Tag Archives: writing life

01 Dec

3 Reasons I Failed NaNoWriMo – and Why It’s OK

I am a failure.
I signed up for NaNoWriMo–again. And again–I failed to make 50,000 words.

But I have good reasons.

World Building. I did massive work this month on world building. Since I’m writing a science fiction novel, I needed to invent technology, figure out where to locate installations, design the installations to meet the needs of my sff characters and the needs of the story, create scientifically accurate details throughout, along with the usual backstory.

I used Google Earth to investigate Mt. Rainier and the surrounding area, worked on backstory and characterization, and dug into the details of scenes. Many scenes that are still to be written have been written about; that is, I’ve written notes about who, what, when, where, why and with what emotion. When I do sit down to write the scene, it should go quickly.

November is Hard. I’ve never understood the decision to make November the NaNoWriMo month; it’s one of the busiest months for me. Arkansas has a major reading conference, besides the Thanksgiving holiday. All together there were 7-8 days I simply could not write because I was busy all day with other activities. For me, burning the midnight oil does no good, but at that hour, all I can write is crap. Still, I wrote steadily on the days that I could and made progress.

Writing Style. Fashion swings wildly. Many editors believe that writing should take a long, long time. The fad in the Indie world these days is very rapid writing. In the end–I write as fast as I can and still turn out something that pleases me. I must please myself, not an editor or a contest like NaNoWriMo or anyone else. I can only write as fast as I can write.

My Speed is OK

BlueOKIt’s really OK that I didn’t write 50,000 words this month.

  • I had a great time at the Arkansas Reading Association conference.
  • I had a great time with my family.
  • I wrote about 32,500 words, which is 32,500 words more than I started the month with. More than that, I know my characters better and know that it was a very good month of work.

That’s all I can say.

30 Jun

Do You Fear Starting a New Novel?

Today, I stare failure in the face.
Today, I am scared.
Today, I see possibilities as the possibility of failing.

In other words, I have finished all my self-imposed deadlines on other projects and cleared my plate of other tasks, so that I can start a new novel. And it terrifies me.

It’s an ambitious project, something I expect to turn into a trilogy. I have such hopes for this project: hopes that it will reach new readers; hopes that it will be fun to write and promote; hopes that it will be (I’m afraid to even say it!) a breakout novel for me.

And I am scared.

I’ve done my homework. Volcanoes feature large in this story, so last month while I was in the Pacific Northwest, I visited Mt. St. Helens.

Darcy Pattison at Mt. St. Helens

I recently visited Mt. St. Helens for research on the background for a new novel.

I’ve written samples for this story from different points of view, and even sold a short story based on the back story.

And yet–I am scared to sit down and start this. Yes, I’ve written the book on starting a novel and I’m still scared to start again. As ART AND FEAR puts it, I am scared that my fate is in my own hands–and that my hands are weak.

I SHOULD see the great possibilities of success.
I SHOULD approach this with excitement.
I SHOULD be so ramped up by now that the words would flow, as if bestowed from above, with angelic music swelling and…

No. Writing is work. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done or ever hope to do. But it’s also the most exciting, most fun, and most rewarding work I will ever do.

So, at 8:30 this morning, I’ll turn on my Freedom app, giving myself three hours of uninterrupted time. I will make a start. A messy start. But a start. And that will be enough for today. Just make a start, that’s my goal for today.

17 Dec

A Normal Day of Writing: Find Your Natural Rhythms

What is a normal day like for me?

I get up early and exercise, sometimes taking a two mile walk, and sometimes going to the gym to bike and lift weight. Home again to get ready for the day.

I actually go to an office to work–lucky, I know. In the attic of our blue Victorian house–Mims House, in the Quapaw Historical District of Little Rock–I flip on my computer and get busy. I sort of ease into the day by answering email, checking stats on my blog and other business activities.

Then, I try writing for a couple hours. Lately, I’ve been using a Mac App called Freedom, which turns off access to the Internet for a specified length of time. When I’m disciplined enough to do that, I get in a couple hours of writing. But my stomach always interferes–lunch time.

Mims House

Mims House. I work on the 3rd floor of this Victorian House in the historic Quapaw District of Little Rock.

After lunch, on a good day, I’ll get in another couple hours of work. But usually there are more emails, responding to Re-tweets and such. I also allow some afternoons to go to marketing tasks: creating marketing materials, writing blog posts, or responding to questions or requests for speaking. Or, I may use the afternoon for research on topics related to my current writing project.

In other words, my natural rhythms are to be most alert and productive about mid-morning. I can and will work other times, but I don’t feel as productive. Afternoons, if I try to do too much editing, I get sleepy. That’s when it’s best to keep the mind in motion by researching or other tasks. Editing tasks are essentially boring for me, which is why I’m not great at grammar and I need those of you who are grammar witches.

