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July 2013

June 2013

Writer Quirks - Rachel Thompson

It's always lovely to run into a fellow smart-mouthed red head (yeah, yeah...I know I'm a blonde underneath!), especially one so big hearted and supportive of fellow writers (especially indies). 

RachelYou know who I'm talkin' about, right? None other than Rachel in the OC herself, Rachel Thompson! ::throws confetti, opens a bottle of vodka and passes the Nutella::

Rachel kindly answered my nosy questions about her writer quirks, and tossed in some great writing advice, to boot. Take it away, Rachel!

Thanks for asking me, sweet Janet!

Okay, writing quirks:

1) I cannot write a thing without drinking coffee first thing in the morning.

2) I listen to moody music for inspiration when I write, primarily women. My favorites are Poe's HAUNTED, Fisher's WATER (stunning album BTW), Jonatha Brooke, Imogen Heap, Heart, Grace Potter, Tori Amos (Little Earthquakes), and the quieter songs by Sheryl Crow and Madonna. That's good for now. :)

3) I'm always in black. What. I lived in NYC. It's how I roll. Bright colors distract me.

4) I like all the blinds closed when I write. If it's rainy outside, I'm happy. Gloomy is good for my writing soul.

BrokenPieces 400As for writing advice: trust your vision. lots of people will have lots to say about your writing, and I encourage you to be brave and show it (via guest posts, your own blog, sharing in critique groups, whatever). But ultimately your name goes on it. It's YOUR book. Be true to your vision.

Also, give yourself permission to write the hard stuff. Don't self-edit. Get in that headspace and just go. You're a grown up. Write like it.

Gah, I need to work on that self-editing thing. Comes in handy for non-fiction writing but, geez, it sure is a pain in the ass when it comes to fiction writing. Le sigh. I'm working on it!

Thanks heaps, Rachel, for sharing your writing quirks and advice with us!

Readers, Rachel is out with a brand new book called Broken Pieces. It's a raw, unflinching look into Rachel's soul and the effects of abuse. I'm about twenty pages into these essays and, admittedly, I had to put it down...only because I was feeling a bit raw, myself. When I'm stronger, I will pick it back up to read. The prose and authentic emotion is exquisite.

If you're more in the mood for snarktastic humor, check out Rachel's other bestselling books A Walk in the Snark and The Mancode: Exposed.

You can find Rachel on the web at and, as well as on Twitter (@RachelintheOC and @BadRedheadMedia).

Writer Quirks - Shannon MacLeod

ShannonI had the pleasures of meeting Shannon as Jennifer ShadowFox (her pseudonym) through our mutual non-fiction Tarot work. She, too, writes Tarot books and creates decks.

But Shannon is also a fiction writer! (A feat I'm trying to balance, myself). I asked Shannon if she'd share some of her writing quirks and advice with my blog readers and I'm thrilled she said yes! Without further ado, here's Shannon:

I’m by nature somewhat…ah…quirky, so normal is a real relative term. These are the things that immediately come to mind:

1. I read all my dialogue aloud with the corresponding accents. Normally that’s not a bad thing, but I have occasional bouts of “wandering mind” and the folks in line with me at Walmart get a taste of what’s going on in my head. Makes for some interesting looks. I’ve taken to wearing my Bluetooth whenever I’m out in public so at least it looks like I’m talking to someone other than myself.

2. There must be rain. I love rainy days, overcast and stormy. If there’s no rain, I pipe it in. Yes, Virginia – there’s an app for that. If I’m editing, I keep the TV on low in the background. I usually put the “movie du jour” on and keep track of how long I’ve been working by how many times I’ve restarted it. Right now, Wreck It Ralph is on the second showing of the night. If I’m actually writing, it’s rain only. Anything else is distracting. I prefer writing at night to day.

Celtic3. I listen to music to help me get in the mood – during the writing of The Celtic Knot: Suit of Cups and Rogue on the Rollaway, I listened to a lot of Loreena McKennitt and Gaelic Storm. For The Gypsy Ribbon: Suit of Wands, it was all Def Leppard, Winger, Bon Jovi and 80s hair bands. I’m now working on The French Twist: Suit of Swords and I’m listening to a lot of…you guessed it…country music. *cue evil laugh*

4. I write books on Tarot in addition to paranormal romance, but my worlds collide from time to time. You may have noticed a pattern in the romances…it’s a different type of discipline writing nonfiction, but no less demanding. It may be a left/right brain thing. Either way, working on Tarot requires Lord of the Rings or something equally epic in the background.

5. I carry a notebook with me almost everywhere to jot things down. If I find a phrase I like in a book, I write it down. Witty lines, snappy comebacks, cool words that I don’t normally use…anything that might be useful later goes into the book. That serves two purposes – it commits to memory what I like and provides a jumpstart if I get stuck later. When I have a case of “whitescreenitis” I just flip open the book and look for something that fits.

6. I find I write longer and better with a cat on my lap. There’s so much guilt involved with disturbing a snoring cat, I will sit until my legs go numb before I’ll move her.

GypsyAdvice for writers: I never participated in critique groups where people you don’t know tell you how good/bad your work is, so I can’t really tell you how effective that is. I’m astonished at the number of books that tell you how to write. Hell, if I read even a third of those I wouldn’t have time to write at all. Reading books on how to write is like reading books on how to fish or bowl – the only way you’re going to learn to do either is by doing it.

That being said, I have two books that I do highly recommend – Stephen King’s On Writing (one of the best books ever written – ought to be required reading, so it should) and The Writer’s Little Helper by James V. Smith Jr.

And I just have to share my favorite writing tip ever. I struggled with active vs. passive voice until I read this: If you can insert “by/from zombies” after the verb, it is passive voice:

She was running (from zombies) = passive voice

Zombies chased (from zombies) her = active voice

(Thanks to Professor Rebecca Johnson for this great tip.)

RogueOverall I love the process and even the quirks make it more interesting. I’m not quite at the “having to wear my lucky socks to create” stage, but I suspect it’s not far off. I’ve got the perfect pair all picked out.

