Monday, December 12, 2016

Happy Holidays 2016!

Happy Holidays from Me to You! How will you spend the next few weeks? My plans include:
  • Watching Game of Thrones Season 6. I've been waiting for this for a long time.
  • Reading Book 3 of the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan series: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.
  • Decorating the clay pieces I made last month. I'm still working with an Asian-inspired theme: tiny landscapes, goldfish, and all embellished with beads and coins.
  • Making jewelry: earrings, necklaces, bracelets--using up more of my beads!
  • Being more present and aware with my social media friends: leaving comments on blogs, retweeting their tweets, and really getting to know who everyone is.
  • While I'll be busy online, I'm also taking a small break from all my various writing and art groups until February 2017.
  • Preparing more manuscript submission lists to agents and editors to use in the New Year. (Mindful submission is so much better--and more rewarding--than going willy-nilly through agents and editors A-Z "just because they're there.")
  • Goal planning. One of my favorite year-end tasks! I'll be deciding and finalizing what I really want to do in 2017. (Hint: it's going to include a lot of painting!)
  • And finally, despite the ginormous and very tempting sales in all the stores, I'm NOT buying any new journals, sketchbooks, or any art and writing supplies for myself until I've used 100% of what I already have. And that's a promise!
I hope you've had a happy and miraculous 2016 and that you'll use the holiday season to unwind, relax, and enjoy all the wonderful moments of this beautiful season. I'm so grateful for everything that has come to me this year, and I'm grateful for all of you for sticking with me and reading my blog so faithfully. Thanks for visiting and I'll see you soon. Until then, drink cocoa, stay warm, and remember to stay creative every day!

Tip of the Day: Celebrate the season with a special outing for your writing or art group. In my case I was able to spend a wonderful get-together yesterday with my writer friends at the oh-so-amazing St. James Tea Room here in Albuquerque. (Highly recommended if you're ever visiting New Mexico.) The decor was 100% English Victorian and the December menu was based on Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. It was all so authentic I thought I'd traveled to the UK--and without any jet lag! Find somewhere special in your own neighborhood to gather, rejoice, and share your 2016 successes and your 2017 goals.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Didn't Win #NaNoWriMo? Don't Worry, Be Happy!


I didn't win NaNoWriMo this year, and guess what? I'm not one bit sorry. In fact, I'm actually celebrating that I took care of myself and my sanity this November. Instead of stressing over word counts, I simply made sure I wrote a little every day, kept sketching every day, and just stayed on track with being creative every day. It was more than good enough--it was fantastic!

There were a number of reasons why this year's 30-day, 50K challenge didn't work for me, but the number one thing going on was a serious case of "monkey mind." Every time I sat down to work on my NaNoWriMo manuscript, I wanted to collage and paint it rather than write it. Or I wanted to find new writing prompts from old magazines. Or . . . or . . .  I just couldn't settle on one way of working on it. At the same time, I still wanted to express what was running through my head: images, colors, even musical themes, but I just needed to play with my subject matter rather than write it. So I followed my heart and:
  • Made 7 new pieces of pottery inspired by my story.
  • Finished the art journal I started earlier this summer with my writer's group by adding collages based on my story.
  • Finished an art journal I started three years ago by writing poetry connected to my story. (Yes, three years is a long time for one journal, I know, I know.)
  • Practiced drawing the horses that were part of my story.
  • Went through a stack of magazines for new pictures and ideas for writing prompts that I can keep using next year for my story.
  • And yes . . . I wrote 19,252 words of my NaNoWriMo story! Not so bad, after all.
Why I'm glad I chose this route:
  • I now have enough greenware to fill my kiln for a bisque firing.
  • Finishing my art journals got rid of my guilt at neglecting them and boosted my energy. And I love having collages to go with my plot, characters, and settings.
  • I've won plenty of NaNoWriMos over the years to know I can do it, but now I also know when to say "no." A very good lesson.
  • And it was still fun to participate, even on a minor scale. I enjoyed following the progress of other writers and encouraging them to continue. I was part of a writing community and it was a good place to be.
It's difficult to balance our real world obligations with our creative desires--sometimes near impossible. If you're anything like me, from the minute I get up in the morning I feel besieged by an entire litany of unrelated tasks: Buy milk; go to Staples; return library books; write Chapter Four. When I threw NaNoWriMo into the mix (write 2900 words today or die), all I wanted to do was go back to bed. That's when I decided to a) go slow, keep writing, but stop chasing the 50K. And, b) make sure that I sat down for at least an hour every day at my art table and just played. It was a good plan. Now I just have another 30K to go, but entirely at my leisure.

Tip of the Day: The key to accomplishing any goal is one step at a time. It doesn't matter how big or small that step is, just give yourself the space to do it. And if you did win NaNoWriMo this year: CONGRATULATIONS!! My hat's off to you. Enjoy your victory!

Monday, November 14, 2016

#InkTober Round-Up


I made it: All 31 days of InkTober 2016. Some days were easier than others, some days were total disasters, and every day presented a new challenge, mainly: how to use ink in an effective and interesting way. I learned much more than I expected to, and in spite of wanting to give up more than once, I think I've come to appreciate ink and the artists who use it more than I ever have before.

The best part of the challenge though, was the set time frame of an entire month. I've always enjoyed taking on creative projects with some kind of pre-set deadline in mind, even if I only give myself a few days, a topic I covered in "The Value of a  5-Day Challenge." Concentrating on ink for a month was an entertaining, and educational, road trip and one I'm glad I followed.

