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Friday, November 30, 2012


Back when I was a working girl and many of you weren't even a glimmer in your parents' eyes, I kept journals. In them, I'd set the dollar amount I wanted to hit daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. And since I'm a visual person, I'd clip photos of what I'd buy with that money.

For some reason, my journals kept me motivated. I'd put a big check mark every time I hit a goal. New washing machine, jewelry, trip...whatever I wanted. Often, the goal was to get a new book, visit a friend I hadn't seen in ages. Sometimes during lean months, the goal was simply to have a nice meal.

Looking back later, I'd find I produced more books and sometimes raised the bar on myself, hitting several thousand dollars more than I'd worked toward.

Good books to help included:

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Dr. Susan Jeffries
Wishcraft by Barbra Sher
anything by Shakti Gawain, starting with Creative Visualization
You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay

I was partially paralyzed for 18 months when I began this method. First goals were to move my legs, walk without crutches, get off of pain killers, and stop feeling like a victim. I was bitter, angry, depressed, and a single mother with a young son. But even writing Thank You on a bill I could pay was a goal worth keeping. Gratitude produced abundance.

Set goals. It works. But you can't hit a target you don't have.

Writing buddy DeAnn sent a link to our group that defines how to set goals. Even if you're familiar with the concept, this blog post is worth the read. Sometimes seeing something through a different lens recharges our will to succeed.

I need to heed my own advice. Have been trapped in one of those "life hells" that pop up now and then. Both parents in and out of hospitals and nursing homes, neither doing well (understatement), with me between helping them and taking care of things at home with my family here. Haven't done much writing. Pretty much became a hermit once I arrived back here. But I'm working my way through whatever needs to be done and hope to get back into what feeds my soul...the writing.

Have a great weekend coming up.

More next time (and hopefully soon).

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Coffee and Confessions

Remember when you were young and had girlfriends, the ones who gave you alibis, held your hair when you were sick, stayed up all hours giggling and chatting when you should have been asleep? I highly recommend cultivating those friendships, no matter your age or stage in life. I have such girlfriends, and my personal and writing lives would be insane and much less fun without them. One such friend is De.

Fellow author DeAnn Sicard and I are on a new joint adventure, that of publishing a monthly ezine called Coffee and Confessions. Just what it says--confession stories, tips and info on coffee, recipes, and even a monthly guest bit in which they offer up a free read. The first edition should be out within a week, and this one is FREE. I'll post the link as soon as it goes live on Amazon.

Since De's a tea-sipper, and I'm the java maven, we will do issues later on called Tea and...Something. There will also be issues with beer (beer-battered fish recipes, etc) and short mysteries. Murder On Tap. And, yes, for those who remember my erotic romance stories, we will even have issues like Cocktail Teasers...spirits and sex.

For now, however, we're concentrating on coffee, because it's a passion of mine.

On Oahu, I passed coffee plantations, visited a macadamia nut farm, and thoroughly enjoyed a few cups of locally grown Kona coffee. And with those delicious Hawaiian cookies? Heaven!

A few weeks later, while in Old Sydney, I browsed local shops and discovered the Baker's Oven. Quaint al fresco seating, crisp autumn weather, and the best mocha ever. I sat by myself, taking photos, unabashedly eavesdropping--Aussie accents are to die for, and journaling. When I finished my coffee, I realized the shop had delivered a message inside the cup: Sharing the Passion.

That's what De and I wish to do with Coffee and Confessions. Give readers a coffee break with passionate yet tame stories (even if the titles are a tad titalating), information/facts/folklore on coffee, and a recipe readers might try when they have time.

Join us in a few days. Again, the first issue is free!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Rested, Rejuvenated, Ready

If I've been slack with the blog, I hope I've made up with the writing. A girl's gotta earn her keep somehow. But, oh, the adventures I've had this year at age sixty!

Trips. Within four months, I visited Hawaii during spring, lived in Australia during their winter, had a nice summer jaunt to Las Vegas, and soon afterward spent a wonderful autumn writers' retreat with old friends and new in historic Ft. Scott, Kansas. All within a matter of weeks and months.

What I've learned on my safari of the soul this year would fill volumes. My goal on the blog is to share important highlights and offer insights as to how we can all grow as writers.

The magic lies within each of us to create our own journeys. Sometimes they involve miles: more often than not, the milestones are how we mark and track our adventures. Yes, doing the unusual is inspiring--one of the most deeply felt instances for me was having a dolphin near Waikiki kiss my cheek. His smooth, supple skin against mine, his nose nuzzling me and his chin in my palm when I kissed him...spiritual, core-cradling love and a connection like no other to the mysteries of life.

Seeing tears spring to a new writer's eyes (subtle wave to Chris) when others praised her efforts, hearing a passage being read from yet another writer who has grown tremendously over the past year (Hello, Kim!)--those, too, were blessings. Chris stumbles over a few words, but I've no doubt she will grow into a fine writer. Kim began at ground zero and has taken class after class, written page after page--and watching her progress both thrills and inspires me.

Both of these women have courage for beginning their journeys in such a fluctuating business in which even pros have difficulty staying published.

Courage is paramount when we offer up our dreams and aspirations. Sometimes our hopes are shattered, while often they soar on wings of encouragement. The important thing is that we try with gusto, continually challenging ourselves, giving our own shoulders the atta-boy or atta-girl when no one else is able or willing.

Dolphins are by nature wild creatures. So are untamed writers. For most of us, it isn't in our nature to play unsafely. But the joys of daring are delightful when we do so with hope, courage, and determination.

Risk is imperative for us. We gain nothing but complacency when we remain in our comfort zones. As dear friend and author Alfie Thompson reminded me recently, it's not the things we've done that can fill us with regret so much as it is the chances we didn't take. If you've dreamed of publishing and haven't sold a book, keep trying. If you've sold fifty or a hundred books but haven't reached your goal of winning a specific award, or if there's another genre in which you haven't reached your goals, don't brush your needs aside. Work harder. Use what you've learned to lay the foundation for a new path. But don't quit! Keep growing and getting better!

Take your opportunities. Challenge yourself to live the life you desire and to write the books of your heart. Whatever the obstacles, overcome them rather than play it safe. Spirit is mighty when fueled by love and backed by action.

In not-so-chicken-soup-motherly-advice, love yourself and writing then get off your ass and do the work. Unlike the typical parent sending their child to school or camp, don't say take care, be safe. Advise yourself to take calculated risks today.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Coming Home Soon

I've been slack with the blog while I've been on holiday but not with my writing, I promise to start giving updates on the trip of a lifetime plus more information concerning writing, beginning in about a week (well, maybe 10 days?)... First need to fly home in about a week (which will take me about 22-23 hours, not counting the layovers), unpack, REST from jet lag, hug the kids, pet the dogs, that sort of thing.

