the page even when that excitement is on the wane. I believe this, I do. I believe it because a person, no matter what they’re doing, can’t be UP all the time, can’t be EXCITED all the time, can’t be PASSIONATE all the time.

If a person IS up all the time, excited all the time, and passionate all the time, then they are living a life out of balance. Or they’re on recreational drugs.

Everyone needs times of reflection, of inwardness, of aloneness, of quiet.  I’ve known people who are exquisitely uncomfortable being alone with themselves, with down time, with quiet days, with slow work, and with reflection. I’ve known people who think their relationships with others are over the minute passion quiets down or the sex isn’t as exciting or as frequent.

Everyone needs refueling from time to time. That is a fact. Creativity needs refueling. Love needs refueling. Bodies need refueling.

So I know that part of writing is accepting that it’s not going to be exciting every single time you sit down in front of your page. But a year and a half of feeling the words die on the page? This is the kind of thing that makes a writer quit, that made ME quit before.

I won’t quit this time. I just need to get out of my own way and let this first draft be messy and dramatic, rich and overstuffed with adjectives. I just need to let it come out without trying to control every sentence as it gets to the page where it dies from suffocation.

Time to let the magma out.



I haven’t had an alcoholic beverage in 2 1/2 weeks. I’ve been super grouchy and prickly. I haven’t wanted to be around any humans. Yesterday was a particularly thorny day. Got my feelings hurt on Facebook by a group of people that brought me to tears. I try to wear a thick skin when skating around on social media but sometimes thoughtless spears and careless conversations stab through the softer bits. Not drinking alcohol means a whole layer of protection is missing.

I’m still on a news fast. I’ve been on a news fast for almost 2 months. There’s no way I can let myself go back to reading the news while I’m not drinking. I can’t handle it. I see the headlines so I know what everyone’s getting mental wedgies over but I have clicked on no news links and watched no news programs. I miss The Daily Show a lot. The day I found out Jon Stewart is leaving the show I felt so betrayed and depressed. When the only sane voice in news gives up on us all – it’s pretty much OVER. I realize that someone else will take his place. I also realize that his team will still be there writing and producing a good show, but without him…I can’t even bear to think about it right now.

I have spent a lot of time on my couch under my favorite blanket watching Murder She Wrote. Most days that’s all I can do after I come home from work and take care of Max and do a few dishes. My days off I try to get work done on my apothecary business. But to be honest, I’m just tired all the time.

I know I’m not going to be like this all the time. I know this fog will lift. I know I’ll move forward. I know I’ll get some energy back. So I guess I’m just in a holding pattern until I can dislodge whatever has been blocking all my words and shake them loose. Every morning before work I open Scrivener and I try to get a few words out. Some mornings it’s like shoving my head into a plastic bag, other mornings I squeeze out a couple hundred words and it feels great. I try not to focus on all those times I wrote 5,000 words in a day.

I’ve found solace in quilting some evenings and have almost finished the quilt my friend Pam sent me over 6 years ago. I’ve also been finding some peace in my front garden. I don’t like my back yard. That’s where the dogs poop and we don’t keep up with scooping it up. It’s over-run with bamboo and oak. But the front garden is all mine. I can sit on the porch to enjoy it. I can do little things to it, plant just a couple of flowers, weed one bucketful, and it makes a big difference because the front is so small.

I’m excited about making more potions. I’m excited about learning to make soap which is the next skill I want to add to my arsenal. I still love living in the house we live in. I’m still incredibly happy to be in Santa Rosa. I love this place. I’m excited that Max is taller than me* and his shadow mustache is growing more distinct. I’m enjoying the last kisses on those baby-soft cheeks of his because they’re going to be rougher soon. I’ve let him mature at his own pace and it’s paying off.

Five years ago I worried so much about his eating issues and now he loves trying new foods and though he still doesn’t like much produce for its own sake, he ate fried plantains not long ago, ate coleslaw on a pulled pork slider, and eats avocado (and sometimes tomato) on hamburgers. He’s become a gourmand just as I predicted he would someday be.

My mom is doing really well. She gets stronger all the time even though she still feels tired a lot. I’m hoping this year will be surgery free for her.

I guess I’m giving all the updates today.