Another benefit I derived from my ink-splattered journey was the chance to learn more about ink--what it is, how it's used, and why. For a writer, ink is as necessary, and as natural, as breathing and eating, but I don't think I'm alone in being in constant pursuit of the "perfect pen." Over the years I've gone through fountain pens, felt-tip models, roller-balls, gel pens, purple ballpoints--you name it, I've tried it! Thanks to InkTober, though, I've fallen in love all over again with Pilot Precise V-5 and V-7 pens, and was also able to discover Tikky Rotring pens. Along with these I added my favorite Akashiya Sai brush pens as well as my perennial go-to combination of bottled sumi ink and a sharpened bamboo stick. (Nothing like the basics.)

So . . . some random thoughts about the month and what I got from it:
  • Prior to the challenge, my daily drawings were solely for practice, nothing fancy, just simple sketches no one but me would see. However, InkTober required that I post my drawings every day on social media--eek. I therefore had to explore subjects that could be drawn up in 30 minutes or less yet still appear finished. My most successful efforts turned out to be small sketches of Taiwan based on my photos from my trip last year, and studies of trees drawn with a distinct Asian influence. In other words, I found a voice and method I liked.
  • Sticking to ink-only was a challenge in itself. I craved variety. Even though I often added color from other mediums to my drawings (mainly watercolor background washes) it was difficult to stay so rigidly adhered to one type of drawing tool. The day the challenge was over I threw myself into oil pastels, charcoal, graphite--anything but ink! Consequently, I learned I am for sure a "mixed-media" artist, a good piece of knowledge if I ever need to describe my artist-self in a professional manner.
  • One of the more trivial things encouraging me to take up the challenge in the first place was that I wanted to use up a sketchbook I didn't like. (Out of the negative, find the positive!) There really was nothing wrong with this particular book--it was filled with cold-press watercolor pages and quite expensive--but I just never jelled with it. It order to get it out of my life and stick with my daily plan, I decided to just draw on those expensive pages and the heck with results. This approach turned out to be a lot of fun--especially as I could never truly control the lines my pen made due to all the natural irregularities common to watercolor paper. So rather than waste the book or leave it to molder over the years, I used it, enjoyed it--and now have a good record of my InkTober experience.
  • Finally, as much as I often resisted using that particular sketchbook (some days I just had to go back to my old favorites) the "bad sketchbook" allowed for two new drawing styles to emerge. The first contained a child-like whimsical quality, with the second being a loose and easy "just get the idea down" style. Both of these could be great for illustrating children's picture books, and I definitely plan to explore them further.
Now that it's November I'm immersed in--you guessed it--NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, but I'm still taking a daily 30 minutes+ to work on my drawing skills. It's amazing to me what can be accomplished in such a short amount of time, but just like sitting down for half an hour to freewrite, you can only get the work done if you take the time to do it. It's that simple! Whatever length of time you choose, five days or five months, keep in mind that the whole point is to give yourself a unique opportunity, one that will help you achieve your goals, especially those you've been too afraid to start (or finish).
Good luck and stay creative every day!

And just to prove I did my homework, here's some samples from my InkTober sketchbooks:

Jiufen Tea House, Taiwan

I was supposed to be practicing drawing horses, but zebras were more fun.

Taipei residential neighborhood.

Dreaming on a Sunday.

Portugal seaside. Fun to travel by pen!

Tip of the Day: Similar in spirit to National Novel Writing Month, InkTober is a chance to be part of a world-wide creative support group: one that wants you to succeed and meet your goals. Over the last few years all kinds of equivalent challenges have sprung up: Picture Book Writing Month, Poetry Month . . . even A-Z Blogging Month. Now is the perfect time of year to decide which one (or two or three) you'd like to try in 2017. Google some topics you might be interested in, find a group challenge, and then block out a schedule on your calendar for next year--it's never too early to prepare.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Autumn Creative Harvest

I love Autumn. Absolutely love it! Every day there seems to be so much incentive to create, explore, start new projects--and the holidays are some of the best. This month I'm trying #InkTober (haven't skipped a day yet!), and next month will see me celebrating NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) again. I've lost count of how many years I've participated in NaNo, but win or lose it's always been a productive experience.

So besides the chance to try out new pens, journals, sketchbooks and unfamiliar materials, some of my other reasons for being crazy for Autumn include:
  1. The weather is near-perfect, quite a bit cooler than summer, but here in New Mexico we can still wear T-shirts in the afternoon. As far as I'm concerned, there's no better time of year for sitting outside to read, write, or paint--especially as all the bugs have magically disappeared.
  2. Along with the more comfortable temperatures, the autumn scenery is magnificent. Talk about inspiration! The colors are at their absolute best: amethyst, pomegranate, yellow gold, black plum, pumpkin orange, and every shade in between.
  3. The stores are full of "back to school" sales; the discounts on stationery and other supplies are massive. Buy those gel pens! Grab those glue sticks!
  4. Some of the best new movies and books are released in the fall. (Which can also be something of a distraction when you're trying to fill pages with your own work.) But giving yourself a few hours to read or watch a new movie makes a good reward for meeting your daily word count.
  5. The flavors of autumn are so conducive to story-telling: spicy warm drinks, buttery cakes and cookies. Just don't forget to go for a nice long autumn walk to burn off the calories!
  6. Misty, foggy, rainy, nippy: my favorite books and stories have always contained a Gothic ambience that I like to include in my own writing. I can't think of a better time to write than when you're cocooned inside against the elements.
  7. Shorter days mean less time to be outside playing or lounging in the yard, which means I have a little extra time to write or draw every night before dinner or before going to bed.
  8. Although the weather can be a bit colder in the morning, it's not too cold to get up and still write my morning pages in relative comfort.
  9. There's a sweet sense of harvest in the air, making this a great season to examine and appreciate what you've accomplished in the previous months. If you find there are still some items on your goal-list, the good news is we all still have time to catch up before the New Year.
  10. I don't know about you, but I always think sweaters and socks are just cozier to wear while writing. (Especially my cat ones.)
  11. Bonfires. The other day at my writing group I tried to explain my memories of Guy Fawkes and the 5th of November, but I guess you have to be from a British background to understand "A penny for the Guy" and why English and Commonwealth children commemorate a centuries-old attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament. No matter; fire pits, barbecues, and Homecoming and Halloween bonfires are good American traditions, too, and there's nothing nicer than toasting marshmallows or tofu-dogs on a moonlit autumn night.
  12. Travel--consider taking your WIP or sketchbook to a new and/or foreign setting. The fares are lower, hotels have more rooms available, and most tourists are back at work or back in school. The only problem is choosing where to go!
Whatever season you prefer, each one, or all four, can become the cornerstone of your creativity: painting a single scene in four versions of summer, fall, spring, winter; or using seasonal transitions when you're trying to invoke a sense of time, place and character in your manuscript. Even jewelry and ceramic work can reflect the changing seasons: blues and greens for summer, reds and oranges for fall. Each time of year has its own associations, many of them unique to our own memories and tastes. For me, it will always be autumn, hence my new Autumn Pinterest board. Enjoy the scenery!

