Trust Writer Brain

One of the pieces of advice that I’ve heard over the years is “Trust the Process.”

For me, that also means, “Trust writer brain. She knows what she’s doing.”

I still fight with her occasionally when I’m creating and putting a lot of new words down on a page. I don’t know why. She’s always right, and she always wins. (She’s kind of a bitch that way.) However, instead of fighting her for a week or a month, now it’s more like an hour, or sometimes if I’m really being stubborn, half a day.

I can’t write when I’m fighting her, when I’m trying to do something other than what she wants. Can’t create. Can’t do anything. It’s pretty obvious to me, now, when I’m fighting her. Plus, as soon as I admit defeat, the words just flow again.

Currently, I’m going through first reader comments for the latest novel. A couple of really interesting things have come up.

I had two first readers. One of the fascinating things for me is how often they agree on awkward sentences or paragraphs. Possibly as much as 90% of the time, if one marks a paragraph as awkward, the other will have touched on it as well, offering suggested rewrites or just marking it as awkward.

It’s taught me that when this book flows, it flows. It’s really obvious when it doesn’t. Or at least to both of my first readers.

The other thing has been my conscious choice to trust writer brain.

When one or the other of my first readers makes a comment, such as, “This needs more foreshadowing”, I listen to writer brain’s response.

Sometimes she says, “Oh! Right! You need to add more here, and here, and here, and here!”

It was really easy and obvious. That comment spoke to inner writer. It didn’t matter the amount of work that single comment caused. Writer brain was happy to do it.

Or when one of the first readers wanted a scene rewritten to be more visceral. Writer brain happily wrote an extended scene. Boom.

It has worked the other way as well. One of the first readers wanted a different large change. However, writer brain merely shrugged and said, “Meh.”

I’ve gone back to that other comment more than once. Writer brain continues not to be enthusiastic about it.

Though I trust that reader, and I’ve taken almost all of that reader’s comments, I choose to trust writer brain on this one.

Again, it isn’t about the amount of work that comment would cause. I’m happy to do the work. However, writer brain doesn’t feel as though that comment needs to be addressed.

I really like this novel. I think that it will be a much stronger novel once I finish incorporating all the first reader comments.

But it will still be my novel. My choices. My words.

For better or worse, I’ve learned to trust my inner writer.

How about you? Do you trust your process, your inner writer? Or do you fight?

Business for Breakfast V1: Chapter Twelve


The following is the last chapter from Business for Breakfast, Volume 1: The Beginning Professional Writer.

The ebook is available from Amazon, Kobo Books, Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, and the paper version is available from Createspace.

However, if you’re like most writers (broke!) I have now posted all twelve chapters here on my blog.

Next week, I’ll start posting chapter from Business for Breakfast, Volume 2: The Beginning Professional Publisher.

Chapter Twelve


One of the greatest concepts that was ever shared with me by Dean Wesley Smith was the idea of practice.

It’s head–scratching that I wasn’t practicing before Dean said something about it. It made sense to me the moment he started talking about.

I think it’s one of the best tools in a professional writer’s tool box.

This chapter discusses practice, the hows and whys.

What Do You Mean, Practice?

In every art, there’s a certain level of practice involved. You try something new. You experiment with it. You try it again. Then you do it some more.

For example, the first time you sat down with a sketchpad and pencil, did you just start drawing everything that was around you? No. You started with simple shapes and moved onto more complicated figures.

You might draw pages and pages of eyes, trying to get the expression just right, perfect the shape, figure out how to make the eyelid look realistic.

Then you move onto noses, and do the same thing. Over and over again.

Writing is the same way. You keep trying something, over and over, until you get good at it.

That Next Level

One of the things that I love about writing is that there’s always something new to learn. A new technique. A new way of describing something. A new voice to experiment with.

Do I always succeed when I go swinging for the fences? Heck no. I have stories that are completely broken, that will never see the light of day because they’re so unrepairable. Whole novels, in fact.

But that doesn’t stop me from trying.

No matter how good you get, you should always be growing as an artist.

If you stop growing, chances are you’ll also stop selling. Maybe not right away. But your work will no longer be fresh, alive, vibrant. And that will show. You’re phoning it in.

The greatest writers of our time, the most successful, are still practicing. Still experimenting. They aren’t doing the same thing over and over again.

As a reader, you know when a writer has stopped trying.

Don’t be that guy.

Keep reaching for the new heights.


Perhaps I’ve convinced you that you should practice.

The next question, of course, is how.