I’m going to pour another cup of coffee and chisel a few more words out of my brain into one of my manuscripts. Later I will be heading to the library to renew my card and find history books on San Francisco in the 1870’s if they have any, and costumes from the same period. I also might look up a book or two on typhoid for fun.

I hope you all have a peaceful day!

*He thinks it bothers me that he got taller than me so don’t break it to him that I enjoy seeing him grow taller.

What Pestilence Killed All The Words Inside Me?


My Mandarin Orange is blooming.

My fiction writing continues to not happen. I knew this was going to be the case when I had to get a job. That’s why I freaked out for a week making my desk into my own wailing wall. It obviously doesn’t help that I spend a lot of time working on my apothecary business in my off hours. Then I take care of my family.  There’s no time left to get into the writing mode. It’s making me feel like a used up old sock. I just had 4 days off and spent most of it just tired. I did a tiny bit of gardening. Hung out with a couple of friends. My family. And not much else. I did open scrivener with the intent to write and I did torture a couple of sentences to death editing a a chapter of Spring, the next Cricket and Grey book. But there was no energy in it. It feels like all the words are dead inside of me.

Maybe it’s writer’s block. Maybe it’s the general annoyance at having no beer to look forward to. (Haven’t had any alcohol for 2 weeks now). Maybe it’s just a deep funk. The majority of my writer friends are cranking out book after book, some of them writing a book every 3 months. I thank other people’s weird gods for the few writer friends I have whose process is a much slower thing, who stumble and crumble from time to time as I do. Without them I would definitely forget that a lot of the best books in history took years to write. Granted, they had to hand write that shit, but still. These speedy writers just take all the skin off my nose.

I did finally get the first chapter of “Bad Romance” finished. That felt good. This is my effort to write a fun breezy fast book. No need to get all wound up in writing exquisite prose, I just thought it would be really funny to trap a couple of modern people in a bad romance version of historical San Francisco. I thought it would be my writing palate cleanser. I’ll just write like a mad-woman, I said to myself. I’ll just crash right through this book and not care about every goddamn sentence like it, I don’t know, like they all matter individually. FUN! BREEZY! ROMANCE! You can’t tell me that most of the romances I’ve read took a year to finish the first draft or even the whole thing. Those things are whipped out. They follow fairly predictable plots. SO WHY THE FUCK CAN’T I DO THAT?

So I thought I’d start chapter 2 of the breezy fun romance novel. Maybe even “wing it” like so many of my writer friends do. But then I realized that to describe the streets of North Beach or China Town in the 1870’s I need to do a little research first. At the very least I need to know if all the streets were dirt back then. What was going on there? So this morning I looked up San Francisco on Google images. Know what I discovered?  San Francisco in the late 1800’s is a very dark place if you’re not white. Well, I kind of knew that anyway but the way people talk about SF in the good old gold rush days always makes it sound like everyone could get by if they wanted to.

My main character, Geneva Thoms, is half white and half Miwok who is always being mistaken for a Mexican. The other main character, Simon Wong, is Chinese American, several generations in. So if I plonk those two (plus Geneva’s misogynistic white ex-boyfriend Rick) into late 1800’s San Francisco, they aren’t going to experience the gay* fun side of the city. Now my book is a little less fun.

I love doing research for books. I’m wondering how much research the average romance writer does for each of their books? I feel I need to read a couple of books about opium dens, the racism against Chinese people (what is the “China Town quarantine” all about?), and about both China Town and North Beach specifically as that’s where most of the book will take place. Not so breezy. Not so fast. Not so fun.

The original idea was to set them into a bad romance version of SF, so in theory I can make shit up and not be strictly correct. I can paint a San Francisco based on broad stereotypes and people’s idea of San Francisco as the heart of the wild west (as opposed to the stark reality of it). Prostitutes with hearts of gold and all their teeth and no veneral diseases; villains dressed in all black flashing gold teeth (but probably not missing any), wearing an entire arsenal of weapons; heroes with long silky hair, losing their shirts at random moments so that pert-nosed feisty heroine’s can fight their desire to touch those bulging oily muscles…while my modern main characters scoff and try to figure out how to get back to reality.

I too want to write quick books and this was supposed to be my first quick romance book. For years I’ve thought that maybe I could make an actual living writing romances. This was going to be my first one, my charming debut, my fling with fast writing and lots of fun.