Tip of the Day: How about creating a seasonal sketchbook or journal to record your favorite memories? Try some collage, or use natural elements such as leaves or seashells for printing and stamping. Write or draw on toned paper with colored inks. Make each turn of the year a season to remember.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sprains, Strains, and New Directions

New Akashiya Sai Watercolor Pens: the full set!

Two weeks ago I sprained my ankle. I was on the way to my writer’s group at the Albuquerque Museum and while I was walking through the car park, I stepped on an extended sprinkler head hidden by a covering of gravel. The pain of the event is indescribable: a spike through the ball of my foot, sending me into a contorted loss of balance, that then resulted in a totally twisted ankle and foot. Somehow I limped to my meeting, managed to converse for the next few hours, and then went home to collapse. Ice and pain killers got me through the worst of it, but my foot is still very tender as is my other foot and leg, as well as my back and shoulders from all the strain of hop-hop-hopping along every day to get from A to B.

By the third day of hoppity-hop I wanted to know WHY this had happened to me. Besides knowing that I wasn’t looking where I was going (I rarely do), I wondered if there could be some sort of symbolism or metaphysical lesson to be learned here. I did a quick Google search and got the same message several times over: a sprained ankle is an indication that you are to seek out a new direction. 

Sitting with my foot elevated and my stack of books and journals handy, I decided that the only new direction I wanted at that moment was to close my eyes and nap all day. But apparently the universe had other ideas. Almost immediately after reading several websites each saying the same thing about following new paths, the mail arrived and I received some new pens I ordered online several weeks earlier: a twenty-color set of Akashiya Sai Watercolor Brush Pens, along with a sampler set of eleven black drawing pens. Thirty-one pens in total. For a minimalist such as myself, the number was mind-boggling, and thoroughly distracting. It was like when I got a ball of Silly Putty when I was five and had chicken pox.

Right away I forgot about my nap and started to try out my new pens. After all, my journal was right there in front of me. As I was doodling, I then naturally got some new ideas (no, no, please no new ideas): 

  • Why not try Inktober this year? Similar to NaNoWrimo for writers, Inktober is a challenge to produce, and post on social media, an ink drawing a day for the entire month of October. I've always wanted to try it, but never had the courage to post daily. While I was thinking about this, I then had the idea to:
  • Finally start that children’s picture book I’ve been dreaming of since last year, which involves:
  • Learning to draw horses and ponies (the most difficult subject I can think of). 


Three new directions that are entirely do-able, don’t interfere too much with my already carefully-laid plans to work on my new novel, and if anything, enhance what I’m doing already. For instance, I draw every day anyway—so why not just work with ink for a month? And although I am currently marketing my picture book based in Barcelona, wouldn’t it be a good idea to be able to tell editors I am working on a second book? 

An interesting side note about learning to draw horses is that horses have delicate legs and ankles. Their feet must be considered and cared for in a serious and responsible way. Where they walk, how their shoes fit, and how they're exercised all matters. It made me think that what I need to do until the end of the year is to keep my eyes open, pay attention, and sit still long enough to get my work done. 

Thankfully, I can report that my own foot is on the mend and I'm certain I'll be  back to my old self in another week or two. But I also understand that there’s plenty of room for a new self, too--especially the one that gets to sit down all day!

Tip of the Day: According to metaphysical practitioners, there’s a lot we can learn from illness and injuries. In my case, despite the pain and inconvenience, I feel I’ve come through with some valuable insights and renewed energy for my art and writing. The next time you’re under the weather, ask if there is anything you are meant to understand or explore on a deeper level. Like me, you might be surprised at what you discover.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

September Sketches

Sunday at the Albuquerque Rail Yards Market.
Kuretake Watercolor, Sakura Micron Pen

How has your summer been? For me it went a little too fast. Thankfully here in Albuquerque it's still sunny and warm, but there is definitely a tinge of autumn in the air. Which means it's time to buckle down with a "back-to-school" attitude and get back to my main WIP, Ghazal. I also want to get back into a dedicated sketching schedule that fits in with all my other projects.

Two things that are currently helping me get there are my writer's group summer art journal project and my outings with Urban Sketchers. Starting with my writer's group, because we've been meeting at the Albuquerque Museum we've been able to stay inspired by all the amazing art exhibited throughout the halls and galleries. Several weeks ago we had the idea to set out individually to find a painting or installation that could be the basis of some of our art journal pages. 

