Writing Chiropractic: Making Adjustments to Your Flow

I see a chiropractor every couple of weeks. I admit to being skeptical at first, but thought I would try it. While he has not been able to fix everything on me, his adjustments have eliminated ling-standing hip pain, lessened both the frequency and length of chronic headaches, and gave me almost instant relief from excruciating hip pain from an injury. So adjustments have helped me immensely.

The basic premise of chiropractic care is to keep our spines aligned to allow for proper signal flow along the nerves. Misalignment in the spine (and elsewhere) can block the flow, causing pain or other malfunctions. So an adjustment will remove blockages and allow for proper body functioning.

We need to make such adjustments to our writing process from time to time, as well. Our writing process isn’t stagnant, and as we evolve as writers we need to adjust it. Our stories become more complex, the demands of our daily lives change, and what worked before may no longer work now. So we need to take a step back and look at our process, and see where we can remove blockages to get our productivity flowing again.

On a project level, we need to do the same with our stories. Does the flow work? The pacing, the character arc, the plot, must all flow together. If any one if those elements (or others like word-level rhythm) is blocked, the story doesn’t work smoothly and the reader loses interest. Revision provides us with the opportunity to make adjustments that make our prose glow.

Obviously there is no such thing as a writing chiropractor. So where do we go to find someone who can help us make the necessary adjustments? We can hire editors, use beta readers, critique groups, or critique partners. The feedback from any of these people can help us remove the blockages that are keeping our story from flowing properly.

Genealogy, Character, and Worldbuilding

It’s no secret that I love genealogy. I often say if I wasn’t a writer, I would have been a professional genealogist. The excitement of the chase and the thrill of finally finding that piece of evidence that proves a relationship would enthrall any mystery lover.

And it’s not just my family I enjoy researching. I will jump in and help anyone trying to solve a brick wall. Most genealogy buffs seem to share this insatiable urge to research, as evidenced by how willing people are to help others in many online groups.

Tonight I get to share some of the passion I have for genealogy with the South Jersey Writers Group. I’ll be talking about how my family history habit has crept into my writing, in the areas of character development and worldbuilding.

I’m a bit nervous about presenting,  but I am eager to share with this group. I’ve met some of these writers in other venues, and they are always warm and fun. I’m looking forward to a good discussion with them.

Do you have a hobby that invades your writing?

Destroying the Schedule: How Wrecking the Routine Improves Story

Daily work scheduleI like my schedules. Whenever we change the clocks, I don’t feel right for days. This week, my daughter woke up at 4:45 AM Monday with a cold and fever, and didn’t go back to sleep. Monday lasted for about 2 days. Plus, since she didn’t go to school, it messed up my weekly work schedule. Finally, Wednesday was the last day of school this week, so I spent the day thinking it was Friday.

Humans are creatures of habit. A million little things can derail our comfortable routines. When anything knocks us off the rails, it can make us irritable or anxious or leave us feeling unfocused.

This got me thinking about our characters. They have their routines, too. Having something disrupt their day is a great way to add tension great and small.

Not getting their morning coffee can make them angry, which perhaps makes them mishandled a situation, which leads to further unhappy consequences. A larger incident, such as a car accident, can change their whole world.

Inciting incidents are the ultimate shakeup of our character’s schedule. It alters their world in such a way that they can never go back to their comfortable cocoon.

The one that comes immediately to mind is from Star Wars: A New Hope. Luke Skywalker’s routine is broken when he has to hunt down runaway R2D2. As a result, he is not home when the stormtroopers murdered his family. With nothing left to keep him on Tatooine, he embarks on his adventure to the stars.

Knowing how discombobulated even a minor change in schedule leaves me, I want to make sure my characters display a similar disorientation in proportion with the incident they are facing. Too often protagonists seem to take such shakeup in stride, which makes them less realistic and less relatable. So I want to work on that in my characters.

Meanwhile, I am waiting for my internal clock to readjust.

Monthly schedule



Children: Not Just a Mini-Me

I know many parents joke about their child being a “mini-me”—so much like them that it’s scary. And sometimes it’s actually true. But just this week I was struck with the opposite realization: my daughter is very much NOT a mini-me.

20160817_224127_1471488160030_resizedWe were playing with my Breyer horse collection when it occurred to me (not for the first time), that this child of mine is almost nothing like me. She plays with my horses in a way I never did. I played that they were horses—they lived in a corral when not running in their pasture (my carpet was green), I had a doll who could ride them, and saddles and bridles for them. My daughter puts them into family groups and has them getting married and having children.