Every writer is going to be different in how they approach this. I can only tell you my method. You’ll need to adapt it for your own work.

I primarily practice in novels, not short stories. (Though sometimes I go pretty far off the rails with an experimental short story.)

I will pick some aspect of storytelling that I want to practice for a particular novel. I have a reminder board on my door that I write things on. Generally, I’ll write whatever I’m practicing on that board, so I’ll see it every day.

The practice for this book? Small bites.

A lot of the topics in this book are large, sprawling, and interconnected.

I practiced taking small bites. Breaking things up. Not just ideas, but sentences. Sections.

Keep everything bite–sized, so it’ll be easy to swallow, digest, and learn.

For the novels, I’ve had a lot of different practices. For example, for more than one novel I’ve practiced cliffhangers—that is, how to end a scene or chapter with a bang, pushing the reader forward. For other novels, I’ve practiced Voice. I write voicey things. I’ve practice Voice, to make sure that a piece has a clear, distinct, possibly over–the–top voice.

But then I discovered that I sacrificed other things when I focused so much on Voice. So I wrote a novel where the practice was Voice with Setting.

I’ve also practiced being weird, going over the top, making non–sympathetic characters understandable enough that the reader didn’t mind them, and so on.

There are so many things you can practice.

The project I’m working on will suggest the practice. Then I just remind myself, before I start writing, of what my practice is. I let my back brain take care of the rest.

The Joy of Practice

As I’ve mentioned before, I giggle—a lot—when I’m writing fiction.

What I’ve discovered is that I’m generally practicing the thing that makes me giggle. For example, I recently had a novel where my board read, “Dare to be weird.”

I discovered that every time I stopped giggling, it was because I’d gone normal. I’d done the expected thing.

I needed to go back, throw away what I’d written, and go weird. Go big. Go strange.

My practice is intimately tied to my enjoyment of a piece. If I’m doing my practice well, I know the work is good, too.

What to Practice

I read for enjoyment. I don’t just read to do research. I’m right now reading a lot of modern poetry.

I know a lot of writers who don’t read for enjoyment—either the other words coming in messes them up, or they can’t turn off their critical brain, or what have you.

I think it’s important to be able to read for enjoyment. It’s part of that whole, “I want to learn new techniques.”

You might think that’s a contradiction—how can I read for enjoyment while at the same time learning?

This is where Jack comes in.

Remember—writer here. Lots of different people in my head.

I picture Jack as a Jack Russell Terrier. He sits, patiently nosing along, while I read for fun.

His job? Point out the unusual.

I’ll be reading along and suddenly Jack will jump up, trying to get my attention. There will be something different about what I just read, something he hasn’t seen before. For example, in The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis, mostly Jack just went along for the ride until the very last chapter, midway through the climax.

Took me a while to realize that the entire book had been written using a particular sentence structure, but that right there, for those two paragraphs, the sentence structure had changed.

It was masterfully done.

Will I ever practice that? Perhaps. Maybe try it first in a short story.

It’s amazing the things that Jack points out. And he enables me to be able to relax enough to enjoy reading.

So this is one of the ways I figure out what to practice. By reading for enjoyment, and finding new techniques.

Judging Your Practice

When can a writer accurately judge whether a piece is successful or not?

Trick question.

A writer can never tell. Only readers know.

As I said, I’ve experimented and failed. But it was good practice. I didn’t “waste” that time. I learned something.

Remember, the only way to fail is to not try.

Do you let your “failed” experiments and practice out into the public?

If your first reader says you should.

I have a couple of stories that I feel as though I failed with—I didn’t achieve what I was trying for. I was practicing and it’s obvious, to me, that I didn’t make it. I didn’t reach what I wanted to reach.

These are some of the stories that sell the best.

I cannot judge my own work. I have to let my first reader, and readers in general, tell me if I succeeded or not.

So practice. Write and release, if your first reader thinks you can. Repeat.

In Conclusion

Here are the three things you should remember about practicing:

  • All art requires practice. Writing is no different.
  • You can practice anything. Voice. Character. Setting. Weirdness. Small bites. Whatever you want to get better at for that particular work.
  • Let your first reader judge whether you’ve succeeded or not.

This book is available from Amazon, Kobo Books, Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, and the paper version is available from Createspace.

Business for Breakfast V1: Chapter 10


The following is a chapter from Business for Breakfast, Volume 1: The Beginning Professional Writer.

The ebook is available from Amazon, Kobo Books, Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, and the paper version is available from Createspace.

However, if you’re like most writers (broke!) I will also be posting a chapter a week, so you’ll merely have to have patience to read all twelve chapters.

