Happy New Year 2021 – CoronaLife Day 292

I think I speak for many people when I say there has never been a year I wanted to see the back of more than 2020. This year has lasted a decade, and I can’t wait to turn the page.

Having had a milestone birthday this year (thanks, 2020!), I am old enough to know that turning the calendar doesn’t magically make all our problems disappear. But it is a time to reset and take the lessons learned in the previous year and carry them forward.

So what have I learned in 2020? First, I learned that there are many things out of my control. This year was certainly a lesson in that, if nothing else. The coronavirus took any plans we had for this year and dumped them into the incinerator. The sphere of what I can actually control is a lot smaller than my ego would like to think it is.

Second, sometimes I have to just let things go. My anxiety disorder has been in overdrive this year, and that wreaks havoc on my writing. My creativity vanishes into the malaise. And I have to be okay with that, because there’s not much I can do about it. My creativity has been a roller coaster this year. I have days, even a week at a time, where the words come and I drive forward. Then a desert for weeks. I have had to learn to not beat myself up over that (a lesson I am still learning).

Third, I have had to learn to be less of an introvert. Wait, wait, wait, I hear you saying. You are stuck home, rarely going out, seeing nobody outside your family. How does that make you LESS of an introvert?

It is counter-intuitive, I grant you. I am an introvert’s introvert. I need alone time to recharge. And by alone time, I mean completely alone, no one else in the house. Not in another room, not on another floor, but not here AT ALL. Since March I have had both my daughter and my husband home 24/7. I love them dearly and I am so grateful we have the ability to be safe together. But I have had to get used to much less alone time (read: none), and figure out how to recharge anyway.

Fourth, it has highlighted many of the inequities that are baked into our country, and the desperate need to address them moving forward. I for one do not want to simply “go back to normal” because so much of what was normal was not working. This year that has shaken the world to the foundation has not merely exposed the cracks we have been papering over for decades, it wrenched those cracks wide open. We need to do better. Business as usual is no longer acceptable.

Finally, it has been a lesson in gratitude. I know, without a doubt, that my family has been incredibly lucky throughout this year. We have been able to work from home with no loss of income, and our immediate extended family have so far come through physically unscathed. For all the things we missed and were saddened to not have or do this year, we still have the people that we love, and that is everything.

I intend to take those lessons and go forward into 2021 knowing that we still have a long road ahead of us. None of the problems we face will vanish with the ball drop. But if we truly learn the lessons of 2020, we can make 2021 the beginning of something new, different, and better.

And by the end of the year, I might even get to be alone in the house again.

I wish all of you and your loved ones a healthy, happy, and much, much better 2021. Be safe, and have a Happy New Year.

New Year, New Goals

Everyone posts New Year’s resolutions. I don’t so much do resolutions as goals. And I would like to try and make them realistic goals, so I don’t frustrate myself. The uber-healthy diet and sculpted beach-body? Not gonna happen. I’m going to try something more amenable to my couch-potato self.

I have talked about being in the midst of a great burnout. No creativity at all. 2018 was horrific, writing-wise. I totaled 89,672 words—and 73,218 of them were blog or other non-fiction writing words. Compare that to 2017, when my total words were 405,116, with 326,542 of those being fiction, and you can see how badly I fell off the workhorse.

So what am I aiming for this year? I have no specific word count in mind, but I do have two goals I want to reach:

  1. Finish revising Veritas.
  2. Re-release The Witch of Zal with new cover and illustrations.

Both are doable. I intend to do them.

Over this holiday, I have been trying to sleep more, to get out of the spiral of exhaustion and anxiety that I’ve been in for months. I think it is helping. I have an interest in getting back to revising Veritas, which I have been avoiding for quite some time. There’s a new angle I want to lay into the existing framework that intrigues me–and scares me, as I am not certain I can pull it off. But I want to try, which is  huge step forward.

So that’s my master plan for 2019. Not Earth-shattering, for sure. But within my reach. The burnout took a long time to set in fully, it make take some time to climb my way out of it. But I pledge to be kind to myself, to try and focus on taking better care of myself, and hopefully get back on that writing workhorse again.

What goals have you set for yourself this year?

The Middle-Aged Muse

My 8-year-old daughter simply erupts with creativity. Every day she is dashing off new songs, drawing another segment of one of her comic strips, or writing a story. Her Muse works overtime.

My Muse, lately, doesn’t like to get out of bed. It’s hard for me to remember a time when the ideas came in such a flood. Nowadays it feels like everything comes in fits and starts. Creativity used to flow effortlessly, more ideas than I could ever write. I had multiple stories going at a time, and I churned out words like breaths. Now I’m lucky if I can write a coherent chapter in a day.