For me it was coming across an entire room devoted to the travel sketches of New Mexico-based architect, Antoine Predock. The extensive collection ended with an intricate proposal for a southern branch of the Palace Museum in Taiwan (unfortunately never realized), but I was so taken with the loose and easy style that led up to this final, intricate fantasy that I had to go visit the exhibition three more times over the next month. Predock's example and implied advice to scribble, go for color blocks and bold lines, and to follow what you feel about a place and its landmarks, rather than what you're "supposed to see" was exactly what I've been trying to achieve on my own for the last couple of years.

I kept all of that in mind last Sunday when I went with Urban Sketchers to the Albuquerque Rail Yards Market for two hours of morning sketching:

Albuquerque Rail Yards--abandoned but not forgotten!
Kuretake Watercolor and Sakura Micron Pen

The more I go out with the group the better I'm becoming at relaxing and losing my self-consciousness. I care more about the experience than the results, and consequently I'm drawing more than I ever have before. I love it!

Kuretake Watercolor, Fine-line Sharpie,
Akashiya Sai Watercolor Brush Pens

I then wondered how this approach could work with writing and I found it fit perfectly. For instance:
  • Go BOLD. Don't hold back; don't edit, mince your words, or fear critique and censure. Let go and let the words flow. 
  • Similar to a "gesture drawing," capturing the essence of a subject rather than the details, try gesture writing. First thoughts, first attempts, first drafts contain a lot of energy--energy that can transform your voice and writing into something only you could write. 
  • Write hundreds and hundreds of pages. I was impressed at how many sketches Predock had made, many of them simply a few lines in the center of the page, but each was so strong and effective. His examples reminded me to not skimp on materials, ideas, or any step that will express where I completely want to go.
Good ideas for some good writing time! Enjoy the season.
Tip of the Day: Thinking of editing your work? Whatever you do, please don't kill the sketch. Whether you're sketching towards creating a more polished painting, or freewriting dozens of vignettes and character studies for your novel, screenplay, or short story collection, don't go crazy with the polishing. Yes, weed out awkward phrases, lines, and repetitions, but stay true to what made you fall in love with your ideas in the first place. Stay loose.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Book Review: Not Dark Yet, by Berit Ellingsen

Not Dark Yet by Berit Ellingsen
Two Dollar Radio
ISBN: 978-1937412354
Fiction, 202 pages

I don't review a lot of books, but when I do it's because I really want to--I want to share something important and real that I think other writers and readers will enjoy and benefit from. That's why I'm  taking a look today at Not Dark Yet by author Berit Ellingsen, a writer who has enriched my world and inspired me to keep writing, keep striving, keep going, and always take the time to read a good book.

I first heard about Berit via Twitter, the best source I know for discovering books and authors I wouldn't usually have the chance to learn about. Thanks to so many bookstores disappearing from my neighborhood (three more have just gone bankrupt this past month), social media has become my primary source for literary browsing, and when I read a post about Berit and her collection of short stories: Beneath the Liquid Skin, I had to order the book, prontoNothing in my extensive reading life had prepared me for the power and originality of those stories, so naturally I couldn't wait to read her novel, Not Dark Yet. I don't think anything else I've read before or after can compare with either of these books.

Berit lives in Norway, and her work reflects a beautiful sense of place, an isolated starkness that is in direct contrast with much of my own experience. Even desert-y Albuquerque doesn't have the sharp, cold lunar feeling I get from her descriptions. Coupled with this strong geographic presence is a staggering sense of precision to every word she writes, an exactness that has me re-reading many of her sentences for the sheer pleasure of it. In many ways I consider her a "writer's writer" and after I finished reading Not Dark Yet I sat down with my journal to examine what it was that made me love this book so much. Here goes:
  • Setting. An unspecified future; a mysterious Nordic city; a world without clear boundaries, countries, or cultures: the world of Not Dark Yet is a mystery. Yet despite the deliberate masking of time and place, I don't think I read a a single description that left me wondering where I was, or what the characters were experiencing. As I read, I felt every needle of rain, every clod of mud, every veil of mist--and I was actually sorry that I couldn't live there--and this was a depiction of a world in chaos and dangerous change! I mean, what kind of skill makes an awful world attractive?
  • Characters. Main character Brandon Minamoto isn't your everyday protagonist (thank goodness). A complex near-loner with a troubled military history, Brandon is torn between the need to form relationships and the need to be true to himself. I sympathized with his plight every step of the way and was heartbroken when I had to say good-bye on the last page.
  • Plot. I hate plot-spoilers of any kind so I won't drop even a single hint, but I was hooked right from the beginning. I HAD to know: WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO BRANDON?? You'll have to read the book to find out, but his story arc kept me glued to my seat.
  • Writing Style. Oh, wow. There is a zen-like simplicity and clarity to Berit's voice and style that I admire immensely. Seemingly matter-of-fact and terse on the surface, each sentence builds toward the next, roiling on your sub-conscious like some menacing monolithic disaster threatening to change everything you know or believe is true. It's rare to come across so much power in a deceptively plain-spoken sentence, and I found myself constantly wondering how she managed to control it.
  • Subject Matter. I hesitate to call Not Dark Yet science fiction, but I can't think of another category that would fit as well. Sci-fi isn't usually my first choice when choosing a book, but when it goes in the direction of also being character-driven literary fiction, I'm a fan. Not Dark Yet is an excellent example of how to blend (and bend) genre distinctions to good advantage, and one I wish more books would emulate.
  • Metaphor. I've always been impressed with Berit's use of metaphor and symbolism. Whether the focus is on food, the weather, or just getting dressed for a holiday--each scene, story event, or snippet of back story is rich with added-value meaning and subtext.
  • Discussion Points. Which brings me to my favorite thing about this book: I could talk about it all day. It's a book that makes me think. Good literature should lead to great (and memorable) conversation, and I can't imagine anyone not having an opinion or strong feelings about what happens to Brandon and the rest of the cast. In other words, it's the perfect book club book--especially if club members enjoy digging deep and aren't afraid to not always agree on social issues, character motivation, or "what would you do?" if placed in Brandon's shoes. Strong stuff.
So with all that said, I think I have to read the book again. Not Dark Yet is quirky, original, and packed with secrets--the kind you can't wait to unravel and sit with for a long while after. I found the book extremely compelling and one that has stirred my curiosity and desire to learn more, write more, and even try my hand at some fan-art. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy an authentic book of ideas and a serious voyage of self-discovery. Five stars from me--six if I could!

