On Writing

Identity Crisis

Ever since I was a teenager, I dreamed of being a writer.  Published.  Books in the store, on the library shelf.

Four years ago, my dreams came true, and I not only fell in love and got married, but I moved to a foreign country and didn’t have to work.  I could finally write full time.

Now, as we get ready to return to the US, I have almost nothing to show for it.

That weighs heavy on me.  Not simply because I had my dream and did nothing with it, but because I had the dream that so many other people have and did nothing with it.  I not only feel disappointed in myself, I feel ashamed.  I feel like I wasted this dream, a dream that others would have killed to have realized.

I wish I could say new dreams have replaced old ones, but that’s not the case.  In fact, I feel almost as if I have no dreams anymore.

I’ve been suffering a bit of an identity crisis lately.  I often feel like I don’t know who I am anymore, and I have these random moments where I stop and think, “Who am I?”  A lot of it has to do with being a mom now.  I was stuffing Baby J into his outerware the other day and really had this “This is me?!” moment.  It’s made more difficult because I don’t really feel like I’ve been “ME” in quite a while, so when I have these “Who am I?” moments, and I think back to who I was before, it’s a very distant memory.

I’m struggling to find myself again, and I hope that in doing so, I’ll find that spark of creativity I used to have, and the drive to do something with it.

More soon…



Categories: On Writing, Random | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Where I’m at

I’ve been quite out of sorts lately with my life.  I’ve been what I can only describe as numb when it comes to getting my thoughts out, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, writing or blogging, on the computer or on paper.  I’ve been questioning what has been my ultimate dream forever.  Do I still want to write?

I still have stories in my head, but I can’t seem to get them out.  A lack of ability or drive, or something else, I don’t know.

Is it because I don’t talk much most days, have I become locked in my head?

Is it because I don’t use the language as much, living in a foreign country?

Is it because I no longer want to escape my life into an imaginary world?

Is it because I no longer daydream?

Or is it because it’s not meant to be?

Is this a midlife crisis?



Categories: On Writing, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Laying it on the line

I don’t remember what made me want to write.  I think it was just that I loved to read when I was younger.  I would devour books, sneaking my mom’s bodice-ripper-romance novels at 12 years old, reading one or more a week.

I remember when I wanted to become a writer.  I remember writing poems and submitting them to Teen Magazine.  I remember starting to write my first manuscript when I was around 13, poking my head out of my room long enough to ask my parents, “Is it okay to say ‘that’ twice in a row? As in, ‘He thought that that mistake had been corrected.'”

I took a couple of creative writing classes in high school.  I changed schools a couple of times, so I was able to take creative writing as an elective twice.  I remember one of my teachers, but not the other one.  The one I remember had long hair pulled into a ponytail, and one day he passed out the poem “Richard Cory” by EA Robinson.  I was the first one to finish reading it, and I gasped out loud.  He smiled.  To this day, I can still quote that poem.

I would dream of seeing my book in a bookstore, but more than that, in a library.  Any time I go to the library and walk through the fiction books, I run my finger along the spines, looking for something to read, and imagine that one day, my book will be there.  I feel the pride, the excitement, of having “made it” as a writer.

I have a huge binder filled with snippets of writing.  Scenes, ideas, random dialogue or exposition.  I’ve started seven, eight, nine manuscripts, have even gotten more than 50,000 words on three or four of those.  But I’ve never finished one.

It used to be, I didn’t have the time.  I worked, and I always said my dream was to not have to work.  Then, I was sure, I would be able to finish writing a book.

It’s been three years.  I had two and a half years of staying at home, not having to work, no baby, all the time in the world.  I still haven’t finished a book.

I’ve barely written in the last year.

I realize that the only thing holding me back is excuses, I certainly don’t need anyone pointing that out to me.  The baby keeps me busy, there’s always housework to do, and I refuse to give up any sleep at this point.  When given a choice between reading my blog feed or writing, I read my blog feed.  When given a choice between working out or writing, I choose working out.  When given a choice between spending time with my husband or writing, I choose spending time with my husband.

