Identifying Writer’s Block – and Resolving It

One of the fun things about where we stayed on St. Thomas was watching the cruise ships glide by in the mornings and evenings. Extraordinary how these small sailing cites come and go.

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Okay: Writer’s Block.

So, those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time might be surprised by today’s topic. I’ll be up front: I have never believed that Writer’s Block is a real thing. In fact, I had to create the label for it just now. I’m a big believer that habit and ritual will get words down. I’ve always thought that Writer’s Block was more about angsting over the process – and maybe a bit of resistance towards just doing the work – than anything real.

And then I hit it.

I didn’t even know what it was.

See, what happened was, last Friday I got my developmental edits on Platinum. They’re not bad – Editor Deb Nemeth is excellent at her job: specific, clear, good insights. I even wrote a post last week about how she pushes me to write difficult scenes. She also asked me to layer in more detail about the setting in Charleston, SC, and my heroine’s daily life owning an art gallery.

Several of my friends joked that I clearly needed to take a tax-deductible research trip to Charleston. I laughed.

Now, I’ve been to Charleston a few times, but not since, um, maybe ten years ago? And I’ve shopped in art galleries there. I have friends who own small businesses that sell to the public, but they’re more coffee shops and bookstores. But hey, I’m the queen of networking, right? So I set to finding someone to talk to.

I hit wall after wall after wall. Nobody answered their phones or responded to the messages I left. The one gallery owner I talked to, from Santa Fe, was very weird to me. The Charleston Chamber of Commerce interactive marketing director advised me on how to look up galleries on their website.

It was all very weird.

I tried to work on the edits and got nowhere. The layering thing bothered me. I kept Googling, placing calls, asking my email loops.

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

So, at lunch on Wednesday, I was whining expressing my frustration to David and he said something was clearly in my way. That I was blocked for some reason. “Normally,” he said, “you just do stuff like it’s no problem. You’re doing something wrong here.”

As soon as he said it, it all made sense. It described precisely how I felt: Blocked. Nothing was flowing as it should. Nothing was going my way on this.

“I think you should just go to Charleston,” he said.

And I laughed, like I’d laughed before. I started to tell him how I didn’t have the time or the money for such an extravagant move. Then it occurred to me that I’d just been told I needed to fly to Providence, RI on June 3, for the day job. That’s at least the correct side of the country. I checked into the plane tickets and I could fly to Charleston on Friday, spend the weekend and be in Providence by Monday morning.

So, that’s what I’m doing.

I’ll tell you what – as soon as I bought that ticket, everything started flowing again. People returned my messages, I started revising happily and easily. Bluebirds perched on my desk and sang sweet songs of joy.

I don’t know why I have to go to Charleston, but it’s clear I do.

I don’t recommend this method for resolving all Writer’s Blocks, but I think the lesson here is to listen to yourself. When you feel blocked at every turn, there’s a message in that. Sometimes the answer is to do that thing you think can’t be done.

It might open all the doors.

Doggedness, Stick-to-it-iveness and Perseverance

This is a crop from the same series as yesterday’s pic. I was trying to capture the glow of this color. As you can see, I got nice glow, and the background gravel is in perfect focus. Not so much the flowers. Always some new skill to work on.

Which keeps life interesting.

I’ve been buckling down since the Caribbean vacay, to take off the vacation-indulgence weight. Oh, and the Thanksgiving/Christmas indulgence weight. Yes, yes. I know it’s over halfway through May already. (Though, while we’re on the topic, how the HELL did THAT happen??) I got back on normal eating and exercising after the holidays, but never quite amped myself up to take it up that extra notch to really lose body fat.

So, I’ve added weightlifting back into the exercise routine and, this week, I took the added and dramatic step of not drinking wine.


Yes, you heard me right. No alcohol Monday through Thursday nights is the new rule. If you know anything about me, you understand how much this breaks my heart. But counting calories was just not quite doing it. I figured, if I cut out the wine four nights a week, that would be enough to change things.

It’s changed things all right.

My weight is going UP. I’ve gained almost THREE pounds since last Sunday!

