And so I Write

Ever since I can remember, it’s been one of my most persistent dreams to write a novel.

As a kid, I started a book (in pencil, by hand!) every summer. Mostly, it was a loose collection of semi-autobiographical tales that happened to a make-believe person.

When summer ended, so did the book. It wasn’t finished, but I put it on a shelf in my closet and started a new one the following summer.

And so it went — for years.

My first career was as a newspaper journalist.

I wrote every day — nonfiction. Real things that happened to real people in real time.

My colleagues and I often talked about writing “the Great American Novel.” Most of them weren’t serious; I was, but dared not admit it for fear of being ridiculed and discouraged.

One day, the “itch” became so insistent that I had to scratch it. I started a novel.

Not on company time, mind you. By then, I was on a new career in Web Design. Running my own business meant I could write around projects.

I wrote while watching my son’s soccer games, or waiting for him to get out of school, or during one of his many lessons.

And I actually finished this novel. Keyed in (on computer) “The End.” Finally, I was a writer!

The book was awful, unless you count spelling, grammar, and sentence structure (thank you, grade school nuns!). If you like tension, conflict, characterization, and such, forget it.

So it joined the unfinished others on the shelf, while I devoured Writer’s Digest magazines, poured money into writing how-to books, attended workshops and tried to learn what I didn’t even know I didn’t know.

Several years ago I faced another dreaded lull in my business.

Time on my hands. Fear of going to the poorhouse.

I started a second novel and finished it, too.

This one was better. With age comes courage (if we’re lucky), and I sent out query letters, hoping to snag a literary agent.

No takers.

I studied some more. Did more reading. Attended a conference or two.

And started my third novel.

I typed “The End” several months ago and have since polished and revised and polished some more. Once again, I’m shopping for an agent. Once again, I’m looking for publication.

Because everybody knows being a writer is different from being an author — right?

Well, sort of.

I’d like to think I don’t need publication to validate what I’m doing. That, even if I can’t go into a bookstore and pick up a book with my name on the cover and my words inside, I’m still a writer.

But why write if you can’t share your words with the world??

So I’ll continue chasing my dream. And I’ll continue to write because that’s what writers do.

As Admiral Farragut once said, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

Happy anniversary!

I made it — yeah!!

When I started this blog Oct. 23, I challenged myself to publish one new post every day for a month. Since today’s Nov. 23, it’s been a month, and I’ve managed to rant or praise or instruct or yak about something every single day.

Not bad for somebody resistant to this social-networking thing!

Some of my posts have been short; others, not so short. Some, I still find interesting to read. But even the others are so much better than my preteen diaries that they were worthy of my time and effort!

After attending a Writer’s Digest Editor’s Intensive in October, I decided to test the social media waters with blogging rather than begin with Facebook or Twitter. I might try those two one day, but certainly not now. You see, I’m already juggling a full schedule and don’t need anything else to distract me from my novel (and unfortunately, we writers are masters at procrastination!)

I soon found that blogging can be a two-sided sword. On the one hand, some posts came so easily that they served as “warmup writing,” making my novel writing clearer, tighter, and more readable. Other posts took so much out of me that I really didn’t have time for creative writing — at least, not as much time as I needed or wanted.

So I think it boils down to this — I’ll keep on blogging, just not every single day. That way, I’ll force myself to adhere to a schedule with my novel and I won’t waste time penning boring blogs.

Seems like a reasonable compromise to me.




While I was at the Writer’s Intensive conference in Cincinatti last month, I took some time to browse their selection of mostly “how-to” books and decided their 10 percent discount was too good to pass up.

I purchased The Fire in Fiction, a 265-page paperback by writer/literary agent Donald Maass of New York City.

Because I’ve been swamped in re-writing my novel, setting up this blog, running my Web Design business, AND tending to my family, I haven’t been able to immerse myself in reading; however, this reference book is one that should be on every writer’s bookshelf (or, better, beside the computer!)

Maass grabs you from the get-go by reminding you that it takes 10 hours to read the average novel, and readers usually spend 10 days with a single book. That means we writers must create a bond between reader and protagonist. Maass says too many submissions to his agency involve protagonists who are flawed, hopeless, cardboard stereotypes who, instead of engaging the reader, turn him off.

Nobody wants to spend 10 minutes with someone who’s always whining about his past or someone who’s perfect and has a perfect life!

To counteract this problem, Maass suggests writers get inside their characters’ heads and hearts as soon as they can. He says even a tiny positive characteristic will convince readers your protagonist is worthy of their time, and that likeable heroes generally have self-awareness and even poke fun at their own flaws.