Teasers...I've been kissed by dolphins, have spent hours walking the streets and sampling the food of Old Sydney, stroked the soft fur of koalas (one was a baby!), viewed magnificent scenery, and witnessed remarkable transformations, in myself, not just others.

See you in a few days - take care of yourselves and keep writing! It does pay off.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Secondary Characters

Yoo hoo.  Sunny, I'm here.

Yeah, she's thinking.  About time, you b*tch.  (She might think that.  I, personally, wouldn't. I just don't use that kind of language much.)

The bad news for me is that Sunny would be justified in thinking it.  I told her back in January or February that, yes, I would be delighted to be a participant in her blog.  You see, I love writing.  I love sharing my opinions and ideas.  I loved her slant and ideas for this blog.  I love Sunny.  She's one of my fallback, supportive, most-encouraging, consistently upbeat, optimistic (for me) friends. Why wouldn't I want to be a part of Safari of the Writer's Soul?  

The good news for all of you is that Sunny is the Primary Character here.  I'm a secondary character.

We are all the Primary (Protagonist, Heroine/Hero, Lead, Main) Character in our own stories.

And we are all secondary characters in the lives of the people we know.  (In some peoples' lives, we're just walk-ons. Not even minor characters.)

Secondary characters have only two jobs in our stories.

They can either be a help--they are there with a shoulder when it's needed, available to listen, or share adventures with, interact with, make you think, give you feedback and try to help keep you on track, and receive the same from you, etc. They are supportive and help the main character make progress in the story.

Or they can be a hindrance.  As in all stories, the bad guys can be obviously that: striving to stop you from achieving whatever it is for nefarious reasons or striving to gain what is YOUR goal and you both can't achieve it. (The 'other' woman, for example, in some of the classic traditional romances.) Or sometimes they can be disguised as good guys, subtly throwing roadblocks in your way or undermining you by encouraging you to make choices that take you further from your goals.

So far, in Sunny's Safari, this particular secondary character has been a hindrance.

But I'm the main character in my own story.  I control what happens to me. I decide a lot of it by where I go, who I hang out with, what I decide to do, how I decide to spend my limited time.  Yes, sometimes I have no control over what happens while I am wherever I am.  I don't totally control the demands job, family, day to day obligations make on my time. But I do control whether to set aside a half hour to do something I've promised I'll do or whether I'll use it to play a couple of quick games of Spider Solitaire.

As the Main Character in my own story, I'm going to choose to be the good kind of secondary character in Sunny's story. Expect me back soon, Sunny.  (Hope I don't scare anyone away...)  

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Mama's Quilts ~ Seeing The Whole Picture

Something on voice from a blog post years ago...

Diabetes runs strong in my family, and my maternal grandmother went blind a little earlier than expected. Her passions were reading, funny movies, and sewing. We could get her books on tape and take her to movie theaters (as opposed to having her watching something on television). But with the sewing--she was on her own.

One of the things that often 'needled' (for lack of a better word and not really intending a pun) those who received her handiwork was that she loved drab olive or deep forest green as a landscape on which to place other colors. Sometimes she'd choose denim blue. I never complained, because to me every quilt square meant something--I knew who had worn that shirt or dress before it was cut up into fabric for a blanket, but there were others in the family who flat hated her choice of colors and didn't take into consideration the time and effort spent on Mama giving them something she made. They saw only the background and not the details. They didn't see the whole picture.

Then I found out while talking with her that everything else in her quilts stood out by contrast when she worked with greens and blues. She was better able to see the vibrant yellows or reds or other colors she used when they were on a flat-colored background. In retrospect, I applaud her for even trying when she could barely see to stitch.

I catch myself wondering why my stories are often set in ordinary, even mundane, backgrounds, every-day settings in which my main protagonists jump to life when presented with other colorful characters or scenes/situations that seem out of place. The fact that John Grisham has lawyers or Tess Gerritsen uses the medical field as props against which their stories are set...just speaks volumes when I think back on Mama and her quilts.

Every good painting needs a canvas --size, background, shading, use of light all matter. Every good story needs the same--for instance, a setting that doesn't overpower the characters who must come to life and generate interest. Stories need contrast, conflict, design, all of which capture a reader's imagination.

Each author paints a word picture with their own unique brush stroke and colors, and whatever we use has to come from within, for if we're to develop our voice as writers, we can't be copycats--we have to use what we own and develop that talent before we can be heard.

Next time you're stuck in the details, try stepping back and taking another look, grasping what you envision as a whole. Maybe finishing the story won't be so difficult if you see that this part of it is out of focus, too large for the canvas, or too small to complete the final product.

Perhaps you have more than one story, more than one book in what you're attempting. I'm guilty of letting secondary characters take over, so trying to frame what I have written isn't always neat and tidy, and I have to whittle things a bit, save some of my material for other books.

Then again, I've been known to face the opposite problem--what to me is a brilliant kernel with which to start but major difficulty developing the story so that it is complete (no contrast/conflict, not enough emotional intensity--a bland background). Those works resemble so many unorganized specs on a vast wasteland where nothing connects until I step back and reevaluate where I want the story to go.

Mama has long since passed away, but her lessons linger, and I am forever grateful to her for helping me see the whole picture. Now it's up to me to develop the skills to work on background or details, whichever calls for the most attention.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Safari Voice

Think for a moment about your favorite writers. Even if their books have mistakes, even if they break the rules determined by whoever sets the standard to which you adhere--there's something in their writing that speaks to you, moves you, compels you to pick up their books and read their words. Perhaps it's the genre and they're the best in it.

Break this down, though. Scope the big picture. Somewhere in the myriad of reasons, what draws you is their turn of phrase, their ability to engage you, their style...the nearly indescribable and intangible quality called voice. It's unique, theirs. And if they can develop it, so can you if you're not afraid to be yourself.

In the 1960's there was beautiful housewife who with surgical enhancement became a phenomenally gorgeous actress. Her acting ability was debatable, but her power to draw a crowd to theaters was undeniable. Her studio swathed her in an animal skin, ran the projector, and Jo Raquel Tejada Welch became America's favorite sex symbol in the mid-sixties.

At the same time, the daughter of a roguish father and over-bearing mother wrote a book that shot her to stardom. She wanted to be an actress, but it was her penchant for pulling her past experiences--and those of her friends--that made her famous. Valley of the Dolls became an international bestseller for Jacqueline Susann.

I'm not advocating you wrap yourself in leopard skin or dive headfirst into drug abuse. I'm asking you to contemplate what makes you different. Can you use that in your writing?

An attorney friend calls John Grisham a hack. I asked "Why do you keep buying his books?" He couldn't answer to his satisfaction, but I hid a smile. Grisham drew him because of his uncomplicated, easy-going style, his ability to break down legalities that are convoluted so laymen could understand them. He has a unique voice.