I know, I know – it’s the whole gaining muscle and muscle is denser than fat thing. I am down just over two pounds of body fat. I try to focus on that part and not the climbing overall poundage. Intellectually I know the program is working the way it should, but the irrational part of me, the part who misses her goddam glass(es) of wine in the evening, is having a screaming tantrum.

I suppose that’s part of any progress in life – managing the sulky, indulgent part of ourselves and sticking to the plans we make. When we get rejections or difficult revision letters or sales below what we hoped, that’s the voice that whines that we’re not having FUN anymore.

There’s a story passed around among my mom’s friends from many years ago. They all decided to go on a bike ride. Believe me, this was not an athletic, outdoorsy group. But they got a wild hair and all saddled up their bikes. One gal even got one of those little bike-trailer dealies and put her three-year-old daughter, Betsy, in it. They rode up to Cherry Creek reservoir and back. This effort nearly killed them, particularly Betsy’s mom, what with pulling the bike trailer. So they collapse and hit the cocktails upon their return – much more in character for the group. (See? I come by it honestly.) Betsy, however, did not like this phase of the day. Scowling at the group, she declared “I *was* having fun, but I’m not having fun anymore!”

This became a mantra applicable to ever so many situations.

So, I try to find ways to soothe my Betsy. To promise her that fun will be had again. She doesn’t really care so much about my goals of fitness or writerly fame and fortune. She’s all about the right now. I try to remember that and make some time for the playing and fun, after the work is done.

There’s a place for that, too.

When Do You Work for Free?

This pic doesn’t quite accomplish what I’d hoped, but it’s in the neighborhood. Still kind of cool.

I had this friend in college who was a talented artist and cartoonist. He was celebrated, even, on our campus for the strip he did for our college newspaper. Now, I’ve long had a thing about collecting talented people. I just love people who are passionate about their work. Beginning with my first real high school boyfriend – who had an amazing tenor voice – I developed this, um, method of kinda sorta stalking these people and coaxing them into being my friends. I did it with this cartoonist, too. We became very close friends.

At one point, he visited me at my parent’s home in Denver. My mom was volunteering for the Cancer Society then and was on the committee to put on their first big fundraising ball. She was in charge of invitations and asked my friend if he’d be willing to draw a little something for the invitation.

He said no. That he was a professional artist and therefore did not work for free.

Yes. I was furious with him.

And, in many ways, it changed our friendship forever.

Now, I’m a huge proponent of the concept that a professional does not work for free. We all know how prevalent this is in the writing community. There are tons of opportunities to write for free, or for copies, or “for the exposure.” I hate, really, how many new authors get suckered into writing for virtually nothing because they’re so very anxious for the validation. Not that I don’t totally understand – I do – but it’s rarely true validation if no one is coughing up money.

Mostly, I’ve had a rule that I only work for paying markets. Exceptions to this are high-profile opportunities, like prestigious literary magazines (that aren’t for-profit businesses anyway) and out of the goodness of my heart.

This is a real thing. Some people call it charity. Some call it “having a volunteer ethic.”

I come from a family that believes strongly in the volunteer ethic – hence my mom volunteering for the Cancer Society. I have some other friends that have it, too, regardless of religious background. It’s the idea that you owe it to the world to give something of your gifts back to it. To give generously of your talents, without the need for remuneration or attention, just for the joy of it.

I think that’s why that moment changed my friendship. Of course, I would have understood if he was too busy or didn’t support the mission of the charity. There are gracious ways to communicate that. But to refuse to give such a small gift of himself, well…. I never saw him the same way again.

So, yes – operate like a professional. Demand the proper remuneration for your work. Know what you’re worth.

And when you give it away – do it with an open heart.

Social Media – and Knowing What *Not* to Say

Full moon in the Caribbean. Yeah – it was pretty fabulous.

So, this week I am the “voice” of Carina Press on Twitter.(@carinapress)

I know, I know – what the hell was Angela James thinking?? You just don’t put power like that into the hands of an irreverent smart-ass like me. Of course, I have managed not to discuss the plight of iguanas so far…

At any rate, she’s been trying an experiment of having different authors take over the Twitter feed for a week at a time. Apparently Sweden does this – gives the feed to a different citizen each week. It sounds like this has been going well for the Carina feed, so it will continue from here on out.

