Q & A: How can I start writing again? I graduated with a degree in journalism in 1999. I feel so outdated but I feel like I have a story to tell.

That’s a tough question – you have my sympathy. Like you, I stopped for a while. I got sick, and the drugs really messed with my ability to put pen to paper. I mean, I could write, but it was utter crap.

And then one day I started again. I typically advise writers to avoid fan fiction these days. There’s just too much baggage involved. But I saw something and it really annoyed me. I could write a better scene, a better character… and so I did. I just gave myself permission to do it. I considered it “practice”, nothing serious. Nothing real. But it was good. I really enjoyed it. It reminded me why I started writing in the first place.

THEN… I found Quora. There are so many good questions there! People are asking about things I know. So I started answering questions. Stretching my writing legs, so to speak. Remembering the flow of interacting with an audience, crafting my “writing voice” again. Remembering just how much fun it is to write regularly.

After that starting up a new novel was relatively easy. Bottom line – just get out of your own way. Give yourself permission to do it. Don’t worry if it sucks. In fact, don’t worry about anything. Sit down, zone out, and write.

You can do this. 😉


Q & A: What is the best single piece of advice you could give to an aspiring fiction writer?

Most writers want to write, but at the same time they’re intimidated by the process. Starting a project is so easy! Finishing is nearly impossible. To overcome this, tell everyone you know that you’re writing. Tell your neighbors. Tell your grandparents. Tell your least favorite distant cousin. You know, the one who brings the insufferably perfect Jell-o every Thanksgiving. Most writers start their work with the best of intentions, but then they either get distracted by a shiny or they’re bogged down by details. By telling everyone you’re writing something, especially if you tell them when you’ll be finished by, it gives you incentive to stay focused and to make your writing a priority.

How To Write: Am I too old to do this?

I won my first writing contest when I was 8 years old.  It was a cute little poem about my dog.  I was published at 18, and went on to have a steady string of minor publications for the next 10 years or so.

It has been my life’s goal to make my living as a writer.  I did not factor in an illness that would lay me so low it would literally carve decades out of my ambition without – quite – killing me.

JaneLooking around now, taking stock of what’s left of my ambition, I find myself closer to 50 than not.  This is the age when most are starting to really consider retirement and giving the hairy eyeball to their IRA.  Stephen King’s first novel was published when he was 27.  Interview with the Vampire?  Anne Rice was 35.   Charlotte Bronte?  She was 31 when Jane Eyre was published.

At my age my career should be firmly established, my name should be well known and I should be enjoying a comfortable income.  I should be, but I’m not.  Instead I still dwell in relative obscurity, still dreaming of one day getting published.

Damn.  Who does this when they’re 47?

This is what I woke up thinking today.  And wouldn’t you know it?  I ran across this article the moment I turned on my computer.  I like this a lot.  He’s got a great style, and it’s obvious he’s comfortable in non-fiction.  Anyone who blogs can (hopefully) say the same.  But to make the jump to a published novelist?

Yes.  He can, I can.  So can you.  GO WRITE!

How to Write: Be Kind to Yourself

partyIn the last few weeks I’ve encountered some setbacks.  Drear Mundania (thank you Piers Anthony for that lovely expression!) has raised its ugly head.  I’m looking at a partially demolished condo.  I’m hiring a lawyer to sue my HOA re: partially demolished condo.  There’s construction outside that rattles my teeth.  My brother just celebrated his birthday, as did my father.  My own birthday was 5 days ago, and we tossed Valentine’s day in there.  Not to mention going to the gym, shopping, a few big snow storms….

With all that, how can I find time to really write?  Oh, I’ve tinkered with paragraphs, gotten in some editing, but really writing?  On the novel?  No.  Not really.

 Neil Gaiman says...

I’m sitting here thinking about all this.  It’s tempting to give myself a real tongue lashing.  You jerk!  You missed your Febno goal by 8,000 words, and most of that was non-fiction!  How do you think anyone will take you seriously when you can’t act like a serious writer??

Tempting, but… no.  Now and then, dear friends, I deserve a break.  So do you.  I’m all for self-discipline.  It’s a requirement of writing, and something usually in short supply for the creative mind.  However, I also believe in giving yourself a break.  Not an eternal break – this needs to get done and it WILL get done.  But keep things in perspective.  You’re ok.  Keep writing and when life gets in the way work to remove the obstacle, then focus again.

Remember, there are times to give yourself a swift kick in the pants, just as there are times to be gentle with yourself.  All things in moderation – don’t go exclusively to one extreme or the other.  Believe in yourself.  You’ll get there.

