Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Settling down #amwriting #amrevising

writing in a journal on the lawn
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

A lot of writers have been posting about how the pandemic and the quarantine have disrupted their writing. Despite spending so much time at home, they are having a tough time focusing. Heck, a lot of people have trouble sleeping. COVID dreams, anyone?

Now with the turmoil of the past couple weeks added on top of all that, settling down to write seems to be a losing battle. All of the things going on right now foster anxiety, fear, anger, and frustration. Then there’s the whole being cooped up 24-7 with people you love but honestly need a break from sometimes–erm, on a regular basis. 😀

All these things disrupt the flow of creativity, at least for me. Considering it’s been what, three months since the pandemic kicked off the quarantine, there’s been time to try different things to settle that creative energy enough to use.

My Writing Sisters chat every week, and this week we shared some of the things we’re doing to help us attain the calm we need to write. Maybe you’ve figured out what works for you by now. If not, here are some of the things we are doing:

  • Turn off the news: Um, yeah. That’s what’s disrupting our energy to begin with. Hopefully you don’t live with someone who is a news junkie. Check in occasionally to stay informed (provided, of course, your source is non-biased and well-balanced, and no, I won’t go there), but anything more than an hour or so is probably too much.
  • Get outside: There is something grounding about being in Nature. Sure, we need to be mindful of where we go and physical distancing, but a walk in the woods or a park has a calming effect. Green trees, bird song, whispering leaves, maybe a laughing brook, flowers. Pay attention to it all. It’s like mindful breathing: it gives you something to focus on instead of the mental clutter encouraged by all the news lately. The weather this time of year is great (if you discount temps above 90 F and humidity above 80%). The southern hemisphere is heading into winter, but hopefully your weather isn’t like MN’s winter 🙂
  • Exercise: Walks or runs help work off anxious energy. Yoga and other activities like tai chi are both a physical workout and a meditation. Anything to bleed off that unsettled energy helps.
  • Write longhand: Writing longhand is a great way to pull a writing brain out of the mire. Even if it’s just journaling or stream-of-consciousness writing, it lures creative energy out, giving it a ball or a piece of chalk and a bare sidewalk to play with. Double bonus: Do writing-focused activities, like deep-dive character bios or setting histories in longhand. Try it. It works 🙂
  • Listen to music: Not head-banging, death-metal stuff (unless that’s your thing), but instrumental music. Or music with words, but the key there is to listen and not pay attention to the words. I listen to what we used to call “New Age” (maybe we still do call it New Age) and a lot of instrumental covers of popular music (The Piano Guys or David Garrett, for instance). And there’s always nature tracks, like waterfalls, rain, or bubbling brooks. Thunderstorms and ocean waves are my go-tos.
  • Get creative in other ways: Something that isn’t writing but is still creative helps to exercise that creative energy without weaving it into the structure writing can require. I know writers who are doing more quilting these days. I’ve been doing some crocheting (easy stuff like scarves and afghans). Playing music is another way to work the creative energy and settle your mind. I sat down at the piano again after ten years of not playing. It felt good.
  • Meditate: There are a lot of apps that help you learn to meditate, one of which offers a free subscription to health care and other front line workers (Headspace, I think), and another that offers a free membership for a year because of COVID-19 (Balance. Don’t know if they are still offering the free year). One of my writing sisters discovered a series of meditations for writers here. She ‘s been having a lot of success with them as she works on her WIP.
  • Get out in the garden: You knew this would be on my list, right? This ties back in with getting outside. Of course, there are annoying things like mosquitoes and weeds to contend with. Maybe it’s that physical connection to the earth that helps to ground us, because that’s really what it’s like. Nature can help us a lot if we pay attention.
  • Read: I’ve been reading a little more lately, and listening to audiobooks when I run. Full disclosure: Jim Butcher’s next Dresden book (after a six-year absence) is coming out soon, so I indulged in reading some of Harry’s earlier adventures. My favorite wizard! Reading to escape is different than reading to learn, but that’s the point, to escape. Reading to learn is also important to help us understand different perspectives and move forward in our craft and in our society.

Now that things are opening up, people who have been chomping at the bit because they’ve been cooped up are getting some respite, but I think a lot of writers have been pretty okay with the whole isolation thing. Yet even if you are an introvert, there is something to be said about being with other people, especially if you want to help in the midst of the chaos of the world.