In fact, she has everything she owns get married. Horses, stuffed animals, dolls… She re-enacts marriage scenes from Disney movies. I can’t remember ever playing getting married when young.

I only ever had 2 dolls that I can remember, while Kinder-girl loves her dolls. They are often her babies (making me a young grandma!), until she gets tired of that, then they become her sisters and I suddenly have many more births to my name than I remember.

She is in love with all things pink—a color I have spent a lifetime rebelling against.

Playing dress-up and changing her outfit multiple times in a day is the norm. I couldn’t be bothered with tiaras and necklaces and rings, and if I had my choice I’d be in jeans and T-shirt all the time—both then and now.

Our most obvious difference (aside from our polar opposite physical appearance) is that she is an extrovert, and I am an introvert. She loves going out, and everyone she meets is her friend. If I never had to leave the house, I would be happy.

20160817_223950_1471488162685_resizedI do see some glimpses of me in her. She is artistic—although I lean toward realism and she likes her art colorful and full of fluid shapes. She’s a creative, and enjoys writing—something she gets from me, and not from my husband, who is a great reader but dislikes writing. She has a tendency to over-think, to be a disorganized mess, and to get lost in a book she’s reading or a project she’s doing. She can be stubborn, argumentative, fiercely loyal, and scary smart. She is a complex mix of fear and courage, confidence and timidity, and joy and sorrow.

In other words, she is fully human, and fully herself.

She is not just a mini-me.

While this makes parenting her a challenge—I am not sure if it is harder to parent the parts of her most like me or most unlike me—as a writer I can take a lesson from this. When I create children, I mustn’t make them carbon copies of their parents (unless the story demands it). Certainly, some of the child’s characteristics will reflect their parents, but those characteristics will refract through the lens of that child’s uniqueness.

So I go back to writing while raising not a “mini-me”, but a fully-realized “her”.








The Best of The Goose’s Quill 2015

At the beginning of a new year, we typically look forward to the year ahead. Sometimes, though, it is helpful to look back in order to see how far you have come, and evaluate how you did in the past year. I examined my top 20 posts this past year and found that readers read a good mixture of craft and marketing, as well as some of my more personal writing-life posts. In case you missed any, here are the Best of The Goose’s Quill 2015. Enjoy!

  1. When The Hero Is Not The Protagonist
  1. What Big Question Do You Write To Answer?
  1. How To Measure Growth As A Writer
  1. Our Characters’ Other Lives
  1. Adventures In The Land of Zal
  1. Marketing: Doing The Things You Don’t Want To Do
  1. Book Trailer Beginnings
  1. The Truth About Your Productivity
  1. Anticipation Angst and Announcement
  1. The New To-Do List
  1. Introverts, Extroverts, and Social Pain
  1. The Insidious Persistence of Grief
  1. My Biggest Takeaway: 2015 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference
  1. Philadelphia Writers’ Conference: My Annual Oil Change
  1. Writing Longhand: A Generational Divide
  1. Working Vacation: Yes or No?
  1. Empathy: Curse or Blessing?
  1. Revising My Writing Process
  1. Marketing Bits and Pieces

And my #1 post of 2015:

  1. THE WITCH OF ZAL Cover Reveal and Surprise!


Thank you for reading in 2015—I hope you continue to join me in 2016!

A Creative Spring Blooms

This has been a rough winter in my area—lots of snowstorms and unusually deep cold spells. So it’s not surprising that I have spring on my mind!

Spring is a time of renewal, and renewal is on my mind right now, too. I seem to be having something of a personal Renaissance. My Muse is coming out to play.

I’ve been lost in a creative desert for more than 4 years—ever since my daughter was born. When I say this, people look at me in surprise, because I have been turning out a lot of work during the past 4 years. Lots of words. But not much has been in creative fiction. Most has been blogging, working on a family non-fiction genealogy book, and revising of fiction works whose early drafts pre-dated my child. So a lot of words, but not a lot of new creative ideas.

Not only weren’t new ideas coming, I didn’t even FEEL creative. Nothing stirred in my brain or soul. I worried that I would never again feel the elation of a new idea, the exhilaration of writing in a flow state, the thrill of hearing a character talk to me. But then things started to change.