With the exception of reading my blog feed, all of my choices are not bad choices.  It’s good for me to work out, to spend time with my husband, to play with my baby, to cook dinner and keep the house somewhat clean, to ensure there are clean clothes and dishes and sheets on the bed. If I didn’t do those things I would not be a very good mother, wife, person.  “Sorry, honey, I know we haven’t seen each other all day, but I’m going to lock myself in the office for the next three hours.  See you this weekend!”

Excuses, I know.  Other people find time for it all.  I don’t know how, but they do it.  I keep trying.

I want to write.  I want to finish a book.  I want to query agents.  I want to get published.  Not only is this a lifelong dream, but it would mean I could continue to stay home with Baby J (soon to be Toddler J) after we move back home.  I need to write.

So it’s time to rethink some things.  Rearrange my days.  Make hard choices.

But there’s another facet to the problem.  When I do sit down to write, even to blog, my brain just…stalls out.  I have a ton of blog drafts, posts I’ve started by writing down a random thought with the intention of expanding on it later when I have time, but when I sit down to do it, I just…blank.  And with only a few minutes to be creative before the baby wakes up from his nap, I end up in a cycle of random thought followed by inability to elaborate on it followed by inability to attempt to elaborate on it.

See there, another excuse.

All this inability to write and knowing all along that I could have done it, if it weren’t for laziness or excuses, does not make me feel good.  It makes me feel…well, lazy.  It makes me feel like I’m failing, not just failing as a writer but failing as a person.  I’m letting myself down, and I feel like I’m also letting my husband down.  And then people I know ask me how the writing is going and I just…I just want to cry.  Because it’s not going.  I suck.  I’m not a writer.  Writers write.  And that feeling of failure just makes writing more difficult.

I’m working on all of this.  I’m working on finding making time in my day to write.  I will finish a book this year.

You’ll notice that comments for this post are closed.  I don’t want platitudes or well-intentioned advice or ill-intentioned snideness.  I just needed to put this out there.


Categories: On Writing, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: ,

Plodding through Plotting

I’ve officially spent too much time plotting/outlining Memory Thieves.  How do I know this?  My dream last night was plotting out my dreams, moving scenes around.  Seriously.

I used to be a pantser.  I’ve always thought of myself as a pantser.  I always want to be a plotter.  But there’s just so much of the story that is discovered along the way, a thorough, complete outline is beyond me.  But there is some middle ground.  For me, that’s plotting out as much as I can, writing some, then plotting out some more.  Lucky for me, most of my plotting occurs in the first half (first quarter!) of the book.  Want proof?

Below is a screen shot of my current plotting method.  (This is the first time I’m using Scapple for mind-mapping, and I’m trying to figure out how to best use it for plotting.  This method is not perfect, it will probably change.  But for now, this is it.)

Note that there are eight column-like areas.  Columns 1, 3, 5, and 7 just say “Scene XX.”  1-25, 26-50, so on.  Columns 2, 4, 6, and 8 are actual scene ideas that I’ve placed roughly where I think they should go.  Do you see anything…interesting?

Plotting attempt using Scapple to outline

Plotting attempt using Scapple to outline – “Column 6” is completely empty, “Column 8” isn’t much better


As you can see, and as is normal for me, I have the first quarter of the book nearly fully fleshed out.  The second quarter is close, too.  The second half of the book?  No idea.  I have a general idea of where the plot is headed, but I don’t have scene ideas in my head to get me there.  And that’s where I tend to stall out when it comes to writing.

I’ve mentioned it before, but the other books I’ve (partially) written follow this same structure.  My beginnings are solid.  I have characters, and settings, and details, and backstory, and I feel really great about the beginnings of my works in progress.  But then, the idea just sort of…peters out.  I get to a spot and all I’ve got is, “And then this happened and then that happened and then they lived happily ever after.”  Unfortunately, 40,000 words does not make a novel.