About Shannon: In between writing and daydreaming about sexy Celts, Shannon MacLeod lives a life of servitude to two spoiled cats. She enjoys pondering the mysteries of Tarot, rainy days, good music, lively craic and spending long hours staring at her beloved ocean. An avid wearer of dangerously high heels, she watches Lord of the Rings more than any sane person should and can, in fact, reenact entire battle scenes using interpretive dance. Shannon is the author of two paranormal romances from Lyrical Press: The Celtic Knot: Suit of Cups (Arcana Love Volume 1), Rogue on the Rollaway (coming 10/01/13) and The Gypsy Ribbon: Suit of Wands (Arcana Love Volume 2, coming 2014).

Shannon is also a proud member of Romance Writers of America and Celtic Hearts Romance Writers. Visit her online at

Interview with Gayle Trent

It's my pleasure to be able to interview one of my favorite cozy mystery authors (who has now become a wonderful friend), Gayle Trent! Gayle is the author of the Daphne Martin Cake Decorating Mysteries, as well as the Marcy Singer Embroidery Shop Mysteries (written under the pseudonym Amanda Lee).

Gayle 3

Janet: MURDER TAKES THE CAKE via Bell Bridge Books is how I discovered your fantastic writing, Gayle. So, tell me, what writers/books did you cut your teeth on?

Gayle: I loved Nancy Drew, of course. Later it was Victoria Holt. 

Janet: So many of us adored (and still adore!) the Nancy Drew mysteries! When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Gayle: I wanted to be a writer for much longer than I thought it was actually feasible to be one. In my rural community, fiction writing was not a practical career choice. So I became a secretary and wrote as a hobby.

Janet: What's your writing/publishing background?

Gayle: My first novel, PHOTO FINISH, was published by Neighborhood Press in 1991. The company subsequently went out of business. Hope there was no correlation! After that, I was published by a couple of small presses and then, for a few years, I operated my own small publishing company and published not only my own work but the novels of other writers as well. The company was called Grace Abraham Publishing (my children’s middle names), and our mystery fiction was printed under the imprint Dark-n-Stormies. One of my crowning achievements with Dark-n-Stormies was getting the books featured in Woman’s Day Magazine in October of 2005.

It was too hard to operate a publishing business and continue to write, however, so I closed up shop on Grace Abraham Publishing and began writing again full-time. Some of my Dark-N-Stormies books live on in Kindle form—BETWEEN A CLUTCH AND A HARD PLACE , WHEN GOOD BRAS GO BAD and THE PERFECT WOMAN. All are available for .99 each. 

Gayle smallerJanet:
How many books have you written?

Gayle: 18

Janet: Who's been your favorite character to write?

Gayle: I have the most fun with the off-the-wall characters like Myrtle and Myra. 

Janet: Myra from the Cake Decorating Mysteries is hilarious! Speaking of that series, how do you come up with such clever names like the musical-themed family from those books?

Gayle: Sometimes I really do things tongue-in-cheek expecting the editor to make me delete them, and the musical-themed family names was one of those things! But the editor loved it and let it go through.  When I let myself go, I can be pretty creative. When I worry about what the editor will do with what I’ve written, it sometimes stifles me. I’ve learned to try not to worry about it. I was so close with Deborah Smith (who edited MURDER TAKES THE CAKE) that I really let myself go on that one. She’s the queen of clever! She came up with the EIEIO acronym for KILLER SWEET TOOTH.

Janet: What writer/s do you most admire? Why?

Gayle: I love Jeffrey Deaver because his books usually have a make-you-gasp ending that you never saw coming. I enjoy Mary Higgins Clark’s books because she’s simply a master of suspense. I rediscovered Jude Deveraux recently. I’d read several of her books and then began concentrating solely on mysteries when I began writing in the genre. I did myself a disservice. Jude Deveraux is such an excellent writer—seamlessly weaving together her stories (I stayed up late two nights in a row reading LAVENDER MORNING)—that no matter what the genre, any author could learn a lot about writing from her. 

Janet: I've not read Deaver nor Deveraux! Now, tell me, what's the hardest part about being an author? Writing? Easiest?

Pen paper smallerGayle: Sometimes the hardest part about being an author is the loneliness. My family teases me (and I also joke) about the amount of time I spend with my dog Cooper. But he really IS my best buddy! He’s lying at my feet right this minute. On Facebook someone posted, you begin to act like the five people you spend the most time with. One day during the Halloween season, I went into the “seasonal” aisle of the grocery store, stopped, raised my head, and sniffed the candy-scented air. That’s when it struck me, “I’m beginning to act like Cooper!” LOL 

One of the hardest parts of writing is making myself work through the hard spots where the writing has stopped flowing and I’m stumped as to how to transition from one thing to the next. The other hardest part is submitting to revisions. It’s often hard to go back and retool something you thought was really good. “This was sheer genius!” you might think when writing a scene. “This scene is extraneous and needs to go,” your editor might say. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

Third hardest part – bad reviews. Everybody gets them, and they hurt like crazy. I can get five excellent reviews and one bad review all in the same day, and I’ll focus on the bad one. 

The easiest part is always when someone read what you wrote and enjoyed it. That’s why we all do what we do, and that’s wonderful.

Janet: Gayle, what's the best piece of writing advice you ever received? Worst? 

Gayle: I think the best—not necessarily advice, but certainly words of wisdom—I received was from romance author Teresa Medeiros at a writing conference. We were in the signing area. I was sitting there with my one book—PHOTO FINISH—and she was sitting beside me with her many books with their beautiful covers. She took a photo of me sitting at my table and said, “I want to buy one of your books.” I asked, “Why?” She laughed and said, “Because I want to read it! Never forget, Gayle, we’ve all been where you are.” 

CollaboratingThe worst thing I ever heard an author say was at a local library event. I’d tell you his name, but I’d be shocked if any of you had heard of him. No one among us was a best-selling author. Anyway, I asked this guy if he’d be interested in joining our writers’ group, and he said, “No. I’m an established author. I don’t need to belong to a group.” Uh…okay…. Didn’t want him in our group after that anyway. And, although I didn’t say this to him, I was thinking, “Pal, you need a group more than you could possibly realize.”

Janet: What advice would you give aspiring authors?

Gayle: Hang in there. Writing ain’t for sissies! 

Janet: What are the next two books in both series and when are they coming out?

