Establishing a writing practice: time and place- the two biggest obstacles

Raising children, working a job, having relationships, when do we find time to write?

A good way to start is to write a mere 15 minutes a day. Those 15 minutes soon will fly by and you won’t want to stop. You’ll feel anxious and irritated when your normal life interrupts your reverie, but that’s ok, because it’ll impel you to find more time to write.

And then there’s where to write. We need a safe  and quiet place. I’ve written in my car during my lunch break, on the city bus (where I’ve seen every one of my characters), during meetings, which is a great opportunity to capture people looking anxious, haggard, or bored, and best of all, in the generally empty government periodicals room in the library.

The main thing is to make daily writing as important as anything else we do in our lives.

In the deep

My next book of Ysabel the Summoner is set deep underwater in the realm of mermaids. Their dark world is lit by bioluminescent creatures.

The jellyfish can be gorgeous:

siphonophore Abralia_veranyi Fanfinseadevil viper-fish


This is a siphonophore, a colony of hundreds of jellies living along a central core. The fireworks display are the toxic, bioluminiscent tentacles used to lure and snare prey.



Abralia veranyl looks like an art deco brooch.







There also are scary creatures with gigantic eyes and fanged mouths, opened wide to suck in any passing prey.

Fanfan seadevil




And its friend, the Pacific viperfish.

Perseverance, or do I hafta?

It’s raining heavily this morning. The gutters are overflowing and it sounds like I’m living under a waterfall. I feel hammered by the rain. I can’t focus, my current story feels overworked, and I’m tired of my characters.

I’m experiencing letdown after sending out query letters for Queen of Incense. Five days later, I’ve received one very polite rejection email, but the rest is silence.
I have to keep writing, perseverance is the bulwark against the ennui and depression that follows the completion of a long project.

In his book, a Place in the Country, W.G. Sebold writes about “…the awful tenacity of those who devote their lives to writing.”
But, here’s the payoff: “…the hapless writers trapped in their web of words sometimes succeed in opening up vistas of such beauty and intensity as life itself is scarcely able to provide.”

I slog, I plod, I push my novels uphill, and sometimes I reach a peak where the story flows around me with unforced grace and clarity. Those moments are the reward that turn the struggle into achievement.

Writing authentically

I read a recent Esquire interview with Michael Keaton and was struck by his comment on being authentic, of his efforts to create something original:

“Over the years, I think, people—actors, writers, whatever—lose their frame of reference. Their frame of reference is based on somebody else who did this or did that. Performances. So it just becomes a reflection of what already works. Like a warm-up. And that’s an invitation to be inauthentic. Everything becomes, you know, the work of somebody who did that before. Then somebody becomes a version of a version of a version…I always wanted to be the version. You know, the thing.”

More writing advice

A writing friend sent me Wired for Story, which is another book about writing. I have a stack of these books; some are filled with helpful advice, others have at least one good thing to say. Wired for Story said something I’ve heard for years, but in a way that I finally understood, and that is every story must have the hero’s journey, an internal goal, and that the journey isn’t part of the story, it is the story. When the journey or goal is missing, the story has no focus, no direction, no heart; ultimately it’s lifeless.

Another point from the book is that every story has a moment when the story begins for the main character, when he/she decides to enter the story. Everything that happens before that moment is background/ scene setting.

Becoming a character

I’m watching old episodes of the Sherlock Holmes with the incomparable Jeremy Brett and found an interview he gave about how was able to create such a memorable Holmes. He said, “I’m like a sponge, I squeeze the liquid of myself out and draw in the liquid of the creature I’m playing.”

It’s the same with writing: becoming a character allows that character to live and the story to come to life. This immersion requires uninterrupted time with no distractions. Pacing around is ok, talking to myself is necessary, but no wandering into the kitchen to look inside the fridge, the cupboards..oh, popcorn, I’ll make popcorn! And no checking the devil email.

Next time, I’ll proof the proof!

Oh, lord, why did I ignore the advice to read the proof for my book thoroughly before approving it for publication. All I did was admire the title page and flip through the book to make sure the page numbers were in sequence.

After I published Anthra’s Moon, a sharp-eyed reader found a few typos from a last minute revision I made. I’m disappointed because I wanted this book to be perfect, perfect I tell you! But it’s not.

Lesson learned: Don’t be in a rush at the end. Take the time to read the proof and get another pair of eyes on it.