I leave the office about 4 pm and do whatever errands need to be done–grocery shopping, dry cleaning, miscellaneous shopping, stop by the library, etc. Then home to fix supper. Evenings, I read. And I read almost anything. Currently reading a couple sff novels, a business book on marketing, and looking for a book about the health benefits of juicing.

It’s a rhythm that fits me and my work. What sorts of rhythms fit your work? When do you work best? When do you produce the most writing? When do you edit best? It’s worthwhile to notice and plan around it.

09 Dec

Hope, Optimism, Despair: Writer’s Emotional Roller Coaster


Once we finish a draft of a novel and start thinking about revising, there is hope. In her slim volume, Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writing Life, Bonnie Friedman starts like this:

The happiest I’ve even been was departing before dawn to the bus station in Madrid. The tiny bread shop and the tobacconist were still dark. The wet pavement gleamed when a city bus heaved past. Ahead of me lay unknown towns and countrysides that matched names I knew only from a map, and a new friend who was herself departing just then from across Madrid clutching a plastic bag like mine that was filled, like mine, with an egg-and-potato sandwich and a tangerine. The world was doors opening in all directions. I felt free, and awake, and full of laughter. Writing has often been just like that for me.

That’s hope.
It’s the feeling that we are at the top of our game and building on this solid draft, we can accomplish something unique, special, earth-shattering.

We need that hope at the beginning, or else we wouldn’t start. We know that it will be long and involved and at times discouraging to dig into this story and start messing with it. We know that the results are uncertain. We need that hope.

When Pandora opened the forbidden box, she released all the world’s evils. It sent the world into despair. But then, Pandora opened the box once more and found Hope waiting. Though Hope seemed weak, it was the strongest of the things released that day.

Hope, not optimism.

rollercoasterOptimism is a general outlook on life, or is based on positive thinking. Hope is an emotional response, in our case, the response to a specific task of recasting a story into a stronger form. It is based not on positive thinking: I know I can do this revision well. For me, it’s based on my hope that the writing process will come through for me again.

Hope, not despair.

Despair has enough play in the life of a writer: witness the steady stream of rejection letters that we receive. It’s enough to send me into a writer’s block. But when I face my story, I forget all that. It belongs to the world of submissions and that’s not the world that concerns me when I?m revising. While revising, my loyalty is to the story, the characters, the language–what does this story need to come alive? How can I tell this now familiar story in the strongest way possible? I hope that the process will reveal the best way to tell this story.

Not false hope.

Am I indulging in false hope? No. False hope would be based on laziness, unwillingness to try. I approach revision with an open attitude and try to find ways to work with the story better. I use a variety of writing strategies to find new ways into the story. I may fail, yes. But my hope is based on process, work, past experience of struggling through difficulties in telling a story.
Here is hope: When I look at my story I realize that there’s one more thing for me to try. Hope sends me forward into revision.

Emily Dickinson on Hope

Emily Dickinson’s poem, Hope.

29 Jun

Storing up LIFE to Write About Later

This week, I have been Frederick. The classic children’s book talks about a mouse who watches all the other mice gather seeds and grains for the winter, storing them away for the cold days. Frederick is a gatherer, too, but he gathers the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and feel of summer. When dreary days of winter come, Frederick is ready with poetry to remind the others that good days would come again.

My daughter delivered her second son, my fourth grandchild this week, and I’ve concentrated on just living. On being a Frederick who soaks up life at it grandest and stores it in the depths of my heart to be brought out in a written form when needed.

Here are some of the images of the week:

Mr. GFR weighed in a 7 lbs, 20.5 inches.

Big brother marched into the hospital and literally charmed the entire nursing staff. They were all hanging over the desk to get a look at his fedora and glasses.

Mr. EIR stole the show from his little brother.

And while the household slept, I took early morning walks, just rejoicing in the richness of our lives.

Heron on the Lake on the day that GFR was just two days old.

Sometimes, every once in a while, it’s good to be a Frederick! When is the last time you just lived and enjoyed the fullness of life?

21 Jun

6 Ways out of Writing Slump

Periodically, I have to refocus. What am I doing with my time? Is that what I want to do with my time? What have I accomplished this year? It’s one of those times for me and I need to refocus big time.

It’s easy to be swept up in Social Media: Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube, and even dipping my toes into doing a podcast for the Ultimate Shrunken Manuscript. My head is full of social media how-tos and tips. This fall, I am planning a series, 30 Days to an Author’s Platform. (If you have questions or suggestions, please add them to the comments!)

But I haven’t written much fiction lately.
The reasons are complicated:

  • I am feeling vulnerable, worrying that the publishing world doesn’t like my stories and won’t like this next one, if I write it. (How many of you are with me on THAT one?)
  • The industry is changing in confusing ways. Possibilities abound that even a year ago were unthinkable. Read this interesting post about the emotional stages a writer goes through on the journey of becoming an indie writer or a hybrid writer. (Is that a new term for you? A hybrid author is someone who publishes with traditional publishers and self-publishes other stories. I am already a hybrid author–where do I go from here?)
  • Of course, there are personal and family situations ongoing that always affect our writing. But that’s personal.