First, at the 2013 Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, I felt stirrings of creativity. Then, a short-lived but bright fire burst forth in August. But these spurts didn’t last, and I ended up feeling depressed all over again, as if they had been nothing more than mirages in my creative desert.

But over the past few cold, snowy, wintry weeks, I have experienced hints of a creative spring. For the first time in years, a character is speaking to me. For the first time in years, I reached a flow state while writing fiction. And for the first time in years, I woke up with a new novel idea in my head—half-formed, incomplete, but intriguing.

Unlike my earlier mirages, I think this Renaissance might stick. I’m not sure what has changed to revive my Muse. Perhaps because I am sleeping more regularly and reliably (although still not enough). Perhaps because I am getting a little more exercise. Perhaps because my child is in preschool for a few hours a day (barring snow days!) and I have more time to devote to writing. Perhaps it simply took 4 years to recover from the utter exhaustion that comes with a newborn.

Whatever the reason, this resurgence feels new. Different from the other stirrings. It’s almost too good to believe.

But I will believe, and hold on tight.

Because as a writer, it is in my nature to believe in miracles.

Have you ever experienced a personal Renaissance?

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My Biggest Takeaway: 2013 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference

This year was my third year going to the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. I have always enjoyed it, and always been psyched up by the energy of the writing community there. This year, though, there was a vibrancy above the energy levels of the past years.

Perhaps this reflects a change in me, but I don’t think so—others noticed it, too. I can’t say why it felt different—perhaps it was the near-capacity crowd, perhaps the mix of teachers. All I know is that I was even more jazzed than usual.

A common theme seemed to emerge in the workshops I took this year: the theme of how to present yourself to the world as an author. Cecily Kellogg talked about bloggers and their voices. Suzanne Kuhn spoke about presenting yourself professionally and consistently online. Jonathan Maberry and Keith Strunk’s Act Like A Writer was all about the “writer-persona” you need to build to present to the world. Even in Solomon Jones’ Novel: Character workshop, we worked on our writer bio. Why? Because that bio is the first character we create as writers.

How to be a professional writer. How to be engaging online without giving too much information. How to be accessible without becoming vulnerable. How to be a public figure without losing our most private selves.

A common theme—but not my biggest takeaway.

My biggest takeaway goes back to the vibrant energy of this conference. Ever since my daughter was born, I have been in something of a creative funk. I have been writing consistently, blogging, have turned out a handful of short stories, but all my novel-length work has been on projects begun and first-drafted prior to my daughter’s birth. That never-ending rush of ideas that most writers have dried up after she was born, and I have been feeling totally uncreative for more than three years now.

But at the conference something stirred. Something sparked. A fleeting glimpse into a new character, a new plot. A siren song—still far off, but audible. My creativity raised its head and blinked sleepy eyes at the world.

I am by no means back to where I was creatively. But my creativity is not dead, as I had feared. It’s still there.

And it’s waking up.

What was your biggest takeaway from the conference?

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Preschool and the Craft of Character

My daughter started preschool this month. Hard to believe she’s old enough, but she is. Watching her go into that school all by herself was a little surreal. She was ready, though—she turned and gave me a big smile, that smile that showed she was proud of herself. And she should be—she’s handled the new routine very well.

The really weird thing for me is that now she has this entire facet of her life that I’m not a part of. Seven and a half hours a week where she’s “off stage” to me and I have no idea what’s going on with her. My toddler is no help, either. When you ask what she did in school, she says, “I don’t know.” Sometimes I think 3-year-olds are really teenagers in disguise.

The point I’m making (there really is one) is that my daughter’s “off stage” activities will change her as a person and will change the way she interacts with the world once I pick her up. This is the same with all of our characters—they all have a life “off stage” in our stories, too. Or they should.

The main character, and perhaps some of the other leading characters, don’t have much off-stage time. But some of the supporting, recurring characters do. We need to remember that their lives continue even when we don’t see them. Every time they show up in our book, they should be subtlely different. Perhaps one time they’ve had a fight with their other half, the next they’re late for work, the next they just learned that they got the job they’ve been wanting. They don’t need to have experienced a life-changing event to be different. Maybe they simply haven’t had their morning cup of coffee.

We need to remember this for every character we see more than once in the book—even our main character. If there is a scene where they are off stage, take a moment to think about what they are doing while this other scene is happening. Are they sleeping? Driving in a car frantic to get somewhere? Having lunch? Talking to mom on the phone? Once you know what they’ve been doing, you can introduce the results of their activities the next time we see them.