If none of the above makes much sense, do an exercise that may make the light bulbs go off. One phrase: You can't handle the truth.

Who do you imagine saying that? If you're a film buff, you probably thought of Jack Nicholson.

Now...same sentence...this time spoken by George Clooney. Brad Pitt. Meryl Streep. Literally dredge your memories for those actors' voices. Different inflections, right? Different timber, pace, intensity, mood.

That's voice. Each is unique, including yours. Some voices are more powerful depending upon the moment.

Recall Pitt as Achilles in "Troy", his grief then fury after Patrocius is killed in battle. Can you see anyone else playing the part?

Just as each actor polishes their skill, as singers hone their talents (another exercise...have various people perform "Mary Had A Little Lamb" for you--note the differences in delivery between Tony Bennett and Elmer Fudd or NIN and Journey), writers must define and refine themselves in order to find their voice. This ability to deliver words in a fashion that projects them onto readers' memories is in essence what establishes them separate, apart from other writers, even within their own genre.

Before you find your true, authentic voice, maybe there are obstacles you must overcome. My money is on fear being your nemesis. Often we sit to write and are stymied not by what comes next but on how we say it. VOICE. Good friend and American western historical writer Leigh Stites covers this topic extremely well in her February, 2012, president's column for Midwest Romance Authors. As she states: Fear will kill you.  Fear will kill every dream you have.  It will kill the momentum you need to achieve those goals you set when you weren’t so afraid.  It will kill the future you might have had if you’d been brave enough to leave the cave and go out hunting.

Put on your rhino skin, because the writing world is tough. Arm yourself with your writers' tool box, and venture forth. Don't let fear stop you.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bad Hair & Bad Writing

Packing for the upcoming trip has given me pause as to what to pack, what to leave, and I'm discovering that some of what hangs in my closet no longer represents who I am. To compound the confusion of coming to terms with the image I present to others, a tactless pal gave me a start a few days ago.

The friend I hadn't seen in a couple of years greeted me over coffee with this: What will you do when you go bald? Wear wigs or scarves?

Mind you, I'm (knock wood) no longer a cancer patient. My hairline is simply receding a bit! But this got me thinking...

How often do we let a bad hair day impact our writing? Me--never. It is what it is. I did let hair humility conquer me in 1st grade, but rarely since. I had long honey blonde hair at age 6, and my mother decided a shorter cut would be easier to manage. She sent me across the street to a neighbor lady. I walked home later sporting a "poodle" perm. The "stylist" had put my tresses into a tight ponytail, whacked it off behind the band, then gave me a perm so curly it hurt to touch it. I went home in tears, the aborted ponytail in my hands. Even my poor dad cried.

Ever since, I've not been a slave to anything hair other than color. Well-meaning friends gently suggest this cut or that. One friend even offered to pay for the cut and styling. To humor her, I went. Walked out looking like a 90's Tina Turner. She was thrilled. I wasn't. (In her defense, we all have gifts. My friend was a gorgeous black woman, a retired runway model, and she wanted to impart a bit of style to me.) I may have a terrific rapport and affinity for my AA friends, but their identity isn't mine. No matter how much I admire them, I cannot pull off their style or essence with panache. The only thing I can compare this to would be if I tried to imitate Stephen King's writing or that of Harper Lee.

I have a tad of obsessive compulsive disorder anyway. I don't need to muck up my life adding to the list. It's freaking HAIR. Love me, love my roots and the occasional ponytail. One of my few stubborn screw-yous to society. Also one of the reasons I prefer cremation--nobody staring down and wishing to God the mortician had done more with my hair. Send me out the way I entered--in my birthday suit, wrinkled as it may be, and not knowing a damn thing.

Think about it. Do you let society dictate how you look?

Do you allow anyone else to set the bar on your writing for you? Make you feel guilty if you don't write X number of pages per day--or have you question your hero's appearance or heroine's occupation? Of course not! That's part of your identity as a writer.

I say critique my story as *I* see it and either accept me as I am, or reject me--bad hair and all.

Authentic image and writing have to come from the soul. If I'm not authentic to myself, I don't see how others could possibly view my writing as anything but fitting a predesigned mold. False advertising.

The cool thing is that I'm constantly finding myself and reinventing my writing, so I'm never bored, and I rather like challenges. An inadvertent friends are likely to witness the outer transformation as the inner being changes and develops. Who knows? Maybe someday I'll reflect a better head of hair in their eyes. Or maybe I'll simply go bald and tattoo the noggin. Either way, like my writing, my appearance must be a reflection of how I feel, think, and see myself, not as how they see me or wish I was.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Stress: 5 ways to rid your life of it - By DeAnn Sicard

The following article was first used in the Feb issue of MRW Impressions, newsletter for the Midwest Romance Writers. It may be reprinted by sister RWA chapters with proper credit to chapter and author. Bloggers are welcome to link to it but not republish.
We live under a perpetual cloud of stress each and every day, whether it's from the holiday seasons, financial, family, health, work and so on and so on.  I'm sure you get the picture.
If we're not careful, all this stress can lead to health and emotional issues.  Stress may be a part of our lives on a daily basis but that doesn't mean it has to rule our lives.  We can combat stress in simple and even fulfilling ways.  Our biggest challenge (another type of stress) is to find the technique that will work in our lives.
Here are five strategies to help you reduce the stress in your life.  Pick one or all to help you relax and find more peace in your life.
1-      Filter the negative aspects of your life.  Try limiting your media intake.  Since the news focuses on all the bad (with tiny doses of uplifting stories mixed in) you are adding to the burden of worry you already carry around.  Don't let toxic relationships tarnish your outlook on life.  If possible limit those relationships or learn how to block the harmful aspects of them.
2-      Try changing your diet.  Don't stress yourself out by trying to change all of your eating habits at once.  Instead, try making small changes in the beginning.  Find foods and drinks that are beneficial for your health.  Find foods that increase your metabolism.  Cut back on the foods that offer quick fixes, such as caffeine and sugars.  Increase fruits (oranges and blueberries are great stress-busters) as well as vegetables.  Foods high in vitamin B have a soothing effect on you system.  Allow yourself to become comfortable with the changes as you either eliminate or add to your diet. 
3-      Meditation and exercise go hand and hand.  Again don't overdo it.  You know your limitations and you know what you can achieve.  Don't stress yourself into thinking that if you can't get up an hour early every morning and run around the block you aren't accomplishing anything.  Do things slowly, find your pace, one that works for you.  You can find just about anything on the internet.  Do a search, read up on relaxation exercises.  Tai Chi and Qi gong both offer natural stress relief exercises.
4-       Write, write, write.  If your stress comes from NOT writing, STOP.  Give yourself permission to step away from the writing you feel you are supposed to be doing and write about something totally different.  It doesn't matter if you are writing a 'to do' list, menu for the coming week or jotting down something as simple as "Today I accomplished…"  Do prompts, small bits of writing that have nothing to do with your work in progress.  This is your key to keeping the momentum going.  When you are ready you'll know that you've been putting pencil to paper (fingers to keyboard), so all isn't lost. 
5-      Build your network.  This is one of the most important keys to stress reduction.  Friends can and will always be a source of insight into what you need.  Whether they know it or not, they offer you something you would not have sitting all alone. They provide a sense of connection.  Through them, you'll find laughter, tears, inspiration and so much more.  If you're feeling cut off and want to find a way to connect, join online groups, find classes or organizations in your area that are of interest.  Be willing to smile, encourage and offer a sympathetic shoulder when needed.  By helping others you help yourself.
Stress can and will inhibit your creativity if you let it.  It's all up to you.  With a positive attitude and a willingness to try something new you'll manage the stress in your life and come out a winner.
DeAnn Sicard is a former Golden Heart nominee. She writes contemporary romance and short stories.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Taking A Leap of Faith