The Physicality Of Writing

Most writing takes place between your ears. You play head games with yourself and your characters.

But writing is also a physical act. If you’re dictating your words, it’s less so. More so, though, if you’re typing.

This chapter addresses some of the physicality of writing.

Separate Computer

As I’ve mentioned in a previous chapter, I build habits. Habits help me write more, better, faster.

One of the things I’ve done to encourage my writing habit is to get a separate writing computer.

Every time I sit down at this computer, the only thing I can do is write.

There is no internet connection on this computer. There are no games. There is a word processor and a spreadsheet program. That’s it.

I got this computer fairly cheaply online, refurbished.

Some people don’t work well with a second computer, or they can’t afford the expense. Instead, they’ve set up a second user on their primary computer.

That user has no access to the internet. No access to games or anything other than their word processor.

This way, when the writer signs in with this writing user, they are creating the habit and setting the expectation that it’s time to write now.

Some have even gone so far as to have a different background as well as a different screen saver for that user, so when they sign in with this user, there are more visual cues that it’s time to write.

No Internet

But I just need to look up this one thing…

Then it’s two or three hours later and there aren’t any words on the page.

Some people use “Write or Die.” Or maybe they have a program that throws kittens at them when they complete so many words.

If I relied on that type of external reward for writing, I’d burn out. As a fulltime professional, my motivation and rewards must come from the inside.

So again—no internet. It disturbs the flow of the creative voice. Trust me on this one.


Those three dreaded letters: RSI. Repetitive Stress Injury.

Basically, it means doing the same action over and over again until you’ve injured yourself.

Friends have likened RSI to feeling as though knives were being thrust into their wrists every time they tried to type.

This really interferes with the writing, you know?

But RSI is not inevitable. There are things you can do to help prevent getting RSI.


You’ve started writing. You’re in the flow. Now I expect you to take breaks?


Again, typing or writing things out by hand is a physical activity. You need to take breaks. No matter if you’re in the flow or not. Start teaching yourself to take breaks every hour.

For those who handwrite, use a timer. Take a break every hour. Get up, stretch, etc.

If you’re on a computer, I recommend for those on PCs and for those on Macs.

I have mine set to give me a thirty second break every twenty minutes, then at every fifty–five minutes to take a five minute break.

The program also gives you stretches.

When I started using these programs, I labeled them my productivity software.

By taking regular breaks, I’m able to work more hours during the day. I’m also able to work harder, because I know that a break is coming.

So take breaks. Your body and your mind will thank you for it.


When you take your five–minute break every hour, one of the things you should do is stretch.

If you do an internet search for “RSI Stretches” you’ll find a lot of advice. Most of what I’ve seen, though, doesn’t cover enough. Merely stretching your wrists and hands isn’t good enough.

Some of the muscles that need stretching are in your armpit. Raise your hand over your head and place it on a wall, then lean into it gently. This will stretch those muscles.

Be sure to also stretch out the muscles across your chest. And your neck and shoulder muscles.


I use a combination of boxes and computer stands in order to achieve an ergonomic desk arrangement with my laptop and keyboard. For me, it’s all about looking up and not looking down while I’m working. My neck and back seem to be more sensitive to incorrect posture than my wrists and shoulders. At least for now.

Do what you can to get your monitor raised so you’re looking up. Your hands and wrists supported. Your keyboard at the proper height.

Again, see if you can get refurbished equipment somewhere so you’ll have the right stuff that works for you and will help prevent injuries.

You’re in this for the long haul. That means keeping your body in shape.


I actually stand most of the time when I write. There are times when I sit. I find I sit when I’m writing close, intimate scenes. But when I’m writing scenes with a lot of action, standing works better.

It took some training for me to be able to stand when I wrote. I know it isn’t for everyone. But I feel so much better when I spend the day standing instead of sitting.

You don’t have to get the top–of–the–line standing desk. You can jerry–rig something. Then maybe after your first best seller, you treat yourself to a proper standing desk.

But try it. You may like it.


I, personally, am not steady enough to walk and write. I’m also not “there” enough when I’m writing. The rest of the world completely disappears and I’m afraid I’d hurt myself if I tried walking and writing.

But I know some writers who swear by their treadmill desk. Claim it makes them more productive. More creative.

There have been lots of studies that show that movement will improve your creativity. So I believe the writers who can do this.

Again, you can always jerry–rig something that works for you.

There are people who dictate their writing while they’re walking. This way, they’re not limited to a treadmill, but can take a hike and still write. I’m not to that stage yet, but I have considered it.