When Angela first contacted me about doing this, I was all pleased and flattered. And excited, too. After all, I love the Twitter. “Being” Carina Press for a week sounded like crazy fun. I watched the three gals who went before me and paid attention to what I thought worked and what I’d do when it was my turn. Then, yesterday, it was MY chance!

And I got all quiet.

Somehow, representing someone ELSE, someone CORPORATE, brought the responsibility slamming home. No longer could I romp carefree through Twitter – though I like to think I’m reasonably careful about what I say. At one point I meant to say something as me, and inadvertently Tweeted it as Carina. Fortunately it wasn’t bad. But I’ve seen people retract tweets before, saying they sent it from the wrong account and I’d thought, jeez, how hard is it, people? Harder than I thought, turns out! I swear I had the account tagged and then the application sent it as the other. Eep

So, at one point, I did send a much more off-color remark to author Shannon Stacey (@shannonstacey), who had the feed last week. I *very* carefully sent it as me. She replied, asking me how many times I checked which account I was sending from before I hit the button.

My answer? Seven.

I tell you what, this responsibility thing is a terrible burden!

It’s one thing to be responsible to myself and another to represent a whole group of people I respect and admire. But I also know – and have reviewed the guidelines! – that Angela wants our personalities to be part of this. To infuse the Carina feed with who we are. After all, Twitter is better suited to people, with their quirks and errors, than to carefully robotic corporate messages.

And if I say the wrong thing, or from the wrong account, eh – it’ll only be saved by the Library of Congress, in perpetuity.

No pressure.

Why We Dodge Writing Those Difficult Scenes

I might have posted this pic before, but I recently put my screensaver on slide show and I saw this one from a couple of years ago go by. Kind of fun to see your own photograph and think it’s cool. It’s appropriate, too, because we had a rainy weekend. Very unusual for us, especially given the severe drought in the desert Southwest, but we’ve been socked in since Friday, with rain coming and going. The woman at the gym (not the Crazy Gym Lady – she is thankfully long gone) said it’s to be sunny tomorrow and how she’s looking forward to it. About three people jumped on her saying “We need the rain!”

Like we don’t have an average of 325 days of sunshine a year. She can’t give up a few to have some much-needed rain?

~Deep Cleansing Breaths~

I might have been a little sulky this weekend, because I received my developmental edits for Platinum. I know – that was fast! And they really aren’t bad at all, except Editor Deb asked me to write two scenes that I “dodged.”

She did this to me on Rogue’s Pawn, too – pushing me to write this one scene I just SO didn’t want to write. She said

On Platinum, though, I really thought I’d made a considered decision not to write those scenes. I’d kind of had them in my head all along, but when I got to that point in the story, they just didn’t seem to FIT. I mentioned this to her in an email and she replied:

Any time you try to dodge writing something, you should ask yourself why, and try to push through it and make yourself write it anyway. Writing through tougher scenes may often reveal something about your characters, helping you dig further to uncover some truth about them or the story. Whereas avoiding them will often leave readers feeling a bit cheated. They might not be able to put their finger on exactly why or what, but they may sense that a good story could have been great.

I know this. Right?

And this is part of why I really value having an editor like her, because she does push me to write a great book. Left to my own devices, I’d likely allow myself the dodge.

Because it didn’t feel like dodging at the time. I suspect all avoidance techniques are like this. We kid ourselves that we’re not really procrastinating, we’re Doing Research! Oh, I’m not being lazy about getting my wordcount in today, I’m giving myself a break! I’m not avoiding that friend who was a cow to me, I’m just really busy.

It takes a good, hard look in the mirror to parse some of these out. With emotional stuff, that’s why it’s often good to see a counselor, an objective third party who can point out your behavioral dodges. Sometimes your friends can do it, like your critique partners can. But often it takes a professional to hold your hand to the flame and tell you to do better.

Whether it’s easy or not.

Frogs, Iguanas and How I Got into a Fight on My Vacation

One of the things I love most about St. Thomas is all the iguanas and tree frogs. I don’t know if it’s because St. Thomas is a bigger island among all the Antilles or if it’s because of conservation efforts, but I see more iguanas there than any island. And the tree frogs – the night is filled with their song, a high-pitched unearthly cheeping that’s just extraordinary.