I leave for Hawaii today. I've never been. I've always wanted to go. Now I'm spooked. The longest I've been away from home in over a decade was 9 days spent with my friend Lex at a writers' conference. This year we're forgoing conferences for a holiday together, just us two, traveling to Hawaii then seeing sites in Australia, where she lives. For MONTHS. Not days.

For some strange reason, I'm also writing different things this year. I've completed a romance for a line I've never written for, and I'm working on a women's fiction in which the protagonist will either be hated or loved by those who read the book. It opens with a failed suicide attempt. How ghastly, right? To be that desperate, that alone, that selfish, and work up the nerve then wake up from a coma having to face the same life, same situations that prompted the suicide attempt?

Both books have been challenges for me. I've written erotic romance for so long (both male/female and male/male) that I'm questioning my sanity. Why substitute the genre that feeds me for one that may or may not bring any profit?

Ah, there's the rub. I'm not writing for money this time. SURE, I'll take it! But this time I'm writing strictly for the love of the genre, and it scares me. What if I don't succeed? Ack. What if I DO? I'll be expected to continue, for one thing. I may miss what I used to write, for another.

The marvelous Mona Sizer, who writes as Deana James, once told me that heroes always have their flaws and villains their reasons. When I apply that to my writing, I come up with true love has much to conquer - lol - and it's not such a bad thing if I revert now and then to writing what has afforded me conferences in the past. Either way I go, in other words, I'm following a goal…to feed my soul or feed my wallet. My worry, of course, is that one will starve and the other flourish, when what I wish is for both to feel full.

How about you? What are your reasons for writing? To feed your soul or your wallet? Just to have something to do or to do something with purpose? It doesn't hurt to take a self-inventory now and then. Sometimes it gives us perspective and we can either pick up where we left off or venture into unknown territory.

For me…I'm working on that women's fiction and another romance while I'm gone. I also plan to collaborate with my dear friend, Lex. Wish us luck as we journey into the unknown, and stay tuned for photos of our trips.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Writing Through Hardship

One dear writer friend was tested in Biblical proportions, all within one year. A major move across the continent, new home...then fire on one side, massive flooding on the other--the worst her country recorded in 118 years.

A daughter with a history of miscarriages who became pregnant with twins, another child with legal problems not of his making, a husband diagnosed with cancer, and often no way of getting him to the hospital because of the flood. Before life settled, she ventured toward becoming the female epitome of Job. Loss of spouse, far from her children, precarious health--surgeries of her own, and left alone to contend with the aftermath.

If she can recoup, anyone can.

Tragedy leaves us fragile, often shattered emotionally, physically, and spiritually. We doubt our own judgment, not just the benevolence of a caring God. Our beliefs are tested and our self-confidence is in ruins. This is the point where we draw on the love, devotion, and core beliefs we have invested over the years in our friends as well as ourselves.

Another author friend lived for nearly two decades with psychological abuse, with a spouse who said the most vile things to her. Victims of this sort bear mostly invisible crosses, and few see even those because abusers generally estrange their victims from friends, loved ones, anyone who is a positive influence. Why? Control. It feeds their sickness. Quite often, the more we give them, the worse our situation.

My next statement will cause friction from some of you, but before you lash out, think. There are two types of victims--willing and unwilling, yet each of us (and yes, I speak from experience) has chosen to be where we are at any given time. Doesn't matter why. We have opted to remain in relationships, to allow someone else to make us feel less than we are. The wonderful thing is that we don't have to put up with their abuse. If you are a victim, take back your power. Your life and your writing depend upon it.

Maybe you're a victim of yourself. Bad decisions, gluttony or its opposite--starvation. Maybe you abuse alcohol, drugs, relationships, or something else. Perhaps you abuse your time. We each have the same number of hours in a day, yet some folks accomplish more. Sometimes it's because they are better at managing their time. Often it's because they refuse to allow others to sabotage them, to suck the life out of their day. No matter your situation, you can still choose to stop the behaviors that keep you from living a full and happy life.

One thing that is certain about our lives, as well as our planet is that spring follows winter. Seasons of hardship are followed by those of promise. So hang in there. Shore up all the good you can, and you'll have that and more when winters strike.

How? Start with yourself. Louise Hay states that how we begin our day is how we live our day, and how we live our days is how we live our lives. Why not start each morning with self-love and extend that to everyone we encounter? Tell that person in the mirror: you are a wonderful writer, a magnificent being. That beats negativity any day.

If you can't reaffirm your creativity, your very existence, as positive, who can? After that, express caring to others, even if to a pet, your neighbor, a stranger you meet. Smile. Find reasons other than those of hardship to motivate you.

Knowing what to write isn't always a writer's downfall. Not knowing how to say it is. Not believing in ourselves enough to express ourselves authentically, to be our true self, is what keeps us from our dreams and goals.

More on developing the author's authentic voice on May 1st. For now, let's get in shape. Let's discover what makes us tick, what thrills us, what we need to avoid, and what we need to embrace.

One of the funniest things, as a writer, that I hear people say: I could be a great writer if I only had time. Sorry, but…bullshit. And when they offer up THEIR ideas, as if I don't have enough of my own? That's when I rudely double up in laughter and have to turn away.

