Category Archives: Writing

A Room of One’s Own

Most of you have probably heard of Virginia Woolf’s famous quote about women writers:

a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction

And for the longest time, I thought well, maybe, and maybe not. Because there I was, I had both, and no, it wasn’t working out for me quite the way I wanted.

But did I really have both these things?

I have come to the realization that I didn’t.

I thought I had money, because I worked and I made money, but the reality was, I never had money of my own. It all went into a shared pool and paid the bills and yes, if I ever wanted something, I could go out and buy it using the money in this shared pool—but I always felt I had to justify it somehow, not to anyone else, just to myself. So even though I made this money, it has never felt like “mine”.

I’m sure this happens with a lot of people, and when you’re in the marriage the shared pool reflects your shared life. But when you’re out of the marriage, and there’s no shared pool any more, it begins feeling different, this awareness that your finances are no longer “ours” but “yours”.

And I thought I had a room of my own, because I’ve been self-employed since forever, it seems, and of course in order to do this self-employment, freelance thing successfully, you have to have a place to work. So everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve always had an “office”. A desk. My own desk, where I sit for many, many hours of the day, working.

But lately, because of the change in my relationship status, I’ve been looking at places where I can go to work outside of my home. Since my ex- and I are going to be living separate and apart, but under the same roof, I’ve been feeling I need more than just my own mini-apartment—I  need to take myself out there to do my work. Step away from the familiar, because things are changing. Because otherwise this big important change I’m living through will feel too much like a change in name only, when the actual “this is what’s happening today” won’t really change.

I want—no, I need—to have that feeling of my own space as much as possible while still accommodating this plan of ours to continue to coparent our son under the same roof.

So on Friday, I had a trial day at a coworking place, and I was absolutely stunned. I’d decided to test the place out by working on an upcoming deadline and seeing how it felt to be working someplace other than at my own desk at home. I figured I’d be finished at around 8 in the evening. But I ended up finishing at 5, three hours earlier than I’d expected.

Working away from my regular desk space, I was far more productive and focused.

And something else unexpected: even though it was only a trial space, the whole time I was sitting there, I felt like it was mine. My own little bit of space, where I could—and did—sit for hours, undisturbed.

Which is when I realized, I’ve never really had “a room of one’s own.” Because everywhere I’ve worked, since I was at home, I was always still a part of the whole scene, if you know what I mean. I was always there, ready and available and accessible for whatever interruptions came my way.

And trust me, there are always at least a few interruptions, especially since there’s always someone at home.

“My space” was, in reality, as much everyone’s space as it was mine. (Most mothers who work from home will know what I mean.)

So back to Woolf’s quote. I don’t know if this will help me write more fiction (or, more importantly, finish all the novels I’ve started), but I do feel like I now have the chance to find out. Because I will have money and a room of my own.

Now, I know when Woolf said “a woman must have money” she meant financial independence. And no, I will not be financially independent, not in that standard way. But still, I will have money to call my own. I can say, I’m going to go buy “X” with the money I earned doing “Y”, which is something I’ve never felt able to say before.

I don’t know why, but it makes a difference.

And I’ve decided to take the coworking space. I will work there, yes. But I will also write there. It really will be space of my own.

And because I’ll only be using it three days of the week plus every other Sunday (the other three days and the other Sundays are my days with Dylan) and because I will be paying cold hard cash for the space, my rather thrifty soul is already thinking along the lines of, “I must utilize every moment of it that I can”.

Which surely must bode well for my writing.

So I’ll work there. And I’ll write there every day I’m there. And when I have those occasional days without deadlines? I’ll write even more.

A room of one’s own. I like that idea.

I’m writing!


I was going to write a post titled “10 things I learned from Kelley Armstrong’s Dark Fantasy class”, and I probably still will later this week, but in the meantime … I’m so excited because I’M WRITING!

I think the biggest thing I got out of Kelley’s class was motivation. When class ended on Friday, I was all fired up. I was going to WRITE. Yes, I was.

Then Saturday came and I kind of twiddled it away. I researched RPG games (I want to play them with my youngest, which means I have to learn how to play them, since I’ve never played a role-playing game before). And then I researched tabletop board games, for my oldest’s birthday at the end of the month. Which basically meant sitting there with my youngest watching Wil Wheaton play a bunch of really fun-looking games on his YouTube show Tabletop.

I really like this one. I mean really? Surviving a zombie apocalypse? Count me in!