PS – this post is a good example, actually.  It has eaten itself twice for reasons unknown.  I could yell at myself or just re-post.  Nothing lost, keep perspective, I’ll get there.  🙂

And now… a motivational message.

Today is February 16th, which means that those of us who are participating in Febnowrimo have just hit our halfway point.  I volunteered to offer the midway motivational message.  So here it is!

 Neil Gaiman says...

Neil Gaiman says…

My original goal was just like November – 50,000 words.  This averages to 1,667 words per day. THEN reality came to call.  Drear Mundania stomped in, tracked mud all over my carpet and put its grimy feet up on my couch.  I’ve just passed 17,000 words and there’s little hope I’ll make my original goal.  I’m feeling the weight of a lot of unexpected pressures right now.  Maybe I’ll just quit.

give up

Oh, heck no.  Not going to happen.

We can start with cliché.  Anything worth doing is worth doing well.  However, if that isn’t working, fine.  Don’t stand on perfection.  Don’t worry about the world or what they think.  Just WRITE.


Writing grows as you do.  Your idea will take shape around you.  The key to it all is to start, and not to stop until it’s done.




How to write: cutting down exterior distractions

Right now, as I type, there’s a siren going past outside.  My cats are trying to kill each other.  The phone has been ringing all morning (the dentists had to cancel my partner’s appointment – apparently the surgeon quit).  My own surgeon canceled my appointment (again), I’m mulling the benefits of a one-on-one vs. class action lawsuit, and my partner’s alarm clock is going off.


Why yes, I’m a bit stressed. Why do you ask?

Yeah, this is what happens when I try to write during the day.

But it brings up a good point.  Writers write because they must.  It’s not a calling, it’s a necessity.  It’s not like I can stop.  However, there are days when I suffer not so much from writer’s block as from serious brain frag (pause here to comfort the little frightened cat who just jumped into my lap).

It’s time to pull out a few tricks, designed to keep Drear Mundania at bay.  Incidentally, these are honest recommendations – I don’t profit from them.

1. Noise cancelling earphones.  This was a gross indulgence – I admit it.  I got an amazing deal on a professional pair of Koss headphones nearly 20 years ago.  I almost cried when they finally died.  It took a long time to settle on a replacement pair.  Ultimately, I decided to go with the Bose QuietComfort 15.  They’re targeted to the business / commuter crowd, designed to block out airplane noise.  But they also block out sirens, cats, doorbells, telephones, televisions alarm clocks etc. etc.  When you don’t have the luxury of solitude, this is the next best thing.  If you want to listen to music in addition to blocking outside noise, the sound quality is amazing!  Just what you’d expect from Bose.

2. Ambient sound – I know most writers have a soundtrack for their stories, which is a grand idea.  But sometimes I prefer a different type of mood.  That’s where the ambient sound generators come in.  My favorite (by a long chalk) is “Relax Melodies” from Ipnos Soft.  I’m so enthusiastic about this product I really should work for the company!

One of several pages of ambient sound choices from Relax Melodies

One of several pages of ambient sound choices from Relax Melodies

The basic package for a computer (vs. a smart phone) comes with nearly 100 different sounds that you can combine, depending on need.  Feeling cheerful?  Let’s combine bird song, children’s laughter and some water sprinklers.  No, I’m feeling drama coming on.  For that one, how about slow rolling waves combined with the sound of a distant fog horn.  Maybe some seagulls.  Wait, I’m writing historical romance!  Punch in a crackling fireplace and a harpsichord.  Wait, it’s set in the winter.  No problem!  Fire, harpsichord and sleet hitting the window.  Got it!  And so on.  The combinations are nearly endless!

In addition to the sounds, Relax Melodies also includes six “binaural beats”.  These are not intended to be heard, you layer them under the sounds you’ve selected.  When listened to in the headphones, the binaurals promote different brain wave activity ranging from “pre-sleep” and “Deep meditation” to “Concentration”.  I’ve found that the “Relaxation” setting is the most productive for writing, but YMMV of course.  It also can be set to a timer if you want to use the program to sleep to.  Nice touch!


3.  If heavy duty headphones or binaurals aren’t your thing, how about a distraction-free word processor?  Many packages come with a minimalist environment setting to help you focus.  I personally like the “OmmWriter” by Dana.  This software starts with a blank screen, artfully decorated with a scattering of trees in the background.  You have the option of turning on ambient noise such as keyboard clicking, and there are relaxing musical tones such as chimes that can repeat softly if you wish.  It’s inexpensive and the company just upgraded to work well with the latest OS packages.

These ideas won’t keep all your problems at bay, but they can certainly help improve your writing environment!