Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: The writing process

The Emergency Room at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.


Emergency Room visits are a place for story-stuff gathering. Well, urgent other things too, many of them far less fun and diverting, such as the small but painful emergency in my family tonight.

But there’s definitely all kinds of story material just lying around there (or walking through, or yelling from another room). It’s all ripe for the capturing. So many writing prompts! So little time!

It’s a violation of privacy to go see what’s really happening, but nobody’s violating any HIPAA rules if they take that simple input, and make up a story from that and imagination alone.

A crowded corridor at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston looks a lot like the place where I spent a chunk of the evening. (Photo by Boston Globe/File Photo 2017).
A crowded corridor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston looks a lot like the place where I spent a chunk of the evening. (Photo by Boston Globe/File Photo 2017).

Writing prompts, such as . . . ?

What’s the kid wailing about, three rooms down? You’d think they were exacting 93-and-a-half minutes of torture. How did s/he end up here?  Did somebody say something about an X-ray?

Who’s the woman who keeps patiently telling someone, “No, you can’t get out of bed. No, you can’t stand up”? To whom is she talking? What’s that person’s problem? Why does she remain so patient and kind with them? What kind of person is she, and what is their relationship?

Why were those three police officers standing huddled to one side, talking intently in low tones? Who’s in the room nearby? What brought them there?

For whom did the black priest in the clerical collar arrive? Why is the family in matching sports jerseys crying and hugging in the waiting room? And what’s with Balloon-Woman?

Story-stuff-gathering in practice

Life happens. Writers make stories out of it. 

Yes, I spent more time in the ER tonight than anybody ever wants to (unless they work there). The outcome was positive, and the problems are being dealt with. Thank God for the Emergency Room!

But the story-stuff was thick on the ground, and the story-stuff-gathering was awesome. I don’t know when or how or if these elements will show up in a future story, but they helped me deal with tonight, and I’m praying for all of the real people mentioned above (certainly including Balloon Woman).

Whenever life gets tough, I start story-stuff-gathering, and I know I’m not the only one. Because, at their heart, stories are about the tough times, the devastating events, the challenging obstacles that we don’t know how we’ll surmount–and surmounting them.

The role of Story

This quote-image from author Donna Tartt reads, "The first duty of the novelist is to entertain. It is a moral duty. People who read your books are sick, sad, traveling, int the hospital waiting room while someone is dying. Books are written by the alone for the alone."
(Title Wave for Books on Facebook)

When our protagonists find a way, they blaze a trail, sometimes. They represent. They offer hope. That’s story-making at its most archetypal, doing its work in the world.

So thank you, God, for story-stuff-gathering opportunities, even when they test and dismay us. And here’s to the hope that we story-makers may be empowered do well by our role the world.

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to the Boston Globe, for the photo of the Emergency Room at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, with an ER corridor that looks a lot like the one where I spent most of this evening, and to Donna Tartt and TitleWave for Books on Facebook for the quote-image that has become my motto

A jogger forms a backdrop for Jim Rohn's words: "How long should you try? Until."

Playing a long game

This post is for everyone who hasn’t yet dropped out of NaNoWriMo. And really for everyone who’s pursuing a long, hard effort they believe in. Whatever your struggle, you’re playing a long game. Persistence is the key.

Vince Lombardi's words, "Winners never quit, and quitters never win," accompany a photo of ducklings struggling to climb a steep curb.

If you’re still hanging in there for NaNoWriMo, you’re entering Week Three, today. By now you’re probably tired. You may have missed a few days, or fallen short of a few benchmarks you’d set for yourself. 

You may have begun to wonder if this is really worth it. Take heart. It is. In any long game, persistence is the key.

This quote comes from Napoleon Hill: "Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success." The background photo is a rocky seashore.

Doubts are natural. But doubt is poison.

All writers have doubts. And if you’re trying to pile up thousands and thousands of words in a very short period of time time, you’re probably having double and triple doubts. 

You know what you’re writing isn’t polished. Hope what you’re writing is good. Fear what you’re writing is garbage.

It doesn’t matter. Not at this point. You’re playing a long game, so the key thing you need is persistence.

A quote attributed to Thomas Foxwell Burton says, "with ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable."

The road to quality starts here.

Save the heartburn over polish for rewrites. What you’re doing right now is simply getting it down in an editable format. It’s the essential first step to a finished draft you can be proud of

Even if much of what you write this month has to be trashed or overhauled, it’s a start. It’s more than you had written before. It’s always easier to rewrite than to write it the first time through.

You’re doing hard work, essential work. And you’re honoring the long game, where persistence is key. So hang in there.