But damn. I just can’t let go of the details. Of getting them right. And funny isn’t my gig. I constantly intend to do funny and end up poking all the light out of the sky and raining darkness down on my characters. Rape, torture, murder, mental illness, sickness, death is where I always end up in my writing, but with happy endings of course. I intended my first novel to be a dystopian version of a Mary Stewart suspense novel. That was my inspiration, if you can believe it. I wanted to be the new Mary Stewart. I wanted to write suspense books that always have some element of romance in them. Intelligent richly written novels of suspense.

I’m meant to be a novelist. I’ve always been a novelist and a poet in my heart. So why is it like pulling my own teeth out with pliers to get even one lousy chapter written in the course of several months? I miss the energy I felt writing my fist novel. I felt the passion and excitement from beginning to end of writing that novel and editing it several times. Where did that fire go? Am I dead inside now?

*as in “carefree” or “happy”.

The One Trick Pony: I already used up all the words

Geronimo in box

(I’m feeling all boxed up)

I have today off. I decided to sit down and work on my new novel project that I’ve been so excited about for a week. I’ve written a few notes and I even wrote 900 words of the first draft. I sat down feeling so happy to finally take a couple of hours to write. I have had no energy and no time for this in much too long. I sit down and –

A half an hour later I’m still staring at my open document and nothing comes to me. I feel daunted by the project. I don’t understand why I’m trying to write a light hearted book. I don’t DO funny or light hearted. So why come up with a premise for a book that has to be taken with a grain of salt because it’s about a woman who wakes up in the middle of a really cheesy romance novel?

I thought it would be funny and interesting. But I’m not a “fun” person and I’m only funny by accident. I’ve never been able to channel humor into writing at will. So what the hell am I doing?

Then I thought, maybe I should just work on one of my other novels? I took a look at my files and nothing sounds good. None of my stories seem worth working on. All of them sound stupid to me.

Meanwhile, most of the writers I know are working on their third or fourth or even seventh novels. Writing book after book after book. Writing whole books in a couple of months. How do they complete whole novels in just a few months? Even when I was writing constantly and through the night, feverishly working on my first novel, it still took me two years to finish it. TWO YEARS. Most of these other writers have day jobs or kids or kids and day jobs, or chronic illnesses that hamper them down – and yet they are all still writing SO MANY BOOKS IN SO LITTLE TIME.

I know. I’m not supposed to compare myself to anyone else. I can’t help it. I want to know how they all write books in so little time. I want to know how everyone is doing this. I want to know why I can’t do it?

I feel drained and depressed about my writing. I want to be writing full time. But even when I have a little bit of time, all the words in the world dry up in my mouth like dead moths.

I have written and finished ONE book. One. And I can’t even get the second one in that series written. It should be EASIER than the first one. I already have so many characters written and places established.

I am going to do dishes.

Maybe I’m just a one trick pony.

Always The Heavy


I’m a little bit of a mess at the moment. Tired of the barefoot nightmares. Tired of hip/neck/foot/back pain. Tired of writer’s block. Tired of summer.

(Though the tomatoes are just coming in and that’s definitely a bright happy thing. Pickling and canning start soon. That also makes me happy.)

Maybe my writer’s block is because I’m not in direct communication with Jesus or the cosmic universe or MY FEELINGS.

I was telling my friend Sharon about my difficulty settling on a project because nothing I write is working or is worth a shit right now. Or for the last 6 months. She asked some good questions. I didn’t have good answers.

One thing that I did realize for the thousandth time is that I don’t like being everyone’s heavy*. I don’t like being your emotionally heavy and dark friend. I don’t like being a heavy and emotionally dark writer. I don’t like to read really dark stories myself. I want to live my life in a Mary Stewart novel. My fantasy life is always a suspense novel with a little romance thrown in. I don’t want to be the the heavy in every room, the heavy in every crowd, the heavy in every family. I’m always the heavy. Always.

The only man I ever loved besides Philip called me “heavy”. It was such a stinging blow because it was the truth I hated most about myself. The next person he went out with was a world adventurer and full of light.

At work meetings I’m always the one being practical and boring and can be counted on to bring everyone in the room thumping back into the center of reality and deadlines and what isn’t working. No one likes that person.

So perhaps I’m having a core crisis here. What I AM is not what I want to be.