I never get to see the frogs themselves, but the iguanas hang out. There are signs everywhere saying that they’re protected, that they like red and thus might be attracted to your crimson pedicure. It’s such a kick to see them trotting by, grazing in the lawns, sunning themselves by the pool. It’s part of being in a totally different landscape.

The young ones are bright green.

Then they get more dramatically spiny – and huge – as they get older.

Sorry that’s not a better pic – they can hustle when they feel like it.

So, Thursday of the trip we declared hang by the pool/beach day. We went over to the fancy hotel side and managed to score a great spot, primarily because it was a little rainy when the day started out. (In this pic you can also see my fabulous new anklet I got in St. John, for those interested in such frivolous things.)

We hung out all day and the afternoon cleared beautifully. Which meant the pool area became more and more crowded. But, with our backs to it, the party crowd were just kind of background noise. One of the huge iguanas was prowling around, doing her thing.

At some point, a group of twenty-somethings arrived. They were from New York City and were in St. Thomas for a wedding. They’d tuned up considerably on the flight and were continuing the party at the pool. I knew this from their loud conversation. But it was all good – that’s what the Caribbean festivities are all about. I could have relocated to a quiet beach if I wanted to.

So, the iguana goes by their chairs – and I knew this because the girls starting squealing like it’s a cockroach. One of the guys starts talking about how, if you pull off their tails, they’ll grow back. I’m trying to ignore this. At this point, I’m sitting sideways on my lounge chair, on my cell phone, waiting for the concierge to find a phone number for me so I can make a dinner reservation. Now I can see this group from my right side. Tail-pulling guy is standing up, drink in hand, and starts running up to the iguana with big stamping steps, yelling at it.

I can’t take it.

I know. I know. I try.

But I said something.

“They’re protected, you know – don’t FUCK WITH IT!”

I escalated in volume towards the end because I could tell he wasn’t hearing me.

But, boy howdy, he heard me by the end.

He starts yelling at me. “I’m just trying to protect my stuff!”

“It’s not doing anything to you. Go sit down and relax,” I say.

“You relax!”

“I’m not the one acting twelve, stomping and shouting at the wildlife.”

That last is David’s favorite part. Bless him, he loves me, even when I’m publicly obnoxious. I kind of felt bad for making a public scene with Stepdad Dave there, but alas. It was done.

The guy said more, but fortuitously, the concierge comes on the line at this point and we have the reservation conversation. By the time I’m done, Drunk Boy has retreated to the other side of their chairs and is loudly talking about just how protected iguanas should be and how many were on the island – in the WHOLE WORLD – anyway. And how, if you pull their tails off, they’ll grow back. I can’t tell you how many times he repeated that gem.

But he stayed away from me.

We packed up shortly afterwards to go snorkel. On my way out, I stop to talk to the Pool Lady, who’s folding towels and keeping a keen eye on things. She’s a very tall, robust black island woman. I tell her about the group and that she might watch that they leave the iguana alone. She asks me to point them out. I tell her I yelled at them, but I think she could be meaner than I am. She gets this gleam in her eye and says oh, yes.

It turns out, after we left, more happened. My mom and Stepdad Dave stayed longer. They didn’t know I’d tattled to the Pool Lady. To their surprise, right after we leave, Pool Lady confronts the group with Big Security Guy next to her. Apparently the boys took off immediately, leaving the girls to take the brunt, with tears and protestations that they didn’t mean to do anything wrong.

I just love it when people are meaner than I am.

Hopefully, they enjoyed their mini-break and the wedding. And maybe took to the time to appreciate that they’d entered another world, full of tropical beauty and animals that should be left alone to do their thing, just for the joy of it.

Hurricane Kathy

So, have I ever mentioned how my mom is Hurricane Kathy?

(Right now, she’s reading this post and making a mean face. Stop that – it’ll freeze that way.)

I know I’ve mentioned the Jeffe Sunshine Magic (TM) at least once before. David is terribly amused by it. Wherever we go, people will comment that the the weather was bad before we arrived, then miraculously cleared. It’s quite reliable. The only person who seems to be able to neutralize the JSM is my mother.