In Conclusion

Here are the three things you need to remember about the physicality of writing:

  • Separate your writing space from your regular workspace. This helps build the habit and expectation that all you’re going to do is write when you go there.
  • Stretch and take breaks.
  • Try to write standing up, or even walking. You may be surprised at the results!

This book is available from Amazon, Kobo Books, Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, and the paper version is available from Createspace.

More about process…

In an ideal world, I’d be able to write and publish an absolutely brilliant novel once a month, every month.

At this point, I can’t. I may never be able to.

But I have been looking at my individual processes, trying to tweak them and so speed up the entire process, and possibly gain more quality as a result.

Continue reading

Refining the New Normal

One of the posts I read years ago that was very influential for me was by Rachel Aaron, an author, and how she went from writing 2000 words a day to 10,000 words a day.

Do I write 10,000 words a day? Oh hell no. Possibly, maybe, I could build up to that kind of production rate. But it would take time and lots of deliberate muscle building exercises.

I quickly discovered that what Rachel said about the three points that she adjusted for writing more quickly have always been true for me. (Remember, this is not writing advice, telling you that you should be writing more quickly, more slowly, differently, with your pants on or off. YMMV. This is just me and my writing process.)

I’ve been, well, refining all three to work better for me and my process.

1. Knowledge. This is still paramount for me. I used to sit down with pen and paper before I started writing, plotting out the scene in front of me. Now, I merely open up a new Word doc. Sometimes I save those efforts. A lot of times I don’t bother, because I’ll only get a few sentences typed and BOOM I need to flip back to the main document to start writing again.

When I find myself stuck, it’s often because I’m looking too far out. I need to just pay attention to the next scene, the next paragraph, the next line. Opening up a document and typing out, “Okay, what happens next?” generally refocuses me down into the road directly before my feet. Fingers. You get the idea.

2. Enthusiasm. I absolutely, 100%, must be excited about what I’m writing. Apathy is the #1 killer for my writing. I must care. I must be excited. I must be giggling. Now, even when the subject matter is more somber, I still must be giggling, either about a turn of phrase, or a delicious twist of plot.

Without this enthusiasm, I don’t write. Period. It isn’t that I’m lazy or bad. I just can’t fake it. And only occasionally, can I build it. I need to feel it.

3. Time. This is the part that I’m still trying to figure out. It’s confusing, in some ways, because I’ve conditioned myself to write first thing in the mornings, as well as later in the afternoons and evenings. I had to use that type of schedule for writing because of the day job.

Now that there’s no day job, I’ve been trying to shift the writing into the time that was once taken up by the day job. I’ve had varying levels of success with that.

For the new novel that I started on Monday (A Sword’s Poem, historic fantasy set in Japan during the early Heian era, around 970 AD) I’m trying this new/old rhythm.

Get up earlish in the morning, walk, then write.

Make breakfast, answer email, read blogs, do house things, run errands, etc. Possibly until 2 PM.

Start writing again, and go until 7-8 PM.

So far, this has been much more successful than trying to just start writing at 10 AM and go until 6 PM with breaks.

Every novel has its own rhythm. I’ve had to change my writing process more than once to adopt to the demands of the newest project. I just hope that this writing time refinement kind of “sticks” as it were.

Giving Up


No, I’m not giving up being a professional writer. Or writing full time. I am having far too much fun, and I haven’t run all the way through my savings yet. (I have two years of income saved…If I’m careful.)

When I started this venture, I created a project plan for how long it would take me to write every novel, as well as how long it would take to go through the make-it-not-broke draft, and to incorporate first reader comments.

In this first marvelous plan, I just specified Novel A, Novel B, etc.

At some point, I came up with the list of novels that I was going to write. One after another. For two and a half years.

And it all looked great…on paper.

Then the plan met reality.

I tried, I really tried, to generate excitement for the novel I was supposed to write.

And if you look at that sentence, you’ll see the issue.

“Supposed to write” is never going to work for me.

I need to say, “get to write.”

I can’t write according to a scheduled list of books that I think I should write. In the order I think I should write them. Instead, I must write the books that I feel passionate about. That I am looking forward to writing.

Giggling is required.

As my sweetie pointed out to me, if I’m not manically giggling about what I’m writing, the writing will turn into a chore. Work. And not fun.

This means I won’t necessarily know what book it is that I’m going to write until I’m just about to start writing it.

So I’ve given up writing War Among the Crocodiles at this point. I will write the novel eventually. I have kind of a plot and characters and so on.