Obviously, it’s a conflict issue.  The whole middle of the book is about conflict, about what the Protagonist wants and what is preventing her from getting it and how she keeps trying.  Heck, I could start throwing in scenes where aliens land on her house and take her hostage and she escapes but then she’s hit by a car and now she’s in a coma and can’t talk and then she wakes up but somehow she can’t talk and there are no pens around so she can’t communicate through writing and then someone finds a pen but it’s out of ink and then someone finds a pencil but the lead breaks and there’s not a pencil sharpener and then….  Well, you get the picture.  That’s conflict, eight whole scenes of it, a series of events preventing the main character from doing what she wants to do.  The problem is, none of these issues work with the books I’m writing – if they did, I’d be set!  I understand the concept, I understand how to do it…I just can’t apply it, evidently.

I did play around with the plotting a little bit, and it’s now better than the screen clip above.  I have some stuff in the 6th column now, although I’m still lacking anything in the 8th.  Except, you know, resolution scenes.  But I’ll keep plodding along…



Categories: On Writing, The Writing Process | Tags: | 1 Comment

Writers write. Every day.

250 words a day

You’ll hear this over and over again as you struggle to find time, inspiration, motivation, and energy to write.  Writing is a practice, just like piano, or golf, or yoga.  The more you do it, the better you get, and, with writing in particular, I think the goal for most people is to write every day.  Most people don’t have the time.  I don’t have that excuse.

So what is my excuse, on the days I don’t write?  Inspiration, most of the time, or lack thereof.  I’ve mentioned several times (most recently in yesterday’s Sum Sunday) that I have various works in progress that need to be finished and edited, yet I can’t seem to figure out how.  Maybe it’s truly a “writer’s block” type issue.  Maybe I’m just too lazy to sit down and figure it out.  Maybe I’m just not meant to really be a writer.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that most of the time, those days that I don’t write, it’s because I’m so stymied by the creative process, so unutterably unable to come up with a complete sentence, that it’s easier (and more fun) to clean the toilet and mop the floor.  Yes – I said those things were more fun than writing.

Sure, motivation has also been an issue for me.  To combat that, I tried using The Magic Spreadsheet.  I had heard about it on one of the podcasts I listen to, “I Should Be Writing.”  It’s a tool that tracks your writing progress (based on how many words you wrote in a day) and awards an increasing number of points based on how many days in a row you’ve written.  There are people who love the spreadsheet, it’s helped them write more often, even helped them finish books.  I’m not sure, though, if it’s for me.

Let me be clear:  I think that if you have an idea and you want to sit down and pound out 100,000 words and have a finished product, The Magic Spreadsheet is a great tool.  Seeing your word count go up every day, seeing the points you gain, simply by writing a measly 250 words a day – that’s very motivational.

Where I feel the Spreadsheet fails, at least for me, is in the brainstorming and editing process.  Sure, if I’m writing a story out, I can bang out 250 words (or more) a day.  But what about the days when you’re doing research?  Brainstorming?  World-building?  Going through things in your head and trying to determine how to proceed?  And what about after it’s written, when you’re removing more words than you’re putting in, when you change 50 words in one scene, 20 words in another, and 5 in another?  Tracking words become cumbersome.  Editing, at least for me, is not something I can sit down and do a half an hour of.  It’s full immersion, it’s notes and highlighters and hair pulling and cursing and “Shit it’s been five hours and I’m still nowhere with this piece of crap book!”  So I might do a couple of days of editing, then take a couple of days off.  Boom – my chain on the Magic Spreadsheet is broken.

I think time off can be beneficial.  Yes, writing every day is important.  And sometimes, taking some time off is just as important.  The problem, of course, is that most people “take a day off” and suddenly it’s been a month or more since they’ve written.  That’s me, in the past, certainly.

Oddly enough, as I was thinking about this post and what I would write, I realized the most recent “I Should Be Writing” podcast deals with the Spreadsheet, eight months after it’s inception.  As Mur states in the podcast, why not try it.  What’s the harm?  It’s simply a tool, you’re on your honor, and if it gets you to write, then great!  And I totally agree with all of that.  She also touches on the fact that when you’re between projects, it gets really hard to focus and come up with something to write.