But in the end, writers write.
If I am a writer of fiction and nonfiction, then I must write. Forget the fear, forget the market, forget the personal issues. What story must I tell next?

But, what if I wanted to cross genres and write an adult novel instead? What if I wanted to write a mystery, instead of fantasy? What if I wanted to write a picture book that I know no one will buy, but I just want to tell it? No, no, no. Wrong questions.

What is the next story that I need to tell? Tell it. Get the words on paper.

THEN, worry about marketing and the reaction of the world to what I write. Come on, Darcy. Write. And if YOU need a cheerleader, I say this to you, too. Write!

What I’ve Done to Get Back to Writing

My writing office in the attic of a 3-story Victorian house.

But you want something practical? OK, here’s a couple things I’ve done.

  1. Encourage writing by changing the environment. Cleared off my desk. Instead of a crush of papers and notes about social media tasks, there’s nothing there but what I need to write fiction.
  2. Encourage writing by changing the environment. I have also decided not to check email or online accounts in the mornings.
  3. Encourage writing by enlisting friend’s help. I decided to attend a Master Class in July, partly to reconnect with some writing friends and get pumped up with new ideas. I expect that I will be challenged, provoked, angered, delighted and more. I will come back writing stronger than ever.
  4. Encourage writing by setting goals. I plan to have a new series plotted by September 1.
  5. Encourage writing by learning/trying something new. Because I want to write a series, I have bought a couple new books and I am working through the worksheets. Karen S. Weisner’s book, Writing the Fiction Series: The Complete Guide for Novels and Novellas has worksheets that lay out the process of doing a series. Are they perfect? No. Are they useful? Definitely. I don’t have to think as hard about structure and what to do next. It automates the process, so I can focus on the stories. The worksheets are getting me going and will keep me going for a while. And I’ll try her other book, First Draft in 30 Days.
  6. Asking for encouragement. Ok. Encourage away. And encourage ALL your other writing friends this week, too. I am sure they need it, too. Just like you do. We can do it. Let’s write!
06 Mar

Heights and Depths: A Writing Life

In the space of a week, I’ve gone from the heights to the depths.

First, the good news.

Last week, I was thrilled to learn that my book, Wisdom, the Midway Albatross was given a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. This book has defied all the odds–just as Wisdom has done.

“. . .Pattison writes crisply and evocatively, and her closing notes provide a wealth of information and resources for readers interested in Wisdom and her fellow albatrosses.” Publisher’s Weekly 2/18/13

The story is about a 60+ year-old albatross who lives on Midway Island and survived the Japanese tsunami. For over 60 years, she has soared over the North Pacific, only coming to shore to breed. Scientists estimate that she has hatched over 35 chicks, including one each year for the last five years. Last year’s chick was named Wonder and this year’s chick–just a couple weeks old now–was named Mana’olana, Hawaiian for Hope. Yes, a 62-year-old bird just hatched a new chick!

After the 2011 Japanese tsunami, I heard her story of survival and within six weeks, I had contacted scientists, researched her life and times and written her story. I contacted about twenty publishers and none would publish it. I decided to work with my long-time friend, wildlife artist Kitty Harvill to publish it from my own imprint, Mims House. Now, I’ve been in this business long enough to know that it would be a long hard road. But it was an important story, one I couldn’t let go.

It won the Children’s Book category of the 20th annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published award, a $1000 cash prize. So, I submitted it to Publisher’s Weekly for review and it earned a Starred Review! Right now, it is an Amazon bestseller (for the spring season, the ebook version is only $0.99).

The starred review was especially nice, because it was a validation of all the work we had put into the book. Go look for yourself: self-published can be quality.

Next, the Bad News

Publishing has weird math. 9 months + 5 revisions = NO.
The rejection I got yesterday was shocking and painful.

For nine months, I have been working with someone on a project and it has developed in amazing ways. The critiques were spot-on and I revised like crazy. I deleted chapters, added chapters, rearranged chapters, deepened characters, searched for ways to add humor. Then, I did it again: I added a character, took out a subplot, deepened characters and searched yet again for ways to add humor. I expanded the climax scene, set it up better. I created a stronger emotional arc, added a stronger villain. I revised.

I love this story now.
It was rejected.

The world tilted for me yesterday.
Nine months. Three major (huge, gigantic, difficult, rewarding) revisions and a couple more minor ones.

Yet, the moon rose as usual, I slept.
The sun rose as usual, I got up and showered and ate breakfast.
I have already queried someone else and will send it to them today.
I am raw. I feel wounded. A trust betrayed. A grieving because they couldn’t see the story in front of them; they only saw what they would have written, if only they were writers.