I wrote a dystopian novel because it was such a lighter topic than the one about the raped girl who grows up and heals and then is attacked again and broken into more pieces. I wrote about a grim future for my country because it was light compared to what I really (apparently) need to be writing. But every time I tell people about the rape story I feel like I’m drawing curtains across their sunshine and plunging them into a hateful awful place.

The first time I tried to write that rape story I ruined it trying to protect my main character from the darkness and cloaked her in a cheesy romantic comedy that wasn’t even really funny, just cheesy. Because I felt so bad and also because I didn’t want to be writing this dark shit.



I want to be a light bearer.

Sharon assures me that I also bring humor into the dark with my victims friends. That I always offer a little salve of hope and my individuality and weird way I see the world is interesting and cool. That while I’m busy crushing your heart I am also making you laugh.

I don’t want to give my family anything new to put under a microscope.

I also struggle because I don’t know HOW to tell this story right.

All these writers I know are writing science fiction, Young Adult fiction, romance, and steampunk – stories with adventure and fun and cool landscapes – real entertainment.

Nothing about the rape story I’m writing is entertaining – in the same way that watching the movie “Ordinary People” wasn’t entertaining.

So Sharon says maybe I’m not writing well because I’m not writing what I know I need to be writing. That I’m just afraid to be the writer I AM and am busy trying to be the writer I WISH I WAS.

She might be right.

When I wrote the first draft I was cracking open like a dry nut inside and all this awful suppressed fear and pain came out like slow hot lava. I wasn’t just trying to protect Jane from her story, I was trying to protect myself from her story too.

I ‘m always going to be the heavy in the room.

I should get over it and get on with the writing.

*Not physically heavy, I don’t mean FAT.

Writer’s Block is Like a Broken Elevator


I’m six months into writer’s block and I am just about ready to give up writing and become a Walmart Greeter.*

Other careers I’m considering: big game keeper, personal assistant for fake celebrities, personal chef to vegetarian professional wrestlers, cross walk guard, lettuce taster, fat alcoholic bar maid, JC Penny family photographer, professional gum scraper, make-up artist to porn stars, feline style consultant, interpretive dance choreographer.

In the last six months I’ve worked on book 2 of Cricket and Grey (such a slog with only a few moments of light where I remembered how excited I am about the story), a new project called “Suicide for Beginners”, and then, finally have returned to the long ignored “Jane Doe” for which I have just finished fixing the plot and developing the characters more. Yesterday I started the massive rewrite and it took one page to give me that same feeling that all the other projects are giving me – THE DESIRE TO SCREAM ON THE TOP OF MY LUNGS THAT I AM SO OVER NOT BEING ABLE TO WRITE EVEN ONE GOOD FUCKING SENTENCE.

What the hell happened? The desire to write is always with me. I want to dive in and I want to get sucked into the story I’m writing. I love my projects and writing them should at the very least keep my interest because if I can’t even get into writing them there’s no way anyone will ever want to read them. With Cricket and Grey the rough draft was tough and torrid and stupid but I was so excited about the story and I had my grip on the proper voice and then on the second draft I was still super excited and got even more into it as I took out all the melodrama and began to make a finer work of it. The whole process was engrossing and felt like exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I felt like I was living my purpose and loving it. I felt right in my own skin.

I’m not saying it was all smooth going. There were the agonizing weeks of trying to decide on POV and rewriting the first chapter 12 times in different perspectives and tones. But I felt excited about it even as I agonized over the details. It’s all I wanted to do every day. I also had to work almost full time and parent and deal with my small town nemesis and growing crowd of pitchfork waving townies. But I’d sit down every day to write and what got me through the tougher parts were the good parts. Rereading through the previous days writing and seeing potential in it and good bits.

I have no good bits any more. I can’t even tell which project would be best to work on. I went back to the Jane story because it’s continued to nag at me for all the years I’ve set it aside. But I’m so depressed looking at what I thought was the good parts only to realize they aren’t good at all. Then I try completely rewriting and it doesn’t get any better.

It’s not the stories that suck, it’s my writing.

I didn’t realize this was writer’s block. I mean, I wrote 12 chapters into book 2 of Cricket and Grey before reworking the plot and starting over. I thought writer’s block was when you sit down and can’t even put words on the page. I realize now how stupid that is. Of course it’s when nothing you write is good. For months and months, wearing you down until you find yourself fantasizing about living out the rest of your life as an unpaid cheese promoter.