Gayle: Embroidery Shop series: CROSS STITCH BEFORE DYING - August 6, 2013. Cake Decorating series: BATTERED TO DEATH - Release date has not yet been set.

Janet: Gayle, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my nosy questions! It's been a pleasure. 

For more information about Gayle and her books, please visit her website at

Writer Quirks - Janet Boyer

Since I’ve put Hugh HoweyChris Brogan, and Jenny Milchman through the writer quirk wringer, I figure it’s about time for me to expose my own bizarre writing quirks (and dispense some dubious writing advice at the end).

UnplugThose of you who follow me on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) may have noticed me saying, “I’ll post it when I’m back at my PC” or “Offline for a few days!” or “If you’ve emailed, I’ll get to you when I get back online”.

Friends and fans know exactly what this means, but I’ve not shared my sordid secret publicly until now: in order to get any writing done (not to mention homeschooling, domestic duties and spousal mandated relaxation), I have my husband hide the broadband modem at work. And my old school Kindle.

That’s right: I’m so pathetic, so lacking self-control, that my husband totes the square, black device—as well as my Kindle in it’s purple leather case—to work with him. To hide in his locker at work. Until I tell him to bring them home.

Sometimes, he’s carrying so much with him to work (packages to be mailed, his lunchbox, mp3 player, cell phone, etc.), that he tries to hide it here at home.

Thing is, I’m psychic. Honest to God psychic. As in, I can zero in on the freakin’ thing—even if it’s hidden in the basement, atop the ceiling beams where I can’t see it and need a plastic step stool (that I retrieve from the second floor) to reach it.

Now that our 14-year-old son is taller than his Dad, I can get him to reach up to feel for it! Ha! And, of course, dear husband is amazed that I can find it.

Most days, Ron good humoredly goes along with my antics by taking my stash to work in a plastic shopping bag. Some days, he even insists on it (“that internet is nothing but trouble!”). Once in awhile, though, he gets tired of carrying my shameful, addictive burden with him (“can’t you just self-regulate?”).

Which he knows damn well that I cannot.

I know some of you are shaking your heads right now, and a few are even laughing (you see yourself in this, don’t you?).

But it gets worse.

Kindle holding smallSee, I also have a Kindle Fire. Now, I have hubby hide the regular Kindle at work because the 3G capabilities can still allow for internet access. Kindle Fire, however, is WiFi only. So if the broadband modem isn’t here, I can’t access the internet.

Except, my neighbor two doors down programmed her WiFi password into my Fire last week. So, some days, I’ll stroll down the road (in my PJs, at times) to ask—like the pathetic Ethernet beggar that I am—to use her WiFi. We catch up on neighborhood gossip as I check email and admire her latest horticultural acquisitions (she’s got a major green thumb!). I also get a bonus prize: mad lickings from her adorable Chihuahua (Roxy Girl!). Eventually, I leave.

A few weeks ago, I got the idea that I may just be able to pick up her WiFi from my yard so I don’t have to waltz down there at 10 PM like some kind of addict looking to score her next fix (she works afternoon shift, and doesn’t mind me hanging out on her cozy porch).

Lo and behold, if I get right up next to the fence bordering my property, I can access her WiFi! Fortunately, it works when I’m far away from the road so that onlookers don’t wonder what the hell some lady is doing standing close to her fence in broad daylight, huddled over some kind of device.

Wifi smaller
Silly husband made a sign!

But addicts don’t just operate in the day. Oh no, they lurk and lurch around in the cloak of darkness.

So the last few nights, I go outside in the pitch black, jonesing for my device to pick up her WiFi (instead of trying to log into my WiFi, which is a no-go since the broadband—which is at my husband’s work—needs to complete the connection). In my pajamas. With my crocs on. After a rain.

I almost slip into the edge of our garden-to-be. Getting my footing, trying to use the glow of the Fire screen to navigate my path to the fence, my feet finally find purchase. Until I step in a @#$%*&! gopher hole and almost break my ankle!

I did say I was pathetic, right?

And it’s not like I’m major cyber slut; I’m lucky I visit ten sites on a regular basis!

Le sigh.

Writing by handMy other writing quirk is much tamer: despite having severe tendonitis/CTS in both hands, I must write longhand when it comes to my non-fiction writing (read: 70% of what I write). Reviews and blog posts I can compose just fine on my PC with my handy dandy ergonomic keyboard. I’ve even trained my brain to work on my cozy mystery novel-in-progress via PC.

But not my eBooks or non-fiction books.

Why? Well, I think author Amy Peters sums it up nicely in her book The Writer’s Devotional):

Writing longhand will help you experience your writing in a different way. Your mind will think in a different manner, both because writing longhand is a slower process and also because you won’t have the opportunity to backspace and erase the words you’ve just written. Writing in longhand is a more deliberate act. There is an elegant simplicity to writing longhand: it takes writing back to a primal and pleasing place. As an added incentive, there’s also a sense of instant gratification. The moment you make a mark, it is real. Unlike the sometimes dicey business of storing your writing on a computer’s hard drive, the handwritten page won’t disappear into a mysterious Ethernet void.

 Hell, I’m not even allowed to do dishes because my hands are so wracked by numbness and pain. (After the fifth broken glass, hubby and son took over dish duty. We’ve since switched to almost all plastic glasses, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to point that out! After all, there’s still the Pyrex measuring cup, glass baking pans, porcelain casserole dishes to consider…)


So there ya have it. Two crazy writing quirks from yours truly.

Now, about the writing advice.

Gosh, I don’t feel qualified to give much out, since I’ll still muck my way around despite being a traditionally published author x3 and having various other writing “successes”.

SherbetBut as a reader, Hall of Fame Reviewer and despiser of BS, I will say this: the most important piece of writing advice I can give you is to be an original.

Despite appearing as glib advice, it’s not as easy as it looks, especially if your original voice happens to be controversial, polarizing, illuminating and raw. In case you haven’t watched TV lately (I haven’t—been without TV programming for over five years, in fact) or noticed magazine covers in the supermarket, “fakeness” sells.