Volunteering (taking proper safety precautions, of course) is a way to be around people and do something good for others and know you’ve been able to make a difference. This in turn helps you feel better and more settled, even if it’s nothing more than helping your elderly or sickly next door neighbor get their groceries for the week, or taking them to a doctor’s appointment.

My first round of revisions is coming along. I have one assignment left for my class, but I noticed a writer’s meditation that may help me with that. It’s on my to-do for today. It seems my other stories are starting to stir more, so once round one is finished for Book 2, I’ll give another story some attention for a bit while I let Book 2 rest.

Hope you all are doing well, staying healthy, and writing!

PS: I didn’t make it to the final round for the RONE award, but THANK YOU to everyone who voted!


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Of Muses, plans, and panda-mics #amwriting #amrevising

First, more shameless self-promotion (because someone has to do it 🙂 )

There’s still time to vote!

And super-duper-with-fireworks-and-dancing-Snoopys THANK YOU shout-out to all who voted! You ROCK!!

dancing Snoopy

“Really, love?” My Muse settles into the visitor’s chair across the desk from me. Wait, when did I get a visitor’s chair? “You spent how long putting those images together?” He leans forward and rests a forearm on the desk. “You should have been working on revisions.”

Sigh. I slump in my chair. “I know. I hate the marketing stuff, because I know nothing about marketing.” All the “market your book” articles and posts sound logical, until it comes time to actually put it into practice.

“You’re a writer. You try to make people believe your stories are real. How is marketing different? You’re trying to make people want to read your stories.”

I stare at him. Today he’s sporting a black long-sleeved concert T-shirt for Crowded House, sleeves shoved halfway up his forearms. Black’s not really his color, but he sure fills out the shirt nicely. “There is a difference. One is storytelling, the other is persuasion. I’ve never been good at persuasive writing.”

“It’s like any other writing. You try to connect with the reader.”

“Sure. Easier said than done.”

“Maybe it’s your attitude, love.” He trains his striking blue gaze on me. “Your goal is to convince people to buy your book and spread the word.”

“You heard about this pandemic thing, right? All my panels have been cancelled. Heck, I’m not even sure my Totally Criminal Cocktail Hour appearance is going to happen. It works so much better when I can actually talk to someone face-to-face.”

He narrows his eyes. “You are good at that, once you get comfortable.” He straightens in his chair. “Well, since you aren’t spending time running off to panels and such, you have that much more time to write.”

“I’m trying.” I’m actually progressing on my homework. I need to submit up to 4,000 words that demonstrate my ability to use friends, foes, and foils. You know, sidekicks, antagonists, and characters that reflect or contrast the MC.

He raises a brow. “You have an empty nest this weekend.”

“Yeah. And I want to turn in my homework by Monday. Then there’s the garden.” After years of trying to downsize, it seems this year will be a bit of regression. Makes sense to have a bigger garden, all things considered. And the weather has been glorious the past few days. I need to enjoy it before the door opens on Summer. Weather guys say we’re getting hit with temps in the mid- to upper-80s next week. Ugh. Too hot for May.

“I’ll be here, love. And remember, just because you are outside doesn’t mean you don’t stop writing.” He taps his temple. “In here.”

Trust me, there are days I can’t shut it down. And days I can’t get it fired up. I’m progressing, though.

How is everyone doing? Remembering what day it is? Staying active? Yeah, me too. Thought I’d toss a little humor into things. Did you catch the “panda-mic” in my post title? Well, here ya go:

Heh. Get it? Actually, the panda is how I’ve been feeling lately as things keep going on.

Anyway, I have homework to do and a Dresden novel to read before the new one comes out. Re-reading Skin Game. If you don’t know Harry Dresden, you’re missing out 😀

Have a great weekend!


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Plants, chats, and more

Tomato seedlings
Tomato seedlings

Week 8 of working from home. I love my family, but I really miss my empty nest. And I really miss work days without the interruption of TV noise (hubs is a soft-core news junkie). Walks in the spring sunshine are a sanity-saving therapeutic!

Except Spring seems to be taking a few days off. Even though it’s the second weekend of May, I do live in MN. We shouldn’t be within spitting distance of freezing for more than a day or two this time of year, but the weather wonks are saying we have a week of frost threats coming up. In any case, I can still plant potatoes and some seeds that aren’t bothered by the chill.