I need to get back into the middle of a project and be so engrossed I forget to feed my kid.** I’ve written so much and been so unsatisfied I feel like I haven’t written for months.

Then there’s the whole “Why I gotta wanna write such depressing dark stuff?”

Writer’s block is like a broken elevator that takes you up and down a building in an endless exercise of vertical pointlessness.

*In a chillingly astute observation a fellow writer suggested that my conversational skills might make this job a fulfilling and exciting one for me.
**More than usual, I mean.

Beverage Queen Looks for New Prop

I am now quite sure that my anti-anxiety medication is not at a completely therapeutic dose.  I know this because sounds and light are irritating me almost to the point of anger and nauseousness.  The sound of someone slurping their coffee makes me want to yell at the slurper to stop it and it also turns my stomach.

Just to be clear here: no matter how medicated I am I will always think coffee slurping is unnecessary and annoying.

The medication just keeps me calmer and reduces my urge to lash out.  This can be helpful in a household situation.  Anyway – I am NOT going to increase my meds any time soon.  So I’m just going to have to work that much harder to stifle my irritation.  And those around me are going to have to live with it (or address certain things).

Fall is finally here – and Sonoma County is ringing the new season in with the same exact weather we’ve been having all summer since I returned home: 80’s and 90’s.  I’m not gonna lie.  I miss the rain and the over cast skies of Oregon.  On the other hand – not getting stingingly wet riding my scooter has not been a bad thing.

I need to develop an evening tea habit.  I don’t really see the point in staying awake once I put the alcohol away.  It used to be cigarettes.  The problem is – I’m a night owl and a person of habit.  I need something to accompany me, to be at my hand as long as I’m awake.  Many years ago tea used to be a favorite beverage.  But I smoked back then.  Now tea just seems weak and spiritless.  (Which it IS!)  I must experiment with new night time beverages that have less impact on the body than beer or wine or gins and tonics do.  Something to look forward to.  Hey!  maybe hot apple cider?  No, juice is fairly high in calories.

Two days in a row I got up at 5am.  I want to do this every morning with the idea that I will spend the first two hours of every morning writing.  The question right now is: write what?  I have been feeling low about Cricket and Grey.  I love it but after watching the Hunger Games the other night and watching The Walking Dead and now Jericho – I can’t help but think my own semi-post-apocalyptic story is tediously boring.  There’s no nuclear event or wildly heinous killing games nor packs of zombies.  What does it have going for it?  So I haven’t felt like digging into the second book in what is supposed to be a series.

So I thought I’d return to Jane Doe.  But the problem with that story is that it’s such a fucking mess right now and I can’t seem to make decisions about how I want to reorganize and rewrite it.  It’s right there in my head, hovering like an anxious aunt.  So I guess it isn’t quite ready?

I could be working on the Post Apocalyptic Kitchen except that what I need is for the site to be set up.  First I tried to get my friend Angela to do it.  Quite a while ago.  When it became painfully obvious that she couldn’t squeeze this project into her schedule I asked Philip to do it.  That was two weeks ago.  There’s always some hold up.  I need the site set up so I can organize it and see where to start on this project.  Emma and I have notes but we need the structure to start fleshing out our ideas.

So here I am, feeling at a loose ends with the writing.

I was reminded yesterday of how important it is to get toxic people out of my life.  (Right now I don’t have any toxic people directly in my life.)  Toxic for me isn’t necessarily toxic for you.  What is comfortable and healthy for you in your personal relationships may be very different than it is for me.  If you have toxic people in your life you need to audios them.  Sometimes the process is ugly.  Sometimes it’s scary.  But it is always worth it.

I know that some people’s lives are much healthier without me in them.

I was reminded by having to see a comment on fb made by someone that is no longer in my life (no, probably not who you’re thinking of) and seeing her political comment on someone else’s post made my blood pressure rise sharply.  I wanted to respond, to engage, to address the ridiculous comment she made and I came so close to doing it.  I was itching like crazy to pounce.  But I didn’t.  If I engage with her then I’m letting her back into my head, a place she should never be allowed to hang out because she pollutes it.