Against a colorful background, this quote from poet Avijeet Das says, "Struggle for your art. Die for your art. But you can never give up on your art!"

The long game

If NaNoWriMo is like story structure, then you’re entering the crucial third quarter. The second half of Act Two, if that’s how you prefer to think of it. You’re closing in on the rising action–which means you might be facing a Dark Night of the Soul.

Keep writing, anyway. At the chosen time each day, park yourself in the chair at your desk, in the coffehouse booth, poised over your pad, or wherever you write. Make words happen. Keep writing.

You’re playing a long game. Persistence is the key.

A jogger in action forms the backdrop for this quote by Jim Rohn: "How long should you try? Until."

NOTE: This post is one of several I’ve published during this month and last, in honor of National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for short). Others in this series so far include “It’s getting on toward time. Are you ready?” “Will you or won’t you Na-No-Wri-Mo?” and “An ideal writing space.” Stay tuned for more!

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to The Diary Store, for the Vince Lombardi quote; to good ol’ BrainyQuote, for the Napoleon Hill graphic; to Life11-Scribble and Scrawl’s “10 Quotes on Nurturing Talent,” for the quote from the rather elusive Thomas Foxwell Burton (It’s possible the name is actually Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton. He was a British Baronet and an abolitionist active in the 18th century); and to Everyday Power, for the illustrated quotes from Avijeet Das and Jim Rohn. I am deeply grateful to all!

It’s getting on toward time. Are you ready?

The Artdog Image of Interest 

Each year in November, it’s National Novel-Writing Month, AKA Na-No-Wri-Mo. Each year in October, I consider participating. Will this be the year?

IMAGE: Many thanks to Errol Elumir’s blog NaNoToons and the Na-No-Wri-Mo organization for the use of this cartoon.


I’ve been trying to wrap up my final draft and get it to the last editor since the beginning of December. My plans were clear, my goals laid out with pristine exactitude.

Yeah, that. 

The details–although I’m sweating them currently–don’t really matter to the big picture. What does matter is that at any moment something else WILL demand my attention. So instead of a long, wordy post I thought today I’d offer a handful of thoughts on interruptions.

When is it okay to interrupt reading groups or conferences? Aliens are invading. You are on fire. Tornado. The classroom is flooding. Peyton Manning enters the classroom.
As a former teacher, I can relate–although the interruptions during my classroom presentations or discussions were almost as often announcements on the intercom, or calls from the office on the classroom phone, as they were interruptions by students.

This topic yielded a multitude of cartoons and memes from office settings, medical, legal, and other fields. I certainly don’t feel alone in my plight. If you share it, you have my heartfelt commiseration. If you live blissfully free of interruptions, just wait

You’ll get yours, soon enough.

IMAGES: Many thanks to QuoteFancy, for the Allen Saunders quote-image; to the Teaching in Blue Jeans Facebook page, via Charlotte Jackson’s Pinterest board, for the guidance on when classroom interruptions are okay; to Comforting Quotes for the observation by French writer Andre Maurois; and to Kjersti Berg via SlidePlayer, for the “interruptions gestalt” image, though I couldn’t immediately confirm the $$ estimate.

Being critiqued

A Hinkley Buzzard comes in for a landing.

They’re all coming back home to roost.

Somewhat like the buzzards returning to Hinkley, Ohio (albeit several weeks later–I can’t believe I missed Buzzard Day, which was March 15), my manuscripts are slowly returning from my beta-readers.

sent drafts of my science fiction novel What’s Bred in the Bone out in March, to a collection of willing souls. Some are published writers, some are working-on-being-published writers, some are much-prized living embodiments of my “target audience,” and some are simply friends who’ve been hearing me talk about “the book I’m writing” for years, and were curious. A few are even friends of the volunteers, who became interested.

Some wanted e-book format, some wanted Word documents, some PDFs, and a few wanted hard copies, which I put in binders with a quick-and-dirty cover so they’d be quickly able to distinguish what side was “up.”

One and all, I deeply appreciate the time they’ve spent reading my manuscript and answering my questions. Not all have reported back in, yet, but I’ve begun reading the comments of those who’ve finished. They’ve proved quite interesting, and in many cases very helpful.

I’m a veteran of several decades’ worth of writers’ groups and critique partnerships, so I know how to compartmentalize (I learned that studying journalism!). It’s still sometimes a challenge not to take it personally, but the writer with a tender ego is a writer afraid to grow.