Before we went to St. Thomas, she asked me about the forecast for rain everyday. I told her it’s always like that. The rain showers come and go, brief and warm, not a big deal at all.

Yes, I had forgotten about her powers.

Remember a few years back when they had the torrential rains in Kuaui? So bad that part of the highway washed out and some homes were swept into the ocean? My mother was on the island.

The first few days were lovely. We spent a lot of Monday doing things like filling Stepdad Dave’s prescriptions, buying groceries and booze, replacing the watch he dramatically smashed during his fall. (The face crystal was shattered into tiny pieces and the metal band torn apart – grim indicator of just how hard he hit.) We put in some beach time that afternoon and crashed fairly early – still recovering from our emotional hangover.

On Tuesday, we experimented with taking Stepdad Dave out and about. We went to a fun beach place, Iggie’s, for lunch, and did some touring about. Wednesday, he had a doc appointment. Afterwards, we took the ferry to St. John. And boy, did it pour. On both islands.

After this point, you may notice that most of the pics have dramatic clouds in the background. A shopkeeper in St. John told me it was the most rain they’d had all winter and they were grateful.

We should totally rent her out as a rainmaker.

But it was still beautiful.


First Day Disaster

Snapped this pic with my phone on the way to St. Thomas. Sunsets from above can be great, too.

We landed after dark and stayed at a semi-skeezy hotel near the airport, because we couldn’t check into the timeshare until the next afternoon. In the morning, we ate breakfast at a restaurant on the beach, which was lovely and warm. Then we loaded up the car and headed to the timeshare hotel. Stepdad Dave asked for early check-in, but that still wouldn’t be until about 1 or 2. But the hotel stored our bags and we got to walk around and see the premises.

After this pic, my mom took my phone and tried to take one with me in it. Somehow she hit the button to make it into a video. I think it’s so funny to watch – turn on your speakers, too. Sorry it’s so huge. If anyone knows how I can reduce the size (decrease resolution maybe?) with Windows Live Movie Maker, let me know!


So, then we traipse off to find a restaurant David and I ate at when we were on St. Thomas years ago. It was part of this hotel of individual condos, with these great walking trails that switch back and forth down the hillside to the beach. The steps are natural rock and my mom tells Stepdad Dave to watch his footing. He complains that my mother thinks he’s clumsy, but that was one trip to Mexico and it was because his glasses were bad.

We find the place. Have a fun lunch with beers. (I’ve been asked to add that Stepdad Dave wants it known that HE did not have anything to drink – only Diet Coke.)

All is well.

See the happy fun?


So, Stepdad Dave gets a call from the hotel that our rooms are ready. He’s all excited to go check in. We head up the first hill and we’re all kind of dragging rear. I jokingly say that the climb back up is the price we pay for all the beers. We cross the little asphalt road and Stepdad Dave is huffing a bit. He tells us to go ahead. My mom is perkily climbing away. David, behind me, asks Stepdad Dave if he needs to rest. Or, I say, over my shoulder, we can bring the car down to pick him up.

We hear a funny noise.

I look back and Stepdad Dave has fallen off the path, rolled down the hill and is clinging to a root at the edge of the drop-off. David is already running down the path to get to him from below. I’m wondering how the hell we’ll do this, that maybe David can push from below and I can get to him from above.

Then the root breaks and he drops over the side. Of this.

That’s looking up from below.

My mom didn’t see any of this, but she’s coming back down. I yell at her to go slow (very helpful of me, I know) and I’m running down, thinking he could be dead, with his skull cracked open. I’m wondering mainly how I’ll explain to stepsister Hope that I got her dad killed on St. Thomas.

Fortunately, he didn’t die. He came down that embankment, rolled over the retaining wall and landed on the road. The ambulance came to get him. We spent most of the rest of the day at the hospital. The doctor on duty was fortuitously a guy who’d trained in the Los Angeles Trauma Center. After multiple x-rays, it turns out that Stepdad Dave broke his shoulder blade. An amazingly minor injury, all things considered.

No surgery. No vacation cut short. Just an immobilization sling and pain meds.

Here he is a few days later, looking jaunty with the carved walking stick we found for him. We’re hoping he’ll get in the habit of using it, just to stabilize himself. He didn’t get to snorkel, alas, but we had a great time anyway.