It reminded me of how it felt to have people like that in my every day life.  How much harder it made it for me to hang onto my hope and my good will towards other human beings.  It reminded me of how much better it feels to have such people out of my life.  I’m certain the feeling is mutual.

The thorns in my side have been removed but clearly there’s some ghost pain lingering.

I think it’s good to be reminded of this.  It’s good to be forced to choose to engage again or walk away, to not have conversations and interactions that can’t be undone and will be regretted.  To work on myself rather than lash out at others.  I am trying to be more mindful of how I talk to others.

It’s also good to be reminded of how bad things got and how much things have changed for the better.

The main message of today is: surround yourself with supportive and kind people who appreciate you and respect you.

And also: slurping is unnecessary and annoying.

Ma Heid’s Mince

Mine ain heid in yon tree!

I’ve had my head buried in Scots all day in an effort to add some flavor to my Scottish characters in Cricket and Grey.  Meaning to add just a touch of it to add a bit of the sound of the real thing without meaning to muck everything up with constant dialect which would be tedious to read and to write.  It seemed a good idea.  My plan was to spend all day polishing up the complete rewrite of chapter one.  Which, for the record, has been completely rewritten a total of five times now.  More than any other chapter or part of the book.  The depressing thing about that is that it sucks more now than it has any of the other times I wrote it.

This entire third draft effort has been beyond laborious, tedious, impossible, and made me believe that I have now come to the very edge of my writing abilities.  Here it is.  I believe that I am a second draft quality writer.  I can’t get past it.  Every effort is stilted and repulsive.  Smoothing?  Polishing?  Not capable.  My mother, in an effort to help me out agreed that I may have just hit the limit of my skills and talent and said “after all, it’s not like you have a degree in writing.”  She pointed out the snug suggestion that this is an opportunity to stretch myself.  As if I haven’t been stretching myself just to write the first and second damn draft.  No, I don’t have a degree in writing.  I know that people who do have such degrees are predisposed to believe that it gives them a real edge.  Who am I to say?  I’m an uneducated eejit.

Everything is making me feel worse.  I was really hungry and just ate a ton of pizza.  I am already obese.  I hurt myself more when I’m feeling low because I am already a repulsive  being physically and no amount of effort I put into changing that will help.  I feel disgusting.  So the natural thing to do is to ensure that I become even more disgusting.  My mom commented about me “inhaling” my pizza and this, naturally, determined that I would eat the maximum amount because obviously I am already a pig.  I have a breathtakingly self destructive nature.

This is huge though.  Really huge.  Not my obesity.  Not my physical repulsiveness (I can’t bear to even look at my own face in the mirror any more), no, it’s really huge have finished the second draft three months ago and still not be further than one single chapter rewrite and for that rewrite to be worse than the version before it.  I have expended an insane amount of time and energy into this project with the firm belief that I am capable of doing this and making it really good.  However, three months for 5,00o shitty words is unacceptable.  People saying to “sit back” and “wait a while” might think that this project is some kind of personal indulgence.  It’s not.  This is me trying to finally make my damn career as a novelist take off after 31 years of practice, observation, practice, voracious devouring of literature of all kinds and all genres, creative writing classes, submissions of work to contests, a hundred million words penned by hand and by typewriter, self publishing poems, reading books about writing, going to see and hear authors speak, more and more endless practicing and constantly working to make my writing better.  This is me, mid-life, not there yet.  This is me with the hours slipping away from my life and suddenly everything that comes out of my head is pure shit.

We all have our place in life, in our career, in relationships, with ambitions and rank.  At what point does a B-movie director admit that he/she is B-movie material?  At what point does an author accept that their fiction is nothing worthier than pulp?  Is it so bad?  Can it possibly be worse to accept a lowly rank in one’s field than it is to continually believe yourself to be worth more when everyone else sees that you have hit your level, and consequently fail to achieve your goals over and over?

The too-long sentences, the information withheld too long and the other information given too soon, the questions unanswered, the scene’s not well set up, the confusions and awkward shifts in place and time, all of this can be polished by an excellent writer.  I am incapable of fixing these things.  When I plunge my hand in it becomes worse and worse.  I now have fragments of change attempted all over the place that have simply muddied and messed up what already needed polishing.