My seedlings seem to like the grow lights. Check out my tomato seedlings above. I transplanted the pepper seedlings as well, and the kale babies look great.

Pepper and kale seedlings
Pepper and kale seedlings

The onions are doing good, too. I’m hoping to put some of the garden in next weekend, depending on weather.

Have you been keeping in touch with friends or family through video chats? Last week I got to “see” a number of author friends, and this past week I video chatted with my writing sisters, some gals from work, and our Sisters in Crime chapter had our monthly meeting on Zoom (an interview with Allen Eskens!). Luckily our internet behaved pretty well, so the video chats weren’t too broken up. We’re supposed to get our new internet service this week–yippee! Crossing my fingers the new service is as good as I envision.

Speaking of Allen Eskens, if you ever have the opportunity, try to catch an interview with him or listen to him speak. He’s local; he lives just outside Mankato, where my kids go to college, so an hour away. He talked about his writing process a bit, and the things he said about how to create an emotional response in readers made something click in my writer’s brain. My online class delves into emotion and conflict, so I have a venue for testing out some of his suggestions.

If you caught my post last week, I mentioned I have an announcement. What I didn’t mention is I need your help 😀

Drumroll, please.

Ta-da!

Murder in Plane SIght is a 2020 RONE Award nominee for mystery
Save the date!

InD’tale Magazine gave Murder in Plane Sight a great review in the July-August 2019 issue. Head over to my website to find an excerpt from the review and a link to the full review.

Readers vote for the finalists in each category/genre. Yes, the annoying thing is you need to create an account in order to vote (but you don’t have to keep it). You might want to; the magazine has some great author interviews, and they review indie books and small-press books in loads of genres every couple months.

HELP! The voting window for my genre opens on Monday, May 11 and closes on May 17. So, I’m asking you to put a reminder on your calendar for this week to pop over there and vote for Murder in Plane Sight.

Please. Pretty please with sugar on top.

Thank you, thank you in advance! I’ll be posting reminders on Twitter and FB as well.

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone! Enjoy your special day, then get back to writing!

Zoey sitting outside


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YAW (Yet Another Week) and more Spring!

Spring flowers - squill
The squill are blooming

As I cross week 7 off the calendar, I’m finding it harder to focus (like that’s different than any other day). Then again, at least this whole work-from-home stuff is happening as the weather is getting nicer rather than as winter sets in. At least I can get outside and enjoy sunshine and new green growth and allergies–um, wait, scratch that last one.

Seems my allergies kick in now when the boxelder trees that make up most of our grove are blooming, if you can call the little dangly things flowers. And for those wondering, yes, boxelder bugs are associated with boxelder trees, but they focus on the female trees (which, oddly enough (ha!) ) are the ones that flower. They are harmless bugs, but creepy (which is why I am not going to include a picture here, but you can see for yourself). They really don’t become a nuisance until late summer, when the seeds are ready to helicopter down from the trees.

Now that we’re past the late snow point for the most part here in MN, I’m thinking about the garden. Hubs tilled the spot once so far. I want him to till it again before I plant. Here it is in all its naked glory:

bare ground of freshly-tilled garden area

The raspberries are popping up everywhere, and I mean, everywhere! That’s the one thing to remember about raspberries: they spread by subterranean runners. They have expanded beyond the original patch and are invading the asparagus. Which, by the way, is doing nicely so far:

Asparagus patch
Asparagus, with misbehaving raspberries

All that green behind the asparagus is raspberries blatantly flaunting the informal boundary between raspberries and asparagus. You can see there are more than a few poking up within the asparagus spears.

In any case, I got to enjoy my most favorite springtime treat this week (even if I had to share with hubs and daughter).

First asparagus harvest of the season
Mmmmm, aparagus!

The harvest has been declining, due, I think, to a combination of competition from the raspberries and the shade of a renegade tree we haven’t cut down yet. We need to do that (should have done it ages ago) because it’s right at the corner of the barn. I hate to cut down any trees, but luckily the boxelders grow like weeds. Or unluckily, because this renegade is a boxelder.