That’s what happens as you get older. Life gets busier, with more time-consuming responsibilities. I have less time to write, and less energy when I have time. Since I had my daughter, exhaustion has become a constant companion, and words jumble into gibberish in my fuzzy brain.

It’s not so much that my Muse has deserted me—it’s that she’s never sure when I’m coming to work, so she’s not always ready when I arrive. It’s like trying to guess what time to have dinner when everyone’s schedule keeps changing. And then when I do show up and we finally get rolling, my alarm goes off and I have to run, leaving her behind just when things are getting exciting. No wonder my Muse is pouty and petulant. She’s also cranky from sleep deprivation. It’s hard being a middle-aged Muse.

But when I get a few quiet hours, perhaps while driving to a book event, I start hearing her whisper. Ideas bubble up from the spring that’s been all but paved over with mom-duty tasks. And after a conference or a writer’s group meeting, my Muse burns through my soul like she used to and my fingers itch to grab a pen or find a keyboard.

My old Muse is still there, waiting for me. I just need to arrange my life so I can meet her. We’re both a little slower, a little creakier, with a little extra we-love-chocolate weight, but we’re still ready to tackle the next project together.

I watch my daughter’s bright flame, and it fans the spark in me. Life tries hard to extinguish the creative spark in us, and I am grateful for this little real-life Muse that fills my days with drawings and music. She connects me and my Muse with our younger selves, and reminds us of the passion with which we used to grasp each day.

After the Spring Break, I intend to make a standing date with my Muse.

How about you? Have you found your creativity changing as you get older?

The Night Owl and the Alarm Clock

DSCN2510I am a night owl. Some people are sun worshippers, but I love the moon. I find a healing and peace in moonlight I can never find in the light of day. I love the quiet of the night. No phones ringing, few cars driving, no people talking. There’s something about the night that lets my soul relax and frees my mind.

Unfortunately, school is upon us. And while I am looking forward to having my daughter in all-day school for the first time, it also means getting up earlier than I like. This entire last year of preschool, my daughter was in the afternoon class, so most mornings were late-rising, slow-moving affairs. Now we will have to rush through the mornings to get to school.

I realize that rising at 7 AM is not really that early by most people’s standards. My mother rises at 5:45 AM. I have a friend who gets up at 4 AM. When I worked in corporate America, I got up at 6 AM. So 7 AM is not too bad.

Except that I am a night owl and anything before 8 AM seems obscene to my body clock.

DSCN3173My mother insists that a night owl can become a morning person—she claims she did it. I have a 5-year-old, so I have (until this year) been getting up early and at odd times through the infant stage, the toddler stage, and the 2 years of preschool before this one. I can tell you with authority that my body has rebelled every step of the way. There is no morning person emerging.

We are slowly moving Kinder-girl’s bedtime back so she will wake up easier and earlier in the morning. It is having the desired effect—she is waking up earlier. However, I as her mother have not been smart enough to move MY bedtime back yet, so I am suffering the consequences.

This is because my best creative juices flow at night. When the world goes to bed, my brain wakes up. My focus is better and I can fall into my imagination more easily. Perhaps it is because of the closeness of sleep at that time, but I am less inhibited and my inner editor tends to be quieter.

Maybe it’s because night time is for dreaming, and writing is but a waking dream.


Any other night owls out there? How do you cope with living in a morning-person world?


Philadelphia Writers’ Conference: My Annual Oil Change

DSCN9802I’m sitting in the waiting room of my mechanic’s today while waiting for my oil change, and it occurs to me that the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference (PWC) is my annual oil change (and yes, I change my car oil more than once a year).

The PWC experience, for me, is like a whirlwind, fast and furious. During this whirlwind, all the stuff gunking up my creative system gets shaken up and flushed out. New advice helps me see past old assumptions. New craft lessons steer me farther up the artistic mountain. A casual conversation sparks an idea that carries me past someplace where I am stuck, either in business or craft—or sometimes even in a personal revelation about myself.

I eagerly look forward to the PWC every year. This will be my 5th year at this conference and it feels like home. I have a history of good things happening to me here, and always leave with some big takeaway.

As much as I love the PWC, I always get wound up in the days leading up to it. Objectively, I have no reason for anxiety, but we all know objectivity is overrated. My anxiety disorder always rears its ugly head and stress is the name of the game for days before the conference. (Apparently, I need to take my own advice—see tip #3.)