Think about it: magazine models are photoshopped. Wrinkles, blemishes and discoloration? Magically wiped away. Open the inside of the magazine, and women are told we need makeup to be beautiful, skin cream to look younger, perfume to smell better and designer break-your-damn-neck stilettos to be sexy.

If you’re a man, you need a newer car to exude achievement, the latest electronic device to seem “hip” and a pretty girl on your arm to appear virile.

“Reality” TV? Ain’t nothing real about it.

And what about well-meaning advice from religious leaders, New Age gurus and social media experts saying that we all must “play nice”? Smile at everyone, never be negative, always be complimentary, be happy, vibrate quicker, sing Kumbaya and don’t rock the boat.

In other words, stifle urges coming anywhere near uncomfortable emotions, unvarnished truths or authentic ideas.

So writer’s self-censor—on social media, in their relationships, and, perhaps most damaging, on the page.

The result? Books filled with bland writing, cardboard characters and a “who gives a shit?” plot. Which are the types of books that are, sadly, even published by the Big Four. (It’s Four now, right?)

So there you have it, dear reader. My embarrassing writer quirks. And some advice lobbed your way, to boot.

Are you a writer with some writing quirks? By all means share them here in the comments! Your writing advice is most welcome, as well. 

-- Janet

3 Ways to Bust Through Writer's Block

I love my creative friends.

Writers, painters, fashion designers, bloggers, hair stylists, chefs, illustrators, jewelry makers…their life and work inspires me.

Yet, even among the most talented and productive, a bubble of unease and discontent
often rises to the surface. Troubling bubbles containing questions like:

Girl Q
How do I come up with ideas?

How do I keep things fresh?

How can I write about a topic in new, interesting ways?

How can I stay inspired?

How can I break out of a creative rut?

Without further ado, here are three ways to bust through writer's block: 

1. Describe What You See.

It seems almost too simple…but have you tried it? Wherever you are, STOP. Get out your notebook and pen (you do carry them with you, right?), and begin writing down what you see. (If you’re not old-school like I am, yes, by all means, use your glowing box to jot down your impressions). Describe what you smell, what you hear, what you feel. Take it all in, capturing your experience with words. Don’t censor, don’t judge and don't stop until you’ve written for at least 15 minutes.

2. Make a Magazine Collage.

Scissors CupI could write an entire blog post on what you can do with old magazines. For now, we’ll focus on an image collage. Flip through the magazine, scissors in hand (wait, put those down while flipping…safety first!), and choose images that intrigue, inspire or delight you. Heck, maybe even pick a picture or two that ticks you off. Cut them out. On a piece of sturdy paper like poster board, tape or glue those images. Notice if themes seem to jump out to you—ideas that you can develop into a story or poem.

Alternatively, you can start your collage with a theme already in mind, and then treasure hunt through the magazine for related images. Examples can include My Protagonist’s Life, What I Find Beautiful, Color Riot, How Alone Looks and so on. No magazines around? Try Pinterest, which is a virtual corkboard that you can use in the same way. 

You can even make a Life Map by cutting out empowering, inspiring images and phrases encapsulating the creative life you desire.

3. Get a MagPo set.

What is MagPo? Why, it’s Magnetic Poetry! I’ve been using MagPo for over a decade and it’s super fun…especially if you use the fridge for making poetry and stories. My husband eventually grew tired of having hundreds of tiles covering the refrigerator (and, no doubt, standing in front of it for many minutes creating word wizardry!), so I agreed to take them all off (le sigh).

Mag po zombie SmallHowever, I discovered a better way to use MagPo, especially since it’s portable: cookie sheets. Yes, you read right. You can buy a cheapo cookie sheet from the dollar store and have a shiny new canvas for serious word painting. Best of all, you can carry it from room to room! (Or, if you have a sizable backpack or tote, from place to place!).

No worries if you don’t have a cookie sheet handy: you can arrange the words on a table top or other flat surface, and then write your creation down for posterity. And, really, no worries if you don't get a MagPo set ASAP because the creators allow you to make Magnetic Poems at their site!

The MagPo empire has expanded exponentially beyond the original kit and magnetic wall calendar. Below are but a few of the themed word kits you can get in MagPo.

Question: Are you in a creative rut now? What are you doing to help get you back on the road to artistic expression? What's worked for you in the past? I'd love to hear about your experience!

Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life by Natalie Goldberg

Wild mind cover My very first book on writing was Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. It gave me the confidence to write wild and free, without self-judgement or self-consciousness.

I'm happy to share the Introduction to the eBook version of Natalie's Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life, published by Open Road Media. Stay tuned after this excerpt for short video featuring Natalie describing herself, her surroundings and the writing life. Enjoy!

LIFE IS NOT ORDERLY. No matter how we try to make life so, right in the middle of it we die, lose a leg, fall in love, drop a jar of applesauce. In summer, we work hard to make a tidy garden, bordered by pansies with rows or clumps of columbine, petunias, bleeding hearts. Then we find ourselves longing for the forest, where everything has the appearance of disorder; yet, we feel peaceful there.

What writing practice, like Zen practice, does is bring you back to the natural state of mind, the wilderness of your mind where there are no refined rows of gladiolas. The mind is raw, full of energy, alive and hungry. It does not think in the way we were brought up to think—well-mannered, congenial.

When I finished Writing Down the Bones and people in my workshops read it, I thought I would not have to say anything else. I felt embarrassed to say, “Steve, you ought to be more specific there.” I thought he would retort, “We know. You already told us in chapter eight.” I thought I would be redundant, but reading a book about writing is different from actually getting down and doing writing. I was naïve. I should have remembered that after I read the Tibetan Book of the Dead, I was still afraid to die.

Natalie 250 A book about writing isn’t enough. Being a writer is a whole way of life, a way of seeing, thinking, being. It’s the passing on of a lineage. Writers hand on what they know. Most of what I learned about Zen was transmitted to me through being in the presence of Katagiri Roshi, the Zen master with whom I studied.

I will give you an example. I had just moved to Minneapolis and I wanted to study Buddhism. Before I moved there, I lived in Boulder and studied with a Tibetan teacher. There was a lot of pomp and circumstance in this Tibetan tradition. It was a big center; we had to wait several months to have an interview with the teacher and we dressed up to see him.