And then I spent Saturday night listening to Wil Wheaton narrating Ernest Cline’s Armada. So yes, I guess you could say it was a Wil Wheaton kind of day. And not a writing kind of day.

But on Sunday? I did it. I decided I wasn’t going to do anything else until I actually made myself sit down and write.

And I did.

Same thing yesterday.

Today it was a little harder. I’d written myself into (yet) another corner. And you know what? I actually contemplated killing off that particular character. Make things easier for me, you know?

But I stuck with it. I sat down and ended up writing over 2,000 words. And in the process wrote myself out of that corner. I even left off partway through a second chapter, a trick several famous authors recommend (Ernest Hemingway was one, I believe).

I feel determined. I’m not getting any younger, and I have all these stories inside of me. Plus I get new ideas all the time. Kelley’s feedback has shown me, yes, I can write, and write well. So now what I need to do is get those stories down.

I need to finish my novels.

I’m going to do this.

So there you have it.


Character Development with Online Quizzes

I know, I’m blogging a lot this week! I can’t help it—I’ve been learning so much at my Dark Fantasy writing class and I’m coming home each day just buzzing with stuff I want to share.

Yesterday’s assignment was to take an online quiz as one of your characters and note which question gave you the most difficulty. This should give you an idea of where you need to learn more about your character.

I’ve never enjoyed doing those character worksheets you’ll see a lot of writers talking about. Whenever I did them, it felt very forced to me. Sure, I’d have notes on what kind of food my character liked to eat, whether she wore classic clothing or grungewear, or what kind of handbag she carried, but I always felt like I was just grabbing things out of thin air rather than having my character develop in a more organic manner.

Well, I just have to say, this online quiz assignment just blew me away. Unlike filling in a worksheet, where the questions are all pretty standard (favorite food? childhood incident that scarred your character? favorite color?), the questions in a lot of these quizzes are fun (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever taken one you saw someone post on Facebook). And I could actually feel myself thinking like my character—being my character—as I took the quiz!

And best of all, after you’re done you get an assessment which pretty much lays out what your character is like about certain things, and (at least when I did it) it was pretty spot on to what my character really is like—plus it gave me an idea what he was like in areas I’d never really thought about it.

Taking the quiz added to my knowledge of my character in a way that felt very organic to me. And it was fun.

It didn’t really help me see where I needed to learn more about a character, because I don’t normally do much character work before I begin writing, other than the occasional back story. But what a great tool for getting to know your character better!

So I’m adding this to my writer’s toolbox now. I’m also putting together a list of online quizzes that will be helpful for developing characters. So far I’ve got the following:

Myers-Briggs Test The classic psych personality test, this is the initial one I had my character take.

You Just Get Me With this one you answer 40 easy questions and you get a personality “bubblechart” when you’re finished.

Enneagram Test This one will place your character as one type among nine different types.

Which Three Words Best Describe You This one probably works best when you’re first starting out developing your character and know very little about her.

What Would Be Your Fate in the Hunger Games? Okay, this one is mostly pure fun, but my character did find out he’d win the games through sheer cunning.

What Career Should You Actually Have? Another fun one, but the little blurb they give you on why you should have that career is interesting.

The Sorting Hat Quiz This one isn’t on Pottermore but has all the questions from Pottermore. Aside from getting sorted, going through the questions as your character is very helpful because there are a lot of character revealing questions. My character belongs to Ravenclaw. I kind of knew that going in.

What about you? Have you come across any personality test or online quizzes that might be helpful for building a fictional character?

Where I Discover I’m Terrible at Loglines

Today in Kelley Armstrong’s Dark Fantasy writing class we talked about loglines.

The term loglines comes from the movie business. All scripts need a logline; apparently this is what movie producers and studios read first, rather than the actual script itself, in order to decide if they’re interested.

Here’s a logline I bet you’ll be able to identify (courtesy of Writing Good Loglines):

A police chief, with a phobia for open water, battles a gigantic shark with an appetite for swimmers and boat captains, in spite of a greedy town council who demands that the beach stay open.

And how about this one?

A young farmer from a distant planet joins the rebellion to save his home planet from the evil empire when he discovers he is a warrior with legendary psychokinesis powers.

Pretty recognizable, right?

It turns out, though, that writing loglines isn’t easy. At least not for me. I wish I’d found the Writing Good Loglines page last night, when I was attempting to put together a logline for today’s class. It might have helped me a little!

This is the logline I ended up writing. I didn’t like it at all when I finished writing it—first, it was too long. And second, it made my entire story sound so trite and boring.