C'mon, readers. Suck it up. Claim your life. Begin your adventure, and share it with others.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

So You Want To Write: Where To Start? by Heidi Senesac

The following article first appeared in the Feb issue of the Midwest Romance Writers newsletter, MRW Impressions. It may be used with proper credit to chapter and author. Bloggers may link to the article but not republish it.
I recently gave a friend a clock with a saying on the face: ‘Time is a poorly crafted plot device’. When I first decided I wanted to see a book with my name as author on a library or bookstore shelf I wasn't sure what a plot device was. What else didn’t I know? I knew how to weave a rich story, but doing it was so much more than just putting words on the page. How would I accomplish this? Where did I start?
This same friend also recently defined the difference between a goal and a dream in such succinct terms, I’m sure it will stick with me the rest of my life. A dream is something you have no control over. Being published is a dream or I’d like to be president of…is a dream.  A goal, on the other hand, is something you establish a workable plan to achieve. I’ll write 3000 words each week, or I’ll improve my physical well-being by walking two miles every other day. This made me think about my early goals for my writing.
My first goal was to learn everything I thought I’d need to know to write a truly readable story, one that my book-buying self would be so enchanted with, I’d pull it out every year or so to re-read. I knew how to achieve my education goal. I decided to start with online classes. Many wonderful RWA chapters offer these courses and other resources. But when I started looking into which ones to enroll in, I realized the choices were too diverse. I found myself mired in choice. Should I take a course that would instruct me in the best weapon to create murder and mayhem, or perhaps something on building a believable world through my words?
My over-stimulated brain screeched I needed to identify my weaknesses and prioritize courses to overcome them. Since I was last in school when God was a boy, I decided to start with a refresher course on grammar. Readers are pulled out of a story when you mix tenses or write a sentence fragment. Even when they can’t tell you what is wrong with your paragraph, they’ll know something is.
My second priority--I had to find a class to help me fix my bad habit of ‘head-hopping’. People I trusted to read my work and tell me what needed fixing always, always came back with “I don’t know who was saying or doing the action…” I needed classes on POV.
My chapter mates traded suggestions for classes to take in pursuit of my goals. And they reminded me that all these classes were only good if I used the techniques and knowledge I learned to continue improving my writing. It’s hard for me to not get so wrapped up in building my skills and forsake my purpose, which is to write, so I appreciated their suggestions.
Along the way, I’ve identified issues with my work, and prioritized my education goals. One thing is clear--the process will be ongoing. I’m still in the basic craft classes, but eventually I’ll graduate to agents and editors, business and marketing. I’m thrilled to report that with each educational goal I achieve, I give myself a powerful rush of endorphins as I check it off. And that’s enough to keep me writing.
Heidi Senesac writes contemporary romance as Gemma Brocata. She is the new Vice President in charge of programs for Midwest Romance Authors.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Fear Will Kill You - by Leigh Stites

The following article was first used in the February monthly newsletter of Midwest Romance Writers. It may be reproduced by sister RWA chapters with proper credit to chapter and author. Bloggers may refer to the article but not republish it.

MRW President’s Column - February 2012

Dear Author:

Fear will kill you. 

No, I’m not kidding.  It will.  Fear will kill every dream you have.  It will kill the momentum you need to achieve those goals you set when you weren’t so afraid.  It will kill the future you might have had if you’d been brave enough to leave the cave and go out hunting.

In last month’s column, I invited you to join me in living dangerously in 2012.  I’m convinced that’s the only way we’ll get anywhere, and especially in this scary new world.  Question is, how will we ever find the courage to step out if we’re afraid? 

That means our first order of business this year is getting past our fears.  In the spirit of keeping things simple, I’ve distilled these into a manageable three-point list.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t act on more than three things at a time. 

Fear #1:  It’s not good enough.  This phobia is a BIG one for me.  I have a tape in my head that plays every time I finish a scene, a chapter, or even a whole novel. 

“It’s not good enough.  You need to go back and work on it.  Revise it.  Now, revise it some more.  Polish.  Tweak.  Nope, still not good enough.” 

Now, I know that no manuscript is ever perfect, but for some reason that damn voice tells me it can be almost perfect if I just do this or that differently. 

The ‘not good enough’ fear has caused me to write in circles for weeks.  It has led me to allow others to tell my story—meaning I took in all their feedback and tried to ‘fix’ whatever they perceived was flawed.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not bashing critique groups or workshops or whatever channel you use to get feedback.   But I will warn you that if you have this fear you will be tempted to revise the life out of your work in hopes that it will get better.  Trust me, it won’t.  This compulsion to keep revising and tweaking is a creativity killer.  I’ve massacred more than one book by tinkering it to death.  

Last year, a very wise sister (and published author) advised me to write something and send it off without showing it to anyone first.  I was too afraid.

This year, I am committed to living dangerously.  I’ll finish the new manuscript I’m working on, do one revision, and send it off without showing it to anyone.  Oh God, just thinking about doing that gives me the cold sweats.

Still, I won’t break the hold this fear has on me until I learn to trust myself.   Here goes…

Fear #2: The gatekeepers don’t want it, so readers will hate it.  This fear comes on the heels of rejection and will hold you back for as long as you let it. 

I’m not one of those people who saves every rejection, but I do keep track of how many I’ve gotten.  (It’s fairly easy when everything you send out is ultimately rejected.)  However, I have noticed that the tone of the rejections has changed.  First, it was the usual form letter or email.  Then, I started getting a few nibbles (requests for partials or full manuscripts).  Recently, I have been in communication with a couple of agents who say they like my writing but don’t think the current project is marketable or easily sold.

I have let these rejections stop me. 

The truth is, that manuscript everyone keeps turning down may or may not be well-received by readers, but I won’t know if my work never gets out there.  So, this year I commit to indie publishing at least one manuscript for the sole purpose of putting my stories into readers’ hands.  They might love it or they might hate it, but I won’t forego the chance to find out because of fear.

Fear #3: I’ll fail.   Isn’t it ironic how we let the fear of failure allow us to fail? 

Life affords so many opportunities to fail, and fear seems like a logical response.   Yet, I’m convinced we humans are engineered to learn more through failure than success.  We don’t like it, but we can’t fear it.  In fact, if we let fear stop us, this guarantees we will fail.  On the other hand, if we don’t fear failure, when it happens we will just accept it and move on, more the wiser (hopefully).

Consider the process of natural selection.  If the new world of publishing is a jungle, then only those who adapt can survive.  This means becoming stronger, smarter and more fearless than those who keep to the caves, clutching their talismans and hoping one day things will get easier.  Make no mistake about it, you have to work hard to become smart, and work smart to get lucky, but beyond that, you mustn’t be fearful.  Venture forth, learn from your mistakes, face the inevitable rejections, overcome the bad luck, bad Karma, or whatever stands in your way.  If you don’t fear failure, it won’t devour you.

This year I’m committed to being fearless.  I’m going to write more, worry less, trust myself and put my work out there at every opportunity.  When failure comes, I’ll remind myself that something attempted is never a complete failure. 

I invite you to join me on this journey.  Shed your fears and make the most of this year of living dangerously.