In Minneapolis, I called the Zen center and asked if I could schedule an interview with the Zen master there. The man on the other end of the phone had a heavy Japanese accent. He told me to come right over. I realized he was the Zen master. I dressed up and ran over. Katagiri Roshi came down the stairs in jeans and a green T-shirt that said Marcy School Is Purr-feet. There was a picture of a cat on the T-shirt. His younger son went to Marcy Elementary School. We talked for ten minutes. It was very ordinary. I left, unimpressed.

About a month later, someone called from the Zen newsletter staff, asking me if I would interview Roshi for the fall issue. I said yes. The morning of the interview, I woke up obsessed with the problem of what color material I should buy for curtains. This was 1978 and I had just gotten married. I drove to the Zen center to interview Roshi with that curtain obsession blazing in my mind. I planned to get the interview over with and then rush to the fabric store.

Orchid candle I parked in front of the Zen center and dashed out of the car. I was a few minutes late. I was halfway up the walk when I realized I’d left my notebook on the front car seat. I dashed back to the car, grabbed the notebook and ran to the back entrance of the Zen center. I flung open the door, spun around the corner and came to a dead stop: Roshi was standing in the kitchen by the sink in his black robes, watering a pink orchid. That orchid had been given to him three weeks before. Someone had brought it from Hawaii for a Buddhist wedding I had attended. It was still fully alive.

“Roshi,” I said in astonishment and pointed at the orchid.

“Yes.” He turned and smiled. I felt the presence of every cell in his body. “When you take care of something, it lives a long time.”

That was the beginning of my true relationship with him. I learned a lot from Katagiri Roshi. I learned about my own ignorance, arrogance, stubborness, also about kindness and compassion. I didn’t learn these through criticism or praise. He used neither. He was present with his life and he waited patiently for an eternity for me to become present with my life and to wake up.

Writers are not available for teaching in the way a Zen master is available. We can take a class from a writer but it is not enough. In class, we don’t see how a writer organizes her day or dreams up writing ideas. We sit in class and learn what narrative is but we can’t figure out how to do it. A does not lead to B. We can’t make that kamikaze leap. So writing is always over there in the novels on the shelves or discussed on class blackboards and we are over here in our seats. I know many people who are aching to be writers and have no idea how to begin. There is a great gap like an open wound.

Writing bones 250 A successful lawyer in Santa Fe decided he wanted to be a writer. He quit his job and the next Monday he began a novel, cold turkey, page one. He’d never written a word before that except for law briefs. He thought he could apply his lawyer’s mind to his creative writing. He couldn’t. Two years later, he was still struggling. I told him, “Bruce, you have to see the world differently, move through it differently. You’ve entered a different path. You can’t just leap into the lake of writing in a three-piece suit. You need a different outfit to swim in.”

Cecil Dawkins, a fine Southern novelist, said to me in a slow drawl one afternoon after she’d read Writing Down the Bones when it first came out, “Why, Naa-da-lee, this book should be very successful. When you are done with it, you know the author better. That’s all a reader really wants”—she nodded her head—“to know the author better. Even if it’s a novel, they want to know the author.”

Human isolation is terrible. We want to connect and figure out what it means to write. “How do you live? What do you think?” we ask the author. We all look for hints, stories, examples.

It is my hope that in sharing what I do, I have helped my readers along the writing path.

To purchase Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life at Open Road Media, click here. To purchase via Amazon for Kindle, click here. Natalie's official website is

You can visit Natalie Goldberg's page on Open Road Media at this link, where you can also find other wonderful titles from the publisher penned by this beloved author.

Mastering Creative Anxiety

A few years ago, I took an online course via DailyOm from creativity coach and psychologist Dr. Eric Maisel called Creative Anxiety. Fortunately, the wonderful folks at New World Library have published them all in the handy book Mastering Creative Anxiety. Here's an excerpt below, from the chapter titled "The Anxiety of Individuality":

Mastering Creativity is an expression of individuality, an expression of a person’s desire to manifest her potential, to speak in her own voice, to have her opinions, and to do her own work. What distinguishes the creative person from other people is her felt sense of individuality. Many people are born conventional and find it easy to follow the crowd; only some people are born with a strong desire to assert their individuality. All the personality traits that creative manifest, from a risk-taking orientation to a need for solitude—the more than seventy-five traits that have been described in the creativity literature—flow from this single core quality: the need to assert individuality.

A person born individual will, within a few years of her birth, feel that difference as she looks around her and is unable to understand why the people she sees are acting so conventionally. As a result she is likely to feel alienated, out of place, like a stranger in a strange land. Even if she trains herself to hold her tongue and engage in conventional work, and individual of this sort will already know as a young child that she can’t really conform and that she wasn’t built to conform.

To purchase Mastering Creative Anxiety from Amazon, click here. To visit the author's website, click here. To visit the publisher's website, click here.

When Is It Time to Quit Social Media?

Many publishing “experts” admonish writers and authors to establish a platform, maintain a Facebook page, gaggle on Google+, chirp on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn and blog until your eyes bleed.

Some even advocate ingratiating on Goodreads, lollygagging at LibraryThing or swimming down the deep, dark Amazon Forums.

But once you have one or two books under your belt, with others under contract, do you really need to “do” social media? What about if you pen a column, sell a steady stream of articles or publish stories on a regular basis?

In all honesty, it depends.

TypeIt depends on four things, as I see it:

1. Your goals as an author
2. The health of your writing life
3. The state of your personal life
4. The condition of your emotional life 

If your authorial goals involve networking with other writers, hobnobbing with industry pros (if they’ll even talk to you), securing an agent and (trying) to stay current with publishing trends, remaining active in social media may very well be beneficial to you.

However, you can get a similar experience (arguably, a better one) by choosing to opt out of real-time socializing and, instead, subscribing to informative blogs and industry mags, as well as joining supportive, professional groups organized by genre, topic or skill. In addition, some authors swear by writing conferences.

And if you’re trying to reach more readers, allow me to let you in on a secret: you attract more (and better quality) readers by continuing to publish great work. Another way to attract more readers? Getting interviewed on radio shows or podcasts. Go to, for example, and search topics relevant to your writing, books and expertise.