When a series of abductions and brutal murders rock the quiet town of Market Crossing, the forces of good and evil must work together to defeat an ancient enemy that threatens to annihilate all life on Earth.

After Kelley wrote my logline on the board, she pointed out the three tropes or clichés I was using. Yes, that’s right—not just one, or two, but THREE tropes.  “The forces of good and evil”, “defeat an ancient enemy” and “annihilate all life on Earth”. No wonder my logline made my story sound so boring!

Luckily, both Kelley and my fellow classmates had suggestions and ideas. I used their feedback and came up with this revised logline:

When abductions and brutal murders devastate a quiet town, two teens must team up with the human embodiments of ancient forces.

Much shorter and no clichés. But I felt like it was missing something. So after class today I worked on it some more and came up with this:

Two gifted teens must join forces with a guardian spirit and a demon lord to solve a series of abductions and brutal murders devastating a quiet town.

I think that’s a little better, because it’s more specific. And it’s more specific because I finally made myself sit down and figure out who exactly one of my characters was. I still don’t quite know who she is for sure, but at least I know a bit more.

The best thing about this logline exercise? It made me see more clearly the story I’m writing. Since I don’t outline, this is pretty invaluable. I already have some revisions in mind!

First Day of My Dark Fantasy Writing Class

So most of you know how nervous I’ve been about taking my first ever writing class/workshop. Nervous isn’t the right word, actually. Petrified is more like it. And stressed. Totally and absolutely stressed.

Well, I had my first day of class today. And while I was waiting for the elevator, I took a deep breath and told myself to think of it as an adventure. Which, strangely enough, really helped.

Despite this, I missed my subway stop. Fortunately, I was early, so that just made me a little less early.

And guess what?

I LOVED the class. Every last bit of it!

First of all, Kelley Armstrong is an awesome instructor. Simply and absolutely awesome (I’m not supposed to be using all those adjectives but I can’t help myself). She’s very down-to-earth and that was inspiring in and of itself—sometimes when I think about writing, it feels so precious. Too precious. And that’s when I stop myself from sitting down and actually writing. But Kelley talks about writing so matter-of-factly. There is no magic or mystique. It’s just about spending time doing what you love to do, and that’s something I lose track of sometimes.

We spent a bit of time talking about giving and receiving critiques, which I found extremely helpful. And then some of us read two pages of our opening scenes. I was NOT expecting this, and when I read my scene my voice quavered and my hands shook.

But it was worth it. The criticism I got was really good. Most of it was on point. Some things I wasn’t sure about, and a few things I knew weren’t right for me. Kelley had pointed out that approximately 85% of the comments she gets back from editors gets a clear “yes” from her, 10% she’s not sure about, and 5% are a clear “no”, and that was roughly how it panned out for me.

So now I have this list of things I want to change when I do my revisions. AND I’m all fired up about my story again.

Plus I feel like a writer. I feel I can do this, commit to my stories, get them finished and start the querying process.

But the most surprising thing for me? I ended up chatting with several of the other students, and it was such a wonderful feeling talking with other people who also love to write fiction. I tend to think of myself as an introvert, but I didn’t feel introverted at all today. It turns out, when you have a common ground like writing—especially when you enjoy writing the same kind of stuff—conversation is a breeze. Everyone I talked to was so interesting; I wanted to learn more about them, about what they’ve been writing, about their writing process.

I’m really looking forward to tomorrow, and the rest of the week. At the end of the course, we can submit revised pages of our work to Kelley—AND she’ll give us detailed comments if we’d like. I absolutely would like!

I have not felt so fired up about my writing in a long while. This class is definitely a good thing for me.

Rethinking My Morning Pages

morning pagesScribble, scribble – my morning pages

I’ve posted a few times recently about being stressed—and often not even knowing I’m stressed until I manifest physical symptoms. So I’ve been working on ways to help me deal with my stress.

Doing Julia Cameron’s morning pages is one of the things I’ve turned back to. The idea of the morning pages comes from Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way; the idea is to handwrite three pages of stream of conscious writing every morning, words which you will never go back to reread (so it’s nothing like a journal).

I’ve had great success in the past with morning pages, in terms of commitment—I did them for about an eight year period, during which I very rarely missed a day. I never reread any of them, either. I just kept them all in a stack, and when we moved to the city several years ago, I spent half a day putting all those pages through the shredder. (Not that I really had to. I could have just recycled them as-is. The picture above is a sample of one of my pages, and as you can see, it’s a scribbly mess.)