Maass decries the antagonists he meets in too many manuscripts — they’re just too evil, he says. Instead, writers should look at the people who oppose them in real life; even the “helpers” with the highest of intentions are rarely deterred. To truly be frightening, he says, antagonists must be human and understandable, active and determined.

I can hardly wait to read more!

Music for Writing

My Favorite Domer finally sent me a belated birthday present, and I couldn’t be happier!

It’s a CD from the Band of the Fighting Irish for the 2003 season, and besides including all the favorites — the Victory March, the Alma Mater, Damsha Bua (the Victory Clog), and Hike Notre Dame, to name just a few — it has a little jazz (Birdland), some rock (Bohemian Rhapsody), some oldies (Saturday in the Park), classical (1812 Overture), and whimsical (Mario Medley).

As someone who spends a lot of time at my computer, I really appreciate being able to choose different styles of music to listen to. When I’m doing Web Design, I find myself tuning in to rock, usually something with lyrics (especially those I can sing along with!). I find it helps me focus (especially if I’m just doing routine maintenance on a site I’ve created!). But no way can I write fiction with somebody singing — too many words, and I’ve lost all track of my storyline!

So instrumental music becomes my primary companion when I write (and re-write). I often opt for classical — Mozart is a perennial favorite — and I have a stack of CDs and an MP3 loaded with hours of background music. In addition, MFD has compiled numerous CDs for me (“writing music,” he calls it) — everything from hard and soft rock (no lyrics!) to movies themes, piano and other instrumental selections.

One of my writing buddies is the exact opposite. She can’t write with any music in the background (she calls it “noise”). I wonder if it’s true that one person’s “noise” is another person’s “music?”  Whatever, I find it distracting to listen to things like the pipes creaking, branches scraping the gutter, and even owls hooting — must be because I write suspense fiction!

How about other writers out in blog-land? What’s your pleasure — music or silence? And, if music, what type?



It’s been almost a month now since I attended an Editors’ Intensive, sponsored by Writer’s Digest at their Cincinnati headquarters. To say it was a wonderful experience doesn’t cover the half of it!

Writing can be a lonely occupation. Those uninformed folks who announce they love to write and they’re “working on a book” just don’t have a clue. While there are as many “types” of writers as there are books, magazines, poems, Web sites, etc., and while there are many personalities of writers, this isn’t a business for the faint-of-heart. You really have to believe in your craft and your talent; you have to steel yourself against the criticisms and rejections that surely come your way; you have to spend a lot of time working when others are tugging at you to play. And most of us have to do it all while pursuing gainful employment elsewhere AND raising a family!

How’s that for sacrifice?

Still, for me at least, writing is as necessary as breathing. I’ve been putting down my thoughts since I was able to hold a pencil — first, in silly rhymes, then in a multitude of essay contests, diaries, newspaper stories, short stories, and now, novels. The first time I was able to type “The End” after penning a novel-length work was a feeling I’ll never forget! It reminded me of something I read in one of Mary Higgins Clark’s mysteries — “The work is finished; now let the writer play”, or something to that effect.

Of course, we writers can’t “play” long. Some story is always noodling around, and when it starts screaming to get out, you know it’s back to the computer and back to work.

One of the interesting things about our writing conference was the camaraderie that comes when you’re in a group of like-minded people. Just to know there are others like you — people who live in two worlds, people for whom storytelling is an art and there’s no such thing as a yes/no conversation — well, it’s a relief! It’s going to be even more interesting to watch the progress of our group, to see who continues when the going gets tough, to be able to go into Barnes & Noble one day, pick up a new book, and say, “Wow, I know this author!”

Most of us conference-attendees now have added blogging to our daily routines (at the encouragement of the Writer’s Digest staff, of course!). At first, I was a little reluctant — I mean, who really wants the public to read your private thoughts? But as I’ve gotten more into the spirit of the thing, I’ve found that blogging truly helps me organize my ideas and kind of serves as a “warm-up” for my fiction writing. It eases me out of the “blank page quandary” that many writers face, forcing me to shun the excuse of “writer’s block.”

In fact, a dear friend gave me a wooden pen & pencil holder with the words “Writer’s Block” prominently displayed on the side; that’s what she, and now I, think about “block.”

Basically, it just comes down to what all of us –deep down — know. Put your butt in the chair and don’t get up until you’ve written something. Do that often enough, and you’ll become a better writer. Do that consistently, and you might get published. Do that, and who knows? You might get to meet Oprah!!