Twitter Egg eyesOn Twitter, for example, what you mostly find are other authors clamoring for readers, many who sound like carnival barkers. Good luck being “heard” above the herd.

If your authorial goals tend towards writing more books and publishing more articles or stories, then beware of the social media time suck. Do you really want to be spending your time chatting about what you had for dinner, the latest internet meme, your mile-high TBR list or some smoke-and-mirrors scandal?

If you’re spending more time on social media than you are actual butt-in-chair writing (that is, writing towards publication), the health of your writing life may be flat lining. Some signs that your writing life needs attention STAT include:

  • Lack of focus
  • Unclear writing goals
  • Absence of regular writing practice
  • Unsubmitted queries or proposals
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Procrastination
  • Dry creative well
  • Indecision

The very act of unplugging your computer and avoiding internet access for at least a week (yes, it’s doable) can be enough to refocus your attention, recharge your batteries and resuscitate your writing life. The question is, do you have the courage to do so? Is your writing life worth it? Or would you be hunky dory with keeping things exactly as they are?

While our writing life is important, our personal life is just as important (arguably, for many, it’s more important). Some of us are wives, husbands, mothers and fathers. Others are taking care of aging parents or disabled siblings. Some have enjoyable “day jobs” with no intention of quitting despite publication success. Then there’s volunteering, spiritual/religious involvement, homeschooling/school-related events, domestic duties, close relationships, hobbies and so on.

For many writers, these enriching “personal” aspects of our life trump writing success every time. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or choice, unless something interferes with our happiness.

If you feel “torn” between a satisfying personal life and a rewarding writing life (especially if, for some reason, you’re finding it difficult to have both), then it’s time to do a values clarification inventory. You must ask yourself these hard questions:

  • Decisions manWhat is important to me?
  • What part of my personal life needs attention?
  • What can I afford to “let go”?
  • What is non-negotiable?
  • What am I not willing to sacrifice?
  • What would I regret neglecting?
  • What am I after?
  • How do I define success?
  • How do I want my life to look 10 years from now? 20? 30?

Nothing sharpens our focus faster than clarifying values. (If you don’t even know what your values are, how do you expect to maintain them? Or live a satisfying life? In this case, take the time to discover and determine your values, then take steps to live in alignment with them. One of the biggest causes of personal dissatisfaction is living out of alignment with deeply held values.)

For example, if you say your kids are a priority, but you spend 5 hours a day on social media—and lay your head down every night wracked with guilt for neglecting to spend time with them—then your personal life is suffering. In this case, you do not value your kids as you say (we spend both time and money on what we truly value), or you value social media more than you value your kids or you’re caught up with internet addiction and can use some professional help.

Lastly, there’s the issue of our emotional life. If you think about it, every goal and ambition we have is—at core—the desire to feel something. As Tony Robbins points out, men don’t really want a shiny new red Ferrari. What they want is to feel virile and youthful. The Ferrari is merely a symbol or catalyst for that feelings state.

Authors want book deals, syndication and sold articles in order to feel successful, accomplished, smart, worthy, productive [fill in the blank]. Writers write for various reasons, and seek publication for a host of (sometimes) different ones.

If your desired emotional “bottom line” involves feeling the following on a regular basis—and social media cuts into or thwarts that—then it may be time to walk away:

  • Peace
  • Harmony
  • Support
  • Encouragement
  • Positivism
  • Optimism
  • Acceptance

Thus, if hanging around on social media distracts, irritates, upsets, discourages, bores or angers you, then you need to ask yourself if spending time tweeting or +ing is worth the time and aggravation.

After all, no one is guaranteed another minute of life, let alone another day or year.

OutstretchedDo you really want to spend your valuable time on social media, especially if the negatives outweigh the positives? If it’s contributing to living out of alignment with your core values? If it’s taking time from creating, writing and publishing? If it’s making you miserable?

Only you can answer these questions—not an industry expert, a social media guru, an internet marketer or a well-meaning fellow author. After all, they’re not living your life…you are.

And, let’s face it, 99% of the virtual people in your life right now sure as hell aren’t going to be with you on your deathbed where you’ll either be proud of who you are, how you lived and what you accomplished…or end up regretting all the mindless time sucks, stupid flamewars, jockeying for position and flailing for attention you’ve participated in online.

Writer Quirks - Hugh Howey

I am extremely pleased and honored to have Hugh Howey visit Writespiration!

Hugh smallerIn case you've been living under a rock, Hugh Howey is the self-publishing sensation and inspiration between the sci-fi book Wool. I'm happy to say that I was one of those readers who bought installments of the Wool series while it was becoming a smash hit. 

And, it was very cool to see Hugh on the cover of the May/June 2013 issue of Writer's Digest magazine, too!

Hugh was kind enough to take some time to answer my nosy questions about his writer quirks (yes, he has them!), as well as advice to his fellow scribes. Take it away, Hugh!

The quirkiest thing I do as a writer is probably the programs I use and my crazy workflow. Two years ago, I started using Pages for my writing, and I fell in love with the all-black screen with just my word count and page number on the bottom. Once I got used to writing like this, I couldn't switch to anything else. I tried Word's fullscreen mode, but it could no longer cut it. I tried Scrivener, and that didn't work. Which leaves me writing in a program the developer has stopped supporting and which exports abysmally into every file format imaginable.

Wool 300In order to get an e-book out of my Pages document, I used to copy and paste the entire thing into notepad to remove the formatting, and then paste it into Word. And then go through and re-italicize every word that needed it. A major pain. I eventually found I could export to an .rtf and have a pro format the e-book for me. I'm sure there are a dozen other solutions, but I never found any that worked.

Is that too geeky and technical a quirk?

I also write in my underwear a lot, but I imagine that's quite normal. The only other weird stuff I do are the things I stick in my rough drafts. I write BOOKMARK anywhere that I leave off and need to come back and write more. This makes it annoying when I use the actual word "bookmark" in a story, and have to sort through these to find my space. I also type XXX anywhere that I forget a proper noun, like a name or place that I'll need to fact-check later. I've sent rough drafts to my wife and mom with these weird notes to myself. They probably just assume I'm off my rocker.