Are they right? Are they wrong?
I don’t know.

I only know that this is a heartbreaking week, but last week was an uplifting week. This is just the heights and the depths of our profession; somehow, it feels normal. And regardless of the reaction of others to what I write, my job is to plod along putting one word after another.

So, today, I will write.

02 Jan

I am in Charge of My Own Writing

As 2013 starts, it is traditional to write down writing goals and I am doing that. But I am also pondering the fact that I am in charge of my own writing, and that is a double-edged sword.

As 2012 drew to a close, the Congress was debating fiscal matters, trying to prevent the country from falling off a so-called fiscal cliff. As much as I might care one way or another, it was all out of my hands. I voted for a Congressman and for a President. But beyond that, the decisions were not a part of my daily life.

My writing, however, rests squarely on my own shoulders. Will I write today? (Duh!) What will I write–today? That isn’t President Obama’s business, it’s mine.

In the amazingly relevant book, ART AND FEAR, Bayles and Orland say that we daily face a specific fear: “. . .–the fear that your fate is in your own hands, but that your hands are weak.” (p. 3)

For me, the overriding drive isn’t the fear of failure, it is the fear of never-having-tried. I don’t want to hit 100 years old and look back and regret that I never tried. Tried what? The stories that scare me, that I think I am too weak, too bad a writer to pull off, too inadequate to tell such a moving story.

I don’t know what I will write this year, there are many factors to weigh. But one of those is the need to accept the challenge of telling stories that are important to me–even when I am terrified of trying. That’s my only goal for 2013: to write with more courage and determination than ever before. Because I am in charge of my own writing.

What story have you been too scared of writing? What story did you think you could NEVER write? Let’s do it together this year!

11 Dec

10 Crazy Things People Say to Writers

What crazy things do people say when they learn you are a writer?

  1. Oh, I have a story that you could write. Sit down and I’ll tell you about it.
  2. Oh, are they real books or just books for kids?
  3. Um, that’s nice. Is the spelling hard?
  4. I wrote a poem, and I think it would make a good picture book, but I can’t find a good illustrator.
  5. I don’t like to read.
  6. To the writer of a picture book: The art really makes this story come alive.
  7. I only go to the bookstore for the coffee.
  8. Why don’t you write something like Harry Potter? (Um, yeah. Start at the top of my profession, why don’t I?)
  9. Are you rich?
  10. How much did you have to pay to get the books printed?

Going CRAZY about all the CRAZY things said to writers.

21 Feb

What is a Real Writer?

What is a “real writer”?
Am I one of those who could be called a “real writer”?
I still labor under the burden that real writers are published and published well. And that slippery term, “published well” constantly moves away from me, a goal that is ephemeral, a tiny wisp of a cloud. I never feel like a real writer.

Why is that? I have ten books out, I’ve written over 1000 blog posts for Fiction Notes, have drafts of many novels and picture books that will probably never see the light of day. And yet. . .

Who is the real writer in the house?

I think it’s the rejection, the constant “this doesn’t meet our current needs” comments. And I get it: this really didn’t meet their needs at the moment, or they weren’t passionate enough to champion it. I understand. When you write on spec–as most fiction writers do–you have to hit a sweet spot FOR THAT EDITOR. And why should you be able to do that? You probably don’t know that editor, you’re just “writing for yourself.” Why should you-as-an-audience be the same as the editor-as-an-audience?

I have quirks, things I like to write about, ways I like to write. I just want to meet the editor who has the same quirks as myself. Where are you, Editor-Who-Thinks-Like-Me? Please introduce yourself.

It is this constant second-guessing of my own aesthetics, my ideas about what makes a great story, that is so discouraging.

I often say, “This is a deadly business.” Deadly to our egos, deadly to our hopes.
When I am rejected, it is like someone says to me, “Your writing just doesn’t have enough heart.”

OR, worse, “YOU don’t have a big enough heart, Miss Grinch. Grow that heart and your story will grow enough heart and then I will publish it.”

And if there’s something wrong with my heart, it is hopeless. We don’t know how Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day, there’s no scientific explanation. No cure. No fix.

And I wind up feeling like I am not a “real writer.”

We battle feelings like this daily, don’t we?
On saner days, I know I am a person who puts words on paper/screen daily: for the last 46 days, I’ve written at least 750 words daily. I am a writer. A real writer. By definition–a writer is a person who writes–I am a writer.

Today, I can fight this particular demon and roar to the world, “I am a writer!”
Today, rejoice with me.
And tomorrow, when my heart shrinks back to its three sizes too small–please read my humble posts and give me a kind word. Because this is a hard business and we all need encouragement.

YOU are a real writer. Congratulations!
Go. Encourage another real writer today.

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