And I’m finding now they work really well for me when I’m stressed. Just the act of dumping all the things that are stressing me out—sometimes things I’m not even aware of until the words show up on the page—seems to provide the kind of relief I need. My day usually brightens up from there, and I feel lighter.

But I don’t feel the need to go to my morning pages all the time. I have mornings when I’m feeling inspired and motivated, which for me signals the start of a really great day. And I’ noticed something—on those days I put off doing my morning pages, and have to drag myself to do them. And then when I’m done, the inspired, motivated feeling is gone.

I say I “noticed” this, but what really happened was this: yesterday, while doing my morning pages (which I really needed, as I had a lot to unload), this observation spilled out as well. It took me by surprise, but when I examined it, I realized it was true.

The thing is, I did the morning pages for eight years. They felt magical to me. But the bottom line is, I never got anywhere closer to my dreams during the time I did them. In fact, I backtracked. I did hardly any writing at all. Those were my “lost” years when it came to writing, except I felt really productive, because hey, at least I was doing my three pages of stream of conscious, braindump it on the page writing every day.

Based on my past experience, I think I’ve figured out what works best for me. The morning pages are great for helping me let go of the stressors in my life. But it seems they also help me let go of inspiration and motivation, too. So I’m going to use them when I need them. And even though I don’t always know when I’m stressed, when I wake up in the mornings I can always feel if it’s going to be an inspired day, or if I’m feeling ho hum.

Those ho hum feelings? A sign that I’m stressed. And when it comes to blasting away those stressors, the morning pages are second to none.

Have you ever tried doing morning pages? How did they work for you?

Clickety Click Clack

Up until last week, I’d never even heard of a mechanical keyboard. But I receive Shawn Blanc’s newsletter (cause, you might remember, I love my newsletters) and one link lead to another and I found myself reading about Shawn’s clicky keyboard experiments.

So what’s a clicky keyboard? It gets a little technical (I can say this with confidence as I dived headlong into a number of technical pages as a result) but mechanical keyboards are often made with what’s known as Cherry MX switches, and the one many, many writers love is the  Cherry MX blue switch, which produces that distinctive clicky sound reminiscent of a typewriter. (To hear for yourself, check out Shawn’s post and scroll down to the section on the Das keyboard. There’s an audio file there for you to listen to. Doesn’t it sound lovely?)

I’ve always loved the sound of typewriter keys at work, so after some investigation and a day of hesitation, I decided to order myself the Das Professional Model S Mechanical Keyboard as my own Mother’s Day gift. It arrived today (I’ve never been good about being on time with gifts). I’m using it now and loving the sounds I’m making as I write this post.

And here’s a close-up of it on my keyboard tray (please ignore the crumb-filled state of said tray, which I’ve tried to crop out of the picture).

Das mechanical keyboard

It’s really easy to type on but will take some getting used to on my part because for the past ten years or so, I’ve been using the Microsoft ergonometric keyboard. The keys are placed a little differently on the ergonometric keyboard, so I’m making more mistakes as I type, but that should ease off as I get used to the keyboard. I’m also sitting further from my new keyboard so I can keep my wrists straighter, which is supposed to be better for them..

I read a few articles which said ergonometric keyboards don’t necessarily help prevent repetitive strain injuries (RSI), and so I’m hoping I’ll be fine with the switch. I’ve never had RSI before, and was using my ergo keyboard as a preventative measure since I do a boatload of typing. I’m really loving the sounds this new mechanical keyboard makes so I’m hoping my hands will enjoy it just as much. Also, I’ll probably switch back and forth, and continue to use my old one for my indexing work, which is where I normally do the bulk of my typing.

And the main reason I decided to get a mechanical keyboard? I’m hoping the sounds will give me an incentive to work on my fiction writing more. As a kid, I’d banged out page after page of short stories on a very very old manual typewriter my parents had found for me at a garage sale. It was one of those heavy, black Underwood models that used a spooled ribbon. Let me tell you, finding replacement ribbon for it wasn’t an easy thing! I have such fond memories of the clickety click sounds I made as I typed away. I figured it was worth trying to recapture the flow of those old days.

It sounds good to me … literally!

Wednesday Inspiration: A Mish-Mash of Stuff

Wednesday inspiration

I still haven’t settled into anything resembling a groove yet. My mom gets discharged tomorrow, though, and will be settling back into her place so hopefully things will get back to normal soon.

I’m spending a bit of time every morning reading stuff online, though—all those newsletters I get, right? And occasionally getting inspired. So I thought I’d share those mini-hits of inspiration with you all today.