Dust hugh 300The best writing advice I ever got was from the mother half of the Charles Todd writing duo. At the Virginia Festival of the Book, she became very animated and told those of us in the audience to stop dreaming of becoming a writer, stop talking about coming a writer, stop thinking about becoming a writer, and go home and write! It motivated me to go home and write my first novel. I've been writing nonstop ever since.

Thank you so much for spending some of your valuable time with us, Hugh! Best wishes for your continued success--and thanks for being such an inspiration to fellow writers, as well as a hugely entertaining author. 

You can visit Hugh online at his brand-spanking new website,

Dust, Hugh's latest installment in the Silo Saga, descends upon the world August 17, 2013. 


Writer Quirks - Chris Brogan

Chris roarChris Brogan is one of the most entertaining, accessible, generous and media savvy people I've ever encountered.

I adore him.

In case you don't know Chris, he's the president & CEO of Human Business Works, a media and education company providing tools and smarts so professionals can do the work they want, only better. He is also the New York Times bestselling author of four books.

When I asked Chris if he had any writer quirks he'd like to share with my blog readers, the guy shot back an email within a minute (as he always has). 

I did say "accessible" and "generous", right?

Oh, and funny! My God, how could I forget that.

Without further ado, I give you Chris Brogan...sharing not only his writer quirks, but also some fantastic writing advice:

Quirks, she says. Janet wants my quirks.

Okay. Here's a list, in no particular order:

* I must edit while I write. I can't do what smart writers do and edit later. It just doesn't work. I MUST (MUST!) go back and fix typos and rewrite while I'm in the first draft.

* In fact, there's never a second draft.

Trust Agents 300* When Julien Smith and I wrote Trust Agents, we wrote about 130 pages, and then threw it away when we realized we wanted to write the book a different way. Julien wanted to save the pages. I can't do that. In my life and in my writing, I must start fresh when the mistake is too big.

* I write about 4000 words a day. Where they go depends on what I'm doing: a book, a course, some newsletter stuff. It goes all over. But I keep the habit going, so that I can produce when I have to.

* You can't wait for the Muse. Write and she'll show up when she's ready. But if you wait for her, you're not an author. You're a hopeful. You can't wait for the muse.

* Learn grammar. Then forget it.

* Look for your quirky repetitive bits and remove them. I use "things" a lot when I don't really know which word to use. That becomes like a stutter or an "um" in the larger story.

* Write a strong beginning, middle, and end. People mess up on the ends. All the time.

* Never mistake the value of storytelling. It is huge. Never leave it behind for other temptations.

* I dress pretty much like a fat Mark Zuckerberg. I wear a hoodie and jeans and a tee shirt most every day that I don't have a speech or some other reason to dress like a grown-up.

* The best book ever on writing is who cares? Write. You'll never get it from a book. (Well, King's On Writing is the best of that kind, but it's because he says what I said, only maybe nicer.) 

Impact equationUm, wow. Is this fabulous advice or what, dear readers? (Hey, Chris, I wear pajama pants and T-shirts every day! But I'm not divulging my writer quirks until a later date...) 

In case you live under a rock, Chris is out with a brand new book that's sure to help writers (and anyone trying to affect or influence an audience). I bought my copy months ago, in fact. It's called The Impact Equation: Are You Making Things Happen or Just Making Noise

And, seriously? Considering what I witness on social media every day, I really think many of you need this book. Not trying to be rude or anything, honest. Like Chris, I want you to create, thrive and make an impact.

Not be a pain-in-the-ass carnival barker lacking substance, passion or relevance. You don't want that either, right?

So don't just get yourself a copy of The Impact Equation, but also visit Remember that generosity I mentioned? Chris freely gives helpful, sometimes life-changing, advice on his website, podcast and via his newsletter. 

He makes an impact. And I'm grateful.

-- Janet

Commonly Confused Words Part 2

Hello fearless writers! It’s time for another episode of Commonly Confused Words. Believe it or not, I come up with each episode’s words based on reading incorrect usage on the web or in print. Especially egregious when the fallacious swap out occurs in print, in my opinion, but it happens.

Without further ado, let’s dive into nine sets of words that are commonly confused:

Chord vs. Cord

The most common misuse of this set occurs with the phrase “struck a chord”, when the correct “chord” is swapped out for the incorrect “cord”.

Chord: Two or more musical notes struck or sung together producing a pleasing harmony. Thus, when something “strikes a chord”, it resonates.

Since my kitty just died, the author’s memoir on pet loss struck a deep chord.

Cord: A thick string, thin rope or cable.

If I set the lamp on this table, the electrical cord won’t reach the outlet.

College vs. Collage

Unless you’re pursuing higher education in scrapbooking or found art, you’re not going to collage (pronounced cole-LAHJ)…you’re going to college (COL-lehj).

College: Institute for higher learning.

After High School, Jen is going to college.

Collage: Sticking a hodgepodge of photos, paper, found art and other items together to form a picture.

I’m collecting old newspapers and vintage photos to make a collage piece.

Moot vs. Mute

Unless your plea is falling upon deaf ears, your point is moot—not mute.

Moot: Doubtful, debatable, unresolved or unlikely.

Arguing whether reptilian creatures are guised as political leaders seems a moot point in reasonable debate.

Mute: Unwilling or unable to make a sound or speak.

Helen Keller was born both blind and mute.

Roll vs. Role

If you’re listing your favorite sites on your blog, it’s a Blog Roll—not a Blog Role. Unless, of course, your favorite sites are vying for some kind of acting award…

Roll: An official list (in this case)

Excellent grades secured her place on the Honor Roll.

Role: A specific function or acting part.

It’s probably easy for Meryl Streep to get choice movie roles.

Alley vs. Ally

If you’re walking down a dark alley (owl-LEE), you had better hope you run into an ally (owl-LYE). But don’t walk through an ally, lest you lose the friendship.

Alley: A narrow passageway.

Don took a shortcut down the alley on his way home.

Ally: A mutually supportive person or group.

In WWII, EnglandFrance and America were allies against Germany.

Perk vs. Perq

I’ve seen this confusion a lot. In fact, I’ve seen it in a both book about writing and a novel! In short, I’ve seen this confusion from writers who should know better. Writers don’t get “perks” unless they’re females walking out into frigid temperatures or males running into bodacious babes.