This year I tried to figure out why I get so triggered by the conference. I’m not staying in the hotel, so it’s not an away-from-home thing. I’m not planning on pitching (although I probably will because if I do it at the last minute I won’t get wound up about it—ahh, the lies we tell ourselves). I’m eager to take the courses. So what is it?

It’s just me. All my weaknesses hit at the same time. Being essentially away from home for 3 days makes me feel like I’m losing work time. I usually do a lot of work on the weekends, and the conference means I will start Monday behind the 8 ball. Being in the city freaks me out because I am totally not meant for urban dwelling—too loud, too many people. The conference itself is exhausting, with all the mixing and mingling. I get exhilarated from the people and the creativity at the conference, but as a classic introvert the effort drains me. And it’s just being out of my routine. A person with anxiety likes control—or the illusion of control. So I tend to be highly routinized. The conference is anything but routine. New place, new people, new ideas. So much of it out of my control.

ANYTHING can happen.

That’s the scary part.

That’s the wonderful part.

And that’s why I keep going back.


AC at the PWC***See you at the PWC! I’ll be blogging nightly recaps over on The Author Chronicles.

Writing Longhand: A generational divide?

Last week, I talked about changing my writing process because my current process wasn’t working well anymore. One of the changes I made was returning to longhand for some of my writing. I outlined the reasons for this last week, but the two main reasons are:

1) Longhand writing engages my creativity in a different way than typing.

2) I do not get hung up on the typed words on the page.

It’s been shown that writing longhand does engage different parts of your brain than typing on a screen. I know that the writing I produce is significantly different writing longhand vs. on screen. For me, there is something soothing about the feel of smooth paper under my hand as I write. I love the feel of the pen sinking into the paper. Watching my words appear on the page when handwriting is a creative thrill that I do not get when typing. Perhaps it is akin to artists seeing their drawing or painting come to life from their fingertips.

I know that once I type something, my brain has trouble revising it with sufficient depth. I get stuck on the words on the page. I grew up in a time prior to computers (we got our first PC when I was in high school), so I remember vividly that when you typed up your final paper on a typewriter that was it. NO CHANGES. And all of my life, those black words on a white page have signified a final printed product—a newspaper, a magazine, a book. So I wonder if I have subconsciously equated the black-on-white Times New Roman of my computer screen as somehow a “finished” product. I do not have this revision paralysis problem with longhand pages—crossouts, arrows, and numbered citations abound. It’s very freeing.

What surprised me last week was that a number of writers mentioned to me that they, too, were considering a return to longhand writing as part of their process. All of us were my age or older—in other words, we teethed our writing on pen and paper. Perhaps this indicates that our brains are wired to be more artistic when returning to our creative roots. Or that we’re all technologically exhausted and crave something simpler. Or something else—what do you think?

It also got me wondering about younger writers these days—writers who grew up on computer screens and keyboards. Would this impulse to go longhand ever arise in them? So I am asking the younger generation out there: Have you ever tried to write longhand? Did you find a difference in how and what you wrote? Would you ever consider mixing longhand writing into part of your process?

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Empathy: Curse or Blessing?

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I suspect most creative types are highly empathetic. I sometimes think I feel other people’s emotions more strongly than my own. While I do feel things deeply, I can usually control my emotions and focus on what I need to do.

However, when someone else’s emotions overflow, it is hard for me to control myself. At a friend’s mother’s funeral, my tears didn’t flow until my friend’s did. When I hear of a crime, I feel the terror of the victim. During mass tragedy such as 9/11 or Sandy Hook, I go numb with the overload of grief. The reason I have never seen Schindler’s List is because the images and emotions would stick with me far longer than with most people. I become haunted.

Cover of "A Swiftly Tilting Planet"

Cover of A Swiftly Tilting Planet

I find it hard to explain how vividly I can feel other people’s emotions. In Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Swiftly Tilting Planet, main character Charles Wallace goes “Within” other people. His soul enters other people’s consciousnesses, so he can experience what they experience—physically and emotionally. This is a good way of explaining how I sometimes feel—as if I am inside the other person, feeling what they feel.

Sometimes I think this intense empathy is a curse. It aggravates my anxiety. It makes me wary of social interaction. It makes me want to hold people at arm’s length—although even that precaution is not enough, since even the stories of strangers can bring me to tears.

On the other hand, this sort of empathy is a blessing. It helps me create characters with feeling. It allows me to help people with the kind of help they most need. It helps me relate to people different than me, because I can feel what we have in common. It makes me more compassionate.