I’ve always been about trying different things until it works for me.  In my past jobs, I’ve created several processes that ended up being adopted by other people.  I take something, tweak it, tweak it again, tweak it again, until it works for me.  The Magic Spreadsheet is one of those things that I intend to build on.  I know I should keep better track of my writing than I have in the past, keep track of word count to make me feel better about the whole thing, mark down what else is going on in the writing process for the days I’m not writing.  I know I should be writing (almost) every day.  I don’t know – they’re working on a website for the Magic Spreadsheet (it’s currently a shared worksheet in Google Docs), and I’m interested to see the functionality there, so I might still use it.  We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ll keep writing.  Because that’s what’s important.

What I wrote this week:

  • (On Thursday, I decided to keep better track of what I’m writing.  What story am I working on, how many words did I write, am I plotting, thinking about things in my head, editing, etc.  So, this week is a little scattered, but next week I’m going to try to log my writing every day.  This is mostly for my benefit, but I hope that putting it into the public domain, I’ll be more likely to ensure I actually get some writing done.)
  • On Tuesday, I wrote out (longhand, 568 words) a new story opening idea for Again (working title).  My main problem with this story is that my main character is way to laid back, easy going, and patient.  She’s worked through all her flaws (and yes, she has indeed worked through them all – that’s part of her characterization).  She needs a flaw, and I’m at a loss as to what it should be, other than “too patient.”  I also need something to glue the two main characters together, other than simply “magnetic attraction” and fate.  Otherwise, why don’t they either simply get together or go their separate ways?  So I changed him to a professor and had her take a class…except, for purposes of the story, she can only audit a class, so again, it’s not like she needs to keep going to class.  (This is one of those stories making me bang my head against a wall.)
  • Wednesday:  I typed up what I wrote Tuesday, but was still against a brick wall with that story.  Several weeks ago (I think while Stephen’s parents were here) I had this idea that I wrote down on a scrap piece of paper.  Well, Wednesday, I picked it up, and the story started talking to me.  I did a rough synopsis, then wrote down a few random thoughts throughout the night (Stephen laughed as I frantically searched for my notebook while trying not to lose the thoughts in my head).  The story is set in the near-ish future, not quite dystopian, but probably a tad bit.  Can’t say too much about it now, other than the working title:  Memory Thieves.
  • Thursday:  I did quite a bit of brainstorming on Memory Thieves, coming up with the three main characters, doing some plotting, writing some rough scene ideas, doing a little bit of world-building in my head.  I’m loving the story right now, it’s really playing out in my head.  Happy writer today.  🙂
  • Friday:  Ah, the joys of young writing, like the joys of young love.  That carefree, easy, idealized love for the story that seems to be perfect.  Yep, I’m in the throws of it.  I sat down and wrote about 1300 words today.  The words were just there.  Such a lovely feeling.
  • Saturday:  Just did some brainstorming, and Pinning on Pinterest, trying to see what my characters might look like.
  • Sunday:  Lots of world building today – what the world is like 200 years from now, technology, how people live, etc.  It’s kind of fun, making up a whole world – and no one will be able to tell me I’m wrong about something.  😉
Categories: On Writing, The Writing Process, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

The Joys of Writing – Setting the scene

Show, don’t tell.  Writers and students are told this over and over again starting in third grade.  It’s one of the hardest things we do – creating a scene and putting the reader into it, rather than just relating the scene to them.

I spent the afternoon working on some descriptive scene exercises.  The street was lined with oak trees became: “Spanish moss draped across the canopy of branches, creating a pergola of oak over the street.”  The cornfield was dead became: “Dry, sun-burnt husks wilted on the cornstalks in the late summer heat.”  Linda broke the plate became: “Linda stared down at the white porcelain shards that now created a mosaic within the kitchen sink.”

Then I turned to my current WIP, to take an example of Telling and reworking it to Show.

And I couldn’t find an example.