Perk: To stick up or become lively. Or, short for percolate (to drip or filter).

When she heard the name of her favorite band mentioned, her ears perked up.

Perq: Short for perquisite. A bonus, extra, freebie or advantage.

One of the perqs of being a baker is sampling raw cookie dough.

Two vs. To vs. Too

Most people use “two” correctly. It’s to vs. too that gets confused the most. To remember which is which, consider the extra “o” in too as a hint to the word’s meaning: “in addition to”.

Two: The number 2

Joe thought he danced as if he had two left feet.

To: A preposition indicating direction, destination or position.

Mary needed to walk to the market to get some milk.

Too: As well. Extremely.

Tina, if you’d like, Katy can come, too.

You’re vs. Your

This is a sneaky pair. More than once, I’ve caught myself typing the wrong word, especially posting on Facebook when I’m in a hurry—even though I know better. So keep an eye out for this easy-to-do switcheroo! If you’re not sure which is correct, see if you can substitute “you are” for the word. If you can, and it still makes sense, you’re is the correct word. If not, use your. NB: Do not trust MS Word grammar check to catch mistakes when it comes to “you’re” vs. “your”! There have been times when Word suggested the wrong word for this pair.

You’re: Contraction of “you” and “are”.

You’re such a kidder, Jack!

Your: Belonging or relating to someone.

Don’t forget your coat, Linda!

Pseudo Name vs. Pseudonym

OK, this is a crazy one…but I saw it on a blog recently and thought I’d set the record straight. Since “pseudo” means false or fake, calling a pseudonym and Pseudo Name is, I guess, technically correct (even if it’s not really a word). But if the blogger meant to use the word pseudonym, another word for nom de plume or penname, then it’s a faux pas.

Pseudonym comes from the Greek pseudōnumon ("false name") and the French pseudonyme.

Alrighty, kiddos, I hope you enjoyed Commonly Confused Words Part 2. If you have any questions about proper usage or notice some confused words in the wild, by all means take a moment to comment here or email me at synerjay (at) atlanticcbb (dot) net.

-- Janet

Writer Quirks - Jenny Milchman

I'm super duper happy to introduce a new segment to my blog, one that's been brewing in my head for a long time. What is it? Why, Writer Quirks (and Advice)!

I knew I had writing quirks, so I suspected fellow writers did, too. And guess what? They do! They really do. 

Without further ado, here's the first one...

Jenny Milchman 2I met Jenny Milchman on Twitter, and found her engaging, witty and sweet. Turns out that Jenny happens to teach at the NY Writers Workshop, co-hosts the literary series Writing Matters, and chairs the of International Thriller Writers' Debut Authors Program. She's also the author of the suspense novel Cover of Snow, now out from Ballantine

Anyway! I asked Jenny if she happened to have any writer quirks. She does. Here's our back-and-forth emails (reproduced because I think she's so darn funny):

JanetI'm doing a blog post about Weird Writing Quirks of Writers. Do you happen to have any to share? (Don't lie.)

JennyI touch a tiny glass pink elephant each day before I sit down to write a first draft. Can explain why if you want :)

Janet: Of course you must explain! Geez...

Jenny: You mean you don't understand?

Janet: LOL :oP

Elephant jennyJennyOK, short husband and I met in college in a philosophy club where we debated the burden of proof. Do I have to prove a pink elephant is in the room, or do you have to prove it's not there? So pink elephants have ever since been lucky, and now I have a teensy glass one I touch every morning before I begin writing a new book...

So there ya go, dear readers. An adorable writer quirk from a very talented author. 

Cover of snow smallerBy the way, writers, if you've ever felt like giving up, you must read this post by Jenny on She Writes. Not only did it take her thirteen years for Cover of Snow to see publication (yes, you read right--13), but she also endured rejection, discouragement, loss of an agent and more. She even decided to give up a psychotherapy practice to stay home to write (while having children, too). 

To learn more about Jenny and her writing, visit (P.S. It was her husband who did such a fab job designing her rockin' site).

So what about you? How many of you authors out there have writing-specific quirks? Feel free to share your writing quirk here in the comments section or email it to me at synerjay (at) atlanticbb (dot) net for possible inclusion in the Writer Quirks series. 

-- Janet

Commonly Confused Words

Recently, I've come across these six word groups used incorrectly. They are commonly confused words, so I thought I'd shed some light on their correct usage. 

Pouring vs. Poring


Unless you plan on pouring coffee or some other drink over your client's "business plan" (which I don't recommend), you will, instead, be poring over their business plan.

Pouring - To send liquid or loose particles falling or flowing. The waitress poured me another glass of sweet tea.

Poring - To read or study with earnest attention. I'm poring over my checkbook, looking for mistakes.

Peek vs. Peak vs. Pique

Often, I come across magazines and blogs promising a "sneak peak". Well, unless you're going to unveil a secret mountain top, you mean "sneak peek". 

Peek: To sneak a look. Imagine the two "e"s are eyes looking at you. The boy peeked in the closet, looking for his Christmas presents.

Peak: Top of the mountain or the highest point. My energy peaks around 10 PM.

Pique: To excite, arouse or sharply irritate. When her husband promised a surprise, Linda's curiosity was piqued.

Heres's another commonly confused pair:

Edition vs. Addition

Edition: A version of something. Rhonda bought a first edition copy of Stephen King's Salem's Lot.

Addition: The process or act of adding. 2 + 2 isn't 5. You need to check your addition.

Raise vs. Raze

Raised: To lift up or elevate. The partygoers raised  their glass in a toast.

Razed: To tear down or demolish. Because of the fire, I'm not sure if the entire home will need to be razed.

Threw vs. Through

Threw: Past tense of "throw". The quarterback threw the football.

Through: To go in one end and out the other. Robert Frost famously said "The only way out is through."

This last example (below) is courtesy my adorable husband. Yeah, he rocks. Seriously. Even when he mixes up big words.

Permutation vs. Permeation

Permutation: To alter, transform, change or rearrange. Mash-ups are permutations.

Permeation: To penetrate or saturate. Grammar faux pas and rife misspellings permeate Facebook feeds.

-- Janet