In any case, I need to find a new place to establish an asparagus patch. The question is where, both in a sunny spot and out of the way of summer mowing and renegade trees. You’d think with eight acres I’d be able to find some place to put it.

Anyway, hubs tilled a new patch of ground for the potatoes. Great, except for the fact that the spot was previously conquered by creeping Charlie. Crossing fingers the potatoes can/will outcompete the invading creeper. On the bright side, that leaves me more room in the main garden for stuff like tomatoes and cucumbers.

I’ll post pics of my seedlings before I plant. They are doing pretty well, and seem to like the grow lights. It’ll be a couple weeks before I plant, just because I know (like everyone else in MN) that we can still get frosts in May. Not often, but it happens. I’ll keep you updated, because it seems a lot of people enjoy it. Thanks!

This weekend I plan to clean a bit (ugh!) and focus. I’m about halfway through the first round of revisions, and of course as I go I have those head-slapping “duh” moments that force me to go back to an earlier chapter to adjust so later chapters make more sense. And watch for a special announcement next week!

Until then, enjoy the weather, the spring green, and write!

Zoey rolls around on the dog's rug bed
Zoey rolls around on the dog’s rug bed when the coast is clear!


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Progress … in more ways than one

budding tree branch
Image by MargGe from Pixabay

True to the forecast, Easter reminded us with a couple inches of snow that Winter tends to linger here in Minnesota. All week it felt like November: in the thirties instead of the our typical fifties this time of year. The returning birds didn’t seem to mind too much; they’re just as raucous as usual in spring.

One afternoon amid the cacaphony of the birds staking claims I heard the dog thunder off the deck, so naturally I go to see what on earth she took off after.

soaring bald eagle
Image by 272447 from Pixabay

Three bald eagles, one not old enough for the white head and tail yet, were soaring over the grove and the clearing beyond, suspiciously close to the chicken pen. They looked like they were there to laze about and fly in circles, but I suspect they were eying some easy pickings. The dog was barking and chasing them, as if that would discourage them if they decided to snatch a chicken.

One even flew around one side of the grove, it seemed to test the dog’s determination to chase it (which she did), or as a distraction so the other two could conduct their thievery in peace.

If you ever get to see bald eagles up close (we’re talking maybe 10 feet above the house or less), it’s a treat. Not sure I’d feel the same way if they had a chicken in their talons, but wow, it really is awe-inspiring. They did leave after a few minutes, and yes, we still have all of our chickens.

So ends week 5 of working from home. I contacted our ISP again this week to see if they could do anything about the abysmal speed. I got lucky; this tech support person changed our router settings so we are using a less-congested channel. Yay. Now the internet is at least usable during the day (still nowhere near the 6 Mbps we could be getting). It’s a good thing, too, because the ISP we were thinking of using came out for a site survey. Survey says there are too many trees in the way on the edge of town for a good signal (their transmitter is not on the water tower like we hoped). Sigh.

I turned in my first assignment for my new class. The beauty is I can use excerpts from my WIP for my homework! Speaking of WIP, aka Book 2, I’m starting the first round of revision. One thing I’ve learned about my process is that first–wait, eighth in this case–rough draft helps me put together a plot that works. Then after letting the manuscript sit for a bit, the reread allows me to refine the plot, so when I do start revising, I can adjust as I need to.

I suppose a lot of writers work that way, but I find I have a much better sense of where the story is going now, so I can make sure there is the proper set up early on. And that helps smooth things out later.

So those first seven rough drafts that didn’t work weren’t wasted effort, but they sure felt like it. Two freaking years of effort! Argh. Now it feels like: “Duh, of course this is how the story works. Sheesh. I can’t believe I thought it would work any other way.”

Then I look at those authors who release a book every year (you know who you are), and wonder how on earth they manage a functional plot the first time around. I consider myself more plotter than pantser, but I usually have a story all laid out in my head before I start. Not this time.

Granted, a lot of those authors don’t have a day job (read: retired), but still. Then again, a lot of it, I suspect, is practice. The more you practice, the better you become at putting together a plot that works without wasting–erm, spending time on seven(!) false starts.

The trees are starting to leaf out, our seasonal spring temps are due to return (yippee!!), and my seedlings are looking good. Hope you all are weathering this stay-at-home stuff.

Stay safe, wash your hands, and keep writing!

Zoey the cat sitting on teal recliner