I also know how to evaluate. Not all critiques are equally valid. Some seem to come straight out of left field. Some are internally contradictory. Oh, but then there are those other ones, the ones that hit you dead-center, with a deeply resonant, “Oh, man, s/he’s right!”

Very few people will be able to resist at least a few little nitpicks, and there’s almost always an “outlier,” someone who gives such radically different feedback from what everybody else said that you wonder “what manuscript were they reading?”

At the end of the day, the best a writer can do is tell her story as well as she is able at the time, read or listen to every critique with an open mind and her heart safely tucked in a padded box somewhere, then make the changes that won’t let her ignore them. And after that, MOVE ON.

IMAGES: Many thanks to the “Haglund’s Heel” Blog, for the nice photo of the Hinkley buzzard; to Scribendi, via Pinterest, for the quote image from H. G. Wells; and to Pinterest again, for the “Read-Write-Revise-Eat-Sleep-Repeat” image (no other associated link still seems to work). I took the photo of my pile of manuscript printouts in recycled binders. Please feel free to use it if you like, but have the grace to give an attribution and a link back to this post. Thanks!

How’s the writing coming along?

The Artdog Image of Interest

We’re about halfway through Na-No-Wri-Mo (National Novel Writing Month). Time to check in, again . . .

Whether you’re participating in Na-No-Wri-Mo or not, I hope your creative endeavors (whatever they may be) are going well. The creative process always involves frustration–but don’t let that stop you! Keep going!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Debbie Ridpath Ohi, her ongoing comic “Will Write For Chocolate,” and her Twitter feed for this image. It’s always a pleasure, “Inky Elbows”!

Working on a first draft?

Why would anyone try to write a novel? It’s an appropriate question for Na-No-Wri-Mo (National Novel Writing Month). Personally, I’m in great sympathy with Toni’s reason:

In my experience, writing the first draft of any project, especially a novel, is an exercise in faith. Faith that you’ll work out the problems, that you have something interesting to say, that you’ll find good, better, and even-better-than-that ways to say it. Everything is possible at the beginningespecially in my chosen field of science fiction.

But then you start to create your world. And that means rules begin to appear. Now if you want to break those rules, you have to change the world. Sometimes it’s worth it. But if you do, it’s okay. It’s the first draft.

If that’s a little too free-form for you, this thought may capture your creative process better:

However you manage to create your first draft–and whatever it looks like at the end, I have just one more thought for you:

IMAGES: Many thanks to Laugh.Love.Live, for the Toni Morrison quote; to Chasing the Turtle and Alice Walker for the quote about flying; to Writingeekery and Shannon Hale, for the “shoveling sand” quote; and to P.S. BartlettAuthors Publish, and the late Terry Pratchett, for the “telling yourself the story” quote. Finally, many thanks to Novel Kicks, for the unattributed “best and worst” quote. So True!

Writing is like . . .

The Artdog Quote of the Week

Especially for the “pantser,” I think:

If you’re one of the brave souls who are persisting in the creative challenge to participate in Na-No-Wri-Mo (National Novel Writing Month), then you’ve already long since figured out this aspect of your writing process. To all writers everywhere, Good luck, and keep writing!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Writing Sisters and E.L. Doctorow for this week’s quotation image.


The Artdog Image of Interest 

Think of it as a casting call . . .

As a tribute to all the writers brave enough to take the Na-No-Wri-Mo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge, I’ve dedicated most of this month’s Quotes and Images of Interest to observations about the writing craft.

IMAGE: Many thanks for this week’s image to Tom Gauld, a wonderful comics artist whose work I encourage you to explore!

The writing process

Everyone who wants to write will eventually develop his or her individual way of writing, but if you’ve embarked on that effort it’s guaranteed you’ll also discover lots of ways that don’t work for you! It’s all part of the creative process. Keep trying. And consider these thoughts:

I’ve dedicated the majority of my posts this month to writers and writing. November is Na-No-Wri-Mo (National Novel Writing Month), when writers all over the world are moving heaven and earth (or not) to carve out time to write a cumulative total of 50,000 words.

My life is currently in enough upheaval that I knew I couldn’t compete at that level, but I’d like to provide a small cheering section for those who can. Best wishes to all of you!

IMAGES: I’m grateful to Now Novel (and to Barbara Kingsolver) for the quote and image about writing for oneself. Also to Authors Publish and Freedom With Writing for the image and quote from Neil Gaiman. Many, many thanks to the wonderful Debbie Ridpath Ohi, for her “Will Write For Chocolate” cartoons, including this one. And finally, I appreciate the image and quote from Beth Revis, as presented by Freedom With Writing. You’re all inspiring! Thanks!

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