In the final analysis, I have to consider this empathy a blessing—because I would rather feel too much than nothing at all.

What about you? Do you find yourself overloaded with empathy?


Self-doubt and Creativity

Most creative types I meet have at least periods of self-doubt. They wonder if what they are creating has any value, if it will touch anyone, if it’s worth all the trouble and sacrifice.

I have had this issue myself at times. More than once I have contemplated just walking away from writing. Or maybe just going back to writing for myself and never showing it to anyone.

Because sometimes I am positive that what I write is no good and never will be.

That no one will like what I write and no one cares anyway.

Lately I have been feeling that way when I read about other authors who have their characters talking to them. I know what they mean—in my younger days, my characters were that real to me. They had minds of their own. They did things I did not expect.

But they don’t anymore.

I have characters, of course. They are real to me. I know them well. But they do what I tell them. Of course, this is my first time trying outlining, which may have had an unintended consequence.

But maybe it’s something more sinister than that. Maybe I do not know my characters as well as I think I do. Why are they being so obedient? My answer, of course, is that I am simply not as creative as the other writers I am reading about. And then the self-doubt crashes in on me.

But no matter how doubtful I feel, I never give up. Because I can’t stop writing. It’s been almost 40 years I’ve been writing, so any idea that I might be able to stop is laughable. I am a writer, for better or worse, for richer or poorer.

The one boon of self-doubt, for me, is that it pushes me to be better. After all, if I feel like my work is not good enough, and I cannot stop writing, the only answer is to find a way to improve my craft. So hopefully the self-doubt is a blessing in disguise.

Stepping back from my self-doubt, I think perhaps this complacency of my characters is a signal that I am not yet completely recovered from the 4.5 year, post-baby creative drought I experienced. While I am miles ahead of where I was then, perhaps I have a little farther to go before I get back into the full author groove.

Maybe next year, when my daughter starts school full day, and I suddenly have more concentrated time to work.

It will come. And I will be ready and waiting when it happens.

Because no matter how much self-doubt piles up, I will never stop writing.

Have you ever stopped writing, or seriously considered it?

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Why Writing Communities are Important

The stereotype of the solitary writer is firmly ingrained in our culture. And, in truth, we are all alone when we write, even if we meet up with other writers to write in a group. However, being a writer with no writing community is a certain path to fast burnout, and can lead to depression and isolation.

Having other writers around to understand the pain of rejections, to help walk you through the minefield of publishing, to simply understand the joy of finding the right title for your book, is undeniable. But there is another asset to being part of a writing community: creativity.

Simply being in a group of other writers can charge my batteries. Start throwing ideas around, and the buzz is almost a roar. Synergy does exist, and sometimes a passing comment from another writer can spark an idea or a solution to a creative problem.

I now have 4 publishing credits to my name, and none of them would have come about without my writing community. At first glance, my short story, TO LIGHT AND GUARD (adult psychological horror), my novel, OZCILLATION (a middle grade sci-fi retelling of the Wizard of Oz), and my short story, DYING BREATH (YA contemporary) have little in common, other than my byline. However, every one of them was sparked by a writing prompt exercise in classes with Jonathan Maberry. (In case you are wondering, the prompts were: “Write what scares you most,” “Rewrite when Dorothy meets the Scarecrow in a different genre,” and “Combine these two ideas: organ transplant and Afghanistan.”)

My fourth publishing credit is a poem, THE TOWERS STOOD, and it is an example of how a writing community can expand your knowledge base. I rarely write poetry, but wrote this and felt it was strong. A friend in the writing community, Diane Sismour, pointed me to a poetry anthology that was a perfect fit (World Healing, World Peace 2014). And with my novel, OZCILLATION, Jonathan Maberry once again weighed in, suggesting I try Evil Jester Press, where it has now found a home. In both cases, I had no knowledge of either outlet, and so my writing community became my extended brain.

A writing community stirs the creative pot and helps us through the publishing maze, but most of all, a community gives us a safe place to experiment with our writing. They will catch us when we fall, and cheer us when we succeed.

I am very lucky to be a part of the vibrant writing community that has grown up from the seeds planted in Doylestown almost 10 years ago. Under the nurturing wings of The Liars Club members, this community has grown and flourished, bound together by the single ideal that we will get farther working together than we will alone—that a rising tide lifts all boats. From what I have witnessed over the years, that seems to be the case. Many success stories are rolling in from this community, and I’m sure there are many more to follow.

How about you? How has your writing community (or lack of one) impacted your career or writing life?

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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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