Leigh Stites
Writing as Elisabeth Burke

 Leigh Stites is a past Golden Heart nominee and current president of Midwest Romance Writers. She writes American western historical romance. As Elisabeth Burke.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Safari Preparation

In my first post, I acknowledged the safari of my writer's soul coincided with my trip of a lifetime--journeying to Australia for a few adventures. Thing is, the soul came first. I'm determined to discover how to free my mind while focusing on what's important. You can travel from your desk, from your patio, garden, or bedroom. You're welcome to eavesdrop on my physical travels, but my hope is that you find what pleases you, what stimulates you and your writing.

Any real journey begins with preparation. Stephen King, in his book On Writing, suggests having a writer's tool box, which contains tools necessary to write a decent story. But what about your cognitive process? When you sit down to write, are you prepared emotionally? Mentally? Spiritually? I'm referring to having peace, not turmoil. It's difficult to do your job well if you're flustered over other things in your life or confused about what to write the moment you sit down.
My daughter-in-law is taking a yoga class. She and the other students expected a relaxed, easy-going series of stretches, not the energetic workouts they have. While the frenetic pace raises her heart rate, her body isn't accustomed to the pain. Our writing is much like that. Unless we're used to sitting down and going full throttle, our engines choke a bit, and we're not enjoying our writing process until we are toned.

How do we get toned?

For me, it's a physical as well as mental thing. Something like Tai Chi, yoga, or a simple walk around the block--anything that helps me stretch physically and get into a mindset that is conducive to writing. For you, it may be doing dishes or laundry. (I truly enjoy doing laundry--weird, I know.) One friend must bake cookies before she can write.

Some of us have physical limitations. Mine is a head injury that caused fluid on the brain. If I walk or climb, I take extra precautions or I fall. Cognitively I have short term memory issues. Working on a computer is ideal since I can easily go back over what I've just written. It's not a poor me's a celebration that I "get" to write and flex my atrophied memory muscles.

If I'm stumped on something when I sit down to write, I pen a letter, or type one, to my folks, or I handle my emails. Often, a few games of Freecell or solitaire prepare me.

The best thing I've found for ensuring that I write what is on my agenda is to end in a good place the night before. If I go to sleep knowing something exciting is about to happen in my story, I'm more inclined to jump right in as soon as I sit down at the computer. Delayed gratification doesn't work for everyone, but it helps me.

Good friend and fellow writer Sally Berneathy once said that we are writing when we're shopping, fixing the plumbing or whatever task we're performing. Those are times our fingers aren't moving over the keyboard, but our minds are focusing on something detrimental to our craft. For me, that's when I let my mind wander, travel, explore. Unfortunately, I can't do that when I cook. I've burnt a few meals by not focusing on the task at hand.

I've also found it helpful to send off for brochures on topics of interest that I include in my writing. I'm a visual writer. The more I have at hand to stimulate my imagination, the better I work. Think of Penelope Garcia in "Criminal Minds" with her array of toys on her desk, her funky ink pens, or Abby Sciuto's music in "NCIS".

For you, having fashion magazines, shoe catalogues, or plants growing on the windowsill as you gaze up from your writing may do the trick.

Virginia Wolfe wrote a marvelous essay called "A Room Of One's Own" that I Iove. Sometimes I listen to books on tape, readings by Meryl Streep or someone else whose voice relaxes me just before I write. I even watch a tear-jerker romance to put me in the mood to do my black moment scenes. Listening to Barry White sing...well, you can only imagine what that man's voice will do to a writer crafting a love scene. Are you writing about first love or last? Watch "Murphy's Romance" with Sally Field and James Garner.

If you you're in a dilemma as to how to get motivated and discover what works best for you, read Wishcraft by Barbra Sher. If you have a fear of failure or even success, try Susan Jeffries' excellent book, Feel The Fear, And Do It Anyway. Think life stinks? Read Louise Hay's book You Can Heal Your Life--all the way through from first page to last without skipping to the end. No cheating.

Establish your personal writer's tool box. Prepare yourself for the trips your mind craves. Your writing will flow easier, and you'll be richer for the experiences awaiting you.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Make Friends With Fear

Today I'm revisiting a blog post from when I began my career as a writer. I'm killing off the Lyn Cash blog, because it's been a long time since I've written under that name. The lessons I learned, however, are still with me. I still have jitters when submitting, fifty books and over sixty magazine articles later. I still fidget when meeting an editor or agent I don't know. In other words, fear is with me probably as much as it is you.

Sometimes it is the very act of moving instead of staying stagnant and still that gives us the necessary momentum to accomplish our next goal. Many a creature, including man, has faced Demon Fear only to die of a heart attack or something related to fear. "Deer in headlights" is an expression that best describes the paralysis that short-circuits our brains and freezes us.

Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar refers to FEAR as False Evidence Appearing Real. All I can say is that the slogan works for me. If it didn't, I'd have caved in many a time to what was more internal panic than some gaping black hole of external force that threatened to swallow me. Or as one friend puts it when I'm tempted to shy away from a task, an interview, a mission..."They can't eat you."

Some of us are more afraid of success than failure (raises hand here - must include me...I've had too many friends and family members tell me so for me to ignore the possibility). One friend went so far as to say that when I get money, I only elevate myself to a higher level of poor, that it's not success so much as a fear of being responsible for my own well being that pushes my buttons.

Another friend is just the opposite--she's so paralyzed by the thought that she won't "make it" that she refuses to submit anything, for fear that those who know will ridicule or...the worst for her...pity her. She's so used to being "the golden girl" that she can't stomach the idea that she won't be the best, much less stand and be counted as someone who succeeded.

Writing takes magnificent courage--we put our own lives under a microscope, allowing those who read our words to peer into our souls, our thoughts and dreams, the dark places that even we don't like to visit, much less spotlight for others to view. As one writer puts it: If I get published, the people I don't like will have ammunition to hurt me, to make me feel bad about myself.

Very telling, huh? That one has a fear of exposure? Not really. To me, it's simply that they already hand too much power to others, that they measure themselves by someone else's yardstick rather than their own.

Once we identify what holds us back, as writers and individuals, we're able to conquer our demons, to make friends with the very things that we allow to limit us. We're not puppets, with someone else pulling the strings, unless we string ourself and hand over the reins. Once we realize that it's probably self-doubt more than our egos on the line, we can move forward.

Life isn't a specator sport unless we make it such. Writers are people-watchers, spectators, sure. We're also participants when we take charge and forge ahead. Writing is an adventure. Put on your Indiana Jones hat, crack the whip, and press on. Give yourself permission to fail...and to succeed. Celebrate each step that takes you closer to your goal.

You've read in my blogs about my son. If I've done anything "right" in my life, it was producing that boy. When I got serious about my writing and put my energies where my mouth was, he gave me a Mother's Day present that I'll never forget. It was a beat-up felt hat, same color and style as the one worn by Harrison Ford in the Indiana Jones movies. With it was a note: Happy Mother's Day to my adventurous mom.