Tip of the Day: Be sure to check out Berit Ellingsen and her wonderful books. After all, to a writer it's love and reading that makes the world go 'round!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Pushing Past the Middle




Writing a series of poems based on my trip to Taiwan last year wasn't on my 2016 to-do list. It really wasn't, but now that it's appeared, I can happily say I've battled through and my first draft is well and truly finished. Yay!

That said, it wasn't an easy journey, especially when I reached a place several weeks ago where I was well and truly stuck: right smack dab in the middle. I was uninspired, tired, and beginning to worry that the whole project was a major distraction and a waste of time.

Reaching the middle of any project rarely feels like a victory. Instead, all I can usually think of is how much more work I have to do to finishSo when I found myself in the middle of A Taiwan Sketchbook (my working title) rather than writing the second draft of my new novel, Ghazal, I suddenly realized how long it had taken me to get to where I was, and how much more effort I had to put into the project before I could type THE END. Just thinking about all those hours of work ahead of me sent me to the couch and a headache.

While I was lying there, feeling both guilty and utterly defeated, I thought of all the stages of my project that had brought me to where I was, starting with my GRAND IDEA:
  • The excitement of STARTING. It was so much fun. I love starting new projects. All that anticipation, planning, preparing new notebooks and buying new pens. Nothing better!
  • Once all my tools were in place, the next stage centered around starting new rituals, new schedules, new dedication--writing every day, staying on track, marking my progress on a calendar.
  • And then . . . I had to skip a day. An appointment, having to stay late at work, no food in the house . . . 
  • So I had to put in double-duty the next time I sat down to write to make up for lost time.
  • Which meant: this is starting to feel like WORK. Where'd the fun go?
  • Before I knew it, I was in the MIDDLE of a project and it all seemed like chaos and hell and something that would take me the rest of my life to complete, if I ever survived to tell the tale.
The thing about all this, however, is it's happened to me so often it's nothing new. I know in advance that there will always come a day in my writing when resistance looms large, quitting sounds wonderful, and I'd rather be reading or painting. I've been on that same couch with the same headache so many times before, and yet, guess what? I've always started writing again. Here's how you can too:
  • Give up--yes! At least for the moment. Stay on the couch, read, watch a movie, take a break. If you really have reached the middle of your work, you deserve a little time off!
  • When you feel rested, start back at the beginning when you got those nice writing supplies. Organize what you have already accomplished into new folders and binders; brainstorm and create lists of what you need to do to finish.
  • Forget about order and following an outline. Write the scenes or portions of your work you want to write, don't worry about transitions or a table of contents.
  • Concentrate on your ending first. Write your last scene (or poem, or paragraph depending on what it is you're working on) and craft the rest of your story to fit your conclusion or theme.
  • Calculate how much time it took you to reach the middle. Now assign that same amount of time, plus an extra few weeks or so for emergencies, and give yourself a deadline. Write it down on a calendar.
  • Work fast. Remember this is first draft stuff. Just get there--it doesn't matter how!
If you've tried all this, though, and do discover that your heart truly isn't in a project, give yourself permission to stop, maybe even quit. Don't toss any of your work, but simply put it away and move on to something new. And if you find yourself missing the project at a later date, but you're not sure how to re-start it, evaluate what it was that kept you from continuing. Was it your choice of genre, voice, or style? Were you being too ambitious and trying to add too many (and superfluous) elements to your story-line? Were you trying to please readers rather than yourself? Spend a few days journaling about your situation and then see if things are really as bad as you thought they were. With any luck and a lot of determination you should be able to find some valuable solutions. 

Tip of the Day: Stuck in the middle of your WIP? Brainstorm! Create a list of 100 new "what-if's" and scenes. See which ones can inject fresh energy into your manuscript. And always keep in mind, once you've passed "the middle," it's all downhill from there!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Shake Up Your Writer's Group!


This month my writer's group is trying something new: art journaling together. It isn't the first time we've "changed the rules" and jumped into fresh territory, but adding artwork to our writing is a bit of a departure for us. 

To start things off, we agreed to each choose a special sketchbook or journal to work in. In keeping with many of my "how wrong can this go" attempts to get things right, I chose a sketchbook that came with impossible-to-remove stickers on both the front and back covers. After an hour of attempting to remove them, I ended up with a thousand little bits of paper still clinging on like limpets, as well as some deep gouges and tears in the cardboard. Solution? Start my art journal with some cover collage!



Lemonade out of lemons, right? 

Despite my somewhat rough start to the project, I think it's going well. We've had two art journal-based meetings so far; chosen themes for our journals (I've only changed mine twice); written down our intentions for our journaling practice, and started filling pages.