And that bothers me more than it should.  Because I know there are instances where I’ve done it.  I’m just completely blind to it within my own work.

The WIP is going…well.  But not.  Well, in that I’m Getting There.  Not in that I’m not going to make the deadline I promised myself (and my husband) several months ago.  And that makes me feel a bit like a failure.  Which, of course, affects my writing.  Which further affects the deadline.  Vicious cycle, and all that.

Just keep on keeping on, right?  I’m trying not to get distracted with other writing tasks.  Right now I need to fully finish the story.  Not go back and change my character’s eye color in all the scenes (which will happen).  Not go back and add in descriptive details of the setting (which will happen).  Not go back and check for adverbs (which will happen).  It all needs to be done, but I’ll get halfway through and just have to do it all over again.  Assuming, of course, I actually ever finish the damn story.

I’m really bad about that.  I have polished beginnings for half a dozen books…and none of them are finished.  It’s the endings I need to work on.  The endings I need to actually write.

I’ve always heard that when it comes to editing, books tend to decrease in word count. I don’t have that problem.  I add.  Well, I subtract, too, but I add in a lot of description.  Eyes, hair, make and model of car.  In my first draft, I don’t consider that stuff to be super important (unless specifically tying into the plot).

Hmm…does that mean my first draft isn’t my first draft, but instead is more of a detailed outline?

Wait…does that make me a (gasp!) plotter?!

*sigh*  Back to writing…

So, how about some great advice on Showing, not Telling?  Here are 5 articles that might help you out:

Is there a source you’ve found online to help with writing scene description?  Please share!

Categories: On Writing, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

NaNoWriMo 2012 Recap

Or perhaps the title should be NaNoFailMo.  Because boy, did I fail.  And by such a minute amount, it’s ridiculous.  Goal: 50,000 words.  Written words:  48,600 words.  I missed it by less than 1500 words.  1500 words!  That’s a blog post, for crying out loud!

You are NOT a winner!

You are NOT a winner!

So, you want to hear my excuses?

I really only have one:

I didn’t give a crap about my characters or my story.  Which seems kind of funny, considering the story was somewhat auto-biographical.

I’m one of those writers who believes characters do things on their own, and I just write them down.  I believe stories can go where you don’t expect them to.  Yes, I’ve always been a “Pantser,” but this NaNo I really wanted to try creating an outline.  And I did – I created an outline, sometimes detailed, sometimes rough, from start to finish.  I knew all the big points.  I knew most of the small points.  I even tried writing down a summary of each scene just before actually writing the scene.  “This is going to happen, then this, then Protagonist is going to do this, then this is going to happen….”  And you know what?  My scene, when written, very rarely followed the summary I had just come up with.  Which was fine – I think that even a good outline can be changed.  Just as in life, sh*t happens.  Things don’t go how you think they will.  Some serious Plotters out there will argue the point, will say that the outline is set in stone, but I simply don’t believe that.  An outline is simply a work in progress, you’re real first draft, so to speak.

Don’t get me wrong – I actually liked the outlining/summary process.  Outlining gave me a start and end point, plus filler (which is usually my downfall).  Summarizing the scene before I started got me focused on the task at hand.  But it also set a limit on me, which I’m not sure was a good thing.  My routine became: Sit down, Summarize scene, Write scene, Take break.  I almost never got more than one scene done at a time.  It was very disjointed, it was always about getting this scene done, which I think helped to cause my dispassion for the story.

At 7am on November 30th, I think I had just over 36,000 words.  I wrote about 12,000 words in one day, bringing my total to 48,600.  Of course, I had a 10 hour trans-Atlantic flight and an 8 hour time change in my favor working for me, so my November 30th was actually 32 hours long.  I could have gotten another 1500 words in.  But at some point during the flight, I looked at the computer and said, “Screw this.”  I simply didn’t care.

I thought I cared about this story, but in the end, I really didn’t.  Passion is everything.

Categories: On Writing, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

20 days until all hell breaks loose

The writing hell, that is, known as NaNoWriMo.