 I'm taking that hat with me to Australia next month.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

So You Want To Write By Heidi Senesac

The following article was first used in the January 2012 issue of MRW Impressions and may be reprinted by sister RWA chapters with acknowledgement to chapter and author. Bloggers may refer to this article but not republish it. Author Heidi Senesac has graciously allowed us to use it in this blog post.

You’ve tumbled the words around in your head until they’re shiny and smooth, like pebbles fresh from the polishing machine. It’s time. You’re ready to commit to sharing the novel you know you’re capable of writing with the world. But you’re left with questions. Like, where do you start?
Maybe you’ve already joined a writers group. Or, you’ve starting taking online courses. And you’ve noticed there are hundreds of writing tricks or techniques. You have friends who plot every moment of the novel. For every goal, there is an equal and opposite conflict or motivation. Others call themselves ‘pantsers’. There’s no planning, but they know instinctively what comes next. Some authors set times for when or how long they’ll write. Others will sit at their computer and let the words pour out of them until they are wrung dry. And just what is deep POV anyway?
Keep in mind that what is right for others may not work with you. I’ve recently seen a string of emails about how individual writers determine a ritual of what works for them. This discussion clanged like Big Ben for me. I struggled with the best way to put those first words on paper. Some authors reported starting their writing day with coffee, a little Facebook time, then music to pound the keys by.  Others expressed a preference for a glass of wine, scented candles and warm lamplight illuminating their keyboard as they transcribe the action in their head. And, don’t overlook the value of noise cancelling headphones. Every author has a ritual or process. And that process will be as personal as your favorite handbag or pair of shoes.
As you begin your journey toward becoming a published author, you’ll set your own routine. With luck, it will come naturally. Experiment with time, place and ambiance. I worked from several different rooms in my home until I settled on one with a picture window overlooking the yard, outdoor scented candles and instrumental music. This location and atmosphere stirred my inner creative. Find the routine that allows words to flow freely for you. Then write. Refining, editing, learning, polishing, entering contests, marketing and promotion will follow. Everyone has to start somewhere. Pick your spot and get busy.
Heidi Senesac writes contemporary romance as Gemma Brocata. She is the new Vice President in charge of programs for Midwest Romance Authors.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Welcome to 2012, the year of living dangerously. - by Leigh Stites

The following article was first used in the January, 2012, issue of MRW Impressions and may be reproduced by sister RWA chapters with acknowledgement to chapter and author. Bloggers may refer to the article but not republish it. The author, Leigh Stites, has graciously allowed me to post the article here in order to share it with other writers.

 Dear Authors,

 Welcome to 2012, the year of living dangerously.

 As I sat down to write my first column as President of MRW, it struck me that this year promises to be the most dangerous year of my life.  Before you think I’m planning something illegal, let me explain.  At no time in history, (well, maybe when Guttenberg was around, but no time since) has the publishing world faced such seismic change.  In the slightly less than four years since I’ve been pursuing writing as a career, I’ve seen the gut-wrenching fall of Borders, the spectacular rise of e-books, the surprising march of the ‘Indies’, and the not-so-surprising ascension of Amazon as King of Publishing.   I suspect the aftershocks will be stronger than the quake.  Amidst all this chaos, what’s an author to do?

 Now, I don’t want to limit my metaphors to natural disasters because that would imply this is a bad thing.  In truth, it may be the best thing that’s ever happened for those of us who’ve been wishing there was someone else in charge of ‘Book Nation’.   As authors, we’ve been liberated (like it or not) and can put our books out into the world without having to go through the maze of gatekeepers that determined our entry into the kingdom in days of yore.  However, getting a pass doesn’t mean you’ll be successful.  That takes more.

 By now, you may be pounding your fist on the desk, demanding: “So tell me, what does it take?”  I won’t patronize you by saying ‘write a good book’ because those of us laboring away at this fully intend to ‘write a good book’ or we would be wasting our time.  Besides, what makes for a ‘good book’ is highly subjective.  What we, as authors, should strive to do is write the best book we are able to write.   That hasn’t changed, and there are many opportunities for learning how to become better storytellers and writers.   My advice on this is simple: keep learning, keep writing, keep honing your skills and feeding your artist, but don’t cut your own throat by cutting corners.  If anything, authors need to be more committed than ever to making sure their best work is what gets into the hands of the reading public.  

Once you’ve written that book, you can pursue a traditional route (as I have for the past three years) or try alternatives.  What I’ve decided to do this year is to become savvy to what those alternatives are, more scientific in how I experiment with them, and a lot more sensible about managing my career.  It would be nice to think someone else would do this for me, but that’s kind of like a child thinking her parents will take care of everything for the rest of her life.  I’m talking to myself here, because I’ve not been doing these things to the extent I need to in order to be successful.  I’ve been writing and pitching and getting rejected, and writing and pitching and getting rejected some more, and writing and pitching and…well, you get the idea.   I’m ‘nuts’ if I keep doing things the same way and expect a different result.  So, this year I’m doing things differently. 

 MRW’s theme 2012 is Finding Success in a Changing Industry.  Along these lines, we’ll be developing programs, running workshops, writing newsletters and engaging in conversations (live and online) to help our membership understand what’s going on in our industry, find out how others are responding, explore the opportunities presented, share our own experiments (positive and otherwise), and, of course, learn more about honing our craft and improving the products we put out there.   I say ‘we’ because it will take every one of us participating to make this year’s activities and information meaningful and useful.  (Translated: you will be asked to/expected to do something this year if you are a member of this organization.)

We all write about heroes and heroines who risk everything to take charge of their destinies.  Can we do less?  I hope you will join me in living dangerously this year.   Let’s get prepared, have a little faith, and JUMP.

 Blessings for the New Year,


Leigh Stites, writing as Elisabeth Burke, is a Golden Heart finalist, 2010, for The Healer. Website:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Snafus & Such

Nothing like starting a new blog and having something derail. For whatever reason, the "comments" function isn't working, and I've been told by those wishing to comment that they can't comment. I have a note in to Blogger to help fix this.

Thank you for stopping by - new posts should appear every 5 days (and once some of the other contributors start posting, more often than that).

You can still join as a Follower and receive emails when new posts appear. Again, my apologies for the comment function.

It's overcast here. Snow yesterday morning followed by an afternoon of sunshine and temps in the lower 60's. WEIRD.

I had some interesting emails yesterday. It astonishes most of us when articles we write are picked up by other newsletters, and it feels really good. Even with those of us who haven't done articles in ages, those who've never done them and those who forget how often we write them. a nutshell...I contacted someone whose article I snagged for the next newsletter I do. She was beyond happy, and her enthusiasm and thanks set my mood for the night.