Regardless of whether we're working on journaling, short stories, or poetry, our group meets every two weeks, usually in a bookstore or museum cafe, and the one thing we've always done is have fun. The second objective that has kept our group strong and lively is that we concentrate on writing together rather than critiquing. It's made a difference to a) not have "homework assignments" between meetings; b) be able to support each other's creativity without playing editor, imposing our opinions where they don't really belong, and/or stifling a work at any stage of the draft-process. 

Writing together has had all sorts of benefits, new manuscripts being the least of them. More than anything we've learned to: 
  • Write on demand regardless of where we are, how we're feeling, or how lousy we think our work is at any given time. 
  • Be fearless. After we write, we read aloud. Although we've always provided the option to not read if something feels too personal or too raw for sharing, I've never known any one of us to use that option. 
  • Ink. In every color of the rainbow. We write by hand when we get together, and the results have never been anything less than impressive. (Hear that, writer's group? You are fantastic writers!!)
Some of the other ways we've kept the inspiration high has been to:
  1. Write flash fiction or poetry using word and picture prompts cut from magazines. Sometimes we'll all use the same picture, e.g., a strange setting, an evocative character, or an unusual object. At other times we'll combine them, or have a little package of our own (passed out during the meeting) containing two or three individual images. I never cease to be amazed at how different our stories are, or how publication-ready the writing is. 
  2. Go for timed writing. We give ourselves anywhere between thirty to forty-five minutes to write. Once the time is up, it's pens down. 
  3. Take field trips. We haven't had as many of these as I would like (note to group: take more trips!), but the trips we have taken have been unforgettable. I'm especially thinking of the time we all went up to Santa Fe and back by train. 
  4. Bring pot-luck brunch and meet at someone's house. Yum. 
  5. Treat ourselves to a restaurant lunch. No clean-up involved. We had pizza last time. Super yum. 
  6. Watch a how-to video together. Great for discussion (and eating. We combined the video with another pot-luck.). 
  7. White elephant parties. We got so good at this we've had to give them up, but essentially what we did was bring unwanted items from home, play a silly game to hand them around, and anything we didn't want was collected and taken to the thrift store the next day. Now that we're all beautifully de-cluttered, we've decided to keep our homes as junk-free as possible meaning the parties are over, but they were entertaining while they lasted.
I can't wait to see how our art journaling experiment works out. Although we are pretty much trying a free-form approach, we are also using this helpful list of 50 ideas I found at Blacksburg Belle for when we get stuck and need a small prompt (or a big shove). This motivational blog is loaded with lots of other excellent creative tips, so I highly recommend a visit. In the meantime, get out those glue sticks, write your hearts out, and keep the lemonade flowing.

Tip of the Day: Break out of the box. Even if you love your writer's group exactly the way it is, it never hurts to shake things up a bit. Meet somewhere new, read a book together, brainstorm some fresh possibilities. Drop a line a let me know how it's going.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Break Out of Your Shell!

"Mussel Shells"
Faber-Castell Polychromos Pencils
on Canson Pastel Paper
The drawing challenge from my color pencil group this month was to draw seashells. As you can see, I tackled four of them including the inside surfaces. Despite my initial resistance (too hard, too repetitive, not my thing, etc., etc.), I learned a lot from this exercise, much of which can be also be applied to my writing life, starting with practice, practice, practice. 

Thanks to my reluctance to start, I procrastinated like a pro. I answered email, cleaned my house, wrote more poetry; anything to avoid drawing. Finally the day came when I either had to get to work or go to my group empty-handed, aka "being a quitter." Not my favorite option. So with deep misgivings I started in with just one. Hmm. Not so bad. So I tried another. And another. And before I knew it I had drawn all four. Hey, I did it! Which made me realize:
  1. Repetition is valuable. One of the main things holding me back was fear of boredom: how could I draw four similar shells without losing my mind? The truth, however, was very different: first, the shells were NOT similar, and second, by repeating the process several times my technique improved as I got to the last shell. Practice, practice, practice! Whether you want to improve your drawing, write exciting action scenes or learn the intricacies of arranging a pantoum, it takes more than one attempt to get it right.
  2. Don't hide away in your "I can't do it" shell. Rather than setting yourself up for failure by aiming for the most incredible work in the whole of human history, start a dreaded project by drawing or writing in your most basic style: just get some shapes or words down on paper. Once that's done, tweak a little here, add a little there--before you know it your right-brain will be engaged and intrigued with all the possibilities. At this point, I dare you to stop.
  3. Shells make great writing and art journal prompts. The first time I wrote about a seashell in my art journal was an entry about playing with my grandmother's collection of shells from the Gulf of Mexico when I was a little girl. I loved holding those shells to my ear and "listening to the sea." You might have a similar memory, or you might want to write about your first trip to the beach, or your own collection of seaside finds. On the fiction side, including a seashell in a short story, poem, or novel could trigger all sorts of themes, associations, and plot twists--especially if the shell is rare and valuable!
  4. Artwork isn't always about drawing. How about brushing some ink or paint onto a shell and using it as a stamp in your art journal or mixed-media piece? Or pressing a shell into earthen or polymer clay? Drilling a hole into the top of a shell to add to a jewelry piece? Or simply painting and/or collaging the shell itself for a whole new look? 
  5. Using shells for meditation and mindfulness. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant, there's something profound about a seashell. Whether it's the patterning, the colors, or just the fact it once housed and protected some small and distant creature, shells make a good start to pondering life's mysteries. Add them to household altars, your writing room or studio, your garden or any other kind of creative sanctuary you like to visit. Personally I like to keep them all over the house in various nooks and crannies. 
Shells have always fascinated me, but that's no reason to take them literally and hide out inside one of my own. The drawing challenge for July is to draw green leaves. I'm so fired-up by the prospect I'm going to start and base an entire art journal on the subject. No hesitation, no holding back, just going for it. Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme! 