I’ve read quite a few mediocre books in my time.  I’ve read an astonishing number of books from famous authors that I thought were weakly written, disappointing, and not quite up to my level of expectation of enjoyment and intelligent writing.  I have also read authors who have won Nobel prizes who have a very special way of making the most convoluted insensibly long sentences the length of paragraphs that once you get to the end of you must read the beginning to remember where it all started.  Faulkner.  Whom I despise even more than Steinbeck, but not less than Flaubert.  Wait, no, I do hate Faulkner most of all.  His work is like a great masterbation of words for which my understanding and interest as a reader isn’t really necessary to the author.

Obviously many people disagree with me on that.  I’ve had arguments about Faulkner.  And about Steinbeck.  Though, for the record, I hate Steinbeck because his books make me want to kill myself though his writing is excellent; I hate Faulkner because his writing is tortured and unintelligible and lousy.

But me?  I already know I’m not in the same league as Steinbeck, and by that I mean to say that I know I never will be in his league, but I’d like to believe that I’m better than a hack.  I’d like to believe, and indeed, I used to believe, that I am better than mediocre.  What on earth could have led me to believe such a thing besides having my head up my ass and my ego on backwards?

If you have any idea how many hours I’ve laid into this project, you would have to ask yourself how I managed to only get this far having put in so much time.  The thing that stuck with me after reading those articles about what authors really make is that in order to make a living many authors are writing two books a year.  How many drafts are they writing?  How long are these books?  What quality?  Nora Roberts writes several books a year, she’s not only been on the best selling list so many times I’m sure it’s very boring to her at this point, but how many drafts is she writing?  How many hours a day?  Obviously she’s no Steinbeck either, but where on the scale does her work land?  She’s prolific.  I have put in a lot of hours on my book.  I have put in an average of 25 hours a week on my book for over a year.  Why isn’t it better than it is?  I have two part time jobs: the one that pays, and writing the book.  I know Nora Roberts puts in at least 8 hours a day on writing (I read this about her) so obviously she’s putting in full time.  Because she’s a successful full time author.  But even so, she’s putting out multiple books EVERY SINGLE YEAR.  So how much actual time does she put into each one in terms of hours?

Maybe I am not capable of making my story better than it is right now.  I know I’ve read published books much crappier than my unfinished on is.  Should I stop now?  Should I just trust that all the imperfections and things that a better writer than I am could have fixed are just how my work will be and get myself published as one of the crappier rougher books?  What do I do?  Should I scrap it altogether?  Walk away.  Is this a message to me that I really really really aren’t meant to succeed at anything in my life?  Because, you know, I have yet to be a real success at anything.  There always comes this point where I can’t get any further.  Like back when I actually thought I was good enough to become a professional blog writer.  I worked really hard at so mlly any angles.  There was also the retail business which didn’t fail so much as it drained the light from my soul and the money from my house and if I wanted to sign over my sanity to the devil I might have seen that become a success- but really, even saying that is ridiculous because I basically failed to make a go of it.  I was told absolutely that I would never become a designer at the job where I was a design assistant.  I did fairly well for not having done the one thing I really wanted to do- become a designer.  I also failed at being a costumer and also managed somehow to believe I was a business partner of that concern but it wasn’t until I quit and I was told I had to file as an independent contractor, but without any of the deductions that might have accompanied a partner- I knew that I had just been an employee with delusions and my ex-employer has since gone on to be very successful.  I’ve paid a lot for all of my failures.  Those are just the professional failures.

That’s not me feeling sorry for myself, I mean I obviously am feeling very sorry for myself at this moment (and I assure you it won’t last for too long), but that is a list of facts.  You can put a good spin on all of those professional experiences and explain how they helped me grow, how they were all opportunities to become better and wiser and smarter and more successful.  But the fact is that I keep racking up those opportunities and think I’m learning and growing and becoming stronger and smarter and the fact is, I never reach a single goal I set for myself.  Where is the “I worked my ass off and look how far I’ve come!”  or “All those hours I put in and finally I’m where I wanted to be!”.  Those aren’t moments I’ve had.

To get this far with the book and to not be capable of taking a step further?  That is the worst failure I’ve ever experienced.

I am fully demoralized.

People say to wait.  Give it time.  Take a break.  But what for?  Why?  What will that accomplish if I have reached the limit of my writing skills and talent?