One of the reasons I love my local RWA group, Midwest Romance Writers, is because we aren't afraid to reach for help and we are good with the atta-girls. Their appreciation of my work on the newsletters ALWAYS puts me in a good space. Makes me more appreciative of them as well as those whose articles I snag for our newsletters. (Therefore, my private note to the one writer that I enjoyed her article and wished to reprint it with her permission.) There was a time when newsletters were a passion for me that faded. It's nice to enjoy myself again when I do them.

It's "pet the cat" Guy goes to work, boss is hard on him. He then goes home and grouches at the wife, who snaps at her children. Then one of them is in a foul mood and kicks the cat. I like it that we pet kitty.


Take a look at the new MRW website.

Have a great weekend! See you again on the 5th, if not before, in here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Safari of the Writer's Soul...or If the Shoe Fits

I've experienced a tremendous amount that has changed who I am, what I know, and what I write...and what I'm afraid to write. For instance, I was late getting downtown, Oklahoma City, April 19, 1995. Another five minutes and I'd have been too close to the explosion, not setting up the sheriffs' command post. The whole experience rocked my views on everything from God (your higher power might be Allah, Buddha, or George--they're all the same to me), to how I begin my day, to how I feel about capital punishment, to how I write. But it's taken me nearly twenty years to discover that before I shoot for something, it's better to have a target, even a moving one.

In the writing business, the target is generally in motion, shifting course. That's why I'm thrilled to be a part of my local chapter. The theme in 2012 for the Midwest Romance Writers is Finding Success in a Changing Industry. (Thank you, Leigh Stites for coming up with that one!) To embrace that theme, the philosophy that survival and success are achievable...that's a powerful aphrodisiac. How to do it is the trick.

Since my physical body has changed over the years, my extended trip to Australia must be a solid fit. In order to walk, climb, hike, I'm better prepared if I eat right, exercise, give up smoking (easier said than done), and know my targets. Attending wine country excursions, sure. Spending more than a couple days wandering the Outback? Not so much.

My targets involve touchstones. Feeding a kangaroo, holding a koala, watching whales breach foamy waters, viewing sites, tasting new foods (I'm even contemplating Vegemite...ugh). In keeping with my journey, I also know better than to wear a pair of heels to the Outback.

Over the years, my writing essence has altered as well. I'm not as interested in seeing my name on the spine of a book as much as I crave writing what's between the covers and stirring someone's soul with what I've written. First--I must stir my own. Therefore, my goals have changed, along with my touchstones. I'm still interested in making money, but my greater need is to make memories and to become absorbed in every day's writing..the actual meat to seat, thoughts from mind to fingertips action. I've donned my traveling shoes for a reason, because in order to become more adventurous and dig into the present, I need to shed my Ruby Slippers and be ready to move. Excavating my secret desires and why I'm leery of putting myself on the page emotionally is proving to be a dirty business.

How are your feet? Are you comfortable in the same writing shoes you've been wearing? Are they taking you Somewhere or Somewhere Specific? As one good friend told another lately when the woman was so negative: You can't change others all the time. Sometimes you need to change yourself. The same goes for situations--you can't always change circumstances, but you have the power to control your reactions.

How often do we sit at our computers dreading the blank page, or the edits, the art fact sheets, the rewrites, or the time involved? Not to get too metaphysical on you, but as Chevy Chase uttered in "Caddyshack" over thirty years ago: Be the ball. Dive in. Immerse yourself in your writing. Site the target and shoot. You'll land Somewhere anyway. Why not chart your course and better your odds of arriving Somewhere Specific--where you want to go?

If your grammar stinks, take a class. Poor use of language? Read, read, read, and "people watch"--listen to them. Observe how they interact. Too close to your project? You're not a tree. Move. Go outside, watch a movie, get on the Internet. Call someone. Volunteer at a womens shelter or pet sanctuary.

Have the opposite problem, need to focus or just write? Suck it up and get busy. Want more sales? Write better books. Quit being stubborn and clinging to old habits. Learn networking skills. If nothing changes...guess what? Nothing changes. YOU must change in order to secure a different outcome.

Thing is, life will go on with or without you, but this is YOUR life. Don't be a spectator, be a participant before you have no choice. If writing is your passion, feed it. If you lack a passion, find one. Discover what makes you tick, what thrills you, and you'll have fodder for volumes.

Interested in BDSM? Go for it. Your erotic romances will zing with authenticity if you know your subject. Have a penchant for Lady Windameer's Fan? Delve into histories, diaries, and maps of Regency England. Westerns more your style? Write a good cowboy romance.

The following is as I see it, not what works for everyone.

Goal #1 of your writer's journey is to find a starting point. What is your touchstone, your reason for writing? Are you prepared to do what it takes to reach your goal? For me, if I wish to stir others, I need to stir myself, to be adventurous in exploring my honesty and authenticity as a writer, to be unafraid to write about people, places, things that touch me. Nearly twenty years after the Oklahoma City Bombing, I have difficulty writing emotion, because while working eighteen hours, much of it in rain, I had to shut down emotionally in order to secure the site, turn a blind eye to body parts, debris, stench, screaming parents who wanted their babies, and firemen and policemen who would later commit suicide rather than deal with the trauma.

Goal #2...establish your rhythm. You'll work better if you adjust your writing to fit your life, not the other way around. Quakers have a unique philosophy. Everything moves in accordance to simple daily rituals. As Sarah Ban Breathnach points out, they have rhythm, reverence, and reflection. Apply those to your writing. in my case, with my medical issues, I know that mornings, getting out of bed are the hardest. For you, it might be working with or around insomnia. Maybe you can't concentrate if your house is dirty. Maybe you just need excuses. It's not that you have issues--we ALL do. It's how you cope that affects your life and your writing.

Goal #3 is to FEEL as you write. (It always comes back to emotion.) Allow yourself the gift of time to explore your own thoughts, processes, reactions. Check your pulse periodically to see if what you write moves you.One of my early critique partners whacked me with something unexpected. She said I had a lack of emotion as I wrote La Bella Luna. She said she could always tell when I came to a passage that unnerved me for whatever reason. Seems my character would smart off, pick a fight, or withdraw...because I did. Once Merry Stahel. pointed that out to me, I began using my weakness as a strength, to build tension then drop the bombshell of emotion. First, I had to be in tune with my character, with what was going on emotionally. The book was better for it, and I suspect I was, too.

Don't fret over rules and goals, though--you'll discover what works for you once you fire up your passion, take off on your writing expedition, and let your desires fuel your enthusiasm for the outcome. Truly, it's all about the journey. Or the shoes. Your choice. Remember that if you don't have a pair of shoes (we'll go with that analogy) in mind, you could wind up with a pair that either doesn't fit or is inappropriate. Editors have rejected manuscripts for eons because they didn't fit specific guidelines or lacked that certain spark of passion or authenticity. Find yours, and your writing will reward you.