Tip of the Day: One of the things I love about drawing is how it relaxes and pulls me into what I could almost call a different dimension. Memories; new ideas for writing; the book I'm currently reading: my mind seems to just float along with the tide. While I was working on my seashell piece I was reminded of one of my favorite books that I hadn't thought of for a long time: Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea. If you've never read it, or haven't read it for a long time, I can't think of a better text to check out for summer inspiration. Enjoy!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Sssh: Writer At Sleep


Sleep, glorious sleep--for a long time it's eluded me, and from what I hear, many of my creative friends have much the same problem. For roughly about the last two years, I've spent most nights tossing and turning, my mind going a zillion-miles-per-hour as I worry over plot lines, imaginary illnesses, remembering I have to pay a bill in two weeks, and oh, don't forget to return those library books by the weekend. . . . On and on. I'd say it's been a nightmare, except I haven't enjoyed any of the sleep that goes with a bad dream! If I got four hours a night in Slumberland, I considered myself lucky.

And then I got my Bucky pillow. Oh, my goodness.

I don't endorse many products outside of recommending some of my favorite art supplies, but I felt compelled this morning to tell everyone about my new pillow. I've had it for exactly two weeks now, and during these two weeks I've slept right through the night, EVERY NIGHT! Peeps, this is a miracle.

One of the reasons (I'm pretty sure) that I've had so much trouble sleeping is that I haven't used a pillow for decades. Every pillow I've ever tried has given me a headache, tried to suffocate me, or slid off the mattress (either that or I've thrown it overboard). Things got so bad a few weeks ago I even contemplated buying a new mattress. Then, out of the blue, I thought of trying a buckwheat pillow. Prior to this I had only read about these pillows in Japanese novels, and I've always been intrigued by the concept. However, the time had come to stop wondering and discover for myself what they were all about. 

I went to my local European-style pharmacy and sure enough they had them for sale (and on sale!). I bought two--one for me, one for my husband, and that first night I slept and slept and slept like I would never wake up. It's been that way ever since. I can't believe it. My husband is sleeping much better, too. Over the weekend I asked him if he wanted to go back to his old pillow. His reply? "Never!"

The pillows I bought for us are organic buckwheat on one side, millet on the other. They're smaller than a standard bed pillow, can be configured in a variety of heights and densities, and provide the best neck and shoulder support I've ever experienced. Although I have no scientific proof to back me up here (so please don't quote me), I have a feeling that the pillow is hitting all the right acupressure points in the back of my skull to induce sleep. I can't think of what else it can be, but whatever it is, it's truly amazing!

Sleep is vital to creativity. Heck, it's vital to life! I can't overstate how much better I'm feeling during the day, and how much less back pain I wake up with (currently none at all. Keeping my fingers crossed. . . .)

My next purchase will be to buy the Bucky travel versions of this incredible invention. Now that I've become such a total fan I can't imagine leaving home without one. And as my husband says, in case of global disaster, we can always eat them. A good deal, all round, I'd say.

Tip of the Day: There are many brands and types of buckwheat pillows available, "Bucky" being only one of them. But if you're suffering from any kind of insomnia or sleep-related problem, changing over to this type of pillow might be just the answer you're looking for. And if it doesn't work for you at night, I think you'll still be pleased at the way it makes an extremely firm and supportive head-rest for reading in bed or on the couch. Sweet dreams!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Poem Sketching

From my weekend sketchbook: Pentel Stylo pen, Sumi ink, and watercolor.
I've been studying Chinese painting techniques, especially trees--
very meditative and just right for poetry!

How did it get to be June? And how have I managed to skip out on blogging for so many weeks? It seems like the A-Z challenge was only a few days ago . . . 

May was a hectic month: Someone drove into my new car (all fixed now, yay!), I wrote at least ten versions of a new query letter and synopsis of The Abyssal Plain (finally settling on one I liked, thank goodness), and my day job was intense--I went to the post office so often it's a wonder they didn't offer me a cot so I could just stay the night.

So in between driving here, there, and everywhere and buying postage, I started writing poetry, and then I started sketching poetry illustrations, and before I knew it, I was living on another planet--a secret creative place that shut out the whole world. I didn't Tweet, I didn't email (sorry, email friends), I didn't blog, I just zoned out and concentrated on doing what I wanted to do: write and draw. 

The poems, as well as the drawings, are based on my trip to Taiwan last year. Ever since I got home I've been trying to duplicate my feelings and experiences through my artwork, but there always seemed to be something missing. Now I know it was the words to go with my pictures. While I was still searching for those missing pieces, I knew I didn't want to write some sort of travelogue (I did enough of that in my Taiwan Travel Diary blog posts), and I certainly didn't want to start a new novel or short story collection. But I wanted to express myself in some strong and meaningful way, and poetry seemed to be the perfect vehicle.

I try to write at least one poem a day, basing it on various aspects of my journey: from riding the bus, to savoring tea and cake while thinking about monkeys in a museum tea shop. To get the ball rolling, I use a brainstorming technique I learned in Writing From the Inside Out by Sandford Lyne. Before I start writing, I take a piece of paper and head up two columns: one titled "Inner" and the other "Outer." "Inner" is for everything that involves feeling, e.g., what were my thoughts, emotions, even my state of health? "Outer" is for everything that was happening around me, including the weather as well as the people, places, and details of what I observed. Once I have all my memories and notes in place, I weave them together into a poetry draft, seeking connections and making leaps into new directions for more writing. It's a helpful and enjoyable process, and sometimes it almost seems as if the poems write themselves.