The reader need never know what our characters do off stage—honestly, they never should know, because if it was important enough for the reader to know we probably should have shown them in the first place. But keep in mind that whatever it was will affect how that character interacts with the others. If their off stage activity has made them irritable, show it. If it’s made them happy, show it.

By shading our recurring characters with the impacts of their off stage activities, we add depth to them and give the reader a sense that their lives go on even when we’re not watching. After all, that’s what we want the readers to believe when they close the book: That our characters are real people whose lives continue after the story ends.

My Biggest Takeaway: 2012 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference

Every year I talk about my biggest takeaway from the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. (I say “every year” as if I have been there more than twice.)

Last year I experienced an epiphany in pitching. This year the pitching had the desired outcome, but was not my biggest takeaway.

Instead, I learned that what I’d thought was my greatest strength as a writer may in fact be my greatest weakness.

A strange confluence occurred at the PWC. I took three 3-day courses: Novel—Character with Jonathan Maberry; Middle Grade/YA with Marie Lamba; and Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasty and Paranormal with Caridad Pineiro. The topics seemed disparate: Character, genre-specific tips, and world-building.

Instead, they ended up talking about the same issue: character.

Obviously, Novel—Character was about character. But Marie Lamba taught us that voice and strong character are the hallmarks of successful MG/YA books. And Caridad Pineiro told us that she figures out her character arcs first, and then builds the world around them, to test the characters to their utmost.

Character is something I always felt confident in writing. I knew my characters. I could write a believable character. A three dimensional character. I prefer character-driven books to plot-driven books, I’ve devoured scores of them—how could I not be a natural at writing character?

Very easily, apparently.

Now, my problems with character did not strike me like lightning at the conference. For months, if not longer, I have felt that somehow, my characters were not what they should be. They were not as alive as they could be. That while they were real for me, they were not for my readers.

I had critiques from different people all saying the same basic thing: “The story is great, but I just didn’t connect to the characters as much as I’d like.”

The conference simply cemented these niggling doubts for me. The character strength I thought I had is actually the weakest part of my writing. I need to figure out why, and how to fix it, because that is what is holding me back from having that story that is truly ready to go out to the public. This lack of connection is the hazy “something” I have sensed lacking in my stories for a long time.

Why hadn’t I noticed this before? Probably because there were so many other areas of writing that I needed to improve. There was a time when my instinctual characters WERE the strongest part of my writing. But that’s not the case anymore. The rest of my writing craft has risen, and the character development has not kept pace—likely because I hadn’t thought it needed work.

Now I know better. I’m not quite sure what the problem is, so I’m not quite sure how to fix it, but I know where to look to get started.

Vibrant, believable, complex characters—that’s what I’m looking to gain from this year’s takeaway.

Collaboration: The Meeting of the Minds

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that my middle grade WIP, The Egyptian Enigma is the product of a collaboration with two totally awesome co-writers, James Kempner and Jeff Pero. You will also know that we just got incredibly detailed and spot-on notes from developmental editor Kathryn Craft on said WIP. So now we have massive revisions to do.

How do you do that with three people?

The revisions are fundamental in that we have to restructure the plot. That means adding scenes, re-envisioning existing scenes, and cut, cut, cutting what we already have. In essence, it means starting over.

I don’t mean totally, of course. There are many existing scenes we will be able to rework and salvage, and our characters will remain much as they are. But since the plot needs so much work, our process is starting over again.

We are having a meeting Dec 28 to discuss everything and get a new outline for the book. We have an agenda, because with 3 authors it is important to know what we will talk about so as not to waste time or run off on tangents. We know from experience that we can only work productively together for about 3 hours and then our focus collapses. So we have no time to lose. Thus the agenda.

To make our time even more efficient, we are all going to email each other our ideas for the new plot. We will do this a week before we meet, so we have time to read and react and absorb everyone’s ideas. Then we will discuss on the 28th and come to a final plot, a final outline. The hope is that the best of our ideas will come together and create some alchemical magic so we have a lean, strong, potent new outline.

Once we have that, I get to work. I will write the new first draft. Then it goes to Jim, who gives it to Jeff, who gives it back to me for a final voice revision.

Before all of that, though, there will be the meeting of the minds—and the synergy that comes with it.

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