This is not my first attempt at National Novel Writing Month.  I’ve done it…five times before?  I think that’s right.  I’ve only “won” twice.  I didn’t even consider trying it last year, since I was in the middle of planning a wedding and moving overseas.  But this year?  You’re welcome to shoot me if I don’t finish.

I have no excuses this year.  I can’t blame wedding planning, or work, or even my social life.  I will finish this year, and I had darn well better exceed expectation.

NaNoWriMo challenges you to write that novel you’ve always wanted to write.  Within 30 days.  The goal is 50k words.  My personal goal is 90k.  A full and complete book, ready for revision.

90,000 words breaks down to 3000 words a day.  I have the ability to sit down for however long I want each day and write, whether it’s two hours, four hours, or eight hours.

Now I just have to figure out what to write about.

I have two main ideas in my head right now – one a stereotypical romance, one more literary.  The romance story is certainly screaming the loudest, but the literary one is the one I really want to write.  Hmm…decisions, decisions.

Within the next 20 days, I want to setup my Scrivener files and (GASP!) outline the story.  Jot down notes, ideas.  See if I can actually Plot (as opposed to Pants – as in, fly by the seat of my-).  I’ve never plotted out a book before writing it.  So that’s part of the challenge for me – planning.

As my reward, at the end of November I’m taking off for a trip to a warm, sunny, tropical location.  I can’t wait!!

Categories: On Writing, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Writing Exercise, or Copyright Infringement?

I wrote this post almost a year ago, before Fifty Shades of Grey became massively successful. I thought it deserved a repost. What are your thoughts on FanFiction?

No "aspiring" about it

Writing Prompt: Think of a critical scene in a book you love. Write a different ending to the scene, then continue the story with the new ending in mind.

Congratulations, you’ve just written FanFiction.

Time Magazine had a piece in a recent issue about FanFiction – what it is, who does it, who likes it, and who doesn’t. It was a well written piece, and it really got me thinking.

I’ve never thought much of FanFic – and by that I mean I don’t think about it often. I’ve known about it for years, of course, and have read some, but sometimes finding something of quality is difficult. I don’t even have time to find new good blogs, let alone good FanFiction, so it’s simply not something I’m into. I don’t think I’ve actually written any FanFic, although I have thought out scenes in my head: What if Angel meets…

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Toning up your writing

“Is your writing flabby or fit?”  That’s the question The Writer’s Diet asks, and it gives you immediate feedback on your writing, showing you where you have excessive verbs, prepositions, and adverbs (among other things).

I found The Writer’s Diet via MetaFilter, one of my all time favorite websites.  I’ve been introduced to hundreds of news stories, photographers, artists, singers, ideas, and interesting individuals I would never have discovered otherwise.  This is just the latest.  From the metafilter post:  “The WritersDiet Test, created by Dr. Helen Sword, allows you to enter a writing sample of 100 to 1000 words and have it graded from “lean” to “heart attack” on its level of excess verbiage.”  Well, of course I wanted to find out where my writing fell.

Since I wasn’t on the computer with my current WIP, I entered in the text of one of my more storytelling posts on my other blog, Blessed by Holy Water in Tallinn.  The results?  My overall score was “Fit and Trim,” with everything except the verbs coming in at lean.  My verbs, though, evidently need toning.  The site also highlights each of the instances within your text, so you can see where you might look into editing your content.  I can see each and every instance I used be, is, are, were, am, and was.  Very interesting, indeed.  You can also download a full diagnosis, which includes suggestions for improvement.

I definitely wanted to see what came up with my current WIP, so I switched computers and copied in the first chapter.  My results:

My current WIP is lean, baby!!

So what about this post?  “Fit and Trim,” although my verbs still need toning (but, it counted the 6 instances I used it in the paragraph above as examples, so I think I should get a break on that!).

Try out The Writer’s Diet and let me know what you think of the site.  Do you think it’s useful?  Where did your writing sample fall on the health chart?

Categories: On Writing, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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