The most exciting part of this new work, however, is that I now have a good use for my paintings of Taiwan, as well as a reason to continue painting them: illustration! Best of all, I can use the same pen to draw and write with, LOL!

Old tree trunk: Pentel Stylo pen, sumi ink, 
and Japanese watercolor.

Tip of the Day: You don't have to be a published poet or MFA candidate to write poetry. All you need to be is someone in love with words and the chance to play with language. The next time you sit down to journal or freewrite, try putting your feelings into a poem. It doesn't have to rhyme or have verses, or even have proper line breaks--it just needs to be you experimenting on the page with a fresh approach. If you need some inspiration, read a few published poets first and then try the "Inner and Outer" technique to organize your thoughts and feelings.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

#AtoZChallenge 2016 Reflections



I knew May was going to be a busy month, but what nobody told me was that instead of blogging every day, I'd be building a new website every day. Believe me, it's not something I wanted to do, but my web hosting service is in the process of upgrading and I've been notified to go with the flow or get left behind. Consequently I’ve had to learn a whole new set of tech-skills faster than you can say "pixel" and my head is still spinning. At this point in the game I'd do just about anything to set back the clock and return to the simple world of going through my ABC's. At least I have next April to look forward to!

Before I landed in this big website morass, one of the things that made this year's A-Z challenge so special for me was my theme of art journaling. To make my posts authentic, I had to create a daily art journal page to illustrate what I was writing about. Despite the extra work, I feel I got much more out of the challenge than I bargained for; I love the small journal I created for the month and it will always be a “Yes, I can do it!” reminder and reward for participating.

Besides the fun of creating a new journal, other benefits I received from the challenge include:

  • Learning I could write under pressure. During the challenge I still had to go to my day job and fulfill all my other routine obligations. But I always posted!
  • Learning that I could create an art journal with limited time and resources. You can do a lot with a little—no excuses.
  • Met many great bloggers--and from all over the world.
  • Felt easier than I usually do about opening up and sharing without my inner critic interfering. There just wasn’t any time to listen to her cautionary ranting. (Thank goodness.)
  • I felt comfortable calling myself a “blogger.” Often I just consider myself an author with a blog and that's the end of it. But I like blogging, and I enjoy having my blog. So I guess it's okay to call myself an honest-to-goodness real-life blogger!
  • I particularly liked having the routine and discipline of posting every day. Although I won’t be able to maintain that kind of schedule (once or twice a week fits my life much better) it made me realize how I can use that same time for a creative exercise every day, and with satisfying results.

So will I return for 2017? You bet! I had a great time with the challenge, and I hope you did too, bloggers and readers alike. Thank you to the A-Z team who made this exciting event possible, and thank you to everyone who took the time to visit and comment on my pages. 

Finally, and as promised, I have selected (using Random.org) a winner from my visitors who commented on my posts over the month for a copy of Overtaken! Name to be announced in my next post. See you then!

Tip of the Day: In order to participate in the challenge, I gave myself about an hour every day to both write my posts and work on my accompanying art journal pages. By carving out just a little extra time I found I could do a lot. The secret was in telling myself I had to do this—I had promised, I was committed. Now that the challenge is over, what can you commit to with that same dedication? Blogging, painting, journaling, beading? Whatever you choose, promise yourself you'll do it--seize the day.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Light as a Feather



I never thought I would miss blogging every day, but already I'm feeling nostalgic for that early morning ritual of stumbling to my computer in the dark to write yet another post!

I'm also missing reading all those great posts from other bloggers that would fill my in-box every morning--hopefully they'll all start up again soon, too. 

At the same time, I feel like I've been through an initiation of some sort, an "ordeal by blogging." To celebrate the end of a long (and intensely interesting) month, the first thing I did when the Challenge finished was go to my drawing table to draw these feathers. Not only did I feel "as light as a feather" to have put blogging behind me for a day or two, but I'd been postponing this small project for a few weeks and really wanted to try it out. 

The feathers came from the last meeting of my colored pencil group when we were all given a handful of wild turkey feathers with the assignment to draw them for the next meeting. On Sunday I finally had some spare time, so I used my new Faber and Castell Polychromos pencils and three different kinds of paper. The subject seemed to fit my mood to a T. While I was drawing, my mind was also jumping all over the place with plans for the coming month, including:


  • New re-prints of two of my books: The Great Scarab Scam and Better Than Perfect. More on this coming soon!
  • Submitting my new novel, The Abyssal Plain with new query letters and synopses.
  • Going back into ceramics. Before the#AtoZChallenge I bought a fresh batch of stoneware clay and made three pots that are now ready for a bisque firing (maybe this weekend?). As soon as they're out of the kiln I'm going to try decorating them in an Asian splash-ink style based on last year's trip to Taiwan. This is an entirely new direction for me and I'm excited to see the results.
  • And finally, speaking of Taiwan, out of the blue I've started to write a series of poems to go with my Taiwan paintings, drawings, and now pottery. This has been a huge surprise to me--talk about a change of plans! The first poem came to me in the middle of the night last week and I had to get up to write it. Now I can't stop!

It's going to be a busy month--how about you? Any plans you want to share? Leave a comment, and have a Happy May!

Tip of the Day: Working through the alphabet isn't just for blogging or the month of April: how about trying an A-Z art journal, poetry or short story series, a picture book for children, or even an entire novel outline with each chapter based on a letter of the alphabet? The possibilities are endless--and once you finish one project, you can start all over again with a fresh approach.