It just isn’t the novel that makes me giggle currently.

Currently, I get to write this story that I thought of over the weekend. That I plotted out and have already started writing (and OMG do I love writing it!) It’s called, The Changeling Troll — a different kind of ugly-duckling story.

And I get to giggle.

Righteous anger

The last couple of weeks I’ve been going through both copy edits as well as first reader comments.

Most of the comments are fabulous. I find myself nodding in agreement, or going, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Or just accepting and moving on.

However, every once in a while, I run across something that just makes my blood boil. It might just be a word change, or a simple piece of punctuation. (Something bigger and I tend to not get angry so much.)

Those who know me, know I’m pretty easy going. I’m not necessarily quick to anger. The reaction I have is out of proportion to the change that’s being requested. I’m aware of this. I still react this way.

Fortunately, one of my mentors finally explained this reaction to me.

If I react with anger, it’s because the change is messing with my Voice.

Things sound a particular way in my head, how a character says something. If a change messes with the way that sounds, I shouldn’t accept that change. However, if something in the draft has confused a first reader, I should redraft it so it’s more clear, using my words, my Voice.

It’s funny, but fonts also sometimes make me react this way. I’ve flowed a book into a POD format, changed the font, and got pissed off. The font was Not Right. It had, somehow changed the Voice of the piece.

I once heard someone describe font as the clothes your words wear. The basic structure is still there, the bones, but the font dresses them up. Or down.

So–pay attention when you get angry at a comment. Possibly you’re being unreasonable. I try always to be a reasonable person. Rational.

But sometimes, that anger is a clue.

Make it not broke

I’m in the middle of my second draft for Poisoned Pearls. It’s been going well. As expected, I’ve added a bunch of words, even in the sections where I wasn’t adding new scenes (of which I’ve already added two.)

I like this novel a whole lot more now that I can step back and look at it. I always try to practice new things with every novel, and with this one, I was working on Voice with Setting. It’s one of the reasons why it turned out to be Urban Fantasy, because the city of Minneapolis is a character. As is the winter weather.

I will finish the “make it not broke draft” this weekend and send it off to my first readers. I’ve spent a lot more time reading this one out loud as part of the make it not broke process, because my ear always catches things my eye misses. Plus, it’s a much better check for me for Voice.

This past weekend, I had a mini-meltdown. (I’m not prone to meltdowns, mini or otherwise.) I took a realistic look at my schedule, and finally forced myself to admit that I can’t keep up the writing pace I have been. I’ve been trying, really hard, but I just can’t. I know other writers can. I don’t have the muscles or know-how or what have you.

So I had to change my entire writing schedule, what I had planned to write, for this year and next year, to take into account the slower pace. As well as change my publishing schedule. I have some holes in it now, that I hope I’ll be able to fill later.

I think I’ll be happier at the slower pace. I’m certainly more sane, and have done things this week like cleaned the house, laundry and dishes–those things that have been piling up.

I still wish I could write more, write faster, write better. And maybe someday, I will be able to. But for now, I’m giving myself a little more time to think and to breathe.


One of the things that I continue to work on for myself is my perception of myself as essentially a lazy being.

On the one hand, I know I’m lazy. I spend an awful lot of time goofing off, reading blogs, playing games, etc.

On the other hand, I’m also aware that I’m not actually that lazy. I get a tremendous number of things done. Other people certainly don’t see me as lazy.

My most recent novel, Poisoned Pearls, that I finished writing today (woo hoo!) is a prime example of this.

Continue reading

The road is ever changing

One of the joys of novel writing–no, really, it’s a joy!–is remembering that, at least for me, every novel is different.

Different characters, different feel, different process.

I’m currently writing a new novel. I’m in that messy middle, where things aren’t coming together and I don’t know where I’m going. (About 40,000 words in.)

I spent much of today throwing out what I’d already written–completely tearing it out–and having to replace those words with new words.

I know what the next scene is. I can see it in my head.

I can’t for the life of me figure out how to get that character into that situation.

Normally, I “write into the dark.” I have no idea where I’m going. I just make up stuff as I go along.

For this novel, though, at this time, I’m going to need more planning.

I’m throwing in the towel for tonight. Tomorrow, when I get up, instead of trying to write more words, I’m going to plot out where I’m going. Because I think that’s what this novel needs, at this point. Just writing into the dark has had me stymied and throwing out a bunch of words.

So yeah. Every novel is different. The process is always different. And that really is a joy.

Once you figure out why you’re stuck.