I mentioned on Monday how much I love Austin Kleon’s newsletter. A while back, he shared what filmmaker Don Hertzfeldt said about his writing process, and the description just took my breath away:

“it’s like you’re floating in an ocean, and you want to build a raft. so you just float there and you wait and wait. and eventually this little piece of something comes drifting by, maybe a memory, and you hang on to it, and then another little piece comes around, it is unrelated, maybe it’s a funny sentence you overheard somewhere. and you keep collecting all these little things that just sort of drift by… a dream, a beautiful sentence in your head that just appeared while doing the dishes, an anecdote you stole from your old diary… and eventually you find connections between all the things and with all these parts you’ve gathered up you now have enough stuff to build a raft. and then once you have the raft you can remove all the bits that don’t quite fit anymore, the spare parts that you didn’t need after all, you toss them back or maybe save them for another raft later. when i write, there isn’t a lot of active effort or swimming around, or calculation… for me that can be very poisonous to creativity. the big ideas won’t happen right when you mentally stress on them… it is more a matter of being patient and being open to all the things that just drift in”

I’d really like to write like this all the time. I’ve only done it once, for the most recent short story I wrote. Things came to me line by line. I wrote the story in about four or five days, and in the beginning I didn’t know who my characters were, or what they were doing. I’d pull open my Word document and jot down a few lines throughout the day. At night in bed I’d think of another line. And miraculously, when I finished, everything fit. The story somehow ended itself.

I really liked the way it felt.

So maybe if I took more meditation breaks I could get into this drifty kind of headspace? What do you think? Another piece that spoke to me recently was this one, about ten minute meditation breaks, or time-INs.

I could definitely use more of that.

And this morning, I was very inspired by the idea of Structured Procrastination, which I found through David Seah’s blog. Structured Procrastination. Don’t you just love the sound of that term?

All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.

Could it really be so easy? There’s only one thing in the world I procrastinate, and that’s my writing. If I can find some tasks that “have clear deadlines (but really don’t)” and “seem awfully important (but really aren’t)”, maybe I could give it a go.

So that’s my inspiration for this week! What’s inspired you this week?

April is a short story a week month


Sometimes Twitter can be dangerous. Early last month I tweeted a link to my post on Ray Bradbury and a short story a week and soon got caught up in a great Twitter conversation with my friends Adriane Giberson and Kim Switzer about actually writing a short story a week.

You can guess where this is going, right? We decided, right there and then, to write a short story a week in April.

And it’s April now. It’s actually been April for a while, but since April 1 fell midweek and also (excuses, excuses …) I was sick with the stomach flu, too, I think it’s a good idea to count this week as the first week in April.

Ray Bradbury’s challenge was actually to write a short story a week and submit a short story a week. I’m not quite ready for the submission part yet, although I do have two stories that are almost ready to go out. Only problem is, they’ve been at this almost ready stage for quite a while now.

There are people out there who are doing this as a year-long challenge. I just want to get my feet wet so for now I’m sticking to April.

Tonight I pulled some prompts to get my brain going. Here they are:

  1. creaking door
  2. destroyed what one values
  3. zombie/living dead/vampire/werewolf (oh, the choices!)
  4. stalker

My goal? To have the first short story written by this Sunday!

Ray Bradbury and a short story a week

So my 365 days of story seeds is pretty much a bust.

I gave up on it when things got really busy back during the end of January. Unlike the other 365 day projects I still want to do, I found I wasn’t really getting much out of it.

I had hoped that writing a sentence or two in response to daily prompts would give me story seeds that would spark something bigger. But after three weeks of doing it, it had become a tedious task I kept forgetting to do until the last minute.

Which was a good enough reason to drop it. There are already enough tedious tasks in the world that I have to do, why add more to the tedious task load in my life, right?

But I am still very much enamoured of the idea of story seeds and what they can lead to. And as is often the case with me, one thought leads to another and yet another and now I’m contemplating this:

Ray Bradbury quote

Yes, there are actually people doing this challenge. There is even a Facebook page called “Ray Bradbury’s 52 week short story challenge to aspiring writers”.

And there are tips out there on how to accomplish such a challenge. 12 Secrets to Being a Super-Prolific Short-Story Writer, for instance. And author Jay Lake talks about his story a week experiment here. “Eventually, it just became a habit”, Lake says in the interview.

It’s a crazy idea for me, though. So I’m not going to do it.

At least, probably not.

I just have